August 16, 2011
Day 9: The Long Road Back - Hyder, Alaska to Prince George, B.C.
Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly at the confluence of the Nechako and the Fraser Rivers in the town of Prince George, British Columbia's "Northern Capital".
Miles driven today: 464.0
Miles driven this trip: 2,324.9
Photos captured today: 648
Photos captures this trip: 7.301
In the morning, I awake alone to the sounds of a dull rain on the hotel roof, just across the border from Hyder, Alaska. The rain seems to own this town. It's cold outside, unseasonally so I'm told. They say they never really had a summer this year. It's been cold and rainy all summer. They've only seen the sun 3 times this year, they claim.
Aaron told me he'd give me $100 if it wasn't raining when I got to Alaska. So, I guess he gets to keep his C-note.
Yesterday, I was riding with Doug. It's nice to have someone to ride with, for a variety of reasons. Safety. Companionship. Someone to help shoot photos. But Doug is gone down, drifting off on his own through Jasper, Banff, Glacier. Why he planned this route, I have no idea. Who would want to see that?
But he's gone now, and this is easily the worst part of the adventure. Waking up in this sad lonely hotel room thousands of miles from nowhere. The glory and the adventure is over. I said I'd go to Alaska...that was the adventure. Been there. Done that. Now, I just have to turn around and go home.
The problem is that I'm a few thousand miles from nowhere. I don't have a clue what to do. Sell the bike and fly back? Leave it here, fly to San Francisco, then fly back here and continue riding? Should I go through Jasper and Banff and Glacier?
The paradox of choice is a debilitating issue to deal with.
Finally, I decide that, now matter which path I end up taking, I have to get to Prince George first. Unfortunately, I'm easily 2,000 miles north of San Francisco, so I've got a long way to go to get back to work. Somehow, I got here in 8 days, and I have to get back in 6, so I'll have to drive like a bat out of hades.
I put on every stitch of clothing I brought, knowing it won't be enough. Then pack everything up, walk out into the rain, and climb on the bike. I don't even bother to wipe the seat. What's the point.
Back to the only gas station in town. Top off the fuel tank with 87 octane, the only gas in town. Now, I have to drive 150 miles, and it will be close. For some reason, my bike's gas mileage went from 41 mpg ot 31 mpg. Why? I dunno. But it has.
I oil the chain. Check the oil. And I'm off. I drive and drive in a dull rain. This sucks. This is not what riding a motorcycle is supposed to be like. This is the worst.
Before long, my gloves are soaked through and my hands are freezing. My boots are full of water. Every so often, I wiggle my fingers and toes to see if they're starting to go numb or not. I don't want to get frostbite, but it's not like there are a lot of options.
On this lonely stretch of the Stewart-Cassiarof Highway 37, for the 150 miles between Stewart and Kitwanga, there is nothing. Not a house. Not a gas station. Not a barn. Nothing. No people. No civilization. No shelter.
About an hour into the drive, I realize I've made a serious mistake. No one else is on the road. I drive for 30 minutes and don't pass another vehicle. I'm not even halfway to Kitwanga, and I'm cold. If it starts raining any harder, I could easily get hypothermia.
I'm reasonably sure that this will be my last day on earth. I dream about being warm. About finding a place where it doesn't rain all the time and never leaving. I swear I'll never come back if I can just survive this journey. I wonder which way to go to escape this misery, but the skies seem equally gray in all directions. A weather system that covers a continent and never stops raining. Why would anyone live here. OK. So it's green. It damn well ought to be.
After 94 miles, the rain finally lets up, and i begin to think that I might live through the day.
At Kitwanga, I go inside and sit down for lunch to warm up, and celebrate the fact that I may yet live through the day.
After lunch, back onto the road where I open it up. Instead of going 300 miles a day, I'll have to go 400 or 500 miles a day to make it back by Sunday night.
After riding 300 miles, my back hurts. Shoulders hurt. I get cramps in my hands. A muscle in my should hurts from holding the throttle wide open all day every day for as long as I can recall. The left side of my groin hurts from shifting gears so many times.
After 400 miles, I start getting that dazed out feeling again. I catch myself falling asleep in the curves. Losing focus in the straight-of-ways. At Prince George, I decide I've gone far enough for the day. It's not worth dying over.
I check into a cheap hotel for a warm shower.
At 10:00 at night, I decide I need some refreshments, so I dig out a handful of Canadian change, but the hotel doesn't appear to have any vending machines, so I drive the XR to a nearby gas station. Barefoot. No hat. No wallet. Riding wheelies, of course.
Go into the store, pick up two diet cokes and a couple of candy bars we can't get in the U.S. and now, at the counter, chick says it's $6.14. Now, I dig out all of my change and look at them really close. It's kinda hard, because these people seem to have a different currency, for whatever reason. I've figured out the $2 coin, and the $1 coin (loonie), and the penny, but the nickel, dime, quarter still confuse me. I dig through my change slowly, deliberately, trying to read the little numbers. Finally, I hand her two $2 coins, two loonies, and three nickels. Then, I stand and wait for my penny change.
"Do you want the penny?"
"Hell yeah I want my penny."
"Do you want a bag?"
"Hell yeah I want a bag."
And I go outside and ride a wheelie across the parking lot in the dark, barefoot with no helmet, two diet cokes, a Bounty, and a Mr. Big in my lap.
Tomorrow, I'll try to drive 500 miles to Vancouver.
Posted by Rob Kiser on August 16, 2011 at 9:50 PM
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