Friday, July 17, 2015

Guest Article - Ian - The Arctic Circle Trip - Chapter 1/8.

"Bikes on Tuesday, Boat on Wednesday."  

A layoff in the fall of 2014 led to me being in search of regular employment for the better part of the spring of 2015, after taking a six-week sabbatical in the Philippines with my wife to film and photograph for several non-profit organizations.  

After a first attempt circling southwestern British Columbia and Alberta, putting some serious miles on the old Durango, word came from Dad that he intended to purchase a new motorcycle and that I would be able to access Blondie as needed as work transportation if something came up for the summer, as long as three conditions were met:  “No single-track, you-break-you-fix, and back in Tahsis by October.”    As plans came together those conditions were extended to include “Share with your brother and your cousin,” and after an exuberant display of my amazing riding skills one afternoon: “No wheelies!”
Chilliwack, BC to Chilliwack, BC, via Inuvik, NWT.
A taxi driver's wetdream.

Initially, I had planned on riding Blondie strictly in the lower mainland, with the intent of finding local work for the summer/fall and then focusing on flying again in the winter/spring of 2016.  I did plan on doing a loop of the interior and northern BC at one point or another in search of flying work, but had reservations about an extended trip alone on a bike after a four year hiatus from riding and limited income to cover expenses.  When the discussion of Dad’s summer plans included mention of heading to Alaska via Dawson City, I suggested that I tag along dropping in at potential employers along the way, making it as far as the border and then turning back southeast to continue my job search, as leaving the country on employment insurance is discouraged.  In addition, I proposed, since I had friends working in Inuvik that “since we’re so close, why not do the Dempster?”  Upon Dad’s agreement and excited response, a plan started to form into a 10,000 kilometer circuitous trip including two provinces and two territories, navigating through Northern British Columbia, along the Alaska Highway, the Dempster Highway, the Deh Cho Liard Highway, several crossings of the Mackenzie River, a trip down through Peace River, across the Athabasca, up to Fort McMurray, and then finally south to familiar territory through Edmonton, Calgary, and the Okanagan.

Try as I might, I couldn't convince dad to "Supersize"
his purchase to an R1200GSA.
We planned on me picking up Blondie from Dad around the time he arranged purchase of his 2015 F800GS Adventure (yet-to-be-named, but let’s call her Brownie for now; as I suggested “Geri” initially but since the synonymous implications with coming of the age of experience were implied jokingly, the name didn’t sit well with Dad).  We set a date where I would be dropped off at the ferry in Tsawassen, picked up by a good VW car club friend and delivered to meet Dad at a longtime family friend’s residence in Saanich.  From there, we would double on Blondie to Island BMW in Victoria to pick up Brownie, and set out on a quick 500KM break-in ride around the Port Renfrew loop, to return the next morning for Brownie’s initial service, and the swapping and installation of some farkles (aftermarket parts) from Blondie to Brownie including heavy-duty Excel rims and dirt-rated tires, a rear tailplate for a topcase, a new Scott’s steering dampener, and Blondie’s old yellow skidplate.  As the saying goes, the best plans never survive the first battle, so Dad’s original plan of “Bike on Tuesday, Boat on Wednesday” was a little more optimistic than I anticipated, after personally having worked in the automotive service industry.

New electronics and fancy adjustable suspension
necessitated a cursory instruction from a sales associate.

“Bike on Tuesday” turned out to work mostly as intended, aside from an extended hike to the insurance agent’s office to acquire registration and proper coverage for Brownie after signing the purchase agreement.  The morning started with a nervous doubled ride on the back of Blondie as Dad coped with an additional heft in the northern region of 250lbs on his back seat, a stretched drive chain and a severely compressed rear suspension on Blondie due to an inaccurate resting sag adjustment.  We arrived promptly at 7:55 AM and spent the next several hours waiting for negotiations, paperwork and financing to be completed before the bill-of-sale could be completed.  Despite little preparation work save for a deposit and reservation being done, the transaction went relatively smoothly for a drop-in-and-buy motorcycle purchase.  However, it was unfortunate that the dealership failed to have an arrangement with a mobile insurance agent, as the 5-block uphill hike in riding gear on a warm summer day wasn’t a welcome while much-needed exercise break. 


After Brownie was PDI’ed, plated, tagged, and pledged, we set off on a round-the-loop ride with Mike R. who joined us on his V-Strom.  Dad immediately was impressed by the “tighter” condition of Brownie in comparison to Blondie, who at this point had accumulated approximately 173,000 kilometers of riding experience since purchase in the spring of 2009.  Several years of refinement by BMW had netted an improved engine output by a couple horsepower, an electronically-adjustable rear suspension, increased fuel range with eight liters more fuel, a reinforced rear sub-frame, and selectable engine performance maps for street or off-road enduro use.  In addition, Brownie came with fancy LED running-lights and nice aluminum hard luggage which was much narrower than Blondie’s Pelican-based panniers and conveniently shared a common key with Brownie’s ignition.

