Arctic Relay 2012 - aka "Pass the Gringo"

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by gringostd, Aug 10, 2012.

  1. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    I generally do at least one group ride a year with some buddies who live in Portland, Oregon [I live in Oakland, Calif.]. The group has morphed and changed over the years, but these are the guys that got me excited about motorcycle touring in the first place - who showed me the ropes and inspired me to pursue this crazy passion. As we all get older and life happens, the number of people who actually come out for these trips is getting smaller and smaller. Regardless, I look forward to these rides all year long. They're usually 7-14 day affairs - with the longest one to date being 3+ weeks coast to coast in the summer of 2009.

    When I started talking about an Alaska ride, response was lukewarm. CJ was down, for sure - but he had somewhat limited vacation time. Rob was definitely into riding but had no desire to log the kind of straight highway miles that'd be necessary to get all the way North. Fred and Winson had babies. Pesky babies. My wife was also interested in being a part of the adventure, if it worked out - and she too had limited vacation time. So... what to do.

    I was bummed at first about not sharing the whole trip with at least one person. I considered just doing the ride solo - maybe doing a different ride with my Portland crew and something else with my wife. In the end, I came to the conclusion that I really wanted to share this adventure with my friends. The struggles, the triumphs, the debauchery, the inside jokes .... motorcycle adventures are just more fun when shared, IMHO. So, I decided to figure out a way to stitch together my various riding companions so I'd be able to share parts of this big adventure with all of them. The Arctic Relay is born.


    I love it when a plan comes together...

    <iframe src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/OKp8mYzsQzo" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="420"></iframe>


    It worked out that I'd switch riding companions every week or so - with about a week solo at the very apex of the journey. I logged just shy of 9k miles over 5 weeks. It was an adventure of a lifetime - one I'll never forget. This is a story of ...

    Sunrises...
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    ... and sunsets.
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    Waterfalls...
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    ... and wildfires.
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    Challenges...
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    ... triumphs...
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    ... and the midnight sun.
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    It's a story of...
    Troubles at the border.
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    Killer campsites.
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    Challenging roads.
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    Unbelievable scenery.
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    Getting away from it all.
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    Five-star dining.
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    Wildlife.
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    Water crossings.
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    And the occasional roll in the hay.
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    #1
  2. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    I bought a 2002 V-Strom 1000 in January of 2011 - largely in anticipation of this trip. I wanted a bike that would be comfortable for long highway riding, capable in the dirt, not too precious [ie. cheap], and powerful enough to haul around my 230lb. self with a passenger [Kate... what do you weigh, like 90lbs.?] and all our stuff. This bike fit the bill perfectly. It came with crash bars, and I added my usual bolt-ons - heated grips, SW Motech side racks w/ Caribou cases, a cheapo trunk, highway pegs, and a bash plate. I also wired in my GPS, a couple whips for heated gear, and a 'cigarette lighter' outlet under the seat. Besides getting the clutch basket modified to eliminate the 'chudder' these early 1000's suffer from at around 4k rpm, the mechanicals are bone stock.

    I 'shook down' the bike and proved it for long adventures with a trip out to and around Eastern Oregon last summer as well as a two-up adventure last October out to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Ariz. via Yosemite and Death Valley. The Suzuki performed flawlessly on both trips - I had confidence it'd do the Arctic run just fine.

    In preparation for this ride, I mounted a set of Heidenau K60 Scout tires, bulked up my tool kit and collection of spares, hung a new chain, changed the rear brake pads, and gave the bike a general once-over - oil & filter, fluids, etc. Actually... Tyler at Hayasa Motorbikes did most of that... but I paid for it. I sent him a postcard...

    If you're in the Bay Area, own a Japanese bike, and don't know about Hayasa, allow me to learn you. Tyler is the best. Period.


