Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why is it dark already?! It's only 10pm!

Even though I'm ABSURDLY behind on my actual ride report updates, I figure I'll get this out while it's still fresh in my mind. And because it's the first time in like a month that I've broken out my Canon camera, so for crap's sake view these at full res.


I had passed through Prince George the previous day, which was . . . well, not impressive as a town. My understanding from talking to a couple locals was that it's essentially the only town of any size in the entire northern area of British Columbia. So for anyone who wants to get out of small towns within 500 miles to move to "the big city", their only option is Prince George. And this includes mostly people who got kicked out of various small towns for being too screwed up. I'm told that Prince George has the second highest crime rate of all cities in Canada, and I'll say that there were an awful lot of bums around.

I camped just out of town down a service road for power lines.

Thankfully it hasn't rained in about two weeks in this area, because I think this whole area would have been a disastrous marsh. Even getting through the rutted sections was a pain in the ass, the ruts were so deep I would have gotten the bike stuck on the footpegs if I'd gone down into them.

Heading east of Prince George wasn't interesting for a while. It was slightly hilly, but nothing fun or very scenic. Once the road started heading southeast, though, we started to run along the edge of the foothills.

It had been very warm (touching 90f) in Whitehorse, and all the way down the Cassiar highway was so mild that I was fine in just the suit and a tee-shirt. But now it was starting to get chilly, so at some point I had to stop and finally pull out the suit liner. Strangely, it was the first time I'd used it in a couple of weeks at least.

I stayed on Rt 16 as it left Rt5, and headed due east into Mt Robinson Provincial Park.

It was a very pretty ride, but the road was VERY busy. Almost 3/4 of all vehicles was either an RV or a truck towing an R/V, and everyone seemed to be in a hurry. I don't ride very quickly (partly due to the bike's very short gearing), keeping it around 55-60mph the whole way, and I had a constant stream of people in R/Vs blasting by me at 70mph. What the hell, people, you're in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, slow down and enjoy it, for crap's sake.

At some pointed I passed into Alberta, although I didn't bother to take a picture of the sign. I paid the entrance fee ($9.60, yaaaay. That's a day's worth of food, dammit) and hit up Jasper for gas before heading south on 93, the Icefield Parkway.

It was getting late, and I had gotten so accustomed to the endless twilight of Alaska, Yukon and the NWT that I'd forgotten that in most of the world, it's not uncommon for it to start getting dark at 10pm. I'd asked the ranger what the policy on primitive camping in Jasper was; Not allowed. Camping in designated camp sites only.

Which simply meant I'd have to put in a little more effort when stealth camping.

I did pretty well, turning down what looked to have been a service road or something at some point. It was stoned off, but by folding in the footpegs, I was able to squeeze the bike through on the right, while kicking that bush out of the way.

I'd downloaded the latest episode of Top Gear while in Prince George, and cooked up a meal of Mac & Cheese while watching the three boys do various dumb things regarding cars. And manged to burn half the noodles to the bottom of the pot. Yaaaaay. This resulted in the food that was left tasting . . . funny.

Now I don't know if it was the burned pasta that resulted in this, but around 2am I was awoken by my large intestine kicking me in the face, insisting YOU NEED TO EMPTY US OUT RIGHT GODDAMN NOW. I was SO THANKFUL I had a roll of TP with me, as this was the sort of dump that blasts out of you in a toxic deluge the instant you get your pants down. It smelled SO FOUL that I had no more worries about being pestered by bears that night. Given how much more sensitive their olfactory systems our then ours, I can't imagine there was a bear within ten miles of my campsite after I unloaded that mess.

AAAAAAAAAAnyway. The next day was cool, with rain showers on and off. It was never really bad downpours, but I did have to make use of my fancy new rubber overgloves I'd gotten in Anchorage. They're a bit clumsy, too much to want to fumble with a camera, so no pictures of said rain.

Even when it wasn't raining, the clouds were persistent,;clinging to the peaks and obscuring a lot of the ridge lines.

I think this ridge was called "The Comb"

The scale of the surroundings is very hard to convey with pictures taken while riding. Without the perspective of depth and movement, it's hard to tell just how huge most of these formations really are. I recorded this small clip while riding, maybe it will give some idea.

As we got higher into the mountains, we started to get near to the massive ice plateau that tops the mountain ranges, spilling down valleys in very impressive formations.

I hadn't used my real camera, my Canon 30D with a small assortment of lenses, in over a month. Part of this was the incredibly inconvenient location of it on my bike: getting to it involved removing the gas tanks and tool bag, and a lot of knots to untie. But when things started looking like this, and with the weather seeming holding, I felt it was time to finally break it out.

I started with the 70-200 F2.8 IS "L" lens, getting closer to what almost seemed like a waterfall frozen in time.

