Monday 7/23 - I got the heads back from Randy on Thursday, went down to VA on Friday (they canceled Skip Castro! The bastards!) then came back and started reassembling the GS on Saturday night. The only unpleasant surprise was finding water contamination when I changed the transmission oil; hopefully it wasn't like that long enough to do real damage.
Shakedown consisted of starting it up to balance the carbs, and pulling it around to the front of the building. Loaded with camping gear, clothes, electronics and emergency repair gear, I left about 1:00 PM and made it to Lexington KY that night; about 600 miles on familiar roads. The motor ran like a top but due to the load and fairly high speeds, my fuel economy is about 37.5 so far.
I looked at the plugs in the morning and they looked fine, so I won't do anything (yet) to lean it out.
The bike hit 99k leaving Lexington. The rear tire that I thought would make it to Tahoe might not, so I'm mentally preparing to find another "new to me" dead tire in Wichita this evening or tomorrow AM. On a better note, I found a great cafe in Leitchfield KY. The Lighthouse Cafe; a small eatery in the ground floor of a woman's victorian house. Right in the middle of Chainville; she says she operates it so her family and other people can find real food.
Stopped in Fort Scott KS for the night... message on the cell phone from Jim in Denver saying he has a new rear tire that I can take!!! Way cool. Then I started talking to two guys in the local bar and we ended up heading over to his shop (Tom is a signmaker) for another beer.
Had to stop by the sign shop on the way out of town, and got a later start than I wanted. I decided not to go to the dealer in Wichita and just get to Denver and take Jim up on his offer. A MAJOR thunderstorm approaching Wichita filled my boots with water (no liners in the Rukka suit!) and left them wet for a few days, and then it took forever to get to Salina, then even longer to get to Denver. It was just a slabfest and it went on for way too long. However, I did get to Denver and pick up the tire from Jim's house, and then arrived at Olivia's about 10:30. A very long day (750 I think) but the worst was now behind.
I actually got a decently early start on Thursday and got straight out of town and then onto US40. That's a pretty cool road that goes through some of the northern CO ski areas. At Steamboat Springs I decided that it would be prudent to mount the new tire that I was carrying, as the upcoming hotter roads in UT and NV would quickly take the remaining rubber off the one I was limping along on. Unfortunately, the stop at Action Powersports turned into a 90-minute stop as they first broke the valve stem (had to run all over town for another one) and then couldn't get the new tire to seat and had to take it to two other shops. That was irritating to say the least, and my planned 800-mile day was looking pretty dim.
To make matters worse, the route I chose was just lousy. I wanted to take US40 as far as I could and then go south and get US50, but once I got into Utah US40 was just horrible. Hot, ugly, and with frequent sprawling towns that really slowed me down. Then I overshot my turnoff and added about 40 miles getting down to US6, but once that part was straightened out things got a lot better. I gassed up near Spanish Fork where I got US50, and had a really wonderful ride out into the desert. Traffic consisted of one car every 5 or 10 minutes, the road was in great condition, and I cruised along at about 70mph through beautiful desert until the daylight ran out. At the UT/NV border I stopped for a burger, then packed it away and hit the road again. After getting a second wind around Ely, I made it almost all the way to Eureka by about 10:30, and then found a great roadside camping spot, settled in with my burger, and went to sleep.
Friday morning was COLD but I woke just before sunrise and packed up. The desert was simply gorgeous in the new light and there was again hardly any traffic. Eureka had no breakfast to offer so I went on about 70 miles to the next town, Austin. Then it got warmer as I went on, but things stayed pretty desolate until Fallon, at which point it was just "Las Vegas Ugly" most of the way to the Tahoe area.
Fri, Sat, Sun and Mon at Tahoe (Silver Creek)
Tues at Timber Lodge in Chester
Wed at campground on 299
Thurs and Fri at Standish-Hickey near Leggett
Sat at Jason's
Sun at Sasha's
Mon at Jason's
Tues at Sasha's
Wed at Way Park (between Petrolia and Honeydew). Met Dillon and Kim at the campground; he saw my bike parked on his street in SF on Sunday when Sasha and I were at a friend's party!!
Thursday 7/10 - passed through the Humboldt Redwoods on my way out of the Lost Coast, then took 101 north. Stopped for a reat breakfast and some computer catch-up north of Eureka, then followed 101 for the rest of the day, finally stopping for the night at a campground at Oregon Dunes.
