Leaving Alberta

August 23, 2012
Leaving the farm at Ryley, Alberta.

First Tank of gas on the Round The World Trip! - Left home at about 2:30pm

Motorcycle Odometer: 10184.3 KM

Well, lets see, it seems like starting at the beginning is so... linear!

If you've read the blog so far, wow, thanks! So by now you know the beginning could be when I left home, or when I bought the bike, or when I decided to buy the bike... anyway!

I had set a deadline of August 15th to leave. But I still had to finish editing the last 2 weddings I shot. And at the same time I was also getting the bike ready, and other odds and ends, and probably a bit of procrastination too.

Finally, the 22nd I had the bike mostly loaded (That's my Dad's birthday. I think I even tried to call, sorry Dad I'm bad with that kind of thing!)... Anyway on the 22nd I had the bike mostly loaded. It was way too heavy. But I figured I'd go with it, and then make choices of what to get rid of as I went. And most of the food was in cans, so as I'd eat that would get better, and then I'd distribute the load better.

But then it was pretty late in the day, so I decided to just wait and leave in the morning of the 23rd. Morning of the 23rd the bike tipped over, and almost landed on me. I was bent over adjusting the rear shock, trying to get it to stop bottoming out so bad. And the next thing I know, the bike is trying to squash me. In fact, the day before, Spotty the old farm dog had decided to sleep in the shade of the bike, and I had to keep chasing her away, because she was likely to die if the bike tipped over.

Ok, the bike empty weighs around 400 pounds. But its not so bad to pick up, you just need to know how. I'd seen this done on bigger bikes a few times, so I wasn't too worried. 2 or 3 tries later, I started unloading the bike. Not till I had it about 3/4 unloaded was I able to get it back up right. Hmmm well, lets see. I'm a 97 pound weakling, in a 200 pound body. I got arms the size of a little girl (the geeky girl, not the one who plays sports, she'd kick my butt) I've been a computer tech, a photographer, an audio tech. None of which really are big muscle head jobs.

The thought flutters across my brain, like a buzzard, that if I should drop the bike in traffic, or on a trail somewhere, or in mud, there is no way I'd ever get it up again.

So the only thing left to do was to unload EVERYTHING again. Well, it was already unloaded, so that part was pretty easy actually! Next was to change my assumptions about what I'd need. I eliminated a lot of the redundancy that the military pounded into my head. I had picked this model of bike for its unusual simplicity and reliability.

I cut my tool pile in half. I took out a weeks worth of clothes. I kept all the chili and cans of tuna. I took out a whole camera system (camera, batteries, chargers). On the camera list, I decided that having the really good camera, on its own, and then a less tough camera, as the back up didn't make sense. I mean, if the super duper camera dies, odds are the other camera died 3000 miles ago right?

Note to self here, next time I think I'll go with a smaller camera. Although I do like my EOS-1 :) Still, I did take a lot of shots so far with the little Powershot I'd keep in my jacket pocket, just because I could get to it faster. (this wrote 2 weeks after leaving the farm.)

Finally, I got the bike down to a point where I felt I would probably not die trying to ride it. What was very strange though, was that I could ride it pretty easily, but it was impossible to park it with out tipping over.

So, when I got to the point of just try and hope for the best, I put on all the gear, and rolled out of the yard.

The highway is at the end of about 5 miles of not so great gravel road. By the time I got to the highway, the GPS was rattled loose, the Contour video camera on the handlebars had nearly fallen off, and my windshield was hanging by one screw. Wow.

And no matter how I tried, I could not balance the bike, and finding a screw driver was not something I wanted to attempt 6 miles from home. So it was about 20 km to the first gas station at Tofield, Alberta, where I filled up the tank for the first time on the trip. I was honestly very afraid to walk in to pay for the gas, because I had about a 60% chance of the bike tipping over. It was really that bad, but some how no butterfly landed on it to knock it over!

After successfully fueling the bike, I rode toward Edmonton, turning north on Highway 21 toward Fort Saskatchewan, into the worst, absolute worst storm I think I've ever been in. It was early afternoon, the clouds were so black it felt like midnight. Then the hail hit, and even the cars pulled over to the side of the road for a while. Wind whipping, rain driving, and there's me, on a bike that can't be parked. With a full load of stuff that I have no idea if its even going to stay on the bike. Thus begins my world adventure!

