On July 5th we crossed the border into Canada for the second time on this trip. First time we did it by air as I wanted to visit my family in Toronto during our ride in North America, but after calculating the costs of riding all the way to Toronto and back on our own wheels and comparing it to the flight costs we decided to leave the bikes in California and get on the flight from Los Angeles to Toronto to have a mini vacation there from riding.
Luckily BMW dealerships all around the world are very helpful to travelers (even those not on BMW motorcycles) and so Long Beach BMW Motorcycles kindly agreed to hold our bikes in their storage for free while we will be away. We spent 10 fantastic days in Toronto and Montreal before picking up the bikes and hitting the road again.
While in Canada for the first time, we watched the baseball game where New York Yankees unfortunately beat the crap out of Toronto's Blue Jays, we visited Niagara Falls and had a full programme of fun there, we rode rollercoasters in Canada's Wonderland until we literally got sick, we met an amazing bunch of adventure riders from all over the world and had our own private global ADV riders' meeting at Marel's (@atinyrider) and Janusz's (@gonerideabout) and finally we got up the CN tower, one of the highest buildings in the world and enjoyed the view of the city of Toronto from high up above.
...now back to July:
We crossed the border for the second time into Canada on our motorcycles, riding from the state of Montana in the US to Alberta province in Canada. First stop was of course Calgary - to visit another part of my beautiful Canadian-Lithuanian family and to have the bikes serviced and while we're there - to see the legendary Calgary Stampede - the huge annual rodeo event. All the plan worked out really well.
Some priceless family time with sightseeing, Stampede rodeo and one other fancy equestrian event worked as a great pit-stop to reenergize us before "leaving the civilization" on the way to Alaska. In addition to that, the regular oil and filter change for the bikes, together with a software update by Blackfoot Motosports (a BMW dealer in Calgary) for my F650GS, got the bikes prepared for another stage of our adventure - going up North!
And so on July 12th we left from Calgary. I must admit - when thinking about riding to Alaska (before I actually looked closed on the map) I didn't realize that during this last bit of our adventure in North America, called "riding to Alaska", we will ride many more kilometers in Canada, than actually in Alaska. And the Canadian part was not only unexpected for me in a way, but as well it was surprisingly beautiful and exciting!
After leaving Calgary, we took probably one of the most scenic Canada's ride through the Rocky mountains - from Banff to Jasper through the Icefields Parkway. Glaciers on the mountain tops, turquoise meltwater fed lakes and rivers and the incredible amounts of wildlife surrounded us for three days which felt like riding in a fairytale!
Enjoying the beautiful nature while camping we had to stay alert because of many bears living in the area. We came up with a system to make sure our food is away from the tent, not accessible to bears and protected from small thieves like squirells too. We locked everything that has any kind of smell into one of the aluminum side panniers and hung it in the tree for the night. Either the system was really working, or simply there were no bears around, our food was peacefully hanging there every morning :)
Finally, our last night in Alberta we spent with Carl and Marilyn in their home in Grand Prairie. Carl has almost 20 motorcycles which are either running or still in progress as his projects! Impressive!
And finally we reached the famous Alcan - Alaska highway in Canda. There's even a sign in Dawson Creek saying that "You are now entering the famous Alaskan highway". That's about 2000 kilometers away from the Alaskan border. Oh and you know the stickers that motorcycle riders love to stick all over the signs in more interesting places? It's funny how many times we accidentally found a sticker of two Australian love birds - Sonja and Richard (http://www.accidentalmotorcyclist.org/) - no wonder we found one more right here. They were about a month ahead of us while riding to Alaska.
So we had around 2000 kilometers ahead of us on this highway... It seemed like a pretty long and dull ride to be, but then on the same day which looked like a pretty nice day until lunch, the sky changed it's color from light blue because of some layer of clouds to almost black in a very short time and just as we managed to take a turn to the nearest RV park to save ourselves from the rain (wasn't ready for it without the waterproof membranes on), it started hailing. Not only it started hailing, it was the strongest hail we had ever seen! Luckily the bikes had a little bit of protection under a roof of the RV park administration building, so the only damage was done to our right side pannier covers - now we have a few small dents from the huge pieces of ice hitting them.
Day two was nothing special - we created sort of the road game of trying to guess the make and model of every motorcycle coming in front of us (there are so many motorcycle riders on the way to and from Alaska!). We can tell a BMW from very far. So there was another BMW F800GS coming at us some time in the afternoon. We raised hands to greet the fellow rider and confirmed to each other through our Cardo scala rider intercoms "a BMW F800..." . Yet a second later, right at the moment when we passed each other, we realized that's a Polish couple we know (http://latg.pl/)! Apparently they had the same realization :) So we all slammed on the brakes, turned around to meet on the side of the road and share a lot of things that happened to us since the last time we met in Colombia. It's so much fun to meet someone you know in such a remote place!
Day three got rainy... It was obvious that the rain won't stop any time soon, so being wet and cold we decided to rent a small cabin for the night. Next thing we know, there's a huge bison in the grassy field next to the row of those cabins. We took some pictures of it grazing before we realized that it was actually coming to lay down next to our bikes for the rest of the evening!
