Alaska Sojourn!
Tom's Updates, Day 6-8


Mountains, Valleys & Rivers
by Tom Bowman

One rides through land like this and the size of the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, everything is too big. One can't get one's mind around it…I don't have the right words to describe it.

We rolled out of Kicking Horse Lodge in Field, BC, near Lake Louise this morning amid clouds and what feels like high-forty-degree temperatures. I had to do a reality check that it was truly late June; I hear the temperatures back home are near a hundred. Up Route 93 between the high peaks and jutting crags, we rolled into the mist and murk. The Icefields Parkway lay ahead of us like an aperitif - an appetizer for the day. I've been through the Rockies in the lower 48, but after today it won't be the same; it's all built on a larger scale.

The photo you'll see above is just one of endless views like it. Near the center take notice of the triangular pinnacle from which the snow and mist is blowing to the left for a sense of it. The Icefields Parkway is forbidding even in summer, something harsh. There are still glaciers here, actively carving away at the mountains. The mountain peaks stick straight up into the air for what seems like a mile, the snow and ice a barrier to any human presence. It may have been like this for 30,000 years. As I've thought over what to tell you about this part of the ride, it seems almost pedestrian to talk about carving corners or fuel mileage or what the bike's doing…..who cares about that in the midst of a place like this?

There are miles and miles between the Icefields Parkway and where I am tonite; many, many miles. In that lies another part of the scale of this place; it's big. Tonight we're camped on the shore of Francois Lake in British Columbia, near the town of Fraser Lake. Find it on the map, please. The little waves roll in to the shore, and there is a nice fire in the firepit. There are about forty fishermen waiting to get into their boats and go out onto the lake to try to outwit the fish tomorrow morning. It's nearly 10:30 P.M., and still light; we're getting far enough north for the effect of latitude to make the days loooooong. All for now, must turn in. Tomorrow - the Cassiar Highway to Iskut Lake, BC.

Tom Bowman
On The Road; Alaska Sojourn!
Francois Lake, BC
June 26th, 1998/

Kodak Moments & Kharma
by Tom Bowman

There are times when I am in total possession of my thoughts and words; at other times, I'm at a loss for something adequate to say.

Do you believe in karma? Kismet? Fate? Destiny? Signs and omens? I do. I saw a demonstration as clear as any I've ever seen this morning. Unfortunately, it put an end to Ted Wasserman's trip. When we came down to the bikes this morning, his normally-reliable K1100RS wouldn't start. He instantly recognized the same symptoms as an earlier Hall Effect Sensor failure, and expected the worst. I ran mentally through all the things I could think of that might cause a no-start condition, and after playing with the ignition switch a few times, I heard the fuel pump run, after which the engine started. Ted went to get fuel, after which he drove about a hundred yards and signalled me that there was something wrong. Thinking that the engine had died again, I rode over only to find that the clutch had failed on his bike. Seriously, no forward motion, none at all. What can one think? A K1100, normally one of the most reliable machines on the planet, suddenly beset with not one but two maladies in the space of a few minutes. I've had such things happen in my life: relationships that didn't work, business deals that went sour, jobs and bosses that went screwy, and even an avocation that changed because of signs. This was a signal so obvious that it could not be ignored. Ted, being the kind of guy he is, quickly accepted it as "Life's like that" and made plans to rent-a-truck back to Coeur d'Alene. There's a loose plan in his head to trade for something with which to salvage the trip. So there we were, Ian and I, waving Ted's U-Haul goodbye. Nothing to do but head up the road, which we did. I have a hunch that things like this happen for the best. I also have a hunch there will be a Palmetto Green K1100RS for sale very soon.

I've visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, camped in and prospected in the Sierras of California, and crossed the Cascades of Washington, all with utmost respect for those wonders of nature. I've also been through the Zion and Bryce and Dixie areas of Utah and cruised many of the best back roads of the southeast nd southwest, and I can tell you there is nothing I've seen to compare to the Canadian Rockies. Nothing. We rode route 93 up to the border, where the only things the crossing guard seemed interested in were whether we had firearms, and how much liquor we were carrying. He seemed unconvinced when I told him I had no handguns - don't believe in `em - and had only a pint of whisky for medicinal purposes. "Welcome to Canada, eh?" Did you bring enough money??

As one rides north into the Canadian Rockies, the scenery gets better and better, until one crosses into Kootenai and Yoho Provincial Parks. If one were to compare mountains to cathedrals, comparing the Canadian Rockies to most others would be like comparing the cathedral at Notre Dame or the Haghia Sofia in Istanbul to Saint John the Unfinished in New York: don't bother. As one rides up the middle of valley after valley, they become more and more beautiful, as do the rivers. I've never seen such colors in water - a fluorescent green that I'm told is due to microscopic granite particles suspended in the water as it moves downstream from the high mountains to the valleys. Fast-moving and cold, the rivers feed lush valleys of wheat and barley and many other crops. From Fountain Valley's condos and golf courses to Radium and the entrance to the park, it just gets better and better. By the time one is in the park, it seems almost an anti-climax…..until one goes through Sinclair Canyon, a narrow passage between sheer walls of granite ….and until one gets into the midst of the tall spires and green, glacial valleys that run more than fifty miles up to Lake Louise. Trust me: you can't put enough film in your camera to capture it all. The air is crisp, the water clean and cold, and the vistas large and unspoiled. Like I said…..sometimes words run away from me.

