Jul 2006

Whiteswan with Kevin

We got off to a late start on Saturday. No surprise I didn't get up at six am as intended. By the time Kevin and I had had our coffees and packed up Henk and his new friend Honda Hurricane, it was eleven. Our intention was to ride to Banff, where I'd stay for a visit and he'd continue his loop around to Revelstoke and back home to his girls.

We couldn't have had more perfect conditions for Kevin's first ride. The sun was out, the pavement was dry, traffic was sparse, and our bikes were both well-tuned and newly rubbered.

We flew to Invermere, Lightning and Hurricane, like a summer storm, and stopped at the Blue Dog Cafe for a bite.

Kevin was enjoying the ride even more than he'd thought he would. He's a big off-road guy, and rides his little Honda dirtbike all over every backroad mountain pass in the Kootenays. I could tell, though, he was loving gliding smoothly down the asphalt without having to heave the bike over fallen logs or dodge hanging branches and lazy cows.

When we passed the turnoff to the hotsprings at Whiteswan, I thought I detected a right turn signal from Kevin in my rearview mirror. We decided over dinner to backtrack and try to camp there for the night, rather than fight the crowds in the Banff campgrounds on a Saturday night. It was an easy decision. He'd been to Whiteswan in his truck a couple of weeks ago, and assured me they'd upgraded the gravel and dirt logging road. Henk and Hurricane would have no trouble.

It was slow-going in the dusk, bumping over potholes and skidding over gravel, and when we arrived at the campground 20kms up the mountain, we got the last campsite. We set up camp - my old reliable North Face tent with newly custom made poles by Joseph at Europe Bound in Toronto, and Kevin's bear bait bivey.

The temperature had dropped nicely up there, and the clear night sky was an explosion of falling stars. We walked around the lake and caught up on each others' lives. It's been six years since we've spent a night together. Kevin's been busy growing a child, and it's only now that she's four he's becoming free enough to get away for 24 hours. Lauren appeared out of nowhere and took his life on a very different path than he'd planned. Now he lives for his girls, and it's wonderful to watch. He remains one of my most admired humans.

We got up with the sun, shivered while packing up camp, and headed down to the hotsprings for a soak. Mmmmm. Lussier Hotsprings, 17kms up a logging road near Canal Flats, is a treasure.
There were already ten or fifteen people lounging in the various pools. It's the busiest I've ever seen it up there. Great things inevitably get discovered by the masses.

We stayed for an hour or so, soaking up the sulphur water and spruce forest, then hit the road. Kevin planned on leaving me at Radium, then heading around Golden and Revelstoke back toward home. By the time we got to Radium, though, the sky had darkened over the mountains, threatening storms. I suggested he go back the way we came. Why ride through a Rocky Mountain rainstorm if you don't have to?

I, on the other hand, had to.

I used to joke, when I lived in Banff and wanted out, that Banff had a perpetual black cloud hovering over it.
It seemed at the time to be true, but in reality, I knew it to be the black cloud over me.

But here I was, riding into Banff through a cold rain, wondering if it's just me. I arrived and snapped a photo of Rundle Mountain just as the first lightning bolt struck.

My nieces and nephew ran out to greet me and helped unload my wet gear. "I thought you weren't going to get here Auntie Moi!" Ahhh. I love them.



I just picked up Henk from Scott at Kaotic Kustom Choppers in Grand Forks. He has brand new rubber on both ends, his fluids have been changed, his primary chain tightened, signal lightbulb replaced, bolts and screws checked, and now he's purring like a kitty and ready to go. I'm itching to ride also. The weather at Christina Lake has been phenomenal. Not a drop of rain has fallen in the entire two weeks I've been in Toronto, and I'm thinking I might have ideal conditions this time around. That would be a first. Last year, my ride began in the rain, and almost every day of riding came with some form of precipitation, including low-lying clouds and cold rain all the way up the Alaska Highway.