And finally, on the fourth day of riding Alaska highway, we started "meeting" bears. So many bears that we lost count! We had never seen a bear on this trip before and we think that we had never even seen so many bears through our lives (in a zoo or in a circus) as we did that day!
Luckily the bears in Canada are exceptionally polite and they don't get on the highway - they stay on the sides of it, letting the passers by enjoy the moment watching them, but not causing any troubles in traffic (except for those moments when the passers by get so carried away by watching bear on the side of the road that they forget they were driving on a highway and start making unpredictable maneuvres).
The only one bear we saw crossing the road, did it very carefully and made sure there are no moving cars or motorcycles around before actually stepping onto the road :)
Evetually we turned off Alaska highway onto Klondike highway towards Dawson City in Yukon. That place is famous not only for the legendary Klondike gold rush, but nowadays there you could join the club of Sourtoe Cocktail by drinking a shot with a human toe in it! A real dried human toe (separated from the rest of that human). More about it can be read here. However, this was not something we wanted to do, so after enjoying an evening in the cute little town, we moved on to the other side of Yukon river and onto another highway with a big name: Top Of The World Highway.
A truly great gravel ride over the top of the mountain range, took up to the most northern US land border. After getting stamped into the country, we stopped to take a picture with the "Welcome to Alaska" sign. Just as we parked the bikes and got off, a car came rushing and a young couple jumped out of it. "Could you please take a picture of us with this sign?" we asked and they raised a huge Lithuanian flag in response! We all laughed a lot and finally not only took a picture with a sign together, but also spent a "Lithuanian" night camping in Alaskan wilderness together, sharing traveling stories around the campfire. Justina and Julius were traveling in US and Canada for a few months in their car. It's unbelievable how many unexpected Lithuanian encounters we had while traveling through the US and Canada!
So here we were - finally in Alaska! So what does a motorcycle rider do when one reaches Alaska? Most of the riders we met, got on the Dalton highway and rode all the way to the Northern coast of North America - an oil industry town called Prudhoe Bay to make a picture with a plain blue wall of the general store there and possibly stick their sticker on the same wall. It's a ride of more than 600 kilometers on the gravel highway, which is made for big trucks and mostly used by trucks. It's pretty dusty when dry and really nasty when wet.
Since noone we met ever said that reaching Prudhoe Bay was really worth anything more than just being able to tell people that you have been there, we decided not to bother. We checked the weather forecast to make sure that there won't be any rain there and took an easy ride to the Arctic Circle there, which is just over 200 kilometers away from Fairbanks and stopped there to enjoy the midnight sun and spend a night before heading back. I would have wanted to ride a bit more North the next morning to check out the supposedly beautiful mountain pass a few kilometers away from the Arctic Circle, but as there was clearly some rain clouds comming from that direction, we decided to sacrifice the opportunity to see the mountains in exchange for a greater chance to return on the dry highway rather than slipping and sliding on wet mud there and becoming a real mess before we reach the pavemenet again.
We stayed with Ramey in Fairbanks for one night and got two gremlin bells from him to protect our motorcycles from bad spirits on the road (so far they worked - no bad spirits were noticed getting too close to the bikes!) and then with Paul in Healy, next to Denali national park. Paul hosted three other riders (Moto Migrants and Janosch) at the same time, so what we planned to be a simple calm evening, became a travelers' party with the amazing grilled salmon Paul has supplied and lots of crappy beer we found in the local liquor store. Next day we had to stay still until noon to get our heads back into shape to be able to ride again (early in the morning even our helmets would probably not fit)... But the evening was definitely worth it! :)
Eventually after quite a wild ride from Calgary with very little pauses for rest, we carefully asked the Lund family if we could stay with them for two nights in Wasilla to get some rest before heading back South. The lovely family agreed and we had great time staying with them!
After two days, well rested and refreshed we got back on the road. Unfortunately our wishes to see the Kenai peninsula, Talkeetna or Valdez were not ment to come true because of the terrible weather that got all over the southern part of Alaska...
So we headed straight to Glen View where a lovely group of Lithuanian girls - Greta, Aurelija, Ona and Sandra were waiting for us. They were spending their summer working in a beautiful small RV park through the "Work & Travel" programe. Linas did that too - many years ago in Outter Banks in North Carolina. The friendly owner of the RV park got us all beer and we spent an evening chatting about so many things I couldn't even remember them all now. :)
Next morning we left and luckily as we came closer to Canadian border, the weather got much better. We stopped for the night next to a very picturesque Kluane lake. Apparently there was a wildlife crossing corridor around that area and the official campground just a couple of kilometers down the road on the same lake had an electric fence installed around the tenting area to protect tent campers from unwanted bear visits. Luckily no bears came to visit us during the time we stayed there and we continued our ride back South next morning with no hickups.
The story about the electric fence was told to us by an Australian couple on 250cc motorcycles, traveling to South America - Ride To The End Taryn and Sam. We met them before somehere in the South of Alaska and here we met them again on the road next to the already mentioned Kluane Lake.
