|Snapped, Crackled, Popped, & Ready to Ride - Watson Lake, YT
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
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
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...