I didn’t miss the turn for the USA this time.

August 25, 2010

Today I planned a leisurely ride back into the US with Winthrop, WA as my final destination. I really didn’t expect much from the ride but I was pleasantly surprised with the scenery I saw and the route I took. What struck me most was what a diverse set of environment British Columbia has. Everything from forests to huge mountains to vast plains to deserts and huge lakes. It really was quite amazing. I took the high mountain roads that wound up and down through southern BC passing by many rivers, farms and roadside fruit stands. I stopped and bought a huge basket of plums, peaches, apples, etc for 5 bucks! 5 bucks!!!!! The only bargain I got in Canada… everything else was way overpriced. By this time, the temperature had soared from 53 to about 95 degrees so I was having to stop and take layers off as I went. The Okanagan Lake area was really beautiful with beaches, boating and rafting but it has some nasty sea creature called the Ogopogo living it. Check out my blogroll for more info.

The border crossing into the US was a joke… not a soul in line and the guy looks at my passport and sends me inside to fill out an I-94. I tried explaining to him that as a resident of Bermuda and a British passport holder, I no longer need to fill out an I-94… it’s all electronic now. Apparently, I know more immigration policy than he did but at least the air conditioning was a nice change.

Once in Washington, I made good time toward Winthrop. However, I decided to stop about an hour early because I was done for the day and I wanted to check my email to see if I had gotten a response about staying with my ex-in laws. Apparently, they haven’t gotten over the whole divorce thing which is fine… I will always be the father of their grandchildren no matter how much they may not like it or me πŸ™‚ The funny thing is we used to have a great relationship but in their eyes I am now the big bad wolf. The concept of it taking two people to make a divorce is lost on them. Still, if that makes it easier for them to love and support their daughter then I accept that.

After dinner I came outside to three teenagers staring at my bike. They started asking all sorts of questions… “how fast does it go” and “how much did it cost” and “what does it feel like to ride it”. God willing, by the end of this trip, I will look at more things with that kind of excitement and wide-eyed amazement.

Advertisements

Goldfinger.

August 24, 2010

So my new strategy has been so much better… for a day, at least πŸ™‚ I took a relaxed drive south and decided to stop in Barkerville even though it was 2 hours out of my way. The town is an old gold mining town from the mid to late 1800’s and has many of the original buildings intact. It was quite interesting and well worth the detour. I got to wander around the town and read about life back then as well as take a stage-coach ride, see a theater comedy show and pan for gold. I will be sending the gold home to my kids! I also went to class at the school in Chinatown and learned how to use the Chinese abacus.

I spent about 4 hours in the town and as I left I was in no hurry… a huge contrast to the last few weeks. I decided to keep on riding out of town and make my way south to the US border some 8 hours away. It was late in the day but I didn’t care… my attitude is to stop when I stop and don’t worry about it. It’s hard for a “planner” personality like mine to let go but I did it. As I drove through some town I don’t even know the name of, I spotted a pretty motel with tons of flowers hanging outside. I thought about stopping for the night even though I had 3 hours of daylight left but instead I drove on by. Then I caught myself and turned around… I don’t have to hurry to the US border!!! I had a nice leisurely dinner and caught up on world news before watching a movie and turning in. I have to be up at 5:45am to Skype the kids… ARRGHHH!


Hurry up… and slow down.

August 23, 2010

I’ve realized a great many things on this trip. One is that I won’t get to do it again anytime soon… at least not a trip of this magnitude. So… WHY AM I RUSHING THROUGH IT??? First, it was the weather window in Alaska that was closing that rushed me and then it was the whole Costa Rica by Oct 20th thing. I have finally realized that rushing through all these places just for the sake of getting somewhere else is STUPID! I’m missing half of the experiences I want to have. I’ve also realized that Central and South America are going to be huge… an awesome, wonderful experience and if I only get that far in a year then so be it… more of the world to explore later on πŸ™‚

I’ve decided that in order for me to truly get the most out of my trip I need to speak Spanish in some passable form otherwise my trip is going to overwhelm me, frustrate me and be a much less rich experience. So, I’ve decided to start studying Spanish vocabulary every night and to enroll in language immersion school in Mexico for a month to 6 weeks. That means living with a Mexican family, going to school every day for 8 hours a day and speaking/learning nothing but Spanish. I have also decided that I can meet my kids anywhere either by riding or by flying there. I don’t have to be in Costa Rica until I’m good and ready to get there. I’ve also decided to slow down and do things in the places I am going. Riding for the sake of riding is ok sometimes but I want to spend more time doing things… that’s the point isn’t it?

