It would have been nice to have passed the 100k miles marker on the same bike I’d left home with but it wasn’t to be; and so with Lady P (my BMW F650) taking early retirement the task was left to the newly named ‘Rosie’* (my Suzuki DR650). And so it was on August 11th 2010, somewhere on the Alaska Highway west of Tok, Alaska I rolled over 100,000 miles since leaving home on St.Patricks Day 2006.
And what a 100,000 miles it’s been – 4½ years, 5 continents, 38 countries.
* Why Rosie? DR=Desert Rose. Rose Tyler was Dr.Who’s best ever assistant and was played by top bird and my beautiful niece’s namesake – Billie Piper. So ‘Rosie’ it is.
I left you last time in Moab, UT where I was dodging thunderstorms and going trail riding.
Trails of North America…a photo journal – click HERE
Whilst stocking up with supplies at the local supermarket I bumped into a guy called Ara and his pitbull Spirit. They’d been riding around the USA for 4 years in Ara’s BMW 1150GS sidecar outfit.
Whilst we were talking some friends of his Irene & ??? from Georgia appeared. Their RV was parked at a campsite close by and we spent the evening together sharing a few beers over a BBQ.
Before leaving Moab I took a look around Arches NP
When I eventually managed to drag myself away from Moab I took the scenic Hwy 24 to Capitol Reef NP. Running parallel to the NP on its east side is the Notom-Bullfrog road, along which lies a cracking little FOC campground. The waterpocket fold, a 160km long wrinkle in the earths crust parallel’s the road.
Capitol Reef NP regularly gets overlooked NP as people drive by en-route to the more famous Zion and Bryce canyons. Talk to the local though and you’ll soon discover this is a favorite as it attracts a fraction of the crowds of its big brothers. I took a day off to ride the Scenic Drive and hike up to the Cassidy Arch before returning to camp via the scenic Hwy 12 to Boulder then the beautiful Burr Trail Road that eventually connected with the Notom-Bullfrog road south of my campsite.
From Capitol Reef Hwy 12 takes you along what must be one of the best rides in the USA through the Grand Staircase Escalante. It’s a place that can neither be described nor photographed (except perhaps from the air). On I rode past the entrance to Bryce Canyon. It was the weekend so I rode straight past the entrance (I don’t do crowds in the countryside). Later in the day the main road (Hwy 9) took me right through the centre of Zion NP but like I said, it was the weekend. Instead I pushed on for Las Vegas and an invitation from ADV Rider inmate Matt.
Back in Jersey over Christmas whilst I was researching the USA leg of my trip I came across a posting on the ADV website entitled ‘Coming to America…what should I see?’ It had been posted by an Aussie dude Geoff and when I read through the post I learnt he was struggling with the difference in rules between states with regard to vehicle purchase. Having recently purchased Rosie in Salt Lake City I posted my experiences. Matt picked up on my reply and invited me to stay when I passed through Las Vegas – so I did.
I rolled into town early evening and cruised down the strip where I was surprised to see how much was familiar – even the pirate ship at Treasure Island remained.
Matt said there was another ADV’er in town – Trady, an Aussie bloke – and it soon transpired that Trady was none other than the originator of the post that had generated Matt’s invitation! Dinner was planned for Saturday night and a gobsmacked Geoff walked through Matt’s front door with his mouth agape and a finger pointing outside to my bike. “I’ve read every bloody word of your blog – twice!!” We had a good night out where Geoff and I did a lot of listening – man Matt can talk!!
Back in Moab I’d managed to drop Rosie with no luggage on and snap one of the brackets that held on the tooltube. Matt was a huge help in tracking down not only a welder but one that wouldn’t require a mortgage to do the work.
With the repair complete I struck out early on the Monday morning, bound for Death Valley – at 3 million acres, the largest US NP outside Alaska.
Unusually low temperatures some 20°C+ below average gave me the opportunity to ride to some of the more remove parts of the park without melting so I headed out for a ride through the one-way Titus Canyon.
Before heading out I stopped at the visitor centre to ask whether Snow Pass on Hunter Mountain in the SW of the park was open as it had snowed the previous night. Nobody knew so I was left to find out for myself. Late in the afternoon I took a look at Ubehebe Crater before riding SW towards the Hidden Valley. At Teakettle Junction I wanted to turn right to visit the ‘Racetrack’ but it was too late in the afternoon and I was already pushing my luck to get over the pass before sunset – if indeed it was open.
Beyond the Hidden Valley the Ulida Flat was resplendent in the late afternoon sun and reminded me of the high Andes.
At the end of the valley the track narrowed and steepened into a four-wheel drive track as it climbed Hunter Mountain. The sun was already below the ridgeline making it too dark for photos as the narrow track was lined with wild flowers. The ridge wasn’t a peak as I’d expected but a wooded plateau stretched out ahead of me. The trail, made muddy by the snowmelt, climbed slowly to a summit that I reached 10 mins after sunset.
It was rather chilly at 2200m so I pushed on until I’d descended to a much warmer 1650m where I found a place to camp and pitched my tent under the moonlight. In the morning I followed the Saline Valley track out to Hwy 190 that afforded a great overview of the park before descending into the heat of the valley where low flying US Airforce pilots appear to use unsuspecting tourists for target practice.
Geoff had left Vegas a day before me as he had his new BMW F800GS booked in for its first service in Bakersfield. We’d discussed the possibility of meeting up so I stopped off to use the free Wi-Fi in McD’s in Ridgecrest so I could email him. Later on I stopped again in Lake Isabella to check my email only to find Geoff was stuck at the dealership. There was a problem with the diagnostic computer reading Geoff’s CPU – the joys of BMW ownership huh?
Lake Isabella lies at the southern end of Sequoia NF that becomes Giant Sequoia NM, Sequoia NP and eventually Kings Canyon NP. It was late afternoon and the road followed the River Kern along the valley with plenty of NF campgrounds. I normally avoid these (‘cos you have to pay!) but it was getting late and the sites were particularly nice.
We rolled into Hospital Flats campground to be met by a manic 6’+ Californian by the name of Rob who came racing out from behind his RV, gesticulating for us to stop. He had a BMW K1200S parked behind his trailer in which he had his BMW 1200GS Adventure! His riding buddies had left early leaving Rob and his wife Karen with more food and beer than they could eat or drink and so making us perfect candidates to join them – “If you want to…” Do bears poop in the woods? (No…they poop on the road; but that’s for later…)
An evening of steak, beer and wine ensued until we couldn’t take any more and we turned in. We awoke to Rob making breakfast of delicious potato patties, eggs and fresh coffee – it was hard to say goodbye!