(I'm still trying to figure out how to properly expose for ice & snow. Making the glacier look good blacks out everything else in the image, but trying to balance it out just washes out the detail in the ice.)

But glaciers don't interest me too much; I spent six months living at the base of one, and after a while they're all the same. What did catch my eye . . .


This was at a scenic view pull-off, and these guys had obviously been well trained that looking cute in front of humans = snax! Especially from human children, who can't resist giving bits of cracker or whatever.

Om nom nom nom nom!

Someone needs a manicure, badly.

Even being all sneaky and hiding in the grass, I can still catch them with my giant lens of compensation!

There were birds, too. Not sure what this guy was, but he spent a lot of his time sitting on the top of trees looking poofy, before venturing down to see what the humans were doing, and maybe get a drink of the water trickling along the pavement.

(This is not a crop)

It turns out I was distracted by the animals for too long; before I could put on my wide glass to get decent big shots of the area, rain started to move in, obscuring the views. Knowing I should probably keep the good camera handy for a while, I put on my 17-85 lens and placed it into my tank bag, putting the L glass and other lenses back into the case on the luggage rack.

I kept going south, and eventually dropped enough altitude to get out of the clouds and most of the rain. Save for some small drizzles, I'd stay dry(ish) for the rest of the day.

There was a tourist resort at the junction of 93 and 11, which I stopped in at for gas. At $1.47 a liter, or about $5.55/gal. Not the highest I've paid so far on this trip, but close. A lot of the really remote places are off the grid, relying on generators for power, which jacks the cost of everything way up. Still, it was a nice view if you have to get butt-raped on gas.

Now, remember earlier when I mentioned that I put my Canon into my tank bag, guessing that there was going to be good picturin' along the way?

This was such a good decision. Seriously people, view these larger. It's worth it.

Mountains this jagged do all sorts of strange things to the clouds. They seem to stick like marshmallow paste, getting trapped on the ridge lines and forming rings around the peaks at specific altitudes, leaving the valleys between clear.

Now that would be a great cliff to jump off of.

Sorry for the endless parade of repetitive pictures, but what else can I say about things like this? It's a mountain, and clouds. Some of the most amazing mountains and clouds I've ever seen.

Of all the pictures I got, this is my favorite, but I'm not sure if I like it better with just the water (as above) or with the trees in the foreground (as below)

That is one seriously big hunk of rock.

Once I got south of Lake Loise, the parkway proper ends, and it's just regular old 93, complete with two lanes in either direction, trucks, and construction.

I can't figure out why they were making that a tunnel. They seem to have gone through the effort to clear all the land on the sides flat, but whatever.

93 soon turned into Trans-Canadian Highway 1, which was . . . not nearly as interesting as another much smaller, and twistier road that ran parallel to it on the map.

So, so, so much better then the interstate. By a thousand times. Some of this area was so rugged that there wasn't room for two lanes, the road split up and each lane went to do it's own thing. It was PERFECT for a motorcycle, freedom to really use all the blacktop without worrying about some bozo coming wide around a blind corner and clipping you as you lean close to the yellow lines. Unfortunately, this area had seen rain VERY recently, which prevented me from getting aggressive with it. Maybe that's a good thing.

Coming around one corner, I saw about ten vehicles all stopped on the side of the road, people were out with cameras, and I couldn't help but join them.

Out came the 70-200 again, but in truth I didn't need it. These guys were TAME, and barely noticed all the humans gawking at them.

Occasionally they would glance up at us, but they were mostly relaxed enough to keep their heads down in the grass to keep eating.

While part of me is really happy to see beautiful animals trusting humans enough to not be disturbed by our presence and not see us as a threat, most of me is disappointed in exactly that. We ARE a threat, maybe not in the protected environment of the national parks, but as a whole we are.

I wouldn't approach them on my own (as some of these people did. Srsly, what the fuck), but I felt that if they got close to me of their own volition, that was their choice. I sat down on the side of the road (with all my riding gear, including helmet still on) and waited.

They got so close I couldn't focus, and this lens has a minimum focus of 4 feet. I could have reached out and touched them if I wanted to. None of these photos are cropped.

I've always been really, really big on taking photos of animals eyes, as close as I can. It's the focal point of so many of my pictures of them, it's the shot that I'm consistently trying to perfect. I'm the same way with people; I know I first fell hard for Mandy because of her eyes.

I'm not sure which of these (above and below) I like better.

I've mentioned it before, but I. FUCKING. LOVE. THIS. LENS.

Eventually they got bored of this grass and wandered away, so I rode on, into the town of Banff. From Banff to Calgary and down to Lethbridge was pretty dull and uneventful, so I'll end this long update here. Enjoy the pictures, and I'll try to update again when I can.

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