Trip Slips On Banana Republic

Hey friends and fans. Firstly a big apology is due for the apparent lack of blog. We acquired quite a blog-backlog due in part to the difficult writing conditions we often found ourselves in and also because we were getting our scoot on heaps and having ourselves an outrageously good time. Unfortunately we ran into a few difficulties in Honduras, the biggest of which was a herniated disc in Tig’s back that looked like it would need emergency surgery. The trip at this stage is on an indefinite hiatus, not what we had hoped for but something that was an obvious potentiality throughout our trip. You can read about what happened here. Tig is recuperating nicely now and has been spending his down-time writing and rewriting parts of our adventure. Said writings may find themselves on this site or in another yet to be determined format. We’ll let you know. Thanks to everyone for their help and enthusiasm throughout our trip, we’ll let you know any news here or on our Facebook page here.

Tig & Tim

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 29,126 Comments

The Rise of The Apocalypse

We took the 200km ride from Terrace to Smithers rather gingerly and stopped often, allowing Tig to rest his fresh ailment while at the same time providing me with opportunities to contemplate my hangover from the previous evening. We had received an invitation from a chap named Joel to stay with him for a night or two in Smithers. After a few wrong turns and a number of queries regarding the directions, we managed to find the gravel road leading to Joel’s place in the late afternoon. Just as we neared his property, a man driving an SUV flashed his lights at us while trying to wave us down. Riding point, I reduced my speed and pulled closer the drivers window. I can only assume Tig had not noticed this reduction, causing him to initiate an emergency rear and front wheel braking system in order to avoid another broken clavicle. “Whoa!…That was kind of crazy, huh!?” “Ha, yeah, that’s kind of how we roll…” It turned out the driver was Joel, our host, on his way out with his wife and son to the supermarket. What an appropriate introduction I thought. Tired, broken and probably dehydrated, we pulled our bikes into the driveway and awaited their return. Over a splendid dinner, Joel introduced us to his wife Rachael (an Australian, which is fine) and their 2 year old son, Cedar. They had heard about us through a Cactus newsletter and graciously invited us to stay. We stayed for two nights sharing stories and erecting canned food towers with Cedar.

Colours battling for supremacy.

From Smithers we headed to Prince George, which would prove to be a pivotal crossroads on our journey. We had been invited by Apocalypse Scooter Club of Calgary to come and meet them. This was not an intended destination, but the prospect of meeting a scooter club was exciting. Heading to Calgary meant we would get to see Jasper and Banff National Park. This route seemed like it was made purely for riders of 2-wheeled motor-vehicles. Hair-pin turns and long, winding down hill stretches allowed us to hit maximum velocity (50mph/ 80kph, being generous) surrounded by glaciers and ice-fields. Suddenly we weren’t the slowest vehicles on the road. Even the Winnebago towing the SUV had trouble keeping up at times. We felt like kings.

The ice-fields. So boring. Nothing to look at.

Reluctant to pay a camping fee on top of the toll to travel the ice-fields route, we rode our bikes up a tight dirt walking track in search of a campsite. Hidden away from the eyes of park rangers, we spent the night eating instant mashed potatoes and cursing the moon.

A buddy of ours in Jasper.

The next morning we set out for Calgary. Only 120+km from Banff national park, we still only managed to arrive sometime at around 8pm. Arriving in a city as large as Calgary with nothing but a name and a number at night time was quite overwhelming. We pulled into a strip mall for some wi-fi and a payphone. The place was packed with people, seemingly camping out for something. It felt weird. Finally, the elderly Asian man who had been staring at me for maybe 15 minutes in Starbucks engaged me in conversation. “You here for the iPhone 5!?” “What?, No. Are you?” “Yep. Brand new. Comes out at Midnight!” :Oh, how wonderful! Whats new about it?” “I dunno!” After an hour or so we received contact from a club member. ‘Gary’ had sent us his number. He would be our first point of contact. I gave him a call. It was a relief to hear an enthusiastic and welcoming voice over the phone. With directions in hand we headed south for Gary’s. We were greeted at the door by Gary and his son, David. They had a handsome selection of domestic and imported beers awaiting us which was fantastic. After acquainting each other with their respective bikes (Gary and David both have numerous bikes spread out in a number of storage facilities), we downed some brews and headed for bed. We were woken the next morning by a phone call. It was Gary calling from work. We had been invited to join him and the clubs’ Vice President Mike for a luncheon at ‘The Rouge Room’ at 12pm sharp. Almost missing the engagement due to a number of wrong turns, we were waved down by Gary and Mike outside of the establishment. We were ordered to park our bikes directly outside. “Nobody tows from here” we were told. After formally greeting the gentlemen at the door, Tig and I were escorted in through a thick red velvet curtain. Loud bass-heavy music bellowed from behind it. “What a funky lunch venue” I thought to myself. It almost felt familiar, but then so does McDonald’s. What we were about to receive was probably the best lunching experience of our entire lives. ‘Fantasia’ was wrapping up her set with the ‘bow and arrow split grip’, a dangerous yet well respected maneuver in pole dancing circles. The gentlemen surrounding the stage roared with admiration for the feats they had been blessed to see this day. A delightful young waitress escorted the four of us to our booth. At this point both Gary and Mike were pleased, perhaps even relieved, by our positive response to their choice of venue. Steak, salad and fries for $6 was the go-to here. Mike deemed it “economically responsible” to eat here. We were unanimous in agreement. In an attempt to include our fans in this tremendous outing, I quietly began framing up a shot of the new dancer with my phones’ camera. Mike intercepted the shot with incredible speed. “NO NO NO NO NO! You can’t do that in here man! If any of the girls or the bouncers saw that flash go off, they’d all crowd around you and totally b**ch you out! Trust me, I’ve seen it! Remember when Sean did that here, Gary? We had to take him outside and talk to him! Holy s**t dude, I gotta put you guys in touch with Sean in Trail!” No harm done. I slipped the phone back in my pocket. An attempt to pay for our end of the meal was swiftly dismissed. This would be the beginning of what Gary defined as “relentless hospitality”, something we would be subjected to for the entirety of our stay in Calgary. Gary then added that we’d been invited to join the clubs president, Kory, at his home for beers around a fire pit. It was all beginning to feel like one of those crime and investigation shows. Posing as scooter enthusiasts, Tig and I had been placed undercover to infiltrate a high profile scooter gang. Having gained the trust of the treasurer and VP, we would now be welcomed into the clubs’ most inner circle. A stroll through downtown Calgary followed lunch. The city feels remarkably happy. Perhaps they too had dined at a strip club this day? According to Gary and Mike, the city has benefited substantially from the oil business, a field Gary and Mike are both a part of. Gary dropped us at Kory’s that evening. There we met his partner Mel and the clubs’ mechanic Russ, with Mike and his partner Meredith joining us soon after. Beer, scooter talk, fireworks; We discovered these were staples in the Club diet.

Russ. Expert mechanic. Expert person.

News of our arrival on the Calgary scene had spread through Gary’s neighborhood like a pandemic, causing many of his neighbors to gather inside his garage for an impromptu ‘block party’ the following evening. The Aussie couple thought us crazy if not a little charming. Ian, an all year round bicycle commuter (Calgary averages -15C in the winter, and often gets colder), shared his admiration for our journey. The next day would mark a huge milestone for our journey; we would be taking part in our very first ever group ride. Festivities kicked off with a club breakfast, giving us an opportunity to met the rest of the gang, including Gary’s lovely wife, Jean. After the meal we were presented with a very generous contribution from the club toward our further travels. Perhaps more importantly, we were initiated (or ‘patched over’ as they say in the motorcycle gang world) into the club. Russ lit a few sky rockets up in the car park in honor of this occasion. It was decided that Tig’s damaged jacket would be fixed, while Ravi gave him a new pair of gloves.

The two newest horsemen of the Apocalypse.

 

Flexing muscle before the ride.

