Doing a must do in Peru

Jeremy outside of one of the many one way tunnels through the canyon...

Jeremy outside of one of the many one way tunnels through the canyon…

19 October – Day 89

Huanchaco, Peru to Caraz, Peru
Distance: 310kms

Apparently ‘Canyon del Pato’ is a “must do” for overlanders as the way to get from the coast to the start of the Peruvian highlands. So – today, that’s what we did. The first half of the ride was more of the same dead flat and straight desert road that we were on yesterday. Then we left the lovely smooth asphalt for a shale track through along a river and then up through the canyon. It was part moonscape, part desert, part lush mango forest and about 35 tunnels – definitely an interesting mix!

There appeared to by lots of little, local mines… I think mostly coal, but there were also a few that were clearly mining something that wasn’t coal. I was keeping my eyes out for gold nuggets that might be, you know, just lying by the side of the road, or diamond seams in the rock faces around us. No luck on either front. I did see a few locals panning for gold in the river, but the state of the shacks around the place, plus the vast nothingness of the environment would suggest that they hadn’t got terribly lucky yet, otherwise they may not still be out in the middle of the desert – and deserted – canyon.

We camped again tonight which was good! Our ‘campground’ was a big grassy square in the back courtyard of a very fancy hotel. It was perfect. Close to the town centre of Caraz, yet really peaceful and we could see some of the mountains and glaciers above us from the tent. The day finished well with an excellent meal and a locally run restaurant just off the main town square. I had the best roast veggies I’ve eaten in ages, and the boys tried a couple of the local specialities. Even the desserts were fantastic! Mmm, good food. I like it. It’s one of the things I miss a bit, so I enjoyed it all the more.

Monument Valley and a desert storm

very windy road along a cliff face

If Harley riders can do it…

Monumnet Valley

Monument Valley

delicate arch in arches national park

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

11 August – Day 20

Moab, Utah to Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
Distance: 240kms

We started the day with an early morning ride back into Arches National Park to see the delicate arch. It was in a part of the park we’d missed over the past couple of days; and we’d heard great things about it. It was impressive – although I don’t think it was necessarily the most impressive thing in the park. It’s the whole national park that’s just so special, so amazing. If you’re ever in the area, I really recommend a visit. The system in many of the national parks over here seems to be that your entry fee is valid for 7 days, which means you have lots of time to go in and out and explore the park.

From Arches, we headed to Monument Valley via a back road that some Harley riders had told Adrian about. Gravel, multiple severe hairpoint turns, very rapid descent…

I wasn’t sure about revisiting gravel roads, but as Adrian said, if Harley riders can do it, well – so can we! I’m glad we did… it was amazing! Up there with the Beartooth Highway and several other bendy roads we’ve been on. The pictures don’t do it justice really… the turns were literally on a hairpin, on a cliff edge, next to a 300m drop, with no safety barrier. Now it was my turn for white knuckles – and Adrian couldn’t  wipe the smile off his face!

And then we got to Monument Valley. Approaching it as we did, I felt a little bit like someone stumbling across an ancient civilisation. The stones rose up from the earth in a seemingly random yet structured pattern, and looked as if they could or would be home to an ancient people – in caves, temples, cliff homes.

clothes  and a tent floor covered in red dust

Inside our tent after a desert dust storm!

We camped again tonight and it was… interesting.  A few days ago, I talked about how I scooped up a handful of Moab desert sand and let it run through my fingers – just to feel it. Tonight, obviously, the desert wanted to get a feel of me.. We experienced our first desert dust storm – wow! We had just finished setting up the tent and I was sitting inside when Adrian called me out to look at the horizon. It was strange – the horizon was starting to blur. It was as if it had been drawn in graphite pencil, and someone had gently smudged it with a rubber. And then the smudge got bigger. And bigger. And closer! All of a sudden, we – and the campers gawking at the impending dust storm around us – realised that we had about 5 seconds before we’d be hit. So everyone hightailed it into their tents to batten down the hatches… to no avail! The wind was filling my ears with sound, as if I had two giant conch shells glued to my ears and all I could hear was the rushing of the sea in the shells. Inside the tent, it was raining red dust. Literally. Although all zippers etc were firmly closed, the dust was so fine that it was just pouring through the mesh of our tent, coating us – and everything inside – in a film of desert sand. A desert storm – it was incredible!

