Alaska to Canada

Here’s the loooooong overdue update on the last bit of our trip in North America:

From Tok we rode straight to the border. Having a doubtful feeling about our border crossing into Alaska (the US) on the Top of the World Hwy we found out that it was justified. The lady at the Alaska Hwy border crossing made it very clear that we were illegally in the States. After explaining where we got into Alaska and a phone call to the border post who let us through without giving us a visa, we were told that we were fine and won’t have any problems in future visiting the States again. Apparently it was some internal communication problem with certain border staff …

Anyway, we were back in Canada and glad about it. In Whitehorse we went to the NOLS branch, met the lovely Briana who runs the show there, and pitched our tent. This branch is much smaller than the one in Alaska and very quiet when there are no groups arriving or leaving. That suited us fine and we found a good spot to work on our bikes. We replaced my fork seal and did the usual maintenance to prepare the bikes for the final stretch back to Vancouver. Before carrying on we met aunty Heide & Wolfgang from Edmonton again, who were now on a road trip through Alaska with their cozy campervan. Unfortunately they had problems with their vehicle too, so it was not possible to spend some time together

After a last soak in the thermal pools next to the NOLS place it was time to hop on the bikes again. From the long, straight, boring Alaska Hwy we were glad to turn off onto the Cassiar Hwy. This is a nice stretch of road through the endless forests. It’s interesting to see the reminders of past bushfires. Although the fires happened a long time ago, the black tree stumps give you a feeling of the force that these fires can develop.

This area is obviously a favourite for motor bikers and we met quite a few from various places all over the Americas. On one campsite we had a nice chat with Dom, Ben & Tym who had just started on their journey to South America (www.alaskentina.com). They dedicated their ride to raise funds for children’s rights and education to break the cycle of poverty. Although they left the campsite a lot earlier than us we soon caught up with them again. One of their bikes had broken down with a damaged rear wheel bearing. None of our bearings fitted. The boys had already contacted various people to arrange their rescue so there was nothing left for us to do and we carried on.

We couldn’t pass the chance to visit Stewart (Ca) and Hyder (US) with the impressive Salmon Glacier. Stewart is a nice little town with old houses and even some classic cars decoratively parked on the street. The campground in Hyder is more like a parking lot right next to the road, so we rode back to Stewart where we set our camp on the Rainey Creek campground, a much nicer place. Next thing, we couldn’t believe our eyes, there was a R100R motorbike from 1981. It belonged to Marty, another Beemer enthusiast, and you can imagine the bike talk that went on for hours …

In between the bike talk we managed to do a day trip to see the glacier. What a beautiful, impressive mass of ‘flowing’ ice that is; and what a great ride, too. The funny thing is that you have to cross the States (Hyder) to get to the glacier which is in Canada again. There is no border check to get to the glacier but on the way back you are stopped and checked by US officials, which is quite ridiculous. I mean, it’s a dead end road to the glacier, so what point has the question where to and where from and whether one has anything to declare? You can’t buy anything on the way, so whatever you have on you, you brought with you in the first place … At least on this border crossing there are no visa issues.

Back on the main road we came through an area that is proudly showing its native Indian heritage (or First Nation’s – as the Canadians say). In Hazelton we pitched our tent on the campground right next to a Ksan village, with its old carved poles and re-built houses. The night at this campground will surely stay in our memory forever. We like some privacy and the place was not busy, so we pitched our tent far away from everyone else, next to the line of bushes separating the campground from the river. A beautiful place. In the night we woke up from ‘something’ walking behind ‘our’ bushes – and it was something BIG. We had been by the river in the afternoon and those rocks were big, they didn’t move one bit when we jumped over them. Now they were rolling and rattling … Out came the bear spray and trying to remove the safety latch we found that it had built up a lot of pressure, probably from sitting in the tank bag in the sun all day. So, when the safety latch finally gave way, a short spray came out – and we jumped out of the tent, coughing like mad. That stuff is bad!

For a moment it was quiet behind the bushes but then our visitor started moving again. Try to visualize, Thomas standing on the picknick table, armed with the bear spray, a flashlight and some handy rocks, while I got our gear out of the tent, and pulled it over the dark campground to set it up right next to the other campers further away from the river. When we climbed back into the tent later, we could still feel the effects of the bear spray, it doesn’t help you sleep better. And our new neighbours were pretty surprised when they looked out of their tent in the morning.

The side trip to the historic town of Barkerville sadly ‘fell into the water’ as the German saying goes. It started off in bright sunshine along a lovely small road but we could already see that we were moving towards some pretty dark clouds. But we hoped that those clouds were stuck in the mountains. In Wells, just before Barkerville, our hoping ended abruptly. Even an hour later it kept bucketing down, no sign of easing up, so we decided to leave our safe place at the tourist office and go back to where we came from and back to the sunshine.