We dragged ourselves away and had an easy day stopping off to admire the giant Sequoia trees.
Geoff appreciates some creature comforts and that means campsites rather than bush camping and a bottle of red to finish the day – fine by me. We stopped in a campground just inside Sequoia NP where everyone was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of bins being ransacked. In the morning there was a lot of Ranger activity and in transpired that a bear had ripped the fire grate off the pitch next to us and throw it around before heading to the bins which were opposite our pitch about 10m away. After the bins if found a car a few pitches along that obviously contained food (BAD idea!!) and proceeded to peel the drivers’ door out of its frame at 90°!!!
Aware of the approaching Labor Day weekend (one of the busiest holiday weekends in the US) we pressed on towards Yosemite NP. The ride through Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP’s was beautiful if a tad chilly at 4°C.
It was late afternoon as we rode up to the Yosemite NP entry point at Mariposa Grove. We were a bit miffed when they couldn’t tell us about campsite availability in the valley especially considering it was the only part of the park that was open, it was approaching possibly the busiest weekend of the year and it was still 58km to the valley. We had no choice but to try our luck and so we rode on, in the pissing rain, into Yosemite Valley.
It soon became apparent the place was full but after riding around all the campsites we eventually found one fellow motorcyclist Dave, who kindly agreed to share his pitch. Believe it or not, it was the first time I’d had to pitch my tent in the rain and with the tarp strung up between the trees we set about cooking some supper.
It rained most of the night and we awoke to find the trees surrounding the rim of the valley were dusted in a fresh coating of snow.
We opted to take the 5hr return hike to Upper Yosemite Falls in the hope that its billing as ‘Strenuous’ would keep the crowds to a minimum – it did, and we enjoyed a cracking view out over the valley under a blue sky.
The following day we attempted to walk the trail to Vernall Falls. I say attempted because the crowds were ridiculous. Stone steps wind their way past the falls and every time somebody stopped so the domino effect backed up the whole trail; it was like being on a London Underground escalator. Geoff and I looked at one another and shook our heads; time to get out of Yosemite.
We hit the road early the following morning as the Tioga Pass to the east was still blocked by snow which meant we had to ride a fair way west then north before we could finally turn east and cross the Sierra Nevada – California’s geographical backbone.
The Sonora Pass had opened the previous day afforded us some beautiful scenery as we headed towards the summit. Past the second set of gates (Closed in Winter) there were pick-up trucks and trailers tucked into pull-ins amongst the snowbanks as avid Snowmobile owners finally gained access to some stunning backcountry riding.
Once on the east side we took 395 then 89 north over Monitor Pass and on to Lake Tahoe but with the holiday weekend in full swing we didn’t hang around long.
Our destination for the day was the home of Scott & Joanne, in the countryside an hour north of Reno, Nevada. Geoff had met them through the same ADV Rider thread through which we met and they had kindly extended an invitation for us both to stay.
We were both in a dilemma as the weather NW of us all the way into Canada was shite and had been for several weeks so we spent a few days watching the weather forecast and catching up with some emails etc. I’d had various problems with memory on my laptop since having to clear enough space to install my GPS map of North America. The software will ONLY install to the ‘C’ drive which was already at its capacity limit. I won’t bore you all with the techy details but all my research said there was no straightforward solution. When I learnt Geoff was in the IT business I explained the problems I was having and Geoff just grinned and said “I’ve got a bit of software for that…and that”. I gave him my laptop for an afternoon and sure enough he did an awesome job on it – thanks again Geoff.
Back in May at the Canyon de Chelly I met retired English couple Paul & Jan who are touring the USA in their RV. They were planning on leaving the country to renew their 90 day visas and I asked why they didn’t have 6 month visas. It turned out they’d found the process on the US Embassy website very unclear and so hadn’t bothered. However, when I said I’d been through the process they offered me a deal: In return for helping them navigate the site, they would take me back to London with them in June for the price of a Buddy Pass (Paul was a retired airline employee).
So why did I want to return to London? Well it wasn’t London but Jersey that I wanted to return to. On 6th April my sister had given birth to daughter Billie and I was keen to visit. I had initially planned to return from Canada on my return from Alaska but this was too good an offer to turn down.
Paul & Jan were flying from San Francisco on June 19th but I wanted to be much further north by then. I’d contacted the HorizonsUnlimited community in Seattle and had a tremendous reply with several offers of places to leave Rosie and all my kit whilst I was away.
The weather however, had other ideas and with more rain forecast for another week Scott suggested I return to Colorado where the weather had just broken and the high mountain passes were beginning to open. I could then return to Reno and leave everything there.
Scott helped me plan an interesting route across Nevada that took me past Lake Pyramid (home to the pre-historic fish Cui-ui) and on through the Humboldt Toiyabe NF on a series of dirt roads.
SW of Austin I spotted a track across Bunker Hill that looked like an interesting shortcut. It would have been had it not still been blocked by snow.
Dirt roads across the Monitor Range were the way to go and helped me avoid what are otherwise very straight, boring roads across most of Nevada. I only had two weeks in which to ride to Colorado and back before my London flight from San Francisco so I eventually bit the bullet and hit the highway. My worst suspicions were confirmed and I was soon bored to tears on Hwy 375 the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ so named for its close proximity to the infamous Area 51.
Once in Utah I bush camped just off Hwy 14, close to Cedar Breaks National Monument which had finally opened for the season that day. Word hadn’t spread of its opening and by arriving early the place was all but deserted. Snow still lay in the gullies and added to the already beautiful park.
Riding east away from the park, Hwy 14 is bordered by 30 million year old lava flow
Further east I once again picked up Hwy 12 and once again it was the weekend so yep, you guessed it…I rode straight past the entrance to Bryce Canyon. How the hell had I managed to cock up my timing that badly – twice? Still, the ride back up the Grand Staircase Escalante made up for it.
Just before Boulder I spotted a sign for ‘Hells Backbone Road’. A dirt road through Dixie NF built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930 – long before the multi-million dollar Hwy 12. Ara had mentioned this road so I had to take a look.
