|Day 19; Wednesday, June 16th, 1999
Start: Prince George, British Columbia
End: Mosquito Creek Campground, Icefields Parkway, Alberta
In the morning, Cheryl cooks breakfast. We eat, then Dave interviews me about the vest, he occasionally contributes to a Concours Owners Group newsletter. I talk with him about how it was developed, what's unique about it..... have never done this before, so I'm a little bit self-conscious about the whole deal.
The interview over, he gives me some maps, and makes some recommendations about routes. Dave suggests taking Rte. 16, the Yellowhead Highway, east through McBride to Jasper, and then taking Rte. 93, the Icefields Parkway, south, through Jasper and Banff National Parks. I haven't read anything about this area, haven't researched a thing. Dave tells me I'll see mountains, that it'll be pretty. I almost get into a hurry, asking if I could make it to the border near Glacier National Park in a day. Dave says it could be done, but it'd be tough. So I slip back into my now-normal frame of mind, no hurry, I'll get there when I get there.
Then I'm on my way in light rain under gray skies, and Dave and Cheryl are off to work.
The Yellowhead Highway is pretty, it more or less follows the Fraser River through a long, mostly agricultural valley; sometimes going through the forest for a bit before reverting back to agricultural scenery again. The road itself is sometimes flat and just OK, other times it gets mildly curvy as it follows the contours of the land or the river.
In McBride, I get off the main highway to grab a bite for lunch at a small, generic diner on the main drag in town, diagonal and across the street from the Post Office. I pull my rubber overboots off and put them in the tankbag, as the weather has warmed, and the sky has cleared. After ordering lunch, I write some postcards home, and since my meal's not ready I walk across the street and mail them.
Lunch is alright, but my mind is elsewhere. I daydream for a bit, before paying the bill and heading out the door.
There's a little old man sitting near the door on my way out, and he asks about the BMW. I answer his questions, but he seems to want to talk. After a little bit of small talk, he says he doesn't want to keep me from my trip. I reply "What the heck....I'm on vacation, I've got all the time in the world....."; and I sit down across the table from him.
Turns out to be a very good move.
"Maurice" is originally from Belgium, I'd guess he's in his mid-70's, and had been a mechanic most of his life before he and his wife retired to McBride, BC. He tells me of working on aircraft in Europe during WWII, of maintaining a fleet of vehicles for an oil company in northern Africa, of adventures with various Jeep CJs over the years in the desert, of getting stuck, and the modifications he made to them for more ground clearance, or more power.... The locals all seem to know Maurice, as they come in and say hello to him and then we continue our conversation. He asks more questions about the BMW, although since he never rode a motorcycle my R1100rs looks to him just like every other BMW motorcycle he's ever seen, with the two cylinders sticking out. I explain that it's really not all that similar, and the conversation turns to modernization and electronics. I tell him about the heated grips, a little about my vest, and show him a patch of the carbon-fibre fabric. He's surprised, but not amazed. It makes perfect sense to him that heated clothing and conductive fabrics would exist, heís seen riders out in cold weather, he'd just never seen electric clothing himself.
Then I'm back on Highway 16 eastbound, heading to Jasper. At this point, I'm thinking that the rest of the way home might be just like this, rolling agricultural terrain similar to the nicer parts of Iowa.
But then the terrain gets more and more hilly, and suddenly there are some huge mountains ahead - Mt. Robson is the first, and the highest point in the Canadian Rockies at almost 13,000 feet. Oh my! It's a huge, jagged snow covered peak, seems to be just a bit off the road as I pay the entrance fee and continue into Jasper National Park.
The scenery is incredible! The road follows a river and the railroad as it slowly climbs up into the mountains. The scenes are reminiscent of Colorado, Wyoming, or Montana; and they seem to go on forever, just snow capped peak after snow capped peak.
I start to see Harleys and Gold Wings now, sort of mixed in with the RV's and family vehicles, as they head north. I haven't seen very many bikes on this trip, I guess it's a little early for most riders; and so it's nice to see other motorcyclists out enjoying this place the same way that I am.
Jasper is a mix of primitive and developed areas. Typically, all the development is clustered in a single area with a large restaurant/gift shop/gas station/motel/service plaza..... and then you see no evidence of man for a long time. There's many signs telling how far to the next gas station, so with just a little care all is well
At Rte. 93A, I head south on the Icefields Parkway. Do I ever feel like an idiot, thinking that the mountains were all done! The scenery gets even better on the Icefields Parkway, with the rugged mountains as a backdrop; plus alpine lakes fed by huge glaciers. I don't even know how many glaciers there are on the Parkway, other than many, many. The road itself is sometimes right at timberline, sometimes a bit above it, running along a lake here, crossing a whitewater river there, curving and climbing through a break in the mountains over there. There's large patches of snow left over from winter as well. There's just something special about riding a motorcycle past snowbanks in June. And black bears, and Dall sheep - something for anybody that loves the mountains.
The parkway itself is an easy road to ride, and I'm glad because I'm simply ogling the scenery as I go. There's no desire to have this end quickly.
In the mountains now, I tend to dress for the valley temperatures, and then simply dial in heat as needed in the higher elevations using my vest and the Heat-troller. It works very well, and is a bit more convenient and comfortable than changing clothes at each elevation change.
At one fuel stop / rest area / lodge, they have rides out on the glacier in a huge bus, three axles, six wheels, riding on BIG high-flotation tractor tires. I think it may be all-wheel drive as well, but I donít actually crawl under it to see. This bus looks absolutely unstoppable!! No, I don't take a ride. It's very late in the afternoon, and cooling off quickly. I continue on.
Around dusk, I arrive in Mosquito Creek campground, and end up camped at a small primitive campsite along the creek next to a group of young guys from Calgary. We say hello, I set up my tent, and then I take a walk around the campground.
There's large snowdrifts right in the campground among the pine trees, and the timberline looks to be only 100' higher up the mountain. I can't resist throwing some snowballs, just to scoop the snow up and to do something off the bike, to use some muscles.... There's all types of people camping up here, church groups in tents and retirees in RV's, Europeans in rental RV's. Campfires crackling, the smell of smoke and pine, people talking and laughing.... Everybody's friendly and happy, smiling and laughing.
And something new in this campground that I'd only read about up till now - near the restrooms there's a cable strung high between a couple trees, along with some pulleys and cables to the ground; for hanging food, keeping it away from the bears. Hmm, kind of sobering.
I head back to my tent, but it's such a nice night. The guys in the next site from Calgary have a canoe on their car, and a campfire, so I walk over and ask if I can join them as I hate to build a fire for just myself. They loan me a chair, offer me a choice of a beer or a pop, and we talk and talk and talk - about bears, motorcycles, work, kayaks, and canoes.
I ask about the canoe. Turns out one of the guys had paddled the Yukon river from Whitehorse to Dawson City a summer or so ago - WOW! Don't know the river miles, but by pavement that's about 320 miles! Sounds like that would be a really great trip someday.
Eventually we're tired and all talked out. I thank them for their pop, their fire, and their good company; climb into my tent and am instantly asleep.