Keepin’ it real?

Posted 480 miles today, from Teslin to Fort Nelson in rain squalls much of the way.  With about 1,350 miles on the tires, the rear knobby is substantially smoked.  Continental TKC 80s weren’t really meant for burning along mostly asphalt roads at mostly extra-legal velocities; I much doubt this tire will still be legal when we hit Vancouver tomorrow.

It’s a bit strange, traveling on a bike this way.  There’s no bag on the bike, so I carry whatever fits in my peerless, never to be criticized BMW Streetguard 3 suit (it really is phenomenal; hasn’t let in a drop of rain and keeps me just about warm enough without recourse to my Gerbing electric vest — which of course I forgot to pack anyway) and just head out with pockets full of bottled water, Leatherman tools, passport, wallet, useless Verizon POS non-working phone, beef jerkyand the everpresent Moleskine Of Notes.

“How come you always leave early and get out in front?,” asked one of the car guys.  He sounded a little miffed.  This here junket is all about the cars:  AWD Suzuki Kizashi sport sedans.

“Well,” I said, “I’ve got no comms, no first aid, no toolkit and no riding partner.  If I have an incident, it’ll be half a day before you even think to go back and check.”

Later in the day, exploring a dirt track a few miles off the highway, I remembered that conversation, considered the issue and realized that if no one on G-D’s green earth knew where I was, best not to risk a busted leg under a 500-lb. bike.  Back to the highway, then, safe in the loving embrace of motor homes, RCMP, onrushing Kenworths…

The fuel stop / RV park / hotel / restaurant all-in-one properties that populate the Alcan Highway every few miles are increasingly closed for the season, which apparently ends promptly as September begins.  Many places have tiny, dark closed signs in their tiny, dark front windows — and big chains stretched across their driveways betwixt monolithic stones.  One wants to be cautious of twilit driveways when jonesing for coffee or urgent about fuel or the men’s room.

Staff of Yukon spots that aren’t yet closed speak only of leaving.  Day before yesterday, we occupied our Beaver Creek motel room on the last night they were open this year.  They were lax in their policies.  We took schooners of bar beer to our rooms, flirted outlandishly, checked email on their back office computer.

Likewise, even hundreds of miles further south where the Yukon gives way to “supernatural” British Columbia (which does have, it must be said, eldritch road surfaces), the roadhouses are quitting for the season.  But I got cold in the frigid rain well before then, and started actively hunting hot coffee.

The Continental Divide Inn, no doubt as famous as its sign suggests, offered no fuel, no coffee, not even the cold solace of a wrapped sandwich.   A few kilometers down the road, however, I rolled into Rancheria, log inn offering rooms, a warm dining area with coffee served under the pleasant hand of a sweet roadhouse waitress worn to a thin strip of woman jerky and, importantly, gasoline.  It was only 91 miles in, but I started mistrusting the fuel supply after almost running out on my very first tankful.  The bike is a gas pig, clocking about 35 mpg with its pleasant 650 twin (in fairness, I’ve never before spent so many hours above 90 mph on public roads — it’s big country up here).

While I talked over my map with Jurgen and Tilde, visiting from Stuttgart, the car guys rolled in.  They left before I was done warming up, but they roll a bit slower and stop a lot to produce photo ops.

At Watson Lake, about a third of the way through today’s festivities, I stopped for a hammy photo at their Forest of Signposts, a sort of Wall Drug without all the gimcrackery to buy.  Outside the visitor center, I exchanged notes with a pair of guys from Calgary.  They were riding a 1984 Yamaha Venture Royale and some generic 90s metric big twin.  I told them it was raining north.  They told me it was raining south.  They asked how to get my job, and I lied inventively (hey, if it worked for me…).

Coming out of the mens room, I was quickly buttonholed by a fair-skinned brunette girl with liquid eyes, who insisted on particularizing the area’s attractions for me, laying special emphasis on the Liard Hot Springs.

“Especially on a day like this,” she sighed, soulfully gazing through gray panes, “if I were on a motorcycle, I’d just want to get off and just… be in there, all deep and warm.”  She looked at me in a way that suggested she hadn’t actually been on a motorcycle — yet.

“I’m going there later today,” she added helpfully.

I looked at her in a way that suggested she was about my daughter’s age, reached for a business card and then thought better of it.  If I were much younger, I thought, hopefully not out loud, more Canadian and a lot less married…

On the way out, she gave me a smile bright enough to soften my back protector.

Turned out that Liard was in the right spot for a lunch stop.  At the stacked-log inn there, I got gasoline and soup and coffee from the earnestly helpful Scots-Canadian proprietor, cold looks and change from his First Nations wife at the register.  After lunch, I asked to borrow a dish rag to clean the bugs off my visor.  She looked at me for at least ten seconds.  I waited cheerfully, soaking up the cafe heat.

“Can’t you use a napkin.”

“Afraid it would scratch the faceshield,”  I said, smiling.