“Don’t stop for anything, stop signs, red lights, nothing!” Kory took point, while Ravi protected us from the rear. Here we were, ASC patched members, screaming through the streets and terrorizing locals at a speeds reaching 45kph. A drink at the local watering hole complemented the ride perfectly. Beer, food, fireworks. Proceeding moved back to Kory’s soon after. Mel, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, offered us both a session of massage and acupuncture. Mel said we were extremely tense. Tig required 25 needles, a number I’m told is high. I returned to my seat by Gary next to the fire feeling relaxed and slightly beaten. “Did you know we have one of the greatest dinosaur museums in the world here in Calgary?” The 10 year old me nearly burst through my chest. Words were not needed. We would see dinosaurs. The trip to the museum was a complete success. Tig and I stumbled around the fossils in awe. It was like we were plagued by shell-shock, reverting back to the first time we saw Jurassic Park.

Artistic photo at the museum.

A stroll through the badlands to check out the ‘Hoodoos’ followed. Relentless hospitality.

Hoodoos in the Badlands.

That night was a sombre one, as we would be disembarking the next morning. Gary and Jean cooked us another fine meal complimented by generous samples from their extensive liquor cabinet. Half-cut and borderline inconsolable, we were presented with yet another surprise. Snow-cyclist Ian presented us with details of a hotel in Balfour we could stay at on his dime. Relentless hospitality. Calgary was incredibly good to us. They had fed us, clothed us, sponsored us, and quite literally adopted us. They put us in touch with other scooter clubs down the road. To Gary and Jean, their wonderful neighbors, Kory and Mel, and our Apocalypse brethren, these two stupid Kiwis will forever be in your debt. Thank you so much.

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 27,756 Comments

Drama on “The Cass”

Junction 37. It was appropriate that it didn’t have a real name. A gas station, a seemingly abandoned but still overpriced motel, a saloon with boarded up windows, a sign that read “Junction 37”. It was a depressing place. The winters here were rough on any type of enterprise and we were being continually warned that there was another one coming. We’d spent the last couple of days as the sole inhabitants of the campground, huddling around a fire in the rain, praying for a break in the weather. There was a well established looking RV parked nearby but there was definitely nobody living in it, but possibly somebody dead in it. The chap at the gas station appeared to be running the whole junction although this didn’t appear to be an overwhelming job at this time of the year. He was softly spoken and friendly, had plenty of hot coffee, and seemed to enjoy our company. When the wood was too wet to burn we would spend our time in his little shop, discussing things like the viscosity of motor oil and likelihood of being attacked by a grizzly while out jogging.

The motel. Don’t expect mints on your pillow.

The junction itself would be the start of our next leg, the Stewart-Cassiar highway. This 700km long piece of road would take us directly south and was considered the scenic alternative to the ALCAN. The ALCAN was considered a reckless route as it was but “The Cass” was shorter and had been described to us as a “real wilderness highway”. On top of this it was apparently packed full of wildlife, to the point that you might see 30 bears while driving it. It was the obvious choice.

Snow blanketed the mountains around us and the air temperature was still in the barely tolerables, but it had stopped raining. The conversation in the junction shop had deteriorated to the topic of mid-cycle bear attacks on women. Our new friend was using the word menstruation like it was coming into fashion and we were filled with an overwhelming motivation to get our show back on the road.

 

The locals recommended we get out of the Yukon while we could.

The first 100 miles gave us a taste of what we were in for. The road was a patchwork quilt of different surfaces and it wound like a rollercoaster through the mountains. Light rain became heavy rain and then snow. Riding in conditions like these is far from relaxing. There is a certain body position that needs to be maintained to minimize the amount of freezing air and water that enters your riding gear. Tuck up, sit still, watch for bears, aim for the smoothest pieces of road.

BANG. When you are riding a scooter in the middle of nowhere, this isn’t a good sound. Either a part of your bike has exploded, or you’ve just been shot at. I managed a panicked and inexplicable glance at my crotch, moments before the rear wheel locked up and started to zigzag wildly like a Tux Wonderdog mid-slalom. Left, right, then very left. Then it was all over.

Perpendicular. The point of no return.

I always imagined my first high-speed motorcycle dismount would be like the ones I’d seen on TV. I’d slide down the road like a lubed ice-cube, gently washing off speed while warming my back pocket. But apparently this takes practise. I hit the road like an imploded building, pummeling myself stationary in the space of about ten metres. Pieces of gear and scooter sprayed down the road like confetti at a wedding. Our tires were made out of luck, we’d ridden them until it was all used up.

I was awake. This was a good start, Tim would be pleased. Legs. Still there, functional, I decided to get to them. One of my arms was quite tender. I started to backstroke wildly to make sure nothing was wrong. Everything seemed to be relatively in order.

Tim had skillfully avoided me and my cartwheeling bike and had come back to gather my remains. I hopped to my feet for a high-five, unaware that an ex-paramedic in an emergency response vehicle who happened to be following us had already started to cordon off the road behind me. With the amount of crap strewn about the place he probably thought we were celebrating a successful garage sale.

Cam had clearly been to a few motor vehicle mishaps before. He quickly got to work checking my vital signs, my movement and my level of sobriety. His initial concerns about my inability to walk, bend or see properly were alleviated when I explained some of my medical history.

“You going to faint on me? One of your pupils is crazy big!”

“No, that’s normal. I had a run in with a fork as a child. I’m fine.”

“You sure? You hit your head?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

My helmet told a different story. Paint from both sides had been donated to the pavement. The visor had been ripped off and my helmet camera was somewhere in the bushes. Cam kept a concerned eye on me.

“Put your jacket back on man, you don’t want to be getting cold.” I couldn’t remember taking it off. As I lifted my arm up through the sleeve, something clicked and pain exploded through my shoulder.

 

Cam was pretty keen to get me to the medical centre at the power plant back down the road, and by this stage I wasn’t going to argue with him. It was 30km back the way we came and he was more than happy to give me a lift in his truck. As we drove from the scene I wondered if this was the end of my trip. There was a large painful protrusion at the top of my chest. I figured it was half of my clavicle.

“Cool! Did you have your GoPro on?”

Up until this point Cam had been all business. Not only had he completed a detailed scene analysis, got me to sign a piece of paper listing the procedures he’d done and the number of times I’d declined an ambulance, but he’d also gone over all of it again with the registered nurse at the medical centre. When Tim produced the footage from his helmet camera he became very excited, to the point that most of the staff at the centre stopped what they were doing to take a look, including my nurse Maurie.

“Woah, you really absorbed a lot of energy with your body!”

I wondered if I would use my new energy for good or evil. Maurie was impressed that I was in as good condition as I was and accredited a lot of it to the gear I was wearing. I had to agree. My Macna jacket bore the brunt of the impact and had ripped in several places, but it had done its job and restricted my gravel rash to an area smaller than a 50c piece. As for my Cactus pants…the side that hit the road just looked cleaner than the other. Maurie looked excited to have a traumatic injury to deal with and I wondered what ailments his typical patients complained of. By this stage my left shoulder had developed a significant droop and raising it even to a right angle was out of the question. Maurie had no doctor and no x-ray machine to consult. He advised a trip to the nearest hospital, an hour back in the direction we just came. It seemed like my only option. Luckily Maurie saw an opportunity to get out of the office for a couple of hours and offered to drive me to Dease Lake Hospital in his truck. Hitchhiking would have been the only other option. I gladly accepted his offer.

While I was getting to know Maurie, Tim was getting to know Dave, the Cassiar’s one and only “Towing and Wreck Recovery Specialist”. My bike was still lying in a ditch 30km down the road and Tim had landed himself the responsibility of retrieving it. Dave was a mountainous man with a handlebar mustache, a self described redneck and a gun enthusiast. Tim had caught him on a busy morning and conversation in the cab of his truck was kept to a minimum. Three local lads had taken on a grizzly bear with their car the night before and written it off. They’d slept the night in the wreckage waiting for Dave. Another punter had planted her car in a forest 150m from the roadside and Dave would have to de-forest a good portion of it to get it out. However he wasn’t going to turn us down. From the description of my vehicle by whoever it was who called him, he probably thought he was off to pick up a toy that a child had abandoned. I suppose this wouldn’t have been too far from the truth.

