Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Logs submerged made no reference to their past. Still. Mavis by my side, stripped down, twisted wires by electrical tape, dirt encrusted. Bags to the ground. Days riding pure, connected. Standing upright, body moving, knees reacting, sweeping bends, curling road through emerald green. Stop!
Entering Whitehorse, Yukon territory, I swung off to the right, wheel scraping under seat, first petrol station within sight. Opposing bowser a bike heading south pulled in. Guitar strapped high above packs a plenty. I waved to the rider and pulled away, heading further into town.
After a week or two’s “bush repairs” to Mavis’s busted suspension and a quick oil change, the journey continued ever North onwards to Alaska, leaving Whitehorse all but a memory and a flash in my rear view mirrors. I’d met a German guy at the campground during my stay, who serendipitously was the same rider I’d passed at the petrol station when first coming into town. Oliver started his journey in Anchorage, Alaska en route for South America and recommended I travel along the “Top of the World Highway”, departing from the historic gold rush town of Dawson City, Canada. 200km’s + of unsealed, extremely isolated road lay before us heading West into the open plains and across the border to Alaska.
Riding into Dawson at sunset, we slowly crawled along the dirt streets, girt by wooden sidewalks, historic weatherboard buildings; a barbers shop, a church all passed us by. Pulling up in front of the old saloon, I backed Mavis up to the roads edge and kicked down the stand. The saloon doors burst open and a man in riding boots swaggered over the muddy street in my direction. “Nice bike ya got there, where you coming from?”. “Texas” I replied. A conversation followed as he proceeded to explain he’d gone on a ride from San Francisco to Reno on his sports bike, but just decided to keep riding north after reaching Reno. Dawson had this strange sense to it, that perhaps people had been passing through in search of something for a long time. I felt like I could have been here before in a previous life. After a long days ride into town, I’d have lashed my horse to the post out front and headed for the saloon bar.
Waking to grey skies and a fogging head, we headed down to the banks of the Yukon river. The day was still and the river glassy. I waited for the ferry to transport Mavis and I to the west bank. As if a beach assault, the steal boom fell to the ground, unleashing Mavis and I onto the gravel before us. Deep ruts and corrugation.
Finding our way through the country side, rising and falling. Passing no one, albeit a moments glimpse of two riders traveling in the opposite direction, presumably heading south for warmer weather. Hour after hour ticked over as we crept our way along that long empty road. Concentration firm, loaded up heavy, the loose gravel washed around Mavis’ front wheel, dragging it sideways, ever trying to pull us to the ground.
Climbing to the apex of yet another hill, we suddenly lost power. Being not more than half way, it seemed odd, and I quickly ruled out a lack of fuel in the tank. Engine. Dead. Stop. Suddenly our journey was halted. Isolated. I’d not known why at the the time, nor what made me think to get them, but I’d purchased a new set of spark plugs last thing before leaving Whitehorse. I jumped off the bike and started fumbling round the engine. In search of the usual suspects; a loose wire or a bad connection, I found nothing and changed tack. Using some vice grips, I slowly twisted each spark plug from its cylinder and replaced it with new. The old plugs appeared to have fouled and had caused the engine failure. Flicking over the bike, we once again had power and drive. The journey continued…
Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Cool morning, Mavis ticked over, white smoke filled the air around as I went about packing up camp. Golden sunlight penetrating pines surround; shards of light to the ground.
Arriving in Prince George after a chilly ride and a solo adventure out onto a glacier, Mavis parked out in the cold, we skimmed internet from a nearby coffee shop. Checking the financial particulars of the expedition and how close we were to being forced to call off Alaska and take up some shit job in Canada to get some funds. To my surprise, a late tax return had finally come through from back home and we were back in the black. The trip was on again and Alaska ever closer…
Heading West from Prince George we cruised our way along the Trans-Canada Hwy towards the turnoff north for route 37, Dease Lake Hwy. An unseasonal cold snap was howling in off the Pacific Ocean, blown inland south from the poles, producing some of the coldest head winds I’d ever experienced. The gloves from West Yellowstone barely kept my fingers nimble enough to pull back on the throttle or apply the brake. Was this what Alaska had in store for me? Was this guy from Australia so ill prepared that the trip would fail?
