Thursday, June 30, 2011

Still Lots to Write

I just don't have Internet access.   More to come, I promise...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 8 - The Dalton Highway

Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away. - unknown

I awakened and sprang off the couch like a kid leaping out of bed on Christmas morning. It was 6:00am Alaska time and the skies were clear and bright blue. In the grand scheme of things, this was just another days riding on a crappy road.  I kept trying to convince myself that as I got dressed.  I never managed to though.  I was stoked and like that kid at Christmas bolting to the tree to see what Santa left, I bolted out to Hester to see what Alaska had in store for me.  Hester's dirty appearance was misleading.  She was fully fueled and had fresh tires and brake pads.  She had run like a top on the entire trip.  I've ridden long and hard for a week straight and she's hung in there.  My Gold wing riding friends can try to convince me of their machines' superior reliability after they make their trip to Alaska and back.   And BACK. Hmmm...I hope I don't have to eat those words.  I digress...

My friend Jeff let me leave some of my gear in his corporate apartment.  I unloaded my spare clothes and a few other items, taking only a few tools, some water, and my camping gear.  A lighter load could only make the ride easier.  I mounted up and headed north on the Elliott Highway.  The Dalton Highway begins about 70 miles north of Fairbanks near a town called Livengood.  I chuckled to myself when I considered that I was certainly livin' pretty good the last week.

The weather was perfect with a light breeze, crystal clear skies, and temperatures in the low 70's.  Still, I wore my chaps, a full leather jacket, and my Shark Evoline modular helmet.  I had been advised that the trucks on the Dalton are notorious for throwing rocks and other debris.  I had come too far to take senseless chances.  I also knew that despite the extended daylight, the temperature up here still drops significantly during the late hours.  The Elliott Highway provided a nice primer for what was to come.  Fully paved with sweeping, banked turns, and surrounded nearby by trees and by mountains at a distance, the Elliott allowed me to settle in to a riding groove.  I was in the final chapters of my "Pillars of the Earth" audiobook and was anxious to reach the end of that adventure as well.  When it ended, I queued up my Rush playlist.  As the opening riffs of "The Spirit of Radio" blasted forth, I grabbed a handful of throttle, stretched my legs out on my highway pegs, took a deep breath, and rocketed north.

The Elliott Highway gives way to the Dalton highway with no fanfare; not even an intersection.  There's just a sign.  I stopped there to put on my CB radio and an orange vest.  The truckers are notorious taking up the entire road  and I wanted a means of reaching them and to be as visible as possible.  I was advised to use channel 19 to announce my presence at blind turns and on the roller coaster hills.  The Midland radio I used was small and clipped to my vest.  It had an ear bud and a voice-activated throat mic. At one point, I forgot about the voice activation feature, but was promptly reminded of it by a trucker who had grown tired of hearing me sing along with Rush.

For some reason, I expected the road to turn to shit as soon as I was on the Dalton.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The first hour or so on the Dalton was as fast and smooth as the Elliott had been, although that would certainly change shortly.  Hazards abound on the Haul Road.  I saw more moose and sheep than anything.  It was common to come around a corner and find either a pile of rocks or an animal sitting there.  I  believe the most nerve racking part of the Dalton was the unknown.  I found myself holding a such death grip on the handlebars that my forearms went numb all the way to my elbows.  I had to force myself to relax and realize that Hester had this.. It was going to be alright.

After a while the Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline came into a pretty regular view.  There are several cut-outs along the Dalton with roads leading to the pipeline.  They're gated to keep vehicles out, but a person can just walk through them.  I've seen images and video footage of the pipeline, but nothing beats getting a first hand look.  Under construction  from 1974 to 1977, the pipeline spans 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez and crosses three major mountain ranges along the way.  Over 420 miles of the structure lies above ground on specially engineered flexible trestles.  I read that this is to prevent pipe temperatures warmed by the hot oil from melting the permafrost and wreaking environmental havoc in the Alaskan ecosystem.  

There are several sections that were constructed along known wildlife migration paths and as such were built extra high to allow wildlife to pass under it. When the first oil production started flowing through the pipeline, it took three weeks for it to reach Valdez from Prudhoe Bay.  It was an engineering marvel, built under the harshest conditions, and was designed to last twenty years.  When I considered the fact that it's 34 years old now I wondered briefly how well it's holding up.  This pipeline is a testament to how man can engineer and oversee a solution which can exist in harmony with nature and still serve the purpose for which it was designed; even with 1970's technology.  It really negates the eco-Nazi argument that we can't safely extract oil from the ANWR.

Eventually, the road winded down to the mighty Yukon river and the famous 1/2 mile long bridge that traverses it. I motored slowly across the wooden planks and took in as much of the scenery as I could.  I was awestruck by the structure and by the river it spanned.  I stared at it in my mirrors as I made a sweeping left hand corner and was so distracted by the sight that I rode right past the only available fuel stop for the the next 180 miles.

Hot Spot Cafe Dining Room
Before I knew it, I saw a sigh for the Hot Spot Cafe.  I had read about the Hot Spot and knew that I wanted to stop there.  You can't say you did the Dalton if you don't stop at the Hot Spot Cafe.  I rode up and saw that Hester was the only vehicle there; well, the only running vehicle.  The place was run by a pale-skinned woman wearing a turban and who had no eyebrows.  She was congenial, but spoke with the raspy voice of a chain smoker. One might think that a person living in this tiny box in the middle of nowhere might be excited to see people.  One would think otherwise after a visit to the Hot Spot.  Lack of congeniality notwithstanding, the woman cooked a great burger.  The Hot Spot also offers a plethora of souvenirs ranging from shirts, bottle coozies, and even a book titles "Sex in a Tent".  I was curious, but didn't look.  I could have spent hours just wandering around the place looking at all the crap laying around.  I reminded myself that I had an agenda and needed to gas up and head further north.  I asked where the gas pumps were and the woman just stared at me.  It was then that I learned that I had motored past the last fuel stop before Coldfoot a few miles back at the Yukon River Bridge.  I did the math. I had just over a half tank of gas and I carried a spare one gallon can in my right saddle bag.  I knew that five gallons at 40 miles per should get me to Coldfoot.  I was petty sure I could make it. Then, I considered the fact that the gas up here is low 87 octane and remembered that Hester's mileage drops considerably on low octane fuel.  The bridge was only about four miles away.  Common sense got the best of me and I decided to backtrack to the bridge for fuel.  I was in no hurry and I had plenty of daylight.  Better safe than sorry; especially out here.  I paid for my lunch and as I was mounting up, was asked by a trucker who had stopped in "You going up or down?".  I replied that I was going up, to which he replied "On THAT? You're outta your mind":  I thought for a second and said "If I were going down, then I would have already made it up...on THIS; so what's your point?"  Apparently, he didn't have a point because he didn't answer.
Sign Outside Hot Spot Bathroom
Sign Inside Hot Spot Bathroom

