Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Alaska Caper - Day 31

July 4, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Coeur d’Alene, ID, to Banks, ID, in air-conditioned comfort -- 341 miles
Banks to Sun Valley, ID – 154 miles

As Bob Drake’s trailer would only accommodate two bikes, Jerry graciously offered to ride from Coeur d’Alene, ID, to McCall were he would join his family. Bob and I rode in air-conditioned luxury, stopping to off-load Jerry’s motorcycle gear and visit briefly with his family who were all gathered at their beautiful McCall cabin for a 4th of July celebration.

Bob and I then proceeded south. I off-loaded my bike at Banks, ID, in 102-degree weather. I dipped my jacket and riding overpants in the Payette River and bid Bob goodbye and a special thanks for seeing me safely through nearly to home. I then headed off towards Sun Valley to meet Jacquie. There was virtually no traffic on the road, and at the time I reached Banner Summit the temperature had cooled down substantially. The ride from Banks to Sun Valley was beautiful, as usual, and unencumbered by traffic or other circumstances. I arrived in Sun Valley at 6:00 p.m., feeling relieved and thankful for a rewarding and safe trip and very happy to see Jacquie and our three wonderful dogs. I had arrived in time to climb up dollar mountain and observe the traditional 4th of July fireworks.

My incredible, 31-day excursion had come to a close.

Alaska Caper - Day 30

July 3, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Lake Louise, AB
Destination: Coeur d’Alene, ID
Miles traveled: 328

I have a reputation for being slow in the morning and keeping my cohorts waiting. I was bound and determined not to let that happen today. Bob and Jerry wanted to leave and head for Coeur d’Alene starting at 0800, and Steve was splitting off from us for Calgary and then down into Montana for his marathon trip back to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Consequently, I was up and going at 6:00 a.m. and had my bike started and parked in front of the Drake/Evangelho room at 7:30. I believe my friends were favorably impressed, although I indicated to them that I could not assure them of a comparable performance on a regular basis in the future.

I bid my good friend, Steve, goodbye with a soft, quiet prayer for him to have a safe journey home. This trip had been an incredible experience. We had traveled safely for thousands of miles through spectacular country. I cannot imagine consistent beauty of this sort anywhere else in the world. We had met people from all over the world on this trip and found the Alaskans and Canadians with whom we interacted to be gracious and friendly. It has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience which I will never forget. I am grateful to Linda Larrabee for lending me Steve for one month, to Steve for tolerating my idiosyncracies, and to my dear wife Jacquie for agreeing to still be at home if I arrived alive.

We were then headed off to Coeur d’Alene with Bob Drake in the lead. Needless to say, the pace was brisk. When we arrived in Coeur d’Alene, the temperature was over 90 degrees. We were glad to get off our bikes and travel around locally in Bob’s luxurious Lincoln SUV, which he had driven from Boise to Coeur d’Alene, towing his and Jerry’s GS bikes.

Alaska Caper - Day 29

July 2, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: McBride, BC
Destination: Lake Louise, AB
Miles traveled: 246

We loaded our bikes and headed for Jasper,AB. It was another ride with spectacular snow-capped mountains. We stopped in Jasper only long enough to gas up. Both Steve and I felt this was somewhat of a honkey-tonk tourist trap. We then headed to Icefields Highway. We had not intended to stop and take pictures, as we had both been on this road in the past but much later in the season. This time of year the mountains are still heavily snowcapped, and the overall appearance of the landscape is much different than either Steve or I recall. "Growing mini creeks" were coming off the mountain side with cascading waterfalls produced by the spring runoff. We could not resist stopping to photograph these seasonal wonders. There was a fair amount of traffic on the Icefields Highway. It came to a screeching halt just short of Lake Louise when gawking tourists blocked the highway to watch a small black bear feed and then retreat into the timber. We were greeted at the Mountaineer Lodge by Bob Drake and Jerry Evangelho. Bob and Jerry are part of the Boise "motor cycle gang." We have done yearly trips for several years. They had made a short loop from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, up through Western Canada and had graciously adjusted their schedule to ride home to Boise with me. We had dinner at the Railroad Restaurant, which is the old train station for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in Lake Louise. The food was excellent, although a $14.50 hamburger pushes the envelope a bit. Steve had a good opportunity to talk to Bob and Jerry about airplanes. All of them are avid pilots with incredible but varying flight experiences. I always find these discussions very interesting and informative, although my knowledge of airplanes and piloting would fit comfortably on the head of a small pin. We turned in early in anticipation of some serious riding the next day.

