The term ‘meals on wheels’ kept popping into my head as we passed them. We spent the day in the geothermal area of the park as the going was just too slow; particularly this strange habit tourists have of instead of pulling off the road to take their photos they’d pull up in the middle of the road and stop all traffic. Not for the first time would the phrase ‘Pull the f@#! over’, pop into my head.
We checked out the Prismatic Lake, a thermal pool whose deep blue centre faded to green on the edges then yellow, orange then red. Like a rainbow whose colours danced in the steam that drifted above. Awesome.
In the town of West Yellowstone we went looking for silly buffalo hats for Steve Irwin’s even more hyperactive dutch cousin, Ronnie. While doing that we came across ‘Big Gun Fun’ indoor shooting range. I’d always wanted to try out a machine-gun and Eric had an amazing selection. First I tried out the Thompson .45 cal, the old gangster favourite. I was bloody nervous before and giggling like a little schoolgirl after two magazines. Then Kate tried out the Uzi 9mm. That looked so much fun I had a go at that too. It was a hoot. Thoroughly recommend it. And yes Ronnie I found your bloody hat, actually I liked it so much I got one for myself.
This time we got up at ‘sparrow’s fart’ and were through the park gates at 7.30am. Much less traffic and easier to overtake the rolling roadblocks. We headed north and clockwise around the ‘Grand Circuit Loop’. The north of the park is where the wild critters are while in the south it’s more geothermal formations. Got up close and personal with the bison and the elk but not the bears, which I wasn’t that sad about.
They have problems in the park with tourists in trying to get too close to the animals for photos forgetting these are WILD animals. A couple from Colarado told how the day before they’d pulled over with a heap of other cars to watch a grizzly bear feeding on a fresh kill when parents were getting out of their cars to get kids to pose in front of the bear. Hmmm... Potential Darwin Award recipients or what?
I can see why Yellowstone is so popular with people coming from every corner of the world. Amazing scenery and wildlife. My tip, get in there early but we were there at probably the busiest time of year. Back in West Yellowstone town Kate went off to see a bear and wolf discovery park while I had an itch to scratch. Back at Big Gun Fun I made the most of the opportunity and tried out the Colt 1911 .45 pistol, an AK-47 assault rifle which jumped about a bit and finally a KRISS Vector .45, the weapon SEAL team 6 used to take out Bin Laden. This thing was amazing firing 1500 rounds a minute. It emptied the mags quicker than anything I’d seen. What a rush.
We Headed out early again saying ‘seeya’ to Neil and Lauren, a father and daughter on an Electra Glide and trailer, neighbours and drinking buddy. We were through the gates early again and through the middle of the park where bison wandered across the road. At the northeast corner we got onto the 212 and found out where the buffalo herds and their calves had been hiding. We were heading out on the 212 through the northeast entrance to ride the ‘Beartooth Highway’ supposedly the highest bit of paved road in the US. This is now in my top five roads ridden.
It was awesome and the incredible torque of the Rubber Duck allowed it to swallow cars and Harleys like a yank cop swallows donuts. The sheer cliffs and mountain scenery make this a MUST DO if you are in the area. We were riding above the snowline and then we cruised (sport cruised) down the other side to the nice little town of Red Lodge, Montana, where we had lunch.
Then it was time to bust some big miles and we headed north on the 78, east on the 190 through Bozeman then north again on 287 where we crossed the Missouri river. We were galloping across Montana like bright yellow tupperware wrapped cowboys through beautiful pastures and crops with plenty of horses. Finally we pulled the pin and camped in the little town of Choteau (show-too). I think they spent more time maintaining their Harleys than they did maintaining the campground.
Up early and on the road again we headed north through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the town of Browning where we turned south west on the 2 to go through the Marius Pass of the Rockies. At the other end at West Glacier we entered the park to cross the ‘Going to the Sun’ highway, which is a high pass over the Rockies through Glacier National Park.
Unfortunately the traffic, roadworks and inability of the tourists to pull over to take pictures brought back the ‘pull the f@#! over’ and caused the Rubber Duck to get hot. So I had to pull over a couple of times to let the thermo fan bring the engine temperature back down. The scenery was, however, mind blowing when concentration allowed a look. My tip; camp at either end and go through early morning. From St Mary we headed up through Babbs then north west on the 17 to cross the US/Canadian border and up into Waterton NP, Alberta; an extension of Glacier NP of the US. By this stage I was shot and we made camp up by Lake Crandell and I crashed for a nanna nap.
‘Going to the Sun’ Highway, Glacier National Park, Montana US
We’d heard a story from Dave from Bellevue about how one of his mates, a photographer, who’d hiked eight hours into Glacier NP to take pictures of grizzly bears. When on the trail he was walking on he came across a camera and a bit further on a backpack then freshly bloodied clothing. He followed the fresh blood trail and found the body of a freshly mauled bloke stuffed under a log.
He was gone for about three minutes getting a jacket from the blokes
backpack to cover up the body and when he returned they body was gone.
He hightailed out of there and informed the authorities. It took them
five days to locate them. It turned out to be a mother grizzly and her
two cubs which were then destroyed.
