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Archive for August, 2009

“After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter.” Book of Revelations 4-22

I have been holed up here in Yukon Territory for 4 days and 3 nights and have seen weather like I’ve never seen before. I’ve gotten ready to break camp and get on the road a million times, but in a blink of an eye, the sky turns apocalyptic and hail, rain, thunder, wind and agony dumps on me. If the end of the world is not coming, I’d be surprised.

The place I’m staying at is called Robert Service Campground and is just outside of Whitehorse. The famous poet Robert Service lived here for number of years before he married a Parisian and eventually moved to Paris. The campground is nice and clean and has a common area called the living room which is a few couches and a fire pit covered with a tarp overhead. I spend most of my time in the living room talking to people and working online. You meet people from all over the world and intelligent ones at that. I met Tammy Elliott, a plant ecologist who is doing a research on “Alpine Tundra Ecology” here in Yukon. She also did some research on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic on muskoxen and showed me her presentations on the subject, which I found very interesting. The arctic has always been a big interest of mine. I even wanted to become a polar explorer when I grew up, but Robert .E. Peary beat me to it.

On Friday night I attended Jean-Luc’s Canadian Legion ceremony which was very touching and at the same time fun. They were a great bunch of folks and I enjoyed their company immensely. I did pick their brains on world hunger and recruited a few more people up here as well.

The rain has stopped so I’m going to pack the bike and get everything ready for tomorrow morning. God knows what Dempster looks like after all these rains, but I need to get closer if I want a shot at it. Still heading north…

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August 28th, 2009 - Alaska Highway

I’ve combined three days of writing into one. I will be out of contact for the next 6 days so stay tuned and pray for good weather or I might not come back at all. Dempster is not a road to be taken lightly.

The 25th started rather cold and cloudy. I woke up around 8 am and left Wal-Mart, dressed in my winter gear. I had no luck locating bear spray in Grande Prairie so I made it my mission to find some before I get eaten alive.

Storms up here tend to come from the north unlike in the United States where they normally come in from east or west. When something is coming down, I’m riding right into it and there is no way around it. It felt so cold that I thought it was going to snow at any moment but it never happened. When I got to Dawson Creek, I finally found bear spray and officially started my journey on the Alaska Highway.

The Alaska Highway is the most magnificent highway I’ve ever seen. With its twists and turns, sky high spruces, thick alders, high mountain lakes and the mesmerizing scenery, it is something out of a dream. The country up here is so wide and so wild that one can’t help admiring this beautiful land of plenty. Deer, caribou, buffalo and bears all roaming wild; babbling brooks and raging rivers at every bend, all put this highway in a league of its own. It’s awfully gorgeous.

At one of my pit stops, I met an older gentleman on a brand new Kawasaki Vulcan who was also headed north. Jean-Luc Darcy is in his sixties and is a Vietnam veteran who’s going to Whitehorse for the Canadian Legion ceremony. Born in Belgium and schooled in Canada, he has traveled the10K miles round trip from his home in Colorado to Alaska 3 times on a motorcycle and is under way to rack his 4th one.

After sharing a smoke, we got back on the road and since we were heading the same route, we stopped at the same turnouts and became friends in no time. We stopped at a remote (everything is remote here) restaurant near Pink Mountain called Mel & Mags. I had the most amazing meat casserole I ever had in my life along with a giant plate of five different salads from the salad-bar. The place was clean and staff so friendly that we ended up staying there for almost 2 hours. This place is highly recommended and if you don’t know me well, I am the most anal person in the world when it comes to food.

I was planning on camping out but Jean-Luc offered to get a room for both us, which I didn’t argue with too much. We stopped at Fort Nelson for the night. At the Bluebell Inn, the internet was non-existent so no update could be done that night, but after a couple of beers, I found out Jean-Luc is not going to Alaska after all. He’s heading with me to the Arctic Circle (I might have had something to do with it but I blame it on beers). We studied the maps and made assault plans for the duo late into the night. Two is always better than one I suppose.