Alaska Caper - Day 28

July 1, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Smithers, BC
Destination: McBride, BC
Miles traveled: 367

While packing the bikes today, we met Mr. Frank Ritcey, who was staying at the same motel. He is a big game and fishing outfitter, along with his partner, Lloyd Bishop, who performs cowboy songs in the Northern Rockies with their group–The Birch Island String Band. He gave us a CD that they had recently produced as well as a DVD of their hunt at Christina Falls. I was tempted to sign up for a hunt on the spot, but better judgement dictated otherwise; however, I would like to consider a hunting or fishing trip with him in the near future. He talked about lakes in which the bull trout had "never seen a hook." After getting a taste of the quality of fishing at Iskut, in a lake adjacent to the "main highway," I can imagine what fishing might be like in a remote fly-in location. (Picture, right, Smithers, BC)

Today, we put some serious miles behind us as we headed down the Yellow Head Highway. We stopped at Prince George and then proceeded to McBride, BC. We were still traveling in mountainous country, although there was a significant amount of flat land in which they were growing alfalfa and had livestock. McBride is a very small town, but it has a beautiful backdrop of mountains. We ate dinner at the Sun Valley Restaurant. Seeing this, I knew we must be getting closer to home.

Alaska Caper - Day 27

June 30, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Iskut, BC
Destination: Smithers, BC
Miles traveled: 332

As Iskut is on about the same latitude as Sitka, Alaska, it actually gets somewhat dark at night, although not pitch black. We awakened early to the sound of substantial rain beating on the roof of the Red Goat Lodge. As Steve had hauled his fishing gear 6000 miles and I had been carrying mine for half that distance, we were bound and determined that it would get used today. So, it was down the hill to Eddon-Tenajon Lake on which Red Goat Lodge is located.. Mt. Edziza on the other side was partially shrouded by the fog and low clouds. The lake water had a beautiful green hue and was extremely cold. The first three casts with a gold and orange Panther Martin yielded three nice, brightly colored rainbow trout in the 14-inch range. These fish fought with a fervor. Within 45 minutes, we had enough fish for breakfast. Mitch Cunningham, proprietor of the Red Goat Lodge, cooked up the fish, and we ate breakfast together. I had forgotten how delicious truly "fresh," well-cooked trout could taste. We packed our bikes, thanked Mitch and his wife, Jacquie, and headed south. We had one short patch of gravel road which was somewhat challenging in the rain, but after hitting pavement, we bid a final and happy goodbye to mud and gravel for the rest of this trip. At Meziadin Junction we took a 60-mile detour to Stewart, BC, and across the border to Hyder, Alaska. This road has spectacular scenery, not withstanding the low ceiling, and there were both glaciers and cascading streams coming out of the mountainside. Steve stopped at Meziadin Junction again in hopes of catching a salmon or bull trout from the Meziadin Lake but to no avail. The mosquitoes that afternoon were ferocious. We then headed south again on the very scenic Cassiar Highway. We stopped to gas up at Kitwanga and then pointed our bikes towards Smithers, BC. After continuing south from Kitwanga and onto Smithers, the road surface switched from chip seal pavement to asphalt. The transition was dramatic in terms of smoothness of ride and diminished noise level. We also noticed that the trees became much larger, indicating a less severe winter, and the road-side flowers changed from the predominance of fire weed to daisies, buttercups, and Queen Anne’s Lace. We began seeing more modern buildings, newer and less soiled RVs, agricultural land, and livestock. We turned into Smithers tired but exhilarated after a long day’s ride. If I ever need to be hidden in the Witness Protection Program, I might choose this town. It is large enough to provide basic needs and has exceptional access to multiple outdoor recreational opportunities and beautiful surrounding mountains.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Alaska Caper - Day 26

June 29, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Watson Lake, YT
Destination: Iskut, BC
Miles traveled: 220

