January 12, 2014, Category: Alaska, Travel

A tedious day of riding brings out the teenage boys in us, and Mike pulls a prank on a local gas station.

Day 21: Whistler, BC

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 Mike’s Journal:

“My motorcycle had become my shrine, my place of worship, my yoga mat. The noise of my convoluted life was drowned out by the gentle hum of my bike which allowed me to see myself from a new perspective.”

DSCN0991A gorgeous day welcomed us and as I packed my tent, I wondered if this was the last time I’d break camp. Would I sleep in my own bed tonight? When I fired up my Tiger and the GPS told me we were only 500 miles from home I thought it was likely.

I was excited to get home. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved this trip and if I would keep riding until I Argentina if I could. But was scheduled for three weeks, I had to go back to work, and I missed my family. I think that my subconscious, in an attempt to spare me from the despair of a dying vacation and the brutality of my awaiting cubicle, makes a transition back to the real world at the end of a journey. No matter the length of my trips, whether three days or three weeks, by the end I am ready to be home. My mind was shifting gears. Throttling down. It was time to get off the bike.

We could easily make 500 miles in one day. And even if we had to ride into the night, with home on the back side, that wasn’t a problem. A dry bed. A garage to welcome my tired steed. A place where rain, tents, and campground dinners were not part of the routine. With no effort on my part I was guaranteed a soft, warm bed and a great meal. This idea became the toy my mind decided to play with as we zipped down the road.

DSCN0992I dropped several hints to Mike but it was apparent his mind was shifting too, but in a different direction. He was toying with a detour through Spokane. He obviously didn’t want to blow through the end of the trip for a chance to get home one night early. And so I tossed aside my warm bed ideas. This was important to Mike, I didn’t have a problem camping another night. Interesting enough, he seemed to have the same response with his own mind-toy, which was really cool. He let his Spokane ideas fizzle. Without complicated discussion, coercion, or frustration, we came to a resolution without even realizing we were problem solving. And I think this illustrates a core reason the trip has been a resounding success. Mike and I are two peas in a pod.

I met Mike thirteen years ago when he was in school and I was teaching computer science classes. We are about ten years apart in age, plus some change. Maybe. Now that I stop and think about it I don’t really know exactly how old Mike is.

By the end of the quarter, a budding friendship was in place. I quit teaching and went to Microsoft, along with Mike and several others in his class. We all hung out from time to time at BBQ’s, LAN parties, Xbox tournaments, etc. These guys were there for me during my divorce and really helped me through a rough time of my life.

DSCN0996When I left for a job with the state of Washington, I lost touch with most of them. Mike and I, however, stayed in touch. We have jumped out of an airplane together, he’s watched my kids grow up, and I was there when Gertrude, his Suzuki V-Strom, first came into his life. He’s one of those one in a million friends that we all need. We have fun, can talk up a storm, and have built up a high level of trust. For example, he knows his secret about losing a testicle to a rabid ferret is safe with me. I’ll never tell a soul.

But despite all that, I wondered how we would travel together. A trip can easily tatter even the strongest bonds. I’ve traveled with a range of people in my life: friends, Co-workers, family members, and total strangers who then became friends. Rarely does an entire trip go by without some sort of conflict. Some minor, others major, but escaping tension is as realistic as expecting bears to lumber into the river to catch salmon with a maw full of teeth.

In fact, as I planned the trip I figured an interesting angle of my blog would to explore how we resolved disagreements. Mike and I have been great friends for years, but three solid weeks together would certainly bring out some good drama, right? A little reality show flare could make things exciting, right? But I can’t. There is nothing to tell. The past three weeks have been seamless.

V__6795We left home three weeks ago with a vague plan, foggy expectations, and encountered a wide range of logistical difficulties. We worked together to resolve problems, planned our activities and daily itinerary, and took turns sharing common trip expenses. In addition, we were mic’d up in constant communication on our headsets all day long. Before I left, Mikayla asked “are you guys are going to have your intercoms on all the time?” I told her no way, we’d drive each other insane. I planned on listening to some music and finishing my audiobook at some point.

But as it turns out, except for the short periods when our intercoms ran out of battery, we used them constantly. We never ran out of jokes, songs, or topics to discuss (some of which required the help of Sean Connery, of course). And it was serious fun. Riding long days and chatting with Mike added a dimension to the adventure that was like adding garlic to lasagna. Without those long conversations, this trip would lose much of its flavor. Now don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy a nice ride in solitude. But that wasn’t this trip. This trip needed garlic. (And no, I’m implying Mike has bad breath when I compare conversation with him to garlic.)

