Category Archives: Canada

A Small Victory

To La Fin Du Monde!

The road goes on after the Arctic Circle.

It stretches into infinity.

Let it be. Leave it alone.There’s nothing there, you know. You’ve
seen enough of nothingness, the thrill is gone, and to go on would mean nothing
to you anyway and it would shake your bike to bits.

You’ve made it.

And everything else is a vacation.

Just outside of Dawson City, under the light of the waning
midnight sun, I spooned on another rear tire and called it a day.

When the road to the Arctic isn’t paved in gold, it’s paved
in mud. And gravel. In fact, it isn’t even paved at all. This is top secret
intel between me and you.

The Dempster Highway starts about 25 miles east of Dawson
City in Canada’s Yukon and stretches all the way north past the Arctic Circle
and onwards up to God and Santa. It is the longest uninterrupted stretch of
road in North America between gas stations. It’s all dirt and gravel.
Conditions vary and it is impossible to get any sort of reliable, useful
information regarding the condition of this road. Everyone has their own
comfort level on unpaved roads, be they on bikes or in cars. Do it. Don’t do
it. Your tires will be shredded. You will never come back. You will die. You’ll
be fine. Magnificent horror stories abound and swirl about the Dempster and add
to its lore.

Indeed, it’s been an awful season to ride the North.
Punishing rains soak all and turn dusty road beds to slimy marbly muck.
Ill-prepared tourists in lumbering RVs disobey the local sages and try to force
their way onto and up these true route isolées in a last ditch attempt to
squeeze yet another great view or moose sighting out of their action packed
Northern Vacation adventure. An older gent on a brand new BMW motorbike takes
refuge in a shithouse for 5 hours, his doughy puffy frame buckling under the
weight of impending doom. A European couple in a rental sedan grind their way
to Eagle Plains with 4 shredded tires riding on battered rims. An inexperienced
female rider fractures her hip when she is thrown from her rental bike and then
airlifted to safety.

Midnight on the Dempster Express

For 140 miles I rode the snake to the lake, the ancient
lake, under sodden skies and over muddy holes. A relentless wall of wetness was
lifted then; and I basked in sun, and bathed in dust. The dust works its way
into everything, everything(!), and attempts to clog air filters and grind away
precious chain and sprockets. It gets into your pack and you will be brushing
your teeth with it for many moons yet to come. It sticks to your wet bike and
adobes itself. It loves you and will follow you for some time.

The views along the Dempster are transcendent and one will
often catch himself staring off into the eyes of God. Far into the distance,
over rolling green valleys steaming with rain, mountains erupt from the earth. Rock is folded, pushed, and twisted up and up and the unimaginable forces of
creation are visible to the naked eye.

After the rain stops the ride to the top is dusty, hot and
fast. Don’t forget to stop at Eagle Plains Lodge for gasoline and a chat with
Igor, the friendly mechanic who makes a living swapping tires and swapping
tales with adventurous souls. He might even have a free tire for you, but only
if you’re lucky!

And the Circle of Lore is yet another 25 miles or so past Eagle Plains. Ah, so close!

The Arctic Circle: Step foot into the North! Magical energy
abounds here! A cup of coffee and some Faith No More will complete the journey. Bask in the sun!

You’ve come a long way now and you are far from home, young
spirit bear! Treat yourself to something nice why don’t you? A burger and fries
at Eagle Plains Lodge will fit the bill. At the end of the world, a burger and
fries costs the same as at a Long Island diner. They have wi-fi even, and give
you no guff about using a credit card.

Ah, the edge of the
world.

But ride on young buck and get off that dirt! You must! Steel
yourself for that wet wall that greets you once more, 140 miles out from the
safety of the pavement and the Klondike Highway. Ride the Dempster at midnight
and more and into the dark and the wet. And all the while that chain stretches,
skipping over sprockets and grinding down precious metal teeth. Make it back to
camp, pup up that tent and collapse into a heap, exhausted and elated. 510
miles of dirt.

I didn’t even have to cower in a shithouse for 5 hours!

