Sketchbook Detour

***Temporary Sketchbook Detour***

I began a solo motorcycle trip from Los Angeles on Friday, June 22, 2012, heading north, as far as I'm having fun. I'll be updating my sketchbook with posts from the road, and not necessarily artwork. I'm too beat by the time I'm in camp or in a cheap motel.

I'll continue with the sketches when I get back in a few weeks.

Yeah right! It's been months! I'll get back to it as I finish up some classes and have more time again. Maybe in another month, like in February, 2013.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Not-a-Sketch: Reno to Santa Monica, Home

Again, I was riding through some jaw-dropping scenery, on some incredibly fun roads.

As soon as I had crossed the Sierras, and hit Calaveras Big Trees State Park, I began to hit major traffic.  Road work had roads blocked up for miles, and then I was getting into more populated areas, and more people equates to more traffic.  My ride was becoming less magical by the moment.

But then I happened upon this beauty at a truck-stop oasis.  The place was so weird that I had to go check it out.  I'm also a ghost magnet and love that stuff, so I figured I'd get harassed by some spirit sometime over my night here, something that I'd been expecting sometime on the trip, but it didn't happen.

Yeah.  Really odd there.  There were hundreds of rooms there, but only a handful of guests.  I think the place had a couple other businesses being run out of there.  A trucking operation, for one.

There was a copy of Pieta by Michelangelo outside of my room, as well as sculptures of JFK and Eisenhower in the courtyard.  The rest of the place really was pretty, with water fountains, gardens, and a beautiful tower, but who wants to see that?

This was the last day of my trip.  It would be a month from LA to the Arctic Circle, and back.  The plan for the day was to ride through Big Sur, then leisurely make my way south, and maybe get a room in San Luis Obisbo, but I was just ready to be done.  As I got closer to home, the anxiety increased. 

I either wanted to be out having an adventure for another month, or be at home with loved ones.  I let everything irritate me.  The crowds were annoying. The traffic was terrible.  I pushed hard and made it home that night.  The whole day wasn't as miserable as I'm making it out to be, but I was letting everything get to me.  On another note, I saw elephant seals and lots of gorgeous scenery in Big Sur, along the Ventura coast, and through Malibu, and right home, into Santa Monica.

Oops.  I did push it a bit this last day.  There was evidence of some minor oil seepage at the valve cover and near the base gasket, a short time into my trip, but on the last day, it let loose.  

It looks like this calls for a top end rebuild, and as long as I have the motor torn apart, maybe I'll upgrade some parts.  Maybe upgrade the piston, and cam...  And figure out where I'm headed next.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Not-a-Sketch: Cochrane to Reno

I spent three nights in Cochrane, Alberta.  It turned out that the Suzuki Dealer was a car dealership and couldn't get me the $11 part (See yesterday for context).  Neither could anybody else in Alberta, so the part had to be sent on a Greyhound bus from Vernon, British Columbia, from Four Seasons Motorsports.  Then, the day when it was supposed to arrive at the motel, I found out that I needed to go pick it up, 50 miles away, in Calgary.  I had three hours to get there, before they closed for the weekend.  After looking into all of my options, I booked a rental car online, discovered that I left my credit card at a restaurant, and called the rental place to come pick me up, while retrieving my lost credit card.  The guy at the rental place told me that the online booking was broken and he didn't have any cars.  I told him that he was my only hope, and explained my predicament.  The guy, no, the total hero, said he'd figure it out and came and picked me up in a dirty, abused little car.  I raced to Calgary in said car, where Greyhound had temporarily lost my package, then after a few "this can't be happening" minutes, I left with the crankshaft seal safe in my pocket.  I dropped off the car at the rental agency, walked a couple miles back to motel, and had the trip-stopping part installed within 10 minutes of arriving.  Whoopee!  I was done with the cursed luck, and back on the road.

I made my way down through Alberta, Britsh Columbia, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, and into Nevada, to stay in Reno.  I had plenty of adventure, bad weather, great weather, and most notably, some unexpected landscapes and incredible colors.

Eastern Washington and Oregon had beautiful rolling hills of farmland, as well as deserts, and forested mountain passes.

The layers of colors made the landscapes I was riding through, strikingly beautiful, and a treat to see, even if they were devoid of twisty roads.

I was making good time, so instead of staying in California, in a small town with unknown food, lodging, and entertainment options, I could ride another 40 miles to assured gambling, food, and other stuff to do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Not-a-Sketch: Intense Motorcycling - Canmore to Cochrane

After leaving Canmore, I got into the most intense riding I've ever had on regular roads in a typical first-world environment.  I'd have stopped to take photos of all of this, except that oil was leaking from my bike whether I was stopped or moving, and I needed to focus on getting to my destination.