DSCN0998So we wouldn’t get home tonight and we weren’t going through Spokane. And really, it was fine. I was still having a blast and it gave me one more day to figure out how to leverage this trip to become a better person. Even with my realizations from yesterday, I still didn’t quite have it. The first half of the day, with long straight roads and unchanging landscape, offered plenty of time to think and discuss ideas with Mike and Sean Connery, but to no avail. I still didn’t know what one thing I could commit to that could potentially change my life.

Other than our heavy discussions, the first half of the day was awfully boring and we had to find little ways to entertain ourselves. Like stopping for a picture in something called a phone booth. Like making crude jokes about the way a wooden bear held his salmon. And like using a guy walking down the road with an axe on his shoulder to spark Sean Connery into a horrifying  story about the Haines Strangler.

DSCN1001The doldrum day also produced one of my favorite pictures of the trip, Mike huddled over his phone with a devilish grin and eyes full of mischief. This picture just screams trouble.

We had stopped for lunch at a little gas station and were peeved their access point was open but not fully configured. We couldn’t connect to the internet. So he pulled up a browser, tried a common default login/password, and was moderately surprised to gain admin access to the configuration screen where he set it up for them. “Now,” he asked, “What shall we call it?”

The naming of an access point is critical. Most people don’t realize that you aren’t really naming the access point, you are only finding its true name. And as Mike and I stood there reaching out to the Spirit of the Internet for a name, it spoke to us. And as it turns out, my father-in-law had uncovered this mystery years ago. While groggily coming out of surgery, he had addressed his nurse with the name that belonged to this lonely access point in a barren stretch of Canada.

“Sugar Tits.”

DSCN1004Luckily for us (and Canada), the straight roads and bland scenery ended mid-day and put an end to our shenanigans. Once we had turned on to the 99 and started to work our way up the back side towards Whistler, the ride once again became thrilling. We followed a curvy road that dropped into an expansive open valley that looked like the set of an old western movie. And like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, we threw up a trail of dust as we dashed across the plains.

Except we were on motorcycles. And we weren’t wearing masks. And we had helmets instead of cowboy hats. And we weren’t chasing (or running from) bad guys. Now that I think about it, we were nothing like the Lone Ranger and Tonto except for the fact that Mike frequently yells “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”

We wound our way along a lonely, narrow road that snaked along the hillside in long easy turns. It was like we were racing on our own private circuit. Pull the left handlebar, bike drops to the right. Left leg hugs the gas tank, body leans out, hovering inches above pavement zooming past in a blur. Halfway through the turn, gentle twist on the throttle, push the left handlebar, the bike flips to the left to follow the twisting road. Front tire leaps off the ground like a cat stretching between giant leaps and for 20 yards I wind through the curve on one wheel, meticulously balanced. Focused. At one with the road.

I don’t know which scenario is more far-fetched, me riding a wheelie through the mountains or moonlighting as the Lone Ranger. Regardless, in my mind I was the Lone Ranger on an ultra light Ducati racing in the Isle of Man TT.

But the fun ended when we screeched to a halt behind a line of cars that stretched through every foreseeable curve. Grumbling, we painstakingly leap-frogged our way up the line, our bikes giving us the advantage to jump ahead in quick spurts (in safe fashion, of course). Until, however, we found ourselves stuck behind a cruiser (Harley type motorcycle) who wouldn’t let us by. He couldn’t corner worth bearskat. He’d slow to a crawl in the bends only to punch it in the straights to keep us behind him. Those cruisers with their high handlebars and long forks might look mean and tight, but try to corner in one. You can’t. Slowing to a crawl at every corner on this gorgeous road was painful.

We didn’t want to make a risky pass and would have settled in for a long ride except a semi we’d passed earlier caught up and started tailgating Mike in a harassing attempt to pass.

“You gotta get us past this Cruiser, War” Mike told me, “this semi is about to eat me for lunch.”

As fortune had it, about this time we hit a long section of dirt and rendered the cruiser was as nimble as a farm tractor. Off-road, our adventure bikes had home field advantage and the refs on our side and we blew past him in a cloud of dust. In my rear view mirror I saw him raise both arms to the heavens while shouting “Khaaaaaaannnnnn!”

DSCN1008We stopped in Lillooet for gas, a snack, and 800mg of Ibuprofen. My back was twisted up in boy-scout sized square knots and just climbing off my bike was P90X workout. Once dismounted, I walked like a hobbling scarecrow and ground my back against the corner of the building. It took a good 45 minutes to get to a point where I could ride again. I hate getting old.