When the track turned south to head back to Hwy 12, I turned north through the forest passing several lakes. There was nobody on the track so when I encountered Roundy Reservoir on my right I pitched my tent on the far side. Having not seen a shower since leaving Reno three days previously I took a rather cool dip.
In between Utah’s Capitol Reef and Canyonlands NP’s lies the San Rafael Dessert. An appealing alternative to Hwy 24/I-70 route to Moab I followed my nose and headed onto the multitude of sandy tracks that traverse the desert.
It was great riding until what sounded like an outrageously loud raspberry being blow made me stop as fast as I could. It was the unmistakable noise of an exhaust failure and I climbed off my bike expecting to find a cracked header pipe. I didn’t; but I did find the mid-pipe and silencer (2/3 of the system) broken off and lying on the back wheel. I quickly pulled it out before it damage the tyre.
It was 39°C (102°F), there was no shade and I was 50km from the nearest road. Great.
I didn’t have any bailing wire so my first bodge was made with electrical wire and lasted a few km’s. My second bodge was with bungy straps and lasted a few more km’s until I revised the arrangement to one which lasted.
I crossed the railway tracks into Green River wondering how and where I was going to arrange a repair when I saw this…
…and all I could think of was …”Who ya gonna call?…GHOSTBUSTERS!!!
Of course it was Sunday and most places were closed when I rolled into Moab. Fred Hink (owner of Arrowhead Motorsports) however, works from a building on the same plot of land as his shop and so I guessed there’d be a fair chance of him being there. I’d bought both a new and used rear tyres from Fred on my previous visit to Moab but with the used one lasting so well I’d opted to leave the new one with him to collect later in the year.
Luckily for me Fred was not only in his shop but was clearing up after the annual bike rally he’d hosted that weekend. He told me to throw my tent up in the yard before dragging the BBQ out and cooking up some of the pile of leftover burgers.
In the morning Fred phoned around but the only guy it seemed everyone trusted to make a welded repair was out of town. I did get to speak to him but his advice was to bodge it up as well as I could and head straight along I-70 to Denver where I’d have lots more options. At the local auto parts store I bought exhaust repair bandage, a roll of repair strap and set about making a better bodge before setting off on the 550km ride to Denver.
Lora and Ron (Chapter 20) were on their way home from a weekend away on the bikes at the same time and I was constantly trying to find Wi-Fi along the way to contact them. They were expecting me but not for another week or so.
It was after dark before I found a McD’s with WiFi and managed to contact Lora. They’d just arrived home and I was welcome to join them – TFFT!!
Once I’d accessed the damage properly and discussed it with Ron we decided that a welded repair would only move the weak point elsewhere and would therefore only provide a temporary solution.
An initial search on ebay proved fruitless but a real stroke of luck the following morning threw up exactly what I needed (a 2003 GSXR100 Titanium silencer) with a buy it now price! SOLD!!!! To the man with the fastest trigger finger on ebay that day.
The silencer was only one of the two parts I needed though and whilst I could get the silencer shipped from Alabama quickly, the mid-pipe would have to come from Oregon and wouldn’t arrive until after I’d have to leave to get back to Reno and on to San Francisco for my London flight. My only option was to have it posted to Scott & Joanne and to make a more permanent temporary (an oxymoron; I know) that would last to Reno.
I spent a few days with Lora & Ron whilst awaiting the arrival of my exhaust can. I gave Rosie a good service in Ron’s well equipped workshop (ooer!), enjoyed Ron’s fabulous cooking and went to the cinema for the first time in 18 months (Get Him to the Greek – bloody funny!).
Back in Reno
The hardest part of the three day ride back to Scott & Joanne’s was staying awake on the looooong, straight Nevada roads.
Scott had insisted on driving me to San Francisco (4hrs each way) on his day off which was an unbelievable offer for which I am truly grateful. I packed my day sack and on Friday 18th June we drove to the Airport Travelodge where I’d arranged to meet Paul & Jan.
Staff travel offers exceptional value but as you’re travelling on stand-by its only for the patient. Having flown tens of thousands of miles over the years Paul & Jan were just that and knew how the system worked. An early start to the airport saw us upgraded to 1st class to Toronto but there ended the days luck. The next two flight were full but Jan and I got on the third (as a guest I had to fly with one of them). We arrived in London on the Sunday morning and were collected by their daughter Zoe and driven to her home in Woking where we spent the night. It wasn’t until Monday morning that Paul arrived having first flown to Halifax before London!
Despite his obvious jetlag we spent the afternoon battling through the US Embassy website to arrange their visa appointments. I say battling because the system had changed since I’d made my application back in January!
With their application complete, Paul dropped me off at Woking station where I caught the train to Gatwick and the last flight of the day to Jersey.
The birth of my niece Billie not only gave me the title ‘Uncle’ but expanded our family by 50%!
Paul & Jan’s interview at the US Embassy took longer than expected to arrange and my two week stay in Jersey turned into three weeks. I hadn’t been there in the summer for years; my godmother who I hadn’t seen since I left England in 2006 came to visit for a week and we all had a great time making the most of the fabulous weather.
Saying goodbye to Shell and Paul is never easy but the arrival of Billie has made it all the harder.
Back in the US…
My return to Reno was a four day, four plane, four lifts and a bus affair. Thanks to friends Wendy & Keith and Steve & Sally for picking me up/dropping me off and putting me up.
The first officer at US Immigration (in Toronto!!!) didn’t like my story and couldn’t decide whether to allow me to enter or not. He told me I should have surrendered my I-94 Immigration card upon departure and that I’d been told the wrong thing by the US Embassy in London. His take on my visa was that I could spend up to 6 months in a rolling 12 month period and as I was going to exceed that he wasn’t prepared to let me in. After disappearing for 5 mins he returned, typed my story into his computer and sent me to the second interview room. There I was met by steely faces, handed over the folder given to me by the first officer and told to take a seat.
When I was called to the counter two officers asked me about my story, wrote down this website address to look up at home, told me to keep my current I-94 and get a new one at the Alaskan border – completely contradicting everything the first officer had said!!! Our plane from London had been late and from Halifax even later making our connection in Toronto rather tight and thanks to that first officer we missed it and with the next two flights full we headed for a hotel for the night.
