"If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do."
- Warren Miller
Since finishing a stint in the Marines, I've always taken my free time very seriously. For this reason, I've never been able to work or take classes during the summer. I just can't bring myself to stay in the Midwest when there's so much I haven't seen. I bought my first bike in 2007 and that summer rode it from Indiana to Colorado, where I randomly bumped into Cyrus at a campsite. He was on a custom chopper he'd made and we became quick friends, staying in touch over the next several months.
One day I got an email from him saying we should plan a trip for the following summer. This started as a ride to Cali, up the coast to Washington and across to Montana, back to Colorado. Then we considered taking a ferry from Washington to Alaska and riding back. Turns out that would cost around $600 each, so that wasn't happening. Looks like we'll be riding both ways.
I left my home in Lafayette, Indiana on May 21st. It was a cold ride to Peoria, Illinois where I met friends at the Summer Camp Music Festival for three days of camping and live music. We saw George Clinton, Flaming Lips, Blind Melon, moe, and lots more.
I was slightly under prepared for this type of weather. For gloves I was using my old military leather shells and cotton inserts, which didn't work out so well. I had my old combat boots, a pair of waterproof hiking pants and a cheap leather jacket that was a size too small. Apart from that I had a few light layers which I had to split with my girlfriend since she didn't have much of her own. I knew I wasn't entirely prepared for Alaska, but I was just happy to be on the road, heading somewhere new.
We spent a week hanging around Denver, seeing friends and doing some hiking before I finally rode to Montrose, CO and met Cyrus at his place. We made some last minute preparations, including changing the final drive oil on my bike and piecing together the 01 Harley Road King that Cyrus had rebuilt for the trip.
We took off the next morning, on June 2nd. It was a pretty nice day as we took U.S. 50 west, then route 6 north to Provo, Utah and stayed with my friend from high school. After dinner we cruised up to nearby Squaw Peak to check out the view.
We'd planned to ride west across the salt flats of northern Utah the next day, but decided to go farther south to escape their intense heat. We left in the morning on US 50, the "Loneliest road in America". It was far from congested, but I think I've seen lonelier roads. The sky was dark gray, threatening us with an impending thunderstorm. As we continued west, we watched the approaching clouds strike the earth with repetitive bolts of lightning. Just before entering the storm, we pulled over to put on every remaining layer of clothing, preparing for the rain.
The laughing turned to cursing when the hail grew past dime-size. Neither Cyrus nor I have windshields, so there wasn't anything to hide behind as the hail bombarded us. It hurt most when it hit my knuckles and knees. The inside of my visor fogged up as I cursed mother nature, the weather channel, Utah and anything else that came to mind. We kept moving, but at 35 mph, until the hail stopped. Luckily, I had a full-face helmet, so I was better protected than Cyrus, who only had a 3/4 helmet. He said the worst was when a bit of hail hit him directly on the tip of his nose.
Figuring the worst was past us, we continued west through the desert and things got better for a while; then it started raining. We crossed into Nevada and started gaining elevation, up to about 6 or 7 thousand feet where it got much colder and suddenly began to snow. Not just a few flakes, but a blizzard.
I learned quickly that it's damn near impossible to ride a motorcycle in the snow. The snow would cover my visor so I couldn't see the road, and as soon as I wiped it away, I was blinded again. We pulled slowly to a stop on the side of the road and Cyrus told me he couldn't see a thing (he didn't have the luxury of a visor, just glasses and a handkerchief).
I looked over my shoulder and saw a building a few hundred feet behind us, the only thing in sight. Cyrus turned around and headed for the parking lot, and as I started to turn around in the middle of the road, my visor covered up with snow again. I came to a stop and tried to put my left foot down, but not being able to see the ground, I misjudged its distance and lost my balance. The bike tipped slowly onto its left side, coming to a rest on the left foot peg.
I was now in the middle of US 50 on a curve in the road, immobile, blind and deaf (I had earplugs in). "This sucks", I thought. I flipped my visor open, and luckily was able to pick my bike up, which was quite heavy with all the extra gear loaded on it. I jumped on and took off down the road. As I parked the bike, a semi truck roared by at 50 mph. All said and done, things probably could have gone worse.
