I would be 76 in June, and my physical condition was good for my age. When I mentioned the trip to my cardiologist he smiled and said, “Go for it.” Of course he’s an eternal optimist, which is one of the reasons I like him. I think my ophthalmologist may have had the greatest concerns because of the blind spots and cataracts in both eyes, but I recently squeaked by the motor vehicle eye test, and I’ve learned to live and ride with my eye problems. Aside from that, I have spinal stenosis and several stiff and aching arthritic joints, especially in the morning, but I can live with those too, as long as I can manage to get my shoes on and tied in the morning, and still get my rain suit and boots on when I need them.
I initially planned a route via the Cassiar Highway to avoid the higher elevations of the Alaska Highway, but when I researched the areas, I learned that the Cassiar between Hazelton, BC and Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory was in terrible condition with deep mud along many of the dirt sections, and considerable one-way, single-lane traffic due to washouts. The Alaska Highway on the other hand, through the northern Canadian Rockies, didn’t look half-bad for spring travel. It's paved all the way now and the road surface was reportedly clear with some frost heaves, many breaks in the pavement and a few minor, isolated landslides. It’s always been that way, even during some of my better trips in the summertime. Twenty-two miles of construction were reported in the Beaver Creek area of the Yukon, but I would have to cope with that on either route I chose. So I revised my route to enter Canada via Saskatchewan, and I would head straight for the start of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, BC.
Choosing the right motorcycle was the next decision. Originally I thought my old 1986 Honda Gold Wing was probably best for the trip in spite of its almost 100,000 miles, especially for its superior wind protection. I did have concerns about the original stator, which had failed on each of my other three Gold Wings in their first 100,000 miles. Another concern was the rear-wheel spline, which failed once on this machine already, and its replacement ran dry of grease on an earlier trip to Alaska, so it was well-worn and probably not totally reliable. Consequently, I chose my new 2001 BMW R1150GS, in spite of that fourth trip to Alaska when all three BMWs in the group had mechanical or electrical problems.
I felt fairly confident that this relatively new BMW wouldn't follow their lead, especially after having broken it in with 11,000 trouble-free miles over the winter months. The only concerns I had with it were weather protection and it wasn't equipped with a comfortable long-distance touring saddle. In January, I installed a tall Aeroflow half-fairing, which was a great improvement. The lower section wouldn't be available until later in the year. After acquiring and testing a pair of Aerostich tank panniers to hang across the tank in front of my knees, I concluded that they provided all the additional wind protection I would need for my knees in the cold weather. I figured the rear tire would last about 8,500 miles, which would get me to Phil Bourdon’s farm in Wisconsin where I could make the change on my return trip. I shipped a new tire to Phil’s just before leaving and I put a little extra air in each tire to protect the wheels from the potholes and traumatic breaks in the pavement that were inevitable. Here's my journal of the trip:
Day 1 - I was about 90% packed and loaded when I got up that first morning. My biggest chore was to “suit-up” and get myself onto the machine. The temperature was in the mid 50s and there was fog in the valleys as I headed west through Harriman State Park. I did a lot of thinking during the first few hours and I didn’t sing to myself right away as I normally do on my trips. I was thinking mostly about the winter weather in the Canadian Rockies and about how far I had to go. I finally began to sing lines from “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as I climbed into the Poconos of Pennsylvania.
The first day went relatively smooth and quick. It was an uneventful ride over a familiar set of interstate highways that I had gotten to know pretty well when Donna was stationed at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio. I got to my reserved motel just west of Columbus before 4:00. I felt I could have gone another 100 miles, but I stopped because I had reservations. I also remembered that the motels that I checked earlier around Dayton were fully booked. It was an easy 600-mile day, and when I called my son Jim and Barbara to let them know I was OK, I said it was “a piece of cake” so far. I picked up some juice for breakfast before turning in.
Day 2 - The day started with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 50s, which called for long johns and rain suit bottoms to break the wind. I had no problem suiting up with only a few minor aches and pains. I ate a few breakfast bars that I carried, along with the juice that I picked up. I anticipated an easy day with only 576 miles of interstate highways shown on my route sheet, plus the hour I would gain entering the Central Time Zone, which I figured would take me to Menomonie, Wisconsin by 3:00.
The first of a series of route sheet errors became evident in the Indianapolis area. I had written I-65 rather than I-74 to go from there to Bloomington, Illinois. I suspected the error when I realized that I-65 was heading due south. I took the first exit and got out my road atlas. My eyesight is barely good enough to read the map lately, even in bright sunlight, but I was able to see my error, and I went back to find I-74. I ran into another error in Bloomington. It was becoming obvious that the combination of my poor eyesight and not spending enough time studying the maps were beginning to consume a lot of my travel time.
Soon after circling Bloomington and heading north, I realized yet another error where I had omitted a huge chunk of I-39 when I calculated the mileage to Portage, Wisconsin. I had written that it was 38 miles, and it turned out to be a whopping 255. All of my route sheet errors were in the area where I had made some quick changes after deciding to enter Canada via North Dakota rather than Spokane. I simply didn’t spend enough time with the revision. Extending my day by an additional 200+ miles, and taking a few wrong turns, brought my total mileage for the day to more than 800. I thought about stopping before Menomonie, but I decided to go all the way since I had reservations. I checked in at 6:00 rather than 3:00.
