Saturday, 20 October 2012

Day 112 to 114 – to Whitehorse, Canada

11 to 13 July    Kms travelled – 30,058

Leaving Prince George was a low key affair, much like the very many departures I had had to suffer on the journey so far.  I say “suffer” for a reason.  In terms of the architecture there was little to commend the town, particularly in comparison to the sights that mother nature serves up in the surrounding areas.  But there was a warmth and comfort extended by the people I met that made it, yet again, difficult to leave.  Some places just click, and you are left (or you leave) with a feeling that you could and should spend more time. 

I was, however, heading west (16) with a view to kicking north up the now famous Stuart Cassiar Highway.  The road was good (mostly), and kind (mostly), to this road (weary) warrior.  Tree lined open valleys stretched out before us and helped lead the way between snow peaked mountains.  If it sounds pretty, then I´m doing my job right in typing these words.  It was lovely...  not as spectacular as some of the scenes I had seen on the trip, but some real fine country.  And to top it off, we were soon running from greeny blue lake to the next; like riding the string of a gigantic sapphire necklace.  It was a good morning.

Come around midday, however, and come Burns Lake and I needed to stop.  The trip north from South America was in reality a trip north west.  The Americas have got a bit of a lean going on, which meant that with every key stage of the trip I was moving into earlier and earlier timezones in comparison with home.  I hadn´t spoken to the lovely Mrs Pat for a while, and the much needed reminder of what home felt like provided by Eric in Prince George, simply topped up the need to feast on her visage.  It was time for Skype so, as I was saying, it was time to stop...  and Burns Lake seemed a good place.

The local tourist information office provided free wifi, free coffee, free information and free chat, as I whiled away a few hours nattering with folks back home, and folks in town.  We also got sorted with some accommodation for the night, as I decided not to bother making further progress this day.  Word from tourist information was that there were more lakes over the nearby hill, with a ferry link on the road, and some pretty sights.  Sounded like a short detour was on for the afternoon, followed by a highly recommended (and massive) steak dinner.  Nice!

Recharged, the following day we were up and out early and leading the way through a crisp misty morning.  Heated grips were back on, and the run through to my breakfast coffee break at the start of the 37 was a great warm up for what was to come.  People have stated that the Stuart Cassiar Highway is one of the must do roads heading north, and to many is the preferred route.  I could see why.  Almost instantly, the scenery became more dramatic, more unspoilt and more in touch with the elements.  There was also a more notable increase in local wildlife proportionate to the decrease in traffic, with a number of people I spoke to along the way citing bear sightings!   I saw many foxes, loads of deer, a number of unnamed birds... but no bear.  

And then...  what was that?  A dark shadow flew past my peripheral vision as we were enjoying this (comparatively) twistier and quieter road.  Idris kindly grumbled to a speedy halt, and there it was...  a black bear feeding at the side of the road.  Idris´ notable engine thump, no doubt along with our abrupt halt, seemed to be unsettling the beast, so we quickly moved on...  with me grinning widely at the sight, only to realise later that I hadn´t taken a single photo.

More was to come, however, three in fact.  Each at different points along the road, each sat at the side feeding, and each becoming uncomfortably inquisitive each time we slowed down or stopped for a better look.  Call me a coward...   no, seriously, call me one..  for I discovered that is exactly what I am when I comes to these impressive animals.  I had read too many stories about the injuries inflicted by bears on us bipeds.  They are much faster than even the speediest of us – think Usain Bolt sporting a fur coat and two fists full of hunting knives – and without his good humour!  I had also heard these stories reinforced by people on the road, and the locals hereabouts.  They can´t all be exaggerating?  OK, I´m being a bit long-winded here.  The upshot is... I didn´t get any shots.  I bottled out of one camera moment after the next, and much as I revelled in the sights of these wonderful creatures, I have nothing but my words to share with you.  But you know what a bear looks like... don´t you?  You know...  Usain Bolt...  coat... knives!

Heading on up, and the temperature was heading on down.  Neck buff and heated waistcoat (not plugged in) had come back into play.  But this hadn´t affected the ride.  I wrote in my day book this day  “lovely weather...  lovely scenery... lovely ride”, so all was clearly well with the world.  I should note that there is not much by way of human impact along the way on up.  There are fuel stops and places to stay, but as we headed further into the northern wilderness, we were again back to having to plan ahead for such things.  It was a welcome additional task.  It meant we were nearing our final destination.  But the destination this day was an overnight in a basic “construction workers” motel, but the price was manageable and the company and food excellent (as it invariably was throughout Canada).  Just as well really...  there was no way I was going to lay out my tent for the night!

