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June 8, 2006


You’re riding your motorcycle where??? Why on earth would you want to do that?
Off to Alaska from Hood River. Woohoo! Three thousand miles, two friends and one long, cold-ass ride. Why? Hell…. why not!

We leave White Salmon in mid afternoon and head north. Lyle, Goldendale, Wenatchee, Pateros and Twisp go whizzing by. Six hours later we wheel into Winthrop, Washington, and rendezvous with an old friend of mine who kindly lends us his spare house for the night. Good to have friends with spare houses when I’m on the road.

By ten AM we’re back in the saddle. Okanogan, Omak and Oroville—all the ‘O’ towns—lead to the Canadian border.
“Where you headed?”
“Cold up there this time of year, eh?”
“Yup. Eh.”
“Be careful, eh.’
“Thanks. Sure will, eh.”

We continue through the “O”s. Osoyoos and Oliver, and on the the “P”s. Penticton, Peachland, Princeton. On to Aspen Grove (no aspens seen), Lower Nicolai (no upper seen), Spences Bridge (no Spence seen). We end the day in Cache Creek where we spend our Canadian cash. Near the creek. We wander in to the Wander Inn and the owner Fred directs us across the street for Canadian Chinese food, at least that’s what the sign says. It’s still light at 10pm as the three of us settle into two beds. Cosy, eh?

The weather forecast calls for 80 degrees and sunny. Within an hour it is 34 degrees and snowing. Hard. Ha ha, guess the joke’s on us, eh? There’s a thick crust of ice on my helmet as I fishtail along the road. I guess the forecast was in liters. A couple hours later we’re out of the blizzard and back up to speed.
The towns fly by, each named after some sort of local landmark, as was the custom way back then—whenever ‘then’ was. 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, 150 Mile House, Williams Lake, Soda Creek, Quesnal, Strathnaver, Stoner, Red Rock, Prince George (no prince seen). We had planned to spend the night in Prince George but the strip of McDonalds, Pizza Huts, Subways, and HockeyHeavens convince us to move on. Quickly, eh?

Forty miles further (metric: 393 liters centigrade) is Vanderhoof. We cruise into the Edel’s Inn where the owner Edel bunks us into a basement room with two beds and a mattress on the floor. A Canadian ‘suite’. Sweet! He tells us that spring is a month late and we’re a month early. Really? I hadn’t noticed.
Our dinner waitress tries to take me home for the night but I bow out when she describes her ‘ex’ as a “6’3”, 250# great white hunter who has bagged ‘trophies’ all over the world and still lives just down the street”. I tell her not to wait up, eh?

After breakfast (Canadian sausage, Canadian bacon, Canadian hotcakes with Canadian maple syrup and Canadian blueberries) we roll out into a spectacular bluebird day. The towns fly by. Engan, Endako, Tintage, Topley, Telkwa. We stop for lunch in Smithers, also known as ‘Hockeyville’. We know this because there are signs to this effect plastered all over the buildings. Not to mention the huge billboard when you enter town: SMITHERS IS HOCKEYVILLE. No doubt about it.

Later I find out that the reason for this is that Smithers is competing in a Canadian reality TV show version of ‘American Idol’ where entire towns compete for the right to be called Hockeyville by impressing the judges as to how ‘hockey’ they are. I guess the residents of the winning town all get pucks or something, eh?
At lunch we sit across from a table of four very drunk Eskimos who each consume a half dozen drinks—ranging from white wine to whiskey sours—while I eat my bowl of soup. Soon we’re all friends. One of them passes out on the floor in the middle of the restaurant. No one seems to care. Or notice. These are my people.

On to Hazelton, North Hazelton, New Hazelton, South Hazelton. At Kitwanga we finally turn north onto the Cassiar Highway, the legendary route that cuts through the mountains along the Canada/Alaska border. Two hundred muddy miles later we roll into Stewart, the end-of-the-road community of a couple hundred people trapped between a spectacular gorge and the ocean estuary with 20-foot tides sloshing amid towering mountains and tumbling glaciers. Now this is what we came to see.

A night at the Ripley Creek Inn where owner Frank shows us his toaster collection, comprised of several hundred rusty relics piled in the cluttered hotel lobby. It is truly impressive. Ripley’s collection is probably listed in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (Canadian Edition) along with the world’s tallest stack of hockey pucks.

Next morning we finally get our first real taste of mud and snow as we climb 2,000’ into the mountains above Hyder. Oh wait, Hyder is back in America. This disjointed hamlet of perhaps 200 people lies just across the U.S./Canada border, a mile from Stewart. There is no border crossing into Hyder from Canada, but there is one going back in. I guess that’s because the road into Hyder doesn’t really go anywhere: it just stops at the toe of a big glacier. Why? Who knows.

