DAY FIVE: TUESDAY, JUNE 16
The three of us were excited this morning as this was the day we would get to the start of the Alaska Highway. Each of us have seen so many photos of others staging their bikes at the famous signage and we were all looking forward to doing the same. As we loaded up the motorcycles, leftover pizza was sampled for its usability for breakfast. Ugh…not as good as those college days I reminisced about the evening before.
This morning was a repeat of what we had encountered so far in the mornings…cold. The heated gear found its way back on the body as has become custom. As riders, there’s always a process to getting the bike going. Mount bike, put on helmet, gloves, plug in the heated gear, usually forget to do something, take it all off, take care of whatever, and repeat the initial process. Getting gas in the mornings seems to be a chore with wearing the heated gear; but it beats the alternative of riding and freezing.
We had all seen the Albert 40 sign going into Hinton the night before, so we made that the first photo opportunity of the day:
At the Hinton fuel station, we had been warned about the nasty potholes on 40 by the older female clerk and that we needed to be extremely alert to this declared travesty of a road. Apparently it was a cause of a number of motorcycle accidents lately. Heading out into the wilderness and leading the way for the trio, I found the road to be better than many of Indiana’s countryside roads. Heck, what was being described as potholes was simply small holes in the roadway in relation to what I am used to riding around. In all actuality, other than the first few miles, this road was in great condition:
If this was the worst road we would see today, I’d be extremely happy.
As I know some of the readers have interest in learning more about different sections of the trip up north, I’ll try to provide some miscellaneous details from this point forward of things that stand out to me about the roads.
The ride between Hinton and Grande Cache was very remote, quiet, and got colder as the morning set-on. A very cold drizzle blanketed us throughout this ninety-two mile leg; the heated gear was doing its best to keep providing the warmth that was relished. Grande Cache is at the top of a very large hill; a small mountain community. While it was barely forty-five degrees and wet, it was amazing to watch many of the town people moving around wearing no jackets and even walking around in shorts as if they were walking along the Florida beaches in summer. BRRRR!
As we each finished fueling, we proceeded down the street to the local Subway for breakfast. Before leaving, I received a number of different Subway gift cards from people to take along. So, I was always looking for a Subway for breakfast or lunch along our route. This morning was the first time I had tried their breakfast sandwiches. Sausage, egg, and cheese with green peppers and olives on flat-bread with some spicy sriracha sauce on it became my customized morning delight for the trip when I had an opportunity to use one of the gift cards.
As we ate, one of the locals quizzed us on our trip. Funny that if we had arrived in a out of state plated car, not a word would have been said to us. But having our filthy bikes sitting in a parking lot loaded with gear, our jackets thrown into a booth somewhere, and the local community members would instantly start a conversation with us. Everywhere. Stop at a McDonald’s, Subway, or other fast food restaurant and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to chat with the curious. Kind of felt good to watch the jealousy sparkle in those guys who suddenly were wishing that they were you on this journey. Many probably have never even had a motorcycle before.
Yesterday was the rabbit incident and the day before the mallard became acquainted with the front of the Vstrom. Today we needed to keep an eye out for the larger wildlife even more. Seems that a number of Yogi’s figured it was their turn to play chicken with passing vehicles today:
The road between Grande Cache and Grand Prairie became very industrial as we started passing lots of commerical semis that were delivering supplies for oil and gas pumping stations in the side brush. While the first morning leg was nearly devoid of traffic, it had picked up very quickly after Grand Cache. It was not unusual to see a convoy of ten to fifteen semis in a row appear out of nowhere. We even found ourselves doing a number of passes of industrial vehicles moving in the same direction as us.
My Vstrom’s first mechanical issue of this trip happened at a roadside pull off about forty miles south of Grande Prairie. I was still putting my heated gear back on when Rob and Jeffrey took off, thinking I would quickly catch up as I have done in the past. I attempted to start the motorcycle and it just sat there dead on the road. You immediately get that bad feeling in the pit of your stomach. A second try…nothing. Uh-oh.
I mentally went through the entire processs of starting the bike repeatedly; each attempt resulted in failure. Everythig seemed like it was ready, but the bike would simply not start. I had a new battery, no problem withthe bike’s voltage so far on the trip, I was engaging the correct switches and levers. What could it be? I tried, and tried, and tried. Nothing. A good ten minutes went by as I turned the key and repeatedly tried the starting process. Nothing.
Over the past winter, I had taken a very good look at the Vstrom service manual while sitting in the recliner and watching Big Bang Theory reruns as it snowed outside. As the minutes ticked by, my mind frantically started trying to recall everything on the bike that had anything to do with the start-up process. Trying one thing after another, I finally recalled that the kickstand had a built-in kill switch that disabled the startup process while the kickstand was down but allowed it to engage when the kickstand was retracted. Putting the bike up on the center stand, I crawled underneath. Somehow, dirt and grime and invaded the switch housing, preventing the mechanical switch from disengaging completely to allow the bike to start. Repeat manually working the switch finally allowed it to retract completely. Jumping on the bike, it immediately started. Hoo-Rah!
My compatriots had made it all the way to the town limits of Grande Prairie and had pulled off the road to wait for me to catch up. A ride to the nearest fuel station for a needed unleaded top-off allowed me to again center stand the bike and ensure that the switch would operate normally in the near future.
