Alaska 2008 – Day 20, July 23

Day 20, July 23

LaCrete to Grande Cache AB

413 miles

We get up early and hit the road running, making it back through the flat monotone green and finally breaking in to rolling hills then big mountains and twisty pavement by Grande Prairie. This is coal country, but surprisingly the coal mines don’t ravage the area, old buildings and train tracks add interest to our ride.

Grande Cache is a working town, with idling trucks and semi drivers resting for the night before continuing on. We check the hotels in the area, mainly full of workers in oil company trucks or construction rigs. Mike haggles on price at one of the many older motels and we have a decent place to stay.

We are both tired. The thing is, the riding isn’t really the tiring part, it’s the stopping that gets to you. Not knowing where you’ll stay or even if a place will have something decent to eat is all part of the adventure, but it’s mentally exhausting.

It would be easier if we were rich, we’d just stay in the best place in every town, or even if we were dirt poor and had to tent camp no matter what. Being in the middle means you’re trying to choose the best of the worst hotels. Also, the bikes need to be somewhere safe. If we can’t keep them right outside the room, then the parking area has to be Fort Knox or Mike won’t sleep.

Food is also more of an issue for us. Being vegetarian in the middle of nowhere isn’t easy. A salad only goes so far, especially when its just lettuce and dressing.

Making decisions on what, where, when and how can be difficult even in the best conditions, but add it fatigue, bad weather and general grumpiness and it’s no fun.

Sometimes these details get in the way of the big picture. The big picture being that we are in the middle of some of the most incredibly beautiful country, and very few people get to see it the way we are right now.


Alaska 2008 – Day 21, July 24

Day 21, July 24

Grande Cache to Banff AB

311 miles

After paying our park fees we stop at Jasper Lodge, resplendent with masses of petunias dripping from roof-edge planters. Mike happens to ask the best person possible for a map of the area; he’s head concierge of the hotel, and one of the most vital and dynamic people I’ve ever met. He gives us a map and a list of recommendations and we’re on our way.

First on the list is a loop ride to Medicine Lake, which is incredible. The lake is deep blue with surrounding slate and granite walls rising sheer and steep at the edge of the road. Strangely, this lake disappears in the winter. The Indians called it Bad Medicine because they thought it was magic.

Next we ride in to town and grab a quick lunch at a coffee shop that just happens to have some really good vegetarian cold salads. Mike’s ready to move in and stay awhile, but we’ve got a reservation in Banff, so we ride on, vowing to spend more time here on our next trip.

After a ride on the Jasper gondola, we gear up and head out of town. We’ve been through Jasper and Banff on our honeymoon, so we know what’s in store for us, but still, every corner of the road brings more ‘oh wow’ landscape in to view. I’m lucky to be wearing a full-face helmet, or I’d have a mouthful of bugs, I’m grinning so much. What glorious, beautiful, otherworldly peaks and valleys!

Mike has me lead, then shoots about two billion photos on the fly, chronicling the 100 mile trip from Jasper to Banff. We pull in to town and hit a gas station first, then find our hotel, which is very nice. After dinner, we’re asleep before our heads hit the pillows.

Alaska 2008 – Day 22, July 25

Day 22, July 25

Exploring Banff 0 miles!!!

We sleep in this morning then wander in to town. Banff hasn’t changed much since we were here on our honeymoon. Prices are high and Mike feels out of place in this resort town. Jasper fit us better. You can’t argue with the view though. Soaring granite mountains, glaciers and peak-top clouds seem more at home in an Ansel Adams photo than in reality next to gas stations and movie theaters.

We hike up to the old hot springs, then over to the gondola where we are whisked to the top of Sulphur Mountain for more hiking and out-of-this-world views.

The original hot springs pool was open when we were here in ’89, but a few years after that they discovered some little endangered snail living in the waters, so these beautiful old bathhouses were closed and a new and characterless spa was built further up the road. We take time to tour the original springs, and get to feel old because we were here “back in the day”.

Today feels strange because we’re not in riding gear and we are just another middle-aged tourist couple in a crowd of other middle-aged tourists. For many of them this is roughing it, and it is as far out in the wilderness as they’ll get. To us this is way too urbanized, and we’ll be happy to get back out on the open road.