We're here in Field, BC, at the Kicking Horse Lodge, a fine place in the midst of a deep valley. The sun is setting to my left, the sky now clear after a day of intermittent rain and cloud. The temperature is only in the fifties (Fahrenheit). The lakes so clear and green earlier, have turned through blue to black. The crags behind me are deep in shadow now, preparing for another night alone. This cold place, so forbidding and huge, prepares for the night. The remnants of the glaciers high above are what is left of a time thirty thousand years ago, and perhaps an omen as to what may come once again. Man is perhaps not the master of all he surveys here. All is right with this part of the world, at least for a little while longer.

If you haven't been here, don't wait much longer….it may not be the same, and that would be a crime.

Tom Bowman, from Field, BC.

The Cassiar

This morning from the campground of the Red Goat Lodge in Iskut, BC, I'm beginning to feel just a tiny bit like Edward R. Murrow, or Charles Kuralt, writing and broadcasting "from the road." I have a different perspective about their work now that I've attempted to do something like it.

This trip is now eight days old. There are more than four thousand miles under the wheels, and we are perhaps two-thirds of the way to our destination. To express even a small portion of what lies on the route even this far is hard. There is so much to see, so many things of interest that one could write about, that one would need a recorder just to put down notes about it all, and a helmet camera to show you the sights. Indeed, there are many. Yesterday we rode through an incongruous mix of civilization and back country on our way from Francois Lake to here. I must confess that my "picture" of what would be found was not much like the reality. For one thing, there are more people up here than I thought there would be. For another, I never realized the appetite the world has for lumber: logging has been a main industry up here for a long time, and the results are highly visible in the form of huge swaths where the cedar, pine, and hardwoods have been clear-cut. Much of the old-growth forest remains, so thick and dark that one can only see a few yards into the great swarm of trees. Yet, at places like Houston and Smithers, golf courses attract duffers in what is for this place hordes of thirty or forty at a time.

We crossed the Skeena Mountains at Smithers, a town dominated by a huge massif upon which lies a large glacier which can be seen from the road. Shortly afterwards, the road divides, the Yellowhead Highway continuing westward to Prince Rupert on the ocean, and the Cassiar heading north to the Yukon Territory. Of all the roads so far, this was the one I have anticipated the most. The Cassiar! Don't let the description in the Alaska Milepost fool you: this is not some sanitized, homogenized, antiseptic, lowest-common-denominator road. This is serious. The Cassiar is several hundred miles of gravel, smooth in places, rough as a cob in others. Huge tractor-trailer rigs hauling ore fly down it enveloped in thick clouds of dust. It begins relatively benign until one reaches Meziadin Junction, where the road again splits, with one side going to Stewart, BC, and Hyder, Alaska, (southernmost point of Alaska), and the other going north through the mountains to the Yukon. After the Junction, the gravel begins. Our GS machines handled it well, allowing reasonable speeds, but I felt sorry for the group of four riders we passed on sport bikes and cruisers; they were dust-covered and looked tired. The highway crews were working in a couple places spreading new gravel that made the short sections a real adventure. There are one-lane bridges over many creeks and rivers, most wooden-planked and one lane, some made of that steel grate that we hate. All span picturesque waters racing and cutting their way westward to the ocean.

After Meziadin Junction I saw the bears. The first was crossing the road and going into the trees less than a mile from the Junction. The second was coming out into the road as I approached and I got a good, close look as I was braking down, before he went back into the woods. A bit later, a large coyote or fox (couldn't tell from the road, and I'm not a wildlife expert) stood in a small clearing off to the side of the road and watched our passage. We saw eagles and other birds as well. No moose, but it's only a matter of time, I suspect.

Today we will finish the Cassiar and reach the Alaska Highway for the first time at Watson Lake, home of the famous "Signpost Forest", and head west for Whitehorse, in the Yukon for first time. We expect to be back on more populated roads (the Cassiar is nothing if not remote), and may get ahead of schedule for the first time as well. Eight days, four thousand miles, and the experience of a motorcycling lifetime. In a few minutes, we'll go knock on the door of the campground hosts, the Cunninghams, and ask to use their fax line to send off this batch of reports and photos. Everyone has seemed interested and amazed at this thing of communicating to the Internet from the road, and everyone just shakes their head at two middle-aged guys off away from work for a month, doing something like this trip on motorcycles. Now, if I could just figure out how to do this more often……

Tom Bowman, from Iskut Lake, BC. June 28th, 1998.


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