North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 11)

August 16, 2019

Day 11 – 7/8/19

The forecast called for cold and cloudy conditions, and it was certain to be even colder at the higher elevations I’d be riding through today. I debated whether to bring my heated jacket liner and gloves on the trip, but decided that the fleece jacket I was already packing for non-riding activities and my heated grips would do the trick. For sustained riding in cold conditions, you can’t beat the heated gear, but I didn’t really have the space to pack it, and the wires and controller can be a pain to deal with if you’re getting on and off the bike for photos and points of interest. A quick look at my weather app confirmed that it was a bit brisk outside.

My plan to follow a vehicle out of the parking garage worked fine, and I didn’t have to deal with stopping on the steep ramp to activate the automatic door. Within a few minutes, I was on the road to Banff, and the early morning clouds were hanging low over the mountains and producing some light drizzle. I purchased a daily parks pass for $7.49 that gave me access to both Banff and Jasper.

I bypassed the actual town of Banff just to avoid the conflagration of tourists, and I opted for the alternate scenic route (Bow Valley Parkway), which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway. I’m glad I did, because the clouds were lifting, and the scenery was great.

I’d planned to stop by Lake Louise, but a lighted sign indicated the parking lot was full and directed drivers to a satellite lot for bus transportation. I didn’t have time for that kind of arrangement, so I skipped Lake Louise. I found out later that they have special motorcycle parking in the main lot, and riders can always find a place to squeeze in. Lesson learned for next time.

You hear a lot about Banff, and for good reason, but the real surprise for me was Jasper. The Icefields Parkway winds its way through the mountains and past glaciers in the distance.

The scenery proved too overwhelming for some drivers, who just couldn’t wait a few minutes for a proper parking area. I’ve noticed this phenomenon in parks across the US and now in Canada as well.

The temperature had dipped into the low 40s, but the fleece was doing a pretty good job of keeping my core warm. The heated grips and Gore-Tex gloves were working well for my hands except the fingertips. That said, I could get some warmth if I alternated pressing the fingertips into the grips like I was playing the bass guitar. Or at least pretending to play the bass guitar like Danny Bonaduce did in the Partridge Family.

A quick observation about Banff and Jasper in July: The number of tourists in the parking areas and on the road was just astounding. I do think later in the season would be the ideal time to visit this area, unless dealing with masses of humanity and their RVs is your thing.

More amazing scenery and roads led me to the town of Jasper for a lunch break. It’s a nice little town, but finding a parking spot proved challenging with all the tourists. I finally lucked into one down the street from Tim Hortons, where I got my sandwich to go and then sat on a park bench to enjoy a relaxing lunch. After topping off my gas, I was back on the road for about 45 minutes and through some roadwork until I left Jasper Park. Another few minutes, and it was time to turn left onto AB-40, which the sign told me was the “Scenic Route to Alaska.”

What the sign failed to mention was the road's terrible condition with frost heaves, huge potholes, and crevices. I quickly decided that the road was too dangerous for a motorcycle at the posted speed limit, so I slowed down and let the big-rigs and pickup trucks go around me. Hitting one of the aforementioned road defects at anything close to high speed would likely cause a bent rim, flat tire, getting thrown from the bike, crashing, or any combination of these unfortunate outcomes. Once again, I was reminded of the Scale of Risk and did what I could to offset the risk as much as possible. After a half hour of dodging the hazards, I stopped at a rest area for a quick breather. The horizon was getting dark with storm clouds, and it started raining hard shortly after I was back on the road.

It rained most of the way to Grand Cache, where I was staying overnight. After getting gas, I checked into my modest hotel and took advantage of their offer of covered VIP parking.

Old-school room key in hand, I did my post-ride routine, got some food, and settled in for the evening.

Daily portrait challenge: Kahlua seems suspicious of the guy passing through from Georgia.

Tomorrow would be the “big day” with about 475 miles to cover, a circumstance that resulted from distances between towns and lodging choices. I was mentally prepared for the challenge, though I wasn’t looking forward to riding in rain for most of the morning, as the weather forecast predicted. While I was slaloming around the potholes on the “Scenic Route” earlier today, it began to feel like the real adventure had begun. The remoteness, vast open spaces, poorly maintained road, and severe consequences of a mishap all combined to produce that feeling. I had many miles still ahead of me, most of which would include these elements of adventure. Onward to the start of the Alaska Highway.

Total mileage: 323.4

Lodging: Grand Cache Hotel, Grand Cache, Alberta