Yellowstone National Park

Waterfall in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park

By Adrian

7 August – Day 16

West Yellowstone, Montana to Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Distance: 202km

Rocks in yellowstone national park

Yellowstone National Park

Seriously I don’t know how Harley riders ride without a full-face helmet. Maybe I’m a bit soft but I copped a dragon fly in the neck on the way back into Yellowstone and it stung like a %&$#@. Another indeterminable bug decided to provide Lauren with an up close view of its yellow guts on her visor. There also tends to be a general lack of consideration regarding what happens when skin hits asphalt, the majority of riders wear T-shirts and… here we are as I sit, a guy pulls up on his Harley in a T-shirt, shorts, shoes and a baseball cap… backwards… bet that’ll do a lot when someone runs into you! It’s getting hotter the further South we go, however both of us are still donning the full swag of protective gear favouring a bit of sweat over any other potential consequence!

The other side of Yellowstone is its natural thermal features of hot springs and geysers. Upon entering back into Yellowstone to continue South, and after experiencing another three ‘bear jams’ where driving etiquette gets firmly shoved out the window, we arrived at the Lower Geyser Basin where pools of boiling water and steam gushed to the surface emitting that pungent odour of rotten eggs from the sulphur. Continuing on, Old Faithful was the next obvious stop, being a geyser that that regularly explodes in a fountain of superheated water. For a natural phenomenon, it really is an enjoyable spectacle and provides a scene similar to the fountain on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra although not quite as high.

Hot sulphur pools in Yellowstone National Park

Sulphur pools, Yellowstone National Park

The rest of the day was spent tootling along at frustratingly low speeds and waiting at multiple roadworks that seem to involve extensive delays for what appears to be very minor work. Arriving in Jackson Hole quite hot and very interested in exploring the menu of one of the local coffee shops, we sat down and observed our surroundings deciding that they deserved closer inspection. We found a motel close to the centre of town and unpacked our gear to complete our shortest day ever of 202km. The rest of the day was spent moseying around the various shops and chilling out. Lauren found a yoga session running from 5.30 til 7.00 while I found a nice tavern selling microbrew beer and proceeded to sample the menu. We had live country music with dinner and dropped by a bar with a swinging jazz band for a nightcap on the way back to the motel.

6 August – Day 15

Red Lodge, Montana to West Yellowstone, Montana
Distance: 246km

The Beartooth Highway is one of the top motorcycle roads in the USA, extending from Red Lodge to the Eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Sure we could have dropped a couple of 100 kms off the route by entering through the North, however having now ridden this highway I can now understand its popularity. It was chockers full of Harley riders in both directions, some off to Sturgis some just seeing the sights like ourselves, all of them enjoying the twists and turns up and down the mountain. The terrain changed from pine forest to alpine meadows to jutting rocky outcrops, all of which provided a beautiful backdrop. A bit of a crosswind combined with precious cargo meant I didn’t test the handling limits of the Beemer, suffice to say I had plenty of fun.

The last time I rode through Yellowstone back in 2007 it was breathtaking and it remains one of the must-see National Parks in the USA. The plethora of wildlife lining the roads is simply amazing with herds of buffalo (in the hundreds if not thousands) roaming the plains as we rolled by. Arriving at the Eastern entrance enabled us to explore parts of the park I hadn’t been lucky enough to visit previously.

The Upper and Lower falls of the Yellowstone River are dramatic and the view magnified by the stark multi coloured sandstone walls rising up each side. We managed to wrestle our way through the other snap happy tourists to take a few photos which will show up later. Somehow at the second viewpoint we managed to find ourselves walking the 320 odd steps down to into the valley along Uncle Toms Trail to get an up close view of the lower (larger) falls. Needless to say, dressed in motorbike jeans and boots, the walk back up was not as easy as it was down. Lauren leapt up the stairs, heart barely beating, patiently waiting for me to stagger breathlessly to catch up. I had justified going down by determining that the 320 steps could be taken two at a time on the way back up, who was I kidding?

We decided to head for West Yellowstone for the night and given the weather was looking good and the hotels were either booked or damn expensive, the decision was made to camp (yes our 3rd night in a tent). We found a dusty patch in a campground on the edge of town hoping to save some coin. That’ll be $43 + tax thankyou. Hmmm… When you are tired, can’t be bothered looking for anywhere else, and kinda scared of bears (camping wild) you do cough up ridiculous money for a place to pitch a tent!

On the way into West Yellowstone, we hit our first ‘Bear Jam’. I had informed Lauren of the ridiculous notion that a traffic jam could form in the middle of a National Park due to the sighting of some form of animal. Needless to say we were caught in one where some bugger decided to stop his car in the middle of the road somewhere ahead to observe a reindeer. Common courtesy tends to go out the window and by the time everyone else gets there the animal is no longer seen and everyone else is left to ponder what it was that caused the jam in the first place…

Hot sulphur springs in Yellowstone National Park

More sulphur pools in Yellowstone National Park

Hot sulphur springs in Yellowstone National Park

Still more sulphur pools in Yellowstone National Park

Beartooth highway

Beartooth pass – you can see from the small segment of road in this pic why Adrian (and all other motorbikers) like it!