Yukon River Bridge Gas Stop

I rode off and backtracked the three or four miles to to the Yukon River Bridge.  At $5.55 per gallon, gas there was the highest I've paid on the trip.  I filled Hester's tank and took off again knowing that my next stop would be at the Arctic Circle.  Shortly after the gas stop, I heard traffic on my CB radio.  I couldn't quite make it all out, but I did hear the words "roller coaster" in the transmission.  Before I knew it, I was at the roller coaster hill.  This was the steepest and tallest hill I've ever ridden.  As you approach it and start the descent, it's just like a roller coaster in that you can't see beyond the bend to view the road all the way to the bottom.  I found myself standing on the foot boards in a failed attempt to see the bottom.  I spoke up "Motorcycle northbound into the roller coaster" hoping my CB transmission would be received by any vehicles heading my way.  To my surprise, I got an answer.  A state worker in a pilot vehicle was sitting at the top of the other side of the hill waiting on the trailer she was escorting to arrive.  "You're clear, but don't stop in the bottom" was all I heard.  I blasted into the depth and yelled "Woooo hoooooo!!!" all the way down.  "Kinda fun isn't it?"  I heard in my earpiece. Shit!  I forgot about the throat mic again.  I grabbed a handful of throttle and raced back up the other side.  The ascent out wasn't as steep as the descent was, but I was well aware that it would be on my way back down to Fairbanks.  Other super steep hills followed, but they paled by comparison to that first one.  The next interesting corner was an off camber steep uphill climb on a gravel covered surface.  The challenge was to maintain enough speed to climb the hill, but not go so fast as to lose traction in the loose gravel. Add the off camber aspect to the mix and you'll understand why they call one of these spots "Oh Shit Corner".

I rode on through the multitude of terrain and surface changes.  It's strange.  The Dalton has many stretches of perfectly maintained two lane highway.  Then, it instantly changes to loose gravel over almost impossible to see (until it's too late) ruts and potholes.  Then, there were stretches of dirt that were under construction and had been groomed by road graders.  The grooves forced me to ride fast in order to stay vertical.  Both the front and back wheels were fishtailing wildly.  All I could do was hang on, stay alert for holes and rocks, and hope my inertia carried me through. I was reminded of the road from Destruction Bay a few days prior, but at least the Dalton was dry.  Another hazard of the Dalton Highway is the truckers.  They transport everything from oil to heavy machinery between Deadhorse and the rest of the world.  When a truck passed by in the opposite direction, it wasn't so bad if I happened to be on one of the few paved surface sections.  But when they approached and passed me in the slop, it's all I could do to hang on and maintain control.  I learned quickly to approach the top of every blind hill  from the far right because if a truck was approaching, they would undoubtedly be smack dab in the middle of the road, if not in my lane.  The Dalton is there for the truckers and for the most part, the truckers see motorcycles as a nuisance.

About two miles from the Arctic Circle turnout, I came upon two Honda Gold Wing trikes parked on what there was of a shoulder.  One of them was missing a rear wheel.  The driver had hit a pothole that ripped the wheel right off the axle.  I pulled over and asked if they had been able to reach help.  They had not.  I tried my CB radio; nothing.  So I used my Spot Connect to send a message to their emergency contact.  It took a few minutes and I had no way to know if they received it, but judging from the responses I've received from the other messages I've sent to the Alaskapade readers, I felt confident that someone would know.  I left them a liter of water and headed on up the Dalton.

I knew it was only two miles to the Circle.  My heart was pounding and even under my leather, I could feel the hairs on my arms and neck bristling like a Rhodesian Ridgeback who just heard a strange noise in the middle of the night. Then I saw the sign.  I slowed to a stop, snapped a quick picture, and then drew a large breath.  The turnout was another off camber, uphill chunky gravel road that curved to the left.  I rounded the corner and about 1/4 mile later saw it.  Five years of dreaming, eight months of planning, and 4,300 miles had all come to this.  I rode into the parking lot, dismounted and literally ran up to the sign and slapped it with both hands.  I couldn't believe I was really there.  I felt a sense of accomplishment like never before.  I haven't felt so happy since my sons were born.  I have to admit that it was a pretty emotional experience.  I thought of the people who told me I shouldn't do this; I couldn't do this; I wouldn't do this. I thought of Jeff who gave me a comfortable place to sleep and a base of to ride from in Alaska, of Hermann and Joeann's hospitality back in Jasper, and of Jim from Harley Davidson Forums who gave me so much advice from his experience.  But mostly I thought of my friend Martin.

Marty and I worked together years ago and we both bought our Harleys about the same time.  We were pretty much the same age and were in similar places in our lives.  We both had grown kids, a little money and time to actually try to pull something like this off.  We talked about this trip several times and every year something came up.  Life always got in the way.  I remembered how I was stunned when I learned about his untimely death and how I decided after his funeral that I  was going.  We had let life get in the way until death took his dream away.  I remembered telling his widow that I was going and wanted to bring something of Marty's with me.  Then I remembered his hat that she sent me.  I took the hat out of my saddle bag, put it on, and just sat back for a while taking it all in.  While I sat, a tourist bus drove in and unloaded a small crowd of people.  The driver took a piece of carpet with  dotted line on it and laid it in front of the sign and the passengers walked "across the line" and took pictures.  It was kinda hokey, but enjoyed seeing the people having a good time.  I had allowed myself to get a bit bummed out thinking about Martin and joking with the tourists was fun.  One old lady asked the driver "How did that motorcycle get up here?"  An old man came up to me, said he was an retired EMS worker, and then proceeded to tell me about all the motorcycle fatalities he worked over the years.  After a few minutes, the bus departed and I was once again left alone with Hester and my thoughts.  I took Martin's hat and placed it atop one of the posts on the Arctic Circle sign.  Then, I set up a tripod and took a few pictures.  I had accomplished all I planned.  I made it to the Circle and I kept my promise to Martin's widow to bring something of his with me. Still, I couldn't bring myself to leave.  I just moved Hester across the parking lot and hung out there a while.