If I'm lucky, this time I'll get to see where the Rockies begin (or end) in the north; where those colossal cold jagged bones of the earth rumble toward its sacrum, tumbling quiet to its kundalini cauldron where twin elements, fire and ice intermingle in ecstacy and geologic passions are stirred to boiling - then left in utter silence to simply witness the passage of time.

There's magic up north. People ask me "Why the Yukon?" Last year my answer was because I'd never been. This time it's because I want more. More of the midnight sun glowing purple over the fireweed alongside the Yukon River darkened deep magenta, still sparkling diamonds at eleven pm. It's a gentle and present approach to nightfall that makes a day in the Yukon feel like a lifetime. I want more of the medicinal scented Labrador Tea tucked in to the cool earthtoned mossy tundra at Tombstone; more beautiful silence - silence in the Yukon is indescribable - unlike any silence I've ever heard.

When I've had enough of that northern solitude, I can stop in at
Alpine Bakery in Whitehorse, where Suat extended his entire vegetarian community my way when I arrived a chilled and bedraggled mess last year. His organic soups are the cure for any kind of road weariness, and his oven-baked veggie pizzas and vegan chocolate truffles are worth the ride up the Alaska Highway. Yoga classes upstairs are a perfect way to pry my bones away from Henk's gas tank.

Then there's Dawson City and the outdoor bathhouse at the River Hostel. You want to arrive plenty filthy to enjoy that to its fullest. Once clean and warm and dry and feeling like a modern day Klondike Kate, it's off to Diamond Tooth Gertie's, Canada's first ever casino, where nightly poker tournaments are held. Last year, professional poker player John Hendley taught me the basics. This year, with a little bit of luck, I hope to practice my skills and maybe even win a few.

But all that is still a good five day's ride away, if the weather holds and if I don't get happily delayed by friends and family.

First thing tomorrow morning, I begin the first Canadian leg with my great friend Kevin, who just got his motorbike license, and who's borrowed a Honda 600 somethingorother to ride with me to Banff. It's his first road ride, and my first time in a long time venturing out with another rider. I'm looking forward to the chance to share one of my favorite rides on earth with one of my favorite humans in the world.

Christina Lake


I've been coming to Christina Lake for about 18 years, almost every summer, several times in fall, once in winter; and it feels like my home away from home whenever I feel I need one, or haven't got one elsewhere. Like an old friend I haven't seen for a year, there's an instant recognition, a comfortable sinking in to the familiar relationship with the breathtaking landscape - expanse of sun-warmed water and water-coloured layers of evergreen-gray mountains - and a heart-warming feeling that as long as Christina Lake is here, all is right in the world.

Christina Lake is Canada's warmest fresh-water lake, and in my opinion, Canada's best kept secret - until recently. There's not much of a town, and hardly any development, but over the last five years or so, I've seen the telltale signs of inevitable growth. The road around the lake has been extended to accommodate some cottages once only accessible by boat, real estate prices have gone through the roof, and low on the west mountain, bulldozers have begun to cut long stretches of trees away to make room for the first of what I dread will be many mountainside subdivisions.

I arrived after three long sweaty days riding in 98 degree heat from Colorado through northern Utah, central Idaho, southern Montana and northern Washington. The only relief from the heat came in the last half hour before reaching the Canadian border on the 395, where the Kettle River provides cool moisture for the many shade trees winding their way north to the tin can trailer manned by one woman at Canada Customs.

I melted patiently in the sun while waiting for her to finish with the guy in the rusted-out half-ton ahead of me. I kind of count on customs officers to feel sorry for me, hoping to get the interrogation over with quickly, and I imagine what they must think when I pull up: "Poor girl, travelling alone, can't find any friends to go with her, doesn't have a boyfriend to drive the bike, sweating in her leathers. She can't possibly be up to anything illegal." Not that I'm ever doing anything illegal, but customs officers have a way of making the most innocent purchase seem like a crime, and contacts in your address book seem like border-line terrorists.