Watson Lake has one claim to fame, a small park called the Sign Post Forest. Street and city signs from all over the world, mostly North America and Europe, are displayed in this 10-acre park. A Nampa, Idaho, sign was readily apparent, but I did not see one from Boise, although I cannot imagine that it was not there. It would be easy to miss even a medium-size sign, as they are jammed together from about ground level up to 20 feet in height in parallel, circumferential rows. People have obviously gone to substantial effort to bring these signs to this location. Some of them are quite large, perhaps 5 x 6 feet or greater. After visiting the Forest, we started down the famous Cassiar Highway. This took us through some spectacular country with beautiful lakes and rugged mountains. There was substantially less snow on these mountains than those in Alaska, but we are now many miles south. As we passed Dease Lake, we spied a semi-truck in the general store parking lot, hauling a canoe. This trucker’s motto was "no job is too small for us"–or at least it seemed as though that should be appropriate for him. We stopped at the Red Goat Lodge where we have a room for the night. We bought fishing licenses, anticipating a run at the trout in the Lake which apparently are quite plentiful and not difficult to catch. We parked out mud-crusted bikes for the night. We came perhaps 20 miles today on a gravel road in the rain, and mud covered the bikes from one end to the other. We will be looking for a car wash the day after tomorrow when we get back to the "civilized" portions of the British Columbia.

Alaska Caper - Day 25

June 28, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Whitehorse, YT
Destination: Watson Lake, YT
Miles traveled: 280

Life has its little hiccups. One of ours came today. The battery in Steve’s bike, only 1½ years old, died abruptly last night without warning. The local Harley-Davison dealer kindly took him around to various locations in hopes of finding a suitable replacement which would fit into the confined space on his bike. It turns out his battery is long and skinny, and there were no replacements which would come anywhere near fitting. We both went to bed unsure of what we were going to do, hoping to check other cycle shops in the morning. There were not many additional options in Whitehorse, which is a small town, although they do have a reasonably well- stocked Wal-Mart. This morning Steve and I concluded that great minds think alike, as during the night we had both thought of strapping an appropriate 12-volt battery to the luggage rack of his bike, running wires forward to the battery compartment to "wire him for sound." Steve put his Yankee ingenuity to work, acquiring a battery cable and tie-down straps. By noon he had a strong battery perched on the back of his bike. We concluded that all it needed now was appropriate housing. Perhaps when he returns home, he could build a bird house in which his battery could ride. It might even be a better alternative than purchasing a battery specifically designed for his bike.

We were then off to Watson Lake. Except for a little heavy dew, the ride was uneventful. We are now out of the spectacular mountain country. The road travels through predominantly evergreen forests and occasionally past lakes which are wonderfully clear with deep blue water. The rivers localized here no longer have a glacial influence, being either milky in color or somewhat muddy from the excessive spring run off. They too run through heavily forested regions. I was thinking–wouldn’t it be great to canoe down one of these rivers and fish on the way. The only challenge would be dealing with the Yukon "provincial bird," the mosquito, which seems more prevalent here than in Alaska, undoubtedly related to the standing water which is everywhere.

We checked into the Air Force Lodge. This has no military background, but the walls are covered with neat photos of WWII aircraft. This was of particular appeal to Steve who, as you know, is a retired Navy Aviator. Tomorrow we hit the Cassiar Highway and will be leaving the Yukon for British Columbia.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Alaska Caper - Day 24

June 27, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

We were fortunate that our day in Whitehorse coincided with the start of a yearly boat race for 450 miles down the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. There are categories for one, two, and multiple-person water craft. These are kayaks and canoes. It was surprising to see that there were contestants from Australia, the UK, South Africa, the US, and all over Canada, including Quebec and Nova Scotia. In all, there were 78 boats. The event began with a one-quarter mile foot race to the boats and then they began paddling down the River. The winner usually makes this trip in about 40 hours. This necessitates fairly vigorous paddling, although the current in the Yukon River is really quite rapid, substantially faster than the Snake River although perhaps not as quick as the Salmon River in Idaho. As you can see from the picture, it is a fairly large river, even this far up stream. The water is fairly clear in Whitehorse compared to a definite muddy appearance down stream at Dawson City. The remainder of the day was spent visiting historic museums and cleaning residual mud and caked calcium chloride from the bottom of the bikes. We referred to this as removing the last traces of the Haul Road. In the evening, we went to the Frantic Follies. This was a Klondike version of vaudeville humor with a touch of the "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Hee Haw." Tomorrow we hit the road again for Watson Lake and point south.

Alaska Caper - Day 23

Posted by Steve

Dawson City, Yukon
Monday June 26th, cloudy, drizzly and 60 degrees F.