The place we'd stopped turned out to be a tavern called Major's Place, which worked out nice. It had been a stop on the Pony Express and was owned by a guy who'd been a Major in the Spanish-American War. We covered the bikes with a tarp, ordered some hot chocolate and started warming up.
We were both pretty soaked, and the lady that worked there was nice enough to put some of our gear into the dryer. We shot some pool and had a couple drinks, waiting for the snow to stop and our fingers to thaw. Eventually it cleared up and we got back on the road. No more snow, but it stayed extremely cold and wet as we made it over the next pass to Ely, Nevada. We'd both had enough of the cold and found a room for $35. We were able to pull our bikes underneath an awning to get them out of the weather.
The next day was better. Still cold, but at least the sun was out. My fingers went numb regularly and I'd try to warm them up on my engine, one at a time. As it turns out, that's not good for my gloves. We rode through a lot of small towns, frequented by people traveling via motorcycle. I always enjoy riding through the desert. It's so peaceful for something that takes up so much space.
That afternoon we made it to Reno, but we continued into northern California where the scenery changed considerably. I'd been looking forward to this part of the trip for a long time. The vast forests and mountains, small towns and clean waters are just my style. We stopped at a general store and managed to strap a box of beer to the back of Cyrus' bike for the ride to Cold Creek Campground, somewhere on 89. We chilled the beer in the creek and set up camp. We were the only ones there; it was perfect.
The next day we rode through Lassen national park, which still had lots of snow, but the roads were clear. I never expected to be riding in conditions this cold, and we hadn't even made it out of the states yet. The elevation dropped to 560' above sea level as we headed towards Redding. It was a dramatic change from where we'd been riding. It was very dry, and everyone seemed to grow fields of dead grass.
The only thing I didn't like about California was the gas prices. At the time of our trip, California had the highest prices in America at over $5 a gallon; Alaska was second. And you don't even want to know about Canada.
After a while we reached Hwy 101, which follows the Pacific coast. We stopped at Patrick's Point State Park and set up camp.
There's really nothing like a good campfire. It turns a crappy day into a good day and a good day into a perfect day. This is why one of the first things we do when we arrive at a campsite is to build a fire. We switched to drinking wine at our campsites because it's easier to carry than beer, and I'm not a big fan of liquor. Plus, northern Cali has some great wineries.
In the morning we continued north along the coast, with some great views of the ocean. We reached the redwood forest, and with the help of a park ranger we found a nice, one-lane dirt road that took us through a forest of the biggest trees I've ever seen.
We stopped at one point for a short hike into the woods, then jumped back on the motorcycles and rode inland on route 199 to Crater Lake in Oregon, where the gas prices finally dropped a little.
We rode for a while and found a cool little recreation area in the middle of nowhere. There were some other campers, but lots of space in between each other. There was lots of dry firewood lying around too. After dinner I sat, watching the stars and I thought to myself:
"A campfire, ramen noodles, $6 bottle of Californian wine, 3,000 miles behind me and 10,000 ahead of me... what more could I ask for?
Perhaps 10,000 behind me and only 3,000 ahead?
No... this is much better."
The next day we had a chilly ride through some nice Oregon countryside. Lots of green hills and pastures. We went through Bend and Salem, then back to the coast on 101 where it stayed overcast the rest of the day. We camped on the coast just a little south of Astoria. The morning was just as cold, and it started raining when we got on the road. We stopped in Astoria for a bite to eat where the waitress told us this weather would continue for the next few days along the coast. We looked at the map and decided to head back inland and across some mountains where it should be drier. So we headed east and soon got out from under the storm where it dried out a little.