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

3 August – Day 12

Calgary, Alberta, Canada to Whitefish, Montana, USA (via Fernie, Alberta)

Distance: 502kms

In year 12 English, I had to study Karen Blixen’s/Isak Dinesen’s classic “Out of Africa.” I absolutely hated it. It drove me bananas that I had to battle through three of four pages of verbose, flowery prose when the message was essentially ‘the green trees on the plains were swaying in the wind.’

And yet – I can now sort of understand where the author was coming from… I, too, could write paragraphs (although probably not pages!!) in an attempt to capture the fiercely awesome beauty of the Canadian Rockies. The luminescence of mountains literally oozing jet black coal from pulsing, exposed veins. The verdant green of the trees, the plains, the prairies. The purple and orange and red and yellow of the mountain flowers, framed by green, everywhere green. And blue. Blue sky. Made all the more striking by the warm, glowing sunshine that bathes everything in gentle light.

So – enough about that. Truth be told, I’m almost mountained-out. The scenery is so spectacular, constantly outdoing itself, I’m almost – almost – starting to take it for granted.

Suffice to say that Fernie is on my ‘visit again’ list.

We crossed back into the US today – our second bike border crossing on the trip so far. It was actually faster/easier than I expected it to be! I really thought the Customs person would want to go through all the bike import paperwork etc , but after looking at our passports and confirming that we had neither guns, nor $10k cash nor tobacco, he waved us through. And that was that! Back in the US.

Adrian had been talking about ‘Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump’ for a while, and we were able to work the route so that we could stop in on our way past. Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is a World Heritage site and it exceeded my expectations. It’s literally a ‘buffalo jump’ – ie a place where Native Americans herded buffalo so that they jumped/fell off a cliff. The whole herd. One after another. Straight over the edge, head smashed in. Apparently buffalo don’t have very good eyesight, and the cliff was up a short rise… so by the time the lead buffalo saw the cliff, her momentum (the lead was always female) – and that of the herd pushing behind her – was unstoppable… so they all went over the edge. The Native Americans believed that if a buffalo survived and escaped the jump, she’d warn other buffalo thus ameliorating any chance of future buffalo jump success (from the Native Americans’ perspective, presumably not from that of the buffalo!) – so any survivors had to be killed – either clubbed or speared to death – at the bottom of the jump.

Following the buffalo jump, the road turned to gravel. Lots of soft, loose gravel. It was the motorbiking equivalent of strapping on a pair of aluminium-soled shoes and then going on a 50km hike on ice. Very challenging for Adrian and unfun for me.

Anyway, we made it through – and finally arrived in White Fish, where we found a campsite close to the town centre. It was only our second night of camping so far this trip!

24 July… From the US to Canada

24 July – Day 2

Lauren doing yoga next to the tent and BMW GSA1200

Camping and yoga in Valdez Alaska

Valdez, Alaska to Beaver Creek, Yukon (Canada)

Distance: 583kms

Valdez was a great stop. Perfect weather for camping, no bears and only a few mozzies. Like everywhere, we met some interesting people at the campsite… like Phil, a recently retired 70-yr old American on an epic ride across and around Canada and the US – including considering an ‘iron butt’ challenge which involves riding to all four corners of the US in 50 hours. His blog is here: http://ptarman1.com/.

Valdez is an Alaskan town on the edge of the Prince William Sound. The Exxon Valdez tanker, which ran aground in 1989, was named after this town – it’s a major oil port; the Alaskan oil pipeline ends here. Even today, 20+ years after the spill, some species are yet to fully recover… and on the worst-affected areas of the coastline, you only need to use a regular shovel to dig down 15 or so cm to reach crude oil. It’s all pretty sad, really.

From Valdez we headed north up to Tok, the last “major” Alaskan town before the border. We had planned on stopping in Tok for the rest of the day, camping there overnight, but the weather was lovely, it was only 3pm and Tok was two horses short of a two horse town.. So we decided to keep going, push across the Canadian border and aim for Beaver Creek in Yukon, Canada.