This was a lucky decision because it took us to a small campsite near Quesnel on the shores of Dragon Lake, managed by an old German chap who enjoyed hearing our story. He lent us his canoe for a tranquil paddle in the evening. The next day Lance arrived, driving a gorgeous red 1961 Buick convertible. When he set off on his boat he told us that he let the key in the car and we’re welcome to take it for a spin around the lake. How amazing is that? At first we thought “no way” but the temptation was too strong and we went for a short drive. It’s a dream of a car, just look at Thomas’ face in the video.

Getting closer to the end of our trip we were taking it easy, wanting to make sure that nothing happens on the last stage of our trip (remember the beginning?). But the main road was just too boring, so we went off to visit some sand dunes at the Farewell Canyon. The canyon was nice but we couldn’t find any sand dunes. Anyway, the gravel road was easy, the map showed that it would lead back to the main road, so we kept going.

The road turned more and more into a farm track crossing the Gang Ranch, the landscape was vast and beautiful, the sky dramatic, very dark behind us and blue ahead of us, we enjoyed the ride. Then the first puddles appeared, showing that it had rained not long ago. The puddles got bigger, more like dirty pools and we had to trust that no obstacles were hidden in them. This was a bad sign but we hate turning back and we were still having fun. When the fun ended it was too late to turn around. The track became rough and rocky and then turned into pure thick sticky mud – first downhill then a steep climb …

I watched Thomas gently sliding into the ditch and decided to keep going as long as I had momentum. Well, I didn’t even get to pass him before going down as well. It was almost impossible to walk and we really don’t know how we managed to get the bikes up the hill eventually. On the last few meters of the muddy section I went down again, my front wheel stalled with all the mud under the fender, and got my foot caught under the pannier. Boy that hurt! Here I was, sitting in the mud, crying from pain and the thought of ending the trip as it had begun. Thomas helped me up and we were both relieved to find that I could stand and nothing was broken.

We were still on farmland of this huge ranch and when some people from the farm came past we asked if we could pitch our tent here for the night to give my ankle some rest. No, we were not allowed to – injured or not. Oh, did we miss South America at this point. So with clenched teeth we carried on until we found a place to camp by the Frazer River. This was a good place to cool my swollen ankle too. And with a hearty breakfast in our bellies we were ready to carry on, back to the main road and on towards Vancouver where Bob & Teresa were expecting us.

To see the video click here: CLICK

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Alaska Loop

Going from Fairbanks to Anchorage you pass the Denali National Park. Several times we were told that this was a “must see” stop. Getting closer to the park entrance we came through the village that reminded us of a European Alps Ski resort with souvenir shops lining the streets and tourists crowding the place. By now you surely know that this is nothing for us.

Nevertheless, we went to the park entrance and asked for a campground. There was just one site left and we’d have to park our bikes somewhere and take the park-bus to get there. We don’t like to be separated from our trusty companions and we have already seen bears, moose and other wildlife so we decided to skip the park.

Instead we turned into the Denali Highway, a nice gravel road that was a welcome change from those boring straight roads. We spent an extra day at the Brushkana campground which gave us a day to explore the surroundings. One of the walks took us onto a plateau from where we had amazing views on the surrounding mountain ranges. Just breathtaking! We had a lot of fun on our walk, singing Queen songs very loud to make sure we don’t bump into any dozing bears. Wearing our mosquito head-nets gave us more reason for silliness when Thomas admired the new hat fashion I created with that thing. I tell you, these 2 never grow up …

When we carried on the next day we just couldn’t get enough of those amazing views, which were particularly dramatic with marvelous cloud formations and interesting light caused by ever-changing weather and thunderstorms in the mountains.

On the next campground we met another interesting traveler, Jerzy from Poland. He’s been working in the States and used the remaining time on his Greencard to travel around the States with his Honda as much as possible (Side-note: did you notice that we stay on a lot of campgrounds lately? Funnily it makes us feel safer regarding bears – although it is not quite realistic).

Back in January we met the wonderful Alaskan couple, Don & Donna (www.seekinghorizons.com), on the Baja California and kept in touch. At some stage they emailed us a voucher for a nice restaurant in Palmer to make sure that we wouldn’t starve on our trip. We are so grateful for this opportunity to indulge in really good food. If you go to Palmer, don’t miss Turkey Red (www.turkeyredak.com).

But that’s not all; Don & Donna also brought us in touch with the Alaska branch of NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School, www.nols.edu) in Palmer where we would be able to pitch our tent. We were greeted there with open arms, everyone happy to share some time with us and interested in hearing stories from our trip. That place had such great vibes that we could have stayed forever.

Thank you, Don & Donna, we are the lucky ones because we’ve met you!

As nice as it was, we carried on to Anchorage and pitched our tent at the House of Harley dealership. They have a piece of lawn next to their huge shop where they welcome motorcycle travelers to pitch a tent for free, even a shower is there. When we went to pick up our pre-ordered tires at The Motorcycle Shop the next day we bumped into Alex and Robert, the 2 German bikers we met in Fairbanks. Alex had problems with his bike and was waiting to get it fixed – he wasn’t a happy chappy but you can read this in his blog (www.alexwalksonthewildside.wordpress.com). Next came a guy they had met before who invited all of us to pitch our tents on his property so we stayed another day in Anchorage.