Friday 7/11 - kept following 101, but got tires of the tourist traffic and bailed at Tillamook onto US6, which turned out to be a great road. Then a series of fantastic back roads took me to Longview, on the OR/WA border. Amazingly, you can see Mt. Rainier from there, at Mount Rainier. Met William Woodward from Philly, riding an R11RT! Shared a campsite with him.
Saturday 7/12 - went up to the Sunrise Visitor Center for some spectacular views of Rainier and the Cascades, then headed towards Seattle. At Ride West BMW I bought a few things and managed to use their internet connection to upload a lot of pictures and emails. Leaving town was rough as there was an accident that had shut down the interstate to the north, and all of the secondary roads were clogged. Finally I got out of town and really enjoyed SR9. At the suggestion of the owner of the General Store at Van Zandt, I camped at Silver Lake Park, just south of the Canada border in WA.
Sunday 7/13 - today wasn't too bad, considering the typical bad start. After packing, I headed to Sumas (SUE-mass) for the border crossing and hopefully some breakfast. The place was about deserted; I finally asked around and found a pretty good brunch buffet and ran into two guys from Wisconsin that I had met at breakfast yesterday morning near Rainier. Then I needed to make some calls about my next tire (it never ends) but once I crossed the border I made amazingly good time and covered about 400 miles. The Western Access Route, which is Highways 1 and 97 in British Columbia, is really pretty. It starts off going through a deep canyon in the Canadian Rockies, then turns to a semi-desert, then to lush flood-plain farmland. The whole time it follows the Fraser River, and is usually accompanied by railways.
Tomorrow, if I get a good start, I could pick up the Yellowhead Highway at Prince George and make it all of the way to the Cassiar. If I get a REALLY good start, I could go up the Cassiar as far as Hyder. We'll have to see. Tonight I'm camped at the Provincial campground at Ten Mile Lake, after stopping around 8:00. The sun only set around 9:15 and it was light enough to set up the tent at 10:00, so I could stay on the road a lot longer tomorrow.
Wednesday 7/16 - I did make it to Hyder. First I stopped at the lake camp campground on the Cassiar, but just didn't feel like staying there and went on to Hyder. Good thing! I met Phil, Bud and Jakita at the campground at Sealaska, and had a great time hanging out together. In fact, we got together for camping again last night where the Cassiar meets the Alaska Highway, and will probably stay tonight near Whitehorse.
Hyder is a neat stopover. It is technically Alaska, and should be on Alaska Time, but since they are basically just a suburb of Stewart BC they use Pacific Time and Canadian money (no US bank). Crossing the border to Hyder one simply drives through, but there is a Canadian checkpoint for re-entry. Apparently Hyder is sort of dying, as residents are leaving every year, but the tourist trade will probably remain stable. Hyder is the nearest Alaskan point to the lower 48, and offers views of the Bear glacier (a small one on the way into town) and the Salmon Glacier, a much larger one that is accessed by going through town and about 15 miles beyond. In Hyder I met Bud, Jakita and Phil, on a road trip from Minnesota, and we ended up camping together for a few nights as we went to Skagway. Bud works for a camping store, Duluth Pack, specializing in canoeing supplies. Phil works for Pepper McGregor's, a coffeehouse, and Jakita is traveling the world. Bud met Jakita at Americorps, and he and Phil live in Duluth MN.
The northern part of the Cassiar is definitely the prettiest. Up to the Hyder turnoff, and even a bit beyond, the road mostly runs in a wooded valley with only teasing views of the surrounding mountains, but after about 150 miles it gets a lot better, and the last 125 miles or so are the best. Unfortunately I was a bit behind schedule to meet up with the others, and it was too late in the day (and too cloudy) for the best photo opportunities but it was definitely the best route so far.
We ended up staying in this camp at the junction of the Cassiar and the Alaska Highway. Mosquito city, totally. We all eventually sought refuge in our tents, and beat a hasty retreat this morning. Today was a light day - only about 275 miles to Whitehorse and then the Takhinni Hot Springs campground. It's midnight now, and still light enough to read a book easily, but I need to make myself go to sleep.
Friday, 7/18 - Yesterday's destination was Skagway. I headed into town to look for a tire, and the others went on ahead. I looked around and found a decent tire (for $CN 240!) but would prefer to get the one I have up to Fairbanks. There are new-to-me tires available. :) The best find was... when I went to this new restaurant for breakfast (Ricky's) I opened up the laptop and found that I was online! They had a wireless internet connection, totally unadvertised, so I got caught up on a few things and IM'd with Meredith for a bit. With that in mind, knowing that I would go through Whitehorse again today, I made it a priority to get some info together to post to the website last night, and today I posted it.