“Yes it’s definitely broken, you can feel the break right here.” Dease Lake’s only available doctor was stabbing his finger knuckle deep into my shoulder, seemingly in an attempt to make muesli out of anything left in there. Thankfully Maurie declined a turn.

“Well, do you want an x-ray?”

“I’m not sure. Do I want an x-ray?”

“No you don’t want an x-ray. They’re expensive and we wouldn’t do anything more for you anyway. I don’t think there’s any nerve damage. You don’t have any strange sensations, do you?”

“No, all my sensations feel relatively appropriate. How long will this take to heal?”

“It’s a bone just like all your other ones, so about six to eight weeks.”

“When can I ride again?” I hoped I sounded like Steve McQueen.

“Whenever you want. Why do you need two arms to ride a scooter?”

This was my kind of doctor. He didn’t even give me an aspirin. He did find me a chest strap that looked like a combination of a gun holster and a sports bra, and with that I was out the door. Maurie even managed to get his hands on some surplus tube gauze that he could smuggle back to his own centre. It was turning out to be a good day for everyone.

Orange, white and yellow.

While I’d been away playing patient, Tim had subbed in as one of Dave’s employees and helped him extricate my broken motor-pony from the ditch. When Tim asked to have it delivered to the nearest place we could pitch a tent, Dave took pity on our pitiful situation and offered us the use of a log cabin on his property. When I heard this news it was like a heavy burden had been lifted off my broken shoulder. I’d been dreading doing my recuperating in a freezing tent in the middle of the wilderness and although I still didn’t know if our trip was over I’d be able to dwell on it beside a toasty wood burner.

Thanks Kory.

Dave and his wife Merrilu lived in a house on the same property as the cabin with their three adopted children, Kory, Danielle and Alexander. Kory was sixteen, the oldest of the three, and the one that was giving up his cabin for us. He showed us how to operate the Playstation, heat the cabin to an intolerable temperature, and kept us entertained with stories of hunting and hockey brawls. Danielle was very intelligent and joined us in the assessment of our broken bikes, offering her insights into what we might need to do and what tools we might need to steal from her dad’s garage. Alexander was the youngest at four years old. He would come into the cabin each morning and deliver our wake-up call and was always keen and able to get hold of my camera and snap some photos.

Dave and Merrilu.

“You know I used to be as skinny as you, then I met this lady.” Dave pointed in Merrilu’s direction at the dinner table and I laughed at the preposterous idea that he wasn’t always so well built.

“I’m serious! She can cook a birthday cake on a camp stove!”

It turned out Dave was serious. After an excellent meal Dave showed us photographic evidence, not only of a cake baked in a tent but also of himself looking a little undernourished, much like myself. Food was followed by drink. Beer for Tim and me, “redneck tea” for Dave. In the lounge stood a large wooden cabinet that seemed to take precedence over the television. This housed the family gun collection, and what a collection it was. Dave produced from it firearms of all shapes and calibers and allowed us to arm, disarm and generally wave them around his lounge.

“When I drag your car or motorcycle or whatever the hell you might have crashed out of a ditch, I’m going to charge you for it. That’s my business. But afterward, if I want to bring you home, give you a bed, a meal, some of my beer, that’s my business.” The Stewart-Cassiar highway was lucky to have Dave and his family, and so were we. We stayed up late, drinking and chatting. Dave disregarded the hour and called another of his sons in Terrace and before we knew it we had been invited to watch him play in his band, King Crow and the Ladies from Hell. Tickets would be waiting for us at the door.

We spent the next morning assessing our situation. My shoulder was tender but tolerable. The sports bra was doing well to hold things in place. My bike was a sorry sight but given the fact that I’d essentially rolled it at top speed, things could have been a lot worse. The headlight had evaporated into a mist when I went down, a wing mirror  popped out and was never recovered and the rear rim had folded in on itself. Most of these items I guessed I could live without. We had a spare rim, wing mirrors only really give you a good view of your shoulders and we shouldn’t be riding at night anyway. We’d taken our sick day and we were ready to go again.

Luckily it was only some of the safety features that were destroyed.

Dave appeared with a suitcase and a band of children in tow.

“You boys still want to fire some guns?”

We’d be delighted.

We’d forgotten about Dave’s offer of a hands-on handgun experience. Neither of us knew a thing about guns. It was about time we learned. Dave opened the suitcase and produced a small arsenal of sidearms. There was a single shot .22 caliber pistol with an ivory handle to get us started. It looked like something a cowboy would keep on his mantlepiece. From this we rapidly progressed to a 9 shot revolver, then on to a 9mm Glock.

Delighted.

“Now remember, this thing is good to go again every time you pull the trigger.” Dave was a stern advocate of gun safety. We took this as a good excuse to make sure the Glock was emptied and made safe again as quickly as possible. There’s something quite uplifting about spraying a semi automatic weapon at a pile of plastic bottles in someone’s backyard. Tim and I proved we could at least hang on to the thing, which was probably more than Dave and his children expected. We would graduate to the Dirty Harry. The first time you fire a .44 Magnum it’s a bit like holding onto a hand grenade as it goes off. Your eyes water, your ears ring like sirens. Your broken collarbone realizes it has had its day in bed.

Dave and Kory.

We rolled out of Dave and Merrilu’s with white noise dominating our hearing spectrum. Dave had come to our repair party in a big way. Not only did he straighten out my warped rim for me, but he dug up an old headlight out of his garage that we were able to wire up and hold in place with duct tape. Our best guess is that it is off a snowmobile. Regardless, it works better than the original and generates enough heat to dry a pair of gloves on. We still had at least two more days on the Cassiar and the flurries of snow suggested it might prove to be a test of endurance more than anything else. We’d been looking forward to this stretch of road for some time but the physical, mental and meteorological beating we had taken over the last few days had left us craving for a more temperate environment.

Three days later and we were in Terrace, a stone’s throw from the southern end of the Cassiar. Dave had convinced his daughter Tanya to put us up for the night and chaperone us to her brother’s gig. The sun was out, we had a roof to sleep under for the night and our clothes were being laundered. The two previous nights had been spent camping in a woodshed and under a large road sign. We’d both been deprived of sleep. I had a broken collarbone to deal with and Tim had me to deal with. On top of this the more conversational people we had spoken to insisted we would be killed by bears if we camped where we had just pitched our tent. It was great to be able to finally relax.

Dave’s daughter Tanya and her son and Batman.

Dave’s son Bobby was King Crow’s lead singer and guitarist. We met him before the gig and he displayed the same type of friendliness we had received from the rest of his family. Some of the more senior locals had inquired if we were going to the “dance” and we were a little worried we might have misinterpreted what kind of event we were attending. However the nine piece Celtic/folk/rock band didn’t disappoint. They pulled out an energetic performance that had the community hall shaking and the seniors out of their seats. Check out some of their music at www.kingcrowandtheladiesfromhell.com

Our journey on the Cass had not gone as expected. We were expecting bears and moose and elk but the only wildlife we saw was a partridge that bounced off the front of my bike. We were worried that we might run into a gun-toting redneck tow-truck driver in the middle of nowhere. I hate to think what we would have done if we hadn’t. It was the road itself that had bitten us and there would be plenty more of that to come.

Tig

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 28,805 Comments

Scoots to the Arctic

Get on up!”

My phone had taken to playing the entirety of James Brown’s Sex Machine every time I received a text message or email, and every time we set ourselves an alarm for the morning.

Snooze.

It was early and we were wet, not to mention hungover, and any richness of Mr Brown’s voice was lost through the tinny speakers on my cellphone. Another attempt at an early start and it just wasn’t going to happen. The tent had stayed dry through a torrential downpour until we clambered into, soaking wet, soaking drunk. I’d gone to brush my teeth at the RV park bathroom block and had run into Amy, our campmate who had offered part of her campsite for us to sneak our tent into. We sat out in the rain drinking Chai beer and playing with her dog Senara, only to be greeted by Andrew, another campmate who had been flying across Canada with his two friends in a single engine plane. Andrew, who had been present during the “Sour Toe” incident earlier in the evening, was in a similar state as Amy and I, and ecstatic about some additional bedding that he’d managed to acquire. Mild mannered larakinism had ensued, apparently we were a little loud, apparently the RV park manager had appeared and dismissed any possibility of us staying another night. Oops.

