Sunday, September 16, 2018

North To Alaska with Nestor - Part #2 Crossing Canada

Halfway across Montana, Harley rider Tony says he wants to stop and visit some old friends near Harlowton. They have a large sheep ranch. Nestor and I ride on. We have a tight time schedule if we want to make Deadhorse and get back to Houston by the end of the August. 

Nearing the Canadian border, we talk and decide to make the crossing early the next morning, a Sunday.  Will be less traffic with less stress.  Finally find a room in Shelby, MT after passing through several small towns. Seems there is a regional swin meet going on and families have taken all the motel rooms for miles around.

Next morning, Well... the Canadian officials let us in...YEAH!

From the border, we head up to Calgary looking for Route 1A which is the old road north to Banff and the ice fields. Crossing a First Nations land, we stop for gas, asking a local where the station is. Not visible or obvious from the road, but is on the back side of a large metal building next to the Subway shop and highway maintenance shop. 

Only one other person in the shop when we order a sandwich. By the time we leave 20 minutes later, a couple of dozen persons have gathered, unsmiling, watching the two palefaces with motorcycles. Seems they are having a problem with outside drug dealers coming in and corrupting their youth. Smiling politely, we wave our goodbyes, taking our Metamucil and ibuprofen with us.

After hearing and rejecting the $500 a night motel rate in Banff this holiday weekend, we opt for camping in a roadside turn out. Nestor's first night for roadside stealth camping. We actually pitch our gear behind a couple of low dirt mounds, placing ourselves out of sight of the busy divided roadway, just yards away. As dusk falls, a couple of eighteen wheelers pull in. Turning off their lights, but leave their engines pulsating, each driver catches a quick forty winks.

Early the next morning we are treated to a wonderful sight as the sun breaks over the mountains, creeping its way down the barren rocks toward tree studded slopes of green.

The view behinds us.

And in front of us.

Rolling north, by midmorning we stop at the Athabasca Glacier. Blue skies are cloud-less but the air is crispy cold. 

Too many tourists wandering around to leave our bikes unattended for a walk-about.  
A quick photo will have to do and we are gone.

After Jasper, we drop down out of the mountains and ride forested areas toward Grand Prairie. 

As dusk nears, we start looking for a campsite. All gates leading away from the main road are closed and locked. We see a lot of oilfield activity here, trucks of all sizes and types. Asking security at a dusty production camp, we are directed to a river side camp where many Newfies (Newfounders) have parked their travel trailers while working in the Alberta Oilfields. 

From freezing cold near Banff and the glacier this morning to summer heat down by the river. When riding Canada in the summer, your elevation determines the weather. 

Nestor unloads his gear to set up a tent. No need for a heavy sleeping bag, will be a warm night.

After Grand Prairie we cross into British Columbia heading to Dawson Creek where the Alcan (Alaska / Canadian) Highway starts.

Far side of a green field something raises its head. It's looking at us.

Using the telephoto lens, can zoom in to see its a mature Mule Deer. Must have heard our bikes and lifted his head to see what the racket was. His antlers are still covered in velvet too.

In Dawson Creek we stop for a photo at the sign indicating the start of the Alaska Highway. 

Both bikes are running smooth. Only glitch has been the lid rubber gasket on the Beast's eight gallon auxiliary fuel tank has expanded from the gasoline additives and will longer seal properly. This allows gasoline to slosh out the top on rough pavement. Not good.

We're directed to Northern Safety, an industrial supply house with some really helpful workers. They search their parts bin, coming up with  three solutions. The old expanded gasket has a square cross-section. Solution one has a round cross-section, but the diameter is too small. Solution two, also round, but thicker. That works better. Looks like it will hold, but will it go soft and expand like the old one? Solution three, a Fix-A-Gasket kit. Using the old gasket, splice it and glue the ends together using the chemicals in the kit.  Not knowing for sure which solution will work best, I buy all three. $25.00

After a night of laundry and showers in Dawson Creek, we ride up past Fort Nelson, to take a detour north. Destination? the border crossing with the Northwest Territories.  

In a remote section we spot our first black bear. A young cub wandering in an open turn out.  Caution: where there is a cub there is a good chance there is a watchful Mama bear near by.  Everybody here knows mama bears are the most dangerous of all bears.

We rode a 100 meters or so into the NW so we could say we were there, then turned around to ride back south and continue on northwest to Watson Lake.

Getting closer to the Yukon province, the terrain switches from very flat to rolling hills, then to mountains. 

Riding along the blue waters of a long narrow Muncho Lake was spectacular. Hard to keep one's eye on the road with such a beautiful sight on the left. 

Beautiful blue sky, no rain, not too cool, great day to be alive and riding.

Coming around a curve we are surprised with a herd of Rocky Mountain Sheep licking the salt along the roadbed. All ewes and kids.

Not a mile down the road, we come across a bachelor herd of sheep grazing along the road also.  
The boys club here. 