But back to our tires and The Motorcycle Shop; that was a pain in the backside. Although we had emailed back and forth to make sure our tires were there when we arrived, of course they weren’t. We had to take other ones instead, not the perfect choice but at least they fitted. And since we had such nice company we mounted them right there and then on the parking lot.

Another often recommended “must see” was the Kenai Peninsula. I agree it’s beautiful. But the traffic was just horrible. We were there at the busiest time of year and there was one car/RV after the other. Again, nothing for us. We just got some groceries and turned around to find a campsite in the forest. At this stage Thomas noticed that my fork seal was leaking – again. We had only changed it in Tucson, AZ, about 30.000 km ago.

With this in mind our ride to Whittier was a nice detour but after going through the tunnel to get there (13$ per bike, thanks) we weren’t in the mood to do the kayak tour we’d have loved to. We went back to Palmer instead , to work out how to get my bike fixed.

And again thanks to many wonderful people it all worked out. We found an address in Whitehorse, YT, where we could get the new seal sent to (a couple of cyclists we met at the Cañon del Pato in Peru) and NOLS has a branch near Whitehorse too where we could stay and work on the bikes. With this organized we could relax a bit and enjoy the nice company at NOLS again before making our way back to Canada.

Our last stop in Alaska was in the same town as our first, Tok. Only this time we stayed at a campground specifically but not only for bikers, “Thompson’s Eagle’s Claw Motorcycle Park” (GPS: 63.3218°N, 143.0068°W, www.thompsonseaglesclaw.com). What a great place this is. You can pitch your tent – of course – but you can also sleep in all kind of ‘cabins’: a teepee, a walled tent, wooden cabins, even an old ambulance. There’s a workshop for use and even a sauna that Vanessa fires up for you if you like.

And while we enjoyed a relaxed day there, playing around in an old school bus (a new career option?), Ed from Ohio showed up with his Triumph. We had met him in Fairbanks and again somewhere on the road where he had told us about this place. So, we had a campfire, a BBQ and the good company was sorted once again too.

To see the video click here: CLICK

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Alaska, the Dalton Highway

Fairbanks was our last stop before hitting the “deadly Dalton”. During summer months the University (UAF) rents out student rooms relatively cheap. This was real luxury for us. Lots of other bikers stayed there too and the one and only topic was the condition of THE Dalton. And, as usual, everyone knows horror stories and everyone tries to tell the worst one. On the way to Fairbanks we had already met some French travelers who showed us photos of heavy snowfall only 3 days before. Mpfh…

Anyway, we’ve been through backroads in South America and those stories can’t make us nervous. We were happy to hit the road and took the obligatory photo at the beginning of the Dalton Highway, both the bikes and us still clean. That should change soon.

The Dalton Hwy was built by an oil company and locals still call it the haul road. It runs parallel to the pipeline which makes it an interesting sight to see those two bands running together into the distance. This road was made famous through the series about the ice truckers. And they really own this road, lots and lots of big trucks speeding along this link of the far North to civilization. But they really aren’t as bad as people like to tell, it is bullshit that they push bikers off the road. Quite the opposite, we found them considerate of our vulnerability. Don’t forget, they are on a tight timeline and have to drive this challenging road up and down constantly, nowadays dealing with motorcycles, cars and campervans.

The highlights of this road in our view are the impressive changing landscapes and unbelievable cloud formations. By now a quarter of the Dalton is paved which is not necessarily a good thing because the pavement comes with bad potholes.

The next photo stop is the sign where the road crosses the Arctic Circle. This is apparently the point where a lot of bikers turn back. Photo taken, tick, and on we go to refuel at Coldfoot. This is roughly halfway and we called it a day just a few kms past Coldfoot at the Marion Creek campsite. This is a really nice place and highly recommended to pitch your tent – and very few mosquitos.

The next day brought us over the Atigun pass, beautiful as mountains are. For us the most beautiful stretch on the Dalton Hwy. The ride was so enjoyable and relaxed that we started to think about riding to Deadhorse, turn around and return to Marion Creek straight away. But the last 50km of the road was a huge construction site which not only took a lot of time waiting for the Pilot car, it was also quite challenging with the freshly spread loose round gravel alternating with wet muddy surface and the freshly spread Calcium Chloride. So, when we arrived in Deadhorse I was tired and asked Thomas to stay there for the night.

Deadhorse is not really what you would call a “picturesque village”. It is a work camp of the oil company and built of containers, including the “luxurious” hotels. It is not recommended to pitch a tent there and hearing that occasionally even polar bears visit the camp made us choose a hotel room. This was the most expensive hotel room we have ever stayed in. At least it came with all-you-can-eat and the food was really good. We ate as much as we possibly could and then packed a good lunch too before heading back the way we came.