About half way to Slave Lake the rain finally stopped. I pulled to the side of the road and wrung the water out of my gloves. All my gear is waterproof, except my gloves. I'm wearing some winter weight work gloves, for some reason I didn't want to go buy motorcycle gloves. They're blue, so they don't even match the bike! But they're mostly warm enough, so I figure I'll wear them till they wear out at least.

Twice I tried to get off the bike, and both times I realized I couldn't let go without it tipping over, so I just kept a hand on it. Pumping gas wasn't so bad, I can reach the gas pump, and using a credit card I can pay at the pump. But taking a leak, off the highway, turned out to be a lot more challenging. Especially since I was wearing jeans, and then the riding pants over the jeans. Very tricky.

When I was getting gas at Slave Lake, I found nearly the perfect angle to park on, and the bike almost stayed up by itself. I was able to get a can of chili out of the food bag, and eat it, by leaning casually on the bike. No one really noticed my predicament.

Then these two guys came up and were asking questions about the bike, they seemed to know what a KLR-650 was all about. Turns out, they had looked at this exact motorcycle, probably just after I put my deposit down on it back in January! Now this is three and a half hours away from where I bought the bike, so figure the odds of them seeing me there! They were doing house construction, maybe after all the houses burned in that big wild fire last year, I never asked. Anyway, eventually they notice I'm holding the bike up, and the one guy walks back to his truck, and brings back a short length of 2x2 wood, and a cordless wood saw. He holds the wood up to the bike, eyeballs the length, makes a quick cut, and presto! I now have a calibrated adventure motorcycle parking stick. Problem solved, now I can take a leak on the side of the road with not a fear of the bike tipping over. Life has gotten much better since now!

After getting gas in Slave Lake, I drove around the town a bit, just to say I looked. I didn't notice any areas that were burned though, so either I was in the wrong area, or they were really good about rebuilding. Not sure.

It was getting late, since I started from the farm in afternoon, so I was getting tired and looking for a place to camp. One part of my trip was that I'd not made any real plans of where I'd stop or how far I'd get in a day, because I never knew what time I'd start! And since I had the GPS, I hadn't really spent a lot of time reading maps and making plans. Honestly, I've looked more at South America in the last 6 months than at Alberta, BC, Yukon, NWT and Alaska.

So I'm driving along the highway, just looking for a quiet road I could probably camp on, when WHAM!

A bird hit me right in the helmet.

I've been riding motorcycles a few years now, with some gaps now and then, I guess most of my life, and I've never hit a bird with a motorcycle. I felt kind of bad for the bird, thinking of course that I'd killed it. When I did finally stop, I couldn't see any feathers or bird parts so at least I didn't smash it to bits, but I'm sure it wasn't a good day for the bird either!

Finally I saw a road that didn't seem to go anywhere, looked kind of almost abandoned, perfect for camping! By now its getting dark, and of course I have my dark visor on the helmet. So I'm riding slow, visor up, along this kind of muddy gravel road. Past the radio tower, down the hill, up the other side... finally it dead ends. I kind of wanted to be sure there wasn't a house or something on the road, no sense getting ran over right? So I scout things a bit, and put the tent up, and make camp.

One of the things I had decided not to bring along was my camp stove. The stove itself isn't that heavy, but the fuel canisters take a lot of space. So while I'm setting up the tent, I find 2 more of the fuel canistors. Dang, I'd really thought I took all those out of the bike when I was sorting!

I slept pretty good the first night, being tired and all, but it was a bit freaky sleeping out in the woods. Now that I'm writing this, two weeks later, I haven't been "wild camping" since, I've always stopped at camp sites. I think I've lived in apartments too much, I miss the noise of other people. And I guess I feel a bit safer in a camp site. Maybe when I get further south I'll go back to wild camping again.

Next morning I woke up feeling pretty good, and got packed up. The bike didn't tip over, so now I'm feeling pretty good about things!

