The icy wilderness of Alaska is the perfect place to lose yourself. But Warren doesn’t want to lose himself. He wants to lose someone else.The book, Trudge On, Soul, is the result of three long years of late nights, critique groups, and editing. If you haven't read the blog, I'd suggest you stop reading and at least click here to read the preview chapters of the book. The blog and pictures have spoilers and the book is a much better read. Think of the website as a documentary, and the book as an engaging movie. Triumph Motorcycles did an article on my Adventure here. A Photo Album of the trip is available here. Click here if you want to jump to the start of the blog with an index of each day.
The Adventure Continues...
I slept like a log, no rain or wind all night long. I crawled out of my tent and tried to catch up on my journal but my fingers were so cold I could barely read anything afterwards. Then I inspected my bike and noticed the panniers had shifted and a screw was rubbing against my gas jug. It’s a nice rugged Rotopax that can take a beating but left alone, I’d be trickling gas down the highway before too long. Using the most robust piece of equipment in my possession, I devised a quick fix, one that stayed in place and held for the rest of the trip. But the whole episode got my mind working overtime again and I imagined everything falling apart while I was sailing down the highway. Maybe getting caught in my wheel to vault my bike into some sort of fancy stunt that was sure to end up bad. Yeah, that’s how my mind works.
One drawback of using my pictures is that Mike gets to be in them all. I’ll have to get more of his to throw in here. We geared up and despite my concerns, I felt great and was ready to ride!
I checked my gas mileage, which can also indicate problems. It was quite a bit lower than normal at 36 miles/gallon, but given the mountains, wind, and my heavy load I eventually (I had to stress about it first) decided it was normal under the circumstances. But I decided to plan on a range of 150 miles instead of the 200, just to make sure we didn’t end up out of gas somewhere. My extra gallon wasn’t included in the computation, that was for an emergency.
We loaded up and headed west on the Alcan. Within thirty minutes I saw a bear. No, it was a stump. I rolled past and, no! It was a bear. A huge black bear sitting on his arse in the middle of a bush, munching on berries. I could have reached out and patted his head if I wasn’t so fond of my arm. Okay, maybe I couldn’t have quite reached him, but man, he looked huge and he was close! For only the third wild bear I’ve seen in my life, it was pretty sweet. I rolled past wanting to stop, wanting to take a picture, but not wanting to get mauled by Smokey either. He was gorgeous, a black satin mass of fur. We rolled past without stopping and within a mile I started kicking myself for not trying to get a picture of him after we’d gone past. We were pretty excited though, I’m sure anyone from the far north would have a good laugh at us, acting like we’d just seen bigfoot or something.
A couple hours later we saw another bear, this time a grizzly. Another car had stopped to watch him or we may have zipped right on by. He was further off the road and down a bit so I felt better about stopping for a couple of pictures. Then he went on the move and started to…get ready…drum roll…LUMBER towards me. Excited, I pointed this out to Mike. He confirmed it was a lumber, and I cheered, but went on to say that he had requested a bear “lumbering out of the woods.” I had to concede, he was right. This bear was lumbering through the scrub which is not even close to the same thing. Suddenly, I realized a grizzly bear was lumbering towards me and I was joking about it. I dropped my camera (which was strung around my neck) and give the throttle a healthy twist.
The scenery throughout the day was decent, but not spectacular like the day before. We logged nearly 400 miles, encountered heavy winds at Kluane Lake, and ended the day in some pretty heavy rain. We also were introduced to a pretty standard drill that would become a daily routine for the next two weeks, construction.
The first problem with construction sites were the nasty mosquitoes. I don’t why my ancestors developed genetics that beckons mosquitoes from the next county, but for whatever reason, they did and it was passed on to me. I kept my visor down and watched the cloud form around me. I felt like Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown. It would have been suicide to open my visor. I tried spraying deet on my helmet to buy some space, not a good idea. It must have some mean chemicals in it because it warped some of the plastic on my helmet and headset. Man, what is it doing to my skin? Doesn’t matter, I’d rather deal with that than be eaten alive by tiny little flying piranha.
