By Steve Andersen
I suffer from wanderlust, not to be confused with a travel bug; travelers tend to go in search of specific destinations whereas we wanderers are simply curious about where the roa
d will take us. I’m not, at least not by my lights, at all reckless, but I am a calculated risk taker looking for something more than safe transport, so naturally my wandering is done on a Harley.
After riding for over thirty years, and having gotten laid off, it occurred to me that wandering farther afield would be a worthy undertaking. I had a daughter graduating from Missoula Montana (this was 1996) so I chose to embark on a camping trip, stopping for a congratulatory visit and continuing on to Alaska.
In my fifties, addicted to creature comforts, and with sleep apnea, preparations for the trip were extensive. Packed on the bike, among other things, was a dome te
nt, a cot, a double sleeping bag, all manner of protective clothing in addition to regular changes, a propane lamp, a single burner stove, a Teflon/aluminum wok, a coffee pot, dishes/utensils, a variety of herbs and spices, a cell phone, a laptop, a CPAP machine, an inverter to charge the electronics, and a battery tied into the bike’s charging system to run the CPAP machine at night, a couple of flashlights, and a Nikon camera.
For me, just getting out of town was a joy and having no fixed date to return was heaven. But the last 25 miles going into Missoula was on freshly graded clay in the rain, offering little more traction than slick ice, but on a very uneven surface. While I managed to keep the bike upright, I was exhausted when I arrived. Camping out is great, but occasionally one needs a motel. And on the far side of Glacier National Park, I stayed in a whore house, that had been converted to a hostel.
Banff was just a giant souvenir shop, but Lake Louise was memorable, partly because I had moose for dinner which was
exquisite, and otherwise just a lovely stop in every way. The Canadian Rockies are truly awesome and a bit chilly the first week in June; lots of snow still on the ground, and lucky me, I got to ride through a hail storm. Out of the mountains, the AlCan highway takes you through 8 billion pine trees, behind which many more have been clear cut. I shredded a rear tire on more gravel road than I expected (about 1500 miles) and was stuck in a campground for three days waiting for the Greyhound bus to show up with a replacement. I spent one evening with a school teacher from the remote west coast of Alaska introducing her beautiful 15 yr. old daughter to the rest of the world. Wow!
I’ve always been a big fan of critters in the wild and this trip was full of them. Deer, elk, countless caribou, one bearded billy goat, a number of big horn sheep, a few moose, a grizzly bear two polar bears, and a huge Kodiak brown bear with two cubs who stood up to me when I slowed down for a closer look. There were also two baby moose calves demonstrating how cute ugly can be.
Sitting up reading in daylight at 11:PM at a Fairbanks campground, I learned that there was a gas station on the 200 mile gravel road up to the Arctic circle making the trip doable. I left early the next morning and found a big sign saying “Welcome to the Arctic Circle” as well as a thoroughly inebriated RV traveler who said the same thing and then “Have a martini”, which I happily did, in a proper cocktail glass no less.
Ultimately it was a three day ferry ride to Bellingham, WA and only one speeding ticket getting back to Alameda. And that’s how the great adventure began. Since then I’ve ridden the Harley through 49 states and 9 Canadian provinces (would have been 10 but for a disastrous oil leak). I’ve been meaning to do Hawaii, but most of the road is always flooded.