Yukon and Beyond: A mostly solo journey

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by selkins, Sep 12, 2012.

  1. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Glad to hear it, Andy!

    How cool to hear from you, Pat! Seems to me with that outstanding bike shop of your's that you are one of the folks helping to make Whitehorse such a fantastic town.

    Thanks for the correction on the name. All fixed up in the RR, now. And you can tell Katya that a pound of her Sam McGee's blend won over a bunch of hard-core caffeine addicts at my office back in Minneapolis.

    Just for kicks, here's a pic of your shop.

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    Thanks for reading, tvbh40a. All's well that ends well, but yeah, the "gotta get there" demon has a dangerous voice.
    #61
  2. tvbh40a

    tvbh40a PSUViking

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    Nice,

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    Cover photo material - well done!
    #62
  3. rangecon1976

    rangecon1976 Adventurer

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    Amazing report, amazing photography :clap
    #63
  4. Paratrout

    Paratrout Been here awhile

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    thanks for this awesome story! subscribing late:clap
    #64
  5. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Thanks for the generous comments, tvbh40a, rangecon1976 and Paratrout. Last entry by this weekend, I think.
    #65
  6. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    September 2 - It’s a holiday weekend, and the one server working in the hotel restaurant at breakfast time is struggling to keep up with the demands of several occupied tables.

    “They’ve got you working hard,” I say.

    He laughs. “You don’t know the half of it. I was working the bar till 2:30 this morning.”

    My reward for two days of hard riding is a short, relaxed 200-mile ride south and east to Jasper National Park. The road gradually transitions from tightly packed modest hills to a broad river valley surrounded by increasingly dramatic peaks. A couple dozen miles shy of Jasper, the road takes a long straight-away toward the base of Mount Robson. It’s “only” a bit over 13,000 feet at the summit, but topographically-speaking, it’s the most prominent mountain in all of North America’s Rocky Mountain chain. Low clouds crowd the mountain, but gaps reveal sheer and widely spaced rock faces, hinting at a massive bulk that seems to rise to an impossible height.

    The town of Jasper is about what I expected – wealthy, crowded, mountain-resort-chic – not unlike my visit to Whistler two and a half weeks ago. I stop to replenish my oatmeal supply and then begin my way down the Icefields Parkway.

    It’s difficult to exaggerate the grandeur of this stretch of the Canadian Rockies. Every turn reveals new mountain vistas with snow-capped peaks, forested valleys and rushing streams. Scattered sun and clouds cast brilliant relief and the clear air lends a sharp immediacy to distant objects.

    I had expected full campgrounds for the holiday weekend, but I find the Rampart Creek campground is less than half full and set further off the road than most of the others. Only one of the six walk-in sites on a small loop is occupied, so I settle in to an open space. It’s been a wet late summer and the soaked wood exceeds my fire-starting skills. After nursing a smoky, sputtering flame for half-an-hour, I retreat to my tent shortly before the evening rain starts falling in earnest.

    Icefields Parkway Scenes

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    September 3 - The clouds begin to scatter as the sun comes over the horizon. The air is fresh and crazy-clear. It’s a perfect day for riding. I had thought to pack up today and wander gradually down south, but Rampart Creek is already about halfway between Jasper and Banff and I can’t think of any reason why I wouldn’t stay here another night.
    So, I hop on the bike and spin southward to Lake Louise. A seasonal park ranger comes straight up to me as I pull in to the parking lot.

    “A dual sport! What a great bike.”

    He’s not a rider, but in two days he’s boarding a plane for Australia, and top of his list when he arrives is learning to ride and getting licensed. He’s a man with a mission:

    “I’ve wanted to live in Australia all my life, but it’s tough to get into the country for any real amount of time. I’ll tell you what, I’ve spent more time hooking up with Aussie women than you could imagine. But I finally found the right one! So, she sponsors me and I get there on a long-term visa that gives me six months. After that, who knows, whatever it takes to stay, so hopefully things work out with her.”

