June 29, 2009
We were up at 4AM. We had coffee and cereal and were packed and out the door by 5AM. Traffic was light through Seattle but the temperature was cold, finally. I had put on the electric vest to take away the chill. But I only had shorts on under my riding pants. We shot up I-5 and took the Highway 532 exit toward Nooksack, which is I believe an Indian word meaning, “scrotum”. The road was nice with gentle sweepers. The local farms were neat. We gassed up on our last cheap fuel in Sumas.
The gas in Canada would average over $5 per gallon. In some places we paid $1.31 Canadian per liter. On average we figured we were paying about a dollar for every 10 miles we drove. We had all switched to 16 tooth front sprockets before we left home. Initially this seemed like a good thing. At 80mph (indicated) the larger sprocket dropped the engine RPM from 5800 to 5200. There was a price to pay on low end grunt. Overall on a long trip like this I suppose it was a good move for lowering the highway RPMs. But fuel economy was not greatly increased for the sacrifice in low end torque.
Going through Canadian Customs never ceases to amaze me. I thought we were friends with Canada. I have been through customs in over 60 countries all over the world and the Canadians always seem to be the most hostile. I went first.
Customs agent, “Sir, turn off your motor. Are you traveling with the other two riders?”
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you going?”
“How long is your stay in Canada?”
“However long it takes to get to Alaska, 4 or 5 days.”
“Do you have anything to sell or leave in Canada?”
“Do you have any liquor, tobacco, or weapons?”
“Do you have any guns on you?”
“Have you ever been arrested?”
“How many times have you visited Canada?”
“Five or six.”
When Jim stopped at the gate, he asked him if he had any guns, if he owned any guns at home, if he was wearing clean underwear, and did he ever speak rudely to his wife. I just made up the last two questions. But what is the relevance of his owning guns at home in the US if he is entering Canada? This type of harassment by border guards is the reason Chuck Norris has never entered Canada. His whole body is a weapon.
The ride into Canada up Highway 1 to Hope and into the Fraser River region is very beautiful. The temperature was ideal. It was sunny. The road is fast and there are many sweepers. The view of the river follows you quite a way. The river is fast and wide with many areas of whitewater. There is a train track that follows it much of the way. We were stopped for 15 minutes south of Cache Creek while a helicopter brought in a long mesh sheet to position over a cliff and help prevent rock slides onto the roadway. It was at least an interesting and different traffic stop.
We were making good time. We rode on through Cache Creek, the site of my previous ride’s end of day one. We passed the oddly named towns of 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, and got a light rain when we reached Quesnel (Kwin-nel). It was CKS’s turn to pick a place for dinner. We rode through town a few times and settled on Savala’s restaurant.
It didn’t look like much from the outside but the food was good and not expensive. The salad bar was worth the price of the meal alone. After dinner we decided to call it a day. The days were longer the farther north we got. We found a Provincial Park 10 miles north of Quesnel on 10 Mile Lake. It was quite pleasant and cost about $15. We camped by the lake. Jim was no faster putting up his tent the second time.
June 30, 2009
We rested well. It had dropped to 40 degrees in the night. Captain Kill Switch was up early as usual and was nearly completely packed by the time Jim and I got up. I was packed next and then CKS and I watched Jim fiddle for an extra 45 minutes. It was quite painful to watch him still wiping down his tent as he rolled it. I finally told him to just roll it and not worry about the dirt or dampness. I reminded him we are on a 5 week trip and he would be pitching it wet and dirty a lot. It dries out, it gets dirty, and it gets wet again. Just clean it and pack it carefully when you get home!
Then just as it looks like we are ready to roll. He stops, looks for his gloves. He has to nearly unpack his whole bike before he finds them in his top box. Then he repacks the bike, puts on the gloves, looks for his key, takes off the gloves, etc, etc. I am dying. I sit on my bike and calculate that 30 extra minutes to pack up each day for 30 days, and 10 extra minutes to futz at every gas stop with his sun glasses and gloves means I will spend one whole day of my vacation just watching him futz. I begin to have murderous dark thoughts.
We leave out of the campground and take off north. Captain Kill Switch is out last and lags way behind. When we stop for coffee and pastries at the local café, I try to tactfully remind him about staying a bit closer. He states, “You guys take off before the bikes are warmed up. You have to have three bars showing on the temperature gauge before you get to highway speeds because the oil isn’t circulating yet.”
