The Bugsplat Chronicles – the Saga Continues
Arctic Circle in Alaska
June 8 – July 1, 2013
pictures at http://s669.photobucket.com/user/pick126/library/Alaska
Bugsplat and I had ridden in the 48 contiguous states plus 5 Canadian Provinces and one Mexican state. The time had come to see western Canada and Alaska. The trip was two years in planning and turned out to be everything we had hoped. We each pulled a small popup camper and camped most nights in Canada and Alaska due to the high cost of motels in the north. We traveled a total of 11,283 miles and had rain all or some of 12 of the 24 days. Fortunately it only lasted a few hours most days and those in the far north were very light. Because of spotty cell and internet coverage I purchased a Spot2 Satellite Tracker that broadcast our position each 20 minutes to family and interested friends. It produced the route map below.
Day 1 was Carrollton GA to Columbia MO, a distance of about 700 miles that required about 13 hours. Our major difficulties were road construction on I-24 from Nashville to I-57 in Illinois. Bob had a scare when the dump truck beside him blew a tire and threw shrapnel everywhere. Neither he nor the bike were hurt but it did require a new pair of shorts. In Columbia it seemed that nobody was willing to rent a room at a reasonable price. Bob eventually found a dump that was reasonably priced. He was also so disgusted with I-24 based on our experience today and a similar experience 2 years ago that he swore we would not go home that way. That’s fine because I was thinking of going home thru Denver.
As for pulling the trailers, other than pulling over a couple of times to be sure the cinches were tight, it was no problem. Sometimes I looked in the mirror and was surprised to see it there because you really couldn’t tell.
There is bad weather moving thru the Midwest that night and the next day. We knew we would ride in rain at least part of the next day but hopefully have gotten far enough west to miss any severe weather.
Had dinner at Cracker* Barrel. I can report that Yankee grits are more like Cream* of Wheat than real grits but they are edible.
Day 2 took us from Columbia MO to Brookings, SD mostly in light rain. The temp was about 61* and the guaranteed not to leak 6th Gear Jacket leaks after a few hours. We wound up in a Days Inn in Brookings, SD. The feature today was simply rain. After we got in Iowa our gas mileage went to pot, our expectation is high ethanol content. Bob lost some things like a GA flag, the waterproof cover off his clothes bag and a piece of trim. I don’t know the total miles for the day but suspect a little over 500. The big news of today was we arrived at the hotel and Bob realized he did not have a wallet. After a frantic search he went back to the last fill up and found it due to his guardian angel and the people of SD. We are on track to enter Canada south of Winnipeg tomorrow. Items of interest today were the Loess Hills which are wind blown glacier deposits from the last ice age rising about 200' above the surrounding plain and the sheer number of Indian Reservations.
Day 3 found us somewhere west of Manitoba but east of the Yellowhead Hwy (CA16). Trip was largely uneventful. Dense fog from Brookings, SD almost to Fargo then rain from Grand Forks, ND toward the border, a break and a little more rain.
Border crossing was largely uneventful. I passed thru OK, Bob had a shotgun so that took maybe an extra 30 minutes. While I was waiting I saw several vehicles get thoroughly searched.
We got separated in Manitoba. Bob has his CB kind of jury rigged so he can wear a brain on the half shell helmet and his setup does not work consistently. We connected by telephone and eventually got back together.
Right now we are close to Portage la Prairie in Camp Creek Campgrounds. It’s pretty nice, we can put both campers for $30 or so American with electricity and water. Gasoline is about $5.12 per gallon ($1.349C/l). After crossing the border at Emerson, I-29 continues as CA 75 except it is no longer limited access and the speeds go to 62 mph max or 31 max. I had dreaded the segment including Manitoba and Saskatchewan because they are just prairie but it was not too bad. Similar to our Midwestern states in that there are things to see if you look. I remember finding the Flint Hills in Kansas and the Sand Hills in NW Nebraska.
*At the end of Day 4 we were NW of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Unrelenting prairie and wind all day. I had to put my liner in my jacket because the hours in the wind were chilling. We are still averaging over 700 miles per day but will be slowing down soon. One realization that dawns slowly and of which I was not fully cognizant is that there is virtually no trash by the roads. From the Dakotas on the cleanliness is noticeable. These people have a respect for themselves and for the land that is too often missing.
Last nite the temperature went down to about 51* and it was very comfortable sleeping. I will give these folks a good recommendation when I get home. They let us put both campers at the same pull thru for no extra charge and the grounds were clean and the people friendly.
The Yellowhead Hwy (CA 16) parallels the Canada Pacific Railroad for most of the way and it is way flat. There are frequent large and small lakes with lots of waterfowl; Quill Lakes was among the larger. We stopped in Yorkton, Sask. to shop at a Canada Tire. While Bob was inside a friendly lady came over to chat with the traveler. She told me they had a rare tornado touch down yesterday but no casualties.
