Saturday, July 9, 2016

Waiting For A Train.

Celebrating Jim's birthday with a fantastic meal is starting to turn into a thing.  Last year it was Shanghai, this year it was at Muncho Lake BC.   Once again the weather cleared and we had a great morning riding down through the northern Canadian Rockies.  

Once the mountains receded and we approached Alberta things got boring.  But we did find possibly the greatest cinnamon buns ever baked at the Testa River Lodge.  Leaving Fort St. John it seemed appropriate to take a run out the Peace River Valley past the Site C damn site.  It is an an extremely beautiful valley and a real shame that it is destined to be 50M under water in the near future.  Seeing it was Canada Day (July 1), a stop at a Canadian institution was warranted  (in Chetwynd of all places).

It was at this point that the group got separated.  No big deal, we have technology and cell phone connections.  The thing is that when you are sending email messages and satellite communications texts it helps if the other parties notice the new message blinking red LED on their phones and satellite communicators.  None the less our path crossed at a gas station in Grande Prairie and we all headed off to Route 40 and Hinton for the night.  "Hinton?", you ask.  Well if you ever looked up the price of a hotel room in Jasper over a holiday long weekend in the summer you'd understand.  The finale of this trip was a classic - down the Columbia Icefields Parkway from Jasper down to Lake Louise then across Yoho National Park and Rogers Pass to Revelstoke.

Our timing as we pulled into the parking lot at the Spiral Tunnels was impeccable;  the screaming brakes of a train coming down the hill filled the valley.  We took up our viewing positions and waited for the train. 

And sure enough the front of the train made itself around the bend and headed into the tunnel.

And a little later thst same front of the train appeared a little lower down the mountain at the tunnel exit.  The rest of the train was still snaking around the bend and into the tunnel entrance above.

One of my favourite restaurants in the world is in Revelstoke, so not to leave anything to chance I had made reservations a few days before.  And of course in the intermediate time I had had the taste of the superb Woolsey Creek Bistro's bison back ribs on my tongue - thankfully they weren't sold out when we took our seats.  In fact they had enough for five of the six of us.  And trust a Californian to find a local wine that none of the locals had ever heard of before but now intent on finding more of.  Our last morning together on this ride found us at a French boulangerie staffed by Australians in a small town in BC; where in the winter cold arctic air meets warm pacific air sucked up the Columbia River and dumps a crap ton of snow every year.  But all that snow only explains why the Australian are here.
It was here the group separated once again, this time on purpose.  Those of us that headed south had a great uncluttered ride down through the Kootenays on down to Wenatchee.

Those that headed over the Coquihalla thinking they were on that fast track home quickly found all that last day of the long weekend traffic heading hone at the same time.

Anyways, it was a great 10-days or so ride around BC with a great bunch of guys who for the most part only met up about a year ago in Istanbul.   There's still a bunch of BC that might be there later but I'm not planning on chancing anything.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

All The Jade In China...

The owner of the hotel had noticed our noisy efforts out in his front yard - and believe me the 5 of can raise a ruckus - and volunteered that the local mechanic in town was pretty good.  "Up here if you call yourself a mechanic, you better be good", I believe was his exact description of Charlie.  So first thing in the morning it was to Charlie's Place to see what he could for a broken bolt.  With some of his first words after taking a first pass at it being "Wow, that bolt is pretty hard steel", it wasn't looking good.  But he managed to get a pilot hole through and enough bite with an easy-out bit to remove the bolt.  A few minutes rummaging around the spare parts bin found an appropriately sized bolt with the correct thread count and pitch.  And Dean was happy to be on his way with the rest of us.

The morning was clear but clouding over with full on rain by the time we got to Watson Lake.  But the nice part provided some great scenery and an ever increasing wildlife count - note the 3-beaver heads in the picture below.

Up near the north end of Highway 37 is a place called Jade City, a family owned operation that mines and sells Jade.  