Stopping for lunch in Port Renfrew after a nice scenic
 drive around the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
After a day of riding and initial impressions on the ride from Victoria to Port Renfrew and back, we returned to Saanich and planned to drop the bikes off for services and parts-swapping the next day.  The following day I suggested we acquire a rental car, as my suspicions were met when informed that Island BMW would need the bikes for at least two days, if not three, to perform the list of tasks Dad had set out for them.  

Our rental chariot, a Mazda 2.

We hoofed it over to a local Enterprise car rental and rented a sub-compact Mazda 2 hatchback, and managed to spend our time downtown shopping for a sleeping bag for myself, some camp supplies including bear spray, and a selection of breathable sports shirts from Value Village.  Additionally, Dad purchased a pair of Sena 20S Bluetooth headsets from Adrenalin Motorsports, enabling us to communicate (in theory) more effectively than angry gestures while riding together.

These boots have been all across North and South America,
and a large quantity of Australia.  After over 200,000km,
these well-worn boots are nearing retirement.
While walking around downtown Victoria, Dad managed to spot a local cobbler, and was able to repair a broken seam on his Sidi Adventure boots while we waited.  Analog technology still has a strong place in this modern world, while the cobbler was despondent that he had no apprentices to pass along his trade to for the next generation.

Bella applied the vinyl expertly as her apprentice and Dad looked on.

In the afternoon of the first day of service after returning from our shopping spree, we observed a local vinyl expert refurbishing a pair of hard luggage cases for a K1600GTL at Island BMW, and after some inquiry and negotiaions secured an installation date with Bella, otherwhise known as Vinyl Girl, to install a carbon-fiber wrap around the tankbag and knee section on Brownie.  The entire process took about an hour, and left a finish that was indistinguishable from a factory applique.

The vinyl wrap has proven to be very durable
after 10,000km.  Here it is freshly applied.
Finally, on the second day, we returned to find Brownie and Blondie both ready for action, with new tires, chains, farkles, dampeners, and a properly tuned suspension ready for the heavy loads the bikes would be carrying.

We packed our bags, returned the Mazda, and made tracks for the Ferry, only to find we were too late for the 3pm sailing, and much too early for the 5pm, necessitating a bit of a wait on the warm tarmac.  

Seeing two bikes heavily burdened with camping gear and belongings prompted what would be the first of many conversations with strangers intrigued by our motorcycle adventure.  After a ferry ride to Tsawassen and an evening blast home to Chilliwack, we prepared for the next chapter in our journey; northbound to Dawson City, Yukon.... 

Waiting for the bikes to be serviced, the selection of baggage
to be mounted for the trip to Chilliwack.  Max gross weight?
Playing tetris with baggage and exposing Brownie to her
first real load, and getting used to what the next
200,000km of riding with Redhed will likely entail.
Loaded and strapped, ready to roll.
"How long have you boys been on the road?"
 - "About twenty minutes."

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Northern Road Trip

A beautiful Spring in British Columbia  meant that my wanderlust was ramping up as quickly as the temperatures.  I decided that I would point my nose towards the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.  I also decided that it was time to invest in a second touring bike, as Blondy has accumulated over 170,000 kilometers and needed a bit of a rest.

My son Ian decided to join me for this tour, and after some fitting and fidgeting at Island BMW in Victoria, we were able to get to the mainland to refit the bikes for a northern ride.

Leaving Chilliwack, BC

Both bikes prepped and ready.

We hit our first patch of rain just outside Hope, BC.

A roadside chain adjustment on Blondy after a couple thousand KM.

We were to meet up with my friend Doug at Cache Creek. We eventually met up with him in Quesnel, after a nice night of camping at 100 mile House. We travelled north to Chetwynd, where Ian decided that Blondy had too much of a lean, and he borrowed his uncle Brian's torch to adjust the kickstand.

Ian attempted to repair the aging kickstand on Blondy in Chetwynd.

Afer a great visit with my Sister and her husband Brian, we headed north from Chetwynd, through to Hudson Hope.  We stopped at an overview to get a glimpse of the majestic valley, which will be flooded when the Site C dam is completed.

This valley vista will soon be replaced by several million gallons of water, as the site C dam near Hudson Hope is constructed.

Heading towards Fort Nelson on the Alaska Highway, we had our first encounter with the northern Bison.  These wonderful creatures are a magnificent living legacy of  the frontier days of Canada.

Ian is looking for the right angle to approach sleeping Bison...

Our goal as we headed  north  from Fort Nelson was to hit Dawson City in time for  the "Dust to Dawson" gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts.  Without incident, we arrived on schedule, with a couple of days to enjoy the gathering and participate in some local rides.

Doug and his new Suzuki

The bikes lining up for the midnight photo

We found Dawson City to be very open to the 400 or so bikers in town, and the wide streets and friendly shops were very welcoming.

The Dust to Dawson rendevous brings bikes and welcome tourist dollars to Dawson City.