We rode past Mt Rainier National Park where we ran into a storm worse than the one we left on the coast. Discouraged but not beaten, we continued up a steep hill that led over White Pass. It was only at 4,500 feet elevation, but the rain turned to snow near the top. It was dark by this time, and nothing was open this time of year, so we had no choice but to keep going. The snow wasn't sticking to the ground yet, but I had to keep wiping my face shield to keep the snow off. I still couldn't see well since it was constantly fogging up because of the difference in temperatures inside and outside my helmet. I could barely see Cyrus' taillight ahead of me, so I just focused on following that. My fingers were completely frozen and I was having trouble working my controls. We stopped a few times to try and warm up, but that was hard to do with the wind blowing as hard as it was. Finally we made it to lower elevations where the temperature rose enough for it to stop snowing. We pulled over at the first building we saw. It was closed, but we sat under its awning for over half an hour, waiting for our extremities to warm up. I don't mean to be a drama queen, but I honestly can't remember a time that I've been in more pain.
We made it to a small town and enquired about a room, but couldn't find anything in our price range. We moved on to the larger town of Yakima, where we found a room at "Tourist Motel" for $30. "Crack Den" would have been a more appropriate name. This was by far the sketchiest place I've ever stayed. And that includes Iraq.
The manager told us in broken English to be sure to take everything of value off the bikes and lock them in our room. Most of the residents seemed to be squatters. Lots of cars pulling up to rooms, people running in and out, then driving off. The doors weren't numbered well, so we were having trouble finding ours. A prostitute was kind enough to help us find number 14 while she waited for her cab. Our room had bloodstained sheets and a microwave that didn't work. At least they had cable. Cyrus tried to bring his motorcycle into the room, but his handlebars were too wide to get through the door. We unloaded all our gear then parked them close together and covered them with a tarp. We both woke up several times during the night and checked on them.
We found a Honda shop that couldn't work on my bike either, but they put us in touch with a shop farther north on our route that could fit us in if we hurried. The town was 2 hours north, and the shop was pretty busy. They said they could get to me faster if I took the wheel off the bike myself. Luckily Cyrus was there, and with an old car jack that he'd brought, we raised the front of my bike in the parking lot and removed the wheel without any problems. The new tire, mount and balance cost me $150 and pretty soon we were back on the road.
It warmed up a little while we were in town so we had a nice ride north along a very beautiful section of the Columbia river. We stopped at a grocery store for wine, and also bought some cheap steaks. We made it nearly to the Canadian border and stopped at a state park that was apparently closed, but we set up camp anyway. We found barely enough sticks to cook our steaks with, but still had a good night.
In the morning we gassed up and got to the border crossing. We both got sent inside for additional screening where they checked our criminal records. I guess they didn't find anything too bad, cause they let us through eventually. They never searched our bikes though. I'm not sure if the bear spray or hatchet would have been a problem, and Cyrus had a bowie knife with a 9" blade that he was worried they might confiscate.
It rained a little as we headed north through British Columbia, but cleared up later as we got into some truly beautiful scenery and it even warmed up some. It was a really dry climate, which I love, but with plenty of vegetation and big pine trees, like northern Arizona. Big valleys with clear rivers and sparsely populated towns. I could easily see myself living there.
Both Cyrus and I had problems with our credit cards when we got to Canada so we had to call our banks and sort things out. Later we stumbled upon a nice campground at Timothy Lake. It was free, and we got the last available site, which was really secluded, right by the lake.
The next day the skies were clear, but became overcast as soon as we got on the road. Got pretty cold too, raining off and on. At a gas station an older gentleman noticed my Indiana plates and said "You're a long way from home!" I just smiled and said "Yeah, I like it that way." People out here have been really friendly, as I expected. They always end our conversations with "Have a nice trip, eh." We stopped at a Wal-Mart to get a frisbee that day. When I walked inside I immediately felt like I was back in America. I didn't like that. I was surprised that despite Canada's higher gas prices, a lot of people still drive SUV's and full size pick-up trucks. Their economy's doing so much better than ours that I guess they can get away withit. Of course their winters are more intense than ours as well. We spent that night at an empty RV site for $13 bucks, which included free firewood and showers.
The following day we got more rain and chilly weather. We came to a junction and the road signs said the next town was over 100 miles away. We didn't have that much gas, so we went 40 miles out of our way to Stewart to get gas. We later found there was a service station 60 miles down the road from that junction, which we could have made it to. Live and learn.