Both rams and ewes have horns, but the males are wall hangers.

Another first for Nestor, riding a steel grated bridge. Always an un-nerving experience for the first time motorcyclist. The grating wants to steer the motorcycle, jumping between one row to another. The natural tendency is to tightly grip the handlebars and fight the grating. Bad idea! The best technique is to relax your grip on the handlebars and let the bike find its way across.  It will without falling over if you keep the speed steady.

Nestor gets it right the first time. There will be more bridges and longer bridges like this one.

The next first for Nestor was stopping to watch a huge bison grazing along side the road. When I ask him to park near so I can take a photo with both of them in it, he is hesitant.  The animal is bigger than Nestor's bike.

"Are you sure this is safe?"

I guess the practice this Welding/Tire Shop is, drop your tire out in front of the shop and someone will fix them.... eventually... maybe?

Both bikes are running strong, no more issues. The fuel gasket is holding tight.

Before we left Texas Nestor noticed a gel cushion in my office. He commented that the only issue he had with riding all day was how hard his seat was. Suggested he take the Egg Sitter and try it. Is not designed for motorcycle use, but why not...

After a week of riding Nestor exclaimed that the Egg Sitter was the best addition he could have made to his bike. Every night he made sure that little gel pad did not get lost or left behind. 

When I ask Nestor to stop again for another group photo, he really questions my sanity. 
This is his first sighting of an adult black bear... and close by too.

"Quick, snap it and lets go!"

Riders rule when in bear country:

Never shut off your engine to photograph a grizzly.

Leaving BC, we cross into the Yukon, skies are clouding up....

and on to Watson Lake, home of the Sign Post Forest.

From Watson Lake we rode thru heavy rain and more rain. The only thing on our minds now was that gap of clear weather straight ahead.

By nightfall we reach Beaver Creek, Yukon, near the Alaska border.  Snag Junction Provincial Park campgrounds looked quiet and inviting.

The rain slows to a drizzle as we doze off for the night. 

Next morning I see Nestor coming out of the picnic pavilion.  He says it was drier in there than on the ground. So he didn't bother with a tent last night, just stretched out his pad and sleeping bag on the concrete. We were too tired last night to see the No Camping sign above the shelter entrance. 
Oh, well.......

The morning air is crisp and cool on Snag Lake. Hey, no rain.  Hoorah! A great day for entering Alaska, the border crossing is only 25 miles away.

After brewing some coffee while munching on granola bars, bikes are packed and readied. 
Next up, Alaska.

More of Nestor's Alaska ride to come,


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

North To Alaska with Nestor - Part #1 Southwest US

The phone rang in early July, my nephew Nestor Pinilla from Bucaramanga, Colombia called to say he was in San Antonio, Texas. He had ridden his Suzuki Vstrom 650 up thru Central America and was coming to visit us.

" Fantastic Nestor, come on over to Houston "

Nestor is the only one on the Colombian side of the family who rides a motorcycle. In fact he rides so much he has seen all of the PanAmerican Highway from the southern most tip of South America north, up thru Central America and is now in Texas.

As we visited and caught up on family news, I casually asked if he still wanted to see Alaska. With his positive reply we quickly put in motion everything we would need to prep both motorcycles for a northern trek into the frozen Arctic regions.

Nestor would ride his Vstrom and I would take the Dam'it, the sidecamper.  Though now the name Dam'it has been retired, as when Nestor first saw this huge sidecamper, he exclaimed, 

Well, it is. I liked Nestor excitement so much the sidecamper now carries a new moniker, The Beast.

The Beast has been mostly repaired from it's trip on the Trans-Labrador Trail and eastern Canada, but she still needed a few maintenance items attended to before taking on the northern challenge of Alaska. This would be my fourth trek on the Haul Road with a destination of Deadhorse, so I knew what to expect and wanted to prepare the rig for the worse. 

Getting Nestor his Canadian VISA proved to be a challenge, taking three weeks of diligent daily phone calls and paperwork.  On July 29, with VISA in hand, we trailered our two bikes to the condo in northern New Mexico in one day. If we had ridden in the 90+ degree heat and high humidity, it would have taken us two or three days together there.

Early foggy morning in Angel Fire, we tie tight the gear bags, ready to roll north.

Not twenty miles into the first day, we come across cattle who had escaped from pastures, wandering across the road. This is not an open range area. They should not be grazing roadside with vehicles whizzing by.

Rolling north from the town of  Tres Piedras, we leave the high plains of northern New Mexico 
"Hasta La Vista" Baby.... and enter...

...the high plains of south-central Colorado. Pretty uneventful, for sure!

Our destination this day was to reach the home of a old friend, Dom Chang, a URAL rider in the Denver area. 

Dom and his wife Martha had invited us to spend the night in their home.  Yes folks, cross-country motorcycling is a rough tough life.... lol.
Dom grew up in Honduras so he and Nestor had a great time conversing in Spanish. 