I’m going to spend more time in California as well and stay with my friends for longer than planned. I’m going to get to Central America when I get there and not a moment before. I’m going to enjoy this trip instead of stressing about some place I have to be πŸ™‚ Word!

With that in mind, I stayed an extra day in Prince George and wandered about the town checking out the historical buildings and local eateries. I also caught up on my blog as you can see πŸ™‚ Tomorrow I was planning a 500 mile ride into the USA but, going with my new philosophy, I am going to visit Barkerville, BC and see what a real gold rush town looked like in the 1800’s. Should be fun and if it takes all day and I have to pitch my tent by the side of the road then so be it πŸ™‚

EDITORS NOTE:

See, my strategy is already working. I stayed in town and drove around tonight looking for a place to eat. I drove by this fairly plain looking Mediterranean restaurant but turned around and went back. Glad I did… hands down the best meal I have had this year!!!! Everything from the wine to the soup to the braised spare rib to the handmade cheesecake was INCREDIBLE. Who knew in little old Prince George you could get such a wonderful meal. Service was excellent and they even let me take my pants off πŸ™‚ Cimo Mediterranean Grill, 601 Victoria St in Prince George… reminds me of Abby Park in Milton, MA. Go to both you will not be disappointed!


OH CRAP… what am I doing!!!

August 21, 2010

I woke up in Stewart to a fine Saturday morning and whipped out my laptop. I wanted to research my time-line to California to stay with friends and also figure out how I was going to get to Costa Rica by Oct 20th or so to see my kids. BIG MISTAKE!!!!

I got to reading trip reports off of Advrider.com and began to realize that I was CRAZY!!! What was I thinking going into entirely foreign lands, not speaking the language and trying to figure it all out as I go? Tales of police shake-downs and scary border crossings had me overwhelmed. My time-line also had me overwhelmed. I was really down on myself and fretting about the whole trip so I packed it in and headed for Hyder, Alaska… a two minute drive down the street πŸ™‚ See, just like I originally planned… I went to Alaska… just not the part of Alaska most people think of πŸ™‚

Camera in hand I rode the gravel road out to Fish Creek and wandered the boardwalk waiting to see bears. I waited, and waited, and waited and after 2 hours thought where are all these bears? The whole thing was totally not like had imagined. I guess I watched too many NatGeo specials where the grizzlies are standing in the falls and snatching the fish right out of the air. At Fish Creek, there are so many fish and the water is so shallow that catching a fish feels like cheating. My dog could have caught one and she is blind and has the IQ of a moose! Look at my pics and you will see what I mean.

Getting fed up, I decided to ride another hour on the gravel into the Tongass National Forest to see the Salmon Glacier. I wasn’t sure it was worth the ride and the road was pretty bumpy with sheer drops right off the side. Crazy that they let people drive up there. The road is very narrow in some places and if you lost it up there… well, you were in a world of hurt πŸ™‚ I made it safely and I’m glad I went. Simply awesome scenery and who knew anything about the Salmon Glacier anyway. Apparently it is the 4th largest glacier in North America and the largest glacier in the world that is accessible by road… if you call that goat track a road!