They even have their own reality TV show.

As approximately 90% of the jade that is currently mined world wide comes from this area I'm pretty certain that all the jade bought last year in China by the Silk Road group came from here.  I picked up some things appropriate for this year's ride.

After lunch in Watson Lake, which was about the extent of our time in the Yukon, we rode South back into BC.  The weather broke as we pulled up to Liard River Hot Springs providing more than enough time for some messing about in the very warm and sulfurous waters.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Breaking In A New Bike

There was 4 of us who met up in Boston Bar that Thursday night and there was still 4 of us passing through Ksan on the way North up Highway 37 two days later.

There also was in addition one straggler who planned to join up with us at Dease Lake on Tuesday night with his tentative departure from the Seattle area early Monday morning - a 1200 mile ride over 2-days.  Not only that, but Dean had already ridden up from Southern California in an equally short amount of time; through Bend Oregon because there isn't one of us who won't go the long ways when offered that opportunity.  And did I mention that he was on a brand new bike?  A 500cc Honda Swiss army knife of a motorcycle that he was shaking down in preparation of ridding next year's Globeriders Cape to Cairo trip - and yes, I am jealous.  Monday morning we were all woken up very early as a text message was delivered to our phones from Dean: "Across the border and am now in Canada".  It was 5:00AM early in the morning.

We had a beautiful day heading up Highway 37 once waking up again at more reasonable hour.

And the wildlife count escalated with every mile as foxes, martins, marmots, and more bears were passed doing whatever foxes, martins, marmots and bears do along side of the road.

After dinner at the White food shack (partially because it was supposed to be the best food in town but mostly because the Blue shack - the other food option in town - was closed), in Dease Lake we received the second message of the Dean: "In Vanderhoof for the night".  A 600 or so mile day's ride.  And with that good news we cracked open the second bottle of Scotch for this trip... there were 4 soon to be 5 of us after all.

When I was growing up in Prince George (BC), during the winter time I seem to have ingrained in my mind that a place called Telegraph Creek always had the reported coldest temperatures during the nightly 6 o'clock TV news reports.  It has been a place I have wanted to to go to ever since then.  The road to Telegraph Creek is about 75 miles of infamous uncertainty so it was with some trepidation that some in the group face the next day with.  But it was a glorious day and we all had blast even on the fresh calcium chloride being sprayed on the road to keep the dust down.

And yes we all made it all the way.

The best part may well have been at the store where we had a choice of day old rhubarb and blueberry pie or if we waited an hour, fresh out of the oven pie.  Just as I believe that week old gazpacho is better than fresh gazpacho, day old rhubarb and blueberry pie is better than pie fresh out of the oven.  And it damn near might have been the best pie I've ever had at the end of a 75-mile long dirt road, or anywhere else.

The day's ride finished behind the post office back in Dease Lake to get our bikes powered washed off of that nasty calcite stuff that can harden hard as cement.

Once showered and cleaned up it was time to check on just where Dean was - he has the same tracker technology I have.  Once determined he was about an hour away we cracked open a round of beers (in Canada the plural for beer is beers), and waited while congratulating ourselves on the day's paltry 150 mile ride.  Right on time Dean showed up so it was another round of beers all around as we oohed and aahed over the new bike - and his epic 1200 some odd mile ride to catch up with us.

After dinner (the White shack again because even though the Blue shack was open all the people were lined up at the White shack), it was back to the parking lot of the hotel to ooh and aah some more over the new bike.  It was about this time that Ken asked while pointing at a vital connection point on the new bike, "Is that bolt supposed to be loose like that?".  Turns out it shouldn't have been.  After trying to reseat the bolt using every tool we could dig out of our tool kits and positioning the bike in all sorts of comprising positions...