Christian & Shrug at Coldfoot Camp
After an hour or so, I decided to take off.  I was happy and my heart was full.  I was also a hell of a long way from home! I rode back down the hill to the Dalton and had to make a decision.  Do I turn right and try to go to Deadhorse or should I turn left and just go back to Fairbanks?  I turned right.  The way I saw it, I would never be here again and this was most likely my only chance to go that far north.  I headed north another 60 miles to Coldfoot Camp and pulled in for gas. I pulled in front of the restaurant and was excited to see Christian and Mustang Joe. He was on his way back down from Deadhorse.  He told me it was very cold, but the roads were not too much worse.  It was only 200 miles further and I was convinced I could make it.  Christian and I ate dinner and talked to the others visiting.  I met people from Texas and a doctor who is a physician at a hospital in Chicago where I designed and deployed a wireless network.  Desolate places like Coldfoot can still make the world seem small.  I was getting ready to leave when a few trucks drove in and emptied out a bunch of oil workers from Prudhoe Bay.  They were heading south because the weather in the north slope was turning.  They all advised that I not try to make it because it would be too cold and wet to camp and there were no typically no hotel rooms available when the weather is bad.  My decision had been made for me.  I was heading south.  Christian and I rode the route together and took turns leading.  The ride back was more relaxing than the ride up.  I suppose it was because I knew what to expect.  Maybe I was more relaxed with the tension of making it to the Circle behind me.  About halfway back to Fairbanks, we passed a tow truck with the broken Honda trike.  I thought to myself, there's an expensive tow.

As I sat up there, i was amazed at the enormous expanse of nothing out there was; miles and miles of land, trees, streams, and mountains; all unspoiled by human “improvement”.  I believe as the years pass, it's easy to grow full of ourselves and marvel at our own accomplishments, abilities, and our possessions. I gotta tell you though, those things quickly become less significant out there.  A ride like this through this sort of majestic scenery does many things to a man.  It makes your butt sore.  It makes your hands go numb. Some of the road conditions will make the fillings in your teeth rattle.  Still, the most profound effect on me was the sense of humility and insignificance I felt in the presence of all I could see.  These mountains were here eons before I rode by them and they will be for eons after I go home. And regardless of what I might think of myself, I know my affect on them is nothing.  I know also that their affect on me will last a lifetime. 

The adventure continues tomorrow as I begin my ride home.  I'll backtrack along the ALCAN and turn south to Prince George and make my way to Seattle.  From there, I plan to ride across the top of the country and tour the Black Hills before turning south to Texas.

Day 6 Continued - Into Alaska

The first town of any significance on the road into Alaska is Tok and honestly, it isn't very significant.  It did have an open gas station and cellular service.  I was kinda hungry too and began looking for a place to grab a quick bite.  It occurred to me that I hadn't eaten since lunch at KFC the day before.  Now I was starving. I spotted a restaurant I had heard about called Fast Eddy's.  The parking lot was packed, so I figured the food might be decent.  I pulled in, dismounted, and wobbled into the restaurant foyer.  The place was packed with what appeared to be a well-dressed banquet crowd.  The restaurant held a few tables aside for what I assumed was the non-banquet crowd.  That crowd was me. A waitress approached and looked at me as if I was a ghost.  "We're closed except for the party" she told me.  I asked if I could use their restroom (without dancing this time) and she said I would have to go past the party crowd to get there and looked somewhat frightened at the possibility that I actually might.  I was a true Bob Seger "Turn The Page" moment.  It struck me that any other time, scooter trash like me would have been welcome at a place like Fast Eddy's.  I said it was no problem and headed back outside.  When I saddled up, I got a glimpse of myself in my mirror.  I did look like a ghost. My hair was a mess, my leathers were caked with sprinkles of dried mud, my face was grimy from the dusty, muddy roads, and I had a line of dried dirty blood running from my nose that was wind blown across my cheek and through my mustache. I wouldn't have wanted me there either; banquet or not.  I spotted a gas station across the street and motored over.  It was closed, but its pumps accepted credit cards after hours.  I had paid cash for every drop of gas on the trip this far for a couple of reasons.  First, I didn't want to deal with the exchange rate and credit card fees in Canada.  Second, paying cash forced me to get off the bike and interact with people, even if just for a few minutes. I filled Hester's tank, found a water valve to wash my face, and checked my phone.  I had a text message from Jeff, a fellow rider from Alaska.  Jeff had mentioned a few weeks before that he might be working in Fairbanks when I was in state and if so, I could crash on the pull-out bed in his corporate apartment.  The text confirmed that he was indeed in town.  I was awash with relief.  I love the long rides, but I have to admit that it's a bit unsettling when you have no idea where you will sleep.  I had resigned myself to just find a hotel in Fairbanks.  After the ride I had just had, I needed a decent bed.  Jeff's offer changed all that and I had a renewed sense of energy and spirit.  Fairbanks was only 300 more miles and the roads were in great shape.

No matter how tired I found myself, the scenery never got old.  The sights offer a great distraction from the sore butt, tired arms, and that intense burning that builds between the shoulder blades from being in one position too long.  I came upon a Prevost motor coach towing a Jeep.  As I was pondering how many gallons per mile the thing got, I noticed something odd about the Jeep.  It seemed to be swerving to the left and right almost as if it had a mind of its own and was peeking around the coach to try to pass.  Then I noticed the sparks.  A shower of bright orange sparks began shooting backward from underneath the Jeep.  The thought, "how cool is that?!" was quickly replaced by "HOLY SHIT!"  I pulled to the side and was shocked to see that the towing tongue was disconnected and was scraping the concrete and the friction created the spark shower.  The Jeep appeared to be connected solely by the electrical umbilical and the braided cable and hook that was attached to it to keep it from being stretched apart.  I revved the motor to pull aside the driver who sat way above me in the coaches cockpit.  I waved frantically, honked, and revved the motor to get his attention.  I was in the left oncoming traffic lane and a car was approaching.  I darted into the shoulder of the oncoming lane and moved back over when the car passed by.  Getting a second glance, I could see the front end of the Jeep was smashed pretty good and the driver side headlight was shattered.  The driver finally acknowledged me and looked down at me angrily as if I was just complaining about trying to pass him.  I continued to wave and and point backwards and he finally trolled down his window.  "YOU'RE ABOUT TO LOSE YOUR JEEP!" I yelled.  He just looked at me.  "YOUR JEEP!".  Nothing.  Another car approached and again I darted into the left lane shoulder.  I swerved back over and yelled "STOP!" about the time the Jeep darted to the left and came into the driver's view from the side mirror.  He apparently got it now and waved at me as he slammed the brakes causing the Jeep to slam into the rear end of the coach.  I veered back into my lane and motored on, not bothering to see what the damage was.  All that excitement distracted me from the aches and hunger and before I knew it, I was in Fairbanks.  Jeff had texted me the address and I had programmed it into the GPS.  All I wanted was to find an open fast food restaurant and grab something to go.  The only open place I spotted was a Taco Bell drive through.  It would have to do. I ordered some sort of oversized ultra-mega burrito that looked like a dachshund rolled into a tortilla. As I motored up to Jeff who was standing in the parking lot I had a bag hanging from my handlebar and  the drink cup dangling from my mouth.  Jeff welcomed me, helped me unload and showed me to his place.  I was beat.  I had ridden 904 miles across countless mountain ranges, bridges, creeks, and valleys, doing handstands and saving wayward Jeeps.  I had been on the bike sixteen hours.