On the way to Stewart we stopped to see Bear Glacier. It was slowly cutting its way through a couple mountains, making its way down to a small lake. Those things are really impressive to see up close. We finally made it to Stewart, which was a very small town just east of the Alaskan border. I can't imagine what it's like to be there during the winter. We got gas and a bite to eat and then rode the 40 miles back to where we'd started. We were on the Cassiar Highway by this point, which goes through central and northwestern British Columbia. It's not as popular of a road as the Alaskan Highway, so the road was in pretty bad shape at some points. Lots of potholes and gravel sections that can get really rough, which slowed us down a lot.
As we rode along, we went over a small bridge that had a concrete barrier on each side. I was riding on the right side of the lane, and directly on the other side of the barrier was a black bear that was eating something. I didn't even notice it until after I'd passed it. It could have stood up, reached over the barrier and pulled me off the bike if it had wanted too. That was the first bear we'd seen, so we turned around to get another look as it ran back into the woods. I saw two more black bears on the sides of the road that day, and Cyrus caught glimpses of another two. No bears the whole trip and we see 5 in one afternoon. We just kept riding, not thinking about the time since it was still so light out. When we finally stopped at a campground it turned out to be 11pm. There was a beautiful lake there with water like glass. Everyone else was asleep in their campers and tents when we started a fire and cooked dinner.
Finally made it to the Yukon that day. The Alaskan Highway starts right after the border, near Watson Lake. We rode into town to get groceries and stopped at the Signpost Forest, which is a sight to behold. In 1942, a GI from Danville, Illinois repaired a road sign and added a sign of his own that pointed to his hometown. People have been adding their own ever since, and it now takes up two acres and holds over 50,000 signs. There are license plates, folk art, anything you can imagine. Even a 6' x 10' sign from the German autobahn. You could spend weeks walking through this place.
We stopped at a campsite a little ways out of town. It was about 8pm, but we had 5 hours of daylight left. We played frisbee for a while, then sat around the campfire, drinking, joking and laughing. It was a good night.
"If I could sleep with a beautiful woman or ride my bike a hundred miles, I'd ride a hundred miles... cause you don't have to sit and talk to your bike afterwards."
The 15th was cold and rainy. I had about 4 pairs of gloves with me, but no combination of them could keep my fingers warm when the temperature dropped. It warmed up when we rode through Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, which seemed like a nice town. My rear tire was getting pretty worn by this point, but I wanted to wait until I got to Alaska to replace it, where I could get a better price. We stopped at Pine Lake Campground, near the town of Haines Junction.
We played frisbee on the beach for a while and then met Mike, who said there had been a bluegrass music festival in town over the weekend, and several of the bands were camping there. We stopped by their site later in the evening and listened to a bunch of musicians from different bands, jamming for a long time. I talked to a guy named Oliver who sang and played bass in a band called Outlaw Social, from Victoria. Also there were some guys from Cadillac Sky, a band from Texas. Both bands are really good, and can be found on MySpace. Random groups of 6 or 7 people would pick songs and jam together for long periods; it was a great time. I wish I'd heard about the festival earlier, so we could have tried to arrive in time for the whole thing.
Then the roads got bad. There were lots of construction areas where we had to stop and wait long periods for a pilot car to come and lead us down the road. The gravel sections were either terribly dusty or wet & muddy. My bike had never been so filthy. It was slow going, but we finally made it to Alaska on June 16th.
The border crossing was surprisingly simple. They ask if you've got any tobacco or alcohol, and Cyrus admitted to having half a bottle of rum, but the guy just waved us in. The roads improved only slightly, still had a lot of gravel sections. We stopped at a campground outside of Tok, the first real town. I got cell phone reception for the first time in 5 days and let the parents know I was okay.
The next day we saw our first moose on the side of the road, on our way to Fairbanks. I couldn't believe how many people were driving RVs across the country, especially with gas prices the way they were. I can't imagine how expensive it would be to drive an RV on a trip like we were doing. For that kind of money you could fly to Fiji and spend a month surfing and scuba diving, with cash to spare. If sitting in a bus, watching the world fly by your window is your idea of a vacation then have at it, but you'll never sell one to me. I think I'd rather have a sail boat; I hear they get great highway mileage.