Asides: New breeds of asshole emerge from the mists and reveal themselves to me as if out of a crystal ball! In the middle of the Yukon, the middle of nowhere, I was stuck in a twenty person line waiting to pay for $7 worth of gas. Extra-large cinnamon buns were sending people into an absolute frenzy! Starving, no doubt, from their punishing journey aboard a Holland America tour bus. A man in his forties vacationing with his parents was cooing into mother’s ear, describing the smells of those delectable pastries, as I was jostled about and hemmed in, jammed into this tiny shop, now becoming an immense pressure cooker. I was cut in line and nudged by a woman licking her chops, shouting at her husband. But nothing caught my attention more than a man videotaping a stationary cinnamon bun, his lips parted and mouth hanging open in concentration. More people squeezed in, shoehorned by the enterprising Yukon shopkeeps and tour personnel. It grew hot and foggy with breath. Beads of sweat rolled. But the man with the videocamera remained cool as a cucumber, unfazed,
unmoving, standing like a marble statue with his camera capturing the
magnificence of the cinnamon bun with steady hand as I was pushed slowly,
impossibly towards him. With great nerve, I fought against the urge to throw
his camera to the ground and smash it to a million bits! A moment of ecstasy
that would be beyond decadence! What happens if you get arrested in the Yukon? Where is the closest jail? I eventually paid for my gas and left. The North is awash with people like this. Old codgers with money to waste and time to kill before the only certainty of life that is death. Clueless. The man taping the cinnamon will likely pass in coming years, feeding the worms. And what will happen to that marvelous, marvelous footage? Will a doting grandson post it to youtube? Shit like this makes you hate white people.

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Yukon Ho!

The clusterfuck of signs that is the signpost forest in Watson Lake, YT.

A Vancouver exodus leads us through Whistler, a world renowned ski-town and all-around gorgeous place to some and all. The manboy, however, doesn’t bite and knows what to look for. Quaint little out of the way mountain ski towns shouldn’t have electronic metered parking (it makes them less quaint) and cops tailing you at the posted speed limit of 30 km/h (18 mph) all the way out of town. Whistler, BC: playground of the rich and an all-around unfriendly place. Warning: Do not stop here and keep moving. C’mon, 18 mph?

Mr. PG greets all comers to Prince George, BC

Continue North and begin anew your brutal slog through the cold and wet. The northcountry is a foreboding place for the motorcycle adventurer and it will take every ounce of courage and strength to see you through. Cold. Wet. Alone.

But look you’re not always by yourself out there in the world. Kind-hearted strangers drift in and out. They offer up their lakefront cabins as shelter on cold and windy nights, hotel rooms to get out of the pounding rain, and campsites to share for commiseration and bear protection. There are others out there now, riding North, and enduring. The occasional passing wave lets you know that they are indeed out there, themselves questioning their motives in sopping wet clothes and boots.

Cage based contraption used for ferrying your dog about on the back of your bike

But hey, if you wanna be a player, best to get used to the game. There is no turning back and you must ride your bike ragged to make the North where some respite awaits. Get there and drink up that midnight sun when you see it boy.

Lap it up like a dog while you still can, man.

Getting "hyderized" means drinking a shot of grain alcohol at the Glacier Inn in Hyder Alaska

You’re now in the Yukon.

You’ve made it this far.

A small victory no doubt, but in a small battle in life’s great war.

Regardless, you’ve come a long way.

Know that you’re still here and that you’re out there, in the world.

Just like Papillon clinging to his coconut raft.

I’m still here. Don’t you forget!

Tune-up Yukon style

Travel Tip: Internet service and cell phone reception is sporadic, terrible, or non-existent in the Canadian Northwest. Campground Services campground in Watson Lake, YT offers free wi-fi and tent sites for $10. Really, a reasonable price in these parts. Listen, things are strange here and people are a mixed bag, especially business folk. They really have you by the balls up here in the middle of nowhere and they know it. Some like to gouge but there are some that pride themselves in being respectable shop keeps. It’s a toss up man. You can usually avoid paying $2 for a package or a Ramen noodles but sometimes you have to buy gas for $7.80 a gallon.