Dom took Nestor and I out to his favorite photo spot overlooking the Denver skyline and the Rocky mountains beyond. Unfortunately the haze prevented us from seeing peaks or ridges far in the distance.

This is one of Dom's pride and joy's, a BMW powered URAL sidecar rig. He even allowed me to test ride it. Definitely more power and smoother than the URAL factory engine. 

The next morning Nestor and I visit the famous hole in the rock road north west of Denver.

Crossing into Wyoming we spotted many herds of these creatures...

...the American Pronghorn Antelope. This is one of many firsts for Nestor on this trip.

By nightfall we are in central Wyoming looking for a place to camp. The rest area I had in mind is now posted with "No Overnight Parking" signs.  Moving on...

With a fading light I lead Nestor down a dusty country road, where we pitched camp a couple of yards away from the gravel. The hills will block any highway noise and prevent anyone from seeing where we are or bothering us.  

Only the coyotes were aware of our campsite and made their presence known, 
yipping and howling as we drifted off to sleep.

At the break of dawn we were up and packing. A hot cup of coffee and a granola bars would tide us over till lunch time. 

Many inn and motels in the smaller western towns just never made ends meet, closing without finding a buyer when the owners wanted to retire.  The Tumble Inn in Powder River, WY is one such inn.

In Glen Rock, Wyoming, we meet up with another old friend, Tony DePaul from Rhode Island. Tony rode all the way out west to meet and ride with us for a few days. Tony, Keith Hackett and I met several years earlier while waiting to board the Alaska Maritime Highway ferry in Haines, Alaska. (Remember that name, Keith will reappear later in this story). 

Remaining in touch over the years, Tony and I have even talked about riding South America together. Nestor has now volunteered to guide us when we get down there. Hmmm, sounds like a new ride plan is coming together....

By the time we reach Thermopolis, WY, the idea of camping and then soaking in one of their famous hot springs is an irresistible draw.  Unfortunately the State Park does not allow camping or overnight parking, according to all the posted signs. Drat all those posted signs!

Mulling over our options, I tell the group it is time to reach out to "my people' for a solution.  Riding to the center of downtown Thermopolis, I locate where my people gather....

Inside two sweet little ladies inform me that there is a hot springs RV campgrounds just beyond the town limits where we can pitch our tents and enjoy the thermals.  

Thanking my people for their help, we point our bikes toward the ridge on the north edge of town.

For $15 each at the Fountain of Youth RV Hot Springs Park, we had a large campsite, picnic table, WIFI, showers and a hot springs pool where Nestor and I soaked our aches away while Tony pounded out work on his laptop. 

Nestor, the youngest of the group is retired, me the oldest, semi-retired and Tony in the middle, still working. There is a twenty year spread in our ages from the youngest to the oldest. We all get along, no ego problems, no prima donnas, we all three enjoy experiencing the open road on a motorcycle.

Tomorrow Montana and Canada.

More to come

Friday, July 27, 2018

Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies

My beautiful bride has read many stories of the majestic Canadian Rockies but has never actually been there.  Earlier this year we ventured a visit to Banff and Jasper, deep in the heart of the northern Rockies. Though visiting Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler was very nice and interesting...

Vancouver - Stanley Park

Vancouver Skyline with small plane landing

Vancouver - Street Musician from Peru

Victoria - Float Plane Taxi Service

Victoria - Canada's Oldest Chinatown

Victoria - Chinatown Alleyway closed to outsiders

Victoria - Regatta

Victoria - old salts waiting for the regatta starting horn.

Visited the First Nations Interpretive Center in Whistler

Then stopped in Banff for it's tourist shopping district...

some did their best to support the local economy

All very nice But...
it was the famous Canadian Rockies in all their glory we came to see.

As part of the experience, we rode the giant Ice Explorer up and out onto the Athabasca Glacier. 
The driver said we were standing on 85 feet of ice.

The day was actually warm but being out on the glacier
is like standing in the freezer locker section of your local butcher shop.

Early morning a flock of Canadian geese would gather on the small lake 
in front of our cabin at the Jasper Park Lodge. 

A new day dawning on the Beauvert lakefront at Jasper Park Lodge. 
Staff has cleaned and lined up kayaks and canoes for the guests use.

The cruise on Maligne Lake near Jasper was fast and impressive, 
but the mood changed once we arrived at...

Spirit Island... still, quiet and peaceful, an air of reverence.

Motor boats are not allowed to proceed beyond this narrow neck in the lake 
in order to preserve the pristine natural beauty of the upper reaches.

Did we see any bears? Well, yes...
a few lollygagging Black Bears

A couple of Grizzy's browsing for lunch, 

inching closer and closer to a two legged snack...

(Does that couple realize a bear can outrun a horse?)

But my favorite bear story was on a t-shirt in Banff.

Amparo was very impressed with the Canadian Rockies, better than the Alps she says. 
I agree.

Ride safe my friends, 


p.s. next adventure is an Alaska run with the sidecamper in August,  if everything comes together.