Get on up!” Better do it this time.

“You going to take those things up the Dempster?”

We’d been asked the question by a few people around the RV park, generally in a tone of voice that hinted it wouldn’t be a good idea.

“It cost me 2 complete sets of tires, but it was worth it!”

Gerard was from Sweden and had just returned from Inuvik, the northernmost town on the Dempster Highway, a gravel/dirt/mud/tundra road that went straight up into the Arctic Circle. It looked like Gerard had dug a hole and found a vehicle in the bottom of it. His 4 x 4 had returned with most of the Dempster still attached to it.

The Arctic Circle had already eluded us in Alaska due to some suicidal looking weather forecasts, and I had left a bit disappointed that we hadn’t made it to what was for me, a milestone on our trip. All indications we had found in Dawson suggested we wouldn’t be taking the Canadian route either, but we had been persuaded by April to try and make it to Tombstone, only 70km up the Demspter, for a taste of the Arctic environment. She had made the road to Tombstone sound quite doable, convinced us that Tombstone was one of the best parts on the road itself, and offered us a free buffet breakfast before we set out in the morning. It suddenly sounded more worthwhile. With our stomachs stretched back toward normality and our pockets filled with sandwiches for later, we bid farewell to April and Dawson City and cruised 30km down the road to the start of the Dempster Highway.

As we tucked away any loose pieces of equipment at the junction, I thought it would be a sensible idea to check the oil level on my bike. Empty. My dad could preach a sermon on motorcycle maintenance, he would have had a stroke. This was bad, that oil was going somewhere, and I needed it to stay where it was being put. I poured a full bottle in, stashed another for later, and prayed that my bike didn’t have its first full meltdown in the middle of a permanently frozen desert.

The infamous road north.

70km. It was nothing. Even on a wet, dirt road that had been sprayed with ironically slippery chemicals to keep the dust levels down. We’d be fine. Despite the somewhat hazardous conditions, the sun had come out, we were working out which coloured pieces of road had the best traction, and we were hooning along at a pretty good clip! As we made our way north, the flora around us rainbowed into the deepest yellows, reds and greens that we’d seen, and we started to understand why you might sacrifice a vehicle to this road.   I had heard the ginormous red truck approaching behind me and had given it some room to overtake. However it pulled up along my starboard side and the torso of a middle aged gentlemen erupted from the passenger window. “F**king yes! Yes! YES!” This guy was about to climax. He’d won gold. He’d found Nemo. I gave him a bewildered nod and quickly returned my focus to the road. The truck was frighteningly close and I couldn’t see the driver which meant he couldn’t see me. For all I knew, the guy flailing out the window like a wild wacky inflatable flailing arm tube man was actually piloting the vehicle, in which case we were both about to lose our lives. He looked like he needed further acknowledgment. I took the risk and gave him a thumbs up. He gave me 2 in return and the truck quickly accelerated to what was presumably its usual cruising speed, showering both of us in mud and slippery chemicals. We rounded the next bend to find it parked on the side of the road. The man erupted again, this time from the door, armed with his digital camera. He needed photographic evidence. I gave him another thumbs up as we passed, and tried unsuccessfully to return the donation of liquid dirt.

We figured the Arctic would be a pretty bleak place but it kept getting more colourful as we headed north.

“I saw a guy drive a solar powered car up here once, but I’ve never seen scooters before!” The girl working at the Tombstone campsite had a mixture of accents that were working in her favour. I listened intently. “Carry on up the road and you’ll get a view of Mt Tombstone, then it’s only 30km to Two Moose Lake where you’ll get to see the real tundra.” We had been making good time and handling the road reasonably well, we could make it there for dinner and back to the start of the Dempster with light on our side. We’d go a little further.

Mt Tombstone

Mt Tombstone is quite a sight, and gets it’s name from its steep, Lord of the Rings-like topography. We stopped and took photos, and chatted to a Swedish tourist about the Stewart-Cassiar Highway further south. A black bear had tried so hard to get into his camper that it had reduced him to tears, but he was going back that way again because he didn’t manage to photograph any otters. At Two Moose Lake we cooked up some tins of Spaghetti and admired the barren but colourful tundra. If you manage to dig a 50cm deep hole here you will reach permanently frozen soil, some of which is still frozen 150m further down. A group of otters played in the lake. The Swedish tourist was just unlucky.

A black bear crossed the road in front of us. Bears in the area were preparing for winter and wreaking a bit of havoc at the Tombstone Campground.

It was 7.30pm and we were packing up our cookery for the ride back. We’d have light until at least 10.30pm and with only 100km of surprisingly ridable riding to do, there was no hurry. Two women stopped at the lake on their way to Eagle Plains, a gas depot and lodge on the edge of the Arctic Circle, 270km to the north. We told them we were about to head back, and they weren’t having a bar of it. “You came all this way and you aren’t going to the Circle?” I wasn’t sure if they’d noticed what our mode of transport was. “It’s beautiful up there! You guys will be fine, it’s only 270km and the road doesn’t get too much worse.” I wondered if she was drunk or optimistic. Either way, it was tempting. Too tempting. It was 3 and a half hours drive in a suitable vehicle, we’d be stretching our fuel supply beyond anything mathematical, and it would be dark and cold, if and when we made it there. Too tempting. “Better get to it then man.” Tim had thought the whole Dempster thing was even more of a bad idea than I had, and I was surprised that we weren’t going to have to discuss it further. I think he knew that I knew that deep down I really wanted to give it a go. In our position, the “dumb idea” call just didn’t hold any merit anymore. We’d come a long way already, what was another 270 clicks?

Dusk over the tundra.

As we left the lake I began to wonder if we were making a mistake. We were barely outrunning the fringe of a raincloud that had appeared out of nowhere, which was not only dampening us but stealing our precious light. However it didn’t take long for the scenery to change our minds. It changed and overwhelmed us every few kilometers. The tundra turned back into forest in areas that were sheltered enough to support a more normal type of life. In exposed areas, some hillsides couldn’t even hold dirt, and stood as massive piles of shingle. As we gained elevation the trees thinned out into Taiga forests, consisting of skinny, almost leafless stalks that looked like the leftovers of a forest fire. Their growth is severely stunted by their environment and prevents them from growing into anything resembling more than young saplings.

Taiga forests on the road to nowhere.

The riding was tough. The surface of the road changed with the landscape and lines suitable for 12 inch tires became thinner and thinner, and harder to see in the fading light. And we weren’t going slowly. The thought of having to spend a night sharing an exposed area with the extremely temperamental wildlife was scarier than the thought of a fatal motor vehicle accident. But it was getting a bit silly. We had done about 200kms and we were exhausted. At the top of a punishing hill (we found out later the truckers call it Bitch Hill) we saw a tent and a campfire with 2 people sitting around it. They’d probably have a gun. In these parts you want to have someone packing nearby, or at least be able to run faster than they can. We stopped our bikes and introduced ourselves, casually borrowing some heat from their fire in the process. Tom and Brian were a father and son who had driven up from Whitehorse. They had been having a conversation about edible fish species when we arrived, and I was nervous that we might not be able to contribute anything of value. They turned out to be great people. Tom is our age and had traveled the globe as a photographer before deciding that he needed a job that “wouldn’t kill me before I turned 30”.

This sunset burned on for hours.

We were spent, so we excused ourselves and pitched our tent under the neverending sunset. Tim went out like a light and I wasn’t far off when I heard Tom yelling.

“Sh*t! Dad!”