Strangely we only met 2 bikers here, after the hordes of bikers in Fairbanks who said they would go to Deadhorse/ Prudhoe Bay. One was Dan, a young American, and the other a 66 year old Japanese rider on a small bike who didn’t speak a word English. What a pity, we would have loved to talk with him. All we could find out was that he intends to reach Ushuaia in 6 months. Well, he sure is determined and we wish him all the luck in the world.

On the way back the construction site was at the beginning when we were still fresh. We were even lucky enough to see a family of Musk Oxen. Yeah! Taking photos was a challenge, though, and when you watch the video you will understand why. The bloody mosquitos are so plentiful and doing their best to attack every inch of skin they can find. It’s really hard to hold a camera still under those attacks.

We enjoyed our ride until about 200km before getting to the main road, when it started to rain. What a mud bath it turned into. And then my throttle stalled, I couldn’t move it anymore. When we stood in the pouring rain in the mud, trying to get it moving again several bikers rode past – and no one stopped or even signaled to make sure we were ok. That was so disappointing. Not that we needed help but where is the spirit of the “biker community” gone???

The advantage of the rain was that the thick dirt that clung to our bikes by now was soft. When we arrived in Fairbanks we went straight to the car wash to clean the shit off, which is supposed to be very corrosive.

This time in Fairbanks we stayed at a much better place with a really great atmosphere: Sven’s Basecamp Hostel (http://www.svenshostel.com/). And we were right in time for the Independence Day party that Sven and a neighbouring hostel owner initiated. There were also a lot of other bikers, amongst them Heiko who we already met in Dawson City (www.notchtheworld.com); Ignacio, a Chilean riding from South to North (https://www.facebook.com/unsimpleviaje/) and Alex (https://alexwalksonthewildside.wordpress.com/) and Robert from Germany, riding through North America on their new Beemers. To put it short, we had a really great time there and a lot of fun.

Well, now that we made it to the Northern end of the road we’re basically on our way home. But we’re still riding, so watch this space…

To see the video click here: CLICK

 

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Canada to Alaska

flag of Alaska

After 10 days of family time with good food and too much ice cream we put our gear on and hit the road once again. After all that sunshine of course it was a rainy day when we left – as usual.

Alberta didn’t provide much fun riding and we rode longer distances than we usually do. In Dawson Creek we got onto the famous Alaska Highway. Its history is pretty interesting; it was built during WWII because the States feared a Japanese invasion in Alaska and therefore bulldozed a road through this demanding territory in only a few months. At first it was only a muddy track, of course, but it provided access into Alaska for military and encouraged settlement along the way.

For us the most interesting part of the Alaska Hwy was only about 10 km from Dawson Creek. There is a turn off onto a part of the original highway, which is nicely windy and has the only curved wooden bridge left in North Amerika (we were told), the Kiskatinaw bridge. It’s a very nice construction.

If only they had kept the original path of the road but nowadays it’s straightened out and mostly paved. The road is pretty boring and there’s not much on the way. A few houses every couple 100kms or so, sometimes with a petrol station and a café. But the landscape is just ‘grand’! Endless forests with countless lakes.

We had more rain, saw more bears and even some buffalos. But thanks to a car speeding past they ran before we had a chance to get a camera out. And there are funny signs warning motorcyclists of bridges made of metal grid. Not nice to ride on so thanks for the warning.

After all the rain we were looking forward to a good soak in the Liard Hot Springs. That was real bliss (little note for people who know New Zealand – just think of having a hot bath in Rotorua, take a deep breath …). Nice was also the boardwalk from the campground to the pools through some very beautiful flora, we saw for example a rare Ladyslipper Orchid (someone pointed it out to us, we would have missed this tiny flower). But still no moose, well, only one in the distance.

Instead we came past a buffalo while talking a walk along the road. What a biiig animal. Thomas got close to take some photos while I preferred to keep my distance. That beast has a massive head.

In Watson Lake we visited the sign forest before leaving the Alaska Hwy, turning onto the Klondyke Hwy to Dawson City. This sign forest started with a soldier putting up a sign of his hometown when he worked on the construction of the Alaska Hwy and it’s said that there are more than 70.000 signs by now, getting more every day. We were astounded to see so many German signs. Those Krauts are everywhere, I tell you. And Thomas even found a Kiwi sign.

The weather stayed changeable creating some really interesting dramatic skies. When we found a nice place to pitch our tent in the woods again, we weren’t really happy with the company; hordes of hungry mosquitos. But we had been warned and came prepared, we were thankful for our netted hats and the mosquito net to sit under for breakfast.

At Fox Lake it was so beautiful that we stayed a couple of days, with nice company (Blair Thorson, artist from Whitehorse & his wife and manager Linda; www.blairthorson.com) and amazing night skies. Did I mention that it doesn’t get dark anymore? So the dim light and full moon made for some interesting night skies.

Along the way we were told that a motorbike rally was coming up in the old goldmining town Dawson City “in a few days” but when we got there it had already been the previous weekend. Nevertheless, there were still a couple of bikers in town, one of them Heiko from Germany (www.notchtheworld.com). He’s quite entertaining, so after spending some time in Dawson, taking lots of photos of the pretty old buildings, we joined him to ride the Dempster Highway.