After getting my picture taken at the top, a man in a wheelchair directed me another 7 miles further into the mountains to see a complete train car that had been abandoned inside a tunnel. I headed off with the intent on taking some nice pics but about 3 miles in, my transmission got stuck in 2nd gear. For some reason it wouldn’t go into neutral or 1st. A bit of cursing and eventual kicking got the gears to change into 1st and second but then it wouldn’t change into 3rd or higher. CRAP!!! A few more curses and kicks and it seemed back to normal. However, it was decision time… on a faulty bike, travel even deeper into the wilderness where nobody ever goes or turn around. Disappointed, I turned around showing that even I have a small amount of brains.

I headed back to town and an hour later I am having lunch and a beer in a local joint in Hyder. I started a conversation with a local lady who tells me that she moved to Hyder 22 years ago for a “simpler” way of life. What is simple about a town that gets 40 feet of snow each winter and has one full time employment position… that being the postmaster?

I finished my second beer and headed back to Fish Creek to see if the bears would return. Two more hours and I was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of a black bear catching a fish for her cubs… disappointing to say the least. I gave up for the evening but as I made my way back to my bike who comes driving along the road but Bill and Sherry. Great to see them again and we went to the famous Alaska Bus for dinner. Basically, it is an old school bus that has been turned into a restaurant and the husband of the woman who owns it catches the fish fresh that day. The halibut was excellent!

I headed back through customs with the intent on returning on Sunday morning to see if I could spot any more bears.

Bright and early on Sunday, I checked out of my motel and headed back to Fish Creek. I got there about 7am and waited until 9 before giving up. I could hear the bear cubs whining in the surrounding forest but I couldn’t wait until they came down… could be hours and I had a 7 hour ride to Prince George to do. I said farewell to Bill and Sherry who were also waiting on the bears and headed out.

The seven hour drive gave me a lot of time to think about my feeling of being overwhelmed the previous morning and by the time I reached Prince George, my plans had changed drastically!

Fish Creek

The trip to Salmon Glacier


Bill and Sherry at the Bus


My artistic shot of the day πŸ™‚


Ready, aim… FIRE!!!

August 19, 2010

The part I neglected to mention in my previous post is that there has been a forest fire burning near Watson Lake in the Yukon for more than 4 weeks. I t has burned over 80,000 acres! It has also closed route 37 to all traffic and the road only opens when it is safe for a pilot car to take vehicles through. That was another reason for my heading south now because I didn’t want to go to Prudhoe Bay and then get stuck at junction 37 on the way back, wasting more precious time. Also, the weather had definitely turned, as all the locals attested to, and Alaska was going to be COLD! I was getting a little tired of the cold.

After breakfast at a truck stop, I left Watson Lake and headed 13 miles up the Alcan Hwy to junction 37. Huge numbers of RV’s, cars and trucks were lined up on the side of the road. The line stretched for miles! Fortunately, motorcycles have a special pass and go straight to the head of the line. I parked at the road barrier, got out my laptop and watched a movie until near 10am… at which time, the fire had flared up again and jumped the road. The road was completely closed for the day… no pilot cars, no nothing! GRRRRRRrrr!

So, off I went back to the lodge only to find a sign saying “be back at 2pm” hanging on the door. GRRRRRrrrr again! I got out my iPad and checked out driving times to various places. I wasn’t going to stay sitting around outside for 4 hours until the lodge opened. I decided that if I rode hard for ten hours I could catch Brian and Martin on the way to Prudhoe Bay. I was just about to leave when the lodge door opened and Michael walked out. “Hey… you’re back” he said. “I have one room ready if you want it” he smiled. Hmmm… warm cozy room and a lazy day versus ten hours of riding and the cold of Alaska. Tough choice. I unpacked and headed inside where I spent the day lounging in bed and watching TV shows on my laptop. New favorite show is Rubicon and everyone should take a day lying in bed doing nothing πŸ™‚

Next morning, I was up early and at the front of the line, in the rain, by 7:30am. The Harley riders were considerably smarter than me because they were parked under the pump canopy of an abandoned gas station… nice and dry. I quickly followed suit and met Bill and Sherry from Kingston. Nicer people you will not meet. We had breakfast together and waited around FOREVER for the road to open. At 1:30pm the pilot car took us through and it was interesting. I had never seen a new forest fire and the smoke was still coming out of the ground in many spots as we drove along. The smoke wasn’t bad but getting that late a start on the day was causing another problem. My drive to Stewart, BC was about 8 hours and I had to make it before it got dark.