This wasn’t good. Bear? Bison? Something even bigger that we didn’t even know about? Maybe we were ok. Maybe he’d just set himself on fire or something. I waited and eventually heard some muffled laughter from Tom and let myself fall asleep. In the morning we found out that a big green aurora had burst out across the sky. Brian had tried to keep Tom quiet so he wouldn’t wake us. Bless.

Our bikes were running on fumes, but we managed to make it to Eagle Plains the next morning. The lodge there is a modest building but it cost them $3.5 million to build it due to it’s wilderness locale. The woman at the desk gave us certificates for making it to the Arctic Circle, and the man at the gas pump introduced us to a new kind of arithmetic, one that indicated we were getting 1500km to the gallon. He seemed impressed. One of his friends approached and asked us how many sets of tires we went through getting this far.

“We’ve been on this set since we began our trip.”

“We’ve been on this set since we bought these bikes!” Tim corrected me.

I wondered whether or not this was a good or bad thing. Either they were doing extremely well or they were due for a serious blowout. I made a mental note to rotate the tires, one which promptly blew away in the wind.

30kms north of the lodge is a sign that indicates you have reached 66 degrees and 33 minutes latitude I.e the Arctic Circle. Tom and Brian had beaten us there but they hung around and we congratulated each other on making it to such an absurdly northern, but nonetheless breathtaking place. Tom produced a 10 year old bottle of Scotch and we toasted at the sign and took photographs. Against the odds and the more sensible advice, we had made it to what would be the most northern part of our journey. We’d already been on the road almost 2 weeks and we’d finally reached some sort of starting point! The lines of latitude we had ahead of us was slightly disconcerting, but it kind of felt like it was downhill from here.

It took a few attempts to nail the geometry on this shot. Photos in which we failed can be purchased for $50.

We put the hammer down on our way south, eating up 450kms, our biggest day so far on a road that sounded like it was going to dissolve our bikes. As we approached Tombstone for the second time we were abruptly reminded about the stress we had been putting on our poor Indian warhorses. Tim’s rear rack which carries the majority of his gear snapped clean off and dragged along behind him in the mud. We treated it as a minor inconvenience. We were still buzzing and this wasn’t going to get us down. We’d found few things that couldn’t be fixed with a handful of zip ties. We’d need a good handful this time.

Tim’s gear rack turned into a toboggan.

Our ride to the Arctic Circle was a highlight of the trip so far. It may not have been a smart idea, but it was one that we were glad we didn’t shy away from. Our bikes had surprised us with their capabilities and our confidence levels had been lifted to dangerously high levels. With Tim’s gear secured by thin plastic handcuffs, my bike burning more oil than petrol, and both of our rides rolling on sets of tires that had had far too many birthdays, we were back on decent tarmac, and heading south into the Canadian Yukon.

Tig

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 26,156 Comments

Border crossing, Softball & The Sourtoe Seven

Today, we take Canada.

Instead of taking the straightforward route, we decided to cross into Canada via the ‘Top of the World’ highway. Many had promised that this would be the far more scenic route.

While the road was almost entirely a gravel incline, the surroundings made this leg a very splendid one indeed.

“Go to Chicken. You’ll love it. Gees, its called CHICKEN for Christ’s sake!”

Yep…Chicken

I’m not sure we were as wild about this place as the lady at Tim Horton’s was, but it still gave us a few chuckles. Previously a Gold camp, Chicken now offers punters a fine range of delicious poultry meals and t-shirts blazing playful puns across the front. After having our fill, we proceeded south toward the border crossing.

Postcard scenery everywhere!

Since the Chetaks were producing little more than 30kmh up the trail, Tig and I had ample time to soak in the scenery around us. Turn one corner and all you can see are massive fields of tree tops. Turn the next corner and you find yourself enveloped by a spectacular quilt of red, yellow and green draped over hills and fields from one peripheral to the other.

Now that the border was in sight, we decided to pull over and ‘sort our shirts out’ before entering yet another unknown. Our preparations were interrupted by three Americans, riding bikes much more legitimate than our own. They were inspecting our hogs. Approaching with caution, we came to realize they were looking on in admiration. We exchanged road stories with these gentlemen before bidding them a safe and prosperous crossing.

Remote boarder crossing. Almost felt illegal

Saddling up, confident as hell and with passports in hand, we took off with a roar!

“Hold up! Oh s**t..”

Shards of lens caps can be very elusive

Hearing this over the inter-com, I could see Tiggy in my mirror scouring the road for something. During the border crossing build up, he had forgotten to stow away the camera that was teetering on the back of his bike. Now in pieces behind us, I turned around to join him in the hunt. I wondered if the border patrol could see this, and what assumptions they were making of us.

Team Step-thru penetrating their defences

The border crossing turned out to be a walk in the park. No more than the size of a hermit’s shack and manned by a lone border officer, the crossing itself took no longer than 5 minutes. No weapons, no drugs, see you later.

The next 1.5 hours were spent negotiating ‘Canadian pavement’, an American term for stretches of highway in Canada that have been ‘repaired’. On first inspection, one is led to believe that the new looking dollops of asphalt are the best choice to ride over. In doing so, one comes to realize these mounds are merely hiding more sinister gouges in the road which cause significant pain to the male anatomy when hit at speed.

We had heard from a local that Dawson housed a gas station, a general store and bugger all else.

It was on the free ferry ride over to the mainland that we realized this local’s advice was about as reliable as a burst condom.

Dawson City, heart of the Klondike gold-rush

Formally the city at the heart of the famous Klondike Gold rush starting in 1896, Dawson now thrives as a tourist destination. The buildings have all had a fresh lick of paint, but all still resemble the architecture reverting back to its famous past. For those of you back home, imagine a place that looks like Arrowtown but feels like Wanaka.

We arrived around 8pm to find the place humming with activity. Drunk groups of youths and adults alike were pouring out of saloons and spilling onto the dirt streets. Dawson was hosting a social softball tournament this weekend, and it was considered to be particularly busy for this time of year. With this in mind, we set out to find a campground.

Feeling pleased with our luck, we pitched our tent in the only vacant spot in the campground. Just as we pulled the fly over the frame of the tent, a couple in a camper pulled over to inform us that this spot had been reserved by the McDonalds. They too had been thwarted by the Mcdonalds earlier that evening. Disgruntled but optimistic, Tig and I proceeded to carry the tent around the campground for a spot that may have been looked over by others.

“Camp in front of my car. Sure, yeah, whatever, I don’t care”

I can only assume it was the pitiful image of two helpless kiwis carrying a tent around a full campground that swayed Swiss Florian to share his site with us. Ecstatic with our turn of luck, we decided to repay Florian for his generosity by shouting him to a few pints in town.

Having forgotten to eat dinner that night, the first two pints made us all visibly tidily. Aware that we were looking for a good time this night, the bartender suggested we ply our trades at the iconic bar next door, The Pit.

Whether it was the slightly sinking floor or the non- age discriminate cover band playing, the Pit was a general hive of activity. Patrons young and old were boogieing down to renditions of ‘Whiskey in the Jar-o” and “Bad to the Bone”. Encouraged by this, we purchased three of the finest, cheapest brews available and nestled into the darkly lit risen corner of the bar.

It didn’t take long for us to attract the attention of the more seasoned locals. We had been approached with the offer of a 2 vs 2 pool match. It seemed I had been selected to help Wanda, a 50 something Whitehorse-born lady, take on ‘Paddleboat Rick’ and his Australian host-daughter, Kerri. It was clear that Wanda had smashed her way through a few jugs by this time, and it had been decided that I would have to lead us to glory. Tig had made his way outside for a bison hotdog and Florian was working his magic on Paddleboat Rick’s wife.

A number of strategical mistakes (the most prominent being my inability to sink balls), and Wanda’s swaying between violence and hysterics, led to our defeat. It was at this point that Tig returned from his walkabout. He had managed to pash a French-Canadian softball player and devour a number of bison-dogs in no particular order during this time. Florian had made some progress in charming Mrs Paddleboat, but was seemingly left on the wayside as she was swept away in Rick’s victorious wave. Fairly intoxicated and furiously ravenous, we went in search of some more bison-dogs.