Yeah……And I don’t use my kill switch properly either. However, I was noticing that he was having trouble maintaining a constant speed on a straight highway. Also, probably because he had been taught in the MSF class that the proper way to take a curve was to brake before the turn, enter the turn, and apply throttle as the curve straightens out he was hell to follow in the sweepers. In tight curves where the exit is not visible this is the proper way to do it. However, he did it on sweepers! Most people define a sweeper as a gentle curve where the entry and exit points are seen in the same view. A line is easily picked, it is easy to gauge your entry and exit speed and see any road hazards along the entire path of the curve. For this reason, a sweeper does not require any radical braking or throttle changes. Sweepers generally do not allow you to scrape foot pegs or require you to drop a knee to help you lean. They are usually designed for faster speeds and do not have any yellow speed warning signs ahead of the curve. He was applying the classroom tactics on sweepers. It was quite infuriating when you were following him.
While I am on the subject of critiquing the riding skills of the group, I have to comment on the way I thought both Jim and Captain Kill Switch passed. I was taught how to pass a vehicle by the greatest and most demanding teacher ever, my father. When I was 16 he would take me out on a curvy rural highway in our 1965 Ford station wagon. He would make me pass by using a certain technique that required timing and skill when driving a clunky underpowered station wagon. The logic behind this method is so elegant and I had never taken any formal driver education course, so I had assumed everyone knew the proper way to pass.
Apparently many people do not know how to pass. So bear with me while I pass on the wisdom of my father for your enjoyment and edification. This is the situation: there is a slow car in front of you and cars are coming your way. You see a possible opening after the last car passes you. You will want to be at your passing speed when the last opposing car passes. You begin working a solution to the problem that involves estimating when the last car will pass, how long it will take for you to spool up the bike to be at passing speed just after it passes, and to begin putting you left blinker on as you are checking on the position of potential knuckleheads behind you who may be trying to pass you (or they may just be well educated people who expect you to know how to pass and want you to get going so they can draft on you, either way, do them the courtesy of the blinker). The fun part begins when the oncoming car is at the front bumper of the car you want to pass. At this point you should be near the left rear bumper of the car ahead of you and start aiming for the left rear bumper of the oncoming car. It is a location you will not be able to hit since the oncoming car is traveling way too fast, but it gives you an aiming point. The sequence is: see an opening to pass, check your rear and put left blinker on, accelerate, opposing car passes, you instantly whip out into the lane, pass car, right blinker on, and back in lane. What could be simpler? Isn’t this how everyone drives?
You will be around the car in front of you in an instant using his draft to whip you around. This technique minimizes the amount of time you spend in the opposing lane and allows you to use your best gear and speed to get around the slow ass hat in front. It is also courteous to the folks behind you who expect you to pass in a skillful manner or else they will need to get around the TWO vehicles in front of them.
Anyhow I had attempted to impart this wisdom on my fellow riders. One did not think he needed it; the other was unable to master it after trying for 5 weeks. It was painful to see an opening to pass, and then have to watch as the rider in front of you waited until the opposing car was 100 yards behind them before he began accelerating. By the time passing speed was reached, the opportunity was lost.
I tried not to think of the limited riding skills of my bike buddies and instead concentrated on the fine music on my iPod and the beautiful British Columbian scenery. The ride to Prince George and beyond onto the Cassiar Highway was spectacular. I was marveling at the difference in weather this was from my earlier trip. The bike was humming along with no problems. This day we had a stiff head wind that at times seemed to be at least 30-40mph. We passed lots of nice mountains, aspen groves and sloughs that looked like beaver ponds. There was a lot of pine beetle destruction noted in this area.
When we arrived in Smithers it was overcast and cold. The electric gear felt good. I had to do a minor repair of the connector for the electric vest. The Leatherman tool was perfect for this. The mountains towered over Smithers and had plenty of snow on them. After leaving Smithers and before the highway split to go to either Prince Rupert or north to Stewart we saw a car parked on the side of the road. As we neared we noticed the car occupants were watching a small bear cub near the side of the road. Another 100 yards further was an adult black bear, probably the mother. Our first bears.
We stopped to take photos of the big road sign at the turn north for Hyder and Stewart. A man from Florida on his way home after 4 or 5 weeks had lost his camera somewhere between Hyder and here. It was 120 miles to Hyder but we told him we would look for it if nothing else to retrieve his chip with all his photos. We got his address. Alas, no camera was seen by either of us.
We also began to notice a phenomenon about asking others about roads and information on the areas to the north. Whenever we would ask about the ride on the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse we found that more often than not the road conditions would be described as horrible to impossible. The closer to Alaska we traveled the reports became more dismal and discouraging. Early on we were told about the mud and off camber of the road that would cause bikes to slide off the edge in spite of any attempts to stop the slide. Later on we would be told the road was so bad that the water filled pot holes would swallow a motorcycle whole.