Up at 0400 to catch a plane that was again late and meant I missed the once daily train to Reno by 10 mins! So the bus it was and I arrived in Reno at 2130 to be collected by Scott & Joanne.
Having left Ian & JoAnn in Milford four weeks later than planned back in April, lost two weeks of NW travel due to the weather and now another week after Paul & Jan’s visa’s took longer than expected I was some seven weeks behind where I expected to be. Now I know that in the greater scheme of things that’s no big deal but when your travel itinerary involves mountains it’s a big deal.
The weather in Alaska begins its change with August rains and whilst it can snow in the high passes of Colorado on any day of the year, the likelihood increases from mid-September onwards.
Back in Reno…
Scott is an established motorcyclist and racer and as such has a suitable garage to stable his collection.
As well as his KTM990 Adventurer he has his two Honda CRF450’s; one racer, one practice bike. Back in 2006 Scott not only completed the grueling Baja 1000 (miles) desert race but did so in the Ironman class. That means NO team mates – 1000miles, 36hrs non-stop racing through the Baja California Penninsula.
My first job was to fit the new exhaust mid-pipe and silencer. A task that proved much more time consuming than Ron and I had surmised back in Denver and an additional collection of spacers were required for final assembly.
My luggage was also due for a makeover. Whilst all the effort I’d put into designing and fabricating the Q/R Pelicase/detachable hoop set-up was ok on paper, in reality it restricted my riding position and it wasn’t until I started riding some rougher trails that this became apparent. My day sack was also pissing me off. It was fine in the cooler weather but in the heat I found it to be uncomfortable and restrict the airflow through my jacket vents.
To avoid boring the non-motorcyclists amongst you I’ll add the changes to the Suzuki page for those that are interested.
Finally there was a new front tyre to be fitted and Scott presented me with a new Dunlop D606 for which he would accept no payment; instead insisting that his friend and mechanic would never accept payment from Scott and so Scotts only way of putting money in the guys pocket was to buy bits from him! Scott is a big believer in ‘paying it forward’ and if his actions towards me are anything to go on then he’s due for a whole lot of good karma in the future.
NW at last!
Leaving on Saturday morning meant that Scott could come with me for a day, camp out then race straight to work on Sunday morning. Due to his job as a bulldozer operator for the National Forest Service assigned to the Fire Department he knows the trails intimately for miles around and so I followed him through the Plumas NF where he took me through the site of a 100,000 acre forest fire.
We stopped for lunch in Westwood near Lake Almano where we got chatting with the owner Rod. It turned out that Rod was an avid motorcyclist, rode a Honda Transalp and Suzuki DRZ400 and was an ADV Rider inmate. He also served a mean bread pudding that slowed me down for days!
After lunch we made our way through Lassen Volcanic NP. With piles of dirty snow on the ground and ice on the lakes beginning to melt it was in a state of transition from winter beauty to summer beauty; we’d caught it with its pants down. Emerging from a straight avenue of trees in the north of the park, a brown bear ran out of the scrubland to my right to cross the road, obviously oblivious to my presence. Unable to slow down as it descended the metre high bank it roared (well it opened its mouth as if to roar but I had ear plugs in and music playing!) and desperately tried to veer right and avoid me. I, in the meantime was steering left and the result was that we travelled parallel and within touching distance for several metres before it could make it back up the bank and into the scrub. It was about the size of a large St.Bernard dog and was dripping wet from a stream crossing it must have made en-route to the road. The guy in the car behind said he’d been visiting the park for 20yrs and it was only the second bear he’d seen – everyone in the car thought it was trying to attack me!
We stopped for supplies in a small supermarket in a small town on Hwy 299. I got chatting with a retired couple who offered me a place to stay if I needed it. I couldn’t miss their place as the yard was decorated with flags; one her her sons had been flown home from Afghanistan on Thursday. “It must be great to have him home from there” I said; “It is” she replied…”The funeral’s on Tuesday” he said.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so empty so quickly in all my life. I suddenly felt like an empty vessel, my insides a void, a vacuum. How do you respond to that?
She’d already lost one of her three sons in the first Gulf war. Her third son was a helicopter technician also serving in Afghanistan, “But it’s safe where he works” she added.
Had I been alone I would have accepted their offer but it was a rare opportunity for Scott to ride and camp so I explained my position and accepted an open invitation for the future.
Scott and I found a suitable bush camp, cooked steak on the disposable BBQ he’d brought with him and shared a few beers before turning in.
The following morning we said ‘Hasta luego’ and I rode north to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail whilst Scott rode south to work. That sounds like I’m rubbing it in, doesn’t it!? Well I’m not; it’s just what happened!
Pacific Crest Trail
My US research had thrown up a long distance walking trail known as the ‘Pacific Crest Trail’ that ran from Mexico to Canada and although no mechanized transport was allowed on it there was a parallel – almost! Back in 2004 a group of friends had spent what must have been a huge amount of time and effort plotting a legal route that followed the foot trail as closely as possible. Running late was now in my favor as most of the snow had melted on the high passes.
At the end of the first day after a beautiful ride along a ridgeline with views through the pine trees across to snowcapped Mt.Shasta, I rolled into the campground at Crater Lake NP where I’d arranged to meet Geoff. Whilst I was having my exhaust trouble and visiting Jersey, he’d ridden through Montana, Canada and on up to Alaska and was now heading south. It was good to catch up but the mozzies were EVIL. I remember seeing ‘Mosquito proof clothing’ in outdoor shops for the first time several years ago and laughing it off as a gimmick. It wasn’t funny at Crater Lake though when the f@#*er’s ate me alive through my clothing.
The following morning we took a ride around the crater.
In one of the carparks on the rim drive I spotted a yellow number plate on a motorcycle. After further investigation I met Dave(id) and Gill from Plymouth, UK on their BMW R80. They were the first Brits I’d met since Graham & Graham on the road from La Paz, Bolivia last September. Dave(id) and Gill are heading for South America so who knows, maybe I’ll see them again.
As Geoff had booked and paid for the campsite, I insisted on buying him coffee in the restaurant as we were unlikely to meet again. At $3.75 each the price was as outrageous as I’d expected but when I laid down a $10 bill the waitress asked if I wanted change!!! I’ll give you a tip…don’t be a greedy cow!’