About an hour and a half before reaching Menomonie I ran through a heavy thundershower, for which I managed to suit up in time. I had dinner at a nearby Perkins and picked up juice for breakfast. I noticed from riding a few hours with bare hands that the strong return spring on the throttle caused all of the heavy skin on the entire palm of my right hand to break loose from the flesh, like one huge blister. It meant I would have to use my heavy mittens and hold the throttle with my fingers and thumb until the skin had a chance to reattach itself. It also meant no more riding with bare hands with this bike until I could get different return springs for the throttle, which probably wouldn't be on this trip.
Day 3 - I saw light coming around the drapes when I got up during the night. Without looking at my watch, I took a quick look and saw a bright light at horizon level and assumed it was the sun coming up, so I immediately started packing my things. Before rolling up my rain suit to put it away, I looked out again to check on the weather. This time I saw that it was still dark. The light I had seen earlier was actually a security light in the parking lot. I also saw that it was raining quite hard. I continued to get ready, ate a tin of sardines and a granola bar and left before first light. The morning traffic heading into St. Paul was heavy, and it was quite windy. It was rush-hour traffic in spite of being early. The strong crosswinds caused me some concern because I was riding very close between the cars and trucks at a fairly high rate of speed; and I assumed that many were probably still half-asleep.
It stopped raining by the time I was halfway around St. Paul, but the winds got stronger and the temperature dropped considerably. It was a challenge to hold the bike on the road for the 240 miles from St. Paul to Fargo, ND due to the strong crosswinds. I stopped once to strap the tank bag tighter to the tank with an extra bungee cord because it kept blowing off the tank and onto my leg. I even had to tighten my helmet strap when it too began to get thrown around by the wind. The bike was being tossed all over the road from it. I stopped in Fargo to put my snowmobile top on over my heavy leather jacket and rain suit because I was still cold. The strong winds continued all the way into Minot, ND where I stopped for the night. I noticed a sharp drop in gas mileage from the mid 40s down to around 28 mpg. I got to Minot at 4:00 in spite of it and two construction delays, both of which used pilot cars. I stopped at the Harley shop in Minot to get a recommendation on lodging, and was advised that the Days Inn had the best deal. The price was far less than the Motel 6 of the previous night, with a much larger room and a coffee maker. A check of the oil level in the bike showed that it needed some, so I tried several places around town for the type that I was using before spotting a Target store. I walked from the motel to a nearby Perkins for dinner. I got juice for breakfast on the way back.
Day 4 - There was a thick layer of frost on the seat when I came out in the morning. I wore 3 layers of high-tech Damart underwear and the full snowmobile suit. It was a beautiful day, except for the wind. It was Lilli’s and my anniversary, which would have been our 54th. She had been gone for 18 months. I spent much of the day reminiscing our years together. Crossing the Canadian border was a nonevent that took less than a minute, which was a huge difference from the last time I came through that same crossing in 1981 in the opposite direction, when I got the total search of all my luggage.
Saskatchewan was as flat as I remembered from previous trips. I saw very few cattle and the wheat fields were totally bare. The crosswinds were exceptionally strong, which became a real chore after a while, especially the loud wind noise against the side of my helmet. Gas prices were close to a dollar a liter. I recalled from earlier trips that Saskatchewan gas was not the greatest, so I burned high-test whenever I could find it. Most places in the farmland only carried around 84 and 86 octane. The BMW called for around 90 octane, and it reacted to the difference. I decided to lengthen the day because the weather was good, except for the wind. I added about 90 miles and reached Lloydminster, Alberta where I stopped for the night at an old travel-style motel.
Day 5 - I was up at 4:30, stiff and sore all over. I recalled that the fifth day of most of my trips was usually the roughest from a soreness point of view. I left at 6:00, after breakfast in the room. I had a lot of muscle and joint pain, which I hoped would loosen up. I also felt weak, all of which I attributed to my usually tough fifth day on the road. It was around 45° when I left Lloydminster, so I opted for the snowmobile suit again.
I was clear of the flat, open prairie in Alberta, and I got into some scenic, hilly terrain with trees, less wind and a better grade of gasoline. I was traveling at much higher speeds on this trip than I do around home, and I'm sure the tank panniers created extra wind resistance, all of which affected the gas mileage. I stopped at the McDonald’s in Edmonton for a second breakfast, after which I felt a little stronger. I decided to stretch my riding day to at least 10 hours if the good weather held, although my eyesight usually deteriorated considerably by late afternoon. I couldn’t see oncoming cars at a distance, which made passing more difficult and riskier. I don’t always see traffic lights in the towns either, due to blind spots in my eyes. When I did see one, I couldn’t tell whether it was red or green, or out altogether because of the glare from the sun. When I reached Fort St. John about 47 miles up the Alaska Highway, I called it a day after 572 miles. I had started to get really tired by then, and I knew the distances between gas and motels would get much longer after Fort St. John. I stopped at the first motel I saw, which turned out to have all housekeeping units. It cost a little more, but the room was very comfortable.