At noon we head out of town having successfully talked our way back into Canada, eh. Only two possible gas stops for the next 300 miles. We roll north alternating pavement with dirt as the temperature drops and it starts to snow. Again. Various critters—sleepy bears and cubs, gangly moose, big snowshoe hares—wander around on the road. At one point we watch a feisty red fox trying to locate his dinner—an equally feisty rodent of some sort—just ten feet from us. The fox jumps around like water on a hot skillet as the mouse makes his escape. We finally stop for the night at Dease Lake (no dease seen, no lake seen). The temperature is in the high 30s. Dease? What’s a dease? I think they misspelled geese, eh?

It’s a balmy 29 degrees (I don’t know what this is in liters) when we head out in the morning but it is a beautiful clear day. Fifty miles of pavement leads to fifty more of dirt and our progress slows over the slick mud. As the day warms our pace picks up and after the final 200 miles at 80mph we roll into legendary Whitehorse. It’s a neat, clean, very low-energy town. We drop our muddy bikes at a hotel to look for some action. Or at least a beer. We finally find the latter.

But Canada isn’t cheap, eh? A dinner of ribs and a round of beers sets us back $120. Fahrenheit. The food is good and the owner, Donna, sits down with us after dinner to chat. Everyone is wonderfully friendly but between $100 meals and the $4.25/gallon gas, it’s a good thing we’re traveling by motorcycle.

Another cold, clear morning. We’re off to Haines Junction (no underwear seen), Kluane, Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing, Koldern (Canadian term meaning ‘durned cold’), Snag, and Beaver Creek. We cross the U.S. border into Alaska just east of Tok. Back in the U.S. of A. Woohoo! I am slightly disappointed since I am finally comfortable speaking Canadian, eh?

I can tell we’re in Alaska because of the signs. Not the ones saying “Welcome to Alaska”. I mean the fact that suddenly every sign has a minimum of 200 bullet holes in it. There’s a story about one town that got so upset at all the signs getting shot up all the time that they bought a $12,000 camera system, mounted it to a signpost to catch the shooters in the act. Next day the sign was shot to hell and the camera was gone. So much for law enforcement. Tok is a typical Alaska town: a muddy/dusty strip of road lined by gas stations, bars and churches. Our $100 hotel room is the picture of Alaskan bush tacky but dinner at Crazy Eddys is entertaining.

For some reason, most bikers feel the need to acknowledge each other on the road with a little wave. There are two types: the ‘point down’ and the ‘wave’. I have never liked the ‘point down’, where you take your left hand off the bar and point down at the road. What the hell does that mean, eh?

Although I have disdained to use either technique (I consider the practice akin to blinking your car headlights at every approaching car as if to say, “Hello there fellow car. Here I am!”) I feel the ‘wave’—whereby you simply expend your left hand directly outward into the oncoming air—is more acceptable. But as I said, I have never actually done either of these. I prefer to simply nod when another biker gives me a wave. I’m cool. I don’t need to stinking wave.

But finally, on our way to Anchorage, I fell the urge to join the motorcycle community. After all, I’m actually one of them now: I just road 3,000 freaking miles through Canada, eh?

So when I see a big Harley approaching me (it seems that everyone up here rides a Harley) I casually reach my hand out into the air. And what happens? I’ll tell you what happens: he nods. Nods! My nod! NO ONE does the nod but me! I am pissed! After all these years I finally do the wave and I get a nod. That’s it for me: NO MORE WAVES!

Next stop, Anchorage. We slip out of Tok in a cold morning drizzle. Soon the road has deteriorated into a construction zone of deep sand, sloppy mud and winding diversions around unborn bridges hoping to span the meandering Alaskan rivers fed by huge glaciers. Dot Lake, Mentasta Lake, Slana, Christochina, Gakona, Glennallen, Palmer. The spectacular Matanusaka glacier tumbles out of the Wrangel Range with the jagged peaks of Mt. St. Elias and the giant 16,000’ snow dome of Mt. Sir Sanford dominating the horizon. My mountain. The road, carved out of the glacial moraine, is so close to the moving glacier that we can feel the frigid wind blowing off the ice. I spy two huge golden eagles chomping on a big salmon 50’ from the road. Big horn sheep, mountain goats and bald eagles (it’s the new fashion) are everywhere.

The temperature ‘soars’ into the low 50s and the sun comes out. Six hours later we roll into Anchorage. 3,000 miles. We’re here – woohoo! My friend Gary drives up from his home in Cooper Landing on his 1500cc Valkyrie and meets us at the BMW shop where we talk motorcycles and routes and tales of the road. The salesman says we’re the first AlCan moto travelers they’ve seen this year. “Kinda early for that ride, eh?”

The great ride is over. We tour around the Kenai Peninsula for a few days, chasing moose, caribou, big horn sheep and bears, catching big fish, kayaking and generally messing around with Gary at his lodge on the Kenai River. Day rides to Girdwood, Hope, Soldatna, Seward, Exit Glacier, Homer, Whittier.
Next stop, Chile in November, riding north from Santiago to Peru, through the high Altaplana—the highest desert on earth—ending at Machu Piccu at 14,000’. It sure can’t be any colder than this.

Docfun May 22, 2006