Also yesterday, while I was passing the Honda dealer I saw some bikes outside, and got talking to Tom, on an R11100GS. He was heading home to Vail but was disappointed that he'd had to skip the Dalton Highway due to rain. Now that the weather had improved it was easy to convince him to turn back, so he went down to Skagway also and we spent today riding together heading for Fairbanks and then Deadhorse. What a change from yesterday!! Going to Skagway I had a brutal headwind, cold and foggy, and today was warm and sunny. This morning I said my goodbyes to the others at Skagway (Dyea actually)... Jakita will board a ferry for Kechikan, and Bud and Phil will head to Dawson City for a music festival and then blast home to Duluth.
At the moment I'm camped at Beaver Creek, about 20 miles from the Alaska border, and we're going to shoot for Tok for breakfast and then Fairbanks in early afternoon. Fairbanks is 300 miles from here and we should get there in plenty of time to get the new tire installed. The sun went down around 11:00, and now (shortly after midnight) there's enough light to do just about anything outside. I think the sun won't actually go down at all when we're camping on the Dalton Highway.
Saturday, 7/19 - the day went well, especially the fact that I DIDN'T hit the moose calf. Funny, but the Alaska Highway now seems like slabbing, and I'd love to get onto some back roads. The Dalton is sort of a back road, I guess! We basically beelined to the dealer in Fairbanks and I got a new rear tire, then headed north. We are in cloudless weather, after a serious rainstorm (and snow) came through the Alaskan mountains last week. The effect on the Alaska range, just south of Delta Junction, was terrific! And the condition of the Dalton (all dirt, so far) is fantastic. Ducky didn't get to swim today but I might take him down to the Yukon River tomorrow AM.
So now I'm 60 miles south of the Arctic circle; the sun went down about 11:30 but it's still very light out now an hour later. Tomorrow we'll go up to Prudhoe Bay and grab a motel room there (no tent camping is available) and take a tour out to the Arctic Ocean.
Monday - 7/21 - The ride to Deadhorse was really just a nice ride on a long gravel road. In fact, there is now 120 miles of pavement on the route, and they're supposed to complete paving the entire road by 2008. The scenery is just wonderful; a nice mix of wooded mountains, rocky peaks, barren plains and eventually lush green arctic tundra. The North Slope - the last 80 miles of so before getting to Deadhorse - is flat, green and treeless. Despite having very little traffic and little visible support available (gas stations, houses, etc.) there was never such a feeling of being totally on my own because there was never any real doubt about simply being able to ride there safely. Part of it may also have been that I had a riding companion, although he was generally an hour ahead of me and would be of little help... if I do the road to Inuvik, I can see if it feels different riding truly solo.
|Deadhorse and nearly everything else on the Dalton Highway exists to
serve the oilfields and little else. The single-mindedness of purpose is
unmistakable, and actually pretty neat to see. While not spotless, the town
was generally tidy and everything seemed in good repair. When you're talking
about such a huge operation, and the critical need to keep things running
smoothly through the brutal winter, it's easy to understand why they would
not want to tolerate the minor disrepair that we allow to happen to our vehicles
and equipment in the lower 48. If it's not 100%, fix it and get back to work
making money. Parking lots are just about free of oil stains (the ones there
probably come from RVs). Crews rotate in 2~3 week shifts from Fairbanks or
Anchorage. Tourists are probably more of a minor nuisance than anything else;
the hotels there clearly cater to workers being housed by the oil companies
and focus on providing the services that they want.
Traveling the Dalton, the pipeline is a constant presence; sometimes buried, sometimes up to a mile away, but nearly always in evidence and often running directly alongside the highway. Animals are drawn to it because the disturbed earth provides some variety for foraging, so many wildlife pictures (mine and others) show animals and the pipeline in close proximity. Purists might object to the manmade "intrusion" in the photos but it's really a pretty natural thing in a way; the road (and thus my ability to see the area) wouldn't exist without it. Until a few years ago, people couldn't even travel the Dalton without special permission.
The sun didn't go down in Deadhorse. Not a problem; most nights we stay up until 11 or 12 at the latest and then we're out. There, and then again here at the Yukon Crossing we shared a hotel room, Tom's treat. It turns out I could have camped up there and again here, but I'm not to proud to turn down a free room. :)
Tuesday 7/22 - After leaving Yukon Crossing, we headed separately for Trail's End for oil changes. I stopped for a great breakfast (I think Tom did also) at the Hilltop Café, and I got to the dealership just as George was finishing Tom's oil change. I ended up doing the work myself, taking a break in the middle to grab a cup of coffee with George and a friend. After that I headed south, and while inquiring about camping at a bar in Nenana, I ran into a K75S rider and we camped together on the riverfront, at a campsite belonging to the owner of the bar.
