Don’t Honk at Bears
Sometimes things in life just fall together perfectly. My husband, Jon, and I always dreamed of a trip to Alaska. Our daughter was going to be in Anchorage for a short time doing an internship. Jon’s employer, who frowns on taking more than two weeks vacation in the summer, miraculously granted him three weeks vacation and blessed us with the time for an Alaskan Adventure.
We knew that three weeks was really too short for the type of adventure we had planned, so we committed to riding some 500 mile days on our 2006 Gold Wing to make it work. We bought the Milepost, got some maps, searched the Internet, and calculated that our trip would encompass 22 nights and about 10,000 miles. We didn’t make any reservations or solid plans. We prioritized some roads and sites and decided to let the journey take us where it may.
Our first days were spent traveling through Iowa, along some great river bottoms and glacial lakes in Minnesota, and into North Dakota. As we were driving through the rolling hills planted with various crops in North Dakota I thought that God must have broken out the big box of crayons for this place, you now, the box that has the built in sharpener and colors you have never heard of like periwinkle and fuchsia?* There was every shade of green imaginable and then we started seeing fields where it looked like God took out the yellow-green crayon and started drawing.* Then, most amazingly, he busted out the bright yellow and had a blast.* It looked like acres and acres of tiny yellow daffodils.* When we asked the locals we found out that the canola plants were flowering and that was what was turning the land into fields of sunshine.*
Our border crossing into Canada at Portal, ND was not ideal. We were detained for more than an hour while they did a background check on us, interviewed us and searched every compartment on our bike and trailer. Eventually we were released to go explore Canada. The border agents were friendly and just doing their job to keep the country safe, but the time wasted was frustrating for us. Once we were on our way through Saskatchewan we saw acres of land scarred by mining and a huge crane with a bucket as large as a car moving coal. We saw many more canola fields and lots of rolling fields, very similar to Iowa.
Our next destination was the Icefields’ Parkway. We skirted Calgary and got our first glimpse of the Canadian Rockies and were awestruck by the vastness of these tall, craggy peaks. The tree lines were only about one third of the way up the mountain. We found our way to Banff National Park and found a campsite in Tunnel Mountain Campground with a bear box where we could put the cooler and food pack to keep the bears out of our campsite. The last thing we wanted on this trip was a night time visit from a hungry bear. Two other GWRRA members were our camping neighbors and as motorcyclists do everywhere, we shared a few stories. We enjoyed a beautiful rainbow half hidden behind a mountain as the closing to our day.
The next morning we enjoyed a little time in the tourist town of Banff and then gave my camera a workout as we traveled towards Jasper. We saw a brown bear close to the road and enjoyed watching him flip over rocks looking for some breakfast. I was excited to see Moraine Lake and when we got there I was not disappointed.* Crayola needs to make a new crayon that captures the color that God painted this lake.* The glacier run off waters make the lake a shimmering shade of turquoise that I have never seen anywhere else before.* We could see the glacier sitting on the top of the mountain.* The blue ice was pretty amazing.
As we traveled north on the Icefields’ Parkway the weather was getting a bit tough. We stopped to take photos of Crowfoot Glacier and the rain turned into hail. We took refuge next to an RV and the residents invited us inside. We hid inside, dripping water all over their rental RV, and had an amazing conversation considering they were from Germany and didn’t speak much English and we didn’t speak any German. It proves that there are great people everywhere. Once the hail let up we said good-bye, scraped the hail off from our seats, and headed on our way. The weather didn’t get any better as we drove in temps as low as 37 degrees and had more rain, hail and even some snow. We were thankful for our Gold Wing seat heaters and grip warmers. My Gerbing heated jacket liner was in the saddlebag and I was anxious to find somewhere to stop so I could put it on, plug it in, and crank up the heat. The weather caused some disappointment as we couldn’t see the Columbia Icefields very clearly due to the low cloud cover. We did thoroughly enjoy Athabathsca Falls, the Weeping Wall, and Sunwapta Falls as we continued on our journey to Jasper. The warm, dry hotel room in McBride was a welcome sight.
We woke to more rain so we geared up for a new adventure. We rode the Yellowhead Hwy (16) to Prince George and then the Parks Hwy (97) north to Chetwynd. The roads today were a motorcyclists dream. Big sweeping curves, good road conditions, and lots of trees, mountains, lakes and streams to look at. The section between McLeod Lake and Bijoux Falls was absolutely gorgeous.