About 50 miles down the road from Canmore, I had just passed a gas station, and have gotten in the habit of checking my trip odometer to note the mile (or kilometer) of the last station, since I've been on so many deserted stretches sin petrol.  A few miles beyond the station, my Spidey-sense started going off and I looked down at my left boot, covered with oil.  "Oh fuck.  I may be done with my trip."  I took a quick look at the motor and decided to ride back to the station to figure out what to do.  

With some parking lot wrenching, I discovered that a plastic bag wrapped up on my chain and got pulled up and twisted around my front sprocket.  It melted into and tore out part of a seal, spraying oil all over my leg and left side of my bike.  Cool.  I get to be the the only one in history to have this happen with a plastic bag.  Totally unique experience.  Wonderful.

The station owner, who became involved in assisting me with some rags and mineral spirits to clean my bike, found a Suzuki dealer in Cochrane, about 50 miles away, so that sounded like a good target for me.  I happened to have a quart of Rotella-T motor oil (relevant because motorcycles can't use just any oil) with me, so I make sure I've got oil in the crank case, cross my fingers, and head off.

The ride was stressful, intense, and scary.  First, my focus was solely on staying safe, and keeping oil in the bike.  I had to ride at a reasonable pace on the shoulder, periodically pulling over to check my oil.  Next, I realize that I'm riding towards the biggest thunderhead that I've ever seen, with a giant mushroom cloud developing near the top.   This cloud eventually spawned the beginning of two tornadoes.  I've never seen this before, except on TV--A small, but definite cone, and a tube rolling at a 45 degree angle near the cloud.  Wow.  Cool.  I'd figure out what to do as I went if this developed into something worse.

Next, with the cloud at my back, I hit the highway and 110 kph speeds, too fast for me to even feel comfortable on the shoulder, so at the next exit, I pulled off to find my GPS rerouting me to Cochrane on dirt roads.  With it getting dark rapidly, in the shade of the giant clouds, and with oil spewing from my bike, I really didn't want to, but turned down the dirt road towards my destination.

Then, with a hoot of joy, I made  it back onto a paved road.  And soon I began to feel something like giant insects hit my visor and jacket.  Nope.  It was marble-sized hail.  Eventually it was accompanied by thunder, lightening, and heavy rain.  Enough that I pulled into a closed gas station to wait it out and call Crystal, who found me the last remaining room in town, or anywhere within 50 miles.  The Calgary Stampede was going on this week, and had everything booked and at high prices, so I got a $40 room for a mere $110.  What a steal.

After letting the storm pass, I hopped on the bike and headed off for the last miles to Cochrane.  I should have waited longer, because I immediately caught up to the storm, and it had increased so much that I wanted to pull over, but couldn't because I couldn't see.  The rain was so hard on my visor that I couldn't see anything of the road but the yellow stripes in the center.  I had to rely on my GPS telling me generally where the road was going, and I got flashes of the road with the lightning strikes, so along with the yellow stripe, I was able to stay on the road.  

The lightening was terrifyingly intense, so much that the local Calgary news was talking about it days later.  Here's video of the lightning from the storm I was in, shot in Calgary.  This was what I was riding through on the top of the hills above Calgary.  I was shaking by the time I pulled into the motel.  But I did make it.  Whew!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Not-a-Sketch: Dawson Creek to Canmore

My GPS pointed me from Dawson Creek across Jasper, west to Tete Jaune Cache, then I'd be on my planned route down through BC towards the border.

But when I have to stop while a herd of caribou are crossing the road, it's easy to change plans and do the Icefields Parkway again. 

By-the-way, I am planning on switching camera setups so I have a readily-accessible waterproof camera hanging outside of my gear so I can take pics of herds of wildlife instead of the single dude hanging out on the side of the road.

With a little good humor, courtesy, and I'm guessing, my dashing appearance in a road-worn adventure-touring gear, the girl at the front desk upgraded my room to a suite.  Pretty sweet suite!  But I was finally somewhere with abundant food options, so I walked down the street and was enticed to grab a cheap burger and beer in a little pub, complete with an American couple arguing with a group of locals about gun control.  Odd. This is the second time I've heard my fellow Americans arguing with Canadians about the merits of gun ownership.  I don't see us as a gun-crazed nation, but I'm afraid we're giving that impression to our northern neighbors.  