The muscles in my throttle hand were getting sore from the strong throttle return spring, especially since I was using only my thumb and fingers to hold it open, due to the loose skin on my palm. Sometimes I rested it by crossing over and holding the throttle with my left hand, but I wouldn’t have a great deal of control in that position in case of an emergency or hitting a huge pothole. Using my heaviest gloves to hold the throttle kept some of the pressure off my palm, as the heavy glove tends to take much of the strain of the twisting action. The hand was almost healed, although it probably wouldn't take much to break the skin loose again.
6 - An incredible day! I woke at four o'clock, and when I couldn't get back
to sleep, I got up at 4:30, ate a small can of tuna, a strawberry breakfast bar
and a liter of tropical juice before leaving. It was about 50° out. I opted for three
layers of underwear and my leather jacket. On the bottom I wore long johns with
jeans and rain suit pants. When I reached Pink Mountain in the foothills of the
Canadian Rockies, I stopped to put on my snowmobile jacket over everything else.
The temperature dropped well into the 40s, and I was getting quite chilly, even
before reaching the higher elevations. The sky was clear blue with unlimited
visibility. The scenery around Pink Mountain, with its many snow-covered
mountains around, was outstanding. Being aware of the long distance without any
gas at all, I topped off the tank. The surface along the Alaska Highway in
British Columbia was smooth and well-maintained with very light traffic. I saw
a vehicle coming from the other direction about every 5 minutes, and I passed
one in my direction about every 30 minutes. It was fairly easy to maintain a
constant 75 mph. I saw a few animals like moose, caribou, sheep and fox along
the way, which I had to be careful of because they were often in the road, and they
didn’t always move away quickly enough.
|Pink Mountain area|
|The Highway was in great shape and clear of traffic|
After gassing up in Fort Nelson, I continued into the high Rockies with clear skies and exceptionally light traffic. The scenery was spectacular. Thick ice still covered Summit Lake, while Stone Mountain was completely blanketed with snow. Muncho Lake, where I stopped a third time for gas, had ice covering about half of the lake, while heavy snow covered the surrounding mountains. It was a beautiful sight, and I had it all to myself with no traffic.
When I reached Watson Lake, I was beginning to feel cold on my knees. I was also tired from having run through a few isolated showers and several rough sections of highway after entering the Yukon. It was barely 2:30, and I had already covered 585 miles of beautiful country along the Alaska Highway with practically no one on the road. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of staying overnight at Watson Lake, or of quitting that early, but I hadn’t eaten since 5 AM, and I was beginning to get hungry. I pondered my alternatives as I stood taking a photo at Signpost Park; and I realized if I stayed at Watson Lake, I would miss eating my favorite salmon dinner at Mukluk Annie’s Salmon Bake in Teslin, and I would miss spending the night in a cabin there. I had come to like Mukluk Annie’s as a stopover, and I had been looking forward to it. By gaining the extra mileage during the past few days, my original plan of spending the night there was now in jeopardy.
Signpost Park in Watson Lake, YT
Cabin at Mukluk Annie's Salmon Bake
Instead of stopping at Watson Lake, I ate a granola bar from my bag and headed for Mukluk Annie’s, another 176 miles. I ran through a few showers, some rough roads and an eight-mile stretch of loose gravel. It also got much colder, possibly dropping into the 30s; and my knees were cold. Snow accumulated between the trees, and patches of snow were alongside the road in the grassy right-of-ways. I may have been at a fairly high altitude at the time. After crossing the long steel-grated bridge into Teslin, I pulled into Mukluk Annie’s at 6 PM. I had been on the road for 12 hours, and I covered almost 760 miles for an average speed of more than 62 mph for the day, which included four gas stops and a half-dozen photo ops.
After checking in, I ordered the deluxe salmon dinner with the salad bar, which included baked beans and a delicious potato salad. My salmon plate consisted of a huge salmon steak plus a generous filet, which together covered the plate. I talked with the young cook while he grilled it in the center of the dining area. My cabin was small with no shower. A toilet and small lavatory sink were in the corner of the same room. Hot water was available only at a central facility with community showers, as well as additional sinks and toilets. The tiny cabin had wall-to-wall carpeting and was heated with an electric space heater. The heater was definitely needed that night because it dropped well-below freezing.
Day 7 - I had difficulty getting to sleep. I took two Tylenol PMs since the huge late dinner delayed the effectiveness of one. When I awoke at five, I was not only sore and stiff as I usually was in the morning, but I was also groggy from the extra pill, so it took extra time to get all of my clothes on. Since the temperature outside was below freezing and an earlier forecast had called for rain in the area, I chose my full snowmobile suit overtop the heavy leather jacket, with my rain suit over everything else. All the layers made everything tight, which restricted my movements. It was quite a chore to get everything on with my stiff and aching joints, and the grogginess from the pills. An alternative would have been to leave without the rain suit, but if I were to run into rain, it’s doubtful I could get the suit on at the roadside without a place to sit, other than on the ground. I'm not as agile at 76 as I once was - nor nearly as strong. Getting onto the tall BMW was another challenge because I couldn’t bend very well or throw my leg up very high with all the tight clothes I was wearing.
