Paul and I got to a slow start breaking camp this morning. The air was cold enough to see my breath in it and my sleeping bag provided a perfect amount of warmth to be comfortable. Getting out my sleeping bag and back into my riding clothes proved to be an uncomfortable chore, everything was wet and muddy from the last few days but I was beyond the point of caring. Being wet, dirty and smelly has quickly become the new normal. I could have used a shower or a river to wash the grime and stink off of my body and out of my hair but there was no such option within a day’s travel.
It must have rained a few times during the night because the outside of my tent and everything left out for the night was also soaking wet. I wanted to start a fire to warm up and dry my clothes but it would have been almost impossible to find anything other than gasoline that would burn. Breakfast consisted of stolen fruit cups and broken bits of cold pop tarts that didn’t survive the last few days of jostling inside my cargo boxes. As usual I made a pot of extra hot and extra strong coffee just to restore brain function and add some warm fluids to my empty and groaning stomach. I would have to wait until that evening or possibly the next day when I made it back to civilization to get cleaned up and fed properly.
The ride south was an absolute blast. There were roughly 250 miles between us and the end of the Dalton Highway and we ripped up and down the dirt enjoying each and every mile. The roads weren’t in bad shape but they were wet enough to still be entertaining. I really enjoyed rolling onto the throttle and breaking the back tire loose going up the mountain sides at full speed. The big girl and I have become one entity by now and I feel as though I’m using the bike to the very limits of what BMW intended when they built her. Any other machine out there with the exception of a KTM 990 would be trashed by now.
There weren’t many big rig trucks using the dirt road that day. Every once in a while an RV or a pickup truck with hunters would come crawling by but aside from that we had the Dalton to ourselves. With every passing mile we would begin to see more vegetation and trees finally appeared and seemed to be getting taller and thicker as we got further from the Arctic Circle.
The end of the Dalton marked an important milestone for my journey and I raced across the intersection from dirt and paved road without stopping for a picture or even a second glance. I was glad to be back on actual pavement and put the last 850 miles of dirt road behind me. I twisted the grip in celebration past Paul and we raced back to the bike shop I got my tires at 5 days ago. On our way to the bike shop people in traffic were staring at us with funny looking expressions on their faces. Imagine two guys in full adventure gear mostly covered in beige mud with their bikes dripping all over the road on yourdaily afternoon commute. 2 teenagers even took our pictures as they drove by with their camera phones. We really stood out from the crowd which is harder to do in Alaska but we some how managed it. The guys at the bike shop told me I could use their garden hose to wash my bike in exchange for telling them stories of how the trip went and what the road conditions were like when I got back so we were on our way back to the shop to take them up on that much needed offer.
I spent over an hour hosing the mud and debris off of the bike and out of its million nooks and crannies. After the hour there was a huge puddle of mud and sand on the ground but you could hardly tell if the bike was any cleaner. I could have easily spent 5 hours spraying it down from all angles and I would have still had more cleaning to do. I concentrated on the engine, brakes and rims for the most part and left the detailing for another day. I still had 6 thousand miles to ride and I didn’t really see the point in breaking a sweat just to have a showroom clean bike when tomorrow’s ride could have me back in the mud somewhere in southern Alaska or the Yukon. As long as the entire engine, wheels and mechanical stuff was rinsed off and the brakes calipers and rotors were clear nothing else really mattered. Paul did the same with his bike while I offered unsolicited advice on what to clean and how best to get it done. I’m a natural supervisor.
After the bikes were somewhat cleaner we cruised a few blocks down the road and into a bar somewhere in Fairbanks for some burgers and a cold beer. We discussed our options as far as travel directions went and did the best we could with figuring out the timing to each get where we wanted to go. He was headed south towards Denali to spend time with a family member that worked at the park and offered me a place to crash and regroup before I continued south. After Denali he was going to head to Anchorage to put his bike into storage and fly back home to Texas. I called him a wuss more than a few times because I was going to ride home rather than take a plane but he didn’t really have the time. I was mostly trying to guilt him into changing his plans and joining me on my adventure south. I’ve been to Denali before but it is such an amazing place I could have easily gone with him to see it all over again. The fun we had over the last 2 days riding together would have easily continued but I knew I needed to start laying down the mileage and making my way towards the lower 48. I was in the mood to ride and Denali can’t really be done legally on a motorcycle so I told him reluctantly that I was going to go my separate way after we ate. I had a lot of fun riding with Paul and I could tell from the first day with him that we were going to cross paths again in the future. He wants to ride a lap around Australia like I do and his ears perked up when I mentioned my plans to ride from the east coast to the west coast all off road on a smaller dirt bike next summer. We exchanged email addresses, phone numbers and reluctantly said our goodbyes.
I got back on my bike doing the exact same thing I had done for weeks now but things seemed totally different. I was still having an amazing time on two wheels but my mood seemed to be much different now that I was back on my own and headed South East towards Canada. Reaching the Arctic Ocean was a goal of mine from the start and now that I’ve done that I feel as though I’m just making my way back home to reality, responsibility and more of what I’m familiar with. I can feel the adventure of riding into the unknown slipping through my fingers and the weight of civilization and the rat race come over me slowly like a flooding tide. I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I had to get home at some point. I had to pull the wool back over my eyes and join the rat race. I pondered this feeling for the rest of that day’s ride and then next 3 days traveling across Canada. The only way I could think of to delay the inevitable “end” was to go back a different route and to travel in a different way than I had in the past. The route I chose was the Cassiar Highway and the way I chose was analog. I ditched the GPS and cell phone immediately. I decided that I wasn’t going to get on my computer to check Facebook, email or even get online and blog for a while. The world doesn’t really need moment to moment updates about what I’m doing and I sure didn’t want to be so quick to join the rat race. Delaying my inevitable union with the modern world was a futile attempt to keep the sense of adventure and excitement of being out on my own going. It was a hail Mary but it somehow worked. I spent the next 4 days on back roads and camping off the grid. I ignored my phone aside from the occasional “I’m alive don’t worry” text message and didn’t open up my laptop once. I stopped taking pictures and listening to music while riding. I avoided hotels, towns, cities and even RV parks. The analog trip south through Canada helped me recoup my sense of adventure and shedding the digital age bullshit was just the ticket. I was using paper maps instead of GPS and got lost a more then a few times. Each time I got lost I stumbled across a new place that wasn’t even the regular tourist’s radar. The campsites I was finding were the most serene ones yet and the roads were completely isolated and didn’t have a single RV on them.
At one point I found my way into an Indian village and watched people hand carve actual totem poles honoring their grandparents and fathers in the traditional ways. The villagers lived almost completely from their land and no actual jobs aside from providing and caring for their extended families. I sat with them for almost 3 hours one afternoon while they carved. We talked about totem pole carving, the traditional shapes and what they meant, their tribe’s history and how they lived. I don’t know how I stumbled into this situation but I would have completely missed it if I was following a GPS and worrying about distances and arrival times for a particular end point destination.
I may have accidentally stumbled into a transcendental mind warp that would have made Thoreau and Emerson giddy on my way south through Canada but regardless I was happy to be zipping through time and space doing things my way completely on my own without any outside influences or pressure. I realized that it was going to be short lived, that eventually I was going to be struck in the face by the 21st century but I didn’t care.
I was living in the moment and I was free to enjoy it at my own pace.