Day 5 was a very good day. We left from near Saskatoon around 6AM at a balmy 46*. Saskatchewan calls itself the land of living skies and it lived up to its billing today. I about froze for a couple of hours then we stopped in North* Battleford which is a a major regional city. Several times in Manitoba and Sask. we have pulled off the main road into a little village for gas or food. Often only one main street is paved. Today I pulled off into a pretty big village (Maidstone) and drove about 1.5 miles on gravel to get gas. The good thing is that the price has been falling as we moved west, today it was $1.219C/L ($4.63/gal) in Alberta.
From the Battlefords west, Saskatchewan gradually changes character and becomes more rolling and interesting, even the trees change. At Lloydminster, another surprisingly large town is the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. A little later we stopped to get gas at a village called Innisfree and a movie was being filmed. It is set in Montana but this town has more old buildings and a similar setting. I forgot the name of the movie but it was something like “Steak Cut”.
We were now in oil and cattle country. For the most part it is prosperous and busy. The land is getting more rolling as we move toward the foothills of the Rockies. We stopped in Vegreville, Alberta to get a picture of the worlds largest Easter Egg. It is an Eastern Pysanka that was built to honor the visit of the Queen in 1972. It is like 25’ long and 8’ in diameter.
Our next stop is to visit with our friends Wayne and Ann in St. Albert. I am leading and racing severe thunderstorm warnings when Bugsplat gets surly because he hasn’t eaten. We stop to take care of that and then have some difficulty getting gas because our credit cards do not have an embedded chip. We get that worked out and head for St. Albert in the rain. In some places the runoff was close to axle deep and there were reports over CBC of penny sized hail, flooding, etc. Most schools went on lockdown due to the weather.
We arrived at Wayne and Ann’s drowned but had a delightful visit as we got reacquainted and enjoyed Ann’s fine cooking and met the son and daughter-in-law and a neighbor. Included among all the fine food was a desert of Saskatoon Berry pie. This was an interesting and surprisingly good taste. The Saskatoon berry resembles a blueberry and grows on a bush about 15' high. It tastes similar to a blueberry but has a subtle taste that is delightful. Before we got here we also passed a herd of buffalo and a few strays near a place called Elk Island. There are also Buffalo and Elk farmers in the area. We truly enjoyed our visit with Wayne and Anne and found it all too short as we had to retire to prepare for another day in the saddle. I owe amends to my friend Serge whom I did not get to meet this trip due to the storm tangling our plans.
Day 6 brought us to our camp on the banks of the Peace River near Taylor. CA 43 runs from CA16 north of Edmonton to about Grand Prairie. For the most part it is 4 lane but not controlled access. Occasionally it was one lane with a pilot car due to construction. We were in rain for most of the day and the temps went down to 45* for a while. I saw a small black bear before it started raining, later there was a gorgeous elk, and sometime later a few bison. We stopped in Dawson Creek, British Columbia for the obligatory mile mark 0 photos and some tee shirts.
There were about 3 or 4 awesome gorges as we came up but I had the camera put away due to the rain.
Day 7 was how we had imagined the trip would be. We were able to break camp and get on the road before the rains. It rained a bit along the way but was not awful. In fact most of the day was sunny and in the mid 50’s. We were and still are in the Northern Rockies. It is drop dead gorgeous. The roads are not so well maintained* as further south. Even when they are in good shape the aggregate sticks thru the top of the asphalt so it is not at all smooth. I can see why it would be hard on tires. Atop Pink Mountain I honestly could not tell if it was paved and there have been other places like that including heaves and deep ruts. A sign north of Fort Nelson warned us of falling rocks and bison on the roadway. Have not seen any bison today. Do have pictures of 2 black bears right beside the road, a doe moose along the road and several scenery shoots. At Summit Lake and some others the water is a blue green from dissolved copper. We will get a shot of Mundo Lake tomorrow. The tree line appears to be around 5,000’ this far north. We were above the tree line several times and it is cold because of the unmelted snow. We are about 2 hours from the Yukon and should make that easily in the morning. We found this place in Muncho Lake where they serve bacon 1/4” thick and more ham than even Bob could eat. We will mark this for another visit on our return. Most of the bridges are made from iron grating which means they are extremely slick when wet. We are somewhere around 3500 miles at this point.
Day 8 ended with us just shy of 4,000 miles as we sat in our camp in Whitehorse Yukon. We left Muncho Lake British Columbia around 6:30 in a light rain. This area is beautiful and I wanted to get pictures of the unusual color of the lake but that will have to wait for the return trip because of the weather. British Columbia is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth. After a while we met a Bullwinkle walking down the road and stopped for pictures,
next up was a buffalo hunched down beside the road in a light shower. He and the other buffalo we met today are more wary than the ones in Yellowstone. This guy got up and began to move on. Shortly we found a small herd in the road with maybe 3 calves and we saw several others during the day. We also got pictures of at least a dozen black bears, some as close as 30’. Part of the day was sunny and we had short rainy spells. After we left Watson Lake Yukon we got back into the Rockies, don’t think we ever left. Lots of snowy peaks. We crossed the Continental Divide and dropped down toward Whitehorse. We probably had 80 miles of gravel and chip seal in about 10 mile sections. A stone hit Bob’s windshield and cracked it and one came thru my open visor and bruised the face.