I always tell Mike that everyone has their own level of enjoyment. I can’t get mad at other people for appreciating different things than I do, just as I feel they shouldn’t judge what makes us happy. Still, it’s hard not to think of some folks as exceedingly fluffy. Of course, there are many extreme individuals who look at us as mushy little wimps — they probably have wives’ telling them “Don’t be so critical honey, those soft motorcyclists are just enjoying life as best they can”.

Alaska 2008 – Day 23, July 26

Day 23, July 26

Banff AB to Swan Lake MT

335 miles

Today’s ride is beautiful the entire way through. We head out of Banff and down towards Kalispell MT. Hwy 93 follows the valley that’s home to the Kootenai River and Lake Kookanusa. We meander through softly sweeping corners, enjoying the scenery along the way.

Entering Kalispell we were certain we’d find a hotel easily, but I’d forgotten how tough it was last year when we rode through here. Not a single room is available at a price we’re willing to pay.

We keep moving, knowing that sooner or later something will turn up. After another hour of riding, it’s heading towards dusk and I’m thinking we might be spending the night beside the bikes. We stop at a small gas station next to Swan Lake, and the gal calls a campground down the road to see if they’ve got space, they do, so we’re good. She also mentions a B&B and we immediately say we don’t do B&B’s so she drops it.

Before we get to the campground, we see a neon sign for “Laughing Horse Lodge”, is this the B&B the gal was talking about? If so, it’s not like any we’ve seen before. The joint is hopping, and the smells coming from the kitchen are divine. They’ve got a reader board outside with rooms available for rent, so we jump off the bikes and run inside before anyone else gets ahead of us. The kid working the counter is from Russia, and he’s great. As he takes us to our room, we see the rest of the Lodge. This is a hunting and fishing lodge from the 1950’s, the front building is the restaurant with a tiny bar in back, behind this is a courtyard with rooms around the perimeter. The room is small, with a huge brass bed and wonderful comforters and about a million pillows. The bathroom is tiny, but serviceable.

We dump our gear and head back in to the restaurant for an incredible dinner and good conversation with the folks sitting next to us. Our server was the Russian kid, who we find out is on a work exchange program from Estonia. He can make enough money in one summer to pay for his plane tickets and funding for college the following year.

After dinner, we head back to our room ready for bed.

Alaska 2008 – Day 24, July 27

Day 24, July 27

Swan Lake to Gardiner MT

380 miles

It’s hot, and there’s very little ventilation in our room. We wake up sweaty, but better rested than if we’d spent the night in the tent.

Breakfast is incredible. There’s actually a menu and you get to choose from three different options. I have the typical bacon, eggs, etc. and its all cooked to perfection. Mike goes up front and talks to the owner, she asks where he’s from and he tells her Terrebonne, she asks where in Terrebonne, and he says “you probably won’t know”, she says “try me!”. It turns out that not only does she know the area, she’s very good friends with Don Matthews who’s one of our neighbors!

We promise to say hi for her, and pack up and are on our way.

At lunch we make reservations in Gardiner, Mike finds a place that’s cheaper than anything else in town, but it sounds good, so we go for it.

I don’t remember much about the ride to Gardiner, I just remember I was very happy the hotel was modern and had air conditioning. My heart wants to keep traveling forever, but my brain and body are tired. I’m not enjoying this like I should, little things I can usually disregard are getting in the way. Some day, I’ll learn to ignore the little stuff, but right now the little stuff seems big.

Mike has gotten his second (or third or fourth) wind, and he’s ready to keep exploring. A few days ago he wanted to just bee line for home. I still want to travel, but when I’m on the bike, all I can think about are soft cool beds and long deep sleeps!

Alaska 2008 – Day 25, July 28

Day 25, July 28

Gardiner MT through Yellowstone and Cody Wy, ending in Rexburg ID

350 miles

We wake up to another beautiful warm day. Sure different from the weather we started in nearly a month ago! The plan today is to make a big loop of Yellowstone park; starting at the North entrance which is right at our doorstep here in Gardiner, riding through on Hwy 296 and exiting the Northeast entrance. Next we’ll check out Cody Wyoming and come back in to the park’s Southeast entrance, following Hwy 14 through to West Yellowstone entrance and ending in Rexburg for the night.