    Valuable shade in Eastern Oregon - outside Rajneeshpuram [which is now a Christian youth camp... hilarious]
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    #2
  3. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    The general plan was for Kate to ride with me up to Portland, where she had a cousin getting married on the front end of the trip. In PDX, I would rendezvous with one friend who would ride with me around Washington and just across the Canadian border. In B.C., I would rendezvous with another friend who would accompany me up to the Yukon. In Whitehorse, I'd push off solo - up the Dempster and across the Top of the World. Then, Kate would fly into Whitehorse, and we would take the ferry down the Inside Passage and ride to Seattle. Kate would fly home, and I'd finish the trip solo.


    Caution, Charlie Brown ahead
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    #3
  4. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    Nice! The "assorted sizes" is definitely top of the line in canned peas--way to go, dude.

    :rofl

    Looks like we're in for a great report. Keep it coming!
    #4
  5. Kevan Garrett

    Kevan Garrett Been here awhile

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    Hey!

    Subscribed and looking forward to the pictures and story. :clap:clap:clap

    Cheers

    Kevan
    #5
  6. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    This is kind of a crappy map, but here's the overview of the whole route. Does anyone have suggestions for good-looking map images from GPX info? I'm just screen capturing from Garmin Basecamp here.
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    #6
  7. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    On June 27th, Kate and I pushed off from home. We would take three days to get up to Portland, where we had a family wedding to attend. This would serve as a shake-down for the gear that Kate would bring with her when she flew up to meet me later in the trip [a backpack and dry bag strapped to the tops of my side cases]. Look at how clean everything is!
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    Day 1 would take us slabbing up the I-5 [ugh...] and then jumping off onto the 36 at Red Bluff. We ended up at an excellent municipal campsite in Douglas City, Ca. - highly recommend it. [292 miles total]
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    We were following some Destination Highways routes, including the CA-3 through Peanut. Nothing like peg scraping two-up with a full load of gear! No photos, unfortunately.
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    Day 2 took us further up the CA-3 to Callahan for my annual visit to the Callahan Junction. The owner / bartender [Joe?] is an old biker. In the bar, they have a collection of dusty, old 'forever' bottles - belonging to soldiers that never came back from WWII.

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    The ride up to Callahan is awesome, and then we took Gazelle Callahan road back to the 5. We had to make some miles, so we suffered through some more I-5 up to Roseburg, OR. [278 miles total]
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    Day 3 we I-5'd it up to Brownsville, OR, where we were able to get off the Interstate and connect pastoral back roads up to Oregon City - through Lebanon, Silverton, etc. The destination was Camp Angelos, a summer camp East of Portland. [208 miles total]
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    Kinda light on the photos these first few days, sorry. It gets better!
    #7
  8. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    Kate's cousin, Anna, rented out Camp Angelos, a classic summer camp, for what turned out to be one of the most fun weddings I've ever been to. It was a hippie affair, full of love and levity. The ceremony was held around the campfire circle, the reception was in the main lodge, and everyone stayed on bunk beds in small group cabins.
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    All the guests took turns being photographed in front of the wall of flowers. This is me with my lovely wife, Kate.
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    The rain and mud didn't stop anyone from having a raging good time.
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    Everyone was excited to hear about our upcoming adventure. There were a few bikers among the other guests, and the resounding sentiment was one I've gotten a lot of since I started planning this trip "... oh man, I'm so jealous...".

    After the wedding weekend, Kate flew home to Oakland, and I rendezvous'd with my friend Fred. He took me camping off the bikes the first few times I ever did it, and his long-time riding buddies have become my Portland crew. Fred rides a BMW R1100GS, but the recent arrival of his second child meant he wouldn't be joining on this trip. Here's Fred with his daughter, Addie.
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    Addie drew me a picture to send me on my way - her interpretation of Alaska, I think.
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    Sunday night was spent catching up, bullshitting, and planning with Fred and the guys who'd be joining me on the trip. Oh yeah, and lots of this...
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    #8
  9. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    This is Rob - he probably rides more than anyone I know. He rides a Kawasaki Versys, and before that it was a Yamaha TDM850. He knows how to pick cool bikes.
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    Rob's going to ride with me around Central Washington until our buddy CJ does his marital duties on the 4th of July - his 20th wedding anniversary. We're definitely going to take the scenic route, because on the 5th, we want CJ to be able to make it to wherever we are in one long day of riding.

