Aug 2007

Before and After the Alaska Highway

The Alaska Highway can change you. Especially if you do it alone. It's like good, intensive vipassana meditation. I swear, today, I discovered the key to ultimate happiness. Today, I found joy. The paradoxically twisted thing is, it was always there. I just needed to be quiet, get out of my own way, and let my true nature come through.

I had a picnic dinner tonight beside the Yukon River, mesmerized by its quick current north, soaking in the big moody sky, unlike any other sky I've seen. Yukon midnight blue happens around nine pm in Whitehorse at this time of year.

Alpine Bakery closes at six, so by the time I got checked in to the Robert Service Campground and set up my tent, I'd missed a gourmet meal of mushroom burger and gypsy stew. There's a fellow who just opened a burrito truck a few weeks ago in a parking lot by the river, but he was just closed at 7:30 when I arrived. So it was Subway again. The "veggie delight" at $4.67 has been a reliable staple. Sometimes, one of those around 2 or 3 pm will get me through the entire day. Today, though, I was so looking forward to a hot meal. It was a cold - almost wintery ride north of Liard Hotsprings and only warmed once I crossed into the Yukon.

Perhaps I should've taken Johnny McPhee up on his invitation in Watson Lake to go to his place for moose steaks and bannock. I was re-packing henk in the parking lot of a hotel because my saddle bags had come loose. He appeared out of nowhere to cheer me on. "Where ya comin from?" he asked.

"Los Angeles."

"L.A.?! You kiddin? You stoppin here for the night?"

"No. I'm heading to Whitehorse, then up to Inuvik."

"What? Well you be careful up here. You might think you're in the Yukon, but there's criminals out there."

"Believe me, I'm safer anywhere up here than I am anywhere in L.A."

He told me he's a poet.

"I met a girl travellin up here all alone," he said.

"Oh yeah?" I said. "On a motorbike?"

"She was packin' up her bags like a seat on a throne."

Well, Johnny McPhee may have just stepped out of the local bar, but he sure was sweet. I'm proud to say I'm a muse for a real live Yukon poet. Suzanne will get a howl over that. I declined his invitation to dinner and he told me to look him up on my return through Watson Lake. As I was saddling up and pushing out, he said, "May the great spirits bring you guidance and a safe journey," and he kissed two fingers and laid them on my glove.

I've seen four beautiful black bears so far. One huge full grown adult ambled across the road in front of me about 100 kms south of Dawson Creek, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. I'd just filled up my tank and pulled out of a remote privately owned station, barely into third gear. He came out from the ditch right there. I slowed down and watched in awe as he disappeared nonchalantly into the ditch on the other side. I channelled Steve Irwin as I exclaimed to myself "What a beauty!!"

Then yesterday approaching Muncho Lake, I'd been going through a series of gravel patches. Most of them were marked, but this one took me by surprise because it was deeper than the patches I'd been passing. I had to slow down fast. At the same time, I saw a mama bear and her two cubs just to my right on the grass beside the road. As I geared down, I tried both to look at the bears and watch the gravel. I realized as my front tire hit the first few stones that if I were to go down here, I'd likely be attacked (if I wasn't first hit from behind by another vehicle). I held on tight and made it through upright while somehow keeping an eye on the bears out the back of my head. Mama held her ground and stared at me when Henk's motor revved down. The two cubs jumped around as though they wanted to join in the fun. I wanted to stop and play, but there were vehicles behind me.

liard boardwalk
The best deal on the Alaska Highway is Liard Hotsprings. For $17 you can camp in a lovely wooded private site and bathe in the gorgeous natural hotsprings all day and all night. It's an absolute must-stop-overnight destination if you're on a motorbike. The Alaska Highway can rattle your brains. There are funny stickers and t-shirts that depict a cat, Garfield, I think, all fluffy and calm in one image, then the next, his fur is all gone, one or two hairs standing up straight on his head, his tail fried, and the caption reads "before and after the Alaska Highway." Anyone who's done it can relate. Cars break down, motorbikes break down, people get stranded halfway between nowhere and nowhere, nerves get shattered, and if you're on a motorbike, spines, shoulders, knees, ankles and wrists get pummelled. The hotsprings at Liard are just the therapy you need. Go. But don't tell anyone because it's getting too damn busy!

After a day of battling gravel and potholes, I soaked for three hours solid, enjoying being with my own thoughts, stretching my legs and massaging my shoulders until I saw my first star in the Northern BC evening sky. People were chit chatting all around, telling each other of the wildlife they'd seen. I tried tuning them out, but my ears perked up when I heard a man telling a group of travellers that he and his RV caravan had "played tag all day today with some woman on a motorbike."