Rather than focus on major highlights, let me recount some of the little ones that I will carry with me forever. I have good news and bad news: The good news is we have had marvelous warm and sunny weather 90% of the time. Alaska is more wondrous and beautiful than words and pictures can capture, Dick and I have ridden the roads less traveled, safely, while obtrusively gawking, and this trip has been everything I had imagined and more. The bad news is we left Alaska yesterday on the 160-mile long graveled "Top of the World Highway" from Tok (neat little junction town) to the Yukon, I have gained some weight from maintaining my strict regimen of a double scooped waffle cone of strawberry ice cream every day to ward off strange diseases in these foreign lands, and our trip is nearing its end.

There are hundreds of little treats to savor, as well as of the big highlights Dick has told you about, so let me share some of the brightest with you. It's special to be on a barren, tricky gravel road in the veritable middle of nowhere and have miles and miles of lavender, purple, yellow and blue little flowered plants lining the sides of the road--like a wedding path of sorts--welcoming you and keeping you company as you travel on. It's special to have very friendly, interesting people from all over the world come to visit you and chat wherever you stop for a break. Some vivid memories? How about humpback whales broaching and diving with their tails in the air just like the pictures; beautiful black and white porpoises playing alongside the boat and whizzing across the bow, racing back and forth ahead of our course with their dorsal fins breaking the water as if to say with a smile, "Haha, we're a lot faster than you are..."; black bears feeding on the side of a very steep mountainside; sea lions and harbor seals taking a break on seaweed covered rocks; and how about a real, live glacier with a front 1500 feet wide and 200 feet high of million-year-old ice right in front of your very little boat, floating in miniature icebergs left over from the glacier's calving every few minutes? As the ice moves (less than a foot a year) down the channel it has made from its beginning way up on the mountain, it cracks with sounds like a thunderstorm and big chunks of ice fall into the sea to become water once more in an endless cycle. Up at the start of the glacier, it snows 400 to 600 inches every year. Alaska has hundreds of glaciers, and we saw just a dozen or so. The Matanuska Glacier is just a couple of miles from the side of the road from Anchorage to Tok, and as you cruise along this (my favorite) spectacular highway, boom, there it is facing you through the green forest, surrounding it as you come around a bend. It is goose-bump time to realize that the glacier has been there for thousands of years......and here I am, close to the middle of nowhere, amazed and stunned by it.

The little town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula is like many towns in Alaska, built on small pieces of flat land at the edge of the volcanic mountains touching the sea. Skagway is another such town. I really liked little Seward; it had a charm and warmth that beckoned you and had a really interesting, old historic downtown section that was there from the beginning of its growth as a fishing village on the Kenai. The Renown Tours' 6-hour Glacier ride out of Seward was just wonderful--first rate, 6 stars. Murphy's Motel in Seward gets many stars too, as the man who runs it was a great help and the room was terrific. Homer was picturesque and blessed with Kachemak Bay and snow-covered mountains of the Kachemak State Park 5 miles across the water. That's the southern most tip of the Kenai. On the way to Homer, on the only road from Anchorage, in the little, amazingly preserved and authentic fishing village of Ninilchik, there is a very small, very old, and very original Russian Orthodox Church with its golden spires and all white presence overlooking the sea the early settlers fished centuries ago. If you've read Michener's "Alaska"--a must read if you haven't--you know all about the early Russian settlements in Alaska and how we bought it from the Czar in 1867 for 2 cents an acre. It was neat to see some of the early Russian influence still alive and visible.

I could go on and on, about the little houses along the wild roads in the interior with a Piper Cub under a shed and a short gravel strip next to the house--for grocery runs, I'm sure, about the incredible Yukon and Alaska wild country that stretches for miles and miles and miles on either side of the rocky road to Dawson, and my excitement of actually being in Dawson City today, with a day off, to explore the history of the 1897-8 gold rush, and the Yukon and Klondike Rivers that I read about when I was a kid.

Follow your dreams, make them happen and carpe diem. Aloha from the Yukon, and I hope we have passed along a little of the magic, beauty, and indescribable wonder of this trip. No kidding, it really was "the trip of a lifetime." A special thanks and love to our wives, Linda and Jacquie, for their understanding and support of this awesome mission. And, of course, Thank You, Lord, for making it all possible............hasta pronto, Steve

Alaska Caper - Day 23

June 26, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Dawson City, YT
Destination: Whitehorse, YT
Miles traveled: ~350

The ride from Dawson City to Whitehorse was uneventful except for several sections of chip-sealed roads which were being resurfaced, and due to the rain they were muddy and slick. There was a slight amount of slipping and sliding, but we kept the rubber side down and made it through without any problems. We stopped for a break at the Moose Creek Lodge. This is an old fashioned log structure with a quaint interior. They did their own baking. We ate several delicious raspberry tarts and had a cup of coffee, as the weather was somewhat cool, it had been raining a bit, and we were slightly chilled. We arrived at Whitehorse and found a Bed & Breakfast where Greg and Shannon were hosting us. They are delightful people. It is much more like being a guest in someone’s home than an individual renting a room. Tomorrow will be a day to explore Whitehorse before heading south again.