Day 9 was a beautiful but extremely grueling day due to road conditions. Fortunately the weather was very pleasant. It was 86* when we crossed into Alaska.
We spent last nite at Hi Country RV in Whitehorse, YT. They were extraordinarily nice facilities. We will probably stay there on the way back. Met a guy named Larry McDonald from Roopville, GA – the next town from us. Met some guys from Jacksonville, FL who had ridden over to California then up to Anchorage and were on the way home. They were on wings and one of them had dropped the drive shaft. It can not be delivered to Whitehorse until next Friday so they are stuck. Was out doing my laundry at 11:45 in the pre-dusk and met a lady from Vancouver who gave us a recommendation on a place to stay in Fairbanks. Whitehorse is a nice place, I could stay the summer there.
The Alaska Hwy in Yukon is terrible with frost heaves, whoops de whoops, deep ruts, extended stretches of gravel. If you are not careful the whoops will throw you out of your seat, bounce your trailer, throw you into the next lane at a 60* angle. It was a lot of work to get to Tok.
Yukon bills itself as larger than life and everything about it is epic.I met a guy this morning from Pagosa Springs CO and he said everything is larger here, the valleys, the rivers, even the mountains. The mountains are not the same absolute height but the difference between the valley and the peak is relatively the same. I got lots of great pictures.
I’ve seen a lot of bicyclists between Dawson Creek and here – usually in ones or twos. What an epic ride. The are mountains in Yukon that have not even been named much less climbed. The Kluane region including Lake Kluane, the largest lake in Yukon, was particularly impressive. Mt. Logan, Canada's highest peak at 19,551 is here. We stopped at Silver creek right before Destruction Bay to photo some mountain goats or Dahl Sheep – could not really tell at the distance.
Our first or second stop out of Whitehorse was at Otter Falls for gas. I swear two mosquitoes bit me thru my helmet. You skeptics can sneer but those who have been here know – the proboscis (probosci?) on these rabid mutant ninja skeeters is designed to feed thru the hide of a moose. The polycarbonate shell of a helmet or an armored motorcycle jacket is just another day at the office.
Day 10 was warm and dry. The interior plain of Alaska is experiencing near record temps. All we did today was just come to Fairbanks and set up for the next two days.
Met a woman in Tok last nite who graduated BSN in nursing and was hired and moved to Tok. She spent like 32 years there as the only medical person in 22,000 sq. miles. She had some stories. She has since retired back South but was up visiting her sons.
The sun did not set in Tok last nite. It never even got dusk.
A word about mosquitoes. I woke to a racquet and looked out of my tent and saw them dancing around one of those mosquito coils while snorting lines of DEET and chugging citronella. These things are voracious feeders and it hurts for hours after they bite.
We saw some moose today and got some flower pictures. There are places here on the Alaska plain that make riding in the Keys seem like riding the Dragon. The road will go straight for miles and miles; then will come more twisities and much more straight.
I had to turn in my 10 year old phone today on a new model because the old technology did not communicate with Canadian technology in 2 provinces. Bob had to get some new boots because his others leaked. We spent the afternoon shopping and seeing the city. Tonite we went down on the Chenna River and ate fresh Alaskan seafood. The halibut was great.
The good stories always begin “He had been drinking.” I heard this story on NPR this AM and later saw it on the front page of the Fairbanks paper. A man had been drinking and eating BBQ when he decided to take a walk. He came upon a bear and tossed it some BBQ. He then offered the bear some sandwich. He was treated for puncture wounds and charged with feeding wildlife.
I enjoy listening to Sirius radio while I ride but for the past few days we have been so far north that the signal from the satellite is very spotty.
On Day 11 at 2:36 PM Alaska Daylight Time Bugsplat and I achieved our goal of crossing the Arctic Circle. We were greeted by National Parks Volunteers and given a certificate and had our pictures taken. There was a bus load of tourists and some other folks most of whom came over to say hello.
There was no rain today so the road was probably In as good a shape as it ever is. It was grueling with lots of holes and ruts, washboards, etc. For us it was 14 hours round trip from Fairbanks. For the majority of the miles the road is a mixture of gravel, dirt, calcium chloride, and water. When the water truck comes by spraying to keep the dust down it is slick as snot. Also the speed limit is 50 mph (ON A GRAVEL ROAD). Sometimes we could do 15 and sometimes 50. It is an experience to be passed by a semi moving in excess of the posted limit. This road has been ridden by every type of bike imaginable but I think only ridden successfully by experienced riders. It is dangerous and not a road for pretend bikers. If I were to do it again it would be on a dual sport or maybe a Ural. Our bikes had a layer of calcium chloride and mud 1/8 to 1/4 “ thick when we got back to pavement. We had to do a car wash just to have the lights visible. The bikes may never come completely clean.
