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CANADA

8/13/2007 - PM – Canada!

Riding north on highway 89 and then west again on highway 17 (Chief Mountain International Highway), the landscape was much less touristy, but seemed much more natural.  The road re-entered the National Park with little fanfare and led us to the Canadian border, where the park continues under the Canadian title – Waterton Lakes National Park.  Canadian Customs was a remarkably quick and easy process.  The border guard took a quick look at our passports, asked a series of about 6 questions and waved us through – he didn’t even bother with a stamp.  We had entered Alberta, Canada – our first new country on the trip!  We stopped to put our passports away and take photos with a welcome sign before carrying on northbound on highway 6 to Pincher Creek.  As we rode along, we saw a coyote cross the road in front of us.  It stopped on the opposite side of the road and looked back at us before running off into the woods.  We stopped at Pincher Creek to check out a motorcycle shop.  The road to Alaska would be paved and very long and the bikes had on a more dirt-oriented rear tire, so we were searching for a long-lasting, more street-oriented tire.  The shop didn’t have what we were looking for, but gave us some recommendations on where to look on the road ahead.  We carried on westward on Highway 3, past picturesque quaint communities and increasingly impressive landscapes.  Actually, we both agreed that we enjoyed the views and riding in this area more than that of Glacier earlier in the day.  We stopped in the town of Fernie to camp in a Provincial Park.  Darren rode up to the store to pick up groceries for dinner and when he returned, he reported shock and dismay at how expensive the food had been.  It seemed that everything was triple the price available in the United States.  Gas was also remarkably expensive. 

8/14/2007 Canadian Rockies and National Parks

We continued heading west on Hwy 3 to the town of Cranbrook, where we stopped at a couple of motorcycle shops with no luck in finding the necessary tires.  After restocking our food supply at the Wal-Mart, we turned north on Hwy 93.  The landscape resembled Oklahoma – with lots of prairie-land, but with more hills.  As we continued north, it became more wooded and the roadway ran beside remarkably blue rivers.  The color was unlike any natural river I had ever seen before.  It was similar to the color that water parks try to make their water look – that fake bluish-green color that is usually reflected by the color of paint used on the bottom of their pools and water slides.  I never imagined this color of water to occur naturally!  It was a real surprise to me and I couldn’t help but look over every bridge with awe at the water below.  A bit further along, we stopped as a large mother bear crossed the road, followed by her three cubs.  They were terribly cute as the tumbled along across the roadway!  We entered Kootenay National Park near the town of Radium Hot Springs on the Banff-Windermere Highway, the first motor road (built in 1922) to cross the Canadian Rockies.  As we turned a corner, we were surprised to see 3 Bighorn Sheep trotting down the roadway.  The way their horns grew from their heads struck me as a bit creepy.  We stopped at Olive Pond, named for its brilliant green color, and walked along the short path to eat lunch by the pond.  The highway led us directly into Banff National Forest where we turned north on the scenic Trans-Canada Highway to Lake Louise.  Needing both fuel for our bikes and a short riding break, we rode around the Lake Louise area looking for gas, but unable to keep our attention from the impressive glaciers looming on a mountaintop over the village.  

These views were far more impressive than the few, small glaciers that we saw in Glacier National Park in Montana (although I will again admit that we weren’t there at the best time of year for it- thanks to global warming).  After gassing our bikes up and sharing an expensive Mars bar (called a Milky Way in the U.S.) and Coke, we continued north on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93).  This 230 km (142 mile) scenic drive winds through remote, high-altitude areas in its path from Lake Louise to Jasper and connects Banff National Park to Jasper National Park.  In order to make our goal of reaching Alaska before the weather turned too cold, we knew we had to increase our speed and make some miles (or Kilometers). So we zoomed past various geological wonders, glaciers on the mountains and signs indicating picturesque views in order to push north.  The massive rocks dwarf the highway carved between them.  In a giant hairpin curve, you could see the scrapped impression left by avalanches that have torn down the rock, stripping everything in its path.  What a different place this must be in the winter – completely impenetrable!  We stopped for the evening at Mt. Kerkeslin campground, where we were surprised at how light the sky was for the late evening.  We both knew that we would regret rushing through Canada this way, but we also knew we would regret not reaching Alaska on this trip.  We both hope to have the opportunity to explore the Canadian Rockies properly in the future.  The long ride (over 300 miles) was unusual for us and we were both quite tired. 