Heiko rode the whole way to Inuvik but we decided to stay at Tombstone Park and do some hiking instead, desperate to see moose. Well, we still saw no moose but we saw snowshoe hares, lots of squirrels again, interesting vegetation – and snow.

Back in Dawson we crossed the Yukon River on the free ferry to ride the Top of the World Highway into Alaska. The views on that highway are breathtaking. Easy to understand where it got its name from.

By the way, those highways mentioned are mainly gravel roads. And we heard a lot of terrible stories and warnings about how bad they would be. But honestly, they are ‘highways’ and well maintained – compared to many of the backroads we rode in South America they were a breeze.

And then we were at the border: Alaska! The Poker Creek border post is a little post with 2 friendly border guards who are happy to take your photo in front of the sign. They scanned our passports, put a nice caribou stamp in and on my remark that we needed new visas they just said “no, you don’t!” because we already had a stamp from the US. Hm, we don’t quite understand but who are we to argue with them? It will be interesting when we go back to Canada.

And then we saw them … moose! Four of them, one closer to the road than the other. Aren’t we lucky? They are really shy and tend to turn back into the woods when a vehicle appears. The last one, standing in a swamp grazing, must have enjoyed the food so much that we could stop and watch for quite a while.

We wanted to stay in Chicken for our first night in Alaska but neither the ATM, nor credit card reader or internet were working. Of course we had no cash and since rain was looming too we decided to carry on and get the gravel road behind us. When the rain started we had just reached the paved part of road. On the way to Tok we got soaked and dreamed of a room and a nice hot shower. At a price of 104 $US the camping version sounded more attractive. At least we stayed at a decent campground with hot showers and laundry.

So, now we’re in Alaska and close to our “Finish Line”.

To see the video click here: CLICK

 

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Canada: British Columbia & Alberta

We had a really good time on Vancouver Island but it was time to say good-bye to Barbie, Grady and dog Buckley and cross over to the mainland. The ferry crossing was not very exciting, we spent most of the time watching a father and son, probably from India, taking what must have been 100s of photos of each other.

In Vancouver we headed to Bob & Teresa, who offered to help us at the end of our trip, when we need a place to build the crates. We found them through ‘Horizons Unlimited’ and just wanted to say ‘hello’ and introduce ourselves. They are such a nice couple and didn’t want to let us go just like that. So we stayed another day and enjoyed their company when they took us on a city tour.

But now it was really time to get out of the city and head north – well, kind of. Our route took us East towards the Rocky Mountains. Canada is so beautiful and if we weren’t so happy in New Zealand we would surely start thinking about moving …

We pitched our tent in many different surroundings, getting used to hanging the bear bag now too. It was funny; we often spoke about how we’d love to see a bear but on the other hand of course not around the tent.

At Duck Lake we ended up next to a “No camping” sign because it was already late and we couldn’t find another place. Early next morning we woke up to a loud noise. Of course we both jumped up, armed with bear-spray, expecting to see a bear playing with our food bag that he had got down from the tree. But there was no bear. The bag still hung high up in the air and there was no unusual movement in the woods. It was probably just a big rotten branch that broke off a tree. But man, were our hearts thumping.

Well, since we were awake at such early hour we packed up the tent before having breakfast by the lake. This way at least we didn’t get caught camping where we shouldn’t have, at this beautiful place.

At Whiteswan Lake Park we pitched our tent on a campground (Moose Lake) so we could leave our gear while visiting the Lussier Hot Pools. It was a beautiful setting as usual but our neighbours left a lot to be desired. It was a young couple, drinking beer, smoking weed and listening to loud music, and in the evening they started arguing loudly. The bad bad boy had mentioned that he once had a sexy girlfriend and she just couldn’t get over it. She didn’t stop screaming and yelling at him and when Thomas went over to remind them that they are not alone, she even tried to get him into the argument as well.

The hot pools, the reason why we were here in the first place, were really just one rocky tub with very hot water. People sat around soaking their feet and watching each other. No, that was not for us. After a few minutes we got dressed again and went back to the campground to go for a walk through the bush along the lake. That was more to our liking.

From here we decided not to go back to the main road but keep on the logging roads although the weather was a bit uncertain (meaning it had rained during the night and it looked like there was more coming). This was a good decision, it was just gorgeous and we only met one logging truck and one pick-up early on. Then we were by ourselves. We loved it. And apart from some hail it stayed dry. We hit muddy patches, remnants of a snow avalanche but only one part downhill was really tricky, it was slippery as soap. Thomas, ahead of me as usual, shouted out not to go any further but there was no stopping. All we could do was try to slide downhill as controlled as possible. And we made it.

By now we were in the Rocky Mountains heading into the Banff National Park. Free camping in a national park is not that easy, there are “no camping” signs everywhere. When it got late we decided to go to a campground but it was completely full, so the guy referred us to a place in Banff. Banff is a big tourist trap, just riding through was too much for us.

