Humbling, that is a one word description of the north country of British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska especially if one is riding a motorcycle. Even though there have been significant improvements since the building of the ALCAN Hwy, it still has the ambiance of a military supply or a service road with notable exceptions in places such as Muncho Lake, BC.
The ALCAN was built in less than a year in 1942 in response to the fear of a Japanese invasion of Alaska and/or the West Coast, and indeed the Japanese did invade the two most western Aleutian Islands in June 1942. Originally an unpaved military supply road, the road was 1422 miles at a cost of $115 million dollars.
The ALCAN’s original length of 1,422 miles running from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, AK. The highway has slowly been straightened and paved to the point where the highway is totally paved, and in the lower portions in British Columbia the sides of the road have been cleared for over 100 feet and planted in grass which is mowed. This serves to make the highway much safer by not having cover for wildlife near the road. One sees numerous “yard bears” during a ride on the ALCAN and should expect to see a large variety of wildlife, and hopefully not on the road.
Currently, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta are well immersed in an energy boom that has transformed several communities including the town of Fort St. John to a boom town with all the retail support one would expect such as Walmart and fast food establishments sprouting throughout the once sleepy town.
To put things into perspective, we, Bill and I, left Central Washington on day one and rode through one storm cell after another until we arrived in Merritt, BC. Here we stayed at a small hotel, Merritt Lodge Motel, which had a restaurant, for a very reasonable price. The following day we rode to Prince George, BC through more storm cells. Here we stayed at the Carmel Lodge/hotel, again for a reasonable price, and again this hotel had a restaurant immediately adjacent to the motel itself. The following day, day three, we finally, after riding almost 930 miles, arrived at the beginning of the ALCAN at Dawson Creek, BC. British Columbia is quite a large section of real estate as it would take us from Fort St. John a 500 plus mile day on the bikes to reach the border of British Columbia with the Yukon at Watson Lake, YT.
As we moved north, from Fort St. John, the costs for fuel, lodging and food escalated significantly while, in most cases, the amenities de-escalated. One’s need for a sense of humor also needed to improve, as filling station (fuel stops, not really stations) proprietors became confused between our two motorcycles and the Winnebago crowd trying to give us their bill for 140 liter of fuel and them our 15 liter bill for two bikes (3.6 liter equals approximately 1 US gallon). After much animation and explanation, we had the situation resolved.
Referring to fuel, each of us was riding a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 that has a fuel capacity of approximately 5.8 gallons and uses regular 87 octane fuel. Not only did the bikes have a good range (about 40 miles per gallon or 230 miles per tank full), but also used regular fuel, which was always available, whereas premium fuel was not. In addition, for the more remote portions of the trip Bill carried two and I carried three gallons in fuel packs/cannisters.
The scenery on the ALCAN from Fort St. John north to Watson Lake is generally forested expanses of a size that one has rarely ever seen, and as mentioned above the views become very scenic in and around Lake Muncho and the nearby popular Liard River Hot Springs. The lack of civilization (towns and homes) and traffic starts to impact you, and the “bring what you need” philosophy begins to take on a survival of the well prepared tone. This country is not the place for one to discover that their Swedish coffee maker needs a new filter, or more germane, their Moto Guzzi needs a new oil filter – you had better have brought what you need. Life takes on a very basic and generic tone and items are no longer referred to by brand name. This even is apparent when ordering food and the first three items you asked for ran out a week ago. Often the conversation goes like this, “what do you have?”