Right after entering the park we come to Mammoth Hot Springs, but there’s no water here any more! The thermal activity has slowed to a trickle in this area. It’s strange for me because I can remember visiting here years ago with my family when it was huge and very active. That can’t have been more than 10 years ago, right?? Actually, its probably been 30 years. Ouch.

We wanted to do all of Beartooth Pass, but there’s a forest fire in Red Lodge, so we have to cut it short and stay on 296 to Cody. Oh well, that’s another road to add to our to-do list for some other ride!

We enjoy nearly deserted roads and beautiful scenery (including stopping to watch a grizzly bear happily tearing apart a rotten stump) all the way through to Cody. Stopping in town for salad bar at Pizza Hut, we cool down in their air conditioning before heading back out on the road.

The southern loop in Yellowstone reminds us why we usually stay away from these places during the summer. Loads of traffic, and everyone stopping for even a tiny glimpse of generic wildlife (“People, its an elk, there are seven billion of them here, just keep moving!”). One road hog is going so slow in the opposite lane he’s hardly moving, and he’s got his horn on the whole time. Actually, he’s got two horns, and a big fuzzy head in between — it’s buffalo walking right down the middle of the oncoming traffic lane, just like he’s part of the traffic flow. Lumbering past Mike, he swivels one eye and grunts! Fortunately he keeps moving, as we’re in the middle of a pack of cars, and have no where to run.

Continuing on, we weave our way through the masses of traffic and breathe a sigh of relief when we finally make it through the park gates and back out on Hwy 20 towards Rexburg.

After some wandering, Mike finds a great motel (air conditioning two nights in a row, we must be back in civilization!) and I’m pretty sure I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Alaska 2008 – Day 26, July 29

Day 26, July 29

Rexburg ID to HOME!

606 miles

We wake up this morning and I ask Mike how far we are from Terrebonne. He figures it on the map. We’re looking at more than 600 miles, but that sounds like such a tiny distance after all we’ve done so far.

I’m tired, I want my own bed, and I’m ready for a few days’ rest to recuperate from this adventure. I wanna go home! Mike says we’ll see how we’re doing and if we want to we can stop in Boise.

Lunch is in Arco Idaho where, inexplicably, there is a con tower of a submarine sticking up from the ground in a park across the road from where we’re eating. I have to go investigate! We wander over and read about this town’s long involvement with the armed forces (there is a very well-secured military operation of some sort outside of town), and the installation of this portion of the fast-attack nuclear submarine USS Hawkbill in 2003 is the towns’ way of showing their support for those who have served.

Every time we stop I get an energy drink and add it to my Camelbak. I’m sleepy and my allergies aren’t cooperating, but I’ll be darned if I’m stopping somewhere boring like Boise when we’re so close to home.

We continue on through the Idaho desert; this area with its flowing hills and wide-open sage-colored valleys dotted with dry land wheat farms and basalt outcroppings really reminds us of home. We enter the Craters of the Moon National Monument, and ride a road cutting through dark black and rust-red lava flows. We stop at the visitors’ center, but decide not to pay $16 for the privilege of riding through more lava formations that are probably relatively similar to the ones along the side of the highway that we get to see for free.

Entering Oregon at Ontario, and continue on Hwy 26 towards Vale. We’ve never taken this route before, and it’s beautiful – amazing all these times we’ve lived through the flat dusty boredom of Hwy 20 through Burns when this wonderful road of rolling farmland and open hills take us to the same place!

By the time we hit John Day the sun is setting, right in to our eyes! We squint and continue on. A ways out of town a deer darts up from the riverbed and over the road, it’s a close call from the only deer we’ve seen in nearly a month!

With the sun setting over Jefferson, we pull in to our garage. Too tired to do anything except grab the overnight bag and house keys, we stumble inside to the warm furry greeting committee. We are so happy to be home, to see the cats all healthy and well fed, to sleep in our own bed!!

Overall the trip was an amazing success. To ride so many miles without a single mechanical problem and no real major issues at all is an astonishing run of luck.