Another wait ensued, about 20 seconds this time.  Finally, holding my gaze, she instructed her husband to fetch me one.  I was still thinking about their interpersonal dynamic as I put my assorted bits of stuff back into their various pockets, pulled a couple of ibuprofen off a wad of silicone putty and ate them and shoved it in my ear, and strapped my cleaner helmet back on.  It was probably this thought that distracted me from leaving a tip, which I nearly always do (and why not?  It’s American Suzuki’s dosh, after all, and they presumably budgeted for reasonable tips).

The road out of Liard sidehills along a river canyon through the Muncho Lake Provincial Park and into Stone Mountain Provincial Park.  A bridge over the river (I think it’s the Teslin River, but confess to a need for better mapigation as the scale on mine is 1:2.6M)) leads directly to a series of oooo-WHEE curves, curves that would be fun on any bike but would be even more fun if either A) the road were dry or B) the bike weren’t wearing a tattered pair of insta-crash knobbies.

Shortly after the road opened up, I was treated to the unexpected sight of a screaming yellow Ford GT40 in the oncoming lane, presumably headed for his favorite playground, but had no time to feel smug as right about then a pair of what may have been antelope materialized on the right shoulder.  They heard me coming, turned opposite ways to look, bumped into each other and panicked.  One bolted into the woodline and the other jumped straight into my lane.

Whoa, I thought, navigating successfully around him, that was WAY more exciting than this morning’s wild horses and wood bison.  I chuckled a little under my breath, or maybe that was the stuttering breath of my heart slowing down.  The road opened further into an area of multiple glacier moraines, each of which seemed to generate its own brutally abrupt crosswind.

I was wrestling with one of those — I’m of the school of thought that asserts anyone blown off the road by a crosswind was de facto deficient in their training or situational awareness, and I was reluctant to prove that on someone else’s brand-new motorcycle — when a six-point elk walked out of the woods to my left.  I hit the “pro-lock” brakes hard enough to force an unearthly howl from the front knobby (sadly, that isn’t very hard, but there you are) and watched as he took two steps up the bank, made up his mind and charged across the road, horns back on his shoulders and legs pumping like Michael Johnston at the tape.

I have never been so close to a moving wild elk in my life.  Had I not been working so hard not to stuff the bike under his belly, I could almost have reached out and stroked his leg as he rushed past so close that he almost took off the fairing nose.  I gave passing thought to how long it would take to gut him with a Leatherman, but he would have been far more likely to walk away from the splatter scene than I.  There are well-armored garments and then there are the superbly armored BMW suits, but there are no elk-proof riding suits.

Two turns later, I passed a small blue car that I’d already passed three times this morning.  Looking at me tiredly, she gave a small, resigned wave.  Three turns after that, a very young spike bull pulled out of the woods and I thought I knew what was coming.  Full binders!

I did not, of course, know what was coming.  He pulled out in front of me, callously failing to yield the right of way, and streaked down the middle of the southbound lane, not slowing a bit (I wish I’d remembered to clock him on the speedometer, but I just thought of that now; perhaps I should make something up, or Google up a factoid…) for about a half a mile and mostly tracking right along my lane although, rookie driver that he was, he did hug the center line a bit much for my taste.  I followed him, flashers on for the benefit of the young lady behind me who, upon mirror check, wore a much less world0-weary expression.  Or maybe her eyes are normally that big.

Stone Mountain Provincial Park seems to exist primarily for the housing of mountain goats, which are the cutest little rock hoppers this side of Glacier National Park (unlike Glacier’s goats, these don’t have the long, pure white coats) and which were capering all over the road.  After dodging my third set of them, I gave my “horns ahead” signal to an oncoming pickup/caravan combo.  He laughed, rolled down his window and jerked his thumb toward the mother and kid browsing by the roadside behind him.

So that was my day, most of it or at least what I can remember now, pre-dinner.  There was also a short stint of gratuitous mud riding, just to see how the DL works as a dirt bike (d’uh — it’s top-heavy, overgeared and has a fat tank, but at least I didn’t fracture anything) and some whooping around a gravel pit (MUCH better there), plus many lessons on managing rapidly changing road surfaces.  Ask me, as the saying goes, over a beer sometime…

I did miss the Fort Nelson Historical Museum, which was closing just as I rolled up and which, just by the look of the fascinating antique iron scattered around outside, to be a complete immersive experience.  Sadly, I’ll be 100 or so miles down the Alcan when they open at 0900 tomorrow (per the pretty F.N. lady who was closing up shop to hop in her tall, tall truck).

Bike and boots muddy, legs good and tired, RCMP interview successfully negotiated, tanked up for tomorrow and belly about to be filled.  And we’re out of the outback now — this hotel has a steam room.

I will sleep like a baby tonight.

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  1. Derek Hamlet says

    As always a treat to read your stuff. Thank You.

  2. Dave Macdonald says

    Too bad you get to take the boring road back instead of the Cassiar. Drop me a line if you’re in Vancouver tonight, I owe you a beer.

  3. Hey, sounds like a few trips I’ve made, but never that far, and never on a bike! You passed by at least two towns where siblings of mine reside though. Quite the ride, and excellent written up. Thanks.

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