Later that afternoon, sitting outside a shop in Crescent Lake, I got chatting to a guy who’d made his living picking wild mushrooms up and down the Sierra’s for the past 20 years. I asked him about the mozzies and he said the NW had had a particularly wet spring which generated the high numbers of them. It was as bad as he’d known it in 20 years he said. Great.
I stayed on the PCT for the next three days and had some fabulous riding. Snowcapped Mt.Shasta gave way to Mt.Hood then Mt.StHelens, Mt.Ranier and Mt.Baker. Trees, lakes and rivers lined the route and the surface varied from fast forest roads to windy mountain climbs and a whooped out sandy track reminiscent of the UK’s Natterjack Enduro course. The only thing that spoilt it were the mozzies that laughed at my attempts to cover up and got drunk on my insect repellant. I was struggling to get a nights’ sleep as whichever way I lay something itched!
Along the way I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Detroit, Oregon and struck up a conversation with a local family. Whilst we were chatting an old RV, decorated like a newspaper arrived in the carpark. Not only was it old news, but tabloid news at that.
I stopped short of riding the PCT all the way to the Canadian border as I had an invitation in Seattle and instead picked up I-90 into town.
Now I’m no city fan but it was plain to see from the Interstate that Seattle has something about it lacking in most big US cities – character. The undulating nature of the land, dissected by lakes and waterways means the usual grid-planned ‘cookie cutter’ pattern doesn’t fit. Add to that the distinctly different architecture of each neighborhood and an abundance of individually owned businesses and you’d be forgiven for forgetting you were in the US
Earlier on I mentioned contacting the Horizons Unlimited community in Seattle in the hope of finding a place to leave Rosie and all my kit whilst I was away. Of the many offers I had, one was from Duncan Smith.
Over my first ever Vietnamese meal I learnt that Duncan was preparing his Kawasaki KLR650 for a trip to South America. He’s planning on leaving early October so there’s a fair chance we’ll meet along the way.
Whilst in Seattle I visited the Boeing plant where they build 737’s and 747’s and assemble 787’s. The 90 minute factory tour was full of huge numbers including the claim that it is the worlds’ largest building by volume (covering an area of 93 acres) and employs 30,000 people. They assemble a 787 every 3 days (parts are manufactured worldwide a la Airbus) but with 852 currently on order you’ll be waiting 7 years!! A 747 takes a year to build – at a cost of $350 million ea.
On the Saturday evening Duncan’s potential South America partner Rob and wife Kitty joined us for dinner and Duncan spit roasted a duck in the garden – delicious.
Then on the Sunday morning he took me on a tour of the downtown area, the highlight of which was Pikes Place market where the fish market sold things I’d never seen before – like 50cm long crabs legs!
Monday morning was a time for some bike maintenance but finding out why my headlight kept blowing fuses took me longer than I expected. It turned out to be the bulb itself, something I’ve never encountered before.
It was late afternoon when I finally left Duncan’s – Canada bound.
My first stop in Canada was Vancouver for no other reason than I had a friend to visit there. I’d first met Kev in Pokhara, Nepal back in 2006 and we air freighted our bikes from Kathmandu to Bangkok at the same time. Once in Bangkok Kev helped me with choosing and setting up the laptop I’m still using now and remained in contact ever since.
Having ridden his BMW R80 from Belgium to Cambodia, Kev knew exactly what a motorcyclist away from home needed and had it all waiting as I walked through the door. Room – glass of water – shower – beer – food – chat! The view from his 19th floor downtown apartment out across the harbor was spot on.
The weather was as ‘good as it gets’ in British Colombia and so it was Kev’s suggestion that I made the most of it and pushed on straight away (yeah, yeah…I got the message!) and hang out for a while on my return.
Before I could leave though I had chain & sprockets to replace, a broken wire in the r/h heated grip to repair, laundry to do and some emailing to catch up with. When Kev returned home from work we headed out for ‘all you can eat’ Sushi!
‘During my research for North America…’ Are you getting fed up with reading that line; ‘cos I’m getting fed up with writing it!
Anyway, I came across a website called Ride BC Backroads offering a 30 day tour using a combination of dirt and minor roads as well as some unavoidable major roads. It looked good so I copied it to a paper map and downloaded the GPS file of the section they’d made available and left Kev’s place bound for Harrison Hot Springs. I wouldn’t have time to follow all of it and would have to ‘trim’ it somewhat but it was a start.
I followed the undulating trail along the west side of the lake before descending across a few drainage channels towards a larger on. To my surprise, as I crossed the channel there was a people carrier facing the opposite direction with a rather distressed looking teenage girl standing next to it. They couldn’t get across the channel and asked for my help. I suggested to the driver, her father, that he reverse out the way they came as they’d struggle to get up the hill but it transpired that they had come down the hill but that further on the track deteriorated again and they couldn’t continue. They’d managed to turn around but were now stuck. I took my jacket off and helped the daughter fill the channel in with rocks and then lay head foliage on the loose grave l to give them some grip. After much crunching, banging, bottoming and wheel spinning they made it across and continued up the hill in a cloud of dust.
So why hadn’t the father helped you ask? Because he was in a wheelchair! I cringed at the damage he’d done to his specially adapted vehicle. I met nobody else along that trail and wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t turned up.
Further I long I came across a ‘Road Closed’ sign ahead of where a landslide had wiped the road out. It had obviously been like that for some time as there was a well established route around it that was the width of a quad bike.
I found a suitable turning off the main track and gained some altitude along with some daylight as found a small clearing and after checking for bear shit, pitched my tent.
The ‘Technical Route’
Day two dawned and I rode on past Lilooet Lake, gassed up in Pemberton and ate a lunch of noodles by Carpenter Lake outside GoldBridge before finally turning onto what Ride BC Backroads determined ‘The Technical Route’, an option on their tour.
Not far north of Carpenter lake I encountered my first brown bear. In a scenario very similar to that in Lassen NP, a bear came running out of the trees, across a scree field, downhill towards the road. Once again we were on collision course but it had so much momentum it couldn’t slow down. I accelerated and the bear passed right behind me, across the road and into the trees.
It was plain sailing up past Marshall Lake where I had to open/close a gate to proceed. It wasn’t technical at all until I reached Mud Lake but from there on I encountered a 4×4 trail of pot holes, puddles and trees roots. Three water crossings then led me to the steepest climbs I’ve ridden since my last Welsh Enduro. A jeep width trail damaged by 40cm deep rainwater ruts and littered with loose stones took me to a plateau where I was sure the trail would peter out. I took a few wrong turns before finding the right route and was soon cruising along a pristine logging road at 80km/h.