The next day we were so lucky, we saw several black bears and even a grizzly apart from different kinds of deer and bighorn sheep. We were pretty excited. From Banff NP we went to Jasper NP, climbing higher into the mountains. By now snowcapped mountains were constantly around us with glaciers, lakes and wild rivers, sometimes even snow by the road. No wonder it was cold, we were over 2000 m high.

When we got lower again it warmed up and we found a beautiful place for a lunch stop where we could soak up the sun and enjoy the landscape.

After stocking up on groceries in Jasper we headed down Maligne Lake Road to find a campsite. But there was neither a campground nor any other place to pitch the tent. “No camping” signs everywhere, even at the end of a really tricky dirt track! And since the sign explained that eagles were nesting there, we obeyed. Although we didn’t find a place to stay we really enjoyed that detour, not only the landscape was great, the evening light provided gorgeous vistas too.

For the night we found a nice and affordable campground (Snaring Campground) where we decided to stay an extra day. It was my birthday and I had a great day. We went for a walk along the river, constantly singing loudly to avoid sudden bear encounters, went to Jasper for coffee and for the groceries and in the evening we had a campfire BBQ with salad, fresh bread and a bottle of red wine. What a life! And while we were there, all our movements were closely watched by a squirrel that was very busy digging holes and eating nuts in the woods next to our tent.

When we left Jasper NP the next day we had another lucky encounter, a big elk. That guy was quite a sight, especially next to Thomas on the bike. He, the elk, was not concerned about the cars but the bikes seemed to catch his attention and we were careful not to make him feel threatened. You wouldn’t want to get in close contact with those antlers …

From here it was boring straight motorway through the Albertan prairie. Our last stop was supposed to be a lake near Wildwood but when we had just done our groceries a friendly lady approached us. She introduced herself, said we looked like we were from faaar away and invited us home. It turned out that she had seen our name “Tintomkiwi” on my panniers and quickly googled it before deciding to invite us. What a surprise for her husband and their 3 lovely daughters when Sharon came home with two dirty bikers but they welcomed us with open arms. We pitched our tent on their grounds and had a great evening talking about our adventure and much more. The biggest attraction at their place is currently a very entertaining bunch of puppies. They were so cute we would have loved to take one each to ride in our tank bags … Thanks heaps, Sharon & Jim, for your hospitality and kindness. You are a wonderful family!

And now we are in Edmonton, staying with my favourite auntie who I hadn’t seen for many many years. We are having a great time and if we’re not careful we soon won’t fit into our bike gear anymore.

 

To see the video click here: CLICK

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Hello Canada! Exploring Vancouver Island

While we waited for the ferry in Port Angeles we got us a coffee and half-jokingly asked the lady about Sasquatch or Big Foot and she said she hasn’t seen one but she’s definitely heard them! Hm, ok, well, this Sasquatch story is definitely a big thing in Oregon and Washington State. Anyway, we got on the ferry to Victoria and enjoyed the last views of beautiful Olympic peninsula and the US.

003 canadian-flag-large

Arriving on Vancouver Island the Canadian border guard asked if we had weapons and if our number plates were from New Zealand, stamped our passports and we were in Canada. Friendly as Canadians usually are.

In Victoria we stayed with a Couchsurfing host again, Elain and her cute little dog Jake. Elain is a water colour artist who paints the beautiful local Victorian houses and also all kinds of journals which are just gorgeous. Of course I showed her my paintings too to get some advice and she gave me something more valuable, really, she gave me encouragement. Thanks a lot, Elain, not only for your hospitality but also for the motivation.

Carrying on to Duncan we didn’t take the direct road but went on some smaller roads to enjoy the landscape and get a feeling for the island. In Duncan we visited Grady & Barbie. Some faithful reader might remember that Grady is one of the cyclists we met on the ferry from Uruguay to Buenos Aires a long time ago as it seems. Now we finally met his wonderful wife, too, and of course their dog Buckley.

Grady & Barbie took the time to show us around Duncan, the City of Totems. There are said to be more than 80 totems around town. All masterfully carved and painted, telling stories, real or metaphorical. They also took us to the Red Arrow Brewery, not to be missed on a visit to Duncan. We tasted several of their beers and would you believe it, I got to drink Koelsch! Me, a Koelsch Maedche, had to go to Duncan in British Columbia to drink really good Koelsch after such a long time. We only stayed for two days with Grady & Barbie because we knew we’d be coming back to house- and dog-sit while the two went to Scotland and we wanted to see more of the island before we carried on North.

First stop was on the shores of Sproat Lake where we pitched our tent on a campsite that was only in use from May to September, so in April we had it all to ourselves. It was gorgeous. Especially the foggy morning that slowly revealed the lake and the surroundings, it looked really magical. We rode on the “other” side of the lake, on the dirt road, not the main road. And we really enjoyed it.

