Tokyo to Los Angeles, the Hard Way | Part 2

Moose Glide

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

The road out of Liard passes through the Muncho Lake Provincial Park and into Stone Mountain Provincial Park. The Liard River bridge leads directly to a series of curves that could only have been more fun if either a) the road were dry, or b) the bike weren’t shod with tattered knobbies. Or both, in a perfect world, but you could die waiting for one of those.

Shortly after the road opened up, a pair of woodland caribou materialized on the right shoulder. With the sublime grace of wild creatures, they spun in opposite directions, bumped into each other and leapt like startled cats. One crashed into the woodline. The other landed in my lane.

Presently, the highway crossed a plain bordered by lateral moraines, each of which generated its own brutally abrupt crosswind. I was wrestling one of those when a six-point elk strutted up the left bank. Squeezing the “pro-lock” brakes hard enough to force an unearthly howl from the front knobby, I watched as he made a decision and bulled across the road, nose up and horns back, legs pumping like Michael Johnson at the tape.

I have never been so close to a wild elk, pre-bullet. Had my hand been less busy with braking, I might have stroked him as he thundered past. It’s probably possible to gut one with a Leatherman, but he was far more likely to walk away from it than I. There are well-armored garments and there are superbly armored BMW Streetguards, but there are no elk-proof riding suits.

When a spike bull wandered out of the woods seven sweepers later, I knew exactly what was coming.

My prediction proved inaccurate. Failing to yield the right of way, he pulled into the southbound lane and accelerated. Flashers blinking, we promenaded companionably for a couple of miles before he took his exit up a steep bank of glacial till.

Right about Buckhorn the temp slouched 20 degrees, cold water rolled down like Justice from clouds foaming black over the Cariboo Range and the wind smacked me around like a latex slave girl. Over a railroad and up a mud road, I made cabana at a farm shack to zip my liners back in. Ten minutes later, brilliant sunshine split the roiling clouds again.

I wicked it up then, so grinningly happy that the fuzz-mustachioed Royal Canadian Teenager who pulled me over couldn’t help but celebrate the weather with me. We talked bikes and cars, weapons and women, work and family. He didn’t bother writing a warning.

The next constable was hollow-eyed, jumpy and 100 percent less accommodating. He asked about Iraq, grieved his recent officer-involved shooting and wrote me a demerit that cut a healthy slice off Suzuki’s largesse. Following an obligatory safety lecture, he strongly hinted that I purchase fresh tires.

Few things are better than new friends when you need ’em, and I found mine in Williams Lake. John at New Life Cycles, who stocks rear tires for GSers coming out of Prudhoe, snap-sold me a new Battle Wing before rushing off to a funeral. Spectra Power Sports down the road not only levered it onto my rim for free, but shop owner Haino Seibert took me on a demo blast in a freshly race-prepped Polaris ATV. With upgraded suspension, 12 psi of boost and Haino’s maniacal slope attacks, if we didn’t see God it wasn’t from failure to jump high enough. Since neither dealer had a front streetie in stock, I would have continuing chances to visit Him that very afternoon.

Fraser River Canyon clove the Coast Mountains under unbending iron skies. Shafts of late sun glared off ferrous cloud bottoms. Tunnel to tunnel, the updated Cariboo Wagon Road is as dazzlingly dimensional as low-altitude aerobatics. I rode it half-blind, with rain splooshing through my chin vents and an unscuffed rear radial pushing my shagged front knobby, wailing out “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” occasionally throwing out a bootrigger and grinning ’til my face broke.

The one thing better than new friends is known friends. In Vancouver, Newfie Dave had already procured a Michelin 110/80R-19 to match my new Bridgestone better than the toasted Conti. Bayside Performance gave me a Sunday-morning tire change. The Wetleather™ cabal (Google it) had struck with a seen hand.

With that it was only a hop, skip and a border crossing back to home and a barbecue with friends. The last thousand or so miles was just a ride to the office on new tires. Rusty lance held high, I’d already finished off the main windmill.

Once every long while for a fleeting glorious moment, conditions are ideal. Rainbows blaze out between squalls, three corners in a row aren’t just great but perfect, and you catch the flash of a wolf’s eyes as your headlight sweeps the trees.

If you’re not already out there—dodging trucks, navigating gravel and fending off the weather—you’ll miss all those things. They won’t fit on the widest screen; never manifest over a cubicle farm. This is ephemeral magic, some of the last that’s left.

Russian loggers pulp the Siberian taiga as fast as they can run their saws; Chinese soldiers sedulously secure Tibet for Chinamen; Canucks and Yanks cooperate to make their great World War II project, the Alcan Highway, straighter and safer. Cutting the natural curves out of roads is as appealing as grafting fake curves onto women, but re-engineering that road will get trucks to Fairbanks a couple hours quicker.

It may not take you to the same place at all. Maybe you shouldn’t wait as long as I did.

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