After the first 100 miles, I considered going into Whitehorse for a quick second breakfast in order to get a few cups of coffee in me to wake up, but when it seemed like too much of a hassle with the heavy early-morning traffic, I made a U-turn and returned to the highway, gassed up and continued on. The road surface got progressively rougher west of Whitehorse. Before I reached Haines Junction I ran through several huge breaks in the pavement at high speed. If I had the Gold Wing, they would have bottomed the suspension hard, and maybe damaged something.
Lake Kluane in the Yukon Territory
I took a 15-minute break at Haines Junction after noticing a fresh pot of coffee in the office. While there, I took a chance and removed my rain suit, which took about 15 minutes. I had to peel off much of it anyway to use the toilet. West of Haines Junction the road surface got much worse. If I hadn’t put extra air in the tires, I think I would have bent the rims from at least one of the huge potholes. It was particularly rough around Lake Kluane where the road skirts the edge of the lake for a few miles. I even encountered rocks in the road from a minor landslide, and the first traffic since I left Fort St. John. There were about a dozen or more large motor homes, house trailers and pickup campers traveling very slow because of the rough roads. I assumed they had just gotten off the ferry at Haines, AK. It wasn't difficult to get by, but I was glad I didn’t have to cope with vacation traffic all the way.
Between Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek I went through 22 miles of the road construction that I had read about before I left home. It was dry with loose gravel on the surface, which made the bike fishtail a lot, and I left a long trail of dust. I met a few more large motor homes in that area, which were more difficult to pass because of their huge dust trails. I would usually wait until the dust was blown away by a gust of wind before attempting a pass. There were several pockets of work activity, but I was stopped only a few times for a few minutes each time.
I cleared US customs just beyond Beaver Creek and entered Alaska. The road got very rough with many frost breaks. I reached Tok around 2:00 Alaska Time, having gained the two hours at the border. If I had not been nodding off from the lack of sleep, I would have continued, but I was already more than a day ahead of my schedule. I had planned so much time for bad weather that never happened. I had been on the road for 10 hours with the aftereffects of too much Tylenol PM, so I decided to take a motel in Tok. I chose the same motel where I stayed a few times before. The room cost $67, which was one of the highest prices I paid on the trip. The gas prices were also high, especially considering they pay no state taxes on gasoline in Alaska. It was about 20 cents higher than the average price of gas in the "lower 48". It was also high in Canada where I paid more than 90 cents per liter. This was my toughest day of the trip so far, having ridden 520 miles of very rough road in the cold on very little sleep.
Day 8 - I slept more than nine hours, which made up for some of the previous night. There was frost on the seat when I came out of the motel. Coffee was ready in the lobby, which I had with the rest of a can of sardines in my room. It was partly cloudy and looked promising in the western sky. That part of the Glenn Highway was fairly rough, with many deep dips in the pavement between Tok and Glennallen where Jake’s saddlebag snapped off a few years back. Eureka Summit was crystal clear for the first time in about eight times that I remember coming by. I had never realized how spectacular the view was from the highway because it was usually foggy, overcast, sleet, snow or raining whenever I came over the summit. There was considerable snow piled alongside the road. The views were spectacular. The highway descends from there into the Matanuska River Gorge and past Matanuska Glacier. The road is extremely twisty in spots. I noticed that the engine performed much better at the lower altitudes with higher octane gas. It was much more responsive than it had been for over a week at the higher altitudes. The whirring sound of the flat boxer engine is very quiet, and sounds almost the same pitch whether I’m traveling at 65 or 85.
There was road construction near Sutton. I was lucky because there was very little traffic in either direction, and I didn’t have to stop. After several miles of smooth hard-packed dirt, I was quickly through it. I stopped at the McDonald’s in Palmer for a second breakfast. It was actually almost lunchtime. I arrived in Anchorage a little after 12:00 and went directly to Rey and Becky’s home. The total ride took only 7½ days of the 9 that I had allotted. I clocked a total of 4,650 miles for an average of 620 miles per day. It was definitely a quick and exceptionally enjoyable ride.
|Donna, Robyn and Asia|
Days 9 through 13 - I spent 5½ days in Anchorage. Aside from visiting family and friends, other highlights of my stay included the graduation; a barbecue party that Rey and his family had for Robyn; a visit to Asia’s Air National Guard workplace; shopping downtown with Asia and Robyn; and shopping with Becky and the children. I also chatted with Rey, Becky and the children at their home where I stayed for five days. They all had head colds while I was there, which I managed to catch.
Day 14 - I left Anchorage on June 1st in bright sunshine, with high hopes of an easy trip back across the mountains. By the time I had traveled only 40 miles to Palmer, I was already seeing more clouds than sun, and it kept getting darker. Just past the Matanuska Glacier it began to rain. Before I reached Eureka Summit, the rain was steady and mixed with sleet. I stopped at the summit to put on my rain suit. With all of the clothes I had on, it took almost a half hour to get my rain suit on over everything else while on the road. I was also wearing my heavy leather jacket underneath, which made everything a little too tight.