Wednesday 7/23 - Denali!! Denali is only about 70 miles south of Nenana, but there's a lot of construction in that part and there were absolutely brutal headwinds. Once in the park, you can only go about 15 miles in a private vehicle unless you have a camping reservation or a special pass, otherwise you need to take a long (and rough, I hear) bus ride to the innermost areas. Not wanting to do a full exploration, which would be best done with hiking gear, I just rode the 15 mile section and managed to get a relatively clear view of Denali itself.
While sightseeing I ran into Tim Carrithers (Motorcyclist magazine) and a couple of other guys doing a photo shoot for a story. It was neat to watch them in action, and it'll be doubly neat to see how the published pictures look after they get through the Art department! I was seriously considering joining them later for some food and beers but every other factor (no camping available in the area, pricy rooms, worse weather rolling in, etc) indicated that I should keep rolling down the road, so I pushed on to Talkeetna, a somewhat touristy but laid-back town about 15 miles off the Parks Highway. It's sort of like Skagway with Hyder's attitude. Looking for a tent site I met a couple on an FJ1200 that had passed me earlier; Jim and Stacy from Vail Colorado, and they knew Tom! Unbelievable... we grabbed the pizza and beer that I had missed out on earlier, and shared a campsite.
7/27 - Homer, AK. Leaving Talkeetna, I was planning to push to Homer and meet Jim and Stacey there, but the headwind and rain were dragging me down. At Anchorage I took stock of the situation and decided I was going to bail (and hoped Jim and Stacey had bailed also). I got in touch with Adam, who I had met at Coldfoot, and he invited me to stay with him. Sweet!! I accepted his offer, and ended up spending three nights at the "Brown Palace," an ex-party pad (SERIOUS party, 6' deep hot tub, sauna, round bed with built-in stereo, coke snorting bar, etc) from the oil boom days. While there I repacked the steering head bearings and spent a LOT of time cleaning the Dalton Highway off the GS. The Calcium Chloride has started to pit the aluminum luggage, but the bike itself seems to have survived pretty well.
This morning I pushed off for Homer, but thought that Jim and Stacey might be returning from Seward right about now, so I detoured down there. Bingo! I met them coming north, and finally got some contact info for them. They're taking a plane tour tomorrow, and then will spend a day or so in Anchorage. After that, we might be able to get together down by Valdez. I kept on to Seward for lunch, then took a walk at the Exit Glacier. Unfortunately access to the glacier itself is roped off, but I'm thinking about going back tomorrow and hiking up to the ice field.
Finally I got down here to Homer, and although it was a long way to go, I think it was worth it. Homer is in a really neat location, close to the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Valdez, on Prince William Sound, is on the other side of the peninsula. The clouds parted and sunlight (at 10:00 PM) is bathing the back bays and the seaplanes in front of me. Out on Homer Spit, where the ferry landing is, the RVs are parked wall-to-wall at the campgrounds (other than the ferry, it's mostly a tourist trap out there) but my campsite in town is sheltered from the wind and quiet.
7/29 - Roadside, Glenn Highway. After Homer, I did end up heading back to the Exit Glacier for a hike. Of course, the weather was worse and I wasted some time debating the hike in the rain, but eventually went for it. I got about two hours into it and got a great view of the top of the glacier and the bottom of the icefield, and decided that was a good turnaround spot (the rest was enveloped in fog). I was pretty wet by this time, and simply rode back to Adam's house to let my stuff dry out again (specifically the riding gear).
The next morning I got up bright and early, tightened the steering head bearings and checked the wheel balance, cleaned and re-taped the windshield, and went off to the dealer to see about a front tire. They had a decent selection, and fairly cheap!! I took a Gripster for about $85 and will change it when needed, in about 2000 miles. After that I headed east on the Glenn highway (taking the Old G.H. for a while - much nicer!) and then went up Hatcher's Pass Road to the Independence Mine and walked around there for a while. Then, back to the highway and I found Carlo and the others (who I had seen at the Glacier yesterday again) so we camped together off the roadside.