It was late afternoon and time to start looking for a suitable bush camp when I spotted a jeep trail heading steeply away to my right as the logging road descended into a valley. The valley turned out to be the splendid Farwell Canyon and I’d picked a trail to the overlook.
Just as I made my decision to camp so a 4×4 arrived. I was expecting the ‘can’t camp here speech’ but a family of six emerged and we struck up a conversation. They were cattle farmers from Vanderhoof some 4hrs to the north and were returning home from a three day camping trip and invited me to join them for supper.
Once they’d packed up I took some photo’s in the setting sun. Little did I know that the forest fire on the opposite ridge would be a taste of things to come.
It’s all gone up in smoke!
Farwell Canyon was unlike any other I saw in Canada and resembled a miniature of India’s Spiti Valley. No photos though because of the haze of smoke from a forest fire. Forest fires would come to dominate my next few days and not for the last time, so I would come to learn.
North of Farwell Canyon is the town of Williams lake. I rode 310km north from there before emerging from the smoke. The sun was a deep red like you’d see at sunset only it was the middle of the day. In Vanderhoof I rejoined tarmac and rode west on Hwy 16 to Kitwanga and the start of the Cassiar Hwy. An electronic sign at the start of the road said it was closed at km 690 just south of the Yukon border due to a forest fire. Enquires revealed that it had already been closed for two days.
It would take me two days to get there with my planned side trip off the main Cassiar and a look at the map revealed that to ride around would involve a 1500km detour. I decided to continue in the hope the road re-opened by the time I got there. Even if I had to sit there for three days it would take no longer than riding around it.
My two side trips off the Cassiar Hwy took me first to Stewart where steep, pine covered hills met the pacific in a setting you’d expect to find in New Zealand. A few bears sauntered across the road along the way, neither being too bothered by my presence.
My second side trip followed the Tanzilla River to Telegraph Creek. Some friends of mine had raved about it after their Canadian holiday last year and I was keen to see the place. Once out of the trees the ride in on a forest road was very picturesque with the river cutting a gorge way below.
In Telegraph Creek I didn’t recognize anything from their photos. It was even smaller than I expected and didn’t take long to look around.
Later on I Google’d it and realized my friends had been to Telegraph Cove (on Vancouver Island)…DOH!!!
Back at Dease Lake, where the Telegraph Creek road meets the Cassiar Hwy, I called into the general store for supplies and the latest news on the forest fire. They had a few aerial photos of the fire that was still burning and it was huge. The latest news said that the following morning, waiting traffic would be escorted through the closed stretch of road at 0800. The convoy would leave from Beaver Dam rest area 200km to the north. The rest are was full of RV’s and a few trucks all waiting for the escort.
At 0745 an escort vehicle arrived along with a helicopter spotter.
Warnings that it wasn’t advisable for those with breathing difficulties seemed a little over the top. It was a little smoky but nothing like I was expecting. 60km later we crossed the Yukon border to meet the Alaska Highway and queue of RV’s waiting to be escorted south. I turned right and rode into Watson Lake where I found the ‘Forest of Signs’ at the visitor centre. The collection currently stands at 68,000!
I had a shower at a campground at the east end of town then headed NW on the un-surfaced Robert Campbell Hwy where I spent the next two days looking at trees. Not for any special interest or scientific reason but because that was all I could see! Actually, that’s not strictly true. A huge bear crossed the road ahead of me way off in the distance. It dwarfed all the other bears I’d seen and I wondered if it was my first (and sadly only) Grizzly sighting?
West of the Ross River township I followed a maintenance trail below a line of overhead power cables to an open area atop a small hill and pitched my tent.
Daylight this far north at this time of year is very deceiving. Sitting in my tent at 2300 the red hues of sunset remain on the horizon and it will be another hour or so before it’s fully dark. Even then it will only remain so for 4-5hrs.
The next day, just outside the historic gold rush town of Dawson City, I followed a dirt road to ‘Dredge 4’ . The last of the two biggest dredges ever operated in the region. Built in Ohio in 1912 at a cost of $½million, it cost the same again to transport and assemble it. It made $800k in its first year of operation! The 90 minute tour was excellent and capped off with a B&W video made in the 1950’s. What stuck in my mind was the noise. To prevent gold flakes sticking to the bucket arm, nothing was greased! The screeching could be heard for miles and certainly destroyed the hearing of the operators.
At the north end of town a free ferry crossed the Yukon River and led to the so called ‘Top of the World’ Hwy to the Alaskan border. I’d deliberately chosen this, the smaller of the two entries to Alaska in the hope it would be quieter and I’d get a better reception than I had on my previous encounter with US immigration. If I was refused entry I’d be stuck in Canada with a US registered bike and no overland route to Mexico. The border was empty as I approached the window and handed over my passport. As soon as I started answering questions I could see the disbelief in the officers’ eyes and I was soon invited inside for a chat with his senior. As he thumbed through my passport I had to explain every US and Canadian stamp in it along with my travel plans, when where and why I bought my bike etc. Eventually they chilled out a bit and showed some interest in my journey. Then, to my surprise he issued me a new I-94 valid for 6 months and told me to keep it when I re-entered Canada on my way back from Alaska.
The road followed a twisting ridgeline above the undulating landscape of trees and the dirt road glowed a golden brown in the falling light. ‘Moonraker’ (from the David Arnold album of James Bond themes) came on my iPod; the first line of which is ‘Where are you?’…Where am I…I’m in Alaska baby…ALASKA!!! And I thought of Brian (Chapter 9 – Who’d given me the album) and his lovely family in Denmark. I rode on with a warm fuzzy feeling and a big grin on my face.
The road was in much worse condition than I’d expected for a major route and it wasn’t until I stopped that I learned it had only re-opened two day earlier after being washed out by heavy rains.
At the gas station in Chicken (yep, that’s what it’s called) a tank of gas came with a free nights camping and so I pitched up for the night next to a couple from Illinois on his ‘n’ hers BMW 1200 Adventure’s. They’d had a torrid time with her bike since leaving home five weeks earlier. They’d been trailered to a dealership twice and spent $2000 on four repairs!