We made it to Fairbanks that afternoon. We didn't know anyone in town, but Cyrus found a couple guys that were working on a gold claim out in the middle of nowhere. A bush pilot named Les has been flying them supplies every week or so. We got in touch with him, who met us at a coffee shop in town. He's a really cool guy. Used to be a missionary in Africa, he's now a bush pilot in his early 50's. He just rode a brand new Harley Davidson from Ohio to Florida, to Alaska. That was in May, and he said throughout the entire trip he hit only 30 minutes of rain. That kind of upset me, since we'd probably been through over 20 hours of it already.
We'd never met Les before, but he said we could stay at his place that night, just outside of town. As we followed him on our bikes, Cyrus' throttle cable broke. I stayed with his bike while Cyrus took mine to a Harley shop nearby to find a new cable. Finally we got to Les' place, which was a really nice log house. We'd be staying outside in an old school bus that he'd turned into a pretty nice camper. We were invited inside to join the family in celebrating Les' birthday, so we got some free cake and ice cream, which was much appreciated. I got to use their washer that evening and washed my clothes for the first time in 20 days. That's got to be a new personal record. I only had two sets of clothes, and I was wearing every bit of it when it was cold. You'd be surprised how quick you get used to the smell when you're on the road that long.
In the morning I went looking for a new rear tire. The Harley shop didn't have one, but they pointed me to a smaller shop where I found one that would work. I then rode to Les' hangar nearby, where he let Cyrus and I work on the bikes. We both changed our oil and filters, and then used an engine hoist to raise my bike so we could remove the rear wheel.
At that point I realized I didn't have any way to get the wheel to the shop so they could put the new tire on. I just walked to the corner and stuck my thumb out. In 15 minutes or so, a guy with a truck gave me a lift to the shop down the road where I dropped off the wheel/tire and walked back to the hanger. A little later Les returned and we decided we'd like to spend a week with Cyrus' friends, out in the woods where they were panning for gold.
Les gave us a great deal by only charging us for the fuel that it would cost him to drop us off. We loaded the plane and took off from a small, gravel runway that was nearby.
He was a true bush pilot. Never filed a flight plan or got on his radio, just taxied down the road and took off. We flew for about 30 minutes to the south where they had personally cleared a runway 1800 feet long. The landing strip started at the edge of a cliff, which I could have sworn we were going to fly right into. But he pulled up at the last minute and set down on a grass strip, just wide enough for the wheels. The edges of the runway had lots of small trees and bushes that barely cleared the wings. The runway then went downhill slightly and turned a bit to the right, so he had to steer along it as we came to a stop next to a small shack.
I met William and Dan, two guys who were friends with Cyrus' family and had been working there for less than a week, checking the river for gold. They stayed in the shack in the picture above, and they had room for us, but we decided to stay in a different shack, about a hundred yards away, down an ATV trail. It was pretty cool; about 20' x 20' with four beds, a propane stove and a couple lights powered by a solar panel on the top of the cabin.
There was no cell phone reception and no satellite phone. It felt great to be that secluded. We checked out the Totalanika River and tried fishing, but the water was still too murky from some recent rains.
The next day Dan led Cyrus and I on an ATV ride up a nearby ridge to try and spot some wildlife. Dan gave me a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun to carry. He said it was loaded with a mixture of slugs and buckshot rounds. I asked him if there was one in the chamber. "Always" he replied. It was somehow more comforting than the bear spray I'd been carrying previously. The ride was crazy. We rode up a trail so steep I had to stand up and throw my weight as far forward as possible so I wouldn't tumble backwards. Then we rode through a marsh with huge puddles of water, which the ATVs handled surprisingly well. There was lots of thick brush that made me wish I'd worn gloves. Eventually we got to the top of a big hill and took in some amazing views.
We didn't spot any wildlife besides mosquitoes, but the views were worth the trip. It was so cool to look in every direction for miles and see nothing but wilderness. I know it's nothing compared to what Alexander Supertramp went through, but it was good enough for me.
Our third day Cyrus and I felt like doing something productive so we decided to built a raft and float down the river.
It took us a couple hours to gather logs and lash them all together. It was a quick job, but she looked sea-worthy.