While selecting the condiments for the dogs, we ran into the Mcdonald impostors from the campground. Seemingly impressed by the ramblings of two intoxicated Kiwis, they would offer us a similar sleeping arrangement for the next night at the campground, provided we called them by their birth names, Brett and Amy.

Spending the next day sightseeing, we returned to our tent to find Brett and Amy drinking with three other campers. These guys were doing a round trip of Canada in a small aircraft and would be spending the night next to us. It was here that Andrew, the only one of the three not qualified to fly planes, informed us of the famous ‘Sourtoe cocktail’, a ‘must try’ on any Dawson City visitors agenda.

Established in 1973, the rules for joining the Downtown Hotels ‘Sourtoe Cocktail Club’ are as follows: A severed human toe is dropped into the participants chosen shot of hard liquor. Witnessed by Capt. Dick and peers, the shot must be consumed with the toe in the glass. To claim to be a true Sour-toer, as Capt. Dick says “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe”. The toes themselves are mostly donated by locals who have lost them due to lawnmower accidents and frostbite.

Downtown Hotel hosts more foot fetishism than a Tarantino film

Having watched the videos of Andrew and his company completing the challenge, the four of us decided to join the club. Tig and I would be the 47,0922nd and 47,093rd participants thus far.

Tig in flavor country or mid-climax. You decide

From there we made our way to ‘Diamond Tooth Gertie’s', the local casino. Stylized like an Old West casino, we were treated to a vaudeville show that played 3 times a day. Under the guidance of Brett’s ‘by the book’ blackjack teachings, Tig and I figured we’d try and raise funds to complete the remaining 28,000km of our journey.

During our wait for the in demand $2 table we met a girl named April. Originally from Ontario, April had been working the summer in Dawson and would soon be embarking for Hawaii. Like many of the people we’ve met on our journey so far, April was a real gem to chat with. The remainder of the evening was spent drinking and laughing while we tested the credibility of Brett’s blackjack bible. With  $5 profit and a stray beverage spilled over the prized casino table felt, we all reluctantly called an end to the evening.

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 28,175 Comments

Fairbanks to Tok

“Fairbanks is like the stoned version of Anchorage. Way more laid back, way less assholes!”

With this premise in mind (shared freely by a Fairbanks local outside of a drive-through ATM), Tig and I set about trying to find our couchsurfing hosts, who had agreed to take us in for the night on very short notice.

After a few laps of the area, and some conflicting opinions regarding the actual street address, we finally arrived at Paul and Abby’s sometime around 6pm. We were greeted at the front door by a softly bearded Paul standing by a small portable charcoal BBQ . He had erected this for us especially given that, to his knowledge, “Kiwis’ love BBQing stuff!”. We confirmed his hypothesis by returning within the hour with sausages, discount buns, gherkins and sauerkraut. It may sound shit to some of you, but I can assure you the meal was glorious.

Returning from an errand run the next day, we were greeted again by Paul, this time with the offer of being treated to dinner at his favored eatery, ‘The Silver Gulch’. Excited by the prospect of eating something that hadn’t spent 9 months on the shelves of an Anchorage 7/11, we had at it.

Tig: “Where do you think we’re from?”

Waiter: “We’ll, given that you sound like a retarded Englishman, my guess would be either Australia or New Zealand”

Ticking off bison burgers, halibut and blueberry beer from the ‘must try’ list in one fell swoop, and having our waiter happily toss chips at us while while mocking our accent, we considered the evening a huge success. Thanks again, Abby and Paul. You guys certainly set the bar high for Fairbanks hospitality!

With a quick stop on the way home for Tig and I to mount the Alaska Pipeline reminiscent of Dr Strangelove, we said our goodbyes and went in search of our next host, Rachael.

Again having trouble finding the place, we reached Rachael’s late that evening. Having prior engagements we had now made her late for, she showed us around her abode quickly before leaving. As you can see below, we were pleasantly surprised by our digs for the night.

I might come back here to write my memoir

A ‘dry cabin’ as they are called in these parts because there is no running water, Rachael shares this place with one other while she studies genetics at the local university. Fairbanks was 2 from 2 on our score sheet thus far.

On some sound advice from a number of sources, we went in search of Creamer’s Field. Previously owned by Creamer’s Dairy, the 1,800-acre lot now acts as a migratory waterfowl wildlife refuge. On a good day, you can see literally thousands of Canadian geese stopping here for chat before heading south. Expecting to see so many of our Pan-Am traveling kindred, we were a little disappointed to see maybe fifty. Not quite the wildlife vista detailed in the brochure. Still pretty cool though.

Canadians illegally on American soil.

Stopping for a freeze dried lunch later in the day, we managed to orchestrate this photograph by strategically placing a camera next to his pine cone cache.

What a nut!

Unlike days previous, we managed to reach North Pole without a mechanical hitch. Candy-cane lampposts and Christmas themed street names; the gimmick-stricken town tempted you to explore, while at the same time warning you to keep your children close. Much like I imagine Vegas will feel.

‘Tis the season, every season

After having our fill at McDonald’s on Santa Clause Dr, we pulled into an RV park nearby. Ushered to the back of the park like many times before, it so happened we were not the only campers in North Pole that evening.

Don’t be afraid of our mise en scene

Ripping around the corner on a 4-wheeler, Absolut vodka and Redbull in hand, comes DJ. Baseball cap and handlebar mustache, he’d been staying in the campsite for three weeks now, and we’d been his first neighbors, except of course the older gentlemen he believed was trekking into the bushes behind his camp for a little self-TLC. Undeterred, we drank well into the evening with DJ and had a blast.

Finally arriving in Tok around midday and feeling pleased with ourselves,Tig and I celebrated with a real campfire banquet; a $4 pound of bacon, roasted veggies and peanut butter M&M stuffed banana splits.

The coup de grace of backyard dessert.

Fairbanks, ‘the stoned Anchorage’. We couldn’t confirm this description was be true or false. What we did know was the next day we’d be visiting ‘America’s cooler big brother’, Oh Canada!

 

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 28,774 Comments

Wet morning at Deception Creek

Having survived an almost sleepless evening filled with imaginary Grizzlies and Wolves, Tig and I awoke to grey skies spitting rain upon us. Still riding the high of finally being on the road, we earnestly strapped our belongings to the bikes and set off for Cantwell. This would prove to be a very testing day indeed.

No more than 10 miles down the highway, the skies opened up and pummeled us with heavy rain, seemingly coming from three directions at once. Knowing this would not be over quickly, we cautiously pulled over. This would be the perfect time to don our brand new Swazi Gore-Tex rain coats. Now fully equipped to handle the Biblical-sized storm, Tiggy and I soldiered on.

 

Sporting the Swazi Gore-Tex. Deflects rain like bullets!

 

Wet, cold and hungry, we rolled into a truck-stop Subway just outside of Willow for a well deserved foot-long and coffee break.

The interior of this outlet was like none we had ever seen. Ceder logs adorned with Moose antlers and dated images of Marinara filled pots. After carefully selecting our loaf, cold-cut and salads, we headed for the only empty booth in sight.

“Oh yes, the bears are extremely dangerous at night! You have to be on your toes!”

Sitting in the booth behind ours was Bowman, who shared this piece of advice with us. A dead-ringer for Robert Downey Jr (particularly as Paul Avery in the film Zodiac), Bowman generously entertained these two sodden Kiwis with his knowledge of the local weather and wildlife. He confirmed for us that the howling we had heard the night before would have come from a sled-dog kennel in the area, and that they were probably disturbed by something; something like a bear. You could almost see Tiggy’s bear-proof bravado pooling on the floor around him.

“I’ve never heard of bear mace failing. That stuff is strong”. Bowman had discovered the effects of bear mace first hand, after a can had exploded inside his car while he and his dog were inside. “I couldn’t use the car for a week!”.

Refueling our stomachs and bikes, we hit the road in hope of making Cantwell before nightfall.

