Friday, July 2, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 19

Visiting a new town is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. Such is the case with Ft. Nelson, British Columbia. I didn't have high hopes for this town mind you, but at least I thought it would have character. Really, it's just a dump. That's all it is.

But I'm still glad to be here.

Today I rode 600 miles from Whitehorse, Yukon to Ft. Nelson, British Columbia. Much of it was under rainfall, and significant rainfall at that.

Compounding the problem was that the road took me though the northern parts of the Canadian Rockies, and the road was tore up in several places, leaving patches of gravel road. So even if I wanted to ride fast in the rain, I couldn't.

The day started out sunny, but rain clouds in the distance.

I mean, the tires I bought for this trip, Michelin Pilot Road II, are said to be the best wet weather tire for sport touring bikes. And so far, they have held up to that claim quite well. But as soon as you throw sand and gravel on the road, forget it.

That's what they do in British Columbia to fill the potholes. When they find a stretch of road with several potholes in it, they just throw gravel all over it. The gravel finds its way into the potholes and fills it up. The rest of the gravel just sits loose on the asphalt. Cars and trucks seem to drive over it just fine. But motorcycles? No.

It's too bad because this part of Canadian Rockies is just absolutely beautiful. Tall snow-capped peaks, twisting road through canyons, and aquamarine-colored lakes set the scene. But I could not see much of it. It really rained hard, and because of the rain I didn't want to risk damaging another camera.

I was cold and wet, and couldn't wait to get to Ft. Nelson and check into a room.

Mike on his Goldwing, look at that nasty weather up ahead.

Mike and Paul decided to pitch tents somewhere in the pouring rain. Not me. I went through that in Skagway. This afternoon I told Mike and Paul that I could make Ft. Nelson by 9:00pm if I rode at 80mph. So I took off on my own, while Mike and Paul looked for campspots.

In fact, this morning at Takhini Hot Springs, it started raining. As soon as I heard the drops hit my tent this morning, I was out of the damn sleeping bag, and rolling it up right away. I got all my gear packed up, and headed out before the rain fell any worse.

I learned that it's absolutely miserable to unpack a tent that is soaking wet from the day before, and have to crawl into the damn thing. It's like putting on pair of underwear out of the washer without drying it first.

Anyways, the Alaskan Highway out of Yukon and into British Columbia really takes on a new character. Once you get past Contact Creek, BC, you start seeing more wildlife. I saw several herds of bison laying down on the side of the road. I'd also see cars pulled over taking photos, and I even saw one car throwing food at them. Obviously this is why bison hang around by the side of the road.

But I also saw four black bears, three elk, and four moose. It was probably the most wildlife I had seen on this trip yet, without having to pay to see it.

A herd of bison rests along the side of the Alaskan Highway, BC

One thing I learned about doing a motorcycle ride to Alaska and Canada, is that you can't escape dirt and gravel roads. Even the main highway into Alaska has some section of gravel road. At the US-Canada border, there's a 5-mile stretch of gravel road, that is intentionally gravel.

Then, they are constantly doing construction work along the Alaskan Highway, as well as other adjoining highways like the Richardson Highway into Fairbanks, and the Stewart-Cassiar highway into Watson Lake. I would guess no matter which route you took, you will have to endure at a minimum of 20 miles of gravel road, consisting of that 5-miles at the border, and a minimum of five sections of construction zone somewhere, with each section about 5km (3.1 miles) long.

And that's just going in one direction. Double that to 40 miles of gravel road if you throw in the route back home, at a minimum.

And then, June through August are the wettest months for Alaska and northern Canada. And you can pretty much guarantee that every time you reach a gravel section, it'll just so happen to be pouring down rain at that moment, making it even worse to ride.

And then even more worse, some of these gravel sections funnel down to just one lane, requiring you to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to pass by. The flagmen have been trained to pull all motorcycles up to the front of the line. That only puts more pressure on you to quicken the pace with all those pickups and semi-trucks tailgating you, trying to get you to ride faster.

Road crews chipped out a 5km section of the Alaskan Highway in BC.

Actually, riding on dirt and gravel road isn't so bad as long as road is dry, or just damp. But as it is, it's always raining here, and the dirt turns to mud. It makes for some nervous riding.

Oh, and another thing to know is that many gas stations in these tiny villages out in the middle of nowhere only offer 87 octane unleaded gas. My Honda ST has a engine compression ratio of 10.8 to 1, meaning it would require a higher octane fuel, and I usually put 91 or 92 octane in it.

But sometimes there is no other gas station to go to. I have to put 87 octane in it. And so far, it's ran just fine, with no knocking or pinging. Which may be good news, in that I don't really need to buy the higher octane gas.

87 octane is the only gasoline they sell at Contact, Creek, BC

There's a lot of bridges along the Alaskan Highway.

Eastbound along the Alaskan Highway, just entering the Canadian Rockies.

A black bear along the side of the road.

A fireweed, the official flower of the Yukon.


  1. Hmmm, the bison are on the dole, waiting for handouts of food on the side of the road. I wish Harley didn't recommend 91 octane for my bike ... 87 would save me some money ... it might run fine on 87, I just haven't tried it because I don't want to take a chance. But in your situation, you have no choice.

  2. FYI Ken... I've run 87 in my Ultra. Just wasn't thinking one beautiful spring day and put it in the tank by mistake. Had no problems. Might not have turned out so well, however, if it were 100 + degrees out and the motor had trouble shedding heat.

  3. Yeah, I always used 87 in my Electra Glide, and it ran fine, though the cam and the oil leaks certainly had nothing to do with fuel. FYI, I've been finding 85 octane in Montana, Wyoming,and Idaho, and have been using that, and again no knocking or pinging. So, I'm pretty much going to stick to the cheap stuff with the ST.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)