Sunday, December 20, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

North to Alaska 2009

Day One - July 23, 2009:  Glendale, CA to Tonopah, NV (350 miles)

Angeles Forest Highway, California

My first stop of almost every ride, the summit of Angeles Forest Highway. The ideal spot for a plein air piss, standing by the side of the road in the sunshine.  All movement carries a certain momentum, the larger the vehicle the harder it is to stop. I don't need a parking space, or any particular place.

Mojave, California

Mojave feels like the edge of town, finally. In fact I wont ride in traffic again until I get to Kelowna, BC. Mojave has that light that fades and washes out everything. I used to marvel at that light in LA.

Death Valley, California

112 degrees doesn't feel so hot until you stop. There is no shade so I zip the jacket higher, pull the gloves over my cuffs and wrap up until there is no skin showing. 112 degrees on a motorcycle is pretty similar to 60 below in Jackson Hole.
Day Two - July 24, 2009:  Tonopah to Winnemucca via Sparks (391 miles)

Tonopah, Nevada

Between Death Valley and Tonopah are abandoned mines and dusty brothels and little else.  A red light was glowing, on the bike, indicating that I had fried something electrical in the heat.  Tonopah looks like it is well on it's way to becoming a ghost town.  I left at dawn wondering if the engine would die before I made it to the nearest shop in Sparks.  The road was nearly deserted, and I almost collided with a herd of antelope.  These were some of the best roads of the trip.

Tonopah, Nevada

I made it out of Sparks with a fixed charging system.  Headed east on 80 to Winnemucca for a Basque meal down by the railroad tracks.
Day Three - July 25, 2009: Winnemucca to Pendleton, OR (430 miles)


The bravest and most loyal of the 12 legendary paladins, or knights, who served Charlemagne. Living as a poor peasant in Italy, he was welcomed to the court of the king after his true identity was revealed.

I ate breakfast in Denio, NV at the bar. It's the only "building" in town, lots of trailers though. There's an opal mine near by and the miners come in for a gin before work. Everyone there is hung over and the bar girl, my waitress, looks like she's just rolled out of bed, which is in the trailer behind the bar, and she cant add, at all.

Roland was hanging out on the porch of a, regular only, gas station in Oregon. He was chatting with the woman who owned the place; she was missing quite a few teeth. Roland was riding from his home in south Maryland to the Oregon coast just because he felt like going for a ride. He ties his small beard up tight with twine. Some guy came barreling out of the scrub brush in a golf cart wearing tight shorts and golf shoes, nothing else. There is nothing but scrub brush and dust around here. He skids up to a water hose and starts hosing off his golf balls.
Day four - July 26, 2009: Pendleton to Kelowna, BC (425 miles)

Eastern Washington

Day five - July 27, 2009: Kelowna, BC  (0 miles)
Day six- July 28, 2009: Kelowna to Prince George, BC (427 miles)

Day seven - July 29, 2009:  Prince George to Hyder, AK (437 miles)

Junction of the Yellowhead and Cassier Highways

The Bear Glacier

Day eight - July 30, 2009: Hyder to Watson Lake, Yukon (405 miles)

Sealaska Inn, Hyder Alaska
In the 130 or so miles between the Yellowhead Highway and here there are a lot of trees and not much else.  The occasional black bear steps into the road.  It's about 50 miles from the Cassier Highway along a gravel road through the mountains and alongside glacial rivers.  The Sealaska Inn is a bar with a few basic rooms attached.  Walk in covered in dust and bugs and feel welcome like you were wearing Prada to an LA opening.  Through the double door the first stop is a long bar with a bartender who loves working here and loves living here, even though she broke most of the bones in her body last autumn falling off her roof and spent the winter in a wheel chair.  Hyder was a mining town in the 70's and "they'd line up 4 deep at the bar for drinks" says the owner who always is sitting at the end of the bar reading a newspaper.  One night there was a gun fight and he caught some shotgun pellets in his head.  Little divits or craters on top of his bald head and in his forehead if you look close.

Main Street, Hyder Alaska

Marina Jetty, Hyder Alaska

Cassier Highway, Upper Gnat Lake

Observation: There are a lot of trees, lakes and flying insects. The insects arrive in clouds forming a gray aura, and will leave you bloody, not a little. Mosquitoes, presumably, sense heat. Infrared vision possibly. A motorcycle must light up like Vegas for them. While moving down the road it's moth to a flame as they smear them selves across the front. When stopped they arrive in thunder clouds, engulfing. Move 20 feet away and the air is relatively calm.
Observation 2: Wasps are carnivores and as such are drawn to the mosquito and dragon fly carnage across all forward facing surfaces of the motorcycle. They swarm by the score arriving shortly after the mosquitoes. They also defend their opportunistic meal aggressively against morning oil checks and tire inflation.