A* confession-I give my Harley riding buds a hard time about parts falling off their bikes. I lost the rear half of my front fender this AM due to accumulated fatigue is my guess. I blame that on the stresses in the Yukon. Those roads are terrible.
Alaska has 11 highways and they are called by name. For our ride today be rode the Steese Hwy to the Elliot Hwy to the Dalton Hwy. The gravel sections of the Dalton were for the most part better than many of the paved sections on the other roads. The fact that permafrost underlies the roads does not help at all.
My doc suggested spraying Listerine on the tents and around the camp for mosquitos and we did that tonite and it really helps. That and 100% DEET are all we have found so far that work. There were even mosquitoes at the Arctic Circle. The volunteers worked inside a mosquito netting tent.
We were going to visit Bob’s family near Denali tomorrow but they are going to be away on vacation for about 5 days so we will punt and do the Fairbanks-Anchorage-Tok loop before heading back down into the Yukon. I also have to give Bob credit, he has helped immensely with some of the foot sparing tasks. With my prosthetic leg it is hard to get down and set the leveling legs and he does that and also does the hook up which spares me a lot of pain.
It is not dark here at any time of night. At 1 AM and you still cast a shadow outside.
The end of Day 12 found us in a cow pasture in Summit, AK. Yes, it really is a cow pasture. Bob has the pictures to prove it. He will try to attach the credit for the selection to me but we all know how unassuming he is. We do have electricity and a port-a-pot is 100 yds away. There is no water but there is a creek at the edge of the woods. So far I have seen geese, alpacas, and chickens. We passed a musk ox farm and a caribou farm down at the bottom of the hill but we were intent on finding a spot at that time. It won’t get dark here for another month or so but it was getting cold.
I suppose you are aware of the record heat in AK this week. I am loving it, dry pleasant temps. People here are complaining because the humidity is up to 30%. Many of the streams, most in fact, are filled with silt. There are flood warnings due to the record heat melting the snow. Spring came a month late then almost instant melting.
We met a guy yesterday on the Dalton who worked on the pipeline. He had retired after 23 years in Air Force Civil Engineering and gone to work on the pipeline as an engineer. He saw my Air Force Flag and came over and chatted during the 30 minutes we were waiting on the pilot car. He had seen 4 grizzlies the week before (we have yet to see any); he told us a man he worked with had been killed by a grizzly a few weeks earlier. He said and others later confirmed that bears have to jump start their digestion in the Spring by consuming the entrails of another mammal. His co-worker was that bear’s jumper cables.
Today we saw the most stunning scenery we have yet to see in any of our travels. Coming down the Parks Hwy from Fairbanks to Denali and beyond we were surrounded by the Alaska Range. These rugged mountains are very alpine in appearance. Sometimes the snow was all the way down to the valley where we were. Every tenth or two on the odometer would spring some fresh new view. We hung around where Bob’s family worked this summer and met some friends of theirs who live in Tennessee during the winter. They told us to go down to the village of Talkeeta for the best view of Denali so we did but when we got there the river was so high that we could not get out to the viewing site.
Our first stop of the day tho was in the village of Nenana on the banks of a river with the same name. There was a restaurant which served eggs, reindeer sausage, and hash browns for lunch and it was good. There were native Intuits or whatever (I prefer the Canadian reference to First Nations people) doing subsistence fishing and drying their catch on racks. The little village had sufficient souvenir shops including the Ulu Factory, pelt from caribou, arctic fox, etc. Talkeeta was somewhat similar but much more upscale and artsy craftsy. I wanted to find a place there to eat and to stay but Bob had an appointment with a cow pasture.
The motel at Denali limits water use via a metered shower using tokens that you buy in the office – $3 = 5 minutes, $6 = 10, etc. The reason is that they are out in the country without access to a municipal sewer. The wast water goes down into the permafrost (frozen ground) and has to be pumped out and treated at the end of the season.
The Parks Hwy is a very good mostly 2 lane road with bike lane. There were 2 approximate 20 mile stretches of gravel where they were repairing the road. The engineer on the Dalton told us that the road was actually much better in the winter because they continued to run the water spray trucks and built up a smooth roadway. This is the Ice Road Truckers.
We went thru Wasilla which is surrounded by mountains right at the end of Cook Inlet. It is a beautiful setting. When we turned up the Richardson it was like riding in Colorado with the grades, curves and views. The man who owns Bob’s cow pasture said a motorcyclist was killed yesterday just up the road from here and his passenger critical. A moose jumped out, cleared the guard rail and hit them. We saw a moose today jump into the road in front of a van in front of us. That looked like a close call from where we were. We got several moose pictures today but no Bullwinkle among them.