Drenched again by the endless downpour, we pulled off 5-North into Cantwell RV Park for the night. This place was great. Not only were the prices more than reasonable, but the couple who own the place took very good care of us. They even lent us their portable gazebo to store our bikes under. Showered and dry, we spent the evening toasting marshmallows over a campfire and playing ‘knock the can off the log with a rock’.

 

Stepthrupanam HQ, Cantwell.

 

Well rested and drier than weet-bix, Tig and I headed for Fairbanks.

 

Spontaneous Photo opp. 100% Effective!

 

Roughly 70 miles South of Fairbanks, you will find an interesting little Cul-de-sac called Nenana. Near the center of the town stands a six-pronged tower that overshadows many of the houses. Every winter, this tower is dragged onto the frozen surface of the lake. As Summer approaches, punters bet on the date that this tower will break through the ice. We learned that one clever fellow had applied his vast knowledge of physics to determine the correct date the Winter before, pocketing a modest but well deserved kitty.

Having battled some hearty crosswinds leading to the Nenana turnoff, we headed into the Roughwood Inn for a brief bit of shelter. In contrast to the establishments name, the Inn was warm and inviting. The walls were filled with quirky pieces devoted to anything Alaskan. MacGuyver’s voice emanated from a television in a corner of the room, providing a comforting ambiance.

 

The Rough-Wood in. Daytime TV all day long.

 

Two letters dating back to the prohibition-era caught our attention most of all. The first letter, written to a Deputy US Marshall from his Chief, questioned why a perpetrators prints had been taken in blueberry juice when extra ink could have been provided, and also why it had been deemed necessary to take his toe prints. The other was an inventory of the illegal liquor that had been seized from a local family. We pondered whether the family in the letter were relatives of the rather intoxicated gentleman sitting alone across from us, smashing cigarettes down in between refilling our cups of coffee.

After finishing our drinks and tipping our host (which in retrospect was a mistakenly handsome tip), we saddled up and headed on to Fairbanks.

Tim.

 

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 27,330 Comments

On the Road.

Finally on the road. Making our way out of Anchorage, Alaska.

We were doing it. We were on the road. After months of planning, of which most time was just spent anticipating rather than actually engaging in any kind of preparatory activity, we were riding our first mile from the front door of Jerry and Jane Casey’s house in Anchorage, Alaska. With any luck, there would be 20,000 miles to come. However, It only took one mile for things to start coming undone.

“I think something just happened bro”, Tim’s voice filled with static and electronic squelching came over the cheap, Chinese $30 bike-to-bike communications system.

I looked in my wing mirror. Something had happened. Tim was dragging a 2 gallon petrol bottle in a canvas bag along the road, precariously close to his front wheel. The IFMCBFCS (improvised front-mounted canvas bag fuel carrying system) had failed.

“Stop bro”.

Time for a break. The bag had a small hole burnt in the front of it but was otherwise intact. Zip ties. These had already been strategically applied in several load bearing sectors of the IFMCBFCS. We needed one more, for safety.

Readjusting our junk. Sometimes you just got to stretch things out a little.

With an emergency bridal now tethering our fuel to the handlebars, we made another attempt to get ourselves out of Anchorage. We had decided to aim for Hatcher Pass, a scenic, but gravel mountain pass 60 miles north. Steve at the Federal building said it would be “metal” if we rode scooters up there, his hand gestures suggested he was talking about gnarliness, rather than a description of the road surface.

“I came sideways round a corner up there in my truck last spring, at like 70 mph, and this big f@%king-like 7-foot brown was just standing there on the side of the road staring at me, but he got outta my way”.

He also mentioned lying in a field, staring at the sky and picking berries that were easily within reach. It sounded dreamy.

The highway out of Anchorage has a 65mph speed limit, about 15mph more than we could sustain, and it was busy with weekend traffic. Patient traffic, nonetheless. Motorcyclists coming into town gave us friendly waves, their heads turning 180 degrees as we passed in an attempt to figure out what kind of bikes were buried under the bird’s nest of equipment bouncing around us. About 15 miles out of town, we came to a long steep downhill. I tucked low, chin on the speedo, and pulled extra hard on the throttle, just in case there was a millimeter left that I wasn’t utilizing. 60Mph, 64mph. I was hauling. I snuck a peek in my rear-view. Tim wasn’t.

“Losing power man, I think I’ve broken it.”

We pulled over onto the shoulder and I trekked back down the highway to Tim’s bike. We tried starting it. The engine turned but didn’t fire. Poop. We’d have to unwrap it and take a look. With half of Tim’s gear and the engine cover removed, it quickly became apparent what had happened. His carburettor was dangling by a single bolt, swaying in the breeze like a severed appendage. The reassembly of our bikes in the cargo terminal had been a hurried one, filled with dangerous fluids and paranoia. We were reaping what we’d sown.

Tim assessing the damage.

I pulled out the lunchbox that was filled with a good kilogram of nuts and bolts, most of which were exactly the same size. Nothing seemed suitable, and zip-ties weren’t going to cut it on this occasion. I could see an automotive workshop in the distance, so I got on my bike and headed up the shoulder toward it, leaving Tim to scour the highway for his missing bolt. The workshop was closed. Sunday. Damn. Tucked away behind the workshop I could see a proud American flag blowing. It was worth a look.

I didn’t find out what AWF stood for, but I was at their HQ, standing in a cramped foyer waiting to be buzzed in. ‘No Membership: No Entry.’ I had already pressed the buzzer by the time I saw the sign. Finally the door clicked and I pushed it open to reveal an absurd lounge-bar, every inch of which was plastered with the taxidermied remains of a fearsome looking animal. I reached for my discreet GoPro video camera. Dead. I wondered if I’d meet the same fate, and possibly become another trophy on their wall. The barman however had a warm smile, so I approached him sheepishly with the carburettor bolt.

“Any idea where I’d find one of these.”

“Try that guy over there, he’s a mechanic”, he gestured toward a table of middle-aged wealthy looking patrons.

“This thing’s metric”, the mechanic grumbled.

“Yeah it’s off my mate’s bike. It’s Indian”, I replied, deliberately avoiding the word “scooter”. There was no need for specifics.

“It’s an Indian?”

“No it’s from India.”

“It’s metric.”

“Yeah, I know. Any idea where I can get a suitable replacement?”

His sense of direction was distorted with alcohol, but there was clearly a hardware store nearby, and an argument erupted at the table as to it’s exact location.

“You got any US dollars?”, the mechanic’s wife asked.

“Ahhh yeah, a couple”.

I left the bar with 20 more. My initial refusal of the donation was nullified by my outstretched hand. $20 USD would get us halfway to Fairbanks. Making a hasty exit via the balcony, I narrowly avoided a dance with one of the well-sauced middle-aged women who’d taken a liking to my accent.

I found the hardware store and with a fresh bolt we were back on the road.

The view from the end of the tarmac, the rest of the way up the pass would be steep gravel.

Turning off at Palmer, we started winding into the hills. The scenery was stunning. Autumn had brought out reds, pinks and yellows in the landscape, there was snow on the mountains in the distance. Eventually the road turned to gravel and abruptly steepened.

First gear, leaning forward to keep the front wheel down.

We found out what first gear was for. By the time we made it to summit lake, the sun was setting. It was easily 9.30pm, but light was a-plenty and the downhill winding road was proving to be too much fun.

Summit Lake at Hatcher Pass, compliments of Tim’s FaceCam.

Our plan to camp in the Hatcher Pass park had to be abandoned. We’d ridden all the way through it. We were back on tarmac, the light was fading, and suitable spots for camping had thinned out significantly.

Deception Creek. It sounded promising. The entrance way had been restricted to pedestrian or scooter access only with a line of large boulders. It would do us nicely. With the last glimmer of light dissolving we hastily erected a single tent on the bank of the river and high-fived each other for the successes of the day and our general brilliance.