Anyway, it worked. All she asked me was "Isn't it hot in those leathers?" and whether I'd made any purchases in the states. She asked to see a receipt for my 17-dollar Wal-Mart tent, and when I couldn't find it without dropping a hundred gas slips on the boiling pavement, she waved me through. I think she was getting sweaty just looking at me.

When I arrived at the lake, my pals Rick and Jim were out in the boat, nowhere to be found. I dropped my leathers on the dock and dove in. Canada's warmest fresh-water lake was still cool enough to feel amazing after three days of burning up asphalt and de-toxing in my custom leather sauna.

Good thing I de-tox on the road, because cocktail hour happens around seven in the summer at Christina Lake; and Rick and Jim, unfailingly, make an event of it. White wine spritzers, pomegranate martinis, and Australian Chardonnay are best sipped slowly at the south end of the lake, accompanied by some
Kootenay Kitchen Jalapeno VegePate and crackers, while staring disbelievingly at the three giant red cherry orbs glowing momentarily from the crests of the west mountains as the wind picks up, lifting the waves on the lake to threatening whitecaps, and lightning slices the north sky like Zorro on Oso Negro Espresso.


I've so needed to fill my eyeballs and every pore with the movement of the road. Transitions in mood and landscape happen so seemlessly, the supposed dark and scary unknown becomes the present in one smooth time continuum of rubber on pavement and palm on throttle meditation.


Colorado Idaho Montana

I'm in Missoula, Montana at the KOA Kampground where all the workers have happy yellow t-shirts and a happy yellow t-shirted employee rides around in a golf cart making sure the peace is maintained. It's a bit like Pleasantville, but pleasant enough for one quick sleep - and I've actually got Wi-Fi at my site I7. That's a first. Judging by the KOA map of North America near the office, they've got more locations than Starbucks.

When you're a girl travelling alone on the July 4 weekend, you can't be too picky about where you pitch your tent. They put me under a nice big tree beside one of their trademark 'kabins' that happens to be occupied by a nice couple in their fifties from Alabama, who ride Harleys and bring along a support vehicle and their three big dogs. I told them I wished I had a support vehicle yesterday when I rode through a pelting thunderstorm, and they brought me over a Jack Daniels on ice and had a seat at my picnic table for a chat. They do heavy construction and engineering for oil companies, and are heading to Rifle, Colorado, exactly where I picked up Henk yesterday, to bid on a ten year job for Shell Oil. I'm sure they'll win the bid, because the head honcho there rides a Harley. Sometimes just being a fellow motorcycle enthusiast can be enough of an in for a big fat hog of a contract.

After being kidnapped by my friend Brett, his best friend Sheila, and a handful of lesbians from Boulder for a lovely weekend of camping and giggling by a lake near Basalt, Colorado, I finally got to pick up Henk. He was dusty, but started for me on the second try. I could hardly contain my excitement when it became apparent that there would be no more delays.

An active thunder cloud hovered overtop while I prepared my bags and tent and sleepingbag and got into the familiar bungycord and safety check routine. I said a quick goodbye to Brett and his dog named Ling and hopped on, hoping I could dash out from under the storm before it got a chance to dump.

Just west of the turnoff for Moab, I came up against a wall of thunder and lightning. Off to the north, the wall was more of a curtain, so I took the opportunity to turn off the westbound route. After meeting two two-wheel riders within two weeks of each other who'd been struck by lightning while riding in the Yukon, I have a new respect (fear) for lightning. Whenever I'm riding in lightning now, if there's nowhere to pull over, I simply think to myself, I'm either going to die, in which case there's nothing to worry about, or I'm going to survive, in which case, there's nothing to worry about. It sort of works.

I passed forteen or fifteen riders from Wyoming, some of them strapping their bikes into their support vehicle. I almost stopped and pretended I was part of the group, but the rain was actually pretty refreshing in the southern Utah 90 degree summer afternoon, and it's the most alive I've felt in months.

I rode in the red rock blow dryer until eight pm, then pulled in to a busy campground beside an amusement park north of Salt Lake City. I almost stopped in Bountiful, but realized me pulling in to a town populated by a Mormon cult leader and his twenty-one wives and sixty-eight children would be the epitome of evil.

