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.
12 Comments Add yours
Well said. The same Scot had a much better quote : “it’s about the motorcycle, always has been always will be”.
In part I agree, but doing this “series” represented a detour for me. The trip was as much about the travel and adventure as it was about the bikes. I just finished re-reading these posts as I work on the book, and there’s a balance to be struck. I will always come back to the bike though, it’s my best and most preferred way to travel – even if I don’t always feel that way at the time.
Bravo!!! Wonderful adventure!!! I grew up in the Far North (Russian Far North, not Canadian but it doesn’t really matter) and I admire the severe magnificence of northern nature so far!!!
Isn’t it weird that you’ll be riding through the worst crap mother nature has to offer and yet you’ll be grinning inside your helmet. There’s no explanation to it, you’re just giddy because you’re on your bike.
I just spent the morning reading all your post, it’s very well written. I found the contrast of personalities between “us” and the “Italians” to be true and familiar. I’ve found myself asking the question why do we not seem to be enjoying ourselves as much as “they” are on several trips. I imagine hours of discussion could offer up an explanation but I think in as few words as possible north americans aren’t as comfortable in their own skin as the rest of the world. We tend to take ourselves too seriously and closely guard our carefully constructed images and status, however superficial. Inside we may be having a gas of a time but we’ll never truly show it.
Thanks Electric, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this series. There is something truly special about the North. No matter how much I protest about mud and cold, I know I’ll be back… Russian Far North, interesting!
You’re right. There was one point just north of the arctic circle where I was riding visor open because of the fog, eyes stinging because of the mud and spray, and still caught myself singing in the helmet. Part of that was giddy at being on the bike, the other was just giddy to be doing the ride, and yet more was at staying upright after the last near wipe-out.
I have a dakar racer friend who signs his e-mails, “Fun! Fun!” I didn’t really get that till this trip.
Yes, I lived in Dudinka, Taymyr Peninsula for 13 years… Lack of the roads (there is the only one “highway”, about 100 km from Dudinka to Norilsk) and short season (June-August) didn’t bother my former classmates to buy motorcycles (definitely, not KTM or BMW GS :))). But it’s quite difficult to get there even for intrepid adventurers, only by air or by The Northern Sea Route.
Wow! Sounds truly isolated. Dudinka, Taymyr Peninsula – I’m off to google maps to find it! Must have been a very different sort of place to grow up?
Great series and love your writing. My partner and I talked with you guys at Bell 2 on your way back down (we were on the KLR’s). Living up here, we seem to meet two types riders doing northern BC/Yukon etc..those going from A to B as fast as possible, and those who live every moment no matter where they are at the time. Thanks for taking time to chat!
Was great to see the area and chat with you two.
One of the things we want to do in future series is to get to know the areas a bit better. I wish we’d allotted more time to see some of the riding in your neck of the woods. Next time we’ll have to pick your brains on routes in the area!
You are the man! You have a follower from Argentina!.. Any time you travel for this region please let me know. It will be a pleasure ride with you!.
Thanks you, but I had a lot of help from both Kevin and Glenn on this trip. Argentina you say? Give me a couple years!