The next morning I began what I thought would be an inspiring day.  I even left early in the morning so I could catch more wildlife and take in a full day of beauty.  I was even able to grab my camera before this guy got away.

Pretty scenic around here.  Those are glaciers over there, by-the-way.

This was the first of three flat tire issues I had today.  Not a bad spot for a breakdown.  The next spot, the gas station at Lake Louise, was less nice, but I knew what I was doing and could get a drink and wash my hands afterwards.  I also talked to a a few other motorcyclists about where the nearest motorcycle shops could be found, and was pointed towards Canmore. I made it about 30k down the proper freeway before I felt something a bit amiss, and there was a turnoff to a hiking trailhead.  As soon as I turned into the parking lot, my rear wheel lost it.  I fishtailed my way across the lot to a shady spot and figured out my options.  We'll just say that I found myself in Canmore with my bike getting a new tire at Summit Motorsports.  Quick plug: They focus on adventure-touring bikes and can have you fixed-up or set-up with whatever you need quickly, and without being expensive--A good motorcycle shop to put in your notes.

Canmore is a picturesque ski town with gorgeous scenery and a cool walkway that runs pretty much in the center of town. 

I had checked out of my super-expensive room and explored town while waiting for my bike to be finished.  Canmore would be a neat place to spend some time if I weren't so anxious to get back on the road.  I was ready to get moving after having the day of hiccups, the day before.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Not-a-Sketch: Dawson City towards Jasper

South of Dawson City, I ran into the deepest loose gravel of the trip. Everywhere there was road work going on, and signs warning of "loose gravel."  The problem with the signs were that you never could tell what they meant.  Was it gravel on the side of the road, at the shoulder, the potential for gravel, some dusting of gravel near a single pothole, or deep gravel like a truck runaway ramp?  Should I hit the brakes hard, because if I don't I'll lose control and slide into a ditch, or should I continue at speed, and make sure I'm in the tracks of other vehicles?  At a gas station a while further south, a few guys rolled in on scraped up bikes with broken mirrors.  They limped into the store and bitched about gravel while sipping coffee.  Nope.  I'm not alone (although I managed to stay upright).

As the beginning of my trip was all about moving from fuel station to fuel station, my second part also included lodging.  I was trying to save a little money by camping, but I would usually ride until late and camping would be more of a chore without any relaxation, so my plan was to be set up in a campsite early enough to be able to lounge around for a while before getting a good night's sleep.

Out of Whitehorse, I followed a campground sign that sent me out about twenty miles to a lodge that no longer had camping spots, but the guy directed me down the road to an area that I could free camp in, because "Nobody goes down there anymore."  So I scouted around and found a wonderful spot, but with Blair Witch elements.

Um...  So at this wonderful spot, there were a couple strange things left around the camp that I can't remember, but the organized junk on the stump was too much for me.  I mean, who would pick up this assortment of trash and take the time to lay it out on a stump?  It's either someone who is a little unbalanced, or a Virgo.  Either way, I decided it was best to move on.

So I continued on through two "campground full," spots, a "campground closed due to bear habitation," and finally (as it was getting cold and late (10:30pm)), a "if we're closed, find a site, and pay in the morning," at a gas station campground.  The next morning, I continued on, through more of the hum-drum magnificent landscape, avoiding running into bears, moose, bison, etc., and made it to Laird Hot Springs and Mosquito Festival.

I didn't know that this was past the trees from my tent.  Maybe that's why there were so many mosquitoes that I had to get packed up to leave with my helmet on (with two mosquitoes inside my closed visor).  I don't have kids, but I decided that if I did, the only time that they'd be allowed to use the "F-word" would be when discussing mosquitoes, then it would be appropriate.

Yep. I rode plenty of curvy roads through pretty scenery, with lot's of animals, meeting cool people.  Yep.  Diverse landscapes, all stunning.  Yep.  The monotony of such epic riding...  I'd be willing to do more of this.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Not-a-Sketch: Arctic to Santa Monica

After hitting the Arctic, I left Fairbanks, excited about changing directions.  I was now heading towards dryness, warmth, and mainly, more new places.  First I needed to get back down the Alcan to Tok, then I'd head up over the Top-of-the-World highway to Dawson.

In Delta Junction, I happened upon some Rotella-T motor oil in the gas station, so I figure I should change my oil while it's available.  See...  Motorcycles (in general) use special motor-oil free of detergents and additives because they share that oil with their transmission and it won't work correctly without the right oil.  So I appeared very manly, changing my oil in the dirt behind the gas station.  

