Thursday, August 28, 2014

Heading for the Hills!

It was determined that we should both get new rear tires - if at all possible. Our bikes, Verity and Lily, are similarly spec’d and that meant we shared common tire sizes. The local Yamaha dealer makes most of its profit by providing mediocre service at a staggering price to twits like me that should have changed their tires back in Alaska. With nearly a thousand miles to go and a not much time to do it in, Sledge magnanimously said that I should have the last available tire in Prince George (yes, we called all the motorcycle shops), an overly inflated Metzler, and he’d burn off what was left of his Heidenaus and get sorted out in Calgary. When all the work was done and a king's ransom paid, the improvement in Lily’s handling was dramatic enough that even I noticed the difference. Once the new tire scrubbed in, we had no problem keeping up an athletic pace for the rest of the day.

We were on schedule to rendezvous with Carol on Friday in Lake Louise and that meant reaching Alberta and the north end of the Jasper National Park today. I’ve said this before and at the risk of repeating myself, there’s still something magical about things you’ve read about in books or National Geographic as a kid and finally seeing them in real life, like the Eiffel Tower or Jerry Lewis (okay, Jerry was even shorter than I imagined). Mount Robson stands guard on the Yellowhead Highway at the mid-northeastern border of British Columbia with Alberta, and it is simply breathtaking. In part because it is the most prominent mountain in North America, a technical term that means it’s as sheer a rock face as there is in this neck of the woods. It’s simply a mind bogglingly, massively vertiginous slab of granite that only about 10% of climbers who try reach the top of. And even though it's set back a long way from the highway, it still glowers over you menacingly.

With the appearance of the mountains came scores of tourists. More humanity than we’d seen in one place for weeks, including that bustling metropolis Prince George. This being Labor Day weekend the area was thick with rubberneckers meandering around in their hired RV’s and Sport Utility Vehicles. We had to keep our wits about us as drivers were wont to suddenly slow down to view some preternaturally beautiful natural sight. Roaming animals caused the most frequent problems - a mountain goat popping up here, a black bear pushing through the brush there. Cars would pull up sharply, brakes squealing as the driver reached for a camera and smacked their children’s iPhones from their busy little fingers as they were commanded to "Look!" I digress.

Plowing on towards Jasper we had no real plan other than to find accommodation for the night. We toyed with the idea of camping, but as this was the last evening of the guy trip we opted for a hotel and a pint of bourbon in Hinton, Alberta. It would add 50 miles and a double-back to the trip south in the morning, but there simply wasn’t any choice for less than $350 apiece. I will say, though, that other than it’s place at the very ragged edge of the Great Plains, Hinton is unremarkable. I’ll leave it at that.

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