    Day 7 takes us from Portland to Selah, WA - near Yakima. [217 miles total]
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    We stop at the 1885 Bar & Grill in Naches - site of Fred's infamous bachelor party a few years ago.
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    They had a condom vending machine in the bathroom - the center option is LifeStyles 'Snugger Fit'. That's a polite way of putting it...
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    #9
  10. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    We have what we think is a cool campsite in Selah last night. Turns out, the canyon we were in made every passing vehicle sound like an engine-braking semi truck. Add to that, at about midnight, a group of inconsiderate neighbors pulled it, claimed a campsite, and started chopping firewood and partying. Didn't sleep too well that night...

    Today, we push Northeast to Republic - a very cool town. Our route takes us through Wenatchee, Chelan, Omak, and Tonasket. [286 miles total]
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    I attempt to use the ram ball mount I installed on my crash bars to take still photos, as the video was really shaky. Turns out, most of the stills were blurry too. This one turned out ok.
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    Here's me with the 'Strom.
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    We camped at the fairgrounds in Republic. It wasn't especially scenic, but it was really comfortable. The grass made for a soft bed, the sites had free electric hook-ups [charged all the gadgets], and there were coin-op showers. There was also a covered kitchen structure with a propane grill. We stocked up at the local natural food store and had a killer camp dinner.
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    #10
  11. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    My map says 'Indian' Reservation... is that still the correct way to refer to these geographic areas? Native American Reservation? I don't know...

    On the recommendation of Slackmeyer [who I've had the privilege of getting to know through the East Bay Meet & Eat gatherings], I wanted to check out the route between Electric City and Inchelium, WA - in the SE corner of said Reservation. We decided that Republic was a fitting city in which to celebrate the 4th of July, so we did a day loop in and around the Colville Reservation and stayed at the Republic Fairgrounds a second night. [195 miles total / ~25 on dirt]
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    We did our first ferry crossing of the trip [many more to follow] from Gifford to Inchelium.
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    We always look like a friggin' Aerostich catalog in these trip photos...
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    I was itching to get in a bit of dirt riding, so Rob aired down his street tires, and we rode Wilmont Creek Rd. on the Southern Most part of the day's loop - headed NW. It's barely on most of the maps I saw of the area, but the trusty GPS picked it up.
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    We passed a couple of ranches, and saw these fine creatures being herded somewhere by a pickup truck and cattle dog. We nearly got run over by the herd, actually. It was pretty exciting.
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    After the ranches, the road turned to rarely-traveled double track. It was nice, hard-packed dirt up and over a mountain pass. Beautiful riding!
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    Rob was stoked! [Me too.]
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    It turned out that the whole town of Republic shuts down on the 4th of July, and everyone goes up to some State Park nearby to watch the fireworks. We were done riding for the day and didn't really care about fireworks, so we were glad to find the Republic Brewing Company open. They weren't serving food though, so we ran across the street to the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken and potato salad. They let us eat it in the pub ... works for me. Add some microbrewed beer, and you've got all the red, white, and blue this motorcyclist needs.
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    #11
  12. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    Day 10 was a big one. Having satisfied our decision to spend the 4th of July on American soil, we got an early start out of Republic and headed for the border. The plan was to spend today riding a loop through the Kootenay Lakes area and ending up in Creston, BC - a near border town that CJ could get to in a reasonable slab day from Portland. [Our day of riding is 267 miles total]

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    As we headed towards the border crossing at Grand Forks, I snapped this picture - for use somewhere in the ride report. Turns out, this border was as fitting a place as any for motorcyclists to use caution.
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    The Canadian border guards that received us were super friendly, as pretty much all Canadians are [I'm married to one]. They asked us all the usual questions re. booze, firearms, illicit substances, etc. We were then instructed to pull the bikes in behind the building and come inside to 'process paperwork'. We obliged, handed over our passports, and waited. And waited.... and waited. The border officer in charge came into the waiting room at one point to tell us that they were having some technical difficulties processing our documents. No problem... we'll wait.