7/30 - We rode together as far as Glenallen, then I headed south while the others headed north to Tok. I wanted to go to either Valdez or McCarthy, whichever had better weather. The paper I saw in Anchorage predicted a storm over Valdez for the previous day, so I didn't epect much, and I was right... a man I talked to at a store had just come from Valdez and he said it was drizzling on and off. Then, a mile or so further down the road I ran into Jim and Stacey, heading out, and they had a similar story. Apparently the weather was supposed to improve by Friday, and I could see the mountains towards McCarthy looking pretty clear, so I abamdoned my plan (which was to go to the top of Thompson Pass and decide there) and simply headed back for the McCarthy Road. Jim and Stacey went as far as Chitina, but decided that they didn't have enough time left to make the McCarthy trip worthwhile. I continued on for another 30 miles before getting to this campsite (a private, unmanned, donation-only campground) and heating up some stew.
I like the idea of this sort of campground, and have often thought of making my own like this one day, vbut this one has a few drawbacks that I didn't appreciate fully before I had started to unpack. First, it's totally overrun by mosquitos, at least right now. Then, there's no dry wood which will burn, and there's also little flat dry ground. What we have are some fire rings, a picnic table and an outhouse. Make that, "What I have..." since I'm the only one here, and probably the only one for quite some time. And solitude, and the rush of a river. If I can make it to the outhouse without being eaten, and also clean up the cookware a bit, I should sleep well.
7/31 - What a big day!! It stared with 30 miles of gravel to get to McCarthy, and then got a lot better when I found that I could ride across the footbridge instead of paying $5 to park and $5 each way for the bus. I rode on into McCarthy and spent most of my savings on breakfast. :) Then I rode out to Kennicott, and a little beyond (into the Park) to get closer to the Root Glacier (I wanted to ride as far as I could to spare my knee which was threatening to act up). The glcier was wonderful!! I could walk right out onto it, and as far as I wanted. Without crampons, though, I decided that I would only walk in places where I would slide to a safe location. Even saw a bear on the way there! After that, I went up the trail a bit towards the Bonanza Mine... I rode about a mile and walked a few more before turning back. Then I regretted turning back (I had to because I had no water) and after getting water I rode up to where I had walked to before and walked the rest of the way up! It was pretty neat, although it's a shame that the mine buildings are being left to fall down. They are so dilapidated and full of scrap metal that it's hard to discern the original purpose of each building. The Kennecott Mill itself, down in the town of Kennicott, is being refurbished by the Park Service, and all of the other buildings in town have to comply with the same paint scheme (barn red with white trim).
Yes, there are two spellings. The river, town and glacier are Kennicott, while the mining company is Kennecott due to an early and persistent misspelling. The Kennecott Mill processed ore from the Bonanza, Jumbo and [x] mines up in the mountains. Those mines produced 80% copper ore, contrasted to the 17% ore that Kennecott is now getting from their mine in New Mexico.
After that, I rode back down, crossed the footbridge and blasted the 60 miles of gravel back to Chitina, where I figured I could camp on the beach in mosquito-free conditions. Close!! There are a few, but nothing like last night. And I met a really great couple, Linda and Steven, who were fishing for a few months.
8/1 - Today really had very little going for it. It was long... I left Chitina after having breakfast and went to Valdez. The best part of this was probably stopping to look at the Worthington Glacier; Valdez was totally uninteresting. I hear there's some ood hiking, and the history video that the community college shows is good aalso, but I missed it. It's very difficult to get to the water, and the shops aren't quaint or interesting at all. Maybe this impression is because it was overcast; as I left town it started to rain steadily and it stayed with me for 120 miles back to Glenallen. While I was having a late lunch, the weather cleared a bit and I rode on to a campground about 15 miles from Tok, where I met John aand Andre from Minnesota. A good campfire, food and beer was definitely the highlight of this day.
8/3 - I'm definitely behind schedule getting back! Yesterday wasn't so great, distance-wise, because right after leaving the campground I stopped in Tok and found Carroll Johnson in the ANonymous book who had a driveshaft boot to replace the one that shredded itself the evening before (I hadn't installed it properly in SF, and I'd noticed a tear shortly afterwards). It was afternoon before I left his house, but the boot was finally correct. I went on to Chicken, then ran up the road to Eagle. Nice road, and definitely a nice town, but I didn't feel like staying there in the campground (too early in the day) so I headed back to the main road and pitched the tent near the road in just about total isolation. Funny thing there; I had been following a truck on and off all the way from Eagle, and when I pulled off at the very end to look for a campsite, I found it (with a couple inside) parked in a secluded patch off the road. :) They left immediately, and I set up the tent.
