Day 4 (July 21)
Day 4 was the day the pleasure cruise officially ended. Both the weather and the road conditions took a sudden and drastic turn for the worse. I had to really work for my miles. The euphoric feeling of being on an adventure in a foreign country waned but it did not go away completely.
I left camp at 8:00am and got to the town of Kitwanga at the junction of highway 16 and highway 37 at 9:40am. Highway 16 (which I had been on) continues out to the coast and Prince Rupert. I needed to take 37 to get to Alaska. In Kitwanga I stopped to put on another layer of long sleeves but I didn't get gas since I had only gone 113 miles and I figured I could get another 60 or so before filling up. Well I had gone only a couple miles on highway 37 when I saw a sign proclaiming "Next gas 14, 140 km". By this time I had figured out to use my speedometer as a quick kilometers to miles converter. Just look up 140 km/h on the speedo and see what the equivalent mph is, in this case about 87. (See this picture). For longer distances such as 350km I would just halve it to 175, convert that to 105 and then double it to 210 miles. Lots easier than dividing by 1.6 or multiplying by 0.6. Anyway, I knew I had to stop in 14km for gas. I didn't know that it would be a 2 mile detour off the highway. I rode right past the gas station the first time and I almost rode past it again on my second time around. It consisted of an expanse of dirt with two pumps over by the edge, one for gasoline and one for diesel. I was a bit surprised to be able to pay via credit card. This was the town of Gitanyow.
It wasn't too much longer after I got gas that I started to get really emotional. I think it was triggered by the depressing slum of an Indian town of Gitanyow, the narrowing of the highway, the lack of signs of civilization anywhere, and the general foreboding feeling still lingering with me since the "Next gas" sign. I started singing songs by Roger Whittaker. My mom had a couple of his tapes and we would listen to them on the drive to and from Washington when I was a kid. The one that really got me was called "Last Farewell" and when I finally was able to recall how it went it brought me to tears. The nice thing about being on a motorcycle in the middle of nowhere is that you don't have to worry about anyone seeing or hearing you. I sang and I cried and then I couldn't sing anymore because I was too choked up but I tried anyway. After a few minutes of that I felt a lot better. Raw, pure, unrestrained emotion. Not something that I allow myself to experience very often.
Highway 37 wasn't too bad of a road at first. Then it narrows and the center line all but disappears. Then the gravel patches begin. By gravel patch I don't mean where there is a bit of sand or rocks in the road. I mean a 12 or so foot section of road that isn't paved, just rocky gravelly stuff. After the first couple patches I discovered that the gravel patches were compacted pretty well and I could maintain 50mph across them easily. I started gaining on another motorcycle in front of me and it made me happy that another crazy person on two wheels was out doing the same thing as me. A little bit later there was a flagger stopping traffic. He said it would be about a ten minute wait so I turned off my engine, set the bike down on its side stand, and got off to stretch.
A brake check stop towards the beginning of Highway 37
The motorcyclist in front of me dismounted his bike and came back to talk to me. His name was Adrian and he had been riding all the way from Argentina. His destination was also Alaska but he wanted to go all the way to Prudhoe Bay which is on the northern coast north of the Arctic Circle. This is where the trans-alaska oil pipeline starts and the road leading there is really just a very rough maintenance road. Adrian had been riding for 6 1/2 months on his 750cc Honda Africa Twin. This bike was the opposite of mine. I had a tall windshield, soft seat, cruise control, radio, shaft drive. His bike had none of those ammenities and a chain drive that requires oiling every 500 or so miles. I had a motorcycling jacket and leather gloves and boots. He had a windbreaker and tennis shoes. He had a remarkable, almost childlike manner in that he seemed to view the world with no preconceptions. He was constantly asking questions and he seemed eager to absorb as much information as possible.
Adrian and the motorcycles
Me and the motorcycles
The flagger finally let us pass and I pulled ahead of Adrian since he was keeping a pretty slow pace. My next stop was at the Bell II Lodge. This place is like a miniature town built alongside the road. It's got a gas station, a restaurant, a hotel, a campground, a shop, and probably a post office. I later became a bit more intimately familiar with the place but for now I was just getting gas. I talked to a guy travelling with his wife on a Goldwing towing a trailer. They had been coming from the north and he warned me of rain and lots of gravel including a 12 mile stretch. He also said some sections of the road were very slippery and muddy from the rain.
I continued on my way a bit nervous from these dire warnings. I must say I was very lucky though. There was quite a bit more gravel but it was mostly dry when I was crossing it. In fact just as I finished with one long potholed stretch of gravel it began raining. I had to stop and swap my tinted helmet visor out for a clear one since the cloud cover made it pretty dark and I couldn't just flip my visor open or rain would get in my eyes.
I saw my very first bear. It was a black bear right on the edge of the road and at first I thought it was a big dog. I zoomed past uneventfully but it was a very exciting moment. I saw a group of about 3 more lighter colored black bears a few miles further but bears were old hat by that time. I didn't stop by the bears obviously but I did pull over and take pictures of the road in all its rough glory.
Steel grate bridge
Where I came from
Your tax dollars not at work
Fireweed at a rest stop
I came across a rather gruesome sight. An RV was on its side just off the shoulder of the road. I think what happened was they had moved right to make plenty of room for an oncoming vehicle and the shoulder just gave way and they went over. There was a rather shady looking man standing by the wreckage and when I stopped to take pictures he claimed to be guarding it from bears and from people. He claimed that bears didn't scare him and that the mosquitoes didn't bother him.
Overturned RV 1
Overturned RV 2
The clouds eventually broke in the west where the sun was setting even though it was still ominously gray in the east. These seemed to be perfect rainbow conditions because the one hanging over the trees was definitely the most brilliant and spectacular rainbow I've seen. I pulled off onto the shoulder three separate times to take pictures because it just kept getting better the closer I got. Most rainbows I've seen have appeared very far off but this one seemed to be floating just out of reach as if I could have ridden right underneath it if the road had gone that direction.
Shiny road with bike
I finally got to a campground at 7:15 with only 423 miles on the day but I was sick of riding and I knew the sun wouldn't be out for long and soon the rain would return. I learned a thing about camping and surprisingly I learned it the easy way. Always set up your tent immediately. No matter how hungry you are or what pictures there are to take, set up the tent first. That's what I did when I arrived here and it really payed off. I was eating my canned chili at a picnic table when the rain suddenly started falling and I was able to make a hasty retreat to my tent and eat in comfort. It rained really hard for about an hour but my belongs and I were nice and dry.
Day 4 route