"That's rare to see a woman on motorbike alone," someone said.

"The only reason I know it was a woman is she stopped at Subway in Fort Nelson and when we went by she had her helmet off. Every time she passed us she flipped us the peace sign."

"I think she's here," someone else said.

Although it was tempting to identify myself and have a great old conversation about sharing remote and isolated routes with fellow roadsters and flipping the peace sign because you never know when you might need a bit of goodwill to come back around, I just smiled to myself and enjoyed listening to the mythology as it spread across the Alaska Highway.

Vegetarian Comfort Food in the Rain

I'm just packing up, getting ready to leave Prince George. I'm hopeful the weather will improve from yesterday's cold wet system, and I'll get a good day's ride in.

You can't have a province as lush and green and beautiful as BC without a lot of rain. So you take it, because when it's over, it's magnificent. I managed to avoid the worst of it yesterday completely by chance. I'd taken little highway 8 through some Indian lands in the Nicola Valley towards Spences Bridge and lucked into lunch.

It's a stunning ride through rich rolling grazing country along rivers and lakes, and I cruised at around 80, slow enough to soak it all in. I admired the dozens of strong and healthy horses roaming wild along streams and lazing in the fragrant sage, and contemplated coming back as a horse right here in my next life.

When I got to Spenses Bridge, which is not so much a town as a bridge, I glided by a hand-painted sign on the right hand side that read "vegetarian comfort foods." It took me a full 10 seconds past for it to register. This is the last place on earth I'd have expected to find "vegetarian comfort foods." I thought I was having hallucinations from the Econo Lodge coffee I'd sucked back an hour earlier.
spenses bridge
I turned around and pulled in to the Inn at Spenses Bridge. Inside, I was greeted by a pleasant scene of casual dining and wonderful aromas.

"What are you doing here in the middle of nowhere?!" I asked the smiling fellow behind the bar.

"We're not the middle of nowhere!" he retorted. "We're the centre of the universe! We're at the convergence of two major highways, two national railways, the river...EVERYONE has to come through here!"

"Well, I'm soooooo glad I saw your sign! I feel like I've landed in heaven! I'll have one of everything on your menu!" It was a simple menu, and I thought I could pack it all back, but I started with an oatmeal sunflower cookie and ordered the chili.

I pulled up a chair outside overlooking the Thompson River and it started to pour. Now this is rain, I thought to myself, unlike what people call rain in southern California. The drum of the onslaught on the plastic roof of the patio was deafening.

My chili came, accompanied by a thick slice of homemade multigrain bread, and I realized I was in a parallel world to the one I'd created at Fossil Face Cafe. It was exactly as I would have made it, and served exactly the way I would have served it. I savoured it while marvelling at the rain and observing an osprey perched in its nest shaking its feathers in vain against the deluge.

"There are four this year," said Ray, the owner, and he gave me a set of binoculars. "But last week, that telephone pole was hit by lightning, and it was on fire for four hours. They're not the same since. You know, if you and I were standing this close and lightning struck me, guess what? You'd be hit too!" He said they're all a little "backwards" since the incident.

We got chatting about business as I would with any owner of a vegetarian cafe. He and his wife have been running the inn for five years. It has 12 rooms and the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.

"You must be getting pretty tired," I empathized.

He let out a confirming chuckle, seemingly grateful someone would acknowledge his hard work. They close every year for three months in the winter, but he said they can never afford to go far. And the hardest part, he said, is keeping employees.

"No kidding. Easier to do it all yourself," I said.

He told me they were left in a lurch over the July long weekend when someone quit just before.

"Nobody cares like you do," I said. "You're the only one who's going to mop in the corners."

He laughed. "Funny you should say that..."

I was "stuck" there for over an hour while it poured, so Ray and I became friends.

When the rain let up, I let out a comment people so often said to me in Banff when they were off on a journey. "I wish I could take you with me!"

I'll be up the Alaska Highway now for the next few days and out of internet contact. I'll post again on Friday from Dawson City. In the meantime, don't worry about me. Know that I'm soaking my bones in the most magnificent hotsprings I've ever encountered, riding with wild buffalo, camping in god's country and loving every minute of it.

Ants in my pants (literally)

They don't call it the Econo Lodge for nothing.

I pulled in to Merritt, B.C. after a short late afternoon's ride. It was crazy windy, and the sky was dark long before sunset, limiting my visibility. It's not the kind of night you want to be camping if you can help it, so I pulled in to the local Econo Lodge.