Liard Hotsprings: Magical energy abounds here and a hot tip from the Pilgrims of Pleiades yielded this gem. These are idyllic hotsprings enveloped in a Provincial Park off the Alcan. A long boardwalk will get you from tent city to these piping hot hotsprings. Indeed, they are hot(!) and a perfect point counter-point to the cold misery you have endured thus far. I was adopted by a nice new family here. My new dad and brother took me fishing and I caught my first fish of the trip with my collapsible pen-sized rod, a bull trout. The only fish of the outing no less! Isn’t that something? Feeding the family already!

This couple was travelling from Brazil to Prudhoe Bay. This didn’t speak very good English but we managed to exchange contact info. They even have a website and it appears that they had this to say about your humble adventurer:

“We met several riders on the course, but what caught my attention was a young man who left New York and goes to Alaska on a bike very old and poorly maintained. The tail oil vasa and has paint all spoiled. The boy is shy. We met him three times on the road and he stands alone resting. In the first meeting, when he saw the name in the Celestine Brazil, he came all curious. I have asked in the second stay in New York his home. He handed me the email and said he is facing there will be a pleasure. His site is more or less well, the letter was not readable:

http://manboyinthepromisedland.com”

Who runs Van City?

The American West has been tamed, albeit quite easily too, and all on the back of that brown and bucking steed, the CB500T. Jefferson should have just waited 200 years and then given me a call instead of sending Lewis and Clark. I would have done the whole thing in 1/10 the time, but for top dollar man. Rumor even has it that Lewis’ first name was Meriwether. Cmon, man.

Well, regardless, we’ve made it baby and the continent has been straddled. At this very moment I sit penning this very journal entry from the Vancouver Public Library. Ah Vancouver, such a town! One gets the feeling, that the kind of vibe put forth by this city is the same kind of vibe that propelled New York to the top of the cultural food chain lo so many moons ago for all the world to see and to shudder. I’m a young duck and was never around for all that jazz back in the New York heyday; but I’m sure it must have a real time to be alive back then, to navigate the Big Apple badwaters with real zeal and zen. But look, if that’s the case and we’re talking Vancouver now, this might just be a great place to be alive if you want to be dead. Van city is alive with vermin of all sorts. Look, I don’t mean to be harsh, I’m just reporting the facts here as I see them, and maybe someday a born and bred Vancouverite will wax ecstatic on the virtues of their Pacific City some 20 years hence. We’ll see. $10 will buy you a bed for the night in the worst hostel in the world right on the edge of society. Take a walk down Hastings Street on Van city’s skid row. Breathe in the Funk. Junkies and Runaways litter the sidewalk. Step over and around and do not make eye contact. Eyes forward young Turk! Smoking crack and injecting your veins with heroin is bad for you and while you shouldn’t do it at any age, people the world over make mistakes and we can forgive them for the most part. But there’s just something off-putting about a man in his fifties dressed like a teenage runaway openly smoking crack in the street. Sir, should you even exist and should you have dreadlocks? Even when you’re balding at the temples? This is the end of the line man, a no-man’s land where no law applies. Winters suck in Vancouver and I wonder how many of these dregs freeze to death each year. Does anyone even care?

But hey, lets juxtapose this with the next block over. A quaint little steam clock, the first of its kind and a real delight, blows its melodious whistle signalling you’re arrival in Van city’s Gastown district. Million dollar steak dinners and artisanal wines are all yours to be had! Don your Ralph Lauren Versace Polo turtle neck and get ta steppin. You will blend right in, if you dare!

But you don’t. You’re a traveller baby. Best to pick up some day old dumplings at the Vietnamese supermarket for $1.50, devour them outside next to a garbage can like a hungry dog, and wipe your greasy hands on your filthy jeans. Maybe do a few pullups on some scaffolding while you’re at it because, to the untrained eye you’re just another filthy junky with hair akimbo, soiled clothes, and a sunburnt weathered and unshaven face.

Now go get drunk and wonder who the real animal is…

 

 

Who runs Bordertown?

Onward and upwards forever into new and more exciting worlds.