We took it into a deeper section of the river and I tried to get on, but it sank straight to the bottom. There was no way we could both ride it, so I got a big 8 foot stick and used it to balance my weight so that the raft could move over the river bed. We set up video cameras and got some good footage of me trying to navigate the treacherous waters of the Totalanika. I made it a few hundred feet down river, but when I got into faster flowing water, the raft started coming apart so I bailed and dragged it to shore. We pulled it back to the starting point, but never bothered trying to fix it. A couple days later we were hit with a storm and the river rose quickly, taking our raft somewhere downriver. I think the wood we used wasn't dry enough. Bear Grylls from the Discovery Channel made it look so easy on TV.
The weather was pretty nice while we were there, but the afternoons usually brought quick thunderstorms. One day it hailed pretty badly for at least 15 minutes. And it never quite gets dark up there at this time of year. The sun dips just below the horizon and then comes right back up after a short while.
In the morning I stopped by the post office and mailed home some gear that I hadn't been using to make some more space in my bags, which made life a lot simpler. I even had enough room to fit an entire six-pack in one of my saddlebags, so that was pretty cool. It was a decent day as we headed south on highway 3. There was a fair amount of traffic on this stretch of road between Fairbanks and Anchorage. We came upon an area where at least 5 RVs had pulled off the road and their inhabitants were walking around, pointing cameras towards a lake. One RV driver stood on the shoulder, and as he saw us approaching, he began pointing desperately towards the lake, as though Jesus Christ himself had been seen strolling atop the water (I would have pulled over for that). But then he put his hands near his head like antlers, signifying that there was indeed a moose nearby. I just laughed inside my helmet as we rode by, imagining what the locals must think of these people.
We drove near Denali National Park to a huge resort called McKinley Princess Lodge where my friend Mark had been working as a waiter over the summer. We found him in the restaurant where he was having dinner before starting his evening shift. We joined him for a beer and talked out each other's summers before Cyrus continued south to Palmer, a city just north of Anchorage where he would stay with some family friends. I rode into a nearby town and got dinner and beers for the evening, then joined Mark when he got off work around 9pm. We walked down to a spot on the river where lots of the resort staff hangs out at night. Some other kids had a campfire going and we hung out there drinking for a few hours. I had a good time catching up with him and meeting several of his new friends. Mark found me a bed to stay in that night, which was great. In the morning, which happened to be Mark's birthday, we got some breakfast before I hit the road.
Since Cyrus had spent the night in Palmer, we decided to just ride separately and meet back in Tok, at the same campground we'd stayed at our first night in Alaska. It was a pretty nice day, and I made good time riding through Wasilla and Palmer, then northeast to Tok. Once I got away from the cities, it was a really scenic ride. I arrived at the campsite a couple hours later than Cyrus who already had some beers chilling in the creek.
On June 27th, just outside of Tok we got on the Top of the World Highway, which took us north on another bad road. Lots of gravel, and it gained elevation pretty quick. It was cloudy all day, but the scenery was spectacular. Big hills as far as you could see. It reminded me a bit of Scotland.
The gravel slowed us down to less than 40 mph in most places, so we weren't making great time but it didn't really matter. We spotted a moose in a creek, just off the road. It's ridiculous how big those things are in person; like giraffes with shorter necks. They kind of run like giraffes too, just sort of float across the ground much more gracefully than you'd expect something that big to be.
We got gas in the town of Chicken, which was really small and seemed to survive on tourism, thanks to its odd name. Lots of goofy merchandise like the hat Cyrus bought with a picture of a chicken next to a broken egg that said "I got laid in Chicken, Alaska.' Eventually we made it to the border and after having our passports checked, we were waved right into the Yukon. The scenery just kept getting better. We seemed to be the only ones on the road, as we cruised up, over and around the most beautiful hills I've ever seen, with massive valleys in between.
The roads improved a lot as we headed southeast and finished the Top of the World Highway. We kept riding until it got too dark, and did around 415 miles that day.
Campgrounds in the Yukon provide free firewood, which is pretty cool. It's not split though, just big logs, some with diameters over a couple feet. It's not easy to split them with just a hatchet, but we managed.