I should have gotten gas at the summit, but I was too focused on other things, and I thought I could make it to Glennallen, which was 60 miles. The bike went on reserve 5 miles past the summit, which meant I might have to make 55 miles on reserve. It would be risky even though it was downhill most of the way, and the wind was behind me. I considered returning to the summit, but I kept going and began to look for a rusty old pump in front of a café that I vaguely remember seeing on other trips. Luckily I spotted it about 30 miles down the mountain. I went inside to ask if they had gas; and if so, would they please turn on the electricity for the pump. Who knows what dirt and water could have been in their tank. I saw a few patches of sunshine after Glennallen, but after my next gas stop in Tok, it began to rain, which continued into the Yukon. I decided I had enough for the day, so I checked into a crumby old motel in Beaver Creek after only about 435 miles.
Day 15 - I had a terrible night. The head cold that I left Anchorage with seemed to have gotten much worse. There was a steady flow of fluids from my sinuses all night. When I lay on my side it would pour out of my nose and run down my face onto the pillow, and when I lay on my back it would run down my throat. I’d have to keep swallowing to avoid choking on it. I lay there for almost two hours before finally getting up to take some Tylenol PM, which knocked me out, but I kept waking up whenever it felt like I was drowning from postnasal drip. I didn’t sleep much.
I woke up at 5:00 and peeked out through the drapes. I thought the weather looked better, like maybe the rain had stopped. I felt really sick as I sat on the edge of the bed perfectly still and wondering how I was ever going to get myself dressed and onto the bike that morning. It reminded me of Eddie Mac on the Cassiar Highway that night in the rain when he couldn’t see, and he just stood there and didn't want to move. I also thought about the story Jake told about the cow that got his head caught in the fence. The cow would lie down and die from starvation before she would fight her way out. I was determined I was going to fight my way out of this situation. I proceeded to choke down a tin of sardines, a liter of juice, some heart medication, vitamins, and Citrucel. I still sat for a long while trying to conjure up the will and strength to get dressed, not to mention getting my leg over the machine. It took almost two hours to get on the road that morning.
After finally getting outside, I realized it wasn’t clearing up after all. It rained the entire day between Beaver Creek and Watson Lake, which was 570 miles of the roughest part of the Alaska Highway. Most of the dirt in the 22 miles of construction was soft and muddy from the rain, and it offered no better handling than the loose gravel on the way up. At least there was no dust, and it was still early, so there wasn’t much machinery working. I rode through most of it at a steady 65 mph.
The surface was particularly rough around Lake Kluane. Going across some of the huge breaks in the pavement at 75, the GS would let out a loud "Brrrrumf" every time, as the paralevers and cantilevers did their job, and soaked it up like it wasn't there. Even though I had several extra pounds of air in each tire, the sound was sometimes unnerving. I stopped at Haines Junction for gas, coffee and a brief rest. It was beginning to look like it would rain all day, so I slipped on the homemade “hippo hands” that Jake had given me several years ago, over the ends of the handlebars. With the temperature in the low 40s, my hands had been getting wet and cold in spite of the electric handgrip heaters. I was able to maintain 75 mph most of the day, thanks to the superb handling of the bike at higher speeds, but it was unnerving at times. I came across the quarter-mile-long, steel-grated Teslin Lake Bridge at a steady 70 in the heavy rain, enjoying the sensation of the wheels as they weaved in and out of the rain-slick grooves. I had often wondered what it would be like in the rain. Actually it didn’t feel any different from dry. I concluded it was all in the mind.
As I neared the Cassiar Junction about 12 miles short of Watson Lake, it was raining so hard that I was having trouble seeing where I was going, especially when a vehicle in front of me was hidden in the misty spray that was thrown up behind his vehicle. At the speed I was traveling, I got far too close to several before realizing there was actually someone hidden in the slightly heavier cloud of mist. Then while passing, I would flip my face shield up to see, and I’d get rain on my glasses, making the visibility afterward even worse. While approaching the gas pumps at the junction, I had to carefully pick my way around huge areas of mud and deep water. I went into Watson Lake from there and called it a day at barely 4:00 because I was exhausted and nodding off from the lack of sleep. I realized it was still the high-rent district when I paid $89 for a tiny single room - and that was with a senior discount that I insisted on. Otherwise it would have been $94. Times have certainly changed on the Alaska Highway.
The tank panniers had quite a bit of water inside, although I didn’t carry anything in them that had a problem with water. The traveling bag on the back seat also took on water, although the tank bag stayed fairly dry inside, as did the saddlebags and trunk. My wallet was soaked, which made several Visa receipts totally unreadable. There was a restaurant in the building, so I ate there and walked next door in the rain for a liter of juice for breakfast.
Day 16 - It was still raining hard and barely 40° when I got up after sleeping well for about 8½ hours. There was a coffee maker in the room, so I had coffee with a can of tuna and a liter of juice. My nose was totally stuffed, my throat was sore, and it was still raining when I got on the road about 6:30. My cold had also settled into my voice box, and I could barely utter a discernible sound from the laryngitis. I would try to sing a little to myself, but couldn’t get any of the words out. Some of the words I was trying to sing were, “Though it be raining, have no regrets” and “What a glorious feeling, just singing in the rain”. They're songs that often help to cheer me up in the rain, but neither cheered me up that morning. I was wearing most of the clothes I brought with me, including the leather jacket, snowmobile suit and rain suit, which altogether hindered my movements.