Jeff and I chatted for a bit and he told me that the Dalton had received some pretty serious rain, adding that I should not attempt to go up on Friday.  He also gave me web links for weather cameras mounted along the pipeline,  The rain had stopped and the forecast was favorable, but allowing the passages to dry would make for an much more enjoyable and safer ride on Saturday.  Honestly, I was too tired to try it the next day anyway.  The weather gave me a good excuse to be lazy.

I awakened with the stark realization that I was really in Alaska. I had ridden over 4,000 miles in six days.  I sprang off the couch and dressed.  A few weeks prior, I purchased new tires over the phone from the Harley Outpost in Fairbanks and needed to get them mounted.  Hester's original tires had over 18,000 miles on them and the center of the rear tire was completely slick.  It was so worn down that I couldn't set my center stand.  I motored over the dealer and found it interesting that the only road in was a garbled mess of loose rocks and potholes.  Jeff and I laughed later that they sold $30,000 motorcycles to people and then expected them to ride across that crap on them. I said "nice road" to the service manager.  He replied, "you're heading up the Dalton, right?  I nodded.  "Consider it practice" he added without emotion.  I had just traversed the highway to Hell yesterday.  I couldn't see how the Dalton could possibly be any worse.

They found my tire order and worked me in.  It still took them over three hours, but as I sat in the waiting area near the service counter, I heard them telling callers they were booked solid and were taking appointments for the middle of next week.  I was glad they took care of me.  I had my brake pads changed too, since I had thousands of mountain miles still ahead of me in the days to come and the original set wouldn't have lasted to the next tire change.  The wait also gave me time to catch up on the blog a bit.

I left the dealership with Hester wearing her new shoes and motored over to North Pole, Alaska. I wanted Hester's picture next to the North Pole sign. The sign is on the other side of a wooden fence and on the fence is a hand written sign saying "PRIVATE PROPERTY" KEEP OUT".  Apparently, the land owner doesn't appreciate tourists climbing his fence to take photos on his land.  There was plenty of room for me to park Hester and get the photo that would prove to the world that I rode a motorcycle to the "North Pole".  As I set up my tripod, I could see  man staring intently at me from his porch.  I smiled and waved at him.  He didn't.  At North Pole, there is a store full of everything Christmas 365 days a year; enough to make my skin crawl.  Visitors can  send a post card from their store and it will be post marked from the North Pole.  I bought a card and addressed it to my granddaughter.  On it, I wrote:

Dear Brooke,
Place this card next to your stocking each Christmas and when I come to visit you, I'll know you thought of me.


She's only 18 months old now, but my motivation was that if her parents keep the card until she's old enough to start questioning Santa, they could show her the post mark and maybe buy another year of belief.

Jeff got off work shortly after I returned and we headed out for a steak dinner at a local brew pub.  It was the only real meal I had since visiting Hermann on Tuesday and it was excellent.  There was no place near the Harley Outpost to eat except for a strip club that offered a lunch buffet.  Eating Taco Bell was all the risk I wanted to take, so I skipped lunch.  I had grown accustomed to not eating anyway.

We talked about our work, families, and somehow the topic always came back to the Dalton.  Jeff has driven it may times and knew what to look for.  I took copious mental notes and laid awake for hours after dinner thinking about it.

Tomorrow would be the day.  I had dreamed of this for five years, planned for it, and almost obsessed over it for the last eight months.  Now, after all of that and a 4,000 mile journey, all I needed to do was wake up. .

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 6 - Watson Lake, YT - Fairbanks, AK

Snapped, Crackled, Popped, & Ready to Ride - Watson Lake, YT
Waking up in Watson Lake was strange. It was one of those nights where you blink your eyes and six hours have passed.  The light outside my tent was as bright as it was when I fell asleep.  For all I knew, it could have have only been six seconds.  I suppose I slept dead still, never moving because my body was stiff as a board and every joint popped as I laid in my sleeping bag and went through my awakening stretch and yawn routine.  The snap crackle pop from my bones reminded me of the more rude awakening I experienced back in Canmore.  It occurred to me then that my new blanket did its job well.  Money well spent.

I unzipped my tent and peeked out to see Hester, still there, still covered.  The derelicts from town didn't find us.  I uncovered her and turned on some music.  My Sirius satellite had no service.  I thought that to be rather odd and switched to mp3 tunes stored on my Garmin GPS.  I was in a pretty mellow mood, so I played from my massage music collection.  This stuff is like musical Quaaludes and it set my mind up to be able to think about today's ride.  In the brief seconds before I fell asleep last night, I decided that I would ride all the way to Fairbanks today.  It would be another fifteen hour day with over 900 miles to cover, but I proved to myself yesterday that I was capable of making a run like that and I figured today was no different.  Today would prove to be very different.

I wondered again if I would see them today.

The ride out of Watson Lake started with a fill-up at the only open station in town.  The woman behind the counter looked at me and the patches on my vest and asked "What's Shrug?"  I told her it was a nickname and she asked me why they called me that.  I shrugged my shoulders and replied "I donnow."  She didn't get it.  I thought to myself what life in Watson Lake must be like.  Her job in that store was her window to the outside world.  I live in a place where people go as a destination and I had a destination on this trip.  I'm not sure I could live in a place that was just a stopping spot for the rest of the world on their way to their destinations. I wasn't sticking around to find out.  As I buttoned Hester up and tightened my helmet strap, I saw one. It was just one solo, but I was sure it was one of them.  I got a little excited.