A really gorgeous trip and a much easier one than we have undertaken would be to fly to Anchorage and rent a bike for the Anchorage – Tok – Fairbanks – Anchorage loop. I can’t say enough about today, it simply defines beautiful. Between us we probably have several hundred pictures. A big deal up here is the white swans. We saw several. Tomorrow we will visit the glacier on the way to Glenallen then go on to Tok and head for the Yukon. We saw a really pretty spot near Destruction Bay that we may wind up trying for.
Day 13 took us to Beaver Creek Yukon. We had no problems with customs and set up camp just as it started to rain. We saw Eureka, AK which must be the most beautiful place on earth. The Richardson Highway has simply stunning scenery. We saw caribou, moose, elk, and some animals I could not recognize. All pictures may be viewed here: http://s669.photobucket.com/user/pick126/library/Alaska
We saw the Matanusak glacier and got lots of pictures of it.
Day 14: The Yukon reportedly has more caribou than people. We left Beaver Creek this AM to do the awful run down to Destruction Bay, about 147 miles or so. You can not imagine how bad this road is. Due to movement in the permafrost, sections of road will move 4 feet or more in any direction including up. Imagine hitting a speed bump 4’ high – it will get your attention.
My bike continues to take a beating on Yukon roads. When the back part of the fender broke off the other day this allowed the wheel to throw up mud, water, and silt on me, on the dash, on everything. The controls on the radio got all gummed up and locked the radio until I could spray them. We bought some foam like people use to make pillows and cut it to fit in the openings by the handlebars and that works. One of the bolts holding the Baker Air Wing is missing and I must attend to that or lose the air wing altogether. The speaker cover for the right dash speaker chose to remain along a particularly dreadful stretch north of Destruction Bay. I have lost numerous screws from the trailer top rails and bought a box of screws to continue to be able to pack stuff on top of the trailer. This continues to be an adventure.
We had good weather today and the weekend is projected to be nice so that makes things more fun. We continue to see and experience incredible things.
Day 15: We left Teslin today bound for points south. Shortly after starting we ran into a couple of brief showers but nothing bad. A lot of road construction and a fair amount of wildlife. We got pictures of the signpost forest in Watson Lake. We got pictures of several woodland bison. Canada has around 250 and about 20 per year are killed by automobile. These are somewhat smaller than their prairie cousins. We got pictures of lots of moose and black bears. Road construction continues even on Saturday so we did not make it quiet as far as we hoped, plus I overslept and did not get up until 6. It was quite chilly but very cozy inside the sleeping bag.
We left Yukon and I was glad to see it in the rear mirror. Yukon is indeed larger than life and quite beautiful and awe inspiring. Larger than life also applies to the frost heaves and pot holes. I swear some of the frost heaves will reach your waist.
We stopped at Muncho Lake in British Columbia to visit our friend Jack whom we met on the way up. We had met a friend of his in Alaska and had messages but he had gone to town. We came on over to Toad River where we stopped for the night. In 1942 while building this highway, many of the army vehicles could not cross on their own and had to be towed so the unnamed river became the “towed river” and now the Toad River. The community of Toad River contains about 75 people who maintain the highway or serve people who use the highway. The local school grades K-12 averages 25 pupils and has 2 full time teachers. There are no buses so the children get there as best they can. The longest commute is about 50 miles.
Day 16: We left Toad River today hoping to see animals near Summit Lake – Jackpot! We have pictures of Caribou, mountain goats, Dahl Sheep, Stone Sheep, and some similar things I will have to look up. We wanted to catch CA 77 near Fort Nelson and ride thru the Northwest Territories. I had read that the road was paved all the way to Yellowknife. Don’t believe everything you read, at the BC border the road turned to gravel. We followed it to Fort Liard, a Dene tribal community, and asked about road conditions. We were told 6 1/2 hours of gravel ahead so we turned around and redid the 27 miles in. We did get some nice buffalo shots. The bumpy roads continue to beat us and the bikes. Bob lost the balance weight off a wheel and my Ram Mount* for the GPS vibrated off but Bob tightened it up.
We could not find an opening for campers (tent spots left only) so we opted for the motel atop Pink Mountain. We were also sweating fuel availability because several places had run out but we got a fill here. This sign was in our room:
Day 17: Pink Mountain, BC to Hinton, ALB Today was a good ride with few problems, very pretty and saw some wildlife. I went to fill up the bike at our first stop and could not find my credit cards. Went to the places we had visited in town then decided to return to Pink Mountain. Took one last look in the trunk and found them in my pants pocket from yesterday. Sigh of relief. After Dawson Creek we went to Grand Prairie then turned to Grand Cache. This was CA 40 South and it was a very pretty and well maintained road but it was different from the Alaska Highway in that it did not cater to traveler. There weren’t a lot of motels, campgrounds, places to eat... It was just a real road like you find at home. We dropped off into a Provincial Park to check out camping but it was pretty primitive and also muddy as we had ridden in the rain for a while. We headed on down the road – friends had advised staying in Hinton. It is very nice* and the accommodations are very affordable. We got a 2 bedroom kitchenette suite for $79. We ate seafood locally and looked for a place to clean the bikes but they were closed for the day.