We stopped in Chetwynd to marvel at the chainsaw sculptures displayed throughout town. The intricate designs and lifelike creations made with a big bulky chainsaw are mind blowing. We were having trouble deciding which road to take out of Chetwynd. One highway would take us to Dawson Creek and Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway, the other would take us on a more scenic route through Hudson’s Hope. We found some motorcycle friends from Yukon and took their advice to take Hwy 29 through Hudson’s Hope, they said the road was “groovy” and “far out” and shouldn’t be missed. The road did not disappoint; it was curvy and scenic with a few critters to gawk at along the way. When the critters started to get prevalent, we decided to find a camp spot and get off the road.
The Alaskan Highway (Alcan) was very much as we predicted. Mostly good roads with some construction along the way. We met some of the nicest folks when we were waiting for the pilot cars in the construction zones. One of our fears for this trip was the horror stories we read about the roads. So far we were pleased, even the construction areas were hard packed gravel and the bike was very stable.
As we cruised through British Columbia and into the Yukon we saw our first moose, 3 bears, some caribou and other critters. We enjoyed Whirlpool Canyon and seeing our first Historic Mile Marker for the Alcan. Our next destination was the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon. There are more than 68,000 signs in the city park in Watson Lake. People bring signs from all over the world to display in the forest and we enjoyed seeing signs from places close to home and from very far away. We were on a special mission as our 26 year old friend was diagnosed with stage 3 brain cancer shortly before we left on our trip. We titled our trip “On a Wing and a Prayer” to honor him and to encourage everyone following our blog (There are lots of photos and more details of the trip at the blog)
(www.2wheeltravels.wordpress.com) to pray for him. We made a sign to hang in the Signpost Forest and hung it to commemorate our trip and to ask for more prayers for Justin from those who pass by and read it.
As we traveled through the Yukon we enjoyed the wondrous mountains, Rancheria Falls, and blue skies. We weren’t so pleased with the long steel mesh bridge that we crossed at Teslin, the bike was pretty squirrely on the slippery steel. We cruised through Whitehorse and then came upon Kluane Lake. What a sight!! The lake almost glowed in that beautiful turquoise color. The mountains and the lake merge together in a very impressive manner.
Shortly after we passed through Destruction Bay the road began to get rough. There were potholes large enough to swallow up the front tire. There were ruts in the asphalt made by semis that were 6-8 inches deep and 20 feet long. Most of the hazards were marked with orange flags or signs, but it took lots of concentration and defensive driving to avoid trouble. Two wheels were probably better than four, and without the trailer it would have been even easier to navigate. As we were bouncing our way through we had assumed that these were the road conditions that we would see for the next few hundred miles until we got closer to Anchorage. With that in mind we tried to take the road as quickly as possible while staying safe. At one point my husband said, “My nephews who race motocross have nothing on me, I’m taking the whoops with a Gold Wing and a trailer.” We reached our destination of Beaver Creek and were ecstatic to get off the bike and even more ecstatic when we talked with some riders coming from Alaska and found out that we had just completed the toughest 40 miles of the trip, everything else was much better. With a big sigh of relief we ended our night.
The border crossing into Alaska was uneventful. The first 15-20 miles of road in Alaska were the most challenging. The construction crews were in the process of repairing the road and the base layer was down with no gravel on top so it was pretty slippery. We were glad the rain held off until we could get through that soupy stretch. Our drive into Anchorage was amazing. The ditches were lined with this vivid purple flower called fireweed that looked very much like the phlox in my garden at home. Even though it was cloudy and rainy we could see the outline of the Wrangell Mountain Range. As we got closer to the Mat-Su valley we could see this humongous mountain and couldn’t tell whether it had water in front of it or a glacier.* As we got closer we could see amazing Matanuska Glacier. The color was gorgeous blue in the cracks and when the sun hit it just right it looked like it was glowing.* We gawked at the mountain and glacier as we continued to the valley.* The Mat-Su river winds through the valley leading us to Anchorage with this amazingly wide gravel river bed, there are tributaries that are running with rushing muddy water while gravel lines the rest of it.
We enjoyed day trips out of Anchorage to Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Sled Dog Kennel, and to Whittier, Seward and Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. Near Whittier, a large chunk of glacier had calved from Portage Glacier and was floating in the water. Some of the ice had floated close enough to shore that we could pick it up and see how it had melted into a honeycomb pattern. We also enjoyed driving along the Kenai River which was this amazing silvery turquoise color. We watched the fishing boats in the powerful waters. As we traveled towards Homer we saw some fishing charters that had come in and were proudly hanging their halibut up for display. Our disappointment was that it was rainy and cloudy each day so we could not catch a sight of Denali.
After a few nights enjoying a nice bed at our daughter’s house we decided it was time to get back on the road, and back to the tent. We drove back through the Mat-Su Valley enjoying the beautiful mountains and glaciers as we retraced our path from the week before. We were a bit apprehensive about the construction at the Alaska border. With all the rain we had been experiencing we thought it could be really soupy. Fortunately the road crews had made great progress and even though the section was gravel it was safe driving. The temps were in the 50’s so we stayed at the same hotel with the little twin beds in Beaver Creek that we had stayed at when we were northbound.