In the morning we continued south where we got back on the Alaskan highway. We retraced our route through Whitehorse, back into British Columbia and through Watson Creek on a cold and cloudy day.
It got late, but we kept moving, looking for a place to camp. Lots of wildlife seems to come out at that time of day, and we saw another moose on the side of the road and then a couple bison. Finally found a free campground called Whirlpool Canyon. It was next to a really cool spot on the river where it turned sharply, creating some giant rapids. I think that was our highest mileage day, at 520, since we were trying to make it back to the states by the 4th of July.
The next day was probably my favorite day of riding. It was absolutely beautiful. Blue skies and a warm sun. Right after pulling out of the campsite we saw a small black bear on the side of the road. We circled around and took some video of him, then pulled up a little closer. He was maybe 30 feet away, just sitting on his butt, chewing on some grass. We revved our bikes to try and get a response from him; he just looked up for a second, then back to the grass. All the animals on the road have been like this. They must just be so accustomed to people pulling over and taking pictures that they don't even care anymore. We saw at least 4 more black bears, a couple moose, mountain goats, lots of bison and finally a few grizzlies. That was all in one day. The scenery was great as well, with some big mountains and valleys, and good roads to boot.
Above is Munacho Lake, which was a brilliant blue. We rode closer and walked to the shore to take pictures. As we stood there, Cyrus simply stated "I'm gonna have to jump in that." So we got down to our skivvies and dove in one at a time. We weren't in for long, on account of the freezing water (fed by a glacier). It felt great though, particularly because I hadn't had a shower in about five days.
We filled up on gas in Fort Nelson and then kept riding after dark, to make up for all the time we spent filming wildlife and swimming. It wouldn't have been a problem, but none of the gas stations have "pay at the pump' features, so when they close around 10pm, there's no gas to be had until morning. We still didn't feel like stopping so we decided to see how far we could get. After 191 miles since refueling I had to switch to my reserve tank.
At 238 miles I was dry. Luckily I'd brought a gallon of spare gas in a plastic tank. That was the first time I'd used it during the trip besides helping some Canadians who'd run out of gas a couple miles from town the day before. Cyrus and I split the gallon of gas, which got us down the road a little farther to a campground. There was a gas station across the road, so we'd be able to refuel in the morning, but the campground was closed, with a big gate blocking the entrance. However there just so happened to be a little bit of space between the edge of the gate and a ditch, just wide enough to get a motorcycle through. It was a tight fit, but we both made it through and tried not to make too much noise as we drove by the Camp Host's RV and found a site. No one came to yell at us, but we skipped making a fire; just made dinner with my stove and hit the sack.
It was a Tuesday, but for some reason the place was absolutely swamped with people. We got to the city of Jasper and it was ridiculously packed. There were cars and RVs lining both sides of every street. There must have been something going on that week. As we drove through the parks, we were constantly getting stuck behind RVs, which would pull over randomly to take a picture of a rabbit or something, and not even bother to get completely off the road.
The scenery was worth the drive, but we were both fed up with the crowds after that and decided to skip going through Yellowstone and Teton National Parks on the way back, since they'd be even worse due to the 4th of July weekend. It rained several times that day, but stayed hot, so we'd shed our rain layers when it looked clear, then around the next turn it would pour on us again, so that was fun. We were hoping to make it to Coeur D'Alene, Idaho that day, where Cyrus' sister lives. But it got late and we were still in Canada, so we found another campground for the night, just north of the border.
We got through the border without any problems in the morning. Although the guy gave me some crap cause I told him I went to Purdue. I think he was a Notre Dame fan or something. We only had 100 miles to ride to Cyrus' sister's house. No one was home when we got there, so Cyrus tried to get in through the back door and ended up setting off the alarm. His sister texted him the code and shut it off, then he got some beers out of the garage and we started playing frisbee in the yard.
A few minutes later a cop pulled up. I wonder what was going through his head, responding to a possible burglary to find two dirty bikers standing around, playing frisbee. He seemed relaxed enough, and asked for our IDs. Cyrus explained that it was his sister's place, but the cop couldn't get a hold of her on the phone. Then he gave Cyrus some attitude because he didn't think his IDs looked like him. In one of the pictures he had a shaved head, and in the other he had a mohawk, but now he's got long hair. There wasn't much we could do about that, but he seemed satisfied and left us alone.