We rode together with them until a tiny town called Haines Junction and from there they went on to Whitehorse while we took a turn to Haines. Where after spending the night in a "Walk in and bicycle" campground because all other places in town were full due to the ongoing State Fair, we took a scenic ferry ride to Skagway.
Getting on the ferry wasn't that simple in the first place - not only the campgrounds in Haines were full, the ferry was fully booked too! So up until next morning we did't know if we are actually getting on that ferry or not - we were on the standby list. Luckily motocycles are very compact in comparison with all those huge vans and RVs people were trying to squeeze in and they found us a couple of spare corners to park on the car deck, so we were very happy to leave Haines without having to take a ride back. Even though Haines highway is really scenic, it's never fun to turn back...
While on the ferry (the ride was just a bit over an hour) Linas proudly informed me that he found a working shower in the mens' restroom. Having to "survive" for many days without a shower and never knowing when to expect to get a chance to take one I started to value every oportunity to refresh myself under the running water. So without hesitation I found another working shower in the women restroom and hoping that nobody would walk in before I get all my layers of clothes off, I got undressed and enjoyed a relatively long hot shower. Not having a towel didn't stop me from indulging into this pleasure of civilized world :) So eventually we called this one hour ferry transfer our own little cruise through the fjords on the Pacific ocean with a complimentary spa :)
Eventually the ride from Skagway through Carcross (the original name of the place was Caribou Crossing) was one of the most scenic of all the roads in Alaska! We enjoyed the sunny day, fantastic views and then a tasty buffalo burger in a cute bistro in Carcross. I am so happy we took that ferry ride! We did it in the first place because of the beautiful Haines highway not to have to turn back after riding it, but little did we know that the stretch from Skagway will make so much more of impression!
Our last entry to Alaska was from Steward to Hyder - the friendliest ghost town in Alaska. Everyone told us we have to go visit Hyder. Now I know why they were all giggling when giving us this advice. It does represent a ghost town really well this Hyder place. Since there was a Salmon run going on at the moment (a time when fish swim up the stream to find a place to spawn) and there was a very shallow creek with lots of fish in it right next to Hyder, the town had more bears in it than local people!
One very impressive glacier - The Salmon glacier was reall worth a visit though! It was spectacular! And it was huge! The nature up North is truly unforgettable!
And finally, with a few very cozy stops at local motorcycle riders' homes, we got to the southern part of British Columbia. Kelly hosted us for couple of days near Prince George - we had a great time with him and his family who were visiting at that time!
In Kamloops, a local rider Greg invited us to stay with him. The sad thing about our stay there through, was that because of the extreme wildfires all around this city, everything was covered in smoke. A thick layer of smoke not only blocked the mountain view, but also prevented the sun from shining as well as us from breething freely...
Meanwhile thousands of people had to leave their homes because of evacuation and many of them won't have a home to return to. Greg took us to Kamloops airport to see the airplanes they use to fight those fires and we were very lucky to meet one of the water bomber pilots - Chris. As the aircrafts couldn't take off that day because of a very poor visibility due to smoke, he had a chance to tell us how the water bomber aircrafts are controlled, how they scoop up to 6 thousand liters of water from a lake in just a few seconds and immediately take off again to deliver the water to the fire area and pour it down. How the brigades operate and how is the maintenance done on these planes. However, he said, it's unlikely that these fires will be totally extinguished before the winter comes. Some rain would help to control them now but there hasn't been any rain here for a while and it doesn't seem there will be any time soon...
Finally, almost a month after we left Calgary, we arrived to Vancouver on the eve of my 30th birthday. My university friend Jurga, who lives here and is crazy about rock climbing, took me to bouldering gym where I could challenge myself while climbing the wall. I decided that it's a fantastic workout not only for one's body but for one's brain too - one has to create the strategy before climbing and then use all body muscles to put that strategy into action.
Meanwhile Jurga doesn't waste her time - she uses every spare moment she has to go rock climbing not only in the gym, but as well in the fantastic nature of Western Canada. She invited us to join such an "expedition" as we are staying with her and possibly even try it ourselves. We thought about that, but after seeing the whole setting from up close, both decided to rather stay on the flat ground instead of hanging on the rock wall above the roaring river and holding on for dear life... We played around with our new DJI Mavic Pro drone to see the climbing process of Jurga and Kyle from up close and captured a few beautiful moments. Here's the result of it:
Finally, we visited an adventurous Lithuanian couple Raminta and Andrius, who live in Squamish (you could probably call that place an outdoor activities' capital of Canada) and spent an afternoon together, chatting about out adventures on the road and their adventures in the mountains.
Currently we work on the preparation of our second intercontinental logistics operation to get the bikes to Russia for the next part of our adventure and enjoy the city life and simple things of indoor living - sightseeing in beautiful Vancouver, vacuum cleaning the carpets at Jurga's house (adding a little motorcycle themed comedy to it too..), baking pies or learning to cook a curry with Jurga's friends. After a month of sleeping in a tent, bathing in natural sources of water (mostly icecold glacier fed lakes and rivers), rarely being indoor at all, these simple joys of regular city life makes us really happy.
Yet, I can feel that adventure starts calling. In about a week from now we should be able to get back into traveling and we're both waiting for it impatiently!