As we settled into our beds for the night, we joked about what Steve had said about the 7 foot Grizzly bear he’d seen in the area. There was an ill-timed splash in the river outside our tent. It was probably a fish or something. Then there was another. Then another. Then a rustle in the shrubbery. I had taken a rather nonchalant approach to the whole bear issue from the beginning. To me it was like a shark in the water, forget about it, and if it bites you start freaking out about it then. Tim had taken a more cautious approach. He’d moved all our food and cooking equipment, our toothpaste, deodorant, anything with a hint of odor, a good 100m from our tent. He had picked up a can of bear spray. What I initially considered to be paranoid, slightly annoying behavior, suddenly seemed quite worthwhile. We investigated the noises with the aid of our pitiful wind-up torch, that Meridian Energy had sent to our flat in New Zealand for reasons unknown. Nothing. Back in bed the splashes and rustling continued. They were intermittent, coming as soon as you approached REM. Then the dogs kicked off. For all we knew they were wolves. What was certain though was that there were many of them, and they were unhappy. Howling and squealing continued relentlessly through the night. We suddenly felt less ‘metal’.

“You wanna grab your lappy bro and put on a movie or something? I dunno about you but I can’t sleep through all this.” Tim’s suggestion seemed like the only thing that might take our minds off our imminent demise.

And with that, we settled into a long night watching back to back screenings of a bootleg copy of 21 Jump Street.

We were on the road, we were in the wild. We were doing it.

 

Tig.

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 25,834 Comments

Anchorage, Alaska

The Final Frontier

We left New Zealand in such a frenzy that by the time we arrived in Anchorage International Airport we hadn’t even thought about finding a place to stay. We had just spent the last 39 hours in transit, sleeplessly wandering around planes, airports, and rural Fijian towns. At 1am ANC was mostly deserted so we bunked down on our sheepskin rugs in front of a series of large display cases filled with taxidermied specimens of some of Alaska’s gnarlier looking mammals. We awoke later in the morning as punters climbed over and around us trying to make their way to the check-in desk and figured that was probably our cue to leave. The closest people to friends we had in Anchorage were Jerry and Jane Casey, the parents of one of Tig’s work colleagues who we had exchange one brief email with. Fortunately for us, it only took another brief email before they offered us an RV to sleep in outside their house while we waited for our bikes to arrive.

Our home for the next week, compliments of Jerry & Jane Casey.

Jerry and Jane are missionaries who fly planes for SEND, an organization that transports supplies to remote Alaska villages. They live in a beautiful house on the edge of a lake, a lake that doubles as a runway for the float planes that everyone seemed to have in their back yard. We initially thought we would only be in Anchorage for a couple of days, enough time to track down our import broker, tidy up the loose ends we’d left hanging in New Zealand, and source the last bits of kit we’d need for our trip, but Ron had news for us.

“Your bikes are in Taipei”. Our import broker Ron came across as the kind of guy that had very little time on his hands, and very little to spare for two Kiwis who didn’t know the first thing about the import/export business. He hammered away at his computer, swearing under his breath and throwing around his cellphone while we waited patiently for him to “finish up some of this bullshit”, wondering whether it might have been proper to make an appointment. When he was ready to receive us properly a big smile came over his face and he shook our hands and apologized for making us wait. He dismissed our apologies that we were brand new to the brokerage business and got to work deciphering the wad of paperwork that we were meant to have filled out. It seemed that Ron really knew what he was doing. An award behind his desk commended him for importing his 10 billionth barrel of oil, and the paperwork insulating his desk suggested that oil was only a fraction of the product he dealt with. Every few minutes Ron would absorb a troubled look from his computer screen and utter something like “hmmmmm, that’s not very good”. This was almost always followed by “well it is what it is” and reassurance that we didn’t need to worry because he would pull some strings, like ensuring customs wouldn’t give us grief about all  our undeclared “accessories”. The only thing Ron couldn’t help us with was getting our bikes which had made their way to Taipei rather than LAX where we had expected them to go. We would have some waiting to do.

As well as accommodating other missionaries and travelers almost every day of the week, Jerry and Jane told us we could stay as long as we needed to. They also let us take their pedalboat out on the lake, harvest their raspberries, and join them for dinner on several occasions. They know how to cook some pretty amazing salmon. Without their generosity and wonderful hospitality we would, in all likelihood, have spent the next week living with the stuffed animals at the airport, eating from Yoghurtland, and generally disrupting the orderly flow of Alaskan travelers. We are extremely grateful for the kindness they showed us.

Ron gave us a call a few days later to say that our bikes had arrived at Delta Airlines Cargo terminal, they’d been cleared by customs and we could take them away. Presumably due to Ron’s mysterious powers, we’d also been given permission to access the terminal, uncrate, reassemble and refuel our bikes on site and ride them out of the building.

Our crate arrived withe even more packaging than when we sent it.

 

 

With the help of Jerry and some of the Delta ground crew, we attacked our crates with box cutters like excited kids at Christmas time, and were relieved to find that our bikes were only as damaged as they were when we packed them. We spent a good 2 hours in the middle of the cargo terminal, putting wheels and racks back on, reassembling tanks and carburetors that had to be removed for flight, and re-oiling and re-battery-ing our engines. When the time came to kick them over, it immediately became apparent that we’d done something wrong. Instead of them bursting into life, one of them burst into a small electrical fire due to a loose temperature gauge wire that had been hastily cellotaped on in New Zealand. Undeterred, we extinguished the fire and filled our fuel tanks to capacity. With the next kick, petrol started geisering from the rear of the bikes, all over the floor of the terminal. Turning the bikes off didn’t stop the flow of petrol so we scrambled around trying to find tupperware to catch it in, and trying to remember which way to turn the fuel tap that we had reinstalled upside down.

Reunited with our steeds, moments before they started smoldering and spewing fuel everywhere.

 

The Delta employees had gone back to work on their own duties and we worried that when they came to check on us they might freak out at the cloud of smoke and pool of petrol on the floor. We decided to drag our explosion-waiting-to-happen outside before something worse happened. Before we could, a worker with a native Alaskan accent returned.

“We’re going to drag this stuff outside so you guys have a bit more room”, Tig’s voice echoed in the ginormous,  practically empty building.

“Oh ok. Hey is that gasoline in that can?”

“Yeah, we’re just going to drag this stuff outside.”

“Oh. Ok. Yeah we don’t usually let people bring gasoline in here.”

“Yeah. We’ll drag this stuff oustide.”

Tig kept the worker busy, engaging him in a worthless conversation about salmon fishing in the area, while Tim scrambled to mop up the spilled, and thus far unnoticed gasoline with tissues and pieces of cardboard.

Outside the terminal we couldn’t figure out why our bikes were haemorraging fuel and weren’t starting like we’d like them to. Luckily Jerry returned from running an errand with  a ginormous truck, the normal mode of transport for an everyday Alaskan. We loaded the scooters into the truck and drove them the short distance back to the house, ate some awesome chili that Jane had whipped up for us, and got to work re-deassembling the bikes to find out where we went wrong. It turned out that Tig had forgotten to clip the valve onto the float inside the carburetor, so as gas went in the valve didn’t engage and the gas went out again. We had our bikes, we had a garage to work on them, and we finally had them going.

Despite all attempts to leave the next day, weather, sleep-ins and a comfortable RV to stay in kept us with Jerry and Jane for 2 more days. We used the time to figure out how we were going to attach all our gear to our bikes, something we had thought about but not actually done back in NZ.

Back at the Casey’s with our bikes, decorating them with the ridiculous amount of gear we hauled with us.

We picked a beautiful day to hit the road. Although “Fall” had arrived the weather in Anchorage was regularly better than anything Wellington could manage on a Summertime day. With our bikes frighteningly maxed out with gear, we said goodbye to Jerry and Jane and gladly let them pray for us. We both knew we’d need it.

Saying goodbye to the Casey’s, our amazing hosts that fed, sheltered, and showed us round Anchorage while we waited for our bikes to arrive.

Check in again tomorrow to hear about our eventful 350 mile haul into Alaska’s interior.

Tig & Tim

 

 

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 33,875 Comments

Due to a high level of demand…

You can check out our Stuff interview here

And Tig’s interview on National Radio here

Share on Facebook
Posted in Uncategorized | 33,760 Comments