November 14, 2013, Category: Alaska, Travel

A long, boring day of riding causes me to reflect, and I learn a thing or two about myself.

Day 20: Lake Meziadin to Prince George

Check out the novel: Trudge On, Soul

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...

From My Journal:

Today was a long, boring day. Got up, packed up, rode out. Rode and rode and rode. 400 miles in 10 hours. It was mind-numbing, tedious, and arduous. I thought I would go insane. (Continued)

UntitledOpening with a spoiler that concedes the entire day is going to be rather dismal is not the best writing tactic. You might think my goal is to set expectations low to relieve my need to excite, dazzle, and thrill. Strangely, that is not the case. A brutally boring day, as it turns out, had plenty to offer.

When I crawled out of my tent, however, I didn’t know the day had dealt us a rather plain hand of cards. I still had my sights set on excite, dazzle, and thrill.

We rolled out early, expecting another brilliant performance by the Cassier Highway. My GPS locked in and said 900 miles to home, which surprised me. I could load the family into the truck and 900 miles later be in Alaska? I decided to talk to the family about taking a long 4 day weekend to drive up and back. With the Cassier Highway being so awesome, most of the journey would be packed with wildlife and gorgeous scenery. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Two wrenches jammed into the spokes of each tire brought this fantasy to a screeching halt.

First. At the tail end of nearly 7,000 miles, 900 seemed like nothing. But when viewed from eyes that have been calibrated by normal life, an 1800 mile round trip to see mountains is a tad more than a weekend getaway. Plus the gas mileage in my truck isn’t even close to what I get on my bike. And although they can pull it off in some parts of the world, I’m not loading the entire family onto my motorcycle.

Second (and more important). The lower Cassier is not the upper Cassier. Again, Lake Meziadan separates the awesome part of the Cassier from the boring part. Once we passed the lake, the wildlife and scenery quickly fizzled out. It’s not that the scenery is horrible. It just felt more like we were going somewhere rather than being somewhere.

But it wasn’t just the scenery’s fault; the weather was also rather plain. Neither seemed to love or hate us. Both were a mediocre experience that neither tortured nor entertained. Overcast, random sprinkles, straight roads, and what seemed like the same trees over and over again. I can’t even pretend the day was either exciting or frustrating. Not even with our one adventurous destination, Old Hazleton. The fellow VStrom rider we met up on Salmon Glacier had told us to stop there. “You won’t regret it,” he said. “It is amazing.”

It wasn’t.

DSCN0977Now, before I continue, I’m reminded of an old proverb. A man stumbles upon a stranger and asks, “What are the people like in the next town? Because they are horrible in that last one.” The stranger says, “You will find them very much the same.” The next guy to meet the stranger asked a similar question, “What are the people like in the next town? Because they are wonderful in that last one.” And the stranger said again, “You will find them very much the same.”

That said, I can imagine there are many treasures to be discovered along this route that went unnoticed by us. Whatever the cause (whether environment or genetics, so to speak), the day was panning out to be a long, lackluster experience. A dreary day, on a straight road, and under a gray sky through the same scenery again and again. And no bears. Halfway through the day I found myself dreading the final 700 miles and wishing I was already home. I thought of my family, the Seahawks game on Sunday, and riding dirt bikes with Sandi and the kids.

Once I had worked through my happy home thoughts, I saw myself sitting in my turquoise cubicle, a place where I don’t even know if it is raining or sunny because every day is colored by the same fluorescent lights overhead. And I realized that up until now, our trip had been completely void of plain days. The previous 19 had either been splendid or grueling. And when I thought about it, even the stressful and miserable days offered more than today’s rather bland contribution.

It is amazing if you think about it (which I did as I was rolling along with nothing better to do). And I discovered two Klondike sized nuggets.

Golden Nugget Number 1: I really appreciate the “bad” days.

Shivering and wet while fueling up at a lonely gas station in the middle of nowhere with 150 miles yet to ride through a windy storm – that was a miserable day. Had GhostRider showed up in that moment with a wish to grant, I would have easily wiped the sky clean of clouds and finished the day in sunshine. But in retrospect would I change the day? Not in a million years! You couldn’t pry that memory from me with a crowbar. It was perfect. Although often despised in the moment, my difficult moments generally become cherished with time. And part of that is that I’ve been very blessed in my life because my difficulties have not been horrific. Extremely difficult, yes, but not horrific.