Today I went into Dawson City for breakfast, and took a long-awaited shower at a campground there. It had been five days since I showered last in Anchorage, and since then I had done all that hiking in Kennicott. After that, I meandered down some side road along some gold mining claims before heading up the Dempster Highway. When I heard about the Gold Rush, the Yukon, Klondike, and all of that history, I never realized that gold mining was still very active in that area. I stopped in at a gold panning site that draws a few tourists, and talked to the woman that runs it. Her son works a number of claims up in the hills, and has won the [international, I think] goldpanning tournament for the last two years. He will be going to the tournament again this year, in Switzerland, but still needs to pull enough gold out of their claims to support them for the year. Tourism isn't a paying proposition for them, yet. In a showcase in their shop, she showed me a number of gold artifacts they've recovered from their claims, including a 3-oz nugget (measured in Troy Ounces, slightly over a standard ounce, and their gold is about 80% pure).
After that, I headed out of town and up the Dempster Highway towards Inuvik. I was wondering if this would be a repeat of the Dalton, but it isn't... at least not completely. It quickly becomes nearly treeless, following the North Klondike River, and only becomes wooded again after crossing the Ogilvie Mountains. After that, it's fairly typical boreal forest for about 150 miles until Eagle Crossing (where I am now), where I met up with two Frenchmen that I'd talked to this morning in Dawson, and we had a few beers and called it a day.
8/5 - I'm tired. Yesterday I got up early, packed up aand then had a bunch of coffee waiting for the others to get up. That never happened, so I had breakfast and took off around 8:30 I think. Got the obligatory shots at the Arctic Circle and the NWT border, and basically kept motoring on. Construction was not too bad, and the only real stop was a burger break in Fort McPherson. Getting to Univik around 4, I toured the town for a while, had a Caribou Burger at ToGo, and headed south again. I'd checked out a campground on the way up; it was mosquito-ridden but there was a screened-in picnic area and I set my tent up there around 11:00 PM.
This morning I packed up early and hit the road, getting back to Eagle Plains for breakfast around 8:00. Shortly after leaving, I met an English couple that the Frenchmen had told me about; we rode together briefly but didn't find each other again. He's on the road going to Tierra del Fuego on his Honda, and his girlfriend joined him for the first six weeks of the trip.
The Dempster is quite diffferent from the Dalton. It starts out nearly treeless, then follows a tributary of the Ogilvie River for a while and crosses the Ogilvie Mountains around Eagle Plain, which is halfway to Inuvik. After coming out of the mountains near Midway Lake, most of the scenery is gone and you spend most of the time in a corridor through boreal forest. The two ferry crossings are the only real items of interest after that, and after the second (and most interesting one, at the Arctic Red River) you only have a long ride in the woods before you get to Inuvik. The town is definitely nicer than Deadhorse, though; it has 3,500 people and real restaurants and bars. Somehow I liked the Dalton better, although part of that could be due to the spectaular weather on the Dalton compared to fierce headwinds and scattered showers on the Dempster.
Although I only had about 290 miles total to get back to the end of the Dempster, and I had an early start, I was pretty beat at that point and hung out at the lode for a while, where I thought I might meet up with the english couple again. Instead, I met a man from Colorado Springs, on a trip to the far north on a KLR650 and a group of people who were bicycling through the north country. We camped on the gravel by the edge of the Klondike River.
8/6 - After a pretty lazy morning (including a shower) I hit the road, headed for the Campbell Highway. Getting there meant following the Klondike down to Carcross, and I was keeping my eyes peeled for Sasha and his brother who might have been approaching Dawson City that day. Not a sign by Carcross, where I got some groceries and headed east on the Campbell. It's a nice road!! So was the Klondike, actually. But after having a mini-pizza at Carcross I was getting sleepy, and pulled off at the road for Taro to read the tourist information and wake up a bit. I spotted a flyer advertising a cook-out on the 6th at 6:00 PM... what day was today? Old gas receipts finally told me it was the 6th, and the Palm Pilot thought it might be 6:15... not totally trustworthy, but it was worth a shot!
I ended up having a really fantastic visit to that town. It was created around the lead-zinc mine there, which shut down about 5 years ago. Consequently, a lot of people have left town (lots of empty houses) but it's trying to establish itself as a real tourist destination, with local artists and easy access to the backcountry. I think it's working, too... I met a Swiss couple who had bought a house there, as well as some Germans, and the town looked tidy and clean in general. At their campground (unbelievable cheap, with free showers) I met two Swiss campers who had only gone to the town to find a liquor store, but found the cookout also! They were from St. Gallen, only 20 minutes from where my father grew up. Plus there was another Swiss man there who sounded like he was from further south in the German-speaking part. We ended up playing cards and drinking beer around the campfire until 2:00 AM.