This is what we were thinking about as we were about to retire to our tent in Glacier NP. Pucker time.
We left the park that morning after a look around the little town of Waterton and the spectacular Prince of Wales Hotel set up overlooking the lake with the mountains in the background. Then we headed north on the 6 to Pincher Creek to satisfy our jonesing for Tim Hortons. This franchise is great and I can’t believe it’s not in the US. They’d love it. Good coffee, breakfast bagel and a Boston Cream donut, a solid donut with chocolate icing stuffed with custard. East on the 3 then north on the 2 in a howling crosswind up to Calgary to stay with Kate’s cousin Jill and to catch up with her other cousin Susan. We’ve again been spoilt rotten and I’ve nearly worn out the keyboard on her laptop banging out the last two e-mails.
Farewell to our banana-flavoured cruise missile.
‘There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.’ Field of Dreams.
I think Kate and I got more than a few seconds worth on this trip.
On Sunday the 14th we left the great hospitality of Kate’s cousins in Calgary and headed west towards the Rockies on highway 1. I had Bob Seger cranking on the bike’s stereo system, which made a great backing track across the plains. There was a bit of a hold-up at the gates of the Banff National Park, as it seemed we weren’t the only ones to get out of town while the Calgary Stampede, a big rodeo, was on.
Cruising into Banff I got the distinct impression it was peak tourist season. The place was packed. Beautiful, but packed with people. We stopped for a feed and had a walk around before we headed up to Lake Louise. Last time we were here it was frozen solid and we were the only ones there. What a contrast. Chock-a-block carparks and cars lining the entry road. Still, it is a sensational spot tucked under the ragged mountains that surround it.
From there we decided to head on up the Banff-Jasper Parkway through the Rockies. Kate is a rabid John Denver fan so I cranked him up on the stereo, as it seemed appropriate. Easiest brownie points I ever earned. We were looking for a place to camp as we ascended up into the Columbia Ice Fields, home of the Athabasca Glacier.
We’d hiked up it years ago and got whited out in a blizzard and we had hoped to get up there again. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and a steady rain began to fall along with the temperature to below five degrees C. The wind chill began to take its toll and we decided to push on for the town of Jasper.
We pulled into town and went straight into a little pizza joint for some hot chocolates to bring our core temperature up to normal again. We ended up having a couple, they were that good, the pizza didn’t hurt either. We ended up crashing in a cheap motel for the night. A hot shower was a simple pleasure that meant a lot.
On the Monday we headed out of Jasper, as it was a bit busy as well. We headed out on highway 16, another great road, past the snow-clad peak of Mt Robson and down on the 5 south to the town of Valemount where a friend of Kate’s had recommended we take a helicopter flight over the Cariboo Ranges.
We bit the bullet and sprung for a 12 min flight up over the glaciers. The pilot, Jason, was into bikes and pointed out his MX track and the trails he rode in the area on the way up into the mountains. He took the chopper in close to the ridge-tops and it was a weird sensation watching the world drop out from under us as we crossed the peaks.
We got up into the glaciers and he took us in close then buzzed the cliff-faces, which certainly got the adrenalin going. From Valemount we headed further south and at one stop we saw a new accessory for Harleys, a small pooch box for little handbag-sized dogs. Just when you think you’ve seen it all.
Cruising south we were looking for place to camp. We checked a little place called Birch Island. It was heavy on the birch and nada on the island so we kept rolling. We ended up spending three days in a little place called Clearwater. This was the gateway to the Wells Gray Provincial Park that had a selection of spectacular waterfalls. The most popular being Helmecken, the fourth highest in Canada.
By the time the water got to the bottom it had turned to mist, that was then swept up again in the air currents. We called in to Spahats Falls as well and marvelled at the sheer cliffs that lined the canyon and how the rivers had managed to gouge the volcanic rock of the area. This stop in Clearwater gave us time to chill in the pool as well as slow down a bit.
Another bonus was having a bit of elbow-room as this little gem of a place wasn’t overrun with crowds of people and it was one of only three KOA Campgrounds in Canada. One of the nights while enjoying tasty beverages around our campfire we tested out this little packet of powder they were selling in the campground store. It was for coloured flames and consisted of copper sulphate and cupric chloride. It put on a great show much better than the plain copper wire that you would normally used. The joke being that a campfire is the equivalent of a bush telly and with this stuff you had colour telly with the multi coloured flames.
We left on the Friday well rested and a little sunburnt from all the time in the pool. We headed south on the 5 to Little Fort then west up over the mountains again on the 24 up through Bridge Lake. We tried taking a road north to Mahood Falls but the road turned to dirt and got a bit to rattly for the bike so we turned back but not before checking out some great cabins on the lakes in this back-country area.
We took some back-roads into and around a settlement called Lone Butte on another beautiful lake and then we hit the 97 and headed south. There was a lot of road-works going on as we were told in Canada they only have a three-month window in the year to carry out this sort of civil works due to the cold weather the other nine months.
We dropped down through 70 Mile House and Clinton before turning west on the 99 to Lillooet, a wild rugged, dry, avalanche-prone area, where we stopped in about 36 degrees C heat. The root beer float, like our spider, went down a treat.