Pemberton to Whistler was another section of road that proves God loves motorcycles. We followed a slender, winding road carved into a sheer granite wall that climbed a deep, narrow canyon. The mountains on each side were covered in thick pine right up to their naked peaks. A sport bike would have been ideal, but I didn’t mind. Even fully loaded, my Tiger left nothing to be desired. It flipped and zipped like a beast and I doubt I could have (or rather, would have) pulled more from the ride had I been on a crotch rocket.

We saw the one and only deer of our entire three week adventure on this road. It was on a stretch of long straight road and, as I neared him, I reached up and held my GoPro button until I heard it beep. On cue, the deer bolted ahead, running just ahead and to the left of me in bounding, giant leaps. This will make a nice clip! He flew through the air twenty or thirty feet with each lunge. Gorgeous! It was almost like I was watching everything in slow motion and time seem to pause as he flew like superman in between each quick snap of his legs. He turned, I slowed, and then he sailed across the road directly in front of me. With a final leap, he dove into the trees and was gone. I reached up and hit the GoPro again and told Mike, “I can’t wait to see that!”

DSCN1010Well, I’m going to have to wait a long time to see that. And so are you. As it turns out I’d pulled my infamous trick again (the one that made me miss a charging elephant) and hadn’t realized the video was already rolling. When I saw the buck I reached up and turned off my GoPro and when he disappeared, I reached up and turned it back on. Horrible. If my son would have been with me, he would have stuck out his hand and demanded control of the camera, just as he did in Africa.

We crested the mountain, weaved through the snow-capped peaks, and rolled in to Whistler. I can see why so many people talk about it. Although it is most renowned as a ski resort and when shrouded under a soft white blanket, even as a green village it felt vibrant and fun (and expensive, but I think that goes without saying). We arrived to enjoy the final hour of daylight which gave us time to park, walk around the square, and find a place to eat.

DSCN1009We wanted the best reasonably priced steak in town that would let two scruffy looking guys in motorcycle gear eat and watch the opening NFL game, a Thursday Night Football special. We asked around without much luck. Then Mike used his rugged Alaskan charm on the gals working in the information booth (because, of course they wouldn’t have helped us otherwise) and we ended up at a lively sports bar. We enjoyed a great meal and cheered on the Broncos (the Seahawks weren’t playing).

I have to disclose something before my next little anecdote. Mike and I are big talkers. Shave off 10-20 years, add 50 pounds of muscle (and subtract more than that in fat), lower our voices, times our cool factor by 10, and you have arrived at our fantasy driven alter egos. In this fantasy, we are as cool as Peter Fonda and Easy Rider is our story. And the women totally dig us.

DSCN1013We’ve had fun with this gag the whole trip, talking the talk but not walking the walk. Two guys out having a good time like two little boys pretending to be bank robbers. Now don’t misunderstand, we are both married and dedicated to our beautiful wives. We don’t’ flirt, we don’t womanize. But in some of our banter, we have another life. I mean, on a guy’s motorcycle trip to Alaska, you gotta expect at least that much, right? A picture I took of Mike posing on a fancy pink bicycle we noticed walking through Whistler sums this up perfectly. He’s one tough dude!

I have no idea why he willing accepted my suggestion to pose on it. Immediately afterwards he said, “Why did I agree to that?” But it made us even, given my stuffed bear pose in Dalton City.

Dinner was rolling along pretty good. We were joking, watching football, and carrying along with our own brand of humor. In our minds, the jokes floated and danced around the table exploding and popping like small fireworks. But I’d imagine an eavesdropper would see our jokes more like chunks of corn, chicken bones, and globs of mashed potatoes smacking onto the floor.

DSCN1015At some point during this jovial evening, Mike suddenly froze in his seat and locked onto the TV.

I let him sit a bit and then prodded, “What’s going on?”

He cocked his head to the right, “See that girl in the red?” I looked, a very attractive gal sat across the room. I nodded.

“She smiled at me.” He broke away from the TV and looked at me seriously, “and I realized how pathetic I am. If I was single, I wouldn’t even know what to do.”

There was a short silence as we both thought about his words, and then a hearty laugh broke free. I heard Homer Simpsons in the back of my head, “it’s funny cause it’s true.”

I’m so glad I can laugh at myself for being such a dude-poser. It’s not just that I’m past my prime either, I never even had a dude-prime. I’ve been like this all my life. All our tough guy talk about being lady-killers is as fantastic as Sean Connery actually joining us on the trip. Three weeks of joking and talking up ourselves was just suddenly thrown like a good old fashion cream pie, right into our faces. And there we sat, the lady killers, puffy white whipping cream covering our faces with two dark holes for our eyes.