We did fail to make it to the Arctic Circle, but every other aspect of the trip lived up to the adventure we thought it would be. We saw and did so much in 26 days, I can’t wait to go back and explore all those places where we merely skimmed the surface. Not next summer, but soon; we’ll be back with more time, hopefully more money, and less flaky friends!

Two weeks and no pics yet – I’m such a deadbeat!

Okay, I admit, I’ve been slacking! 

I have wallowed through thousands of photos, and winnowed out the best, but I have yet to get them loaded on Flickr.

My only excuse is that I’ve been doing the eBay thing.  We’ve got a ton of stuff we’re listing for a friend.  His father, who owned NW Maico and CZ, passed away last year and he has mountains of stuff.  In a moment of insanity, we said we’d list magazines and other small items for a percentage of the take.  What was I thinking!  

The good thing is there’s so much cool stuff, opening each box is like christmas.  The bad thing is Mike keeps seing stuff he wants to keep.  Especially the posters.  I’m trying to keep him from buying it all himself – this was supposed to make us money, not spend it :)

If you’re interested, you can check it out here 

Hopefully this weekend I’ll get the time to put Alaska pics in slideshows, and get them posted here.  I’m looking forward to showing everyone more of what we saw.

After 2 weeks of relaxation and reflection, Mike and I both agree the trip was incredible, and way worth all the time, money and energy it took to pull it off.  If we made one major mistake, it was not taking everyone’s advice to take a day off every week or so.  We pushed too hard, and I was really tired the last 2 weeks. 

I told Mike that on our next epic adventure, I plan on taking at least one day where I just sit in the motel room and relax.  I don’t care if he spends the day shopping at antique stores or whatever, I’m not moving!

During the trip, I noticed that the beemer steering seemed to get progressively more sloppy.  Especially in town, I was having a hard time not doing the ‘weave’.  I attributed it to my lack of balance, and just being tired, but after we got home, I told Mike I thought something was loose or worn.

Ends up it was the steering head bearings.  At least they’re a bit loose and we’re replacing them.  Then we’ll see if that was the problem, or if it’s just the fault of the nut behind the wheel!

I shot some photos of our bike accessories, and I’ll be doing a ‘what worked, what didn’t’ blog here soon – before I forget what I was happy with and what bugged me!

Home Again!

We’re baaaaack.

Actually, we ‘power rode’ from Rexburg on Tuesday, making it here before 10 pm.  I was so tired yesterday all I did was stare at the tv.

Today I’m starting to get pictures organized – good grief, what am I going to do with 1,000+ images??  Hopefully I’ll get it winnowed down to a manageable number.

I’ll be posting maps of each day’s travels, along with a few video montages so you can get a quick look at more pics (not all 1,000+, I promise!).

Overall, it was a great vacation.  We were extremely lucky, no problems, no flat tires, no sickness, nothing weird to wreck our plans.  The only downside is that we didn’t have time to really relax and enjoy much of it – but we knew that going in.

I just put the riding gear in the wash.  It was getting a bit mungy after nearly 25 days straight (we were only out of it for one day in Banff).  Bug guts on top of bug guts!

I’ll be posting reviews of some of the things we used on the trip.  I think I’ll also do a list of stuff we’re glad we brought, stuff we brought and didn’t need, and stuff we didn’t bring and could have used.

After an initial cold shoulder, the cats are happy to have us home.  Spending more time than usual snuggled up near (or on top of) us.  Thanks to Nicol, they’re both still fat and happy.

I love exploring new places, but it’s good to be home.  We really feel like we’ve got the best of all worlds here, incredible scenery, good weather, open spaces, plus Walmart Superstore nearby.  It’s a tough combination to find!

Laughing Horse Lodge in Swan Lake Montana

We got into Kalispell last night and couldn’t find a room anywhere . Usually we try to get something by lunch – but didn’t, stupid us!

After riding another hour without finding anything, we stopped at a tiny store in Swan Lake and after petting the shop cat, asked about campgrounds. The gal told us about one, and also a B&B. The b&b ended up being Laughing Horse Lodge, a 1950’s set of log cabins, along with a small lodge/restaurant. For $85 we got a comfy cabin with it’s own bath, plus a delicious breakfast. Awesome!

Tonight we were smarter and scored a room in Gardiner earlier today. Tomorrow morning we’ll be headed through Yellowstone.