The Stop Before the Bridge - Christian Rode On
Christian From Brazil & Mustang Joe
The rider was on a BMW adventure touring bike.  This was the ultimate machine for a trip like the Alaskapade.  I could see myself on one of those beasts.  I followed the BMW from a distance, figuring he was a local and knew better where to risk speeding.  The Canadian speed limits are woefully slow, even in the most open and flat roads.  Driving this slow on highways in Texas would get you killed.  This rider was on the move and I sped up to catch him, but maintained a respectful and safe distance.  We were carving through the corners like a heated Shogun JP series knife through a stick of butter.  I followed him for miles and he eventually started pointing out road hazards as he passed them.  Doing that is a common courtesy among groups of riders.  We weren't a group, but his warnings were a sort of acknowledgement that I was there.  We came upon a park with a scenic lookout over a large suspension bridge that traversed some river, the name of which I can't recall.  I stopped to get Hester's pic there before crossing the bridge.  My anonymous companion rode on and waved as he disappeared over the hilltop.  I snapped a quick shot, crossed the river and pulled into the first gas station I saw.  Apparently, this was the only open station and the line of cars and  trucks was long.  I rode around a large trailer and saw my BMW riding buddy there in line.  I pulled in behind him and waved as I dismounted.  He said something to me that I couldn't quite understand, but I know I heard the word "coffee".  I just smiled and nodded.  He went into the store and returned with two cups of coffee, sipping from one and reaching out to me with the other.  "How cool is that?" I thought to myself. I thanked him for the coffee and offered him some money, which he refused.  I hate coffee.  I love the smell, I just never acquired the taste.  Nevertheless, I forced myself to drink it with a smile.  I introduced myself as Scott from Texas and he replied as Christian from Sao Paulo.  Holy shit!  He had been on the road for months and was heading to Prudhoe Bay.  We chatted briefly and took a photo.  As we talked, I glanced up and noticed two others. I was starting to see them more frequently now.  The closer I got, the more I would see. Christian noticed the graphic on my fairing and said questioningly, "Hester".  I replied that Harley calls the color of my Road Glide Scarlett red and before I could explain the literary reference, he said in a thick Portuguese accent "Hester Prynne; very clever".  He was the first person to whom I didn't have to explain the correlation.  He pointed to a graphic on his fuel tank of a ferocious looking horse with the words "Mustang Joe" above its head.  His BMW model is the Mustang.  We had a laugh over the similarities of our situations and mounted up to ride on.  I had to ride with my helmet face mask opened to avoid smelling my own coffee breath.

I was confident now that I would see more of them.

Christian pulled over and motioned for me to take the lead. I was still enjoying my Siamese relationship with Hester and confidently motored past Joe and into the lead.  We rode together until we reached Whitehorse whereupon Christian and Mustang Joe exited.  I looked in my mirror in time to see Christian waving goodbye and waved back.  I pulled into the Yukon Harley Davidson dealership to pick up a t-shirt and something to drink.  One can never have enough Harley t-shirts.  I asked the guy behind the counter if there was a Subway nearby in hopes that I could grab a quick salad.  He gave me directions which I completely forgot after one turn out of the parking lot.  I decided to just head north to Destruction Bay.

I had read horror stories about the road to the Alaska state line from Destruction Bay. After completing that run, all I can say is it was aptly named.  The start of the run should have been a premonition of what was yet to come.  After topping off Hester's tank with more watered down, low octane gas, I came upon a road block.  This stretch of highway was under serious construction and vehicles had to be led through by a pilot truck.  I was the first to arrive and the woman with the flag said it would be about ten minutes before the pilot truck would be back.  The truck arrived and led us though a muddy swamp of a road with scattered ruts and potholes that could swallow a Volkswagen whole.  I probably logged ten extra miles just from meandering back and forth around the holes and ruts.  After about ten miles, the pilot truck waved me by and turned around for to lead the southbound traffic.  I figured I was out of the woods, so to speak.  That was rough, but it wasn't that bad.  I figured wrong.  The next fifty miles were the worst I've ever encountered in a car or on a bike.  I was being bounced around like a ping pong ball dropped onto a field of loaded mouse traps.  There was no getting around the ruts, humps, dips, and holes.  They were everywhere.  There was no safe speed either.  Go too fast and you would hit a hole before you saw it.  Go to slow and you didn't have sufficient speed or inertia  to maintain vertical balance and forward motion.  I was on and off the throttle and clutch like a mad man.  It was both mentally and physically exhausting.  Figuring I was past the worst of it, I picked up speed and began to relax in the saddle a little.  Suddenly, I was launched into the air high enough to see the gap between the "road" and Hester in my shadow.  My front wheel hit the ground first and then my back wheel rolled into a huge pot hole. when it did, the rear end bounced so violently that I was literally bucked out of the seat and was doing a handstand over the bars.  I could actually see my reflection in the chrome of my console trim.  I had my helmet face guard closed and all I could see inside it was a mask full of eyeballs.  I was going over the bars; I knew it.  In a flash, the Alaskapade would be over before it really even started. In a last-ditch panic effort, I twisted the throttle in an attempt to get Hester to lunge forward and pull me down. It worked. In a flash, I was face down between the handlebars with my stomach on the gas tank and my legs flailing behind me over my tour pack. I pulled my knees forward and managed to slow Hester to a stop.  She tipped slightly to the left and rested on the highway peg which was mounted on the engine guard.  My heart was pounding and my hands gripped the handlebars like a boa constrictor around its prey.  I quickly took stock of my situation.  There were no cars approaching me from the north, which was fortunate because I came to a stop in their lane.  The impact had popped both saddle bags open and my camping gear sack was laying in the road.  I scrambled to collect my gear and button up the saddle bags.  I stood Hester upright, pushed her to what would be the shoulder if this had been a real road, and paused to collect myself and wash out my pants as my heart rate settled.  The road continued like this for another couple of hours.  It was insane and somewhat maddening.  Thinking back on it, I'm not sure if the end result would have been any different had I been fresh on the bike as opposed to eight hours in like I was.  I was just thankful it was over.  A sign said the US border was 30 km away.  Alaska was finally within reach.

Mecca to Bikers
I quickly passed through Customs and stopped for a brief celebration and a quick photo at the Alaska sign.

Finally, I saw them.  There they were. Groups of them.  All along the route I had been looking for the others.  Surely Alaska had called others like it had been calling me.  Could I really be the only one on the road who answered the call?  Thankfully, no.  From the Alaska welcoming sign all the way into Fairbanks, I saw bike after bike.  Groups of riders, some with trailers, some on trikes, but all with the same goal in mind.  It reminded me of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". In that movie, people were motivated, inspired, called to a location they had never seen.  Like myself, they overcame numerous obstacles, distances, and ridicule to get to a common place.  After thousands of miles and a week alone on the road, I felt like I was a part of something; something synergistic if you will.  I don't know these people and they don't know me.  But we silently acknowledged respect for each other and our common goal.  I felt great.  If I never reached the Arctic Circle, I could go home and feel great about my journey.  This feeling motivated me to stretch to make the final leg of the day's ride up to Fairbanks.  I had been out of touch for two days with no email or text messaging.  My Spot communicator had allowed me to send outbound status updates, but I couldn't receive anything and hadn't for two days.  I had an important message in response to my announcement that I had crossed into Alaska from a fellow rider named Jeff who lives in Alaska.  I just wasn't able to receive it.