My great Canadian adventure ‘s end saw me holed up in Grand Portage, MN escaping God’s wrath and nature’s fury. This is becoming a common theme…

Northern Ontario is yet another desolate wasteland, seemingly even more remote and more foreboding than the Quebec frontier. I guess that’s Canada for you. There’s just nothing up there.

Great trucks rumble past, big old road trains hauling lumber and ore and little white fluffy things that blow all over the place. They  buffet you with wind and cold. Massive welded tubular steel bumpers adorn their fronts, assuring their victory of machine versus moose in this great frontier. Moose are big creatures. Large and in charge. They weigh a lot.

 I saw a dead one on the side of the road, crushed by one of the road trains, eyes open.

I never jettisoned the gas can from Chibougamau lore. It rode with me the whole time through Ontario and it was needed again twice. Like I said, there’s just not much up there.

Lakes and trees and lakes and trees, truly a land of striking and monotonous beauty.

Lakes of every color, one after the other for miles and miles. Dark blue, light blue, brown, green, and the magnificent but rare lake consisting of a turquoise hue, no doubt due to the presence of copper in its bottom.  There are literally enough lakes in Northern Ontario to drive you insane.

The road stretches for miles and your eyes glaze over. I fell asleep on the bike at around noon on the second day. A really short cat nap man, about a second. The road is straight so no matter.

Strange billboards tout resplendent feasts at upcoming restaurants. The pictures on them look just like Hungry Man tv dinners.

Ample opportunities for bush camping exist up here. Hundreds of dirt trails lead off into this godforsaken country. For what for, who knows.  Take one, any one, please. Set up your pup-tent and you’re golden, but don’t forget your mosquito repellent. Tenting it on the summer solstice will yield a bright sky well into the night.

This is wilderness and it really is beautiful, but it’s pretty clear that God doesn’t want man up here. At least on a motorcycle. I pined for the states man, big time. Fucking Canada. Gas is almost $6 a gallon and people are still speaking French 20 miles away from Minnesota. And it’s cold and wet. Riding down from Hearst on Trans Canada Hwy 11 it just started raining and wouldn’t stop; hours and

Bush Camp night #2 Summer Solstice edition

hours of rain and cold. And all the time that chain stretches and stretches and I was praying that I would not have to source a chain somewhere in fucking Ontario. The road to the states passes through Thunder Bay. Across the bay lies a sleeping giant, a great guardian of the land which lies reposed and made of rock. It is truly a sight to behold so I hear, ah but if only I could see it! The storm was so great!

A return to the states yielded a small victoy. Still cold, still wet but with chain intact and back in America, holed up in Bordertown awaiting the storm’s passing . $40 will buy you a palace for the night in this great Northern Kingdom.

 

 

Timmy Hortons Timbits: a real steal at $1.99 for 10 (extra timbits for the lonesome dove traveller)

 

An evening spent in French Canada…

 

I actually spent about a thousand miles in French Canada.

Kevin knew I had books. He called me a “literary guy.”
Maybe it’s because I have glasses.

 I have a few books with me. I’ve been reading Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck.  In it Steinbeck, at this point both an author of well-renown and old man, takes off across America with his dog Charley. He does it in a custom made pickup truck with a camper on the back. Look, Steinbeck did it the easy way, even coming across as bit of a tenderfoot at times (c’mon, French poodle?), but it’s been a great read thus far and I won’t begrudge him because of the fact that he was an old man when he did it. Plus he just kind of comes across as a really likeable dude.  I’m still reading it so don’t spoil it for me (Charley dies at the end?), but I’m finding that there’s a lot of similar thinking going on in there. Maybe the thoughts of the wanton traveller resonate across our select minority, ubiquitous to all those who stave off into the night, into the darkness, to seek out knowledge that has so far been unobtainium.

Well, regardless, Steinbeck talks about wanting to visit Fargo, ND on his trek across our nation. He wants to see it on a whim really, because for him it has always held a place in his mind as being a destination that was just so out there, so far away, so as to be become legend and attain a sort of mythrus status, similar to a Cathay or a Timbuktu, but of the mind really, and in America.