A woman built like a bulldog was standing outside the front office smoking. One glance at her downturned mouth and hunched shoulders told me she was miserable, though I gave her the benefit of the doubt. While waiting for the paperwork for a single $60 non-smoking room, I tried striking up a friendly conversation. I left my helmet and sunglasses on, so all she could see was my nose. Something about my nose makes people want to open up to me. She had a deep voice like a man, monotone. I volleyed back with my unique lighthearted lilt.

Is it always this windy here?

Always. You should've seen it last night. We had the most awful wind storm. I've been here two and a half years and I've hated every minute of it. This time next week I'll be in Kelowna. Moving down there.

Oh, that'll be a nice change for you. Kelowna's pretty.

Oh, I doubt it. I'll be working 24/7. I'm going down there to run a motel. But I've got nothing better to do anyway, so I may as well be sitting around at a motel working.

What is it about Merritt that you hate so badly?

This is the most unfriendly town I've ever been to.

Perhaps its the wind. Must make people mad.

You should see it in the winter.

And on it went. Each time her mouth moved to speak, it was as though it only knew how to form sentences from a root of sadness or anger, and her voicebox only carried one tone, the tone of apathy. Poor woman. I'm sure she didn't start out that way.

The room reeks of smoke and there are ants on/in the bed. (It's ok. So far I've only seen three.) If I hadn't unloaded all my gear I'd change rooms - or more likely motels. Needless to say, I'm wearing my sweatpants to bed, two long sleeved shirts, socks, and I'll probably keep my hair in its braid so as not to provide said ants with somewhere to nest. At least they have wi-fi (the Econo Lodge, not the ants, although I suppose it could be said that the ants, too, by virtue of their living in my room, have wi-fi). In some places that would be worth $60 per night.

I've been shooting videos from my helmet cam, which I've turned into a sleeve cam. It's working really well, except I haven't stopped long enough at a place with a good solid wi-fi connection to upload them. This is my project this evening, so I'll try and get you some.

When you view the videos, turn the volume right down on your computer, because this Samsung helmet pod catches all the wind. Hisssssssssss.

California cruisin'.

California Redwoods.

Crossing the Columbia River into southern Washington.

Southern Washington desert with a bug on the lens.

Last leg into Canada.

101, 199, 5, 126, 97, 90, 281, 28 25, 395

I love maps. I love to stare into the maze of lines and names and plot out a route. I love to contemplate the myriad of options - freeways, highways, secondary roads, and barely-there roads, straight and direct, meandering and scenic. I love to measure between my thumb and forefinger distances, and estimate how long it might take. Once your map is torn in a few places and folded against its original form, your finger-measure estimates are much more accurate. I love to memorize a route, knowing that I'll likely make a spontaneous decision at some highway intersection that'll veer completely off it. I love the anticipation that looking at a map induces. It's about a new future, somewhere down the road, but it's also a very pleasurable present moment meditation. I love tracing the roads I've been down and returning in my mind to where they took me.

At the moment, I love that Kevin's two gorgeous cats are lounging all over my last four days of ripped and torn map history through California, Oregon and Washington.

I arrived at Christina Lake right on schedule last night before sunset. It's my home away from home, and a sanctuary where I can rest, stretch, shower, brush the tangles out of my hair, unpack, repack, eat fresh garden tomatoes, park Henk in a garage for a night or two, oil up, visit with dear friends and plot the dirty Dempster adventure with Kevin.

He'll be meeting me in Dawson City with a brand new loaner Honda CRF 450X Baja series in tow. Together, on two streamlined, stripped down, bare bones dirtbikes, we'll tackle the Dempster. He's been planning for months and has made all sorts of custom gear for the bikes and camping. He's prepared like I've never been, and it's a privilege for me to be able to just show up. I look forward to that leg with great anticipation.

But that's still ten days away and I have some riding to do before then.

I wish everyone who lives in a city could do a major road trip at least once in their life. Filling yourself with all that vastness can work wonders on a tired soul. It' mind-boggling to see, really see, smell, touch, taste and feel the beautiful enormity that is North America.

The 101 north of Santa Rosa was surprisingly wide, open, dry, sunny, and curvy - the kind of curves I like, just there to keep you from thinking you're going in a straight line, no need to gear down, just curvy enough to keep you awake and entertained and your tires wearing evenly. From Arcata to Crescent City you're driving through the redwoods, where breathing feels like good medicine. The 199 east from Crescent City to Grants Pass continues through northern California's giant redwoods and into Oregon's. Keep breathing deep.

