Tokyo to Los Angeles, the Hard Way | Part 2

Moose Glide

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

On their last night open, Beaver Creek’s young staff was lax on policy. We schlepped schooners of tap beer to our rooms, checked e-mail on their back-office computer and made unseemly suggestions to half-smiling waitresses who tucked Suzuki’s money into their aprons, dreaming of younger men and home. Over Yukon Arctic Red ales, Todd Lassa of Motor Trend asked why I kept passing the car crew and running out in front.

“Well,” I lied truthfully, “I don’t have comms, first aid, tools, a riding partner or a flat kit. Anything happens, you guys’d be 200 miles south before anyone thought to look for the idjit on the bike.”

I motored out alone to remember what my Neanderthal progenitors knew without learning. To run and throw yourself into the world—there is liberty requiring no document, nor government to grant it. Nothing can take it from you but fear.

It’s dumb to just get on a bike and ride, and I’m foolish about it: anywhere, anytime and most likely too fast for conditions. But it’s hard not to imagine, pelting south through the onchilling autumn air, that I really was born for this.

Of course that’s easier to imagine when someone just hands you a key and says, “Meet us at the hotel.”

At a Haines Junction gas station, I gave my spare gloves to Marcello, who was headed into the teeth of the north with a leather vest, open helmet, tent and bedroll. His gloves, windproofed with duct tape, were tattered from a trip out of Uruguay. On a stock Harley-Davidson Street Bob. My Tinbutt pretensions have rarely left me feeling less worthy.

RVs and I chased each other south. I’d pass half a dozen every hour or two before they blew past my fuel stops with 300 gallons of diesel in their bellies and movies on the big screen. Multi-purpose properties populating the Alcan Highway every few dozen miles were increasingly shuttered for the season. Logging chains stretched between stone cairns enforced caution of twilit driveways when jonesing for coffee or urgent about fuel or the men’s room.

While I chatted with Jürgen and Tilde from Stuttgart about their BMW R1100GS, the car guys rolled up. They convoyed out before I finished my ninth cup of warm-up coffee, but cars are rarely difficult to catch.

Before the rear tire could melt off its last knob, I wiled some happy hours pooting around enough dirt tracks, gravel pits and logging roads to discover that V-Stroms are what you might expect them to be off-road: top-heavy and over-geared.

Laughing my way out of a mudhole, I looked to the far horizon. Then I looked to the opposite far horizon. Then I looked at my cell phone, which showed zero reception and little time before dark. I slither-whomped back out to the highway and lit the smoking lamp, safe in the loving embrace of motor homes, RCMP and onrushing Kenworths.

Slowing for a corner marked “Extremely Dangerous Curve,” I noticed a young moose lying dead in my lane. Good signage, that. In Watson Lake I encountered the Forest of Signposts, originally planted by Carl Lindley of Company D, 341st Engineers in 1942—and since replicated by GIs from Korea to Qatar.

Two Calgary riders outside the Alaska Highway Interpretive Centre told me it was raining south. I told them it was raining north. When they asked how to get my job I lied inventively, because that’s how I got my job.

Inside, a breathy brunette with liquid eyes insistently particularized the area’s attractions for me, laying emphasis on the Liard Hot Springs.

“Especially on a day like this,” she sighed, fingertips gentle against dripping gray panes, “if I were on a motorcycle, I’d just want to get off and just ... just be in there, all deep and warm.” She looked at me in a way that suggested she hadn’t actually been on a motorcycle—yet.

“I’m going there later today,” she added helpfully. “When I get off.”

On the way out, she smiled enough BTUs at me to soften my back protector.

Liard made a well-timed lunch stop. I received gasoline, soup and coffee from the earnestly helpful Scots-Irish proprietor; cold looks and change from his First Nations wife. After lunch, I begged loan of a dishrag to debug my visor. She stared fully 10 seconds while I basked in the café’s heat.

“Can’t you use a napkin?”

“’Fraid it would scratch my faceshield,” I said, smiling.

A 20-second wait ensued. Holding my gaze unsmiling, she bade her husband to fetch one.

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