We knew we had to tackle the 40 miles of potholes, but this time we knew what to expect. We relaxed and actually looked around and realized that this was a beautiful stretch of road. In fact, I had Jon pull over so I could get my camera to take pictures of the sun sneaking over the top of the mountains and of the clear mountain lakes reflecting the snow capped peaks. In the process I also took some photos of the frost heaves and potholes. We had heard a story of how a fish truck full of salmon had hit one of the potholes and flipped over. The locals all congregated to get some fresh salmon and were loading up their coolers until the bears showed up and decided it was time for dinner. As we passed by that section of road we could see the wooden crates still lying in the ditch. In this remote world, the bear continues to be boss.
After we successfully navigated the treacherously rough road we were presented with the astonishing view of Kluane Lake. We enjoyed lunch on the lakeshore before journeying to Whitehorse to check out Miles Canyon. The turquoise water funnels through the rock canyon with such force that it whirlpools and crashes into the sides. There is a suspension bridge that spans the river for pedestrians. We hiked along the rim for a bit and enjoyed some time watching the powerful waters. We crossed that slippery mesh bridge at Teslin again before finding a camp spot at Dawson Peak for the night. A black bear had been seen recently wandering through the campground so our cooler and food bag were stored inside the restaurant for the night. We poached a campfire from some new motorcycle friends from Indiana before climbing in our sleeping bags and dreaming of bears.
Our next destination was to explore the Cassiar Highway. We had about 140 miles left of the Alcan and as I sipped my coffee in the morning sunlight we enjoyed beautiful scenery and sightings of a moose, bald eagle and grizzly bear. As we turned onto the Cassiar the first section was newer construction so the forest was marred by the heavy equipment. Once we got deeper into the forest we discovered the beauty we had been told about. The forest that borders the Cassiar Highway likes to keep the secrets of the mountain hidden. Every once in awhile the trees opened up and gave us a glimpse of a mountain treasure, maybe a river or a lake, but it never let us see much. We’d meander down a little farther and a window of opportunity would open up and let us see a snow covered peak and then the trees would quickly hide it again. It was as if the trees were saying that if we wanted to see more we should strap on some hiking boots and come explore.
We took the spur road that would take us to Stewart, British Columbia and Hyder, Alaska. It was getting late, we’d been rained on all day and we really were wondering if we should have stopped a ways back. In this country the opportunity for lodging can sometimes be very spread out. As we continued we were glad we had chosen to continue on. The rain let up which allowed us to peek at the breathtaking waterfalls and mountain glaciers. The bears were active and we saw many alongside the road. We were very glad they kept their distance so we could arrive safely in Stewart.
Fish Creek, in Hyder, has a bear viewing boardwalk where tourists can pay $5 to watch grizzlies and black bears feast on the salmon that come into the river to spawn. We were a bit early for bear viewing as the spawn was just beginning. We were able to enjoy the morning watching the salmon swimming in the clear waters even though we didn’t see any bears. The road to the boardwalk continued to Salmon Glacier, but it was so rough we chose to head back towards Stewart instead. The clouds/fog were settled into the mountain so it was tough to see the glaciers on our return trip. I was excited to get a photo of the double waterfall I had seen the day before and was a bit disappointed that even though I got a shot, the overcast and gloomy conditions diminished it’s quality. Even though the photo may not be perfect, the memory is. We continued on the Cassiar until we joined up with Hwy 16 towards Prince George. The forests were thick and the trees were amazing some of the leaves were already a golden yellow. Occasionally we’d sneak a peek at a mountain stream or other treasure. The land began to flatten out as we found a campsite in Fraser Lake to spend the night.
Our next destination was the sunny Okanagan Valley. At one of our stops we met a little man who sang the praises of the valley and insisted that we had to go there. Another local told us that it was the most beautiful part of BC so we took their advice and routed that way. The day started out cool but warmed up nicely. We saw lots of logging trucks, lumber mills and logging equipment. After a stop at a campground on the Okanagan Reservation we continued our trip towards the valley. We had to cross through a hot deserty section near Kamloops where the thermometer soared to 102, but once we got near the river we were impressed with the lush green fields that lined it. There were acres of various fruits and vegetables and huge orchards growing peaches, apricots and cherries. We saw roadside stands offering the fresh produce for sale and had to stop to get some juicy peaches and sweet cherries. Fruit doesn’t travel well in the cooler so we got just enough to enjoy that day.
