Crawling under the towering cables of Lion’s Gate Bridge, we’re rolling into Vancouver on the final leg of our return from the arctic and our welcome is an automotive slap in the face. Traffic is ornery, pushy, and demonstrating the road selfishness we’ve not had to deal with for 10,000 kilometers. Mainly because for a major portion of that distance there was no traffic; no inattentive cock in a Lexus on a cell phone because there was no cell service, no BMW M3 with grapefruit launcher pipes and something to prove because there was no one to prove it to, no lumbering over-blinged and over-entitled Cadillac Escalade SUVs… Rack up 2000km without pavement, and you don’t miss what it carries in the least.
I can’t help but monologue in my helmet, “Now, now children, play nicely. Every one take their turns and this will all go so much faster. Yes, you, you in the Land Rover, remember to share and wait your turn, they taught you that in pre-school.”
The man beside me with the window down looks at me askance. To him we’re the untrustworthy madmen demanding politeness from the kindergarten rush hour crowd, our own intentions masked by foreign province license plates, post-apocalypse bikes and gear still clung to by Dempster mud. Mud that like a memory won’t clean off no matter how you try – Elmer’s should dispatch research team immediately. “Safe, organic, tenacious and utterly impervious to removal, new Dempster’s Glue”, goes the tagline.
The woman in the late-90s Toyota Celica on Georgia St. is desperate to get ahead, crooked neck, cell phone to ear, monomaniacal determination in her eyes. Welcome home, where you’ll be cut off five times before you even reach downtown, and more than you were for the entirety of the preceding ride. Welcome home, where your fellow road user’s caring is measured in milli-shits. What a contrast to being stranded on the edge of the road with a sidewall slash in the R1200GS Adventures tire, and every passing vehicle stopping to offer help and ensure all was well.
Last time I was stranded roadside in this city not one person stopped, even as I pushed the bike 4 blocks to the nearest gas station. That simply doesn’t happen in the north. How far have we come from our country mouse cousins?
It’s a comparison and contrast. We pull over, stopping to fetch apartment keys from our house sitter’s office in the downtown core. The collective masses are spilling out of the office towers, hoofing it for home. Standing by the BMWs I’m still grinning, washed with the warm glow of where we’ve been, what we’ve accomplished and the dust of many roads.
In what has become standard operations over 30 days of northern riding I’m smiling at passers by… grim faced, flat lipped, jerky-robot-stepped passers by. I’ve become accustomed to places where people smile back. I feel a pang of regret for our city, Vancouver, when did we become so cold? When did a smile become something avert your eyes from?
But then, just occasionally, there is a flick of the eyes that plays over the bikes, the remains of the mud, and the tatty gear. A glimmer of recognition, the hint of a question, and out of thousands walking by one person out of the hubbub stops to ask, “Where have you been? Where are you going?” in a modern paraphrase of The Pros & Cons of Hitchhiking lyrics.
I can’t help but enthuse, and in every retelling the trip becomes more polished, the rough bits lessened, the adversities smoothed, the peaks higher, the lows a little flatter.
“Man, I wish I could do a trip like that. That’s like the trip of a lifetime.”
“You could. Everyone should. Bike, car, it doesn’t matter.”
It sounds lame, but I want to say so much more. I want to tell mister power-tie-and-black-office-slacks about grizzlies the size of Volkswagens rolling across the tundra, about the oil painting scenery that would make Monet bite his lower lip and hold back a tear, about the roads where everyone waves, mud up to the axels, about wanting to walk away from my co-riders, about them being the best people in the world, about mad Italians, kind strangers, and sights my vocabulary struggles to describe.
I want to recite the Train Spotting monologue, you know the one, but with one subtle change ditching the drugs for another grander addiction, “Choose life, choose a job, choose a career, choose a family, choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance…
Choose your future, choose life. But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life, I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons! Who needs reasons when you’ve got…” adventure. And still that is not affirmative enough.
Adventure; it can be hard, it can be dangerous, it isn’t always pleasant, it will tear you apart, it will build you up, it will teach you self reliance, it will teach you to rely on friends, it will make strangers friends, it will reevaluate relationships, it will teach you the value of solitude and to value company, it gives you a glimpse of the world’s soul and if you’re lucky your own. It will be as addictive as any drug and more rewarding than a million-dollar lottery win.
We ride down Davie St. almost home, but for me home has changed. It feels more like a waypoint, more just a place to check-in refuel and recover, a place to plan… That night we celebrate the ride with a glass of Malbec. It’s a nice wine, smooth and round, from Argentina. Argentina, that has a really nice sound to it. Mind you the Darien Gap is in the way…
– photos Kevin Miklossy and Glenn Simmons
We’d like to thank the following:
- BMW Motorrad Canada
- KTM Canada
- Northwest Territories Industry Tourism and Investment
- Travel Yukon
- Norm Wells – who saved our bacon with a last minute F800GS
- Andy White – who kept our KTM 990 Adventure on track
- Blain Shuttler – who opened the door to KTM and generously allowed us the use of his demo bike.
- Peter, Sue, Philip, Elli, and Arlo Clarkson – who opened their doors in hotels across the north to find us waiting, and then opened their home in Inuvik to us “stalkers” for good measure. Sorry for crashing your birthday Arlo!
- Carston, the iron Dane for showing up us guys with motors.
- Judith Venaas and Jim Kemshed thanks for the support and advice.
- Donna-Lynn Baskin the warmest and most helpful hotel concierge I’ve met this side of New York, and real life saver.
- Daring Darin our pilot to Tuk and our unflappable tour guide Elaine.
- Joanne from BMW Roadside Assistance… “Sir, just where exactly is the bike?”
- Jeff from Norcan Towing.
- The man on the road who offered Kevin pizza and coffee.
- And so many others who made this trip and amazing adventure.
And last but not least, my traveling companions on this trip, Kevin Miklossy and Glenn Simmons whose stunning photography have enriched this series so greatly.