The 5 through western Oregon is good for making up lost time, but it's fast, full of trucks and not much fun so I hopped off at Springfield onto the lovely 126 heading east along the McKenzie River past a funky old western town called Sisters and on up the endless 97, which I followed through Madras, Biggs, across the Columbia River into Washington, past a creepy town called Yakima. I shouldn't really judge a town by its gas stations, but I filled up at Yakima and couldn't get back on the road fast enough.

Unfortunately, the road east from there, the old 10 on through the 28, was barren and boring. Nothing but sagebrush for miles on end, and hardly another vehicle to be seen. It's on this leg, which lasted over an hour, that my mind began playing nasty tricks. What if I ran out of gas on this lonely road to nowhere? Who would I rather see in my rearview mirror pulling up to help... a gang of Hell's Angels on rumbling Harleys, an alien in a gleaming spaceship, or a couple of rednecks in a filthy pickup truck? Given my unexplainable but not unreasonable fear of rednecks, a martian might seem more human, but Hell's Angels...Hell's Angels would feel heaven-sent.

The 28 eventually made a left turn and turned into the 25 north. I finally felt like I was within reach of the Canadian border. Henk came about as close to an adult deer as he'd ever wanna be, bounding across the highway in the early evening shadows. With my release of the throttle, Henk's classic purr turned to a growl, and firehorse and deer were equally spooked onto split second opposite tangents like professional dancers in a busy ballroom intuitively avoiding a messy clash.

The 395 in to Christina Lake by now is wonderfully familiar, winding around the Kettle River in the cool shade of evergreens, which somehow feel more Canadian than American, perhaps because now that I'm close, I'm feeling more Canadian than American. That last half hour I'm like a horse heading back to stable, anxious for carrots and hay.

A little bit of rain is in the forecast for the ride north. Having seen a total of one (yes 1) drop of rain from December to August in L.A., I'm actually looking forward to a little cool wet riding. Not days of freezing deluge, but a brief, refreshing jaunt through a light summer shower.

Day 2 and stuck in the Redwoods with a dead battery

It gets dark quickly in the redwoods east of Santa Cruz. The trees are high rises. The sun doesn't so much set as disappear. One moment, around six, a subdued beam carves a dusty sliver of light across the needle-laden ground; next thing you know, you're in the black shadow of a cathedral whose ceiling is the stars. It's 9:32 and all is silent except the crickets and something nearby causing a plastic tarp to crinkle. One of Suzanne's cats? There is no wind. A small night creature...

The day began loaded with good intentions and positive energy. I was served breakfast in bed by the lovely Suzanne in her magical little cabin on wheels. She insisted I take her bunk last night, while she herself slept on the floor of the tiny fairy-like closet filled with baubles and beads and tinkling talismans, scarves and hats and sleepy kitties.

I felt honoured; I don't think many people have bunked in with Suzanne. But to be honest, it's a crawl space. I think she wanted me to experience exactly how she's been living the past five years. I had Pookie, her oldest and most cherished cat from Montreal curled up, purring loudly at my feet, and Sweet Pea, her black and white lover in a tiny nook off my right side. It was cozy and warm, but really, it's no bed, and today I'm feeling an inch shorter. I can't quite grasp how Suzanne sleeps here every night. I can't fathom how she did it with a broken back.

I put in a fair ride yesterday, getting a late start from Venice at around 10am. I took a photo of the odometer before I set out so we can log the kms.
odom start
When I came to the first light on the PCH, Henk stalled. My heart sank and I thought it was all over before it had begun. But a quick try on the starter with a deeper pull on the throttle got us up and running again and I assumed that I just needed to ride a bit to clear out the pipes, charge up the battery, get Henk back into riding form. It stalled again a couple of hours up the highway when I pulled into a gas station.

It's a battery I'd put in at the end of the journey last year when the stator died. It would still be fine had I not had to charge that one several times when I ran it to empty getting from Whitehorse to Bellingham. Of course it's done. I should have known.

So when I went to leave today, after taking some short films of Suzanne reading her poetry in the woods, I got halfway down her hill and stalled again. Dead battery.

Luckily I had met a cool biker yesterday when I pulled up beside him at a red light and asked him where the local Brewery Pub is. "Do I know where it is?" he said. "Follow me! I'm on my way there right now for a beer and a burger!" We got off our bikes and shook hands. "Either it's my lucky day or it's your lucky day" he said, and introduced himself. For some reason, I thought I'd run into Willie Nelson and I expected him to have a long white pigtail under his helmet. Boulder Creek, tucked away in the wooded hills off the winding climbing highway 9, looked like the kind of little town where Willie just might be putt-putting down the road on a little Honda 450CB. "My name's Jim and I'm in a bike club that's been around since 1947." he said. "C'mon! I've got some stories that're gonna blow your mind!"