The next morning I re-arranged my stuff on the bike; I moved the gas cans to the side and put the tent and sleeping bag inside my backpack. Now the pack sits about 10 inches lower and what a huge difference that made. No more getting blown over with every gust. Now I can actually ride as fast as I want without holding on to the O-Shit-Bar for dear life.

Fort Nelson to Watson Lake was only supposed to be a 6 hour ride but we were wrong again. The road turned into a demon and I had one of the most nerve-wracking rides of my life. The highway construction ninjas had dumped loose gravel for 300 kilometers and then left for China I suppose. If caribous popping out of every corner, crazy truck drivers going 90mph and bombarding us with rocks, and the bikes fish-tailing and sliding on the ice-like surface of the road weren’t enough, we had to watch out for buffalos crossing the road like it was a parade of some sort. We stopped every 30 minutes to rest and bitch at the road and after 9 hours of tackling this death-trap, we decided we had enough. We stopped at a provincial park and camped out. Soup and english muffins was my contribution and the camping fee was Jean’s. We cleaned the bikes and setup our tents and before we knew it, the sun was coming up.

We left the Liard campground at 9am and we hoped to get to Whitehorse by nightfall. Whitehorse was 422 miles away and the construction zone ended right after the park, so we rode out in style. At one point I thought I saw a monkey, but then I figured out I was hallucinating from starving to death, so I picked up some speed and found a restaurant. We had eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast for breakfast and I checked my emails while we were there. The Whitefish Pilot published an article about me that I thought was interesting. Matt Baldwin, thank you if you are reading this.

We walked out of the café to black skies and cold wind from the north. The weather up here is like a woman: one minute it’s all nice and lovely and a minute later, it starts throwing a tantrum. It started raining shortly thereafter and it got colder by the minute and time stood still while we got soaked to the bone.

Out of my fogged up goggles I saw a loaded bicycle crashed on the road with what looked like a human body face down next to it. I hit the brakes hard and turned around for the scene of the crash,parked, and started running while un-doing my helmet and trying to take my goggles off at the same time. When I got there the body was moving and found a guy lifting his head up and trying to tell me something but I couldn’t hear anything. I took out my ear plugs and asked the guy what happened again. He was just drunk and there was no accident. He said he was trying to get out of the rain and take a nap. I was furious. This asshole almost got me killed from braking that hard on a wet road and there was nothing wrong with him. I told him to get his shit off the highway and move to the shoulder before he really gets run over and walked back to my bike. Now my head, the only part of my body that wasn’t wet till now, was soaking too.

I told Jean-Luc that we should ride all the way to Whitehorse no matter what and we can dry off in Wal-Mart or something, but his hip was hurting him pretty bad and he wasn’t about to ride another 2 hours in the rain. He wanted to get a hotel room and stay in the next town, so I told him I’m on a budget and can’t afford that kind of luxury. He offered his room and I didn’t argue either. We stopped at Teslin Lake in the Yukon Territory and got a lake-front cabin for the night. It’s a beautiful lake and a very nice cabin that I’m sure costs quite a bit. We started spreading everything all over the room to dry and I made more soup and cooked some rice for dinner.

We are heading to Whitehorse tomorrow morning and we’ll leave Whitehorse for Dawson City the next day. Dawson City is the last stop in the semi-civilized world up here before we start on the Dempster Highway for the Arctic Ocean. The Dempster is a notorious dirt road that is 750 kilometers long that goes all the way to Inuvik. If the rain stops and conditions are half decent, we should be dipping our toes in the ice water of the ocean above soon. Till then…

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August 24th, 2009 - Camp Wal-Mart

No surprise here, I woke up late again. 4 days of a warm bed and good company has spoiled me pretty bad. The light was on in the room so I figured that Sabina had tried to wake me up but to no avail. I started packing my stuff right away and got on the road.

