We arrived at Fort Nelson late last night, having ridden some 400 miles from Grande Prairie, Alberta.
It looked like an easy ride, on the map at least, but was made difficult and interesting by the topography of the area. The first 135 miles took nearly 3 hours to complete.
We are now riding the Alaska Highway, which begins in Dawson Creek, BC. It's been a good road so far, but we met some riders last night who told us that the next leg is miserable - hundreds of miles of gravel made muddy by the recent rains. We're one day ahead of schedule and will use today as a duff day to let the rains pass, safety check the bike, and enjoy all eight square blocks of lovely Fort Nelson. What happens in Fort Nelson stays in Fort Nelson.....
The original Alaska Highway has been slowly replaced over the past two decades. The newer segments are quite nice. The road is still a single lane in each direction, but it's smooth with wide shoulders. The trees have been cut back at least fifty yards on either side of the road so it's easier to spot animals that intend to cross.
Parts of the original highway can still be seen, old, narrow ribbons weaving in and out of the woods. It must have been a miserable road in its time, as it is barely one lane wide and follows the terrain without any smoothing of hills or filling of valleys.
The scene seems to change every half hour. Rolling foothills become steep mountains which then become flat valleys which drop into steep river bottom canyons. Smooth and level highways become steep inclines and declines, some with 10% slopes. For a point of reference, most municipalities will not allow a driveway to have a slope of greater than 5%, and railroad tracks have a maximum slope of about 3%.
Vegetation changes with the terrain. We bbegan the day in flat gresslands, were soon in piney foothills, then tamarack-covered swampy low lands, then into areas of hardwoods, then back in mountains covered with northern white pine.
I have a deeper understanding of the term "middle of nowhere". There is a lot of nowhere here. Gas stations can be 250 miles apart, and may not have gas when you get there. We rolled into Fort Nelson with the low gas warning lignt on, and about one pint left in the tank. I may buy a gas can and bungee it to the top of the trunk for the next leg, just in case. I also need to buy a can of Heet. Other riders have told us of water mixed in with gas they've bought north of here, not a problem I want to have, and a can of Heet is good insurance.
A billboard in Grande Prairie advertised a monster truck event that will be held next week. It was amusing because every truck we see is a monster truck, at least by the standards we are used to. Tractor trailers have two full-size trailers, sometimes three. An eighteen wheeler is unusual - most of the rigs have thirty, forty or fifty wheels, sometimes more! A few of the largest rigs have two front axels, with four wheels that steer.
The big trucks have not posed any problems for us on the highway. The biggest nuisances have been huge motor homes, usually towing a car or a jeep. The drivers seem unaware of other vehicles, poke along well below the speed limit, and are ignore the mirrors that were standard equipment on their rigs.
We are truely, finally in the great north. Tomorrow we ride to Watson Lake, in the Yukon Territory. This area is amazing, and I'm glad we are making the trip, even thouogh the damn rain seems to be following us. did I mention the hailsotrm yesterday? No? I'll save that story for another time.