As soon as I turned north from Tok, the road and landscape got fun!  I have no idea on how to explain the landscape I saw, but it went on as far as the eye could see, and it was beautiful.  And the roads got narrow and a bit more twisty.

I stopped in Chicken, a settlement of four or five buildings (that I could see), then headed up the loose dirt and gravel road over towards Dawson.  I was completely alone for hours, and started to realize that I might miss the operational hours of the Canadian border.  On smaller roads, border crossings aren't open 24-hours.  One on top of a deserted dirt road definitely wasn't going to be open very late.  Luckily, I made it with fifteen minutes to spare.

I made it to Dawson City, a mostly-preserved historic mining town.  I had arrived on a Friday night, and while I paid for my room and got my key, three belligerent girls, all "young-adults," were arguing about all sorts of things and just wanted to "get drunk."  That was a perfect first impression of Dawson.  After going out and exploring, hitting the gambling hall, deciding it was too crowded (I had been alone in the vastness of Alaska and the Yukon, and my helmet for weeks), and while sipping some tequila, I realized that this town felt like Tijuana, Mexico (where I, too, acted as a belligerent "young-adult.").  Dawson had a timelessness to it.  People had been coming to town to party for a century.  Of course they weren't fall-down drunk, playing volleyball in the middle of the street after midnight until the sheriff came and told them that they had to stop or they'd be cited.  Probably not volleyball anyway...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not-a-Sketch: LA to Arctic

From Rancheria, Yukon, I rode the wide Alcan (Alaska-Canada Highway) up to Fairbanks.  After the tight and diverse Cassier highway, up through Western British Columbia, the Alcan seemed straight and wide.  Sure, there were plenty of animals to be seen in the vegatation on the banks along the road, but it didn't have the same closed-in wilderness feel of the Cassier.  It had more of a vastness appropriate for speedy cruising with the occasional destroy your suspension/rims/confidence patches of missing road/gravel/holes(?).

An exception was a very exciting stretch for the last hundred or so miles before the Alaskan border.  It was not the ideal motorcycling environment.  It was rainy, cold, and windy.  And then with the addition of loose dirt and gravel, and spray from passing vehicles, my semi-fogged visor was coated with a thin muddy film, until the rain would wash it off, for a few seconds, until another truck would pass from the other direction, respraying mud onto my visor. Not ideal or really that fun.

With magnificent use of money, time, and determination, I rode my big dirt-bike to Alaska!  The getting there wasn't so terribly difficult.  It was more about the remaining hyper-focused in all conditions to keep myself from screwing up and harming me, my bike, or the future of my trip. 

I continued up the Alcan, through various landscapes and a lot of the same, until I got to Fairbanks.  I grabbed a place to throw up my tent in a RV Park, and realized that my rear wheel-bearing needed to be replaced.  If a bearing goes, the wheel can lock up with fatal results, so the next day was spent hanging around the Thunder Road motorcycle shop while they found and replaced the part.  After spending some ridiculous money, I grabbed a ridiculously priced motel room and planned my final push north.

Up past Fairbanks, the only road that goes up into the arctic is the Dalton, or "Haul Road," used primarily by oil workers and the odd tourist (I am.).  The road consists of mostly of a combination of fine powdery dirt, calcium chloride, and gravel.  When it's dry, clouds of visibility impairing dust hang in the air behind passing vehicles.  When it's wet, it turns into slick-as-snot (well, slicker, actually) mud.  Seeing the water-sprayer truck pass by meant that I was going to have to work to keep from sliding off the road.  

It really didn't help that I was in sore need of new tires a few hundred miles shy of Fairbanks and they couldn't find a suitable  replacement at the motorcycle shop I was at the previous day.

As I followed the Haul Road up along the oil pipe line, the landscape became an endless, rolling tundra.

At the Arctic Circle, there were some volunteers working for the BLM that were there to welcome me and the other visitors to the marker.  A lady ushered me up to the sign and took a handful of photos for me.  She gave me a certificate and recorded some statistical information about where I was coming from, where I was headed, how many days I would be in Alaska, etc.

I was thrilled to have ridden all the way up from Santa Monica, CA, up to the Arctic, but also had to consider that I still needed to get home.  I recalled something about many of the fatalities on Everest being of people that had successfully summited the mountain, but got in trouble on the way back down the mountain.

I turned around shortly after the marker and headed back to Fairbanks, where I would be traumatized by the filth of my sink-washed laundry.