Highway 16 goes out of Edmonton for about 70km before merging with highway 43 which leads to the famous Alaska Highway. It took about 2 hours to get to highway 43 because of all the construction but I finally made it. Alaska Highway is a giant and well maintained road (well mostly) which starts in Dawson Creek, BC and runs across Canada to Alaska. It is eye-blinding green everywhere you look and at times I thought I was in Ireland. Towns are getting farther apart and gas prices are soaring by the mile.

Because of my late start, my goal was to get to Grande Prairie, about 400km north. I stopped for lunch at a gravel turnout next to an impenetrable forest of aspen. I had my usual tuna in olive oil and a wheat english muffin. English muffins taste just like bread but last much longer. Tuna in olive oil is my staple diet and can be prepared a million different ways (which all taste the same by the way); it also is a good source of protein and fat. I didn’t take my eyes off of the forest edge which was 15 feet away for fear of a grizzly charging at my tuna can. I need to get some bear spray.

After riding through a construction zone before Grande Prairie on 20km of grooved road, I made it into town. These grooved surfaces are not dangerous per se but novice riders seem to have a heart attack when they encounter one because the grooves on the road take the bike in their path and it feels like the bike has a mind of its own. 80 km/h on groovies was a treat after a long stretch of a flat highway.

I stopped at Wal-Mart and got a tire repair kit (which I had forgotten to bring with me), bottle of sunscreen, and stocked up on stew and fish for the next few days. I was ready to head out of town and look for a camping spot but then I decided to pitch the tent right there at Wal-Mart and call it good. Italian wedding soup and two english muffins for dinner, cup of hot chocolate and a cookie for dessert. Camp Wal-Mart is quiet and cozy. Let’s see if I can wake up early tomorrow.

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August 23rd, 2009 - The Festival City

The city of Edmonton is built on the North Saskatchewan River with a population of over a million. Although I’m not a fan of large metropolitan areas, I have to admit that Edmonton is a great place to spend some time in. With its wall to wall night clubs, restaurants, and never ending shows and festivals, it truly is a hub for tourists and city lovers.

I rolled into town around 5pm on Thursday and met Sabina, my Couch Surfing host shortly thereafter. Sabina is a 26 year old Croatian-Canadian whom I met on, the website for travelers who offer up their couch as a free night’s rest to other travelers. The couch surfing concept was introduced to me not long ago and I figured I’d give it a try. My sweat wasn’t dry yet before we were off to a party. Her circle of friends are from many different walks of life and parts of the world. I met people from Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Iran, India, Croatia, Russia, Spain, Canada and the United States all in one night and one place. It was just as she likes to put it:  the United Nations Council.

The next morning was rainy so I decided to spend a portion of it at home working on the computer. When the rain finally let up, I geared up for the sponsor hunt. Since it was Friday, I had a hard time catching the owners or general managers in stores, but managed to add two more sponsors to my list. The remote switch for my inverter was acting up, so I stopped at the Home Depot and bought a heavy duty switch and installed it in the parking lot. It’s amazing how many people ask me where I’m heading everywhere I stop. It must be the gunship look of the bike!

That night Sabina made a lovely dinner and we went to the “Edmonton Fringe Festival”. There were a lot of musicians and amusing plays from everywhere all in one place, lubricated by Canadian beers. One of the shows that I really liked was performed 5 feet off the ground by two American girls who called themselves Aerial Angels. These girls held the crowd together with their funny and masterful show for a good 45 minutes. (There’s a clip of the show under Video Journal page)

I was anxious to leave Edmonton but the weather didn’t co-operate so I stayed yet another night. Partying as usual with the international crowd capped off the night.

Throughout my stay, Sabina and her Russian friend Tatiana showed me much of the city and together we enjoyed some great food and treats. Our last excursion was to the University of Alberta Devonian Botanic gardens. This magnificent garden is 190 acres and is filled with exotic plants from much of the world. Rows and rows of vegetables, herbs, flowers, cactuses and trees, and includes an indoor tropical garden and butterfly house that made you feel like you were walking in the Amazon rainforest. It’s definitely worth seeing if you’re out and about.