To be continued...

Day 5 - Hinton/Jasper, Alberta to Watson Lake, YT

June 22nd - Jasper/Hinton, Alberta - Watson Lake, Yukon Territory
912 Miles
15 Hours Saddle Time

Hermann & Joanne

I left Hermann and Joanne's place in Hinton, Alberta around 8:00am and headed north with neither an agenda nor a distance in mind.  I planned to just ride until I felt like stopping.  My goal once I hit Canada was to roll back the throttle and enjoy the ride.  I knew Dawson Creek was only 250 miles away and since that was the start of the ALCAN (Alaska-Canada Highway), I wanted to be sure to stop there for a photo.  I figured that would also be a good spot to stop to buy a blanket!  The extreme mountains and cliffs that had been the backdrop for my ride into Canada and up to Hermann's place had subsided into rolling hills and vibrant green meadows which were scattered with a variety of livestock.  Looking side to side, it reminded me of the Microsoft Windows log-in screen.  I could almost hear that stupid Microsoft sound.  The mountains maintained their presence in the distant horizon, but they were secondary to the meadows on either side of the highway.  The hours flew by like minutes and the miles like meters.  I hate to sound cliché here, but with no other way to describe it, I'll say that Hester and I were like one entity.  When I left Dallas, the bike's handling was strange because of the high center of gravity and the load I was carrying.  I tried to keep heavy stuff like tools and spare gas low in the saddle bags, but even as light as I packed, it took me a couple of days to get accustomed to different feel.  By the time I hit Dawson Creek, the odd feeling subsided and the handling was effortless.  All I had to do was look where I wanted to go and Hester took me there. 

Navigating the ALCAN traffic circle was a moment of significance to me.  The sign said it all.  I was really, finally on my way to Alaska.  I was also starving because in my haste to get on the road, I foolishly declined Hermann's offer for breakfast.  I hopped off the bike and snapped Hester's photo at the ALCAN sign and decided to look for a bite to eat.  I had hoped to find something relatively healthy.  When I took off again, I had to pee so bad I thought I'd burst.  I was squirming like a five year old and trying to keep Hester vertical while I searched for a place, ANY place to stop.  I pulled into a KFC and literally did the potty dance while I disconnected the USB wires that tethered me to Hester.  I burst through the doors in the middle of their lunch rush, still wearing my helmet and goggles and with my leather jacket zipped, bolted past the people in line straight to the hallway with the bathroom sign.  If the men's room door was locked, I was determined to use the ladies.  If it was locked too, I figured my chaps would hide my pee-stained pants. The men's room was locked, so I swallowed my pride and tried the ladies.  It was open and I tap danced though the door, locking it behind me.  Relief was only seconds away.  All I had to do was shed my gloves, and work my way past the buckle on my chaps, unzip my jeans, dig around to find the waistband of my Under Armor full-length pants, and then dig through the flap in my underwear to try to find my dick. Sounds simple enough, but the light in the ladies room was out and I was still wearing my goggles.  At this point, the potty dance had swung into full-on Jack Lalanne calisthenics mode.  I looked like a blind, poorly-dressed, epileptic cat on an electrified floor.  I found what I was looking for and managed to not stain my pants.   Relieved and re-dressed, I opened the bathroom door and found the KFC manager staring at me.  “The washrooms are for paying customers only. And this ones for the ladies” he said.  “I replied that it was an emergency and that I planned to buy lunch there.  Short of McDonald's, KFC was the last place I wanted to eat.  But I felt obligated at this point and figured I could order something grilled.  I washed down something they called chicken with a slice of lettuce on a bun.  I remember it was brown, but that’s about the most remarkable part of it.  My usual diet on road trips is beef jerky and Monster Energy, so this was no worse, I suppose.  I walked out of the KFC much more casually than I entered, mounted up and headed north.

Belly full, bladder empty, I thought a moment about the trip so far.  It occurred to me that I had yet to see them.

I had been listening to “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, a great (albeit long) story about 12th century cathedral builders in England. I'm fascinated by history and love history-based literature.  When I came to the end of a chapter or when I just couldn’t stand being read to anymore, I switched my GPS to play tunes from the playlists I had created in the weeks before I left home.  Yesterday, I listened to “The Who – Live at Leeds”. That was some pretty blistering stuff for its day.  Today was Led Zeppelin day.  I’ve always been a Zeppelin fan and considered John Bonham among my top three drummers. Bonham’s timpani instructor Joy Gentile taught my drum instructor, so the Bonham influence manifested itself in my playing. Bonham’s ability to hold back the tempo of music that wanted to run away was amazing and his knack for playing as little as possible, yet seemingly creating more sound always amazed me. But I digress…  I’ve always had several favorite Zeppelin tunes, but had never listened to their entire discography.  I knew I would have plenty of time on the Alaskapade, so I loaded up every album and planned to listen to them in order of their release.  There were amazing tunes I’ve never heard before.  There was also a lot of crap.  With the exception of “The Immigrant Song”  (my favorite on-ramp tune) .Led Zeppelin III really sucked.  I made mental notes of the songs I want to add to my regular playlists and promptly forgot them all.

Hat Collection at Toad's River Ranch
The meadows gave way to the mountains again and looking at the path before me displayed on my GPS, I knew I was in for a great ride.  I kept a close eye on my fuel gauge as I motored through the canyons and sweeping turns.  When you’re outside the towns (which is most of the time), the gas stations seem to open and close whenever the feel like it. After a while, I saw a sign for a landmark I had been told to look out for.  Toad’s River Ranch is famous for its collection of over 4,000 hats left there by visitors over the years.  I pulled in and figured this was a good place for dinner.  After standing for almost ten minutes, I realized the poor girl serving some guests was also the cook, waitress, hostess, and cashier.  I snapped a photo of the hats, noting the count update written on a dry erase board and split. A couple of miles from Toad’s, I glanced back at my fuel gauge again and decided to turn around and head back there to fill up.  I’m glad I did because as it turned out, there were no open stations on the road for hours.  The fuel through much of Canada is low octane and Hester's mileage suffers as a result.  I keep a gallon of gas in my saddle bag, but haven’t had to use it yet.  Even with that reserve can, I don’t let Hester’s tank drop below ¼ full.