The next day´s early start and good riding saw Idris and I leapfrogging positions with a trio of Harleys who were also heading north, but which had differing caffeine and loo needs.  We did eventually meet up though, and it turned out that despite the US plates, two of the guys were Kiwis.  Nice bunch.  Then the rain closed in, and the waterproofs dusted off for (I think) perhaps the first time since Mexico!  I was wishing I´d stayed indoors as the cloud settled lower towards the increasingly bumpy road, no doubt the local wildlife felt the same.  I didn´t see a thing aside from a few bikes, a few RVs, and a few cars for the whole day. 

Oh!  I did also manage a quick stop at a jade mine, which was set on the side of the road opposite from a gold mine, near the Cassiar Mountain.  An interesting spot with free coffee, but the lovely coloured stones seemed a bit pricey to me.  I´m not sure whether this was a consequence of the increasing prices I had noted for pretty much everything as we headed further on up, or whether it was a comparison with the jade prezzies I had bought my wife back in Guatemala?  Either way, we headed into the mountains with pockets empty of green stone, but with stomach full of coffee.  And some mountains worthy of note they were too, with the ride only being tainted slightly by the quality of the surface which (from time to time) suffered overly from the severe winter exposure. 

With the ongoing bumps and rumbles of the mountain road running into bumps and rumbles of rolling forestland (some of which had been scarred by various forest fires over the last 20 years providing for some fab photo ops), we hit the Yukon and a moment to reflect on distance travelled.  For the first time since riding into Patagonia on the way down to Tierra del Fuego, I felt that I was entering the end of the world.  But now it was the other end I was looking at...  and we were closing on 30,000 kilometres travelled!  We had not yet reached our final ´must do´ - Alaska – but the Yukon conjured up in my mind so many images of gold rush towns and extreme frontiers I could not help feeling we were now just a short step away.

But even though we had travelled some 800 kms this day already, we were to learn that a short step in Canadian terms is a trans-continental ride for us Europeans.  I was at Junction 37 and the Alaskan Highway (a generally better quality but less interesting road) lay before us.  A quick refuel and chat to some of the increasing number of bike riders (also a lot more GSs, DRs, KLRs and KTMs now joining the stream of Harleys), and it was a “left turn Clyde” for a heady run into Whitehorse.

Now, I hear you ask, why is he saying the run to Whitehorse was a heady affair.  Nothing more than a troublesome headwind leading to a stiff neck and painful temples, would be my answer.  Hard work after a great but tiring long riding day.  Some great shots though.  The Alaskan Highway might not be quite as pretty as some of the road ridden over the last couple of days, but it does have its moments (and its share of wildlife).  It also has its share of bridges surfaced with metal grids (and some wooden ones) no doubt designed to allow melting snow to fall through in to the rivers below.  There are signs to warn the approaching motorcyclist, but no matter, I grew to hate the things with a passion as I struggled to make progress in the northern wind while keeping Idris upright on this challenging surface. 

The last 200 kms before Whitehorse earned us a good bed for the night and a couple of beers too.  I´ve not been drinking much on the trip, saving money and my morning head in the process, but I have allowed myself a few at weekends.  The motel was attached to a typical Canadian local bar with live country music that evening.  Fixing my spot on a comfy bar stool, I settled in for a few Alaskan beers and some equally relaxing light-hearted chat.  I wonder if the folks here are related to those in Montana?

Thought for the day
I can´t say that today’s thought is particularly meaningful in the grand scheme of things but... since the increase in two wheel traffic and the opportunity to ride in groups and/or with other riders is now presenting itself, I have been thinking about the whole riding alone thing. 

Throughout the whole trip to date, I have only spent one day riding with anyone else – and that was with Clark on the last leg of getting to Ushuaia.  Since turning round at the bottom of the world I could not recall having ridden a single revolution of Idris´ wheel with anyone.  On the whole this was not out of a particular desire to ride alone (even though I generally prefer it).  I had, in reality, expected to meet up with people along the way and ride along with them from time to time.  It just never worked out that way.  And now, as we were nearing the end of an epic adventure, I was increasingly of the view that I should finish it alone.  A point of pride?  A point of pig-headedness?  Or simply a pointless point?  Who can say.  I was certainly enjoying the increasing frequency of chats with like minded folk on the road... I would just avoid riding the same speed as them... I decided.

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