Now, when I say I hauled tail… well, I HAULED TAIL!!! The Cassiar Hwy (route 37) was one of the roads I definitely wanted to travel because of the beautiful scenery. However, it is not a road made for making good time. There are some gravel sections that are quite muddy and slick when wet (yes it rained) and the rest is chip sealed which makes it rough and noisy. I did make good time but I was a bit nervous about the wildlife. As darkness approached, the beasts came out to play. I must have seen 10 or 15 bears along the side of the road. I even got to see a momma and two cubs. I also saw a coyote or maybe it was a young wolf… not sure which. No time for pictures which was sad and I really felt rushed and unable to enjoy the Cassiar Hwy as I should have.

I will say that the last 40 miles of road into Stewart, BC is about as breathtaking as any you will see. They made the movie Insomnia, with Robin Williams and Al Pacino, here and actually built an entire house at the foot of the Bear Glacier on the way into town. Stewart and neighboring Hyder, Alaska are at the foot of the Portland Canal and I came here specifically to see bears… namely the grizzly or brown bear. There is a place called Fish Creek outside Hyder where bears and other animals frequent to feed. See my blogroll for more info.

I arrived in town absolutely frozen. 7 hours on a bike in 50 degree weather with rain does not make for happy riding. I ordered two hot chocolates and soup when I got to town and I sat at my table shivering for about 30 mins. I went to bed fully clothed as my core temperature was still very low.

Cassiar Hwy scenery


Bear Glacier


Show me a sign.

August 18, 2010

I headed out of Dawson Creek fairly early to start the long trek to Alaska. Many people do not realize how far Alaska actually is and how big both BC and the Yukon are… myself included. You can’t just “pop” up to Alaska for a few days πŸ™‚ Driving the Alcan Hwy is like driving from Boston to Orlando… and that’s when you start in Dawson Creek halfway up British Columbia. Driving to Alaska from Seattle, WA is like driving from Boston to Denver! You get the picture… LONG FREAKIN WAY!

Anyway, a bit of construction on the Alcan Hwy had me slowed down and I took the bike to the head of the line of traffic that was stopped. As I pulled around a huge truck to the front, I parked next to another biker on a BMW F800 GS. Nice bike, loaded up and looking like it had traveled a fair ways since the license plate was British. I struck up a conversation and it turned out that Brian from London was on his way around the Americas on a similar trip to mine. He was headed to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska same as I so we rode together for the rest of the day. As the day ended, we pulled into a fairly dodgy looking campground/motel/RV park at Toad Lake. Originally, the area was called “towed” lake because you had to be towed across it at one point but this got changed to its current form. No toads to be found however there were beavers who had built a huge home on the pond right on front of our campsite. Later in the evening, in pulled another rider on a BMW… now we are talking. Martin from Miami was originally from Argentina and was also going to Prudhoe Bay and then down the Baja peninsula to scout some real estate. The three of us camped and swapped war stories but all of us turned in fairly early.

The next day we all set off for Alaska but my mind was running the timing scenarios of me getting to Costa Rica by mid October. Going to Prudhoe Bay would take me another 10 days at least and I wasn’t sure if I had that much time.

The drive up to Watson Lake was very pleasant and I kept seeing signs that said watch out for buffalo. Cool… or so I thought. I was the lead man doing 65-70mph and as I rounded a set of curves I came upon a buffalo right on the opposite shoulder of the road. I braked hard because I wasn’t sure if a buffalo is as dumb as a moose and I wanted to get a picture. As I was braking, I pulled to the side of the road. The issue with the chip sealed roads up here is that sometimes you can’t see where the road ends and the gravel begins. So, I hit the gravel (that was laying nicely on soft sand) while I still had my front brakes applied. Rookie move and I know better but I can assure you I won’t make the same mistake twice. Out slid my front tire and down went me and the bike sliding safely to a stop right in front of the buffalo. The buffalo must have thought “its just a buffalo stupid” because all the commotion didn’t even faze him.