So Jim and I sat and had a half pint while waiting for Suzanne to meet me. He told me he's logged over a million miles on motorbikes in the past 60 years and has had 14 accidents. "You've either dropped your bike or you're going to drop your bike," he said, "but I love it!" He also told me a story of an old woman he knew, Nancy Wright, who rode up to Alaska on motorbike when she was 83. She started riding motorbikes at the young age of 69. She also flew airplanes, and finally had her license taken away after looping a bridge - she was in her eighties. That blew my mind.

Suzanne arrived, a vision, freshly made up, dressed in purple flowing gauze layers, a mauve scarf wrapped around her dark hair and a purple bindi in place on her third eye. The local brewpub may never be the same. She brought a new friend, Vicki, who's lived in Boulder Creek 33 years, and the four of us had a lively meal together, Suzanne and I catching up and Jim filling us all in on his life as an RVer, a motorbiker, a writer, an archivist, a father of four and grandfather of 9...

By the time the final crumbs were being passed around, Jim had been taken by my wild odyssey, Suzanne's lovely energy, his new local friend Vicky, and the serendipitous way it all happened. He said goodbye to "the adventurer, the mystic and the local gal" and said "This was absolutely my lucky day!"

When my battery died today, guess who got the call? "Jim! Moira here! We met yesterday! Do you happen to know anywhere I might get a motorbike battery? I know, what are the chances? It's a small town. No bike shop..."

Jim took a battery from one of his extra bikes, a Goldwing, and brought it right up to where I was stranded within half an hour. Although it didn't fit, he made it work as a temporary band-aid so that I could at least ride back up to Suzanne's camp. I called and ordered a new one from a shop in the next town over and Jim offered to pick it up for me in the morning and bring it right to me.

Today was absolutely my lucky day.


Suzanne's Angels

I'm leaving this Sunday for another epic solo two-wheeled adventure, this time from Los Angeles, California to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. It's just over 6,000 kilometres if I go the direct route. But I never go the direct route. Over a month, I expect to log another 20,000 kilometres with Henk the Buell.

And this time, it's not just purely for the adventure of it. I have a goal. This time, I'll have many angels with me - mine and Suzanne's.

I've formed my own bike gang called "Suzanne's Angels" - Women on the road for Women on the street - in response to a friend asking "What charity are you riding for?"

A bit leery of charities, I've always been more likely to give food or a few bucks to a homeless person. I like to know exactly where my donations are going.

I believe in acting locally, whether it be buying from local farmers, supporting local businesses or helping your neighbour.

Suzanne is a homeless woman I've become friends with who lives in her truck with her four adopted cats. Although she's turned her truck into a funky cabin and lives her homelessness as art, with as much dignity as is humanly possible, it's a constant struggle. She sleeps with one eye open to the dangers of the street, and sometimes feeds her cats better than she feeds herself. Find out more about her at

I'm fortunate to be able to choose homelessness for a month to pursue my passion. I'll be riding in solitude toward the midnight sun in the wind and the rain, camping under the northern lights, sleeping on a gravel bed with a fleece sweater for a pillow. For me, the idea of homelessness for a month is bliss. But I have a home to come back to - a safe place with a warm bed and a cozy duvet and a supportive partner and a kitchen and a shower - things I need to leave occasionally in order not to take them too much for granted.

I've set up "Suzanne's Angels" as a group on
Facebook, as well as a blog at Anyone (or group) who would like to help me help her get a roof over her head can leave their pledge of a penny per km (or more, or less) on the Facebook wall or in the comments section of the blog. Or email me directly at

My goal is to return to L.A. with a total of $1 pledged per kilometre for Suzanne. I'm already one fifth of the way there!

I'll be posting regular blogs along the way, with photos and video from my helmet cam, so stay tuned, and join Suzanne's Angels!

Epic Northern Adventure the 3rd

I took Henk in to Bartell's Harley Davidson in Marina Del Rey last week for new tires and a good solid overall safety inspection. The tattooed mechanic who did the job, after noting the odometer about to click over to 100,000 kilometres, shook his head and shook my hand. "Who rides that many miles on this bike?!" he asked.

"They're kilometres," piped in the service manager.

"I know. I saw the Alberta plates, I'm not an idiot. Still, who rides that many miles on this bike?!"

When I told him I'm doing the Alaska Highway - for the third time - he just shook his head some more and waved.

"Have a nice trip...I guess."