All together we rode exactly 2600 km on Vancouver Island before returning to Duncan, mostly on rough logging roads. And we had it all, marvelous landscape, waterfalls, views on snowcapped mountains, lakes, changeable weather with rain and sun and campsites either wild or organized all to ourselves. It was great.

After the first week in the woods we felt we needed a shower and a washing machine. So as usual when we needed internet (this time to find cheap accommodation) we went to McDoof where we were approached by an older man. He quickly checked with his wife and took us home to camp in his backyard and let us use his shower and washing machine. How wonderful. It turned out that he was 81 years old and was still riding a BMW 1200 C and once a year he made a long ride to Alaska, New Foundland or Labrador or the likes. And when we arrived at their place he had a bag with skiers sticking out stripped onto his bike. The previous day he had been riding his bike up the mountain to go skiing! Wow, very impressive. The only downside of this stay was that an inquisitive cat ruined our tent while we sat inside chatting with Mario and Grace.

So the next day we were busy patching the rips, feeling quite down. In this mood we contacted Ken and Diana, friends of Jesse the singing Canadian we travelled with in Chile. They invited us over and we rode to Parkville to spend a great evening exchanging travel stories from South America. They toured SA in 2014 on their BMW 1200 GS (www.chasingdreamson2wheels.com).

When we hit the road the next day it was raining but we were in high spirits again. Riding on forest roads we were often warned to be careful about those logging trucks. But we had no problem. There was always enough space and they weren’t speeding, so it was all good. Many riders had told us not to miss the “Renfrew Loop”, so we did it – although we probably didn’t do it the way they meant 😉 In Port Renfrew we camped on the beach and were amazed at the heaps of driftwood which was mainly huge logs; another side effect of the logging industry. We saw it on the Oregon and Washington coast too but not to the same extent.

One chilly day we enjoyed a hot chocolate at one of those diners decorated in 50’s style. I always wanted to visit one and was happy that we found it – and happy about the hot chocolate of course.

Another day it was really warm and we were sweating in our gear on those rough roads. So when we found a campsite by a lake, Muchalat Lake, the clear water looked so tempting that we stripped off and hopped into the lake for a swim. That was wonderfully refreshing and saved us another shower stop. We felt so good that we even had our own party and danced around the campfire in the evening. (If you think that now we’re losing it I’m sorry to disappoint you, we’ve lost it long ago ;-))

Our favourite area on Vancouver Island is definitely Strathcona Park. It’s absolutely beautiful with the lakes mirroring the mountains and gorgeous windy roads. Also there’s a free campsite right next to the Strathcona Dam, a nice place provided by the hydro company (Strathcona Dam Recreation Area, 50.0003°N, 125.5816°W). We also saw bald eagles several times. Beautiful creatures but why, the hell, are they called “bald”???

We went North up to Port McNeill before we turned back South via Telegraph Cove. Somewhere on the coastal road we saw some Steam Punk Cars or whatever they are called. They are quite a sight and caused many people to stop to take some photos. Riding through Parksville we met Ken and Diana on the road, what a coincidence. So we spent another night at their place and it already felt like being with “old friends”.

Now it was time to rush to Duncan for a catch up with Grady & Barbie and to get instructions for our time with Buckley. We had a lot of fun with him, he’s really a character dog and we enjoyed every minute. It was also great to spend some time in a home and it was surprising how quickly I switched from “adventure rider” to “housewife”, baking cakes and buns and making jam. But I’m sure the switch back will be just as easy.

While Thomas spent a lot of time working on the bikes I had a chance to do some painting, sitting in the garden surrounded by flowers or in the field while Buckley sniffed around looking for rabbits and deer and whatever else his nose found. Apart from this we also looked into our options for shipping the bikes back to New Zealand on our return from Alaska. We’ve decided on a shipping company but communication is dragging a bit. We’re just glad that there is still time even though it won’t get easier without regular internet connection.

And that is the end of our time on Vancouver Island. It’s a bit sad that we had so little time with Grady & Barbie although we spent so much time at their place. Thank you 2 so much for everything you did for us! Now we’re heading to the mainland for the last leg of our big adventure, north towards Alaska, albeit not straight – as usual …

To see the video click here: CLICK

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North West USA

Our time with Frank and family was great; it was nice for us to share some family life for a change while we worked on our bikes. But it was not all work, we spent some quality time together as well, getting to know 8 year old Myles who we met for the first time and seeing what a beautiful and great young woman Melissa has become since we last saw her 10 years ago.

After 2 weeks we got itchy, as usual, said good-bye to our family and hit the road again. We were excited and looking forward to crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. We expected this to be another highlight of our trip. Yeah, right. Well, we left San Jose in beautiful sunshine, in fact we hadn’t seen anything but sunshine all the time we were there. But as soon as we reached San Francisco we hit the thick fog that the city is well known for. So, although we crossed the famous bridge we didn’t see anything of it.