Now, with semi-clean clothes, and my Arctic Circle certificate, I'd get to start the second part of my adventure, heading back towards home.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Not-a-Sketch-LA to Arctic

I left Stewart, BC, early enough to encounter all sorts of animals on the way up the Cassier highway.  I got to see a couple of moose (mooses, moosi, meece?) and when I pulled off of the road onto a logging road to add liners to my gloves and relieve myself, there were no bears.  While doing my thing, standing at the edge of the clearing, a bear walked out of the bushes, staring and sniffing at me. I finish up and walk back to the bike.  At this point, the bear stands up to get a better view of me, then begins moving towards me.  I threw the gloves on the bike seat and jump on my gloves and away I went, with the bear in unenthusiastic pursuit.

Riding up the Cassier, I passed through different landscapes, weather, and road conditions.  All of it was pretty and required my full attention to avoid hazards like potholes, gravel patches, washouts, and lots of animals.  As I got closer to the Yukon, permanent-looking tent settlements began showing up along the road.  These were "Mushroom Buyers," buying up mushrooms to send to Japan for a tremendous profit.  A woman explained that some of these French-Canadian kids would make $300 a day crawling through the burnt up forest, looking for a certain type of mushroom that grows in this specific environment.  Cool stuff.  Maybe I should have stopped to earn some money.

After the Cassier, I arrived at the Alcan highway, the main road from Canada into Alaska.  At this point, it's wide and straight with one lane going in each direction.  It's a long, uneventful road except for the bears that I saw roaming the vegetation, the looming clouds, and an unfortunate accident resulting in a Harley in a ditch.  Sending positive vibes your way, Harley guy.

I not really very reluctantly give up on camping for the night, and grabbed a room in Rancheria.  This was the view from my bed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Not-a-Sketch-LA to Arctic

After spending the day with the icefields and not being devoured by the bears in the campground that night, I headed out to grab some breakfast and more importantly, some coffee.

What's the deal with places not quite getting how to make food.  I mean, eggs are easy, right?  Scrambled eggs.  Pretty straight forward.  I've had them twice and they come out like over-cooked omelets without any stuff inside.

I've had some pretty uninspiring food so far, and it's been expensive, from nice restaurants.  And this is coming from someone who has already, several times so far had gas station food as his only meal for the day.

While moving along from gas station to rest stop to gas station, for fueling and having a drink, and stretching the legs, I began running into other people riding up towards Alaska.  We'd all be moving from station to station and campground or motel and would always talk over road conditions or lodging ideas.  I played leapfrog with a couple of riders from Jasper, Alberta, to Houston, BC, up the Cassier highway, to Stewart and Hyder, Alaska.  

The Cassier was a blast to ride up and will take you to a little outpost of an Alaskan town.  I rode right into the United States without any security check or anything.  A terrorist could easily go over and well... They couldn't do any more damage to the roads.  The place had an odd, third-world feel to it.  I rode out to see if I could find this bear watching area, but lost interest while having to maneuver around some giant, quick moving road building equipment.  To cross back into Canada, I had to break out the passport and tell the lady that I didn't have any weapons, etc.

I found a neat little spot in a campground in Hyder, where I could see a glacier and myriad waterfalls from my site.

Animals I had seen included black and grizzly bears, deer, bald eagles, a wolf, and a marmot(?).  I still wanted to see some moose, elk, sasquatches, and orcas.  I realize that some of those aren't that likely to see from my bike.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Not-a-Sketch-LA to Arctic

From Cranbrook, I headed out towards to the Icefields Parkway, what their website calls, "The most spectacular journey in the world."  Okay.  So it's 144 miles through the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, through two national parks.  Yeah...


It's that spectacular.  It's absolutely breathtaking for hours and hours.  I've heard people talk about becoming overwhelmed with the Louver.  At a certain point you're maxed out and can't absorb any more art.  Later in the day, I was cold, and hungry, and sorta done absorbing the beauty.  Don't get me wrong.  I was still mumbling to myself about feeling so small and insignificant in such an awe-inducing  environment, but I was ready for camp.

Alright already.  Yeah.  Glaciers right here next to the road.  Too bad I couldn't capture the blue glow the ice takes on...

Late that afternoon I finally arrived at a campground and the rangers tell me that they're advising tent campers to camp at one of the other camps because they've had bear problems the past few nights.  And last night they had three bears visit the camp.  If I am to stay, I need to stash my food and toiletries in the bathroom during the night.  Okay.  Fine.  Cool.  Where can I lay down?

And what's up with these scratches on the trees around my tent?  Hmm... That's a lot of scratches on these trees.  Four parallel scratches and all of this about seven to eight feet from the ground.  Peculiar...  I supposed I'll run this stuff over to the restroom THEN I'll lay down.