8/7 - definitely not a stellar day mileage-wise, and I have to start turning up the heat to get to Missoula for the start of the IBR. I did some laundry and took a shower before leaving, then stopped for breakfast (lunch, really) only 45 miles away in Ross River, and it was 2:00 before I was really rolling for the day. The last part of the Campbell was just long... really long. Scenic, but 230 miles of uninterrupted road (no towns, no gas, no nothing, and 99% dirt) just gets old after a while. By the time I got to Watson Lake I was ready for a change! I browsed the "Sign Forest" there and then headed east for Liard Hot Springs. It was a great evening for seeing wildlife: 2 bears and a herd of Bison, maybe more.
At Liard, I started talking to a couple as I was walking to the springs, and we ended up chatting about routes, north country travel, etc. and after several hours it emerged that they were Jungle and Willie, close friends of Stacey and Jim, and knew Tom!!! Incredible. I camped in the parking lot of the lodge's RV park, and saw a wonderful display of the Northern Lights for the first time ever.
8/8 - Longest day yet, at least since I crossed the plains. Looking at the map last night with Jungle, it became apparent that I had quite a few miles to make up, and that I needed to stop burning daylight. So, I left Liard at about 6:00 and just went. Stopped for breakfast after an hour, but basically made miles. It was a fine day for doing that, too, since the scenery tapered off after the first few hours. It was 477 to Dawson Creek, another 83 to Grande Prairie, and 61 to here! 620 in all, but that puts me in good shape for tomorrow. If the weather stays nice, I'll have 190 miles to Jasper, and close to 400 more to get past Banff to the US border. I don't even need to get all the way to the border tomorrow, anyway. After today, I doubt I will.
8/9 - After about 130 miles I got to Hinton, and had breakfast. There was already smoke in the air from the numerous fires burning throughout the parks and British Columbia, but people I talked to there said the parks themselves were actually fine. Shortly after Hinton I entered Jasper Park - beautiful! There were restrictions in place regarding off-highway hiking, due to the smoke, and there were helicopters flying to and fro with water buckets, but the visibility was OK. Jasper doesn't actually go on for very long, and then shortly after passing through the town of Jasper one enters Banff Park. Banff is just breathtaking. If you have any appreciation of geology and plate techtonics, you will be amazed because you can clearly see the way the moutains were formed, with huge slabs of rock, formed horizontally over millenia, now standing on end or at steep angles. To the east, the mountains show the flat "top surface" of the original rock, and to the west they show the strata of the sheared-off edge. The jagged edge where the plate broke forms the ridge. Also apparent is the glaciall erosion in places where the glaciers have disappeared, but there are plenty of glaciers left. To the west the mountains are basically capped by ice fields in the southern part of the park. This park would be a great place for backcountry hiking.
Once I got to Lake Louise, towards the south end of Banff, the road was closed due to the fires, so I went west on a different road and then south to Radium Hot Springs, where I hoped for a repeat of my evening at Liard. Not to be: the pools were $8 admission and PACKED, and camping in the park campground was an obscene $22 (I think I could have camped free further into the park, but Radium was at the other end of the closed road). I camped on a hillside in back of a gas station.
8/10 - this needed to be a fairly big day, close to 600 miles, to get to Missoula. Heading south from Radium, I stopped in Kimberly for breakfast. Kimberly is a ski town with many of the stores and restaurants open year-round. Surprisingly, rooms could be had there for $35! At the same place, I got a $3.99 breakfast and spent way too long talking to a man from Arizona. Way too long, only because I was looking at a later and later arrival in Missoula. Turning up the speed a bit, I got to the US border, went through without problems, and immediately found a heat wave. Taking out the liners for the first time in weeks, I proceeded down the north Idaho desert on US95, which took me all the way to Lewiston ID (named after Merriweather Lewis, it's right next to Clarkston WA) and then took US12 east to Lolo Pass. Despite everything I'd heard about the road over Lolo Pass, it was pretty nediocre. Scenic, though, with a long stretch of winding road alongside a river, but the pass itself is short.
Crossing the pass, I could see forest fires burning to the north, and these were still clearly visible from downtown Missoula. I found a couple of friends at the hotel where the Iron Butt Rally was centered, and after several beers a few of us took our sleeping bags out to the grass of the adjacent city park. Which was fine... until the sprinklers went on around 2:00 AM. It was like being hit with garden hoses! Wet everything, I just moved to a safer spot, found some dry things to wear and slept like a log until nearly 8:00.