I think at times in life, you have premonitions, or at least you see with clarity events that are about to unfold. Be this due to perception or something else. On this day, as I wound my way along the Dease Lake Hwy on Route 37 north to the Alcan Hwy, I had such an event, or at least, the feeling of having such an event. Traveling at 65m/h (105km/h) Mavis hummed and we cornered sharply into every bend and twist. Mavis and I were one, in-tune with one another and the road. Down to the left, behind a cement barricade at the foot of a steep drop, a river tossed and gurgled over rocks. Approaching a sweeping right hand bend, hillside obstructing the view of the road ahead, I looked up as far as I could see and caught a glimpse of something large, black and standing in the centre of the road. Instinctively my foot pressed firmly on the rear brake pedal and I pulled in the front lever. Mavis’ back wheel locked up as I stood to stabilize the fully loaded bike. She fish tailed furiously and made contact with the painted double white centre line. The rear tyre slipped and screeched; at this moment, the only moment of the trip, I felt I was about to fall and crash from Mavis at speed, skidding across the tarmac. The only hope that myself and the bike would be stopped by the cement barricade before ending up in the cascading river below. Of all places to have a motorcycle accident, route 37 in remote, very remote British Columbia… In a brief period of slooooow-dis-toooor-ted reality, I managed to avert an accident, bringing Mavis to a controlled, albite unconventional emergency stop. In front of us, as we stood stationary, shaking in the middle of the road, some 3m away, a large wild black bear. It looked us down for a moment, then turned and jumped the barricade and retreated to the rivers edge. I have a feeling, it too was shitting itself with the sight of Mavis and I hurtling towards it. The first wild bear I had ever seen, and the first near death/crash experience for the trip. That day, having not seen one bear the whole trip previous, I encountered a further seven black bears along that one stretch of road.
Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
Fluttering to the ground a small blue and white card escaped the clasp of my passport whilst removing it from within my documents pouch. I stood astride Mavis with an air of nerves, which I seem to get whenever crossing a border or entering a country (I don’t believe I’m alone in having this repeated feeling?). “Think you’ll be needing that” exclaimed the Canadian border official, chasing after the piece of paper twirling in the light breeze, her jet black boots stomping it to a halt. The morning was fresh and I’d finally reached Canada, be it a small backwater border crossing, a gateway between Montana and Alberta. “Got any guns?! Mace? Any weapons?!” she barked whilst examining my passport and Social Security card. “No” I replied. “Any bear spray?!” she persisted, almost puzzled by my answer to her last question. Perhaps I was reckless not having such items in my possession? “Any drugs, alcohol, cigarettes?” she continued. “Only a can or two of beer” I replied in turn and pointed to the pillion cases either side of Mavis’ girth. The banter continued, “What’s the nature of your visit to Canada?”. “I’m riding through on my way North to Alaska in pursuit of work”. “What do you do” she asked. “I’m a photographer, but I’m looking to work in the GIS area.” An expression of confusion passed over her face. After further verification of my details inside her small hut I was free to travel onwards.
Go figure I got the third degree, there I was, some Aussie guy, producing an American passport, riding one Hell of a motorcycle sporting Texas plates crossing into Canada from bum-fuck-nowhere Montana in the tourist off season…
Initial nerves of crossing the border were not founded on my alleged possession of illicit drugs, nor a consignment of hidden contraband. Rather, my naive assumption the motorcycle on which I rode would not be allowed to travel any further due to unsanctioned modifications, of which she was covered handle bars down. Her speedo displayed only in mp/h, not the metric kmp/h used in Canada. I was certain in my mind to be pushed back to the Lower 48, only to return when Mavis was up to Canadian automotive standards. I guess after all these thoughts were not unwarranted, she never did get the tick of approval by the DMV back in Austin, Texas…
Open roads of Alberta a plenty, Mavis and I hurled ever closer to what awaited in Alaska. What did await in Alaska? A simple question in form, but in context, complex… A question to be answered by time itself, the memories of which the only foundation and basis on which to compare and recount.
Friday, February 5th, 2010
Rain easing overnight, the sun peered through scattered cloud. Droplets of condensation accumulated on the tents interior. Flicking back the nylon door, dew clasped to my hand sending cool shivers down to my toes, still within the warmth of my down sleeping bag. Plumes of moisture swirled from my mouth with each breath, in the frigid air. Mavis leaned dormant outside the tent, puddles of rain on the black leather seat.
Looking over the foreign surrounds, silhouettes only of familiarity from my late arrival evening past. I fished out a sealed can of mandarine segments from Mavis’ side, pried open the top and plunge a fork into its cool contents, taking a large mouthful of the refreshing fruit.