8/15/2007  Jasper and Prince George

We headed about an hour north to Jasper in search of an Internet connection.  The river flowing alongside the highway looked milky and frothy in the morning air – very different from the brilliant blue-green rivers of yesterday.  Although Jasper was a thriving touristy ski destination, it was remarkably difficult to find a wireless connection.  After checking multiple coffee shops with no success, we ended up paying for a connection at a mail shop where the staff’s behavior was the first example of a rudeness we had encountered in Canada.  I guess the demands of tourists in this popular destination had soured these folks into jerks, while most of Canada remained extraordinarily friendly and increasingly honest.

Leaving Jasper, we turned west again on Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16), a scenic highway that follows the centuries-old route of the fur traders.  We also entered the Canadian Province of British Columbia.  We stopped at a rest stop with picnic tables alongside a river that ran under the highway and ate lunch.  We walked down under the highway bridge along the rocks of the river before gearing up again to ride to Prince George.  As we reached Prince George there was an endurance bicycle race/ride with cyclists on the highway ending their ride as they entered the city.  I am continually impressed and humbled when I see these athletes on the highways.  Darren went to look for motorcycle tires at a motorcycle shop (without success) and I checked out the visitor information center.  This was by far the most helpful and friendly visitor center I have ever experienced!  The staff acted like our personal vacation planner!  She explained all the details of available routes to Alaska and looked up the weather information in cities along the different routes in order to help us choose where to go.  We decided to take the Alaskan Highway (also known as the Alcan) to Alaska and plan on taking the Stewart-Cassiar Highway back south.  Although we had seriously considered taking the popular Alaskan Marine Highway (ferries that transport people and vehicles up and down the Alaskan coastlines), the cost was just too expensive for our travel budget. 

As we headed out of town we noticed a group of unionized road construction workers that were on strike holding signs and further along were there abandoned work sites.  Traveling northbound on Highway 97, we were crossing a bridge over a river when we stopped abruptly as a black bear walked out of the forest and crossed the roadway ahead of us.  It always amazes me how quickly and stealthily these bears disappear into the forest once across the roadway!  When the bear takes notice of us, it simply picks up its’ stride and moves a quicker to the other side of the roadway.    

We stopped for gas at an old country filling station where the elderly attendant insisted that all service was full-service (although he understood that motorcyclist like to fill their own gas tanks)!  He was a friendly fellow and told us not to miss a waterfall that was about 30 miles down the road.  We came to the waterfall and took a quick break there, deciding that it was time to find a camp spot for the night.  For the first time in quite a while, I led the ride from the waterfall and when a passing lane opened in our direction, Darren pulled up alongside me.  I made some joking gestures to him, but he wouldn’t return the fun and finally he started returning some strange gestures to me that I didn’t understand.  When we stopped later, he told me that he had seen a bear ahead on the road and was trying to bring it to my attention, but I had not seen it.  The road became very curvy and fun as we approached the campground. 

8/16/2007  The Alaskan Highway

It was about 100 miles to the town of Dawson Creek, the official start of the Alaskan Highway.  Unfortunately there was quite a bit of roadwork near the popular sign that announces the beginning of the highway, but we were able to ride around it on our bikes and get the photo!  We also photographed each other with the ‘zero’ mile marker in the center of an intersection in the town.  We stopped at a few shops, one of which was an ATV store where they were kind enough to call ahead to the motorcycles shops in the next town and confirm that they had the tires that we were interested in buying.  It has really been such a pleasure doing business with Canadian motorsport shops!  Even after they realize that you aren’t intending to spend money in their store, they have still provided such outstanding customer service in helping you to find what you need!  It is the way that all shops should operate.  We visited Wal-Mart to stock up on supplies and spoiled ourselves with expensive McDonalds (which we soon regretted) before riding on to Fort St. John where we visited the Kawasaki dealer that we had been referred to and purchased the long-awaited rear tires.  After zip-tying them to our topboxes, we settled in for a big ride to Fort Nelson.   Montana is called ‘Big Sky’ country and it certainly appeared that way, but the scenery along this portion of the Alcan rivaled Montana with its wide sky vistas and endless trees.  Darren and I were both amazed at the amount of forested land.  We passed many, many logging trucks and saw many logging roads that led into the forests, but relatively little of their destruction from the roadway.  There were small mill-towns that seemed to consist primarily of a gas station, small seasonal cabins, an RV park and general store with not much else.  Most of the other vehicles on the roadway were RVs and 18-wheelers.  I was a bit disappointed not to see any more wildlife beyond the many, many birds – mostly crows or ravens.  We rode about 360 miles to reach Fort Nelson, which was a very productive day in consideration of our many supply stops.  My backside was feeling the increase in mileage and we were both rather grumpy when we reached the campground just on the other side of town.  We set up camp in a grassy area and were attacked viciously by mosquitoes all evening.  I goofily cooked dinner with the cheap mosquito netting that Darren had purchased at Wal-Mart over my face and it helped a lot.  Also staying at the campground was another motorcycle traveler.  His name was Paul and he had traveled from Denmark across Russia on a Suzuki DL650 Vstrom.  This is an extremely challenging ride and we were adequately impressed, although he was modest about the accomplishment and stated that he would not want to do it again, describing it as ‘pure hell’.   He retired early to his tent, promising to chat with us in the morning. 