    At about the 45 minute mark, one of the officers came in and asked me for the keys to my bike's luggage. It became clear that their 'technical difficulties' were actually them tearing apart and searching our bikes from top to bottom. Seems strange that they didn't have to tell us they were doing so.

    What happened next was absolutely priceless. After about an hour of waiting, we hear the back door open and close, and two border guards appear at the reception desk - wearing bullet-proof vests and sidearms, rubber gloved up and not looking pleased. One of them is holding a small plastic baggy full of white powder; they ask us if we can explain it.
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    My first reaction is laughter. I think they're messing with us. It only takes fractions of a second for me to realize that US / Canada border guards probably do not mess with people in this way. I don't recognize the baggy, and I look at Rob nervously, hoping he does. Luckily, Rob's laughter continues past the several second mark. The next five minutes or so are spent with Rob explaining to the guards what Anti Monkey-Butt Powder is, that it comes in a big bottle that's inconvenient to carry on the bike, and that his wife does make-up for television - which is why he has such an unusual and incriminating-looking baggy at his disposal. I guess she uses them to store mixed powders for individual actors or something.

    After assuring us that they could run tests on the spot to analyze the powder if they wanted to [my guess is that they already had], the officers were apparently satisfied with our explanation. They returned our documents and keys and let us go on our way.

    Needless to say, Rob and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. As we're packing up, I realize that I HAVE to capture the moment on film. I'm pretty sure that most US border officers would NOT let you take a picture of them holding the illicit baggy after such an ordeal ... but the Canadian guard does! Again... just so friendly. Here's Rob - judging by that face, he just tried to snort a line of the stuff.
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    We're now several hours behind schedule, but we just need to decompress from that whole episode. In Grand Forks, I decide to get a haircut while Rob scouts out a breakfast spot [that's right... that whole border episode happened pre-coffee!]. I get a fairly bad cut from a very friendly barber.
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    After collecting ourselves, Rob and I hit the road ... and what a road it was. The route from New Denver to Kaslo is about 35 miles of constant twisties through an amazing river valley. The pavement was fresh, and there was pretty much no traffic besides other motorcyclists. We passed a handful of high performance sport bikes - I was leading the pack on a fully-loaded V-Strom with semi-knobbies, fairly proud of myself.
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    We have yet another ferry crossing - on the Osprey 2000.
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    The road from Crawford Bay down to Creston is, I believe, what the authors of Destination Highways call the #1 road in British Columbia, by their rating system. It certainly is fun. I get to ride it twice! In Creston, we get a room at the Downtowner [not recommended], and set off down the street to do our laundry. At the laundromat, we see this sign. Seems like an interesting business. I wonder how liquor delivery via cab would go over in Oakland.
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    At about 8pm, CJ rolls into town after his big slab day. His wife is happy, and he's ready to ride.
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    The three of us have a good meal and lots of Kokanees up the street at some bar & grill. After dozens of games of pool [CJ always wins], we move to the patio and meet some drunk locals. These were perhaps the only unfriendly Canadians we met - threatening to run us over with their truck over a drunkenly misunderstood joke. Yup... it's good to have CJ along.
    #12
  13. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    It was too good of a story not to share with Anti Monkey Butt Powder corporate. I just emailed them a link to the Ride Report, and I got the following response:

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    Steve,

    Thanks for sending us a note on your interesting experience. The founder of AMBP has just completed the same trip ..see attached. He didn&#8217;t have the trouble you did, but he is a &#8216;Heavy User&#8217; so had to take the whole bottle.

