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Heading North


It appeared that I had spent a good part of the past two months doing nothing but obsessing about the trip, planning, shopping, packing, and all at once the day was here – the day I had penciled into my calendar as the day of departure.

Sarah had ridden down from Portland the day before. We had spent the afternoon exchanging notes, showing each other our purchases, and finishing up last minute errands. That evening we got together with Jasen and drank to the success of our journey.

On the day of our departure – June 21st, 2008 – I spent a good couple of hours sorting through all my stuff and setting aside at least half of it.Nothing like last minute unpacking and repacking? My bike was still unbelievably heavy. All of the bike’s movements were exaggerated by the heavier load. I knew that I would get used to the weight after a few hours, but at the time I fervently went through every single item I had thought was “indispensable” and tossed whatever I thought I could live without. The trouble with going to a remote place like Alaska was that a lot of things that you could live without in the lower 48 you really wanted to have with you “just in case”.

I finally declared the packing done at noon and we decided to get lunch before taking off. We rode down to a little Moroccan restaurant close by – the B&O.

One would expect that I would have been excited beyond words and chomping at the bit to get out on the road, but the reality is that I was feeling not a little nauseous and stressed out as I always do when I am on the cusp of a new adventure. It finally dawned on me that this was it, I was on my way and there was no backing out. My body reacts to stress in extreme ways so that I was feeling physically sick and wanting to lay down and curl up in bed for the rest of the day. The extreme heat of that afternoon wasn’t helping either. The food tasted like ashes in my mouth and I ate more for the sake of eating than out of any real hunger.

Lunch eaten and paid for, it was time to gear up and hit the road!


Within minutes were on I-5 north headed towards Vancouver BC. As we g0t on the freeway, I cast one last wistful look at Capitol Hill, my home and all the comfort and familiarity of the place, missing it already. Leaving home is always gut-wrenching.

Still, part of me was itching to get out of the country. After the first 50 miles or so, it dawned on me – 0ur adventure had begun! We were truly on our way! Alaska, here we come!!

Traffic on I-5N at 2:00PM was what we had expected. It moved quickly and pretty soon we were nearing the border. We had decided to cross into Canada at Sumas rather than Vancouver in the interest of saving time. The route from I-9 to Sumas was along a narrow, winding, charming rural road – the kind of road that I would think longingly of up in the Yukon and Alaska. The sight of a police car along the way made me curb my enthusiasm just enough to ride a sensible pace. No sense tempting fate and picking up a ticket on the very first leg of the journey!


Crossing the border at Sumas

Crossing the border at Sumas

The border crossing was fairly uneventful. We parked our bikes outside and went inside with our paperw0rk. The official gave my passport and visa a cursory look and stamped it with the date of entry.

From here on it was about a hundred miles (I hadn’t begun to think in kilometers yet) to our first stop. Even though the scenery and surroundings weren’t very different from Washington, I was acutely aware of being in a different country and I could feel a part of me trying to come to terms with the lack of familiarity. Little things like the measurements of distance and gas seemed far more important now than they should have been.

Every time we stopped at a restaurant or gas station, people came over to talk to us and to admire Sarah’s gorgeous new KLR. I felt a little bummed that nobody remarked at my 0ld crummy bike.

After riding for about a hundred miles from the border, I started feeling really tired from the stress of the day and my flagging efforts in trying to coax some amount of acceleration out of my heavy bike. We stopped at the first RV park sign I saw. Our spot was a rather scenic one overlooking a river. We didn’t have very much time to enjoy the view though as night fell speedily. We cooked a small dinner from our dehydrated meals over a small camp stove and sipped some of Sarah’s home brewed bourbon.

Finally we retired for the night. I crawled into my tent and snuggled inside my sleeping bag for the first of many nights. It was comforting to be able to see the profile of my bike a few feet away from my tent. A motorcycle, a warm place to sleep, enough money for food and gas, and endless days and nights of adventure on the horizon. What more could a girl ask for? In this, my little microcosm of the world, where all my needs had been stripped to these bare essentials, and all my belongings could be socked away into my panniers, life was simple, life was grand, life was intense, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.



I woke up early the next morning with the first rays of sunshine coming through the clear dome of my dent. I got up and crawled out blinking at the light. I had been periodically awoken during the night by the sounds of freight trains in the distance, but outside of that I had slept well and felt refreshed. Sarah was still asleep. I called out to her and she grunted in response. Taking that to be a sign that she wasn’t ready to stir yet, I started breaking down camp and putting things away. That done, I walked down the gravel path to the center of the campground to find the bathrooms and clean up.