    “So, you’re going to try to marry this woman, basically so you can stay there permanently?” I ask.

    Another park ranger overhears me and turns to the Aussie-phile. “Man, you’ve been talking to this guy for five minutes, and he’s already got you figured out.”

    The soon-to-be-emigrant shrugs his shoulders and smiles.

    I hike four miles along the length of Lake Louise and then up the mountain valley, past late summer snow fields and into a heavy mist and cold rain. I hear a sharp crack followed by a low roar and watch as a hanging glacier calves an avalanche hundreds of feet down a cliff. Near the end of the trail, Swiss mountain guides built a two-story, stone warming hut in 1924, and for decades a family has operated it as a mountain tea house. The place is full, and there is no lack of hikers who come up this far, but after the impersonal crowds down at Chateau Lake Louise there’s a modest camaraderie among those who make the effort to get here.

    One thing the Chateau has that the tea-house lacks is single-malt Scotch. I’ve been a fan since I was 22, hanging out in a punk bar in Inverness with Nick, a freelance photographer from Chicago, whom I had met in the hostel earlier that day. Two relatively straight-laced Americans were an oddity for the aggressive, spike-haired regulars, and they crowded around us at a corner table, talking to us for hour after hour with a combination of veiled hostility, generosity and naked curiosity. We had been drinking beer and at some point late in the evening one of the larger, more threatening guys (a bassist in a punk band, his hand was bandaged after putting his fist through a bathroom window a couple of hours earlier) turned to another and said, “Let’s see what these Americans are made of. Go get two of the Laphroaig.”

    I’ve loved single-malt ever since, particularly as a way to mark meaningful points in time. And now, sitting next to a high picture window looking out over Lake Louise and the mountains and glaciers beyond, my journey to the Yukon and beyond unwinding toward its end, seemed like just that kind of moment.

    Just the one other tent site is occupied again tonight, but the occupants have changed. Sophia and Robert are young Swedes. Just graduated from university they spent months thinking about what to do next, and settled on a three-month bicycle ride, from Jasper to San Diego, CA. Their tent is poorly staked (by morning it will be sagging heavily) and their used camp-stove has stopped operating, but it’s just two days into their trip and they are giddy with enthusiasm.

    Tonight I overcome the wet wood with a couple of long-burning fire starters, and enjoy watching the flames dance in the dark.

    Lake Louise

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    Distant Avalanche

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    Heading down the Plain of Six Glaciers trail

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    More Icefields Parkway

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    Sophia and Robert

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    September 4 – Riding south the winding, two-lane Icefields Parkway morphs into a four-lane divided highway at Lake Louise. I exit for the more scenic 1A route, but that road is crowded with trees and devoid of much interest and I roll into Banff by late morning.

    I check into a hotel, wander the town and spend a couple of hours at the local hot springs, alternating in and out of the warm pool and brisk late summer mountain air. That night I get a table at one of the town’s best restaurants for a tasting menu and wine flight. It’s a slow night, and the pretty young waitress chats me up between courses.

    Heading to Banff

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    September 5/6/7 – I’m up early to make a 9:30am appointment at Anderwerks in Calgary for a long overdue oil change and 12k-mile service interval. After dropping off the bike, I take a bus downtown and wander among shops, office towers and pedestrian malls. I am far, far away from Eagle Plains. The work is complete by late afternoon, and I point the bike east to ride 180 miles to Medicine Hat.

    Then 650 miles to Winnipeg. And this day I reach a different type of milestone: By entering Manitoba I've now ridden in all 49 continental U.S. states and all road-connected Canadian provinces and territories. I'm looking forward to getting out to Hawaii someday and renting a motorcycle. As for Nunavut - if anyone knows of a land route to access that territory, I'm all ears. In the meantime, future trips are likely to take me southward.