Someone had the bright idea to make sure that the bolt wasn't stripped.  It wasn't stripped - it was broken.  Sheared off about a half inch inside the boss on the aluminum engine block.  At that point there was nothing left do but have another beer and figure out what to do the next day.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Close Encounters Of The Bear Kind

Not everything is smaller than you remember it from as a child.  I haven't been to Barkerville since the mid-70's and there is way more stuff there than I remember.  We got up early enough to get to the site before it officially opened but the guard had the side gate open so the early risers like us could have breakfast at Wake Up Jakes.  We were also able to wander around for the hour or so we had before heading north and west to Smithers for that night's layover.  It was not nearly enough time.

There were a couple of options open as we headed West out Smithers with a stop at the Ksan village in Hazelton winning by a strong consensus.   A trip up the Nass valley will have to wait for the next time - and there will be a next time.

After a remarkably informative few hours we were off again to this time to Stewart where there are 2 (yes 2) glaciers that you can drive up to.  The first is the Bear Glacier which is on the main highway into town.

The second is the Salmon Glacier on the other side of town, which while it is in Canada requires a short drive through the USA to reach.  Funny enough there is no border inspection going into Hyder Alaska from Stewart but there sure is an overly inquisitive Canadian border agent waiting for you on your ride back to Canada.

Just after leaving the Bear Glacier overlook heading into Stewart a pickup truck approached us with its lights flashing and all manner of arms and hands waving out the windows.  I flashed back in acknowledgement and starting scanning the road ahead.  The large black mass that initially registered as a shadow upon closer inspection transformed into a bear.  A bear that happened to be half parked (the back half) on the road while devouring a large entanglement of ditch side berries.  Keeping a wide berth in the other lane we all managed to pass by without disturbing her meal and carried on into town.  It would not be the last nor closest bear encounter we would have on this trip.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Signs Of The Times

Heading North on this trip, into the North West of BC to be exact.  The goal, Telegraph Creek - a point on a map at the end of a road.  And why this trip, something so local?   Well for one thing I got a job that will preclude any larger than life adventures for a few years.   And it is because of a remark often uttered by Brian when questioning  my routing decisions.  When observing that we would be bypassing something potentially interesting but close to home on our way to somewhere not so close by he would almost always ask why.  My usual answer was "Ah, it's close and it will be there later", on which he would invariably comment "But I might not be".

3-other fellow riders from last year's Silk Road adventure and myself met up in Boston Bar in time for a great dinner before heading north the next morning.  We stopped a few places along the way to educate our visiting Californian about the history of the province.

Following the original route of the Caribou wagon road over Pavilion Mountain was a piece cake on the BMW GS motorcycles we all were riding.

Having travelled this route before I had suggested that the coffee shop in Clinton would make a great spot for a mid-morning break.  When we arrived in town the "Open" sign was all lit up - but the little post-ey note on the door proclaimed "Closed 11-12: Meeting".  Checking our watches we agreed that waiting the 5 or so minute until noon was not going to effect our schedule (and calling it a schedule was being overly generous) and that a fresh cup of coffee was far more important at that moment.  By the time 12:15 had rolled around and the "Closed 11-12: Meeting" sign now being nothing more than a broken promise we were back on our bikes headed North; keeping our eyes open for signs of lunch.

Through the spotty rain that fell we eventually made it to Wells, our destination for the night.  It was quite the surprise to find that the lobby bar proclaimed to have the largest Scotch collection in North America, if not the world.  While the greatest in the world part may be in question the the list did stretch out longer than I am tall and it certainly surpassed that of the Scotch bar in the Shanghai hotel we had stayed in last June.  Needless to say we sampled our way through the offerings an inch or two up the list.

On our way into Barkerville first thing the next morning there was an obviously very recent addition to the signs at the park's boundary.  I wonder what the hardy Victorian era miners of the 1860's would have thought when faced with a sign reading:  "Permit Required For All Drones".