Day 18 Icefields Parkway We left Hinton which is in the Front Range of the Rockies and traveled to Jasper which is between the 1st and 2nd range. This area is a series of national parks and a world heritage site. It is sometimes called the Jewel of the Rockies. We saw numerous animals but showers and low hanging clouds hampered visibility and picture taking. We saw the Columbia and Athabasca glaciers plus one I did not not get the name. We did get some decent pictures.
We could not go all the way thru to Banff because flooding in southern Alberta had washed out the road in 2 places. This was the route I had planned to Montana so time to punt. We cut across Saskatchewan Crossing to the town of Rocky Mountain House. This town was founded in 1799, contains about 8,000 people and bills itself as “where adventure begins”. East of here is all prairie, west of here are the Rockies.. From RMH we worked our way toward Calgary but were caught in a hail storm which we had to sit out on the side of the road.
Calgary was functioning after the floods, the rivers I could see were right at or just over the tops of their banks. About 20 miles south of town we passed over a small stream that had flooded the roadway to perhaps 15-20 feet deep. There was still one drowned car sitting in the median.
I had planned to enter Montana below Banff which is short work from the Icefields Parkway. Detouring thru Calgary was much longer. We did not get into a motel in Shelby, MT until around 11 PM. It gets dark at night here! We have not seen that for maybe a dozen days. One of the last towns in Canada was a prosperous looking town called Lethbridge. It had an interesting bridge, the Lethbridge Viaduct, commonly known as the High Level Bridge, is the longest and highest steel trestle bridge in North America
Day 19 – Glacier National Park Today was another good day although we continued to be plagued with light showers that hampered views and picture taking. We still probably got a couple of hundred pictures. When I spoke with the bride I told her that what we saw today was as pretty as anything we have encountered so far and we have seen some spectacular sights.
We headed west on Montana 2 to the town of Browning. Cut Bank along the way boasts of itself as the headquarters for the Montana oil boom and oilfield prosperity is affecting this part of the world as it is in Alberta, British Columbia and western Saskatchewan. Browning is the “capital of the powerful Blackfeet Tribe” and has about 8,000 residents. Poverty was much more apparent here than off the reservation. The lady at the store where we stopped suggested that we follow a side road and go to “Many Glaciers” (a part of Glacier National Park). I had never considered this so we followed her advice. The road inside this part of the park rivaled those in the Yukon, I would not have gone if I had known that beforehand. Still we saw lots of pretty sights. Glacier NP has about 50 glaciers.
We then went down to St. Mary’s for lunch. Huckleberries are in season and you can buy huckleberry pies everywhere. Going to the Sun Road was spectacular. It was everything I had heard and more. I will be anxious to share these pictures. At some places there were 7-10 feet of snow on the ground beside the road. It was a cold journey.
After we came out of the park we went down to Kalispell to buy some gloves to replace my favorite pair that blew off the motorcycle in Tok, AK.* We could not find the leather shop the Blackfeet woman had told us about so we headed south toward Missoula. I wish I had had my camera ready when we passed the Flathead County Courthouse in Kalispell. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the country. Much of the land between Kalispell and Missoula is the Flathead Indian Reservation. It is very pretty with an enormous lake.
We stopped in Polson forgas and found that Bob’s heal/toe shifter was succumbing to the rigors of the bad roads. We did not have the tools to fix it so we stopped at a Honda place in Ronan. Turns out they deal with Honda lawn mowers and could not fix it either. They did give us directions to the Honda dealer in Missoula whom we will see in the morning. The dealership is only 3 miles from the start of Lolo Pass which is a very famous 150 mile motorcycle road so we will ride it over to Idaho tomorrow then begin to find our way home.
We found an excellent motel and restaurant near the dealership so we are good to go. We are currently around 8,500 miles and have something over 2,000 to go. Looks like we might be home early next week.
Day 20: Lolo Pass We got our little business taken care of at Five Valley Honda in Missoula and set out across Lolo Pass into Idaho. If this road is not on your bucket list, you need to amend your list. MT 12/ ID 12. Lolo Pass is something over 9,000’ elevation. The road is around 151 miles and contains 8-10 million curves and is scenic beyond belief. On the MT side, the speed limit is 70 mph. Remember Montana did not have a speed limit until the Feds threatened to withhold highway funds unless they enacted one, so they enacted one. To my knowledge it is not enforced unless the police observe dangerous behavior. The last time I was here on my V Star 1300 I was doing 95 trying to keep from being run over and was passed by a state policeman who paid me no attention at all. What I am saying is you can enjoy the scenery or you can pretend like you are Valentino Rossi and either is fine until you get to the state line at the pass. I have heard that speed limits are enforced on the Idaho side but saw no evidence of that today. What I saw was absolutely spectacular scenery along a twisting mountain road beside a crystal clear river (Lochsa River and Middle Fork of Clearwater River). According to the Forest Service sign we inspected the river contains cutthroat trout and Chinook salmon. We looked in vain for a grizzly fishing but did not see one. This road is simply magnificent.