I payed my camp fee, rolled Henk over to C542, pulled out my North Face tent from my borrowed saddlebag for the first time in seven months... and laughed when I realized that in my haste to get on the road with Henk and in my haste to dodge the thunderstorm, I'd stupidly left the poles behind in the storage room in Rifle. My close neighbors, three teenage girls and a boy on one side, and a young couple on the other weirdly celebrating their anniversary, were well entertained while I bungee corded my tent fly to a tree and the fence, using a broken fence rung as my main teepee pole, then tied Henk into the lopsided mix. It actually worked quite well and I managed to sleep just fine.

Today was a blurr of United States. Utah, Idaho, and Montana.

Utah is more beautiful arriving than leaving. Those massive red rock formations creep up on you from a moonscape horizon that seems perpetually out of grasp, until one moment you look up and you're bathed in pink sunlight reflecting off the imposing sandstone surfaces in all directions. Then you're in it; and all that pink and lavender and fushia and red at sunset and sunrise and all that red and brown and rust jutting into the blue Utah sky, unimaginable formations, blows your mind. And after awhile, you'd die to see a green tree.

Highway 15 between Provo and an hour north of Salt Lake City is ugly. I usually stay far away from interstate highways, but in the interest of getting to Christina Lake on schedule by the 6th, I've been screaming along at 90 miles an hour with the rest of them. I was riding behind a transport truck first thing this morning, when something hit my calf. Hard. It wasn't a bee. I think it was a chunk of metal from the undercarriage of the truck. Either that, or something he'd run over on the highway. It happened too fast, and I was too close behind him to even see what the hell it was. Crazy.

Idaho, my first time through, was a lush winding trail of canyons and river valleys with checkered harvest farmland glowing in the September sun. Today, I took a different route north, and discovered where they keep all those potatoes. Central Idaho, baby. Central Idaho. Miles upon miles of potatoes. Potatoes as far as the eye can see. Potatoes being irrigated, flowering in the early July heat, looking like they're almost ready to ship around the world. I'll have to do a potato latke or campfire potato recipe in honor of Idaho.

As soon as I crossed into Montana, the landscape became more familiar; rolling, green, more mountainous. I rode north for a couple hours, through a brief but powerful downpour over the Continental Divide. The sweet smell of mountain sage after the rain filled my helmet like a drug; and I flew. I turned left onto the 90 toward Missoula, and every pine tree in Montana in a chorus released their pine molecules in harmony, filling my cells to their nuclei. The taxi drivers in Toronto try to fake this scent with those little cardboard toxic chemical pine things they hang from their mirrors. I'm here to tell you they smell nothing like a pine forest. Kill the cardboard pine trees!

It's now dark and quiet in KOA land, but for the occasional pre-4th of July blast of fireworks from the neighboring suburb.

I stopped somewhere along the way today at a gigantic Wal-Mart alongside the highway thinking I might be able to pick up some tent poles. Instead I got a tiny little tent for 17 bucks. Made in China. Crazy. I kept passing a Wal-Mart truck today on the highway. Every time I'd stop for gas, he'd gain ground, then I'd catch up to him again. It got to be funny, and the white-bearded driver and I began waving to each other as I passed. I contemplated for a long time the morality of buying a 17 dollar tent at Wal-Mart, considering all the energy it must have taken to get the little 5' x 6' nylon tarp and collapsible poles all the way from somewhere in China to Pocatello, Idaho, and considering all the valid protests against globalization and homogenization. Wal-Mart is about to become the world's largest retailer of organic products. Is that an oxymoron? Maybe that's all I needed to know to make it ok to buy a 17 dollar tent there. Maybe Wal-Mart is about to open themselves up to a whole new demographic. All I know is that it's next to impossible not to become a hypocrite the moment you start to pontificate.

Henk's running like a dream. Right now he's getting his deserved rest, and keeping watch over me with the happy KOA guy in the golf cart.