His sister Alyssa was married to a guy named Nathan, and they had 4 boys. That was a lot of noise for one house. They were pretty cool though. We spent two nights at their place and got some great home cooked meals. Coeur D'Alene was an interesting town. It had a big lake, with lots of rich people's summer homes. We left on the 4th of July, heading south through Idaho. The wheat fields out there were beautiful; it looked like that old wallpaper that came on Windows XP, with the green, rolling hills.
Highway 97 dropped quickly in elevation and we rode along the Salmon River, which was cluttered with white water rafting companies, though I didn't see much white water from the road. It warmed up quick, and we stopped somewhere near New Meadows for lunch. There were a lot of tourists there for the 4th of July weekend. Things were quieter along the Payette River, which snaked through a gorgeous canyon with steep cliffs. The campsites we saw were all packed, but we found a primitive campground that had lots of space in between sites that worked great. Cyrus caught a few fish,but nothing worth keeping.
The 5th was another beautiful day, so we rode without helmets. We continued east through Idaho, which was consistently beautiful. I could easily live out there. We made it to Wyoming that evening and rode a little past dusk.
We pulled off on a random dirt road and followed it until we were out of sight of the highway. We camped among a bunch of sage bushes, near a dry creek bed. It was perfect. There were more stars out that night than I'd seen in a long time. That was the one thing I didn't like about Alaska in the summertime... no stars. The Milky Way stretched right over our heads from one horizon to the other; it was spectacular. I left the rain-fly off my tent that night and watched shooting stars until I fell asleep.
I was woken up during the night by howling coyotes. There seemed to be two packs howling back and forth. One of them sounded really close. I know coyotes don't usually bother humans, but their sound is so awesome and haunting.
The next day was a very hot day as we rode through a bit of Utah, then through Dinosaur, Colorado. We had to go over a mountain pass towards Grand Junction, where there were some rainclouds. Turned out to be hail. I didn't think it would last long, so I didn't bother putting on my helmet. That was probably a mistake. Hail really hurts when it hits your nose, lips and ears. It turned back to rain after a while, but once we got over the mountains the temperature went right back up and we were dry shortly afterwards.
We made it back to Cyrus' place in Montrose that Sunday. Luckily, they had just changed the law, allowing liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays in Colorado, which couldn't have come at a better time. We got some beer and went to his friend Jake's house for a barbeque that night, which was a great time.
In the morning of the 7th we got breakfast with Cyrus' sisters before I hit the road, taking 285 south into New Mexico. It was a nice, hot day. After Santa Fe there was nothing but dry fields, stretching to the horizon. I was looking for a place to pull off and camp but it was all fenced off. I decided to just keep going. After nightfall there were three thunderstorms, complete with lightning in three different directions that seemed to be closing in on me, but I wasn't sure. I finally made it to Roswell very late after 602 miles. I snuck into the same RV camp I stayed at last year, pitched my tent and went to bed. I was out of there at 7am before anyone asked me to pay.
I had a pretty nice ride through Texas that day. I went through a really bad storm on my way into Austin with some intense wind that nearly knocked me off the bike a couple times. I stayed with my old marine buddy Lamar for three nights, which was a great time as always. He was going to school during the days, but we were able to hang out afterwards. Austin is a great city; a little too humid though. After that it was a quick ride to Houston where I stayed with my step brother Sean, who'd recently taken a job there.
I got a little lost on my way to Decatur the next day cause I wasn't paying attention, but found it eventually. I had more hot weather on the final stretch home the next day, which was a nice ride. I didn't take many pictures after Colorado because I was excited to get home. I made it back after almost 2 months on the road and a mere 14,235 miles.
Overall, the trip went great. It was actually a lot easier than I expected. I'm really happy that I was able to commit to the journey and make it happen. I hope I can inspire someone to go and do something they've been thinking about. If there's something you want to do and you're avoiding it, you better have a damn good reason, because you'll hate yourself down the road.
Thanks for reading.
Never stop wandering.