Morning ablutions done, I filled up my camelback with water from a tap. The people in the RVs were now awake and sitting in camp chairs, cooking breakfast and making coffee. Fresh coffee, I thought ruefully as I walked back to camp thinking of the espresso shots we had brought to mix with hot water – our version of coffee. Not nearly the same thing, but it would have to do. I’m not the biggest caffeine addict compared to the general populace of Seattle, but coffee and cigarettes is something I closely associate with motorcycle rides.

By the time I got back to camp, I found Sarah awake and lighting up her stove. I pulled mine out too and together we made some hot water for “coffee” and cooked eggs – the first of our dehydrated meals.

First night camping

Breakfast time!

Breakfast things done and put away, we were ready to saddle up and take off. We hoped to make it to Cache Creek by that afternoon.

The riding up Highway 1 was brilliant. It was a crisp, clear morning and the bike handled really well. I found that accelerating was no problem and soon I was ripping down the highway reveling in the beautiful scenery. Sarah was doing a more relaxed pace and taking time to stop and take photos – a trend that would continue throughout the journey. Some parts of this ride were gorgeous and unusual enough that I finally felt that we had indeed left the United States far behind.



We reached Cache Creek that afternoon as predicted, rolling into town and pulling into the first gas station we saw. We were greeted by a bunch of bikers who sat outside the station and waved at us as we went past and stopped to fuel up. I filled my tank to the top, parked and went inside to get some protein bars and get water. When I came outside, I chatted with the bikers who said that one of them was having engine trouble and was waiting for a tow truck. There were four of them who had ridden across the country, up through Alaska and back and now three of them would continue on down while the one with the downed bike would fly home.

Before we got back on the road, Sarah and I made a stop at the local bank. Even though American money was generally accepted in the area, I had been a bit troubled by the fact that I had no Canadian money. I soon remedied that and got about $200 in Canadian money which I stashed away, hoping it would be enough for the rest of the week.

On we rode now, passing through 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, 150 Mile House, Williams Lake. The weather continued to be brilliant and we were delayed only once by s0me construction.



We were hoping to make it to Prince George by the end of the day but that hope turned out to be a bit ambitious. After doing a particularly long stretch of road after the last gas stop, I realized that I was in danger of running out. The next gas station was almost fifty miles away and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold out until then. We decided to pull over and siphon gas from Sarah’s tank into mine. We pulled off of the main highway and took a little side road to where we saw some houses and a sign announcing cherries for sale.

The transfer of gas was easily done and we set off to search for cherries. The owner of the house we were parked outside sold us some mighty fine cherries – I bought two bagfuls, one for each of us, and some apples.

We heard sounds of song from the house and on inquiry found that it was a church group that had gathered to sing hymns. Sarah looked delighted – “I know those songs! I grew up signing them.” The old man invited us to come in and join in the singing. She looked hesitantly at me and said that we should probably get on our way.

I looked at her with disbelief and said – “This is what we are out here for. To meet people and have these experiences. If you want to sing, we should go join them. It’s more imp0rtant than clocking miles.”

She didn’t need much convincing and we headed over to the house, stopping to take off our boots as requested and into the living room where were greeted by the sight of almost 30 people – men, women, boys and girls – some with hymn books in their laps, all of them smiling and singing. They paused briefly to welcome us into their home and hand out a hymn book to us which we shared.

Sarah was raised in the Southern Baptist church and she had most of the hymns memorized. I found that it wasn’t too difficult for me to follow along either. While I am by no means religious, I was struck by how happy everyone in the room looked and how joyously they sang out. How often does one encounter family members of such varied ages gathering together and sharing such happy moments?  There were husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, teenagers and toddlers alike sitting close, some holding hands or with their arms around each other, some with their heads on the others’ shoulders, the little children crawling on the floor or playing with each other. They all seemed to know most of the songs, and every time one hymn was done, someone called out a request for the next one to the man playing the piano.



We must have spent a good hour there. When we were finally ready to leave, we said our goodbyes quietly and left with the strains of music still leaving the house.

As we got ready to get on the bikes, I asked Sarah – “So – do you think they all voted for Bush?”

She replied – “They can’t. They’re Canadian.”


We laughed all the way back to the road.


That night we stopped at an RV camp and set up our tents in the midst of a big, open, windy field.




