I have to wonder what the weather is like up this far north
where the days are starting to get longer. Even at 10:30 at night, you can still
be outside and read the newspaper or a good book. I read the weather is similar
to Sweden or Norway. The temperature can reach minus 40 degrees though and it
can snow every month of the year.
I ride through Jasper drinking in the mountain architecture
of the houses, some seemingly built around the turn of the century. It is 10
a.m. and this morning I left after only a few bites of a MRE chicken and rice.
It tasted horrible. I discover two FJ1200's and a Venture like mine along a
curb in front of a restaurant. An inviting place to stop. I slow in my lane,
turn the other way, and coast in beside the bikes, carefully easing the heavy
bike in backwards besides the others. I flip out the kickstand, lean the bike
over, reach up, and turn the key off. I like this, I really like this. Pulling
myself off the seat, I retrieve some maps, Jasper brochures, and the trip
journal to take in with me.
I am still planning the route as I go and I am leaning toward
a southern route up the Cassiar Highway to the Alcan Highway. As I plod to the
entrance of the restaurant, a thirty-something guy strolls from the restaurant
and stops me. He's sort of scruffy looking, and hasn't shaved in a week
(although I haven't either). He has short light brown hair and a small office
belly. He smiles a toothy grin and we start talking. I think it must be obvious
to us motorcycle folk who's who.
Moments later, a young girl, blonde, pulled back hair and
glasses looking about ten years old walks out and joins her father, the man I am
talking to. Another guy, same age, demeanor, and accent joins the three of us. A
cute freckle faced daughter joins the side of her father and I am intrigued by
these four running around Canada on the pair of FJ's. The Yamaha FJ1200, now
there is a machine. Over 100 horsepower, 0-60 in 2.3 seconds, and a 167 miles
per hour top speed. Wow...
They're from Brooklyn Park in Minneapolis.
"We're in the same baseball league. John's the only
one crazy enough to do this with me," Larry says. I'll have to remember
that when I get older and need a riding partner. "We've done some small
trips, but this is the first time we've taken the girls."
"Where are you from?" The little girl with the
"California," I reply. She breathes an exaggerated
sigh of relief. You'd think she was being held captive in the wilds of India.
She says she's just glad to see another American. I suppose we are indeed in a
I show all the gadgets on the bike like a child showing off
baseball cards. I point out the extra gas, non-perishable food, 16-band
equalizer amplifier, antenna booster, altimeter, compass, map light, drink
holder, even my collection of cassette tapes. John's bike is parked next to
mine and I note that it looks as though it was recently wiped out. I raise an
"Yesterday," John says rather sheepishly. He
describes what he feels was a minor accident. Ever typical of rounding a corner
and hitting some gravel, not braking properly, locking the rear, and off the
road he went. Scrapped up the windshield and fairing and took off the mirror. I
look at the daughter.
"You too?" I ask. She nods and points to a bruised
ankle. Both escaped the accident unscathed except some sore muscles.
"You ought to check out Montana," Larry says,
"It's just wide open space. A motorcyclists' dream."
"Safe and Prudent," pipes in John referring to the
no speed limits.
"We rode for an hour and didn't see a single
car," the little freckled girl adds.
They are very interested in my quest to reach Alaska. They
insist I contact them in Minneapolis afterwards and tell them about it. Larry
mentions Jasper is as far north he's ever been but someday.
"I usually can't find someone who'll do the miles
with me," John says looking at Larry playfully, "but we have our
daughters so we keep it to about 500 miles a day." He asks what my longest
"1200 miles in 21 hours," I smile.
Larry seems puzzled and gives me a funny look as he does the
math inside his head. The little girl looks up and exclaims, "1200
miles?" She gets it.
"Man, that's a long ways," John says pushing up
his ball cap and scratching his head. "I think once we did 600 and that
took all day."
"Plus we've done the hotel thing twice, otherwise we
camp," Larry adds.
They have to get going and I want to eat so we exchange
addresses and I bid them farewell as they don the leathers. Larry even has a
bead seat cover on the FJ and swears by it. Ready to ride the Iron Butt Rally,
They fired up both the FJ's and I absorbed the sound,
Into Mondis Restaurante I go. Tired matted hair, dirt under
my nose, wind burnt face, and in black leather from head to toe. I grab a window
seat and proceed to have the best breakfast in this entire trip thus far. David,
my waiter, with his buzzcut hair and a soothing voice serves the best attentive
service. I look at the maps and write in the journal catching up over the last
few days. On one of my water refills, David asks if he is going to be in the
account of my journey. I ask if he has anything to add, like about Jasper that
is a little unusual that I wouldn't find in some tourist brochure.