From now on the weather was, let’s say, “temperamental”; sunny, foggy, rainy all in one day. Still, it was fun to ride along the wild coast and turn inland for a detour as we like to do. The scenery turned to Redwood forest, which is absolutely amazing. We even rode through the “Drive-thru-tree” or Chandelier Tree in Leggett. How weird. The Redwoods are really impressive. I mean, the Kauris in New Zealand are huge and marvelous, but the Redwood trees are just so big and taaaallll; unbelievable. What a feeling riding along the Alley of Giants, it made us feel like dwarfs on our bikes.

By now camping was not much fun anymore. In Ferndale, a pretty little village, we camped at the County Fair (40.5874°N, 124.2642°W) and the “host” made us pitch our tent in front of one of the halls under a roof and sheltered from the storm that was forecasted for the night. That was a funny place to camp right between “Redneck cowboys” (not my words) attending a rodeo and “nerds” attending a slot car championship in a different hall. We had a good time there.

Occasionally we had to stay in a motel too, which had a big impact on our budget. I think the last time we were able to pack our tent dry was when we camped at the Tish Tang campsite near Hoopa (41.0233°N, 123.6381°W). This campsite is run by the local tribe of Native Americans and the manager made a big impression on us. He has high ambitions of bringing “the best of both worlds” together, by maintaining and communicating the native culture while people stay and enjoy the magical beauty of the place. If you’re in the area, this place is well worth visiting.

From here on the weather stayed foul; rain, rain and more rain, spiced up with some good hail. Our gear was soaked and our mood went downhill so we decided to give Couchsurfing a go. We spent a whole day sending out CS requests and managed to find hosts along the West coast up to Washington State. And you know what? We love it! We have met such interesting, wonderful people, not only amazing hosts like Nanci in Newport and Neil in Seaside for example but also other Couchsurfers staying there the same time as us.

The funniest thing is probably that we stayed more time than planned in Olympia, with 2 different hosts, because they both were so interesting that we wanted to meet them both and it was well worth it. In Olympia we finally enjoyed some sunshine again, strolling through town that had put on its springtime flower dress while you could see snowcapped mountains in the distance and we were lucky to visit the Capitol when a choir was practicing in the hall. That was a fine concert with those acoustics.

But I’m jumping ahead now. I want to mention the bridge between Oregon and Washington State, the 4 mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge. What an impressive structure – forget about the Golden Gate Bridge …

Between our two hosts in Olympia we made a daytrip to explore a bit of the Olympic forest area and we loved it. Sunshine, good dirt roads and beautiful forest. What more can you wish for.

That changed again when we finally left Olympia, it was pouring again, just to make sure we don’t forget what “wet” means. But amazingly it cleared up the closer we came to the tip of the peninsula and the turn off to Port Townsend. Well, I don’t understand the weather on the Olympic peninsula, on one hand you have Forks, apparently the wettest town in the States, on the other hand you have the villages on the Northern coast that don’t get much rain. Ts.

We thought we’d camp a couple of nights, then spend a couple of nights Couchsurfing again before leaving to Canada a week before our visa expires. That was the plan and of course it didn’t work like that. Camping in Dungeness was great, amazing sunsets and a sandspit full of driftwood and stones that look like natural pieces of art.

On the way to our CS host we did a daytrip to Port Townsend because it was recommended to us as a favourite place of several people. And that’s where my bike suddenly “died”. It just stopped in the middle of the road, the starter switch smoked and that was it. Thomas took the switch apart in an attempt to fix it at least temporarily but found that the wires were toast and nothing could be done to get me going again. Bugger!

Call it luck or fate or whatever you like – I didn’t know what to do so standing there on the street I tried if there was WiFi and yes, it worked. So I contacted a potential CS host in town, Jef, and yes, he was sitting at his computer and invited us to come over straight away. He had space for us, a garage to work on my bike and he had no problem with us staying until it all was fixed. It took us a whole week to check and test what was affected, get replacement parts and put it all together again. An electrical fault is really the worst and we were so relieved when the bike was finally running again. Thanks a lot, Jef, your spontaneous help is hugely appreciated.

With a delay of one week we finally arrived at Lonnie’s place (yes, a Couchsurfing host again who builds cabins for Couchsurfers on his property) where we wanted to stay the remaining days of our visa and do daytrips into the Olympic National Park. So, leaving our luggage in the cabin we rode to the Hoh Rainforest on a beautiful sunny day, a perfect day to visit a rainforest. This is another magical place; the trees are so overgrown with long beards of moss that only a lot of humidity can create. As one girl put it: you can get “green blind” here.

Our last trip was up to Hurricane Ridge when the road was finally open on Friday. It’s the same national park but such a different landscape. The draw here are the unbelievable views while standing in the snow on top of a mountain. Unfortunately there was so much dirt on the road that we couldn’t enjoy the windy road as much as we would have liked but it was a nice trip anyway.

Tomorrow we’ll hop on the ferry from Port Angeles, WA, to Vancouver Island, BC, to begin the next chapter of our journey. Canada, here we come.

 To see the video click here: CLICK

 

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