I saw three bears, a moose, an elk, and several Rocky Mountain Stone sheep while on the road. I saw a bighorn sheep at one point as I rounded a bend at speed, which I came very close to hitting. By the time I reached Muncho Lake, the sun was trying to break through. It had finally stopped raining and cumulus clouds were beginning to form. The ice was practically gone within the past week or so from Teslin Lake, Muncho Lake and even Summit Lake, although it had snowed about 4 to 6 inches overnight around Summit Lake. There were still signs of it around, including heavy slush in the road near Stone Mountain.
I reminisced a lot during the day about Lillian and our 52 years together, being her 74th birthday. The temperature rose into the 60s in British Columbia, and it turned out to be a nice afternoon. I blew by a guy riding a new Harley about 100 miles east of Fort Nelson. He had been traveling about 65 mph when I first spotted him. My passing seemed to spur him on, as he began to follow at the higher speeds. When I pulled in for gas at Wonowon, BC (Mile 101 of the Alaska Highway), he also stopped, and we chatted for a few minutes while getting gas. He was riding a 2001 Ultra Classic that he was breaking in on his ride to Alaska. There was less than 5,000 miles on the bike when I met him. He was keeping the pace that I was setting, except whenever I’d cross a steel-grated bridge, he would slow down considerably, not liking the sensation of the wheels switching sideways from groove to groove. He introduced himself as Patrick Powers from Minneapolis.
I stopped at a motel in Dawson Creek, and Patrick also stopped. He asked if I minded that he tag along in the morning. I said it was fine with me if he is ready when I’m ready to leave. I mentioned that I usually eat in the room, and that I wouldn’t be stopping for breakfast. I learned that he was traveling without credit cards, and that he was practically out of Canadian currency. He would negotiate for an exchange rate whenever he stopped for gas, food or lodging. The first place I stopped had two rooms available, so we stayed there. At dinner that night a guy at the next table asked, “How does that BMW go?” Patrick answered for me: He said, “I’ll tell you how it goes - it goes like hell.” Patrick told me about some of the recent problems he still had with battle fatigue from his Viet Nam experience. He said that after spending time in a psychiatric hospital, his wife left him and took the children.
Day 17 - After turning in, I couldn’t get to sleep. I thought it was from the decaf at dinner, still having too much caffeine. I’ll have to stop having coffee at dinner altogether to avoid the problem. I even took an extra Tylenol PM again, but I only got a short nap of about two hours. I got up at four and started to get ready. There was a microwave oven in my room, so I opted for a can of Vienna sausages that I was carrying. I went out to wake Patrick around five and I learned he was already up and dressed, and about to walk over to a 24-hour restaurant for breakfast. Had I known there was one nearby, I probably would have joined him. I continued to get ready while he was at the restaurant. We were both ready to leave at 6:00. When he started his Harley he said something didn’t sound right because he didn’t hear a certain humming sound that he usually heard when he started the bike in the morning. I thought he might have meant the fuel pump. It took a few extra tries of the starter. After it finally started, it wouldn’t drop back to idle. He thought it was probably something controlled by the computer. His owner’s manual said the nearest dealer was in Edmonton, which was about 360 miles from there, on our route.
We gassed up and headed out in spite of his idle getting higher. He thought it was also burning a lot more gas than usual. I told him I would try to stay with him until he was safely at the dealer’s shop, even though he said he didn’t want to hold me back. We stopped every 125-130 miles for gas, and each time we stopped the idle seemed to be getting higher, until it reached 3400 RPM. The construction between Valleyview and Whitecourt was difficult for him to control the bike with the idle that high, especially when we were being stopped often by the construction flagmen.
When we finally reached TC16, about 30 miles from Edmonton, I was watching him in my rearview mirror on a huge cloverleaf when I saw him split off onto a different highway exit. I wondered if he intended to deliberately cut me loose there, or if he simply decided to ride the back roads instead of the superhighway on his own. I pondered my options, which were - should I go back and look for him, or should I keep going. In order to go back, I would have to go several miles to get off the limited-access highway I was on, and double back to the cloverleaf where I would have to go for some distance north in order to make a U-turn to retrace the way we came the first time. Not knowing how I would ever find him, and thinking that if he eventually broke down, he would need someone with a cell phone far more than he would need me. I never carried one. So I continued on my way. I had been nodding off from the lack of sleep, plus the extra sleeping pill, and I still had many miles to travel that day. I never saw or heard from him again.
It began to rain fairly hard east of Edmonton, along with some strong crosswinds. I had two cups of coffee with breakfast, and a can of Mountain Dew for its caffeine later in Whitecourt, AB, but I was still nodding off too much. I had all I could do to stay awake long enough to reach Lloydminster where I chose the same motel I used on the way up.
Day 18 - The weather out of Lloydminster looked good when I started the day, although I had difficulty with the bright sun while heading southeast directly into it. The temperature was about 40°. I couldn’t read any of the signs coming into North Brattleford because of the sun in my eyes. As a result, I got onto the wrong route. As soon as I realized it, I turned around and headed back. It got very windy after North Brattleford where I broke out onto the open prairie. I was traveling directly into the strong prairie wind as well as the sun. My first tank of low octane Saskatchewan gas ran out in only 135 miles for an average of 29 mpg. I looked for high test at a few of the gas stations I passed, but most places had only low octane. By my third gas stop, I was exhausted from fighting the wind. I gassed up and got some coffee at a small co-op store about a mile off the highway, hoping it would revive me. It was clouding over at the time, and I decided to change from sunglasses to regular glasses. Meanwhile, I put the ¾-full cup on the pump while I dug out the sunglasses, but a gust of wind promptly blew the coffee cup clear off the pump. It went tumbling across the road faster than I could retrieve it. I had actually placed it on the leeward side of a sign on the pump for protection.