    Then 460 miles and I’m riding through a deeply familiar urban neighborhood. There is my wife, there is my dog, there is my house, there is my daughter. It’s wonderful to be home.

    Still, it won’t be long before I’m planning my next solo trip. It’s just something I have to do. And besides, someone has to be a beacon of manhood and hope for the minivan occupants of the world. :lol3

    Shower outside Medicine Hat

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    Highway 1 and the Canadian Plains

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    Prince George to Minneapolis

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    #66
  7. tvbh40a

    tvbh40a PSUViking

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    Great report and wonderful pictures. I picked up 'Great Heart' after reading your rr around Labrador and now I see that ride in my future. The book was an interesting read, tough people and the ultimate sacrifice. Thanks again. If you have any pointers on anything you would do different or what you missed and would have seen in Lab, let me know. I see a July 18, 2013 departure date penciled on my calendar.
    #67
  8. DarkRider

    DarkRider Middle-aged Man

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    Beacon of manhood? Dude that's a title reserved for 1150GSA riders...:lol3

    But seriously, amazingly well done RR! :clap:clap
    #68
  9. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial

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    What an inspiring ride report! The pictures are fantastic. This trip is now officially on my bucket list for next year.
    #69
  10. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. And congrats - nothing like have a departure date on the calendar. Hrm...what would I do differently in Labrador. Given two or three more days, I'd probably have spent a day in one of the towns along the southeast coast of Labrador and spend at least an hour or two watching icebergs float by; maybe a day (or at least a few more hours) to wander around Lab City and/or Churchill Falls; and an additional day or two to wander around Newfoundland's northern peninsula - lots of interesting looking roads and tiny towns up there.

    Thanks, brother. Yeah, "beacon of manhood." I couldn't shake the words from the minivan driver north of Prince George. It's likely the most off-the-wall compliment I've ever received from a stranger, but worth holding on to. :rofl

    Thanks, Parcero. I couldn't ask for a higher compliment than "inspiring." :D
    #70
  11. Klay

    Klay dreaming adventurer

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    A great ride, Alaska and back. Thanks for the great pictures and story.
    #71
  12. yamalama

    yamalama wet coaster

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    This has been fantastic.
    Thanks for taking the time.
    #72
  13. DarkRider

    DarkRider Middle-aged Man

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    So where next? :evil
    #73
  14. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    You and me to the Dalton, perhaps? :jive I'd love to hear of other remote, Canada roads that folks know of. I've done the Trans-Lab, considering the James Bay Road. What else is out there?

    That said, maybe it's time to start doing winter trips down south of the border...
    #74
  15. DarkRider

    DarkRider Middle-aged Man

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    No mas Mexico for me...heard from Joel that one touring co returned with bullet holes in their bikes.

    We never made it to Zion...and I need to show you Idaho.
    #75
  16. achesley

    achesley Old Motorcyclist

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    Awesome report! I just gotta make it to the ice fields parkway soon. Been on my bucket list for a few years but just have not done it. Heck , I was even in Glacier this summer but had made plans to meet someone down in Wyoming. soooo.
    Thanks so much for the work and time to do this report on your adventure. :clap:clap:clap
    #76
  17. theWolfTamer

    theWolfTamer Lupie on a Mission

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    Thank you.
    #77
  18. jamako

    jamako Adventurer

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    super.........: Alkış
    #78
  19. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Glad you enjoyed the report, achesley. While I wouldn't really call it "adventure riding," for sheer scenic grandeur the Icefields Parkway beats anything I've ridden. Every corner turned reveals something jaw-dropping.
    #79
  20. Philander

    Philander Someday...

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    Inspirational. Literally.

    This summer I will be riding from Ottawa to Edmonton to hook up with my brother, then we're going to Inuvik.

    Your RR has both convinced me to get a DSLR for the trip and also has me chomping at the bit! Thank you for taking the time

    Phil
    #80