We set our sights on Glacier National Park and found some great curvy backroads that would lead us along the Canadian border until we could cross over into Idaho. We were cruising along another one of those perfect motorcycle roads with wide sweeping curves, smooth surface, and not too much traffic. We were seeing lots of logging trucks and enjoying the view of beautiful British Columbia. Jon spotted a black bear coming down out of the forest into the road. He told me to look as he throttled down.* We watched the bear and Jon kept slowing down waiting for it to move off the road.* It was about 20 yards from us in the middle of the road and Jon honked at it, like you would at a deer, to startle it away.* We had plenty of space if he sauntered off into the ditch on either side.* BUT, he didn’t, instead he lowered his head and charged our bike.* Jon hit the brakes as hard as he could without locking them up and the bear hit the bike on the front fender and left side of the faring and cowling.* The impact caused the bike to start fishtailing, Jon was braking and swerving back and forth, at one point I said “You saved it.”* But I was wrong, he wasn’t able to and we ended up going down on the left side of the bike.* Jon had slowed the bike to about 20-30 mph and we were lucky to be able to stay with the bike.* We didn’t hit our heads and our mic cords were still hooked up so the impact wasn’t too severe.* The trailer stayed upright and the bike was lying on it’s side.* Honda did a great job designing the bike so that the crash bars in the front and back kept the bike off our legs.*I truly believe that on a different motorcycle our outcome would have been very different.
I popped up and told Jon I was ok, he said he was ok too, but he was in a lot of pain.* He landed hard on his left elbow/shoulder and was hurting.** Some guys were right behind us in a car and stopped to see if we were alright.* They were such a help in keeping us calm, assessing our injuries and helping us however they could.* Jon was hurting and it took a bit to get him on his feet.* Once he got up the pain was pretty overwhelming and he got lightheaded so we set him back down, got him some water and tried to keep the sun off from him.* After a few moments the shock passed and he was better.* He got up and we checked out the bike.* It was lying in the sand and gravel on the side of the road, the trailer was still upright on the asphalt shoulder.* Jon couldn’t lift the bike because he hurt his shoulder so our helpers and I got the bike up and everything looked alright.* Jon was able to get on and drive it back onto the road.* He rolled it down the shoulder and the front wheel was turning perfectly, no bend in the forks or wheel that we could detect.* It looked like there was just some cosmetic damage and town was a few miles away so we decided to drive into town, assess ourselves and the bike and make decisions.*
Just as we were putting out helmets back on to get on the bike the police and ambulance showed up.* The police took our driver’s licenses and talked with the witnesses while we went into the ambulance to get assessed.* The EMTs washed out the road rash on my arm and poked and prodded me to be sure I didn’t have any other injuries.* My arm was stinging, but everything else felt ok.* Jon yelped as they pushed on his back, his ribs on his left side in the back were really tender, the EMT thought he could have some broken ribs.* Jon couldn’t lift his left arm and was sure he had torn his rotator cuff.* He had torn the right one a few years ago when he fell off his bicycle and he said it felt the same.* His knee was hurting as well, it was the knee on the top side of the crash so we weren’t sure what happened.* I figured that it got twisted somehow.* Once we were cleared we loaded on the bike and headed to Grand Forks.* Rocks, gravel and sand were clanking off the bike as we were driving down the road.
Once we got to Grand Forks we stopped at a gas station got some fuel and directions to a city park.* We checked each other over, checked over the bike, thanked God for keeping us safe, and forced some food into ourselves. We decided that we were going to get back on the bike, set the GPS to Go Home and see what happened.* The GPS sent us south on 395 We were pumped full of adrenaline so we weren’t feeling much pain.* We were surprised that we weren’t far from the US border.* When we got to the border crossing the agent asked about the condition of the bike and we told our story.* He said that when we honked that we provoked the bear, we challenged it, and that is why it charged us.* He told us we may see a mama grizzly and two cubs on the next stretch of road and if we did not to honk.* They should post a sign as you come into Canada – “Don’t Honk at Bears!”
We traveled 300 miles to Missoula, Montana and were greeted with a smoke filled sun set. We woke up with some pretty sore bodies. I worked out a plan to use the Gold Book to call for help, load the bike into a U-haul truck and drive us home, but Jon insisted he was able to safely drive the bike and proved to me that he could control the bike with his bad shoulder and support the bike with his bad knee so I conceded and climbed on the back. We traveled 1,200 miles the next two days and limped our way home.
In spite of our crash and tough last few days, we had an amazing adventure.* We saw more of this beautiful country in 20 days than most people get to see in a lifetime.* We traveled through 3 Canadian Provinces and one Canadian Territory (Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon Territory, and 9 US states (Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota). We met some really fantastic people and discovered that no matter where you are there are people that will go out of their way to be kind and helpful.*