Whenever I stopped for gas, I’d have to secure my gloves under a bungee cord to keep them from taking flight. I left the co-op store totally exhausted. I was thinking, “Oh well, it could be worse; it could be raining with strong crosswinds instead of headwinds.” The winds suddenly changed to the side and the heavy rainsqualls started. I cut my speed to 70, and a few times 65, when the crosswinds got very strong. Having had the Gold Wing break traction with both wheels in similar conditions, I was leery of what might happen next. The BMW was probably 250 pounds lighter than the Wing, and the tall tank bag, high trunk and back-seat luggage all contributed to giving it a huge silhouette, making it like a kite wind-surfing across the prairie. I had to constantly struggle for control, and I had to work for every mile.
It got the most hair-raising when trucks coming from the other direction at the same speed would momentarily block the wind. I would be instinctively making the necessary corrections when suddenly I would reach the other end of the truck and back into the strong crosswind, which would leave me struggling to regain control on the wet, slippery road. I'd laugh about it at the time because I was actually enjoying the thrill; but after a few of those, I tried to find a safer track whenever I saw a huge truck coming from the opposite direction. The tire indentations on my side of the road were usually filled with water and there was a lot of loose sand along the shoulder; and the center of the lane was shiny with oil drippings. There wasn’t a clean track for the tires to hold onto anywhere. I was constantly aware that the wind could knock the bike out from under me at any moment.
I also had problems with my eyesight in Saskatchewan whenever I passed long semis in the same direction I was traveling, especially those with two trailers. I couldn’t see far enough to get a clear view for a safe pass. Sometimes I would think I had a clear shot when I started passing one of those traveling 70 or 75 mph; but when I would get partway by, with my speed around 80, I would realize the truck was a tandem rig with two trailers and a huge 12-wheel dolly between them. Some of those rigs were almost 150 feet long. I’d have the throttle screwed wide open, but when I would be more than three quarters of the way by, I would see someone coming fast from the other direction. It would be far too late to change my mind and drop back, so I’d have to continue my pass and hope for the best. Before I could get all the way by, the oncoming car or truck would be there, and I would have to tuck in close to the truck’s cab. I would be as close as possible when the other vehicle would put two wheels on the shoulder with his horn blasting.
I sat for several minutes while stopped at some roadwork during a torrential downpour. A flagman was standing there in the strong crosswinds to control the traffic. I was getting wetter sitting still than I was riding in it. I had to brace myself against the crosswind to keep it from knocking me over. The flagman was dressed in a rain suit with his back to the wind. He didn’t look very happy to be there. As the traffic started through, I could barely see where I was going. A few times I had to ride on soft dirt and slick mud to get through. Several times the wind got under my route sheet holder and ripped it clear off the top of the tank bag because the Velcro wouldn’t hold against the strong gusts from the side. I used an extra plastic safety strap to hold it on.
I bought my last Saskatchewan gas about 80 miles from the US border with every bit of Canadian currency I had left in my pockets, which paid for about 5 liters (1.3 gallons). I figured it gave me a total of more than 3¼ gallons in the tank. But the reserve light came on long before I expected. I found another gas station about 10 miles from the border, which was closed. When I finally got to the first gas in North Dakota, it took 5.6 gallons - more than it had ever taken. By the time I got to the Days Inn in Minot, I was more tired than I had been after any day of the trip. I still had the laryngitis and other signs of the illness. I noticed that the rear tire was almost to its wear bars. I considered it a small miracle that it didn’t break loose somewhere in the crosswinds that day.
Day 19 - It was cloudy when I left Minot and it looked like it was about to rain. I slept a little late and was on the road around 7:00 in my rain suit. I was stopped twice by road construction and almost got stuck when my wheels sank several inches into soft mud in a freshly bulldozed area. The sky got quite dark about two hours after leaving the motel, and it looked threatening around Carrington, ND. I was about to stop to put on my hippo hands to keep my gloves dry, but before I could stop, a torrential downpour hit, which continued for about ten minutes. It felt like I was under a waterfall. I had to come to an almost complete stop because I couldn’t see anything. Fortunately I wasn’t on the interstate with trucks close behind. I rode through a lot of strong headwinds and crosswinds for the first six hours that day. The sun came out several times east of Fargo on I-94. I was able to hold almost 80 mph for four to five hours. Traffic on the beltway around St. Paul was extremely heavy and running very fast.
Changing my rear tire at Phil Bourdon's farm in Wisconsin
Soon after passing St. Paul, it began to rain again, and it rained all the way to Phil’s farm in Augusta, Wisconsin. After exiting at Eau Claire, I found my way easily through some back roads and pulled into Phil’s driveway at 4:30. He was in his dooryard when I got there. The first thing he said was, “What are you doing here today?” I then learned that he had not been receiving any of the e-mails about my progress because I gave Barbara the wrong e-mail address for him. She had been sending out progress reports to several friends every two or three days - whenever I would call, and I thought Phil knew where I was at all times. Luckily he was home, because he didn’t expect me until the following day.