Wide open streets and wide-open skies 

The turn of the century architecture evokes the days of old

Advertising potable sprits, as opposed to plain poison....

Yukon poetry

Many winters of snow load on the old roof

Love the wide streets....

We all know about  Diamond tooth Gerty, don't we?

The Triple J Hotel hosted the gathering of bikes.

Team Pterodactyl rides again..

Great venue for the bike gathering

Early morning gathering before the poker run.
This grand old Trans Alp came over from Red Deer.

Love these Beemers..

Ready to go


Slow Rider race

Time for the poker run.

Golden  Oldie

Where do we start?

Another  classic

Packing her up

A well stocked Ural

Unfortunately, a visitor from Alaska did not make a corner, and the beemer was pretty much toast.

Sign of the North

Calling Home

Dawson City lies on the mighty Yukon River and relics of the past illustrate the power of that river and the efforts men made to get to the gold fields..

Ship called Keno.

Apparently Robert Service wrote some of his poetry while employed in this building.

A ferry crosses the Yukon, carrying folks towards Alaska
 A plaque illustrates the trials of the early prospectors

Heading for Gold

We went on a day  ride which took us into the gold fields near Dawson City.  We passed dredges and working placer mines.

The dredges are huge, leaving mountains of rock as they slowly move through the river valleys.

The final leg on the poker run was an obstacle course, ending with a good sample of target fixation.

 There were motorcycle games in the parking lot of the hotel, with the slow race being very popular.

 A young fellow from Argentina was participating on his 125 cc  bike.

Wide awake at Midnight

Add caption
 At 12:00 midnite, all participants gathered for a group photo....

 After the group photo, we travelled to the Dome, which is the high point behind Dawson City.  People were photographing the mindnight Sun, and paragliding from the top of the mountain into the valley below.

We decided to lighten our loads for the Dempster Highway, and a pre ride check of our gear confirmed that we could store quite a bit and still make the 750 kilometer run to Inuvik.

 We came upon "Two Moose Lake" after a few hours of travel on the gravel.. Sure enough, two moose were busy in the lake.  I wonder if the Yukon government have them on retainer?

Some of the gravel sections required close concentration and focus on the road. I found that Red Bull did give me wings....

 We had planned on needing extra fuel, as there a few gas stops on the way.

Eagle Plains was a welcome stopover for fuel and food.

There were a number of ferry crossings as we approached the northern reaches of the Territories.  The Mackenzie River is a wide and powerful River.

Clay contemplating the Mackenzie River

Ian managed to find us a bunk space in a helicopter hanger when we finally arrived in Inuvik.

His friends were able to take us up on a  short trip over the estuary of the Mackenzie River and over the town of Inuvik.

Ian performed some late night maintenance on Blondy, attaching the GPS to the bike so that it is more readable.

The ride south from Inuvik required focus and attention to the varying road conditions.

The bikes did not like the calcium chloride which was used on the roads to keep the dust down.  The mixture tended to make for slippery conditions and was very bad for the bikes' chains.

Blondy was very sad at the amount of dirt covering her...

Back in Dawson City, the bikes spent a great deal of time getting power-washed, and cleaned.

Ian and I headed back down the Alaska Highway to Fort Nelson, with a stop at the Liard Hot Springs. 

From Fort Nelson, we headed north again via the Liard Highway, aiming for Yellowknife.

Some sections of this route need a good grading, and the mounds of gravel made for interesting riding in some parts.

The bugs seemed to  become bigger and meaner as we travelled into the Territories.

Again, fuel availabilty was an issue for the F800, and we were grateful to have planned on this and were utilizing the Rotopax tank.

After a long ride, we arrived in Yellowknife. Ian treated me to a wonderful cod dinner at  a famous local eatery.  

The cook's sauce on the cod was excellent, and a fine way to celebrate Ian's return to Yellowknife.

I had a great tour of Yellowknife...

We camped in a local campground, adjacent to the airport.

The Rock has some interesting bands of different minerals flowing through it.
 An old remnant of flying days gone by was mounted on a nearby rock..

Ian hooked up with an old girl friend named Zoe.

We visited the airport, and took  a tour of Buffalo Air, meeting some of the personalities of the TV show.

The DC 3 cockpit looks pretty simple, compared to modern cockpits.

This particular DC 3 flew over Normandy, during D Day...
A belly tank...
Modern and expensive propeller...

After a rest in Yellowknife, we headed south to Hay River, where Ian reconnected with his friend Mike.

 We passed by Alexandra Falls....

 We spent the night at a campground on Slave Lake, and I reconnected with an old friend and fishing partner......

The campground  is very popular  with folks in northern Alberta..

 A very nice little girl and her dad brought over drinks and a fruit dish for the tired bikers......

After leaving Slave Lake, a grouse flew out of nowhere  and smashed the front headlight on Blondy.  After 180,000 km's, she gets taken out by a dumb bird.

After a visit to Fort McMurry, we headed south and landed in Edmonton for a visit with my son Gord and his wife...