I am told that ID 12 across the state is a fine ride but have no experience with that. We stopped in the village of Kooskia, ID on the Nez Pierce Reservation for lunch. Food was tasty and very moderately priced. we then followed ID 13 south across another pass and came to US 95 which carried us across yet another pass on the way to the Salmon River. This last pass was White Bird Pass. The white bird has a special meaning in Nez Pierce legend and this region is filled with their history. I took a lot of pictures of the rivers for my son who is an avid trout fisherman. These were glorious waters. Most of the waters we saw in the north were filled with silt because of the late snow combined with the rapid snow melt. These were clearer than tap water.
I knew that the panhandle of Idaho was ruggedly beautiful because I had ridden there before but I thought the fat part of the state was flat volcanic soil filled with potatoes and a blue football field surrounded by mountains. Was I ever wrong. It was really a Rocky Mountain State until we neared Boise. I noticed at one of the construction stops that my bike was beginning to run hot. we stopped for gas about 15 miles before I-84 and I had a vapor lock because it was so hot. When it cleared so I could start the bike I was running almost on the red. We stopped and checked it and the fan was not coming on. The fuse was ok so this indicated something else maybe a bad thermostat or maybe a relay on the fan. I could even have stones caught in the fan preventing it from turning. God knows after 500 or so miles of gravel roads, I had stones everywhere even in the passenger seat. Anyway we did not have the tools or knowledge to deal with the problem so we let it cool a little then came on to Meridian near Boise. Running about 70 mph it does ok, it is just stop and go traffic that overheats. I think pulling mountains would too. Anyway, we have found a Honda shop about a dozen miles away and will be there when they open in the morning.
Day 21 Idaho to Wyoming The day began at Canyon Honda in Meridian, ID to get the overheating taken care of. Canyon is a Honda only dealership. We were there when they opened at 9. The service manger Stan came out to look at my bike and write up the work order. His first comment was “the radiator is so caked with mud I can’t even see it. It will help just to get that flushed out if nothing else.” This problem stems from the back half of fender breaking off due to terrible roads. This allowed mud and rock to be thrown up in there and up by the forks onto me.
Turns out that was the extent of the problem. The technician Aaron flushed and cleaned the area and removed a stone that was wedged in the fan and tested it. Everything worked fine. I will write up a nomination for these guys to Wing World. They had me on the way in just over an hour.
We rode all day in 102* heat (max observed 104). The weather band was warning of temps to 110 but we did not see those. The bike did fine. We rode for hours thru Idaho. Southeast of Boise it was like a wasteland except where things were growing thru the miracle of irrigation. Saw lots of potatoes, corn, vegetables, and cereals along with a lot of sage brush and tumbleweeds. Southeastern Idaho was somewhat greener as was the part of Utah along by Ogden. We have spent a fair amount of time in central and southern Utah and this was much greener meaning there was some greenery.
At our last gas stop in Idaho we stopped at this place called the “Middle of nowhere”. The guy had a dwarf donkey named Bob (Nitro) and a couple of Alpacas out front with a machine giving a hand full of feed for a quarter. Inside he had petrified Idaho water (ice) for $3 a bag and some adult and baby rattlers on display ( you look inside and see a large or small baby rattle). It was a different kind of place.
Utah we just endured. The heat was unrelenting. We passed on in to Wyoming as the temperature dropped to a delicious 93*. Gosh that felt good. We decided to crash and burn in Rock Springs, WY and press on tomorrow. Looks like we will be home in about 2 1/2 days if nothing untoward happens.
Day 22 Wyoming and Nebraska The elements really cooperated today and we had a very pleasant ride. It was 68* when we left Rock Springs, WY and dropped to 66* as we rode across the high plains of WY. Rose to 70* in Laramie, 80* at Cheyenne and mid 80’s in western Nebraska before falling into the high 70’s in central and eastern NE. I should mention gas – at higher elevations a lower octane is offered. We knew from previous trips that it worked fine, probably better, so we ran 85 Octane in Montana and Wyoming where it was offered. It was not offered in Idaho or Nebraska. The bikes thrived on it.
I think WY is our least populated state and it is very large making it one of the least populated per square mile. To me it is very beautiful. I have spent time in northern and western WY but very little in the south.