"How much time ya got? I gotta go on break soon,"
David replies. I uncap the cork. He returns a short time later after I finish my
meal. He's says he's just spending the summer here earning money for the
"I did some checking up on the town before I moved up
here," he says leaning in across the table. Then he gives me an answer I
didn't exactly expect from my nonchalant question. I was just thinking of what
do people do around here for fun, that sort of thing.
He says one strange historical fact about Jasper is that in
1916 through 1920, about two hundred Austrian-Canadians were 'interned' in a
camp near Jasper. During the war while they were detained, they were used as
forced-labor to work on park labor projects.
"You like the park you just came through? A lot of it
was created with forced-labor, Banff too," he adds.
A total of 8,579 "enemy-aliens" were detained in
concentration camps spread across Canada and used as forced-laborers. Over 5000
were Ukrainians. An additional 80,000 Canadians were forced to register as
"enemy-aliens" and then required to report to local authorities on a
regular basis. Many lands and possessions were seized from these
Those interned during the First World War worked in mines,
steel mills, and in the logging industry being paid a fraction of the normal pay
of a "citizen". Canadian corporations benefited so much from the
forced labor, when the war ended in 1918; the Canadian government allowed the
internment to be carried on for an additional two years to 1920. After the war,
1.5 million dollars (1990's money) lay unclaimed and unreturned to those sent
to the camps.
In 1942 the War Measures Act was used again without approval
of the democratically elected parliament. Outside of Jasper near Yellowhead
pass, the two internment camps were used again. Each camp was to hold a total of
200 Canadians, this time of Japanese descent. At the same time, many more camps
were created all over Canada. The Japanese-Canadians here in Jasper were used
during the war to build the highway from Jasper to Blue River.
While the work was in progress, Jasper residents begin to arm
themselves and became increasingly paranoid. They began to treat the
Japanese-Canadians will hostile intent. The interment camps above Jasper were
moved to protect the Japanese-Canadians from the same people who were once their
Ironically, while we look back 40 some years and say that was
then, that couldn't possibly happen these days, the Canadian government used
the same War Measures Act again in 1970 to detain French-Canadians (or
Quebecois) in internment camps. In Canadian history, it is one of the more less
known events, he says. Nobody talks about it. He was raised in Canada and no one
taught him anything about this is grammar school. It wasn't till college that
he learned of this.
To boot, the Canadian government has never publicly
acknowledged wrongdoing or paid any reparations to those affected, Frank adds.
In addition, it still isn't even understood why these "citizens"
were deemed as enemies other than everyone agreeing on wartime xenophobia.
"Put that in your book," David says finishing up
It's a little more than I bargained for, but
thanks. And yes, you're in the journal.
I ride up out of Jasper over the 3760-foot Yellowhead pass.
It was referred to by early fur traders as 'leather pass' and later took
on the name Yellowhead, probably for some guy I suppose. Riding out of the park,
I go through a time zone change and gaze off to my right at a huge mountain. The
map reads it to be Mount Robson at 12,972 Ft. It's the highest peak in the
10 miles later I gas up at Tete Jaune Cache along with
travelers of all sorts. The name Tete Jaune Cache is a bit of an odd name and
sounds French. I ask the lady behind the counter. She says it comes from the
pass I just came over which was named for an Iroquois trapper in the early 1800's
who had light colored hair. The French came through assigning names to
everything, and that's what they came up with. Tete Jaune means Yellow Head.
Well, there ya go.
Campers, RV's and pop-tops pulled by heavily laden station
wagons full of kids and dogs rumble across the wide entrance to this oasis. I
stroll through the gift shop briefly reading a booklet about Mount Robson.
Trinkets are tugging at my leathers at every turn. Ah, there they are- the
postcards. I buy nine. It takes over an hour to fill them out. Oddly, as much
writing as I've done about this trip so far, I sit with a blank postcard in
front of me and I struggle with what to say.
Several people approach me and strike up a conversation at
the picnic table where I've settled in a short distance from the bike. I
suppose the matted uncombed hair is the dead give away. One retired couple
approaches and I chat with the guy. He is aghast at the thought of riding a
motorcycle all that way to Alaska.
"How many miles?" He asks quizzically.
"5 or 6 thousand I think. Just to get there." I
sound young, as if people do this sort of thing all the time. I make it sound
like it's the same as going to church on Sunday or the corner market for some
milk, just like I did in Creston.
The man's wife gets excited. Very excited. I think I'm
really starting to like retired people.
"My birthday was a couple months ago and you'll never
believe what my Marvin did. He superimposed a picture of me on one of those
Harley Davidson motorcycles. It was so good, it looked like I really was riding
it," She said. "My picture was printed in the town newspaper with me
on that motorcycle. It was the talk of the town for weeks."