Thirty minutes west of Grand Prairie brought us to the town of Beaverlodge, home of the large beaver statue:
Visions of a Beaver versus Godzilla movie came into mind. Regardless, somebody needs to do a low grade B or F movie about a large beaver going nuts on a small country town. Sure to make at least a couple hundred bucks at the box office.
The next big town to come upon is Dawson Creek. Located just on the inside of British Columbia, it is the beginning of the Alaska Highway. Every motorcycle rider knows about the famous signage there; it is one of the most prized photos to get your bike in front of in North America. The excitement built as we advanced each mile towards this prized side destination.
About 15 miles south of Dawson Creek, you ride into British Columbia from Alberta. While Rob and Jeffrey pulled over to get their photo in front of the BC sign (which we already did at the Canadian border), I turned my bike around to get the Alberta picture I had missed on the Kootenary Highway a couple of days ago because it was too dangerous:
The ride to Dawson Creek was uneventful until we entered the long construction zone going into town. Slippery from rain, it gave us all opportunity to practice our riding skills in the mud that we knew could be waiting for us on Alaska’s roads. Sliding back and forth, we finally made it into the center of town to fuel up.
Marketing opportunity: Gas station had no oval stickers in their area for touristy items advertising the Alaska Highway start. Make stickers, place at highway gas stations; take net proceeds, retire in the Bahamas.
There we also met a guy on a Ural with a sidecar, totally loaded for travel. Multiple extra tires, auxiliary fuel canisters and gear was tied all over his motorcycle. Jeffrey immediately started chatting with the talkative guy, who left a couple of minutes before us to get to the Alaska Highway sign to do the obligatory bike photograph. We caught up with him again there.
Here’s the famous signs showing the start of the Alaska Highway, a road of 1,390 miles from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, AK. It was built by soldiers in World War 2 to provide a route for weapons, materials, and supplies to get from the lower 48 states into Alaska in case of a Japanese military invasion:
Side note: Many people have no idea that the Japanese actually invaded Alaska and maintained hold on a section of the Aleutian Islands for months. Read here for a history lesson: http://www.kuriositas.com/2012/11/the-forgotten-battle-japanese-invasion.html
Greasy KFC was the lunch choice before leaving Dawson Creek, a welcome respite from the rain we had been in all day long so far. It was oddly comforting to find that the Canadian chicken parts dealer uses the same microscopic chickens to get their miniature legs and thighs from as they do down here in the states.
Two and a half hours or so after leaving Dawson Creek found us once again in pouring rain as we pulled in to the Pink Mountain Campsite and RV Park. If you ride this road, you’ll be pulling in here for fuel. This is a gas field worker’s camp and trading post. Very unique; the lady running it is both very gruff as well as very nice. Like we saw all over the north, people came across very private and stern until you broke the ice with them; then they would treat you like family. She was vocal around the cash register and the process she wanted you to follow; nice outside when sitting on the step having a smoke as we were leaving.
This was just one of the dozens of trading posts that used old 1980’s style fuel pumps that were controlled and activated inside by the employees. You went in, gave a large cash note or your credit card, then went back out to fuel. After pumping, you were expected to go back in, settle up, then go back out and move your vehicle out of the way for the next person in line. So, if you wanted to buy a soda, snack, trinket, or use the restroom, you were forced to enter the premises at least three different times.
Walking in all this mud was both tiring as well as enticing due to the fact it was just the way normal life is up there and for a few minutes, you just blended in perfectly. Clothes soaking wet (at least the riding gear), pants soaked in road mud, rain dripping off you as you moved. Somehow, event though you feel filthy, dirty, and exhausted, it just felt RIGHT being there. Hard to explain, you’ll see when you get up there too.
At one of our last stops for the day, we talked about getting a motel. This was a day that no matter how much it they charged, we were all going to pay whatever the cost to get a room for the night no matter how ridiculous it was.
We pulled into Fort Nelson, BC that evening and turned into the first gas station in town on the left side of the road. This was the Blue Bell. Turns out they have their own motel on site. $111.87 was still one of the cheapest rates we’d encounter on the trip; none of us argued and all quickly grabbed a room as they were filling up fast with nearly every arriving motorcycle rider that appeared.
Jeffrey decided to stay in his room and explore the Internet the entire evening. Rob and I changed and walked across the street to Dan’s Neighborhood Pub. This actually has a very nice atmosphere inside despite the name and offers great food. The two waitresses working the eating area were very pleasant and the food was very good as well. Recommended for the weary traveler. Afterwards, we spent some time talking to other motorcycle riders in the evening sunshine that had finally appeared. The exchange of road conditions between riders is an expectation at most stops; sometimes with some free time you hear a great story or two about another person’s journey.
One of the best things about this type of adventure is not your own journey but hearing the tales from another. And sharing a beer or two. And the heartfelt laughs and smiles that can achieved only by having many of the same experiences as others you talk to.
Tomorrow we head to our next AirBNB reservation, located near Marsh Lake outside of Whitehorse. After using AirBNB hosts repeatedly with no problems, my perfect record ends. We also visit the Signpost Forest, and have some very close run-ins with bison and other wild animals. Almost too close.
Mileage: 587 miles (actually accurate for one day)
Areas traversed: Lots of remote land, Grand Cache, Fort Nelson