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Brian J. Wallace

Brian Wallace changed my life for the better innumerable times; he was my uncle, that was his job.  He let me drive his 2.8 CS,  injecting a life long appreciation of fine German automobiles.  The time spent in his Morgan confirmed to never ever own anything with Lucas Electronics.  And  if you've ever wondered why the British drink warm beer it's because they all own Lucas refrigerators. 

He introduced me to BMW motorcycles.  

It was sometime in the seventies and we were driving down the Island  to Victoria. Pulling up to the stop light in Duncan Brian drifted into the right hand lane, stopping beside two idling motorcycles; rolled down his window and turned the ignition key to off.  As the light turned green he turned to me with the universal shush symbol and a devilish grin; the motorcycles rev-ed up in unison and ran off down the highway.  “Those were BMW’s” he said restarting the car and getting it into gear; “I think I want one of those”.

Fast forward to a time just over ten years ago and I was at my parents place awaiting Brian’s arrival for dinner.   Marilyn was on the phone as he rode up on a motorcycle.  Informed of his arrival and mode of transportation she strangely asked what color the motorcycle was.  “Shit” was not the expected answer when being told that it was silver.  Brian had just bought his first BMW motorcycle.

And here he changed my life yet again as I now had to fulfill my part of a bargain we had recently ginned up (although for sure there was more scotch than gin involved).  Over the next few years we embarked on our annual Odyssey; visiting Frank Lloyd Wright sites and taking in Major League Baseball games across North America, all done of course on BMW motorcycles.

Along with architecture and baseball there was one other constant with these trips which I have been forbade to tell of, until now.  Brian dropped his bike.   A lot.  It usually happened when he was stopped in a parking lot, at a gas station, on the side of the road getting a picture or just taking in the view.  Once the bike was back up with the rubber side down he invariably would turn and say “You are not to blog this”.  I unquestionably agreed, but was never sure who he thought he was fooling, it certainly was not Marilyn.  I can’t think of a time when he didn’t return home bruised, scarred, limping or wearing a cast.  And I doubt there was ever a trip that wasn’t completed without a repair bill to put all the broken motorcycle bits back together.

Eventually North America wasn't big enough and plans were made for something a little more adventurous.  Along with Brian’s friend Jim Mattison, we had  signed up for a 2-month long motorcycle ride from Istanbul Turkey to Xi’an China along the fabled Silk Road.  As this ride of a lifetime wasn't scheduled until the following year it was decided that we needed some preparation.  

First off was a Spring ride through the Chilcotin mud to Barkerville.  Early on the second day I found myself waiting for the other two an inordinately long time at a cross road.  Just as I was getting on my bike to head back, over the hill rode Brian and it was obvious what had happened.  As they pulled up Jim immediately voiced his concern about the hard fall Brian had taken.  He was also amazed at just how fast Brian had gotten his bike back up on its wheels.  “He’s had a lot of practice” I said.  And he got a lot more practice that weekend; returning home yet again from a trip bruised, scarred and limping with all sorts of broken bits hanging off his motorcycle.

Last Fall we set out once again, this time the objective being simply riding across Canada to Newfoundland and back.  Other than battling miserable weather all the way East and a few mechanical issues the 6-week trip unfolded rather smoothly.  And for the first time Brian did not once drop his bike.  A short time after getting home he received the diagnosis of a brain tumor.

In addition to preparing our bikes and ourselves for the Silk Road, Brian had been busy at work exercising his new found love of pottery;  firing off a series of medallions that he planned to give away to people he met on his journey.  We met up the day before I left for Europe where he entrusted me with the bag of medallions and his mission, as he himself was now unable.  With the great and appreciative help of the other riders on the trip his task was enthusiastically completed.  Each of us dutifully reported directly back to Brian the experience of the day and of the recipient of his gift.

The medallions provided all of us an amazing conduit to get that much closer to the people of the lands we travelled through as well as allowing Brian to vicariously ride along with us all the way to China.   Sharing the medallion experience across Central Asia was  only the most recent way Brian Wallace changed my life for the better.   I do not expect it will be the last.