Day3: 97N, Prince George, 16W, Vanderhoof, New Hazelton

We made good progress on our third day. We reached Prince George by mid-morning where we made an uneventful gas stop and reached  Burns Lake by mid-day. Parked outside a pizza place we saw a group of BMW motorcycles parked. We pulled into the parking lot and as we got off our bikes, the riders walked out of the restaurant. This time it was my turn to have my bike admired and talked about as none of them so much as glanced at Sarah’s bike. Typical BMW riders!

They told us that they had come down from riding to Inuvik up the Dempster Highway. The ride had been rainy and miserable and the road had been so muddy that it had been like riding on grease. One of their group had had a bad crash with his bike landing on him and he had broken his back and had to be flown to a hospital in Fairbanks. This was very sobering news and for the first time the dangerous nature of some of the routes we had planned on dawned on us. Sarah hadn’t been very keen on riding the Dempster, but I was very intent on at least attempting to get to the Arctic Circle. It would be very tough going if the weather continued to be rainy though and we were going to have to make a decision as to whether to continue going north towards the Dempster or turn west towards Alaska. Still, we didn’t have to decide today. We still had Hyder to look forward to, which we hoped to reach by the end of the day.





We spent more time in Burns Lake than we had intended to, glad to find a place with good food and able to stretch out and relax for a little bit. This cost us dearly however and when evening started to fall we realized that we wouldn’t be able to reach Hyder that day after all. We stopped at a little town called New Hazelton.








Sarah found us lodging in the backyard of a lady’s house who said that we could camp there. As an afterthought, she told us to be careful about the bear.

“The bear?” – we asked politely. She told us that a particular bear visited there every other night and we should be careful about not leaving any food lying around. Oh, good to know, we replied.

We set up our tents under the shelter of the barn and proceeded to eat some sandwiches that we had picked up earlier in the day.



It had been a good day but unfortunately this was where we had our first fight. Spending hours together with one other person can take its toll and the frustrations and disgruntlements that had been building up between us finally spilled out. I had been particularly exasperated at her wanting to go off on gravel roads at the end of a long, tiring day to find places to camp at.

My idea of touring had always been to put in long hours in the saddle and finally stop someplace comfortable to wind down. I was content with stopping anywhere for the night, even an RV park, as long as we stopped riding and had some daylight hours left to kick back and relax. I had toured long enough to know that I would regret it if I did nothing but ride without spending some time off the bike and really experiencing what the place had to offer. While I obviously enjoy riding, the best part of touring is the time off the bike with meeeting people and talking to them, roaming around little towns, finding secret spots and having a quiet smoke while looking out at the water. Thus far we hadn’t done very much of that and I had felt pressured to keep riding until the light started to fail. I have stated before that I was not into  camping and I was even less a fan of riding off-road, having little to no experience with it. The last thing I wanted to do at the end of a long day was to ride my overloaded heavy bike up and down unpaved paths, trying to find a spot that she felt satisfied with. We had done that a couple of times now and I was pissed off about having to do that again tonight.

Sarah on the other hand had started riding with an off-road bike and was far more comfortable on that kind of terrain. She had been steadily frustrated at the fact that we had been doing nothing but tarmac and that I got cranky every time she even suggested going off on a trail. She liked the idea of finding a nice, cosy grassy spot by a river to camp on and she was willing to hunt around for a while to find the perfect spot. She was also intent on riding long hours every day until she felt that she was far enough away from home. She had spent a great deal of money on her bike and equipment, not to mention all her vacation for the next two years, and she felt like the ride was turning out to be a terrible disappointment.

We proceeded to have a heated conversation, neither one trying to find a middle ground. I had the sinking feeling that the adventure was not turning out to be quite as idyllic as I had thought it would be. Here then was the danger in riding with a complete stranger. For all that we had been friends, good acquaintances rather in the past few years, we had never once ridden together and had never discussed what kind of riding we liked to do or what pace we liked to keep. Now it turned out that our ideas of what would make this a ride worth it to each of us were so poles apart that there wasn’t very much we could do to salvage it. We talked briefly about separating and going our own ways, each to finish the ride the way she best wanted.

Neither of us really wanted to separate though, and considering the trials of the road ahead of us, it would have been the worst possible solution to our problems. We didn’t reach any conclusions that night. I half-heartedly said that I would try to do more off-road riding as long as it wasn’t at the end of the day when I was tired.

We finally went to bed without reaching any conclusion. The next morning would see us riding a hundred miles west to reach Hyder, AK. Maybe things would seem different then and we’d be better able to decide where we wanted to go from there.