Chibougamau has held a similar bookmark in my brain for some time now, and that’s why I went there. Because it’s there. I saw it on a map years ago and I would take a look at it every once in a while. It’s on most maps, but some maps have roads going to it and some don’t. It’s out there, really it is. A truly isolated, desolate place. Nowheresville, man.

La Fin du Monde.

I left Quebec City Saturday morning, heading up Hwy 175 through the Reserve Faunique Des Laurentides and yet another desolate stretch of nothing. Natural beauty abounds in Northern Quebec. Countless dirt and gravel roads shoot off into the bush. Hundreds, thousands of lakes, pools, and rivers  stretch into infinitum, the earth blanketed in trees and rocks and water. There is not much out here. You reach Chicoutimi and find it, this seat of the Quebecois culture, to be unremarkable. Turn left here and head towards Lac St. Jean, which is remarkable in its immensity. Its waters stretch to the horizon and it is truly beautiful. Of course, it is ringed with RV Parks, asphalt campgrounds, miniature golf, and go-kart racing.

Travel Tip: Don’t drink the water in Quebec. Buy bottled water. This is known to me from previous occasions. It has been told and you have been warned.

Past Lac St. Jean, you come to La Dore, a small outpost and the last place to obtain gasoline before making the end run towards Chibougamau.

 

Good morning!

Travel Tip: If you arrive in La Dore with no kopeks and no place to spend the night, take the gravel road on the left ¼ mile past the market, follow it into the forest, and set up shop in the clearing of your choice. Hide your rig behind the largest rock you can find for maximum stealth. Strain your eyes for the Northern Lights and your patience may prevail.

The CB500T gas tank only holds about 3 gallons or so of gas with a tad bit more in the reserve tank. And remember, it’s been a bit of a drag as of late in the mpg department. Best to fill up the spare tank you got in Chicoutimi so as not to run out of that precious fluid and be left to kill, steal, plunder etc. on the road Mad Max style.

I’m just looking for safe passage through the wasteland.

But, aren’t we all?

At night your thoughts turn to the Quebecois. They are a different breed indeed. A cursory glance into the eyes of the Quebecois will return an icy stare. These are the descendants of frontiersmen, trappers, soldiers, desolate loners on the fringe, madmen, and whores. The great North of Quebec is a foreboding place. Desolate. Cold. Alone. It is not easy to make it here. It never was. The heart yearns for a friendly face that speaks the English tongue. And maybe for one of Larry Russell’s delicious peanut butter crackers.

The road to Chibougamau is long. 130 miles or so of nothing in between save for forest and the trees. This is the Ashuapmushuan Reserve and it is gargantuan. It will swallow you up. You have been warmed. Stop to slosh in the rest of you gas from the can you bought especially for this road because no one ever said that reaching Chibougamau was easy. There’s no romance without, right? While you’re there, at a picnic table at Lac Triolet, warm yourself up with some noodles, down some sardines, and spoon out some peanut butter. Because you only live once.  Listen to some tunes. It’s been a week and you’re out alone in the world, this strange and terrible place. Thoughts are with you always. Memories. Regrets. They’re all there.

Chibougamau is out there, somewhere, but apparently it has internet and it has young people. I was able to get a host for the night. I could have camped out off of a dirt road somewhere, and it did indeed turn out to be a beautiful night, but I wanted to meet a real life Chibougamauan. See how they live. Ask them why they are here. What are they doing in this outpost?

Chibougamau was not really what I expected, because I expected it to be a logging town. It wasn’t because it’s a mining town. Mining towns are a different breed up here, at least the one’s with the big mines. There’s money floating around. They’re clean and safe, with plenty of bars and even strip clubs. No one gives a shit about some Manboy passing through

A happy chain adjustment in Chibougamau

on an old bike with squeaky brakes and a cooler bolted to the back. Chibougamau’s a fun little town. But that’s probably for about 5 minutes and I wouldn’t want to live here. I imagine a whole different place come the incredibly harsh winter. Loneliness and lack of precious sunlight breeds desperation in most folk. And I’m sure there are few couchsurfers passing by in winter.