I went out and secured the doublewide and returned to Phil’s to tackle the tire change, which went smoothly with his help. We finished in less than an hour. Phil and Connie took me into Augusta and treated me to supper. I mentioned that I preferred something light, so Phil chose a 1960-style drive-in where we were served at an outside picnic table with 1960s music playing. We got there and back in Connie’s huge 1969 vintage Cadillac, so it was like a visit to the past. It was a nice evening as we shared laughs and a few stories of our New England enduro days together in the 1960s. I also saw some, but not all, of his 13 tractors, only 2 of which are workers. The others are part of his collection.
Day 20 - I got up at 5:15, feeling sore in several places, and I had a headache and a sleeping-pill hangover. When I couldn’t get to sleep the night before, I took two Tylenol PMs again, which made me feel in the morning like I did in Beaver Creek. I started the day by choking down a can of sardines, vitamins, Citrucel and heart medication while struggling to get dressed in a hurry. I managed to get on the road in 45 minutes. It was overcast and raining lightly with some fog. The rain stopped by the time I reached I-94, about 40 miles from Phil's. I had planned to take I-80 from south of Rockford and bypass Chicago altogether, but when I got to the I-80 split, the exit was on the left side of the highway, so I decided to continue on I-90 through Chicago, thinking it shouldn’t be too bad.
But when I got into the city, I couldn’t read any of the signs because of the bright sun in my eyes, and I was in the wrong lane every time. Aside from the glare of the sun, a thick smog hung over Chicago that added to my problems, and to my breathing. I finally found I-80 but ran into about 10 miles of stop-and-go traffic. Due to my poor eyesight I was on I-494, I-290, I-94, I-90, I-57 and the Eisenhower Expressway, all before finally reaching I-80 in Indiana. My left hand was numb from pulling the clutch so many times in heavy traffic, and I still had the strong throttle return spring to contend with on the throttle hand. I always have the dream of saving an hour by traveling south around Lake Michigan rather than use the Upper Peninsula, but it never happens for a variety of reasons. When I got to Toledo, I spotted the Motel 6 where I planned to stop, but it was too late because I was already past the exit. I got off at the next one and doubled back for about 5 miles. I still managed to travel 600 miles in 10 hours that day, but I was beat after a very frustrating day in heavy traffic.
Day 21 - I got up at 4:30 for my final day. As I sat there on the edge of the bed, I thought I couldn’t take too many more days like yesterday. I was getting really tired, and feeling weaker and more achy every morning, mostly from the head and the chest cold that I picked up in Anchorage. After going through my morning routine of getting started, I got on the road at first light. I figured I'd gas up at the first service area I saw along the Ohio Turnpike. A short while after entering the pike, I passed a sign that said the next gas was 70 miles. I was passing a closed gas station at the time. I checked the gas gauge and thought I had plenty for the 70 miles, but when the reserve light came on long before I expected it to, I still had 35 miles to go, which I thought I could make.
I entered a construction area with only ten miles to go. The lanes got very narrow with practically no shoulder on either side. I had a sinking feeling that I’d hate to run out of gas with the trucks taking up practically all of the available space and traveling at high speeds. I passed a sign that said the service area was two miles just as the engine sputtered and quit. I pulled over to the edge and couldn’t put the bike on the stand at first because the edge sloped off too abruptly. I couldn’t stay in the travel lane either because the traffic was too heavy and moving too fast. As I sat on the bike trying to hold it upright on the narrow shoulder, the trucks and cars almost scraping my arm as they sped by. I managed to gouge out a hole in the hard dirt with the kickstand by scraping it backwards against the ground in one spot several times, after which I left it and climbed over the barrier. I stood in the safe area on the other side of the fence, hoping the trucks wouldn’t hit the bike. They were coming within a few inches.
It was almost 10 minutes later when one of the construction men came by in the protected area. I hailed him to stop and told him my problem. He said he didn’t have gas on the pickup but he would go for some. Another construction pickup came by a minute or two later and stopped. This one was out in the heavy traffic lane. He pulled in ahead of the bike and parked. His truck was still occupying part of the traffic lane, which caused everything behind him to slow down. He said he had gas on his truck but he wasn’t sure of its quality. As we started to pour some of it into my tank, the first pickup returned with the fresh gas, so we put that in the bike instead. I handed him a ten and thanked him profusely for going for the gas. I thought later I should have given him much more, but I was rattled at the time.
I got home at 3:45. All in all, it was a memorable trip. I was very proud of my grandson who graduated cum laude in his high school graduating class of three hundred. Asia will probably be graduating from college in Anchorage in two years. I mentioned to her while she was chauffeuring us back from the graduation that Grandpa is just going to have to make that ride one more time. Her immediate reply was, "No you don't grandpa. That's what they make airplanes for." I said, "I hate airplanes. Besides, they can be dangerous."
The next chapter is 15 AK8 - The Sheep Caper
The next chapter is 15 AK8 - The Sheep Caper