And whilst on the subject of repairs, my front tyre was in desperate need of replacement. On the dirt it had been by far the best I’d used but it was shot in 4k km. A Michelin T63 will go 15k at a push so I was expecting at least 8k from the Dunlop.
Instead of riding to Fairbanks and on up to Prudhoe Bay I’d have to ride SW to Anchorage for a new tyre first. The Glenn Hwy to Anchorage afforded mountain views to the south…
…and whilst the glaciers were an impressive sight it was all too easy to see just how far they’d receded…
My US/Canada road atlas has the scale of the US pages in Miles and the Canadian pages in km’s. I’d forgotten this as I rode into Alaska and completely messed up on the distance to Anchorage. I ended up buying supplies in Palmer then backtracking to find a bush camp.
Might have to watch my step bush camping around here…
Once in Anchorage I visited a few shops before finding a suitable front tyre at Alaska Leather. My oil was also overdue a change and my air filter needed cleaning. It was raining and I wondered how/where I was going to carry out the maintenance when I spotted a disused unit on a retail park. The original entrance was under cover and faced away from most of the other shops & restaurants so I bought 4l of water from the supermarket (to make into an oil drain pan) and unpacked undercover.
It was quite late when I finished but I’d remembered being told at Alaska Leather that the family owned Harley Davidson dealer in town offered free camping for all motorcyclists. I arrived at the closed dealership to find a small grassy area complete with picnic tables. In the morning I also discovered free coffee in the shop along with very friendly staff and an immaculate washroom with shower – all for a donation! It was a great service – Thanks Guys.
Sharing the car park was motorcycle tour operator MotoQuest (formerly Alaska Rider Tour). The staff took an interest in my bike, a conversation was struck up and I was soon invited to hang out, use their WiFi etc. In the corner I spotted a huge pile of used tyres (wish I’d seen it yesterday!) and found a suitable rear that was mine for $50. I didn’t need one for a while but I would need one before re-entering the lower 48 (States) and didn’t want to pay the outrageous Canadian prices.
The weather forecast wasn’t good. It seemed I’d missed the Alaskan summer by a week and whilst all the talk was of the recent warm weather, the forecast was for rain.
It looked slightly better in the south so I decided to take a look down there for a couple of days. If I was lucky the weather in the north might improve.
I took a ride over Moose Pass to the port town of Seward. Thanks to the cloud it was like riding through an art gallery with the lights turned off. You could make out the shadows on the wall and knew if you could see it would be beautiful; but you couldn’t.
I left Seward and headed for Homer on the Sterling Hwy. It was late in the day and time to look for a place to camp but with every bit of flat land squeezed into the valley being utillised I couldn’t find anywhere and for the first time since Crater Lake NP back in Oregon I ended up in the state run Johnson Lake Recreation Area.
The next day it rained….and rained…and then rained some more and for the first time (I think) since Tim Hobin and I camped on Bruny Island off the coast of Tasmania back in 2008 I spent the day confined to my tent.
The following day I awoke to the sound of… silence! No rain pattering on my tent. It was still overcast but I headed back to MotoQuest to collect the used tyre I’d left with them. In the car park were the two Suzuki DRZ400’s I’d seen in the workshop a few days ago. They belonged to Dave and Francine from New York who have spent two weeks, twice a year, for the past two years riding across the US, storing their bikes, flying home then repeating. I’d come across the trip report – The Mobius Trip – when choosing a replacement for Lady P. They invited me to share their lunchtime pizzas and we managed a brief chat whilst David beaver’d away replacing chain & sprockets etc. They did, after all, only have two weeks.
That night I found a bush camp alongside the Chulitna River just outside Denali NP. Once again I awoke to an overcast sky and it was soon drizzling as I headed north. As I approached the park entrance though the cloud broke up to reveal blue sky so I took the road into the park as far as you’re allowed to take your own vehicle, to grab a glimpse of the highest peak in North America, the 6194m Mt.McKinley.
It may have been my first bit of luck that day but it wasn’t my biggest. On the long downhill run towards Fairbanks I ran out of fuel. No problem…reach down and turn the fuel taps from ‘ON’ to ‘RES’….NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!…I hadn’t reset them from the last fill…the tank was dry!!! I whipped the clutch in and crouched behind the screen as best I could to the run down the hill. I was dreading a long push but as I rounded the next corner there were not one but TWO gas stations at the bottom of the hill. Yeah, yeah, yeah….’You lucky bastard’…I can hear you from here Kinger!
Across town I found Dan Armstrong at the business he runs from home – Adventure Cycleworks. Dan kindly agreed to babysit my spare tyre whilst I rode up to Prudhoe Bay, 400km north of the Arctic Circle.
He also recommended the ¾lb burger at the Hot Spot truckstop north of the Yukon River. Having not eaten out in a long time his description of the ‘handmade, lean mince patty, topped with mushrooms and salad grown in the garden’ sounded too good to miss. It was bloody good and I crawled into my tent at the roadside just south of the Arctic Circle feeling completely stuffed.
Those of you who watch the TV program ‘Ice Road Truckers’ will be familiar with the Dalton Highway: the 667km support road for the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Mostly well graded dirt but with some stretches of tarmac it runs from the Elliot Hwy to Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay.
I took the obligatory photo at the Arctic Circle sign…
…and soon after was donning my waterproofs for what was sure to be a good soaking.
Sure enough, 40km or so south of Coldfoot it started raining. Looking at a map you’d be forgiven for thinking Coldfoot is a town, where it is in fact little more than a truckstop. A sign on the counter inside read :
‘The pumps will automatically lock out at 217 gallons preventing everyone from pumping fuel. If you require more than 217 gallons please inform staff. The cost of 217 gallons is $997”
There are no services between Coldfoot and Deadhorse (400km) so I filled up with fuel and head out into the first of many delays in the ongoing roadworks. Unbelievably, trucks in the US are not required to have mudguards so the spray they produce create some severe visibility problems. When they pass in the opposite direction in the rain whilst driving on tarmac it’s bad enough, but on wet dirt roads your visibility is reduce to zero every time one passes by. I soon got pissed off with the constant visor wiping, stopping, cleaning etc and was glad to get to the foot of the Atigun Pass where the rain stopped and the truck traffic significantly reduced.
The Atigun Pass leads to the Atigun Valley
This section was clearly the highlight of the Dalton Hwy although it continued to be nice until it climbed away from the Sagavanirtok River. Camped along the roadside all through this section were hunters who’d obviously been here for some time.