From Lillooet we headed along the 99 to Pemberton, also known as the Duffy Lake run and very popular with the Vancouver riders, up over narrow winding mountain switchback roads and alongside fast flowing freshwater rivers. Another must do ride. In Pemberton we found out that it was a busy weekend for camping and our old spot up at Nairn Falls was full. We found out about a place called Owl Creek just north of the town of Mt Currie on an Indian reservation so we headed there. It was a beautiful spot on a river and we were ready to make camp next to the water when Kate spotted some fresh bear tracks and scratch marks on the sandy riverbank metres from our possible campsite.
That and the swarms of mozzies convinced us to move downriver into what we found out later was an old apple orchard. I bought a stubbie holder in Yellowstone that had a picture of a fisherman in a river sprinting towards you with a big grizzly hot on his tail. The title was ‘Motivation’ and under the picture was the caption, ‘Nothing unlocks your true potential like an 800 lb killing machine’.
That is so much funnier when you’re not camped in the bush with the bloody things. After washing ourselves and some of our clothes in the icy river we crashed for the night not knowing which direction we were headed in the next day. West towards Whistler and Squawmish or back east to Lillooet and then south down the Frazer Valley and through Hell’s Gate.
Tempted by another run on the ‘Duffy Lake’ road we headed back to Lillooet, where there happened to be a vintage car show in progress so we stopped to check it out. See, I can appreciate four wheel too. We then headed south, down the Frazer Valley that followed the Frazer river on the 12 to Lytton where it turned into the 1. All the way down we saw more evidence of avalanches, which we later found this area was famous for.
There is even a TV reality show ‘Highway Through Hell’ or something like that, about a crew based out of Hope, to the south, that go out and rescue crashed trucks and whatnot from avalanches and slippery roads. We stopped at Hell’s Gate for a look into the canyon then cruised south to the town of Hope where we camped by the Coquahalla River in a Campground. The town’s claim to fame is that it was the one used in the film ‘First Blood/ Rambo’ along with Coquahalla Canyon and the old railway tunnels that had been cut through the canyon walls.
Next morning we headed out to the tunnels which had been disused for many years due to them being too unsafe during the winters. It is definitely worth a look as the canyon and river is quite spectacular let alone the experience of walking through the canyon walls through the old tunnels.
After this it was time to get on the 1 and head west to Vancouver and Thistledown House B&B that Kate had organised as a nice end of trip rest where I could tart up the Rubber Duck ready for sale.
On the Tuesday we said goodbye to our hosts Rex, Ruth and Liz. They had a good chuckle when they saw the state of ‘Christopher’, our little rubber duck mascot they’d given us a couple of months ago. He was looking decidedly travel-worn by this stage.
We rode in and around Stanley Park one last time then out to the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology.
The main attraction for me was a sculpture by the famous Haida (a native american indian tribe from the Haida Gwaii Islands north of Vancouver Island) master carver, Bill Reid, called ‘Raven and the First Men’ that I’d been fascinated by since seeing it in a documentary back in 1989. It didn’t disappoint. Neither did the rest of the museum, which we didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate. I can’t recommend this place enough.
Then it was time to book into our apartment at Stamp’s Landing on False Creek and sell the bike back at Cater Motorsports that was about five minutes away. The deal was done with Ceri our English saleslady and we sadly said farewell to our banana-flavoured cruise missile, ‘The Rubber Duck’, who’d safely and comfortably carried us over 10,500 km around Canada and the US. She was a good horse.
The only downside about the transaction was that instead of just crediting our account with the card we paid for it with, we were given a company cheque which it turns out takes 30 working days back home to clear because it is an international cheque. Just so you know.
We bought the bike for $11,000 and traded it for $8,000, which we were happy with. In addition, of the $1,500 we spent on full insurance and rego, we received nearly $700 back for the unused portion of the 3 months we’d paid for. The people in the bike shop couldn’t believe it had really been nearly 2 months since we’d left.
Kate and I celebrated with a beer and spent the next couple of days sightseeing around Vancouver on the Vancouver Trolleys, a hop on, hop off service with commentary. The highlight of the city for us was the Bill Reid Gallery and the anthropology section of the University of British Columbia. Then it was time to leave. Our adventure was coming to an end and I was already starting to wonder if we’d really done and seen all those things. Make sure you check out the sculpture, ‘The Jade Canoe’, again by Bill Reid at the Vancouver International Airport if you’re ever there.
The two days in Hong Kong allowed us to reset to our time zone and was spent relaxing by the pool and wandering around locally. We touched down near midnight on Monday the 29th, camped at Kate’s niece’s place, who fantastically picked us up from the airport.
We headed 5 hours south the next day to our own little patch of paradise. We really do live in the best part of the world. I love the mountains, but I love the beach more.
I hope this vicarious journey that you have taken with us has inspired a few people to plan some adventures of their own because it was better than we’d dare hoped. Next time, if we did it again, we’d probably go in the fall to avoid the crowds.
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Now is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present. Make the most of it. Hope you enjoyed the ride.