8/17/2007

When I awoke at 7:00am it was a bright shining day.  Without looking at a clock I would have thought that it was 10am.  Darren told me that he had woken at 5:30 to use the bathroom and it was just as bright outside then.  Darren immediately went to work on changing our rear tires to the new, more street-oriented Kenda’s we had purchased.  Our plan is to remount the knobby D606’s before we leave the pavement again in Alaska.  Paul and Darren chatted over coffee between tire changes while I enjoyed a long-awaited shower.  It was nearly lunchtime before the tires were mounted and we waved goodbye to Paul as he made his way south.  As I walked within the RV park, a woman informed me that their had been a bear in the field behind our tent the previous day and we should take caution.  I told her we were leaving and I was glad we hadn’t known earlier or we may not have slept so well!  We took the opportunity to do our laundry before hitting the road at 1:30, knowing we had to make up the miles after our slow start.  Within 10 miles of leaving Fort Nelson we stopped to watch the largest black bear we have seen yet cross the roadway in front of us.  It was the size of a small grizzly, but definitely a black bear. 

As we continued along the Alaskan Highway, the scenery began to improve.  Once again the wilderness expanded before us and there were trees beyond trees and forest beyond forests.  The expanse of undeveloped land in Canada was overwhelming. I got a kick out of passing by British Columbia’s Stone Mountain Park because I grew up very near to a park with the same name in Georgia.  The highway led us through a small northern portion of the Stone Mountain Provincial Park with enormous rock mountains that looked like one huge stone; very different from the jagged and crumbly mountains we had passed through before.  Closer to the base of the roadside, small streams made their way through wide rock beds. 

There was quite a bit of road construction on this part of the highway.  As we passed one unpaved section, we saw our first Caribou on the roadway.  Of course we stopped and I scrambled to carefully pull out the camera from my jacket pocket as it eyed us cautiously.  It walked a couple of steps toward us and seemed to motion with it’s oversized antlers to stay back – sending us a clear warning – before it turned and trotted away from the roadway.  The road surface deteriorated with more patchy uneven paving and a light gravel all along the surface, which was no problem for us.  As we made our way to the Yukon border, the landscape became exceptionally beautiful with scenic lakes and rivers nestled in the valley to our left with high mountains rising up behind them.  Although we were eager to make miles, neither of us could resist stopping to photograph around breathtaking Muncho Lake, where the lake ran alongside the highway as it curved around the jagged mountainside.  As the road climbed further up in elevation, we passed a herd of mountain goats gathering at a roadside pullout.  

Further along the road we passed a sign that warned of ‘Buffalo on Road’ and just as promised, there was a lone Bison trotting down the shoulder on the left side of the roadway.  This was as close as I have been to one of these extremely large animals and it is truly intimidating on the motorbike!  Although we were both quite tired, we pushed on to make miles with the western sun setting in front of us and burning our eyes as we entered the Yukon Territory. 

It was about 10pm and still light out when we pulled into a campground just outside of Watson Lake.  We both agreed that we had probably packed too much into one day and we were both really tired - but I was proud to have achieved over 300 miles on such a busy day.

8/18/2007  Small town parades and scary bridges

After hanging around the campground for a while to use the Internet, we finally packed up and headed off about 10:30 in the morning.  Within a couple of blocks, officials stopped us as they blocked off the highway for a street parade in honor of Canada’s Discovery Day.   This is a public holiday that is celebrated the Yukon Territory on the 3rd Monday of each August to commemorate the anniversary of the discovery of gold in 1896, which started the Klondike Gold Rush.  Other provinces celebrate their gold discoveries on other days or not at all.  We stopped and watched as 3 women on horseback led the procession followed by about 7 marching Canadian Mounties.  It seemed that the small town had invested every civic group it had to create their floats – with citizens of all ages throwing candy and squirting water-guns at the crowd of onlookers that had gathered along the roadside.  We felt lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to witness the small-town tradition.  In a strange opposition to the sweet, wholesome parade we had just witnessed, a Native American in his mid-teens approached us as we were heading back to the motorcycles.  He was missing most of his front teeth (could have been from the use of meth) and offered us leftover fried chicken in a box.  It made me wonder if the town had problems with youth and dangerous drugs.  At the edge of town we stopped again to take a quick photo of their ‘Sign Post forest’, a labyrinth of posted signs and license plates from all around the world – reportedly over 40,000 of them!  We would have gotten a closer look if we didn’t feel the call of the road pulling us onward…