We cleaned off our faces, picked up all the food off the floor, and headed outside where darkness and rain welcomed us back to our adventure. I couldn’t help myself and, once again, threw out a bone to Mike, “we could push on home and not have to set up camp in the wet darkness.” But he didn’t bite. He was determined.

Ten miles down the road, the rain stopped and we pulled into an RV stop. It looked closed and I was thinking maybe I would get to sleep in my bed tonight. Mike dismounted and pounded on the door. The guy who answered said he was just about to turn in but had heard us and come back out. Turns out, the entire staff was away for a party and this guy was a friend of a friend who was covering so they could enjoy themselves. He took our money and pointed us down the road.

When I bought my sleeping bag (with the Gore-Tex bivy), I had imagined myself pulling off to the side of the road, digging out my bag, and rolling into the shrubs for the night. No tent, not camp, just me in my bivy. Now here I’d be home tomorrow and I’d slept in my tent every single night.

“I gotta do it,” I told Mike. “I have to sleep out under the stars at least once.”

Mike looked at me in shock, like I had just brought Sean Connery out of the shadows or something, for real. “What is wrong with you?” he said. “There are bears. And wolves! And it will probably rain.”

His words didn’t matter. No, that’s a lie. His words didn’t change my mind but they did matter. I wasn’t 100% comfortable about the wolves and bears comment, which is stupid because logically I knew I had a better chance of getting accosted by the Haines Strangler than bears and wolves. (Great, now I’ve introduced the Haines Stranger into my before-bed thoughts now too.) But in a dark forest where monster trees towered in every direction, every shadow somehow turns into a wolf. I had be tough. My manliness had already taken a big hit tonight and I wasn’t about to take a knockout punch. So I laughed at Mike like his jestfull concerns were foolish and childish. Not a very good friend am I?

I spread out my tarp for a little protection from the rain, and then laid out my sleeping bag. My entire camp was setup before Mike even had his tent staked down. I crawled into my three-in-one bag and started scribbling the day into my journal. Then I rolled on to my back, locked my hands behind my head, stuck out my elbows, and looked up at the trees. They stretched up around me, shadows against the darkened sky. Wow. My last night.

Once Mike was settled in, we started chatting. “What’s your favorite quote of the trip,” he asked.

“I stung myself with a bee,” I said, and we laughed.

Somewhere in the middle of Canada while stopped at a gas station Mike yelled in pain, “I stung myself with a bee.” I was confused. I mean, doesn’t a bee sting you? You don’t sting yourself with a bee! Well, it turns out that he had. He brushed a dead bee off his bike and somehow buried the stinger right into his fleshy palm. He didn’t laugh with me when it happened (and yes, I laughed), but he laughed now. I had felt for him, at the time (despite my laughter). It was swollen and looked painful.

“Watch out for the machete.” I said, and again we laughed.

On the Denali highway, Mike was in the lead and issued that warning. Rather than prepare me for a hazard, my mind suddenly diverted all its CPU power to a new task, analyzing what the hell Mike meant. If my brain had a CPU fan, it would have certainly kicked into a loud and whining mode. Was he making a joke? Was he referring to a Chris Farley movie? What did he mean by this reference? I barely missed the huge machete in the middle of the road. Oh, now I get it…watch out for the machete.

Our night rode in to the wee hours with this kind of talk. Two pals, wrapping up an epic adventure by reliving some of our best (and worst) times. Neither of us could believe that it was already coming to an end. After years of talk, planning, and now riding…the trip was over. Regardless of how I’d find a way to change myself, this trip had changed me in many ways. But tonight, I thought about how nice it was to have a buddy like Mike. What a great guy. I hope I’m half the friend to him that he is to me.

When the only sounds left were of the light rain and Mike’s rhythmic snoring, I rolled to my side and faced the thick forest. With my back to the bikes and the road, I noticed that I could see a dim shadowed outline of myself against the trees from the latrine light somewhere in the distance behind me. I thought, it would be freaky if I suddenly saw a hulking wolf shadow creeping up from behind me. I imagined such an ominous shadow and suddenly stopped myself.

“What are you doing, Warren! Geez!”

I had to take a deep breath and slow my heartbeat. I closed my eyes and tried not to think about wolves, bears, and the Hanes Strangler so I could get some sleep. It didn’t work.


Click here to continue to Day 22

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