Strolling to the southern banks of Lake Lewis (within Yellowstone NP) I splashed the icy water to my face and gazed across the glassy surface. No sign of a park ranger within a solid “Coo-wee’s” back at camp, I dismantled the tent and loaded up the bike. Back on the road, bypassing the campsite fee box (oops ;), Mavis and I slithered through Yellowstone National Park in the early morning light.
The day was overcast, scattered drizzle making it difficult to gain enthusiasm for Yellowstone (of which I knew very little, at the time). My helmets visor was officially FUCKED(!) Predominantly from the mud bath of the day before and continual fogging and the fine scratches (caused by the gritty mud), obscured my vision completely! Passing the famed “Geyser basin”, briefly I indulged the tourist within and walked out to a steaming Prussian blue pond. With a limited capacity to mingle with RV tourists, I resumed position atop Mavis and continued out of the park to West Yellowstone.
To the bemusement of a few french tourists, I pulled up in the town of West Yellowstone. Drenched head to toe, I ripped off my helmet and ducked for cover under the easement of a country store as an isolated hail storm passed over. Grabbing a pipping hot espresso, the warmth slowly permeated through the paper cup and thawed the numb in my fingers. My mesh riding gloves truly needed an upgrade, despite proving their worth thus far…
Leaving West Yellowstone with a constant vertical ocean falling from above, I asked myself why it’d taken nearly four months to purchase all weather riding gloves!? The difference between blistering cold, numb fingers and warm and dry cannot be described, only experienced first hand… We raced towards Missoula, Montana making peace with the landscape , the climate changes it threw at us and the ever greater distance between Denver and Mavis’ rear wheel.
An unseasonal warm spell welcomed Mavis and I in Missoula, as too my cousin Max, out from New York for study. Max cooked up a storm upon arrival that evening and entertained me for a solid, unexpected week. We explored the town and surrounds, including the beautiful Snake River and a few “locals only” swimming holes.
Having left Denver and a professed love affair in tears within my arms, my heart deviated from the road less travelled. My mind agonizingly portrayed fanciful images of what could have been if I’d stayed in Colorado East of the Rockies, and not given into the calling of the road and the “Hellish” beckoning of Mad Mavis. Each mile closer to Alaska, was yet another mile further away from Denver. Knowing phone reception would be none existent once crossing over the boarder into Canada until returning back to American soil in Alaska (using a US phone service), I rang the girl in question. The conversation only fueled my desire to return to Denver, which would later prove to be a fatal error in judgment and perception.
Departing Missoula on course for Glacier National Park in the north of Montana, I chartered a course for the “Going to the Sun” road (within Glacier NP) to make my passage across into Canada. The road leaving Missoula hugged the edge of the Snake River for sometime before gradually peeling away. “Huckleberry Pie” stalls stood by on entry to Glacier, and regrettably I did not stop for one, only to consult the map. Dropping my right hand back on the throttle, stepping down a gear, Mavis prepared for the assent of the “Going to to the Sun” road pass (a narrow, twisting mountain pass). Possibly some of the most spectacular scenery either side of the roads carriage-way on the trip thus far as we gradually gained height. Spectacular river gorges with soft falling waterfalls some 100m lapses in gravity, water droplets expelled into the air to form a vertical stream of mist, cascading to the rock-forms below. Wild flowers having a last bloom amongst the alpine grasses before the encroaching harsh winter. Reaching the pinnacle of the pass, Mavis took a rest as I engulfed a sandwich prepared by Max on my departure. Up from the West came a howling front, gusting winds and a menacing cloud formation. I stood atop the apex of the pass and leaned forward into the strengthening gail. Snap went the Canon.
Quickly descending from altitude, the wind kicked up ten fold while the Sun ducked for cover. Passing the sweeping lake within Glacier, large waves wipped up on the surface as the wind strengthened. Trees twisted and bent in the force of the formidable winds. Reaching a campground on the the East side of the park, I stopped and looked for a campsite. The wind so strong, I was unable to dismount Mavis without fear of her toppling over. I stood at the entrance to the campground, legs astride the bike, trying to make sense of the camp information board. “Niiiiice bike! Is that a Honda Goldwing?” exclaimed an aged man getting blustered about by the approaching storm front who seemingly appeared from nowhere, cigarette burning away in his mouth. “Wow! I’ve never seen anything like that” he said in his thick American accent. “ ‘82 ain’t she?”. I humored his banter for some time, before realizing the wind was picking up, and if I didn’t find shelter within the protection of the pines within campground, I’d be spending the night with Mavis laying on my lap, in the open.