The second problem was my motorcycle. If I killed my bike I had to wait 4 minutes to start it again due to a funky problem I hadn’t yet figured out. I had to wait until my fuse box reset or it would act like I had a dead battery. I could tell when it reset because my GPS would shut down. So we’d roll up behind a line of cars and try to guess if it would be longer or shorter than four minutes. It was almost always longer, so I’d generally just take a chance and turn it off and then sit there while mosquito kamikazes tried to take me out. Once the GPS shut off, I relaxed. It is a stupid thing to worry about, I mean, the other cars could have gone around me. It’s not like I would have been left behind stranded forever on the side of the road because I missed my chance. But I worry about a lot of stupid things, and it stressed me. In the end, there was only one time I was waved forward and could only sit there helplessly. It worked out fine.
Not knowing exactly when gas would be available, I stopped whenever it was available if I had gone over 50 miles since my last fill-up (and wasn’t sure when I’d get the next chance). It paid off on the long stretch before Tok (pronounced Toke, like Coke…I’ll save you having to be corrected by the locals) I probably would have still made it with the spare jug, but I’d rather not have to dig that out if I can help it (I have to take off my side bags and the rack to get to it).
We decided to make the final push for Chistochina. We had heard great things about the Red Eagle Lodge there and wanted to stay a night. If we stayed in Toq, we’d have to fly right past it in the morning. I knew we were going through some gorgeous country full of wildlife and given it was early evening, I was sure we’d see plenty. We didn’t. The scenery looked like wildlife heaven. In fact, we kept commenting along the lines of, “man, if I was a moose, I’d totally live there,” or “If I was a bear, you can bet I’d lumber out of those woods, several times a day.” Apparently, though, we are rather ignorant about moose or lumbering bears. We saw nothing.
Maybe the reason we didn’t see any wildlife was the weather; we smacked hard into a feisty little storm. Once that started pounding us I decided that no matter what I was (bear, moose, or lumberjack), I would not be lumbering anywhere in that mess. Yet ironically, that’s all we could do, lumber cold and wet for Chistochina. With limited visibility, we pushed ahead. It was a good test of my gear because I stayed warm and dry (with my heated gear cranked up). Mike, however, was riding pretty light and he got plenty cold. But as usual, he stayed cheery. We joked and rode on. The last 22.4 miles was the slowest and longest, just ask Mike. I had the GPS and kept telling him every ten minutes how much further we had to go but kept telling him the same thing, 22.4 miles. It took about 5 times before he busted out laughing because he realized what I had been doing. By then we were only five miles out. After that everything on our trip was always 22.4 miles away.
Seeing the sign for the Red Eagle Lodge ahead on my left was like finding a lost puppy (although with a lot less licking). It has been a long day, my bag hurt, and I was tired of the rain. I slowed down, turned, and twisted my throttle…and nothing. I told Mike something was wrong as I twisted and rattled it…nothing. I dropped the gear to avoid killing it and chugged along the gravel driveway at idle speed, feeling a rush of emotions and trying to troubleshoot in my head at the same time. Something was unquestionably wrong.
I stopped right at the front steps, Mike was already inside asking about a tent spot. I stood out in the rain, and quite strangely, I was in a rather good mood, considering. I was honestly amazed. Yes, I had a problem with my bike, but Mike and I had just driven nearly 400 miles, much of it semi remote. The last part in a storm. Had this happened anywhere along that route, or along the route yesterday, it would have been ten or twenty times worse to handle. Out in the rain? Thick forest on each side? What would we have done? Hid under my tarp all night. I wouldn’t have just left my bike out there, loaded up with my gear. I would have had to stay with it. So yes, even immediately after it happened these thoughts were going through one side of my head.