Until I first came out here on a bike I thought of Nebraska as flat. I was in SAC in the Air Force and came to Omaha – it is said if you put a penny in the middle of the road in Lincoln (100 miles away), you can tell whether it is heads or tails in Omaha. The story is apocryphal but illustrates how flat eastern NE is. From North Platte westward, it is a different state. More cattle raising and extraction of coal and oil. It has pronounced buttes like WY and rises to an elevation of around 6,000 feet at the WY border.
The saying is that corn “should be knee high by the 4th of July.” In western NE it is nowhere near that high, in central and eastern NE it waist high or higher – should make for an interesting harvest season. We turned south on a secondary road and are now in Geneva, NE. There was an ethanol plant just outside of town. I got pictures of downtown at around 8PM. Beautiful brick streets and courthouse and courtyard. About 3 cars on the street.We went to a restaurant that was recommended (and obviously not busy) and had a “Flat Iron” steak which we were told is a shoulder cut that is only done in NE. It was very likely the best steak I have ever eaten.
Tomorrow we dive thru Kansas and Oklahoma to I-40 and follow it toward Memphis. All of this to avoid the roadwork around St. Louis. We had the obligatory roadwork today but never had to stop or be directed onto gravel and mud as in the far north. To be fair, they have to deal with permafrost there and that complicates road construction. There was a roll over wreck on I-80 but couldn’t tell much in passing. Finally I saw some pretty wild flowers growing in clumps periodically. I tried to get pictures but was not going to risk getting run over. They looked a lot like roses.
Day 23 Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas: We left Nebraska in very pleasant temperatures this AM. There is a lot of ethanol wealth in the areas of Nebraska we rode thru but it is very unevenly distributed. The big farmers had nice new cars, nice houses and equipment and many of the towns had a lot of boarded up shops and appeared to be dying. To an extent that is true of rural America everywhere but it seemed more pronounced here. Concordia, NE was one of the towns that appeared to be flourishing.
We rolled south on US 81 into Kansas which was not a lot different from Nebraska except there was more wheat than corn. Some of the fields had been changed over to corn to take advantage of the ethanol subsidy. One thing that is pretty cool in NE and KS is that 87 octane does not contain ethanol. A typical price was $3.42/gal; you could buy 89 octane with ethanol for $3.32/gal. We could pay the 50 cents extra for 5 gallons of real gas and get at least 30 more miles per tank.
US 81 turned into I-135 south of Wichita. That was a toll road. I hate toll roads, If I had known this was toll I would have routed thru Kansas City which was about the same distance. I think this country is large enough and rich enough to build the infrastructure we need without having tolls. We might have to engage in one less war per decade but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We might even have enough money left over to put our education and health care systems into the top ten.
We hit tolls again in Oklahoma on the Oklahoma Turnpike and the Muscogee Turnpike. One thing I thought was pretty neat is that the larger tribes in Oklahoma have their own tag. For example the Cherokee tag says “Cherokee Nation” at the top and “Oklahoma” at the bottom. Most states have a “Welcome to ____” sign at the state line; “Oklahoma- looks like a frying pan and just as hot” or “Utah- when one wife is not enough”. Oklahoma had a granite marker like a grave stone that said “Oklahoma”, not bad just different. It seemed like every road in Tulsa was under construction. It was so bad the city would have fit in well in Yukon.
Arkansas was fine to Little Rock but I-40 east of Little Rock was under construction for 115 miles with hours of delays expected. The clerk at our last gas stop told us she had reports of people stopped for hours at a time. We decided to push on east in the dark in hopes of missing most of the activity. That was a good choice. Eastbound was slow but did not stop. We could see miles of backups in the west bound lane. We came to Brinkley just as it started to rain and got a motel for the night. Tomorrow should see us home. The forecast says we will get there wet but we’ve gotten fairly used to that.
Day 24 HOME! We rolled in about 4 PM* this afternoon with 11,283 miles total for the trip. What we accomplished is still sinking in.
We left Arkansas this morning after a southern breakfast of grits, bacon, and eggs. Travel into Memphis was uneventful. The roads along the river are terrible for a similar reason to the Yukon – not permafrost but the substrate is not suitable for weight bearing due to the high water level. We made it into Mississippi with a light shower. Other than the light rain, nothing has happened in Mississippi since 1864. We did hold a Motorcycle Cycle Forum 12 hour rally there a few years ago and it was a lot of fun.
We stopped for gas in Twin, AL and filled up for $3.29 per gallon which seemed to be 8-10 cents higher than the prevailing Alabama rate but Twin only had one store. If you wanted choice, you had to go 5 miles down the road to Brilliant which had two. Incidentally we filled for $3.09/gal in Tennessee. The shop owner in Twin asked Bob where we were riding and Bob told him of our journey. The owner said wistfully that he had wanted to do that when he was younger. It came out very sad and forlorn. I’m glad we did it.
Now it is time to get the bike cleaned up and caught up on life.