Apart from the Atigun Pass and Valley where it runs underground, the oil pipeline is never far from view.
The 1288km pipeline built between 1974 and 1977 not only cost $8 Billion, the 1288km but also the lives of 32 construction workers.
Twelve pump stations along the pipeline maintain the temperature of the heavy crude to keep it flowing to the next station. Un-insulated, this heat would have serious consequences for the permafrost on which the pipeline is built and so aluminium radiators on every support absorb the cold from the air and transfer it to the ground. Each support also has a ‘sleeve’ to allow the pipeline to expand and contract lengthwise and the ‘zig-zag’ shape of the pipeline layout allows for lateral movement – all very clever!
A chilly mist hung in the air for the last 50km into Deadhorse so I didn’t hang around long. I took a few photo’s, filled up with fuel at the 24hr un-manned station, visited the general store and with the coffee shop closing 90 mins before my arrival was glad to find a free one in the hardware store.
It was about 6°C so I didn’t hang around too long and was soon heading south once again.
I had planned to camp at Galbraith Lake at the north end of the Atigun Valley but when I got there it was raining again so I decide to push on. I figured the roadworks would be shut down for the night and I wouldn’t have the 90mins worth of delays I’d encountered northbound. This far north in August daylight has only just stopped being a 24hr affair and it was only just dark when I rolled into Coldfoot to top up with fuel at midnight. By 0130 I’d made it back to the Arctic Circle where I knew there was free camping and it would be easy to set-up in the dark. At 990km it had turned into the longest day of the trip.
My planned early start the following morning went out the window when I met a group of Brazilians at the Arctic Circle sign where I was eating breakfast. Ronaldo, Escorse, Marcio and his son were on a two week trip on rented KLR650’s and were good fun and invited me to stay when I return. Ronaldo lives right on my planned route through the Amazon. They spoke a little English and I spoke no Portuguese. Once they learnt I’d been to South America though they had me speaking in pigeon Spanish which was a real brain tester after a year away. A year!!!!Bloody hell!!! Where did that go!? I’d better pull my finger out and keep riding south…
Last stop in Alaska was back at Adventure Cycleworks to collect my tyre and was Rosie. The Dalton Highway is sprayed with the somewhat corrosive Calcium Chloride to help hold it together and the sooner I got her washed off the better.
Dan washed her off for $10 and with my luggage re-loaded and my rear tyre strapped on I hit the road south.
Over the next few days I cruised down the Alaska Highway through Tok, re-entered Canada, Destruction Bay, Haines Junction, Whitehorse and back to Watson Lake.
Just outside Haines Junction I narrowly avoided a big storm but did get to see some cracking rainbows.
At the campsite I’d stopped at for a shower on the way north I’d noticed they were charging $10.50 for a ‘shady tent site’. Combined with the $2 coin-op showers and laundry and free WiFi it wasn’t just the bargain of Canada, it was the bargain of North America and remains the only commercial campground I’ve stayed at. I spent two nights, did some laundry and some bike maintenance and chatted with the few motorcyclists that came and went. Amongst them were a German couple on a BMW 1200GS who’d ridden up in stages from South America. They’d been stuck in an even smaller down the road for a few days awaiting a new back tyre. By the time it arrived and shipping and fitting were added to the $250 price, their bill was $400!!! FOR ONE TYRE!!!!!
They too had ridden up the Cassier Hwy and I was surprised to hear that the 0800 convoy was still in place – two weeks later. When I asked the site owner about the fire he said it was still burning and now covered 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). Numbers varied depending who you asked but almost 400 forest fires were burning across the province of British Columbia compare to just 56 at the same time last year.
Although affected by the smoke, the next day was an absolute joy.
Bison grazed at the roadside…
I found a cracking spot for lunch…
A mother black bear strolled by with her two cubs…
And finally I found a lovely bushcamp…
The following day was my birthday and was about as bland as it gets. I didn’t give a monkeys’ though…my head was still full of great images from the previous day.
Another day took me to Prince George where I had an invitation to stay from Kelly & Brandi who’d been following my Trails of North America thread on the ADV Rider website. They’d been mad keen mountain bikers until Brandi broke her back in a 2007 car crash in Cuba. Though far from 100% she’s made great progress since being screwed back together and they now enjoy the slightly gentler pastimke of motorcycling; in fact, they returned from a two week 3800km trip 10 mins after I arrived.
I spent two nights with them and used the day in between to change the engine oil and wash the oil filter, clean the air filter (or rather Kelly did) and change the rear tyre. Brandi was working away from home so I started cooking chilli before Kelly took over and did a cracking job. Dinner was eaten in front of the TV with a few beers, laughing or heads off at ‘Nitro Circus’.
It’s all gone up in smoke II
I left Prince George under a shadow of smoke and rain storm and didn’t ride out of it. I camped just outside Jasper NP but the ridgelines on either side of the valley road were but a pencil line in the sky. At Jasper I turned right onto the world famous Icefields Parkway. Visibility was a little better but still far below par.
I rode on down to Banff where it was decision time. Should I stay or should I go? In the end I decided to go. If I couldn’t see the NP at its best I’d rather wait until another time. The NP would be preserved and one day I will return with a RV and a MTB. But for now my time will be better spent back in the US where there are things I want to do that I may never have the opportunity to do again.
I left the Banff NP via the Kootenay NP and over the next three days made my way back to Vancouver.
Along the way I passed through Kimberley, Kamloops and Whistler. It wasn’t until I got to Lilooet approx 150km west of Kamloops that the smoke began to clear just in time for a great view of the Fraser River Gorge; although you can still see the haze in the distance.
A little further SW along Hwy 99 towards Whistler the smoke finally cleared
I arrived back at Kev’s in Vancouver 25 days and 12,104kms after leaving. It had been a whistle stop tour of Canada but for various reasons. 1 – I had arrived in Canada seven weeks later than expected. 2 – Canada is crazy expensive. My daily spend was 60-70% higher than the US for the same standard of living. 3 – Forest fires had left the countryside looking way below its best.
Pulling back some time had done me a favor. When I re-enter the US at the weekend I’ll be able to visit a few places I thought I’d have to miss out and still be able to follow the route I want to.
All being well my next update will be just prior to entering Mexico around the first week of October.