The other side, however, was concerned and frustrated. What was wrong with my bike? Did a cable come loose at the throttle? Was there something wrong in the engine? No, it still idles fine, I can shift through gears fine. Yeah, it must be something with the cable. That has got to be it. But how can I fix that out here? It was wet, cold, and late. No use trying to deal with it tonight. We were obviously going to be delayed by this, I may as well not let that eat away at my mood. I let it go. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.
Mike and I had decided before the trip that we would camp whenever possible. I had seen him and a lady walk back behind the lodge and headed back there. They were in a small cabin and Mike hollered at me, “So we can get tent spaces, they are $13 each and don’t include breakfast or we can have this cabin for $80.”
She chimed in, “and it’s heated.” She pointed to a heater and then to a wood stove.
I said, “Is that $80 each, or $80 total?”
“$80 total, and includes breakfast.”
“We’ll take it,” I said. Having a broken down motorcycle gave me the authority and the excuse to make that call.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mike was very relieved to see I was on board with the cabin. What I hadn’t seen was how he had walked into the lodge, cold and shaking. “We….whe…..we’ll t..t…take a ta….ta….ten….tent spot pp…pplease.”
She looked at him, surprised, “really, you don’t want a cabin?” (Insert long pause filled with Mikes chattering teeth.) “They are heated, nice and warm, come with me and I’ll show you.”
Even cold and wet, Mike didn’t want to be the one to back down on our vow to rough it. However, with a broken motorcycle, I didn’t hesitate. It turned out to be an excellent call too on many levels. First, the cabin was freakin awesome, I unloaded all my luggage and we hung everything out to dry. And second, I had just added trip interruption coverage with Progressive before the trip and they paid for 3 nights of lodging and one dinner (we could have enjoyed more meals but we were stranded in Chistochina and therefore limited to our trail mix and backpacker meals).
Richard and Judy are gracious, kind, and incredible hosts. They had me pull my bike into the part of his garage that was spacious and heated, showed me where all his tools were, and told us to make use of whatever he had available. His son pulled out some brake cables off of a bicycle and said I was welcome to them, if they would help. It didn’t take me long to pull the grip off and slide out a length of cable that was frayed at the end. Yup, a snapped throttle cable. I researched my options and sent emails to the Triumph dealership in Anchorage and the dealership I purchased the bike from in Lynnwood, WA. Feeling like there was nothing more I could do until morning, I put it aside and decided not to worry about it.
Mike had toiled out in the rain to make dinner, so when I came in from the garage we enjoyed a tasty backpacker meal. I had a freeze dried cheesecake that we stirred up for dessert (yeah, it’s that hard to make). It was actually quite good and soothing. Credit Mike for substituting a cup of Captain Morgan instead of water!
The bed was soft, the room was ultra-cozy, and I did some journaling with my headlamp to the gentle sound of the rain outside. It sounded so much better than on my tent! I penned the following:
I love being surprised and amazed. I think that is why I wasn’t so upset at my bike breaking down. I’ll gladly take suffering and inconvenience for an opportunity to wonder at something incredible. When I consider an explanation for today, blind luck in a chaotic world is certainly one possibility as to why my throttle cable snapped. But that it was at the end of a long day of driving and I coasted to the front door of my destination turns simple luck into the type that can win lotteries. That would be quite lucky indeed. I can’t say whether it was luck, divine intervention, or karma, but I can say that I am humbled and thankful that it happened when it did. If a force out there was a part of it, I thank you profoundly.
This touches on a deeper topic and this isn’t the place to go into my philosophical views. But suffice it to say that I am the last person to claim to know raw truth. I’m not going to make concrete conclusions one way or another for reasons that would take me volumes to explain. I’m agnostic, through and through. Events like this keep me from getting off on the atheist side of the fence.
Thanks for reading about my travels. To read more of my adventures, click here to visit my travel page.