As the roads wound on, I was increasingly wound up.  Every turn made me eager to get to the next to see what was beyond it. For hours on end, I was dodging moose, elk, sheep, goats (and all of their droppings), fallen rocks, potholes, and slow-moving tourists pulling rental trailers.  As much as Hester had become an extension of me, the winding Canadian road and all of its hazards had become an extension of Hester.  She effortlessly navigated the curves and hills and I was just along for the ride.  And what a ride it was.  I had been on the road over twelve hours and felt as fresh as I did when I left Hermann’s.  Before I knew it, I needed gas again and much to my surprise, it was 11:00pm.  The sun doesn’t set up here this time of year.  It just goes from dusk to dawn without any real nightfall.  I rode into Watson Lake and decided to look for a place to camp.  Watson Lake was a mainstay for US Army Corps of Engineers soldiers working on the ALCAN during World War II.  One of the soldiers erected a pole with a sign indicating the distance to his home.  Shortly thereafter, more and more signs were added.  Today, the Signpost Forest has hundreds of poles with thousands of signs from cities and towns all over the world. I stopped to take a photo and got a glance of some of the derelict-looking locals who were staring me down intently.  They seemed to be everywhere.  It was like a scene from Dawn of the Dead, only this was duck.  .I decided this might not be the best place to camp after all and looked for gas.  The stations were all closed for the night and none of their pumps took credit cards after hours. I was hungry and tired and I had too little gas to try to ride further.  I was stuck in zombie land.  It struck me again that I still hadn’t seen any of them.  I was wondering if I ever would.
Signpost Forest - Watson Lake, YT  - 11:00pm
I remembered that as I was riding in, I had noticed a small gathering of camper trailers about five miles before entering Watson Lake. I decided to ride back to them and try to find a place to set my tent.  I coasted in, trying to avoid waking anyone and found a spot off the pavement that was shielded from the road by a couple of motor coaches, but still had a direct view of Hester from the spot I would pitch my tent.  I unloaded only the essentials (which included my new blanket) and quickly yet quietly set up camp.  I was still awestruck by the fact that it was almost midnight and still light out. I had ridden 912 miles across varying degrees of terrain.  I stretched out in my sleeping bag and was out before I count to ten.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 4 - Canmore to Jasper (Play Day)

Day 4 Canmore, Alberta to Jasper, Alberta
308 Miles
2,333 Miles Total

I had a rude awakening this morning.  It’s always annoying to have ones sleep disturbed by an unfamiliar noise, especially when falling asleep in a strange environment was so difficult in the first place.  In this case, the annoying noise was my teeth chattering.  I drifted off to sleep in t-shirt weather and awoke wishing I had the Batman pajamas with the feet in them I wore as a kid.  I’ve written repeatedly that I was sure I overlooked something, despite my tedious planning.  This morning I realized what it was.  A BLANKET!  My sleeping bag is rated at -5 degrees and I know the temperature was nowhere near that low, but my entire body was shivering nonetheless and my teeth followed suit.  I’ll stop today in some town and pick up a hefty blanket.  I’m fortunate to have nicer accommodations tonight, staying in the home of a fellow rider.

I set my phone’s alarm for 6:00am, but had been wide awake for at least an hour when it went off.  I needed to pee, bad!  But it was cold out and I wanted to maintain what little warmth I had.  Now I know how my old dog Zeus feels when I force him to go outside in the morning.  At least I could let myself back in and didn’t have to stare back at the door hoping whomever let me out didn’t leave me there to freeze.  But I digress…

I slowly, methodically packed up camp and loaded Hester down.  As I looked her over, her rear tire had (and still has) me concerned.  I’ve already purchased new tires in Alaska.  I just hope this one holds out until I get there.  I rode across the street and fueled Hester up with 92 octane gas and myself with an apple left over from my hotel in Denver and a Monster Energy Absolute Zero energy drink.  Breakfast of champions!  I had all day to get four hours away, so today was going to be a touring day.  I planned to ride through Banff and check out Lake Louise to see for myself what all the hoopla was about and to see if it lived up to the hype.  I loaded up a play list of my favorite tunes by RUSH, cranked the stereo up, and descended into a mental state that only a biker understands.  The ride to Lake Louise was nothing short of amazing.  I heeded the advice of a local rider and took the scenic 1A highway instead of Hwy 1 and I’m really glad I did.  As I rode northward through Banff National Park, I was torn between two distinctly different urges.  One is that primal craving which exists in every biker, to rage through the seemingly endless climbing and descending curves.  The other is the desire to slow the pace in a vain attempt to completely capture a glance at the constant display towering mountains and jagged cliff ridges on either side of the road.  The roads were well maintained and provided a safe surface on which to satiate that first desire.  But in the end, the scenery won out.  I found myself setting the cruise control to whatever the limits were and pulling Hester over to let the cagers by whenever they closed on me from behind. 

Lake Louise was absolutely breathtaking.  Photos don’t do it justice.  The park was awash with Asian tourists.  I haven’t been surrounded by this many Asians since I was in defensive driving class.  Even though the place was bustling with thousands of tourists, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of tranquility just staring out at the indescribably blue/green, glass-smooth lake which was surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  I thought to myself, I’ll come back here someday.  I had arrived at the park early in the morning and quickly parked in one of the many available spaces.  As usual, I parked to one side of my space; leaving room for another biker should the spaces become scarce while I was on the lake.  I returned to find cars and campers idling all over the lot, the drivers looking for what had apparently become very elusive parking spaces.  I was followed by a slow-moving line of cars and I could tell the drivers were waiting for me to stop at a spot so they could grab it.  Ever the immature asshole, I stopped at one car and fumbled for my keys for a second.  The car that was stalking me abruptly stopped and a group of Asian people started getting out and unloading.  I then walked between the two cars and on to the next row.  “Kuso!” (shit) was all I heard from behind as I fought to control a grin.  I didn’t need to look back to feel their piercing stare on me.  After a few more rows and a few more pissed off drivers, either the thrill played out or I grew up (I’m pretty sure I'm still an asshole though) and I made a beeline for Hester.  When I got back to her, there were two other bikes parked in our slot.  The scene in the parking lot was nothing compared to the scene on the narrow meandering road to the parking lot from Hwy 1A.  The winding line of cars and campers stretched out for a half mile or better.  If these people were all waiting for a parking spot, they would probably get to see a great night view of the lake.