 

I grew tired of French Canada today. I miss America very much so. But I’ll take English speaking Canada as a sort of compromise. I’ve made it to Ontario, camped just within the border on Bear Lake Rd on a little pullout.  It was a long, hard ride today. But chin up young Turk, for now we head West again. Forever and always.

 

Ontario!

 

Beer to my Heart

Boreal Dorcee: Never been a big fan of Boreale but decided to try this brew on a larf. Never seen this one before.  Hey, it’s good! Fresh, tasty. Not decadent but a delicious brew nonetheless. You see Boreale stateside on occasion and they are never fresh. Even in Montreal, Boreale was never good. Well, this one is and it goes down smooth. “Silky, but not sweet. Easy drinking ale. Subtle flavours of summer honey.” All hooligans concur.

 

Blonde de Chambly: 5% abv. Yet another Unibroue joint. An effervescent brew that is nearly unremarkable save for the coquettish minx adorning the bottle and clever backstory. “Blonde de Chambly honours the heroic Filles a Marier (marriageable girls) later known as Filles du Roi (King’s daughters). These brave single young women came to Nouvelle France in 1665 to help populate the colony. Many of them married officers and soldiers of the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, who built Fort Chambly on the Richelieu River and forged the legendary Iroquois peace of 1667. Most French Canadians are direct descendants of these extraordinary ancestors.  – Mild and refreshing Blonde de Chambly has a floral nose and light citrus bouquet. With its foamy white head and lively effervescence, it is an ideal partner for an unforgettable sensory experience.”  Mmmm…indeed. Go ahead, try one. And while you’re at it do yourself a favor and stare into those coquettish eyes, so wanton for the lonesome traveller.

Brune d’ Achouffe: 8.5% Just another run of the mill delicious French Canadian craft beer. Nothing extraordinary. You expect it to be good and it is. The label is a delight and adds to the enjoyment. A strong brew at 8.5% and a perfect complement to lunch. Baguette with pate and cheese perhaps? Mmm…perhaps. Like so many of these artisanal Quebecois brews, Brune d’ Achouffe is in perfect harmony! Cheers!

Barbarian at the Gates

We arrived in Quebec City yesterday after a long hard slog, first through Northern Maine and then onwards over dusty Quebecois superslab.

The most Northeastern town in the USA is about 100 miles from Houlton, right on Route 1.  It’s called Madawaska and I’ve been there.

Whatever, there’s nothing there. They have this cheezy little park set up that’s full of engraved bricks that local businesses have donated. Really, everything there has an engraved plate on it: the table and bench set, a firepit, and the portable toilet even. There’s a lot of random shit with stuff written on it. There’s also another marble monstrosity, other than the one pictured above, blotting out the sun that was donated by the local Harley Davidson dealer. Apparently people ride up here all the time just to stake their claim at having ridden to one of the four corners of the USA. Fair enough, who am I to judge?

Cross the border here and on into Edmunston for a little slice of NB before entering Quebec. 4.5 hours of highway later and you’re in Quebec City. You know you’re in Canada now because gas is sold by the liter, and at $1.29 per we’re looking at about $4.90 per gallon. Gas in the far reaches of Northern Maine was about $3.91 per gallon. Just FYI. Still cheaper than Long Island. Makes sense.

For some reason they allow cars into Quebec’s Old Town but not motorcycles. Makes sense. Navigating in Quebec is a complete psychological drain. Most of the streets are one way and non-grid patterned. The traffic lights are also about 5 minutes long each. This is awful and I would never want to live here and have to drive a car. I parked the bike and hoofed it with all my shit into the Old Town to Auberge a la Paix, a hostel I had booked when I was Houlton. It’s been heating up in the great north I was roasting alive with all my layers, carrying everything I didn’t want jacked from the bike, which is everything, through the city. Whatever, I’ll take it. Better to be hot and sweaty than cold and wet. The only thing is that I was smelling absolutely repugnant. My boots and feet fucking stink. The stink crept into the skin of my feet and has just now starting dissipating. It’s gross man.

Eh, whatever.

They say that the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

Revel in your time.

I’m headed for the hinterlands.

See you in Chibougamau, bitches.