8/11 - After the rally left, I got email at a local Kinko's and then spent some time helping a rally first-timer with a fuel problem that was delaying his departure. My intended route to Denver is about 1250 miles, and I had from early afternoon today to later afternoon on the 13th to cover that so I wanted to get at least 300 done today. And that is almost exactly what it too to get me here, sitting in a riverside campground near Sun Valley, ID. I've come almost straight south all day, but tomorrow I'll veer northeast to get into Yellowstone Park, then southeast to Denver. If I can cover 500 miles tomorrow, I'll be in mid-Wyoming in the last parts of the Tetons National Forest, leaving a morning desert run and a mountainous final stretch through Colorado.
8/12 - Leaving Sun Valley, I took a dirt road over Trail Creek Pass, which was pretty rocky on the south side but nicely groomed to the north, and worked my way to Arco for breakfast. Then I followed SR33 and US20 into Yellowstone - it was pretty crowded, and the west entrance especially showed the effects of the huge fires from a few years ago. I stopped at a few geysers, but for the most part was content to pass through and see stuff from the road. One notable exception was a stop near Midway Basin where I bathed in the river, enjoyed a crudely-built hot tub, and washed out my riding suit. My only regret is pointing out the hot tub to a French-Canadian family who then proceeded to take it over until I left. :-\
Out of Yellowstone, I rode until it was dark, stopped for a beer at Lander, and then slept under a picnic shelter in Jeffrey City
8/13 - After another morning of beautiful desert topography, I reached Rawlins, home of the historic Wyoming State Prison. Tours were inexpensive, but I needed to keep moving so took SR71 south, which was everyt bit as remote as any road I'd used in Alaska and more than once had me thinking that I was getting myself lost. But it hit SR70 as expected, which took me to Encampment (where I swapped mystery novels at the general store) and kept on into Colorado and down to US40 at Granby. My plan had been to take US34 through Estes Park and then go down to Boulder, but dark clouds were staying over Rocky Mountain National Park and the riders coming from that road were reporting hail... Berthoud Pass (on 40) was clearer, so I went that way instad and took 103 to avoid the backup at the Eisenhower Tunnel.
8/14 ~ 8/16 - Rested, showered and knobby-equipped I met some other Big Dogs at BMW of Denver for a ride out to Pike's Peak. Back at the house, Tom and Rita had arrived and I got my first birthday present - a remote-control motorcycle!!! The size (tiny) and function of this thing is unbelievable. Next morning, I headed out to Grant for the start, where I hooked upp with Wendell's group for a ride up Red Cone. The only rider from last year's group was Ronnie, who haad intended to take Webster instead and meet up afterwards, but changed his mind. Six of us stayed together that day - Wendell, Ron Spicer, Ronnie, Mike, Neal, and I. I was clearly the weak leg of the group, but we stayed together well enough that we were a good group. Approaching Steamboat Springs that evening, we found a total swingarm bearing failure on wendell's bike, so the next day we were only five for a great day of singletrack in the National Forests north of Steamboat.
8/17 - it was a slow day... Meredith had arrived the day before, and we left town over Buffalo Pass. A few attempts to get onto smaller roads on the other side were unsuccessful, but reached 125 and basically returned to Denver the way I had returned from Wyoming a few days before.
8/18 - Another non-ambitious start to the day :) but we got going around noon and headed out of Denver on US6W and then 119. Unfortunately, all of those roads leading up towards Estes Park are crowded... we had some clear sailing on 119 after we passed Nederland, but for the most part we were constantly passing slow-moving traffic (the roads were posted at 35 and 45). We also spent a lot of this section avoiding rain... we never really got poured on but we were constantly on the fringe of the storm front that had been hovering over the Rockies for the past few days until we got well past Estes Park and headed east on 34 towards Loveland and then north on smaller roads towards Wyoming. After some deliberation about fuel, we continued on towards Laramie and camped by a lake just north of Woods Landing.
8/19 - We limped into Laramie for breakfast with an incredible 329 miles on Meredith's stock R1100GS tank. I was already on reserve, with nearly three gallons more fuel than she had. Then we continued through Wheatland, Fort Laramie and Jay Em (after some serious navigational problems). At this point the gravel roads were getting a bit tiresome (too much loose gravel on hardpack) and we took the US highways again to Crawford, and then back roads north towards Mt. Rushmore. The weatherr caught up to us again and we had to wait out a thunderstorm in the lee of a farmer's equipment shed somewhere near Ardmore, but after that managed to keep west of it with some on-the-fly rerouting. Unfortunately the weather was hanging heavily over Mt. Rushmore, so after a lunch stop in Custer we turned east and headed for the Black Hills. Mt. Rushmore could wait... after what we'd seen, it was really just an unnatural defacement of a mountain.
The light dwindled as
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