    We finally have a Travel size Anti Monkey Butt Powder and I think you earned yourself a few free bottles. Send me your address and I will send some out to you. I&#8217;ll try and share your experience for our Facebook fans as well.

    Thanks again,
    DSE Healthcare Solutions, LLC.

    ---

    Double priceless!
    I asked that they share the generosity with Rob, being the one actually carrying the elicit substance.
    Here's the photo, from the founder's recent trip up the Arctic Circle. Looks like the Dalton.
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    #13
  14. slackmeyer

    slackmeyer Don't mean sheeit. .

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    This report is off to a great start. You know how to travel, Steve- hippy weddings, authentic bars, good roads, border patrol agents that let you go with your baggies of white powder. Nice.
    #14
  15. pablito

    pablito KLRer in SF

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    Steve,

    Awesome ride! Looking forward to the full report. I might need to tag along for the next adventure.

    Cheers, Paul
    #15
  16. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    Absolutely!
    That settles it, I don't need to learn Spanish before Panama 2014. Thanks for handling that, Pablito.
    #16
  17. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    Day 11 begins slowly... with a bit of a hangover. Rob passes the Arctic Relay baton to CJ, packs up, and heads south. He'll spend 4 or 5 days getting back to Portland via Idaho. CJ and I will push north - ending up in Golden for the night. [292 miles total / ~60 dirt]
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    The day starts with that awesome BC-3A / BC-31 combo again. We cross the ferry at Kootenay Bay [Crawford Bay?] and meet some other riders. Ferry crossings are good for that, as they tend to group bikes together on loading. The guy in the foreground is a local riding a Triumph Tiger Explorer. He apparently does a big Edelweiss tour every couple years or so. The two other riders are together - on a tour from I-don't-remember-where. What you can't see next to the Ducati there is a cherry 1982 [?] Honda CBX. The owner is sporting burgundy and tan leathers that match the vintage of the bike. Awesome!
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    The 'Hi-Viz' in that helmet has male pattern baldness. Please chime in if you think CJ is overdue for a new lid! We figured out that this one was probably made in 2005 - and he rides pretty much every day.
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    We roll through Kaslo and stop for lunch. It's a great city [in the summer, anyways]. I'd like to spend some time here. We learn that there is a drinking water advisory in the area because of epic high water in the river. We had apparently just missed a 40-year storm the week prior - a story I'll get all the way up to the Dempster Hwy. We take the waitress's advice and have beer with our lunch instead of water ... twist our arms. Here's CJ adding to the high water situation.
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    Outside of Kaslo, we see our first moose of the trip - a young, very frightened, female who ran along ahead of us on the road. We finally had to come to a complete stop to let her collect herself and get back into the woods.
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    Beyond Kaslo, the BC-31 turns to fast, damp, hard-packed dirt - tons of fun.
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    We cross a bridge over said high river and decide to jump in ... to experience run-off from a 40-year rain firsthand.
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    In the photo, the bridge doesn't look high or the river fast-moving, but both are true. We jumped off more or less in the middle of the bridge and then had to swim with all our might to reach the spot on the bank where we had thrown our shoes. Miss it, and we were going to be climbing out of a fast-moving river into dense forest ... barefoot. Oh yeah, did I mention that the water was COLD!?
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    We had another fabulous ferry crossing at Galena Bay.
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    By this point, we had the whole ferry crossing thing down.
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    More unbelievable beauty.
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    We saw lots of these big beetles in this area. They hurt when they hit you in the face at 60mph, and they stunk if they exploded.
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    We had a delicious dinner at the Golden Taps Pub and decided to crash at the Golden municipal campsite. The site was expensive, packed full of RV's, and was located right next to the [active] railroad tracks. Not our best call, but it was dark and we had had a long day. We didn't care too much.
    #17
  18. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    Day 12 would take us through Banff and Jasper National Parks on the Icefields Parkway - and then along the CA-16 [Yellowhead Hwy.] to just East of Prince George, BC. [351 total miles / ~30 on dirt]
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    It was 7/7/12 - a beautiful, sunny, Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer. We Rode from Golden to Lake Louise, where we steeled our nerves in preparation for a day of National Park speed limits and RV traffic. It was a bummer to have to pay $20 for the privilege of driving in traffic, but the scenery was worth all of it. Just don't expect solitude on this section of the ride.
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    This was my first glacier sighting - very exciting. I believe this is the Columbia Icefield.
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    At the midway point on the route, there is a cafeteria where you can pay too much money for crappy food in a miserable atmosphere. We hadn't made any other preparations for food, hoping for a quality mom-and-pop along the route, but no dice. I payed $9 for an awful heap of poutine [french fries with gravy and cheese curds]. I had never tried it before and was curious. Perhaps this was not the place to be adventurous.
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    At Tete Jaune Cache, we jumped off of the 16 [which was fairly boring slab] and took the dirt backroads West to Dunster along the Fraser River. That got to be the norm throughout this trip - whenever possible, jump off the highway and take a smaller dirt route. This one proved to be exquisite.
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    The highlight of the [amazing] day was our campsite that night - possibly the best of the trip. The map said that there was camping in McBride, so we had arbitrarily made that our destination for the night. In McBride, we found a bleak, mosquito-infested RV campsite ... and a gas station at which we decided to inquire about other accommodations. The young clerk told us about a spot up the road called Little LaSalle Lake. He said it was tiny, beautiful, and that he was pretty sure they had campsites there. We asked some locals outside about the spot and got the same response - "It's beautiful. If you blink, you'll miss it. I think they might have a campsite there."