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon

The Air Force Lodge, Watson Lake, Yukon
The best and cheapest hotel in Watson Lake

Bee Jay's Cafe, Watson Lake, Yukon
The best food in Watson Lake, really.

A motorcycle called Grace



Among these hundred bones and nine orifices there is something.
For now let’s call it ‘gauze in the wind.’
Surely we can say it’s thin, torn easily by a breeze.
It grew fond of mad poetry long ago
and eventually this became its life work.
Day nine - July 31, 2009: Watson Lake to Hanes Junction, Yukon (367 miles)

travels around the world on a bicycle with very little stuff, sleeping beside buildings or on back porches.  When he's moving, he says, the mosquitos don't bother him.  Later in the day the wind would blow my 800 pounds back and forth across the road and the deep sand would make staying upright a game of chance.  

Haines Junction

Day ten - August 1, 2009: Haines Junction to Tok, Alaska (293 miles)

Haines Junction

Roadside stop conversation:
Woman #1: I voted for God
Woman #2: I talk to Jesus
Man #1: I wrote a letter to God to quit smoking

Day eleven - August 2, 2009:  Tok to Valdez, Alaska (251 miles)

Morning in Tok with Grace again, who is leaking some oil.  The beginning of a relatively warm day.  In the winter it is 80 below here.

Tok Cut-Off, the last beautiful day.

Richardson Highway, Thompson Pass
Day twelve - August 3, 2009: Valdez to Homer, Alaska (251 miles, on road)

Valdez to Whittier Ferry

Valdez to Whittier Ferry

Hope, Alaska

Homer, Alaska

Day thirteen - August 4, 2009:  Homer to Wasilla, Alaska (265 miles)

The Homer Spit
The morning drizzle would turn to downpour.  Only "stopping to re-load" as Friar Mike would say as he adjusted the BMW's valves at his shop in Wasilla.

Day fourteen - August 5, 2009:  Wasilla to Tok, Alaska (291 miles)

Day fifteen - August 6, 2009: Tok to Dawson City,  Yukon (186 miles)

Top of the World Highway shrouded in smoke from distant fires.

Top of the World Highway

Top of the World Highway

Top of the World Highway

Top of the World Highway

Dawson City Ferry crossing the Yukon River

Entering Dawson City

Dawson City

Dawson City

Day sixteen - August 7, 2009:  Dawson City to Whitehorse, Yukon (339 miles)

Lake Laberge
I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge..

The Cremation of Sam McGee

by Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun 
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge 
I cremated Sam McGee

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
where the cotton blooms and blows
Why he left his home in the South to roam
'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold but the land of gold
seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely way
that he'd sooner live in Hell.

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way 
over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold 
it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze 
till sometimes we couldn't see,
It wasn't much fun, but the only one 
to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight 
in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead 
were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap", says he, 
"I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you 
won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; 
then he says with a sort of moan,
"It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold
till I'm chilled clean through to the bone 
Yet 'taint being dead-it's my awful dread
of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, 
you'll cremate my last remains.

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, 
so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn 
but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day 
of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all 
that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, 
and I hurried, horror-driven
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, 
because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say.
"You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you
 to cremate these last remains".

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
and the trail has its own stern code,
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb
in my heart how I cursed that load!
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, 
while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows-
Oh God, how I loathed the thing!

And every day that quiet clay
seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent 
and the grub was getting low.
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, 
and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, 
and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
it was called the Alice May,
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here", said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum"!

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor
and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, 
and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared
such a blaze you seldom see,
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, 
and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like 
to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, 
and the wind began to blow,
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
down my cheeks, and I don't know why; 
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow 
I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about 
ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said, 
"I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked".
Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, 
and he said, "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear
you'll let in the cold and storm-
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, 
it's the first time I've been warm".

There are strange things done in the midnight sun 
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, 
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee
Day seventeen - August 8, 2009:  Whitehorse to Carcross to Tagish to Watson Lake, Yukon (314 miles)
Day eighteen - August 9, 2009:  Watson Lake to Hyder, Alaska (405 miles)

Cassiar Highway, British Columbia

Cassiar Highway, British Columbia

Day nineteen - August 10, 2009:  Hyder to Prince George, BC (437 miles)

Hyder, Alaska
view from room #1, next to the bar

Start/end of Cassiar Highway, British Columbia