Alaska Caper - Day 22

June 25, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

"Tourist Day" in Dawson City, YT

In 1896, just before the beginning of the gold rush, Dawson City’s population was around 1000. In the next 2½ years it grew to over 30,000. This population explosion occurred without a developed infrastructure; consequently, there were major problems with the water supply and sanitation. To make matters worse, Dawson City was built on swamp land which became extremely muddy in the springtime and froze rock solid in the winter when temperatures plummeted to -40 F. or colder. Because of the shortage of goods and services, the cost of living during the gold rush was extremely high. Millionaire gold rush miners would pay incredible prices for common articles of clothing and food. Eggs could easily cost $12.00 a dozen. Miners had money to spend, and the entrepreneurial sector was happy to oblige them. Many such individuals became millionaires in their own right, serving the needs of the prospectors. Today, Dawson City is primarily a tourist attraction. They have managed this task quite well, primarily by restoring the town to look as if it might have 100 years ago. The sidewalks are raised wood planks. Store fronts are ornate and brightly colored. The sides and backs of many of these buildings are corrugated metal "tin." We were told that this building material was chosen for fire prevention, as the downtown area had been nearly completely destroyed, when the buildings were constructed of logs, by a fire started by an angry "lady of the night" who threw a kerosene lantern at one of her "coworkers." We visited the Dawson City Museum as well as the Old Theater and the restored paddled wheeler, the Keno, which brought supplies to the gold rush president. Today was a relaxing and educational experience. Tomorrow we begin heading "home."

Alaska Caper - Day 21

June 24, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Tok, AK
Destination: Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada
Miles traveled: 246

We left Tok this morning bound for Dawson City in the Yukon. We would see our last glimpse of Alaska, beginning our journey back to the USA through the Yukon and British Columbia. The road was mostly paved, and the scenery was gorgeous as usual. Shortly after "hitting the dirt," we arrived at Chicken, Alaska. As the story goes, this town was supposed to be named for the willow ptarmigan, but the name was long and difficult to spell and as the colloquial name for that bird was the snow chicken, this name has stuck with the town from the get go. It is a dinky little town which is an incredible tourist trap. While we were there, three tour buses arrived. In the local bar, they have a collection of ball caps which completely cover the walls and ceilings. On one, Boise, Idaho, was clearly written using a felt tip marking pen. It was then on to the Top of the World Highway. This took us over the border into Canada. It was gratifying to have a reasonable, friendly, unofficious Canadian customs agent. As Steve and I obviously did not fit the profile of drug smugglers or problem persons, he approved our entry with a minimum of fanfare and interrogation, while possessing an enjoyable sense of humor. The Top of the World Highway is a gravel road. It mostly is at an altitude of 4000 feet. At this latitude, we were above the tree line which is at about 3000 feet. We were having some difficulty controlling our bikes which were wobbling a bit unsteadily on the gravel. A young GS rider named Chris Hardy stopped to visit with us while we were stretching our legs, and he suggested we lower the air pressure in our tires from 40 psi to 25 psi. This made all the difference in the world. The bikes began tracking as if on rails. This suggestion had previously been made to me by Darrel Case, but I was not bright enough to follow his advice. We arrived at the Yukon River. Dawson City was on the other side. A ferry boat which runs 16 hours a day transported us to our destination. This is a small boat, and in the summer months, during the day, motor homes may have to wait 2-4 hours to get across the River, as they may be lined up 20 or more in number. On our crossing, there were several motor homes, but the rule here for ferry boats (and when following a pilot car through a construction zone) is "motorcycles first." We checked into the Fifth Avenue Bed & Breakfast. Our accommodations were excellent, and our hostess, Tracy, was friendly and cordial. It had been a long, somewhat arduous ride. We are looking forward to a day off tomorrow to look around this historic gold rush city.