I’ve been studying the weather and my maps and will start early tomorrow morning, heading for the top of the world. Weather forecast is still not favorable, but I’m pushing through based on my acceptable risk factors. If the conditions stay the same, the Dempster Highway will be impassable after all these rains and I’ll be forced to go with Plan B. Plan B is riding to Alaska and getting to the Arctic Circle via Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway is just as bad as the Dempster, but it is shorter and more accessible.

Winter is closing in quickly at these latitudes and you can already feel the chill of the upcoming months. I have no time to waste if I want to get out of the north without getting snowed in. My cold weather gear is already out of my panniers. Next stop, Santa’s front yard…

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August 19th, 2009 - Eh!

Woke up to a beautiful morning with a view of Heaven’s Peak directly in sight. I had no time to prepare breakfast so I broke camp as fast as I could and got out of the park.

I rode out north towards Babb, the last settlement before crossing into Canada. Babb is a tiny town on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, 8 miles south of the border, and consists of a cafe, general store and a post office. I was supposed to pick up my package at Cattle Baron Supper Club at noon but I got there around 9:30 am. Nothing suggested that the place was actually open, but I walked in anyway and found the cook inside. After chatting for a while, he offered to cook breakfast, so I sat down and ate the biggest breakfast of my life. A giant piece of steak, two eggs, potatoes, bell peppers, buttered toast, and washed it down with a few cups of coffee. I started talking to a gentleman named Larry Bean, a sales rep from “Food Services of America”. Food Services of America sponsored my banquet in Helena, but I never mentioned their name since I was asked not to (hope they don’t mind it now that I’m out of state). They are a great bunch of people and their help with the food was tremendous.

Larry is a Vietnam vet and retired law enforcement officer who is as bright as he is sociable. We talked about a million different subjects till the owner showed up. Bob Burns, the owner, is a tall Indian guy with a great sense of humor. The Cattle Baron has been open since 1910 and the logs of the building show the many years of use by cranky outlaws and rum runners who smuggled in alcohol from Canada through the prohibition years. All in all, the Cattle Baron is a place to stop if you’re ever passing through Babb.

The border crossing went pretty smoothly compare to my last visit to Canada, but they confiscated my pepper sprays as they are apparently illegal in Canada. The border patrolman told me that I could leave them there and pick them up on my way back or abandon them. Since I wasn’t crossing the same border again, I was forced to choose the latter. He had me sign a paper that said “I voluntarily surrender these substances to the CROWN” which I thought was pretty funny.

On my way to Calgary,  I met a family of four from the Netherlands. They invited me to go to their place when I get there and offered the use of their workshop. So far, I’ve made lots of connections by just talking to people.

I got to Calgary during the rush hour and inched my way through town. Since I didn’t know anyone in town, I tried my luck at the first hotel I found and asked for the manager. I explained the situation and asked him to sponsor the night, and he generously offered one of his best rooms including dinner at the hotel restaurant.

The Port O’ Call Hotel was unbelievably clean and nice and the service was exquisite. For dinner, I had Caesar salad, blackened prime rib with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and Crème Brule for desert, along with a nice glass of Shiraz. The bill was picked up by Chung Young, the general manger of the hotel. Although I had a Jacuzzi in my room and a there was a really nice pool in the hotel, I chose to work on the website and answer my never-ending emails till I passed out.

I’m on my way to Edmonton now and everything is going just as planned. Edmonton is a good place for fund raising, so wish me luck as I try my best in Alberta’s capital.

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August 18th, 2009 - Glacier National Park

The sun, the rainbow, the warmth! They must have replaced that no good weatherman with a monkey. So God does listen to me!