    We found it...
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    It was crazy beautiful...
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    But 'officially', it was not a campsite. That didn't stop us. It was the most beautiful, secluded spot we had seen in days - and it was ours for the night. There was a narrow walking path that led down to a tiny level area with a picnic table and fire ring. We decided we didn't want to attract attention to our misuse of the site by leaving our bikes up at the parking area, so we braved a bit of 'single-track'.
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    It was SO worth it!
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    CJ's kickstand sunk in the mud and the GS took a nap. It was fun trying to get that huge bike out of the soft, mossy bog the next morning.
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    I tested our bear box solution for the first time that night - one of my Caribou side cases, full of all the food and stinky stuff, hung in a tree. We had seen our first black bears of the trip that day, in Jasper NP, so I was a bit paranoid.
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    #18
  19. gringostd

    gringostd Rubber side up

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    Day 13 we mostly slabbed along the Trans-Canada Hwy [16] thru Prince George to New Hazelton.
    [397 total miles / ~25 on dirt]
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    Prince George is a sprawling city with all the big box options a person could want. I'm loving being away from cities, but we did take full advantage of those big box stores. We spent WAY too much time at the Wal-Mart - buying supplies, doing chain service and other bike work, making phone calls, etc., etc. Among the other provisions, I picked up a can of silly string to lighten the mood. Now, for the record, it would be totally unsafe to unload a can of silly string on a fellow motorcyclist's face and windshield at 40 mph on a country road. I would never recommend doing such a thing. :evil At least it was Hi-Viz silly string...
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    We were able to get off the highway for a stretch above Smithers, on Telkwa High Rd. This was a welcome break - nice, hard-packed dirt through farms, ranches, and forest. At New Hazelton, we jumped off the highway towards Hazelton [Old Town] to check out the Hagwilget Bridge and find some dinner. No go on food & drink on a Sunday night, it turns out. Oh well, the bridge was cool!
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    #19
  20. stovepipe

    stovepipe Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    108
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA, USA
    Nice work Steve. I'm hooked.
    Bear
    #20