I look back on some of the toughest times of my life with gratitude and appreciation. They helped carve me into the person I am today. But I don’t need a life crisis, even my smaller trials offer meaning and purpose. Working out in the cold with my daughter replacing the brakes on her car isn’t fun, per say. Neither is having an evening hijacked because a computer won’t boot and I need to help my son fix it. But in retrospect those are beautiful moments. Sure, I often grumble at the rocks thrown into my path, but the truth is, they keep me dancing.

Does that mean I prefer a difficult life? I don’t think so. I honestly appreciate the times when my life rolls along smooth and wonderful. Times when I’m full of energy, have high levels of self-control, and everything seems to fall into place. But times like that come few and far between. And, strangely, are generally preceded by an earlier difficult moment.

I’ve always recognized the need for the good and bad. There is no superhero without a villain, no yin without the yang, and it takes rainy days to enjoy the sunny ones. But one thing I hadn’t understood was how I react during most of my rough times.

On the day my throttle cable snapped, I was discouraged and wanted to take a nap. But I was miles from home, nobody else was going to fix it for me, and I had an unspoken responsibility to Mike to do everything in my power to make our trip successful. I had no choice but to blindly tear into my bike and at least try. When it was pouring and I was putting up my tent, I couldn’t quit, go in the house, and play video games. And while freezing on a winding mountain pass through the fog on the Yukon route into Skagway, stopping for a nap would have been dangerously insane. Despite the stress and hardship, in each of those situations I was engaged, alert, and focused. I was living.

Feeling alive when life is dandy is easy as pie. I’d never considered that it was also easy to feel alive (in a sense) when times were tough. It’s a different kind of alive, but in both cases I’m engaged and focused. Although I’d like to crawl under a blanket during bad times, I often don’t feel I have a choice because others (generally my wife and kids) depend on me. Without the option to quit, I push forward. And I realized it’s not the hard times that tear me down; the plain days are what debilitate me.

Golden Nugget Number 2: The Plain Days are Critical

When I look back over my life, the times I feel like I’ve failed are all during the gray times between awesome and brutal. When life isn’t either good or bad. Like today, when the road is straight, the weather is decent, and the scenery is moderate. These are the days I get bored, tired, and often end up doing a whole lot of nothing or, worse, fall into self-destructive behavior. A string of plain days, month after month, can easily lure me into stagnation and depression.

Ironically, however, the bulk of my life is built upon a thick foundation of plain bricks. The bland routine of getting up, going to work, and coming home (all the while dreaming of the fantastic days and dreading the difficult ones).

It was a little shocking to realize how critical average days are for me. For three weeks we have had either incredible or rugged, not a single plain day in sight. And it all stacked up perfectly for the Spirit of Adventure to throw me a plain day in order to teach me life lesson.

The direction I choose to travel on these plain days are what make many of the remarkable or distressing ones possible (or impossible). A lack of structure exists when stress and/or exhilaration are not present to force my hand. This can leave me rather content to do nothing and these are the days I find difficult to push myself. To some degree, I check myself out of life as I had been doing for most of today. Riding mindlessly along a boring road thinking only of what awaits at the end.

When Mike and I planned this trip, we both talked about how we wanted to come home as better human beings. But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that change is like a glacier. It moves insanely slow. I’ll never see more than just chunks of ice occasionally crashing down into the ocean. Although it is impressive and evidence that something is happening, it reflects no visible change in the mountain. It is only after many years, when I have forgotten to even watch for change, that I look back and am shocked to see the glacier has completely changed the mountainside (and that I am a new person).

Although wonderful and rare, these “ah hah!” moments are the easy part. I’ve had realizations throughout my life and time and time again, relearned the same simple principles only to somehow lose them all over again. I didn’t want to lose this. I wanted to make it mine forever.

Typically, after an experience like this, I shoot for the stars. I’m feeling powerful, enlightened, and ready to conquer the world and so I put forth a charge that matches my grandiose emotion. I will [insert absurdly impossible goal here]. The objective feels good. I imagine myself being awesome and I push myself for a period, but then it wanes. And when that happens, I get discouraged and start to fall short. Eventually I give up because I feel like I failed myself yet again.

So I don’t do that anymore. The trick for me is to pick something totally realistic. One thing that I can change about myself that feels like a challenge but that won’t be overwhelming two weeks down the road. Walk on the elliptical 20 minutes a day. That one, implemented about five years ago, has done wonders for me. It has grown, evolved, and I still carry it with me today. So I needed to make a commitment that was realistic on a daily basis,  something that could eventually change my life, and something that revolved around my theme of an ordinary day.

But what that was, I didn’t know. I had two more days to find it. In the meantime, I decided to stop thinking about the end of the road and check back in with Mike. I was feeling pretty good after my therapy session with the Spirit of Adventure and it didn’t take long to fall back into a routine of crass humor, singing, and interacting with Mike and the two guests that had joined us.