We headed north for the Stewart junction and saw that the highway was awesome. Heavy forests lined the road with lots of streams and ponds. There were great views of the snow capped mountains on both sides of the highway. We made the junction that turn southwest to Stewart and Hyder and now had only about 30 more miles to go before we stopped for the night, or should I say “day”? Now it was staying light until midnight and twilight lasted until about 2AM. The ride to Stewart was a tight, fast downward run into a narrow canyon. The headwind up the canyon became more furious. It threatened to move you around in the turns. The sweepers were becoming twisties. Right when you thought it couldn’t get any sweeter, the view of Bear Glacier hits you and you are compelled to stop and admire it. It was picture time.
This glacier has retreated in recent years. It used to be next to the road and now is across a wide lake. It was the setting for a scene from the recent movie Insomnia. I was told the scene was not used but I think I remember seeing it. In the scene there is a house with the glacier behind it. They burn down the house in the movie. I resolve to watch the movie again. It actually is a good murder thriller.
We are back on the road and I first notice my GPS is not working. Rats! I will trouble shoot it later.
We arrive at Stewart and ride slowly through the small, neat town of about 300. At the end of a slough, the road winds around until it opens at a wide waterway. In better economic times this waterway was a place where the log rats herded logs into 30 ton bundles and slipped cables around the bundles for a crane to lift them into a ship for export. Logging was down due in part to the pine beetle. They cut down the affected trees to salvage the wood before it rots. Now the mills are turning out a glut of wood. The price is down. Yadda, yadda.
We pass into Hyder, Alaska the world’s friendliest ghost town. It is a town of 100. There are a few businesses; a couple of saloons, a hotel, a gift shop, a post office, a camp ground, a few houses. All the streets are muddy and unpaved. I immediately look for a small bed and breakfast that was recommended but it looks very sketchy. None of us is excited to check in here. We all head out in different directions. I go north to see about the Fish Creek bear observation area. It is a boardwalk built by the National Forest Service for people to view bears catching and eating salmon in the creek when they are running. The bears are just a few feet below the viewers and ignore the people because the fish taste better. Unfortunately, the fish are not running yet. I pick the ranger’s brain about bear safety and where to stay in Hyder or Stewart. He tells me about the camp grounds there. He says the road also goes another 20 miles to the top of the mountain where you will get a nice view of Salmon Glacier.
The main reasons I had wanted to visit Hyder were to get Hyderized (a special powerful drink at the bars) and to see the glaciers. It is touted as a site to not miss.
I turned back toward Hyder and saw a small black bear cross the road 100 yards in front of me. I stopped where he crossed and he was on the hill next to the road about 100 feet away. I was able to get a fuzzy photo of him before he departed. Very cool. I was really enjoying this.
I encountered Jim coming my way as I entered town. He had checked on lodging. His logic made perfect sense. The campground and a pay shower were going to cost almost as much as sharing a room at the Sealaska Hotel. The hotel would get us out the swarms of mosquitoes we had encountered. The hotel was directly over the bar. Everything was falling into place.
Captain Kill Switch had already secured his room. A single. Jim and I shared a double. We unpacked our bikes and noticed a group of boisterous college aged kids near by. They were staying at the hotel too. Jim came to the bar after I had already tried my Hyder drink. I will not spoil it for those who want to try it. Suffice it to say it is overrated. I was seated next to a local character that had probably been drinking several hours before I got there. He had long hair, a beard halfway down his chest and was wearing an old school motorcycle jacket. I started a conversation with him. In the course of the conversation I learned he was a council member of neighboring Stewart. He said he was a councilor. I thought that meant he counseled people like a psychologist. Then he explained he was not that type of counselor. Then he told me how everyone at the Harley dealership in Prince George knew him. That was over 400 miles south. I guess BC is so sparsely populated that 400 miles seems like next door.
He told me he also was a log rat. I spent about an hour learning all about what it takes to do that job and all the special tools and equipment it requires. It is a dangerous job. I was enjoying the conversation with the locals. Then all the tourists started showing up. The kids were all from back east. They were college kids who were working the summer as highly paid tree planters by the wood companies. They had traveled to Hyder from Houston, BC to blow off steam and get Hyderized. Houston was 200 miles south. They added some zest to the bar that was now quickly filling up.
Jim and I met a couple who were from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. He had retired from the Navy as a chief with VR-52. He was about my age and we both exchanged stories of people we both knew in the wing. The whole time while we are having fun in the bar, CKS orders a pizza and sits at a table alone. In retrospect it was the beginning of the separation.
After a night of revelry, Jim and I retire to sleep. It is still light at 1AM but sleep comes quickly. I wake in the mid morning to the sounds of either a wild animal or what may actually be a young woman who is yelling, “oh, oh, oh, oh…..” which I can easily hear through the thin, cheap walls of the Sealaska Hotel.