From the Slave Lake, AB area, I wound my way past High Prairie, and ate lunch at Winagami Lake Provincial Park. That was pretty cool, because I remember going there sometimes as a kid. Looked around a bit, and took some pictures. Nothing really to see, so after using the restroom I was on the road again. I also rode past Watino, where the Smokey River crosses the highway. We used to camp there sometimes too, but from what I could see, the campground has been closed and it was kind of overgrown. I had actually thought about riding to that for the first night, so glad I stopped sooner!

A few miles down the road I saw the sign for Kadesa (or Cadesa, I can't remember which way it's spelled now...) and remembered that was the road the forestry tower was on. I couldn't remember exactly where that would take me, but knew it was the back way into the area I grew up, so took a chance.

The gravel road was kind of torn up, but not too bad, and after a few miles, I started seeing land marks I recognized. Keep in mind its been 30 years since I lived there, ok? First I saw the Smokey River church, and across the road was where my Great Grandmother used to live. My Dad used to farm that field. The church roof has fallen in and the walls were buckled out, they haven't used it as a church for years now. I visited the cemetary, and took some pictures of graves I recognized.

I then decided to take a look at the river, so ride my bike down past the church along a kind of knarley twisty 2 track road that was a bit wet and kind of rutted. Normally that would be a great road for my motorcycle, but not with all the camping stuff hanging off it! At the bottom of the trail was a freshly cut field with windrows of Canola grain, so I stopped there and turned around. The bike made it up the hill no problem, so its good to know I can do a little trail riding if I want to. This is the kind of reason I didn't want to pull a trailer behind!

After the Smokey church, it was a fun ride down memory lane, up past the old Fritz place, past Frapes dairy farm, past Kants place, (not the short cut!) and pretty soon I was at the farm site of where I grew up.

I'm writing this post about 2 weeks after the fact, but its still kind of emotional to think about that. I didn't expect it to affect me that way, but just walking around and looking at the place, I got chocked up. The house is gone, there is a dirt mound where it was, so they most likely just pushed it into the basement and burried it. There was one of the concrete walls still visible from the basement though.

The trees we planted are now huge. We'd planted some seedling spruce trees along the driveway, and some willow along the road for a wind block. They say you plant trees for the next generation, and I guess that's true. 30 years later, now they're real trees, and no one lives there anymore.

The shop we helped my Dad build is still there, I looked through the windows and some of the shelves and the work bench is still there. Its in pretty good shape still.

After probably half an hour at the farm, and taking a lot of pictures, I drove to Peoria, and stopped in front of the old school for a quick picture, then drove to the new church. I don't know if any one still goes there anymore, but it seemed in good shape. The cemetary at that church has been recently mowed, so I guess someone is looking after it.

A short drive later, and I was in Wanham. I had a lot of miles I wanted to make still, and the day had turned cold, so I just drove down main street, and turned around. Just as I was turning around, I realized I was on the street that should have had the grain elevators, which are now gone. That's pretty strange to have something as big a landmark as grain elevators not to be there anymore. I knew I was on the right road because the rail road tracks were there still.

That was about the time my GPS took a dump on me. Bit of a scare for me, not that I'd be lost in Wanham, but because I'd not really studied my route and didn't bring any maps! Took a while of messing around with it, but it seemed fine after that. I did lose the tracks for the day though. The GPS records exactly where you've been, down to a few meters and every second or something like that. Makes a nice record to look at later. Since I'm writing this entry a couple weeks after it happened, I can say that is most likely related to the power cable I was using, which later failed.

The GPS and the Contour camera are both powered through a normal USB cable, which are pretty small ends. They probably work good in normal life, but can be pretty fragile on a motorcycle in the rain!

Down Highway 49 a few more miles to Rycroft, for another gas stop, then it was north to the Peace River. This was kind of out of the way for me, but I wanted a good picture of the bridge. Its a big suspension bridge, and I hear it was quite a battle to get the funding when they built it. Anyway, its a nice bridge!

Up the hill and then turn toward Fort St. John and the Alaska Highway. My second camp was about 20 km short of the Alberta / BC border, on Highway 64.

And that's about the end of Alberta. The next post will start in BC. Or British Columbia if you're not into abbreviations. Why is abbreviations such a long word anyway?

Stay Tuned, more soon!

Camping by the river. Life is good!


By Carlin Comm posted on 2012-09-5