Mavis and I made camp under dwindling light. The gentleman who greeted us turned out himself to be traveling on a similar vintage Goldwing also, an “’83 out of Chicago”. He took photos of Mavis and kept chattering away. I listened and agreed. “These old Goldwings are amazing. They have a mind of their own. A life presence if you will”. I could only agree from personal experience as he continued. “The day I was supposed to leave on this trip, a huge storm came over Chicago. I thought about waiting it out, but then just decided to take my chances. The bike and I made it through the storm and it was the best decision we made. If we’d stayed in the city, that bloody storm lasted half a week”. He continued on, I too continued to agree. “ There’s just something special about these bikes. You’ll think they’re toast, then all of a sudden, they’ll spring back to life, almost as if they have a life of there own”. “Yes, exactly!” I replied, thinking back to Texas, Vegas, Colorado and all the rest of the trip Mavis has had a mind of her own. “”Yes? Exactly” what?!” the guy from Chicago exclaimed! “Yes I agree with you. You’re right, they do have a mind of their own. Especially Mavis, and by the sounds of it, yours to! I thought Mavis was special, unique”. I said. “Perhaps its just a common thing for this era of bike?” He didn’t take to this, and with that retired to his camp, reconnaissance mission complete with images of Mavis’ sweet digs taken under the cover of darkness.
Saturday, December 26th, 2009
With a light drizzle starting to quantify, the Wyoming roads before us glossed over with a shimmery wet shine. The ping of rain drops against the helmets outer shell made a rhythmic chorus of percussion. Sights were set on reaching the interior of Yellowstone National Park on the border with Montana by sundown. Making what was thought to be good time, Mavis was given a rest from the thrashing of days prior. Across the plains we traveled, gradually once more returning to altitude within the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains. Hitting Jackson, Wyoming (also know by, Jackson Hole) we rode into town, a swarm of traffic engulfed us as we searched the bustling street for a petrol station. The town was most definitely worth the time to stop, look and explore, but with the ever common lack-of-funds setting up “base camp” within my bank account and a falling sun, a decision was struck to grab a quick bite to eat and depart for a campsite within Yellowstone.
Passing the Teton Range and more notably the peak of Grand Teton, the pure majesty of the mountains threw me from Mavis (theoretically speaking). Such unanticipated natural grandeur bestowed a sense of humbleness to myself and the motorcycle on which I rode.
Onwards we rode to the sounds of thunder claps and flashing bolts of lightning striking the ground before us. Trying to capture this moment on film, I reached forward and pressed the shutter button atop the camera mounted to Mavis’ side. The rain soon followed which is to be expected following such dramatic weather as we entered what was thought to be the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Ahead either side of the road, thick forest interspersed with shallow clearings, revealing glimpses of cascading rivers. Icy rapids tumbled one over another in a race against gravity. Snow capped peaks jutted out above the trees. A few more miles down and the road narrowed to where a small ranger hut stood. “Welcome to Yellowstone”. Unbeknown to me, the Grand Teton NP boundary extended further north before smashing into the great Yellowstone NP.
Light started to escape the day as a large illuminated sign read “Roadwork ahead. Expect long delays”. Further north and I soon pulled up the rear of a line of cars. Workman and plant equipment busied about on the road-surface. A small truck pulled in front of the lead car as I stretched my legs and jumped about. “Pilot car. Follow me” read the back of the work utility as its amber lights pulsated. Like a freight train exiting a siding yard, one-by-one the cars before Mavis pulled away as I hurried to replace my helmet and gloves and start up the bike. The pilot car picked up pace while the sealed road disappeared below, replaced by slick mud, loose gravel and potholes. Vision soon became impaired as the road relocated to my visor and the rest of my body, Mavis’ headlight and my mesh gloves. Unsuccessfully I tried to wipe the mud and grime free of view which was quickly replaced with more in it’s place. Frustrated yet happily bemused, I flipped the visor up and placed my left hand in front of my nose to protect my exposed face from the grime while my right worked the throttle and steering. No time to stop, nor slow down, the mud kept coming while my eyes blinked rapidly to stave off the foreign matter. Five odd miles later the sealed rode returned, the pilot car pealed away and the line of traffic resumed cruising speed. Covered head to toe in mud, I laughed, smiled and then hit myself for thinking riding without a front fender was oh so cool. Crossing a small bridge, I turned off and rode down to a rivers edge. I rinsed what I could free from my gear and splashed the cool water over my face. The helmet visor was completely ruined, small scratches and a light film obscured my view. With nothing else that could be done, I resumed my hunt for a campsite for the night further deep within Yellowstone National Park.