As it turned out, Kyle was not coming to Glacier after all, but I still needed my tent and stuff. He shipped them overnight to Babb and I will pick them up on my way tomorrow. I was looking forward to seeing him in Glacier, but things didn’t work out as planned.

I stopped at a motel to ask if I could use their internet. While I was in line, I saw a couple asking for the same thing and they got “no” for an answer, so I put on my disaster face and told the owner my bike has broken down and I needed to order some parts online. He hesitated a bit but then agreed to 5 minutes of wireless use. The old man was cranky and checked on me a million times to see if I was really ordering parts, so I updated the website as fast as I could and got the hell out of there.

I started for Glacier National Park rather late since I was expecting to meet Kyle in Hungry Horse around 3pm, but the road was clear and the park seemed pretty much deserted, so I roamed the twisties at 50mph in full sunshine, stopping to take in the breathtaking views at every opportunity.

I met a nice couple from Minnesota and chatted with them for a while, then started to look for a camping spot. I stopped at St. Mary’s campground but found every spot already filled. After circling around a few times, I found an empty spot but the ticket said reserved till August 20th. There was no car or tent around, so I lurked around a bit longer and decided that I was going to poach it no matter what. I was hungry, tired and running low on gas, so I wasn’t about to go back the 20 or so miles to the last campground.

I made dinner and ate some cookies and since no one showed up, I officially pitched my tent and claimed the campground. I’m leaving tomorrow morning pretty early so I’m sure no one is going to care.

It is beautiful here and the mountains are majestic. Got a healthy fire going and typing my diaries; couldn’t ask for a better day. Next stop: Canada.

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August 17th, 2009 - Hungry Horse

I kept opening my eyes and expecting to see the sun come out but had to give up after 3 hours. Gray skies and a wet tent were not exactly what I was hoping for, but it strengthened my lifelong suspicion that when it comes down to predicting the weather, a monkey does a better job than a meteorologist.

I packed up the tent and took a shower in the Commons House and started packing my stuff. I think now that I have less stuff with me, it takes longer to pack the bike. Hope I get better at this soon or I’ll have to wake up 2 hours earlier just to get ready.

Around noon, two of Pam’s friends came over and we talked for a good while, had a bowl of chili, said my goodbyes to everyone and headed toward town. I stopped at the Whitefish Pilot, the local newspaper, and had an interview that will be published next Thursday.

I headed toward Colombia Falls and mailed some unwanted documents back home, then searched the whole town for ear pieces for my MP3 player but no luck. I called up Joe and asked him to buy me a set and send it out with Kyle as there is no big town between Colombia falls and Canada.

I started looking for a camping spot and decided to go to Hungry Horse. Hungry Horse is Montana’s highest and the eleventh largest concrete dam in the U.S. It is built on the south fork of the Flathead River and is the gateway to Flathead National Forest. Water is crystal clear and the dam filled up a gigantic canyon with walls over 1000 feet high. It’s a very scenic drive so I took lots of pictures and finally found a turnout in the road for what seemed to be a perfect camping spot.

The dirt road took me to a beautiful river front spot and before I knew it, I was too close and my front wheel started to sink deeper and deeper. No matter how hard I tried I could not steer the bike out of soft ground and had to stop 2 inches from the water. With not a sole around and no way of getting out, I started walking back the mile or so to the road to get some help. After standing for what seemed to be an eternity, a white SUV came around the curve and I literally threw myself in the middle of road to stop it. The truck came to a stop and they followed me back to the crime scene but they never offered me a ride. I suppose if you’re stupid enough to get that close to the water, you deserve the walk of shame. Lots of pulling and shoving from my two helpers got the heavy beast moving again and I parked it on a high ground this time and in the direction of the road.

After pitching the tent and gathering some wet driftwood, I now have a fire going with a meat stew cooking on the coals as I’m writing this blurb. A little bit of fishing later and a cup of tea should cap off this gray and still wet day. Looking forward to seeing the sun one of these days…

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