Marvin looked pleased with himself and rested his clasped
hands on his rounded belly. His thin gray hair wafted in the slight breeze.
"The bridge club put it on the cover of their newsletter
even." A bridge club with a newsletter? She gushes in a sweet grandmotherly
way. "The talk of the town for weeks," she said once more.
A picture seems to be the next logical step. I ask her
already knowing the answer if she would like her picture on my bike for the folk's
back home. Esther mounts the bike gingerly, squealing in delight as we pose
together. I feel like a celebrity as I smile wide. Marvin kindly takes the
picture of us. Marvin and Esther thank me profusely. I wait for chocolate chip
cookies or a pinch on the cheek. They wave and take off down the road heading
I think to myself that somewhere in Connecticut, there is a
photo album of a wonderful trip. One of those photos is a picture of a smiling
grandma and myself. Holding the bulging photo album is an excited grandma
telling a story to little Jimmy about the day that Grandma met the motorcycle
man. I finish another postcard. It's hard to be witty and think of something
to say nine times.
"Um, well the trip is good. Seen lots of mountains and
stuff. Couple goats. Met some people here and there. Haven't showered in days.
Bike runs great." Okay, half filled out. "Ah. um, some good
pictures- saw a glacier. Really neato. Oh, and met some guys from Minneapolis.
Signed, Tim." That wasn't too hard.
A few moments later, a formerly white skinned individual in a
past life, now heavily tanned older gentleman wearing an old folksy tank top
pulls in on a Goldwing. As he gets off the bike, I chuckle at his belly. It
sticks out and points the way in front of him. It's even better than Marvin's.
He is really, really tan. He must have just gotten back from the Bahamas or
something. And really hairy too. It's everywhere. He sees me and heads
straight for me. My god, he's like a gorilla. His hair is graying with a
little round circle on top. The little circle is even tanner than the rest of
him. I ask him about his bike.
"88 Goldwing. Bought 'er new back in '89," he
says proudly, "then I had $3000 in murals painted on 'er. Showed 'er
for quite a few years then that was 'nough for me. But I still take 'er in
parades though, she still looks real nice, eh." We sit for awhile at the
picnic table and talk. About traveling and motorcycles, I just listen to his
stories. We discuss the beauty of Alaska, he's never been there but had a
couple in his motorcycle club that did last summer.
He even gives me advice on women. Do I look single or
"Make sure ya love 'er." he says. "Love is
the answer. It's the only thing that'll get ya through the rough spots. Been
married 41 years." I wait for his life story; this is going to be good.
"Yep, 41 years. My wife, she's a hottie." He says chuckling to
himself and winking at me. He then bids good-bye mentioning something about a
date with some ice cream. Another wink.
A camper pulls up near my Venture and a man gets out. He
walks slowly over to where the bike is. He circles the bike 2 or 3 times
stopping to notice the extra gas cans, gauges, and dust. He pauses at my immense
collection of bugs splattered across the front of the bike that would make any
bugologist intensely jealous. He puts a hand on the back of his neck and rubs in
a bewildered manner. I bet he has no hair on the back of his neck.
"Nice bike," he says as he walks past me into the
gift shop. Looking over my shoulder as if I was meaning to pick something up, I
get a look at the back of his neck. Yep, no hair on the back of that neck. I
fill out another postcard.
The next car contains little Johnny who scrambles out the
door as soon as it rolls to a stop. Little Batman sneakers hit the ground, and
he proceeds to run in circles shaking his head from side to side. I wonder if
they teach that at his day care. The opposite of a time out I suppose. Someday
the relatives will explain- it was the shaking, it's why he's a little
slower than the rest of the kids. At the same time he's wiggling that little
round head left to right, he's spouting endless toddler gibberish. I can
barely rub my belly and pat my head at the same time. This kid is good.
His curly blonde spirals of hair bounce in the wind like a
Breck TV commercial as daddy gets out of the car to ensure he doesn't run off.
I wonder what would happen if I were to wave a red sheet at him.
"Motothycle, motothycle, motothycle..." the kid
repeats while pointing a pudgy finger at the bike and looking up at daddy. I
really like this kid! His little toddler belly sticks out and a dribble of
spittle runs down the corner of his mouth. Future motorcycle nut right there,
has it written all over his three year old self.
I come to the last postcard. My dad. I think he believes I'm
out running around North America trying to find myself or something like that. A
month alone on a motorcycle, is that trying to find yourself? I just like
riding, the open road, that sort of thing. I think I just incriminated myself.
I lick a 50-cent Canadian stamp with a snowy tree on it and
paste it in the corner. I print United States of America at the end of
the address as if there isn't a person who hasn't heard of California. I
just like the sound of it.