Along the way, fellow travellers had been telling us that the weather changes at the Canadian border – and it always rains. And they were right! About ten minutes north of the border it started to sprinkle. And sprinkle. And sprinkle. And then rain. Really rain. Beaver Creek was just over the border, so we checked in to one of those slasher motels you see in the movies… you know, two storeys, long narrow building, angle car parking out the front, bright flickering fluorescent lights along the walkway, the incessant buzz of one of those blue light mosquito buzzers, empty ‘restaurant’ off the reception area etc etc. Still, it was dry, quiet, comfortable and had hot water – which is pretty much all that was required!

22-23 July… Alaska, USA

Ben and Adrian having brekky in Anchorage

Ben and Adrian having brekky in Anchorage – their last meal after a couple of weeks together!

 

Lauren and Adrian on the ferry from Whittier to Valdez

On the ferry from Whittier to Valdez

23 July – Day 1

Anchorage to Whittier by bike then Whittier to Valdez by ferry

Distance: 95kms by bike then approx. 6 hours by ferry

After packing up the bike – our first ‘full’ pack of the bike on the trip – we headed into Anchorage’s downtown area to meet Ben for brekky.

Fresh fruit, muesli, yoghurt, an espresso machine and soymilk from a café that is jam packed with people?! Yes please!! Another food tick for Anchorage.

We only just – and I mean just – managed to squeeze everything in / on the bike. This was the moment that Adrian discovered the few extras I’d brought along…. ie things that aren’t on the packing list – such as a travel yoga mat, a skipping rope and a summer dress. He did an excellent job fitting everything into the panniers – a job interrupted only by a discussion on whether 2.5 months’ worth of cotton tampons were or were not a “luxury item” (direct quote!!!!) and therefore could be left behind and just purchased on an ‘as needs’ basis. Hrumph. My personal view is that a gopro (sports camera that you can mount to your handlebars or helmet) plus all necessary gopro accessories like a waterproof casing is a luxury item; tampons are not. Needless to say, both are in the panniers ;).

The ferry ride was just beautiful… calm, translucent, blue-green water surrounded by pine forests and mountains and glaciers. The light here seems to bounce of the water and burst into thousands of dancing, shimmering sparkles. Stunning.

We caught up with a couple of other bikers (oh yes – it’s approaching 24 hours so I’m definitely biker now ;)) – one from Guatemala and one who spends his time between Mexico and the US. Both have invited us to stay with them when we’re passing through. It’s strange how that all works, this biker thing… and is kind of what I imagine being a stone mason must be like. You know, you’re sitting in a café and scratch your right ear three times and then cough twice before slapping your left thigh.. then you see a guy in the far corner do the same thing, your eyes meet and you realise you’re kindred spirits, BFF, that sort of thing. Being on or with the bike is similar to that. It’s like a universal icebreaker.. bikers and nonbikers alike jump right into conversation with you, there’s no awkwardness, it’s like you’ve known each other for a while. It’s an interesting social phenomenon – and one I’m embracing.

Tonight we’ll be camping in Valdez at “Bear Paw” camping park. They have signs up saying that there’s a bear that has been hanging around, on and off, so don’t put rubbish out after 4pm or leave food in your tent. Still, I feel very safe here… with so many other camping Americans around, surely there are guns, too. So if the bear did come back, I figure all I’d have to do is call out. Strange really, that I feel safe because of the guns?! Guns, and all of my new friends.

22 July – Day 0

Anchorage

I arrived in Anchorage about 5.30pm local time after a 26 or so hour commute from Sydney. Happily, I managed to sleep for about half of that time… or at least I think I did… given that I missed one meal and was woken by my neighbours for two others before promptly going back to sleep. Nice to see that my special talent of being able to fall asleep before a plane has taken off is still going strong!!

The flight into Anchorage was just stunning. We flew low over spectacular, snow topped mountain ranges and glaciers. With streaming sunshine and a clear blue sky as the backdrop, it was an incredible welcome to country.

Lauren standing next to a stuffed bear in Anchorage

Loz with bear in Anchorage downtown… the closest I’m hoping to come to one!!!

I cabbed it to the place where I was staying, thinking that Adrian would probably be there and hoping that the guy who owned the house would also be there to let me in. No luck on either front!! We had booked a room using airbnb – a website where people rent out rooms in their house – and although I’d confirmed with him just before leaving Sydney, I hadn’t received any instructions like, you know, how to get in.

Fortunately, my first thought after the doorbell went unanswered was to check for a key under the mat and volia! So I got in – and went looking for a note or something telling me, you know, which room to stay in etc. No luck again! So I guessed which room looked like the spare/guest room and made myself comfortable. For a moment I did think it was a little strange that I’d let myself in to someone’s house using a key I’d found under their doormat, had helped myself