My amigos helped right the bike (after the requisite photo) and all I had to show for it was a dislocated mirror, scuffed head plate and a very bruised shin. The Aerostich Darien riding suit made the blow to my elbow and hip nothing more than a love tap… I didn’t even feel it really. After repairing and dusting off both myself and the bike, I took the lead again and safely guided myself through a sleeping herd of buffalo down the road πŸ™‚

We reached Watson Creek in the early afternoon and stopped at the signpost forest they have there. Weird really… anyone coming through town with a stolen signpost can pin it to a tree there. I should have stolen Dr. Brown’s license plate!

Now it was decision time for me as Watson Lake is near the junction of Route 37 and the Alaska Hwy. so if I was going to stop and turn south this was the only chance I had to do it. I hummed and hawed and thought about those ten days and in the end I had Martin flip a coin. Heads Alaska and tails head south. It came up tails… which on the Canadian two dollar coin that was used is actually a bear. I took this as a “sign from God” since I wanted to head south to Hyder, Alaska to one of the prime bear viewing spots anyway. We said our goodbyes and they headed north while I went to the Northern Lights Centre for an IMAX type presentation on the Northern Lights and something else… I’m a big hazy on this because two minutes in I fell asleep. Best $8 nap I have ever had πŸ™‚

I checked into the Air Force Lodge, a refurbished building that once housed the Air Force pilots during the war. It was a nice, clean, well run hostel type environment and the owner, Micheal, was a first rate guy. I slept well that night.

First curved wooden bridge built in Canada – Alaska Hwy mile 20

Camping at Toad Lake

Bad buffalo

Show me a sign


Air Force Lodge


Oh Canada, my home and native land.

August 17, 2010

I got up real early and decided to make the break for Canada. Skipping Glacier Nat’l park and the Going to the Sun rd. In retrospect, not the brightest idea, but I was feeling the pressure of the weather window closing in Alaska and I wanted to get moving. I headed into BC via Roosville and kept moving north. Alicia and Alex, do you remember the Columbia River in Richland? It’s the one that runs beside the park near nanny Marsha’s house. Well, I found the source!!! Check out the pictures below. Interesting in that the Columbia River basin dumps more water into the Pacific than any other river system in North or South America. Check out my blogroll for more info.

I continued on my way up through Alberta and Banff/Jasper National parks. My final destination was Hinton, Alberta and I took what is known as the Icefields Parkway to get there. WOW is all I can say. Just about as amazing a ride as you will ever find. Again, my pictures fail miserably but again check out my blogroll for more info.

I rode all day, stopping only for lunch and to take pictures. I arrived at my camp ground, checked in and merrily set up my tent. Once I had everything set up, I noticed that the camp people had put me right next to the garbage. Don’t the bears come looking for garbage at night? This could not be a good thing I thought! Anyway, it was 75 degrees outside and I laid in my tent watching a movie and sweltering to death. Of course, I woke up about ten times that night because I was FREEZING!!!! Bloody Canadian weather… no consistency. Seriously, I got up in the morning and there was ICE on the picnic table. I ran and had a hot shower and then put on every piece of clothing I owned before setting off for Dawson Creek, BC.

It was a long ride to get there but I was intent on putting miles under my belt in my quest to get to Alaska before it got too cold. The weather was a pain because it was in the forties in the mornings yet got to the seventies in the afternoon. I arrived in the late afternoon and spent two nights there. Dawson Creek is the official start of the Alaska (Alcan) Highway so I took some time to explore the history of the highway at the local tourist places. I really didn’t know much about the highway up till that point and I was amazed at the actual history of it. Quite an achievement in its time.

Columbia Lake

Icefields Parkway

I obviously gave my camera to the wrong idiot!

The road is a long way down

Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier

Local inhabitants

My campsite

Start of the Alaska Hwy in Dawson Creek