We stopped for lunch at a roadside pullout with such beautiful vast scenery that it couldn’t be captured in a photograph – with a grassy meadow in the valley below us and glacier-topped mountains in the distance.  The weather was fabulous and we were able to ride comfortably without our jacket liners.  The scenery remained unchanged for most of the day – thick forests intermingled with small rivers and lakes that could be seen from the roadway.  We stopped before crossing the bridge into Teslin to take a rest and enjoy the view of the gorgeous wide lake that is responsible for its name.  Teslin comes from the native Tlingit word ‘Teslintoo’, meaning ‘long narrow waters’ - used to describe its 92 mile long lake.  The attractive bridge spanning the water was the Nisutlin Bay Bridge and is the longest water span on the Alaska Highway at 1917 ft (584 m).   As we approached on the motorbikes, the bridge lost all attractiveness and became downright scary.  Like many of the bridges in the area, this one was a metal grated bridge to prevent it from completely freezing over with ice in the winter.  This may be handy for the cars in winter, but it makes the motorcycles feel very unstable in the summer!  The bike is constantly sliding to one side and the rider is fighting the instinctive desire to tense up – it is a bit nerve-racking!  We just focused on the other side of the bridge and remind ourselves that many bikes go across it every day.   We stopped for fuel on the other side of the bridge where we met another couple that was traveling on motorcycles.  Les and Shelley were on two Suzuki DL650s and were from Seattle.  We enjoyed their brief company and hope to hook up with them again when we pass through Washington on our way south.  The next 100 miles were more of the fantastic scenery, but the fast pace of the past few days had finally worn us down and I was personally exhausted when we reached the city of Whitehorse.  We agreed to stop and camp for the night at a RV park with Internet access where Darren met a fellow Aussie and stayed up late on the Internet and I turned in early to get some sleep.  Of course I had to use my sleep mask because it was as bright as day after 10pm! 

8/19/2007

Hi Country RV Park in Whitehorse had some of the best facilities we have had on the trip.  My personal favorite was the hairdryers in the shower rooms!  I know this means very little to most male travelers, but it makes a difference for those with hair – especially in colder climates.  After taking advantage of the amenities, we rode into town to look for a Honda dealer and found 2 friendly southbound KTM riders taking a break.  They confirmed that Fairbanks had a Kawasaki dealer and put our minds at ease about the availability.  They also gave us some great insight on the road ahead.  Thanks fellas! Armed with our newly acquired information, we headed west towards Haines Junction and then northwest on Canada’s Highway 1. 

To our left were the Saint Elias Mountains, home of Mount Logan, Canada's highest mountain at 19,551 ft (5959 m) and the second highest peak in North America, after Mount McKinley in Alaska.  Logan reportedly has the largest base circumference of any mountain on Earth and due to active tectonic uplifting, Mount Logan is actually still rising in elevation.  We could see the snow covered peak as we rode along.  There was a lot of construction as we passed by Destruction Bay – which should be of no surprise when you discover that the town was established as a base for road construction on the Alaskan Highway in the early 1940’s.  It received its name from the harsh winds that blew down structures that had been erected by the military for highway construction in 1942-43 and we noticed the cross-wind warning signs as we rode through the area.  Once again I regretted passing so quickly through this area, but also remembering how quickly and harsh the weather could turn on us as we headed north.  As we came up a hill, Darren had to brake quickly as a bear crossed the road in front of us.  It was very close as we watched it scurry up a rocky embankment on the right sid eof the roadway.  It then stopped and turned back to look at us with its mouth quivering – a warning sign of aggression.  We rode along to leave it in peace. 

Throughout the day we were seeing and passing a few tour buses.  We were stopped at a rest stop when they also took a break and some of the passengers spoke with us about our trip.  These tourists seemed to be in a state of vegetation- unmoved by their own journey and numb to their environment.  When I asked one of them where they were headed, he said he didn’t know.  It seemed a bit odd…

After taking a break at a gas station in the town of Beaver Creek, we headed to the Alaska border.  In the 30 km between the Canadian and US Customs offices we stopped to see a huge female moose with it’s offspring.  We were shocked at how big it was compared to the moose we had seen in Yellowstone.  It was almost twice the size. 

 

 


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