I have neglected to mention the two guests that have been with us on this trip.

Sean Connery hooked up with us shortly after we left Lake Stevens. Although I could never see him, he must have been close because he chimed in from time to time over the headset with his unique view on topics such as where to eat, how to handle woman, and which James Bond movie was the best. If Mike and I ever disagreed on what to do, we’d ask Sean Connery to decide. Strangely, he always sided with Mike. But who am I to question the great Sean Connery. It was a real thrill to have him along, even if he didn’t want to be seen with us.

He said “itsch becaush I don’t want the paparashi to mesch up your trip.”

What a considerate guy!

Where Sean Connery was a joy, our other unwelcome guest lurking in the shadows was not. The Haines Strangler had been stalking us since we had disembarked the ferry over two weeks ago. We would encounter him from time to time racing past in one of his many vehicles, catch him lurking in the shadows, or dodge one of the many traps he set for us. Today he made his most bold attempt of all. I suppose he was getting desperate with our trip coming to a close.

DSCN0984Mike was leading, Sean Connery and I were following. In front of Mike was a truck towing a trailer. On the trailer was a massive black blob. I don’t know what it was, just imagine a ball of black duct tape about ten feet high. Everything was going fine until the Haines Strangler pulled a lever and that entire wad of whatever-it-was rolled off the back of the trailer.

Mike veered right, I veered left, and we passed the blob and the trailer without a second thought. Sean Connery didn’t even pause in his recounting of a crazy incident involving a young Jane Seymour, a KGB Officer dressed as a clown, and a dump truck full of whipping cream.

When Sean Connery was finished with the story, I pointed out that we had just dodged a giant ball of duct tape and it hadn’t even phased us. Three weeks ago we had freaked out because a mere hub cab was rolling down the road in front of us. Sean Connery let loose with a hearty Scottish laugh and informed us that we had just evaded another attempt by the Haines Strangler. He also warned us to be on guard because the strangler was obviously becoming desperate.

DSCN0988It was dusk when we rolled into to Prince George. Or was it Prince Rupert? I kept getting the King’s sons messed up. One lives on the coast and one lives inland. We drove through Prince Rupert, I mean Prince George, and looked for a place to camp. The GPS wasn’t helping and we somehow ended up in the parking lot of a very large mall looking, and smelling, extremely scruffy.

Several guys pulled in next to us on fancy bikes, in fancy cars, and with fancy women. I gave Mike a nervous look. Any one of them could be the Haines Strangler. I glanced around the perimeter hoping Sean Connery was somewhere in the shadows with his Walther PPK, watching our backs.

But fortune smiled on us. This group was friendly. They asked questions about our trip, praised our bikes, and pointed us in the direction of decent campground. We mounted up and buckled down our helmets.

“We should eat first,” I said as I twisted the throttled and bolted forward. Since we had talked about eating out, I figured if we drove out to the campground we may be too tired to come back in to town.

“No, we need to set up camp.” Mike said.

“Yesh, we NEED to schet up camp,” Sean Connery said.

“Fine,” I said. “You guys win. AGAIN.”

By the time we found the campsite, it was getting dark and the office looked closed. Mike pushed on the door and it swung open. A lady was sitting across the room in the dark?

“Are you open?” He asked. “We need a campsite.”

She eyed us, cocked her head to glance out the window at the bikes, and then back to us.

“We have one, “she said, pausing. “As long as you aren’t rowdy partiers.”

Rowdy partiers? Me and Mike? I had to stop myself from laughing. But I suppose 3 weeks without shaving, a week without a shower, filthy clothes, and traveling Easy Rider style may not conjure the most compatible guests for an RV Park full of retirees.

Mike did his best to assure her we would not cause problems but she didn’t look convinced. I thought she was going to turn us away. Then she threw up her hands, took our money, and sent us down a dark path to the edge of the property.

DSCN0990We set up camp and decided to fire up some mashed potatoes rather than go all the way back into town. I would have thrown an “I Told You So” to the great Sean Connery, but I didn’t have my helmet on. Plus I remembered I had never actually voiced my argument as to why we should eat first. So I couldn’t really do anything except eat my potatoes.

Just before bed, I took a load of garbage a short walk to the can. By the time I got back to our tents, we heard the garbage can getting knocked around. We shined our headlamps but whatever it was had already run off. Great. Now we have the Haines Strangler and Bigfoot after us.

My journal entry from above, continued.

But as it turned out, today was exactly what I needed.

Click here to continue to day 21…

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