Heart Attack in a Bun
I made my way back onto the main highway toward Jasper, ever aware that I could arrive far too early for my hosts.  I was starving and decided to stop for lunch.  My GPS indicated the nearest place was about 70 miles behind me.  It occurred to me that the fine programmers at Garmin might not be aware of all the mom and pop dining spots in the Banff area.  I was right.  I stopped at a place called The Crossing, which had a souvenir shop, really expensive gas (glad I didn’t need any), camping supplies (but no blankets) and a cafeteria.  There, I ate the most expensive and equally decadent hot dog I’ve ever seen.  “The Filthy Rabbi” had smoked sausage split wide open and stuffed with pulled pork and thick-sliced peppered bacon.  It was topped off with caramelized onions and cole slaw.  I suppose adding the veggies made it healthy.  Realistically, this option was no less unhealthy than the other meals they offered and at $15 Canadian; it was one of the less expensive.  Besides, it came with a coupon for one free jolt from the Crossing’s defibrillator.  It was every ounce as delicious as it was bad for me.  I know I’ll pay for eating it.  When I left the Crossing, there was a group of Asian tourists taking turns posing with Hester.  One of them, who looked as if she stole her clothes from the old Laugh In TV show’s wardrobe closet, was holding my helmet.  I paused briefly and considered the possibility that these could have been the same Asian tourists that I pissed off in the parking lot a couple of hours earlier.  I decided to just roll with it and wound up posing for a dozen photos with them.

The rest of the ride to Jasper was equally pleasant, albeit uneventful.  I got to meet Hermann, his wife Joanne, and her parents who were visiting from Quebec.  Hermann designed built this amazing home in the woods near Hinton, Alberta only minutes from HWY 40 - the scenic route to Alaska.  I can't do it justice with a description here.  All I can say is the man is an artist with wood.  Joanne made an excellent home-cooked dinner and Hermann and I went out for a short ride to fill our tanks. The next gas station is about 175 kilometers away.  Hermann advised me to fill up in Canmore because the fuel in Banff and beyond was low octane and very expensive.  I arrived at Hermann's place will very little fuel left and didn't want to sweat it when I departed in the morning, so another ride was welcome.  Hermann and Joanne have a book that other riders sign when they visit.  They genuinely enjoy hosting friendly riders and it shows in their hospitality.

I played today and only rode about 300 miles.  I took the time to stop and take the pictures (there were no roses to smell) and to shoot plenty of helmet cam video.  A week ago, I wouldn't have had the patience to stop.  I think the spirit of this adventure is finally sinking in and manifesting itself in a calmer, less-rushed me.  Tomorrow, I hit the road bound for Alaska.  I plan to wind up somewhere between Dawson Creek and Whitehorse.  The Alaskapade adventure rolls on...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 3 - Crossing into Canada

Day 3 - Great Falls, Montana to Canmore, Alberta, Canada
415 Miles
2,025 Miles Total

I’ve been on the road now for a few days and it’s finally starting to sink in.  I’m away.  I’m still much closer to home than I am to the Circle, but I’m out here and I’m finally making this happen. I’ve wanted to take this journey for years and just kept putting it off.  It took losing a friend to make me get off my ass to actually plan and execute the trip. This makes me wonder; why do we procrastinate with things like this when we know the good they could do for our soul?  We’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives.  We've all been to a funeral and heard someone say “why do we wait for tragedy to get together like this?”  I believe it’s a personal tragedy for all of us when we fail to find a way - to get away.

Now that I’m in Canada, I plan to (try to) back off the throttle a bit and not concern myself with the clock, the calendar, and the odometer.  There are a few places I definitely want to see along the way and I suspect there are many more I don’t even know of yet.  The beauty of traveling alone is I can stop on a whim or just roll on through as I please.

The route out of Great Falls took me north on I-15 for a while before breaking off onto Hwy 89 and riding parallel to Glacier National Park. I strayed off 89 onto 17 and arrived at the Canadian border on Hwy 6 just south of Waterton, Alberta. I expected major hassles at the Chief Mountain border crossing.  After examining my passport, the Border Officer asked me if I had any weapons, mace, or plants.  I answered negative and he passed me through; just like that.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The ride from Chief Mountain to Canmore was nothing short of breathtaking.  At only 415 miles, today's ride was a buzz around the block compared to the previous two days.  I would have arrived here sooner, but I kept stopping to take pics and pick my jaw up.  I can't wait to review my video footage and see what all I captured.  The roads were twisty, picturesque, and in great shape.  There was practically no traffic except for goats, cows, and horses who seem to prefer the road to the land on either side of it.  I stopped to don my rain gear (again) and although the skies were dark and threatening, spent more time putting it on than I did in any real rain.  I stopped in the first bank my GPS found and exchanged currencies.  Having skipped breakfast, I was hungry and almost forgot that I needed Canadian dollars.

I arrived in Canmore and had to find a place to camp.  I learned last night that my previously planned accommodations for the night had fallen through.  I had originally planned to camp anyway, so the news wasn't a severe blow.  Besides, I had a strategy to find the perfect spot.  I just looked for little blue street signs with camper icons on them to point me the way.  The first two places didn't allow tent camping.  I asked the lady behind the desk if she knew of any sites nearby that did and she coldly told me no.  Maybe she didn't like Texans, or maybe bikers.  Or maybe both.  The guy at the second place was cool and pointed me to a spot a couple of kilometers away.  I rode over and when I arrived, was greeted by a huge brown Labrador retriever.  This had to be the happiest dog on the planet.  He would have made a great spokesdog for Pet Prozac.  Once he saw I was friendly back to him, he grabbed some dog spit-soaked rag of a toy, brought it to me, and began that game of "take it no don't, take it, no don't".  It struck me at that moment that this was the most personal interaction I had experienced in three days. I'm not sure, but I think it made me miss home.  I set up my camp and headed out for a bite to eat.  Tim Hortons is apparently a popular place up here.  So far it is with me, because I ate at a Hortons for lunch near the border and dinner here in Canmore today.  Hortons is a win/win for me.  I can eat decent food and they have wi-fi, which is how I'm able to deliver this update.

Tomorrow, I ride another short day to Jasper to visit an acquaintance from the Harley Davidson Forums I frequent.  Several other riders have visited Hermann and his wife and I'm looking forward to meeting them in person.  I'll buzz around the Banff/Lake Louise area in the morning and then head north to Jasper.  From there, it's north by northwest to Alaska and up to the Arctic Circle.  I've logged over 2,000 miles in three days and I'm still as excited as I was on Friday.

For those who noticed the odd track on the map, I didn't make an east west zigzag as it appears.  I chalk it up to a glitch.  I received a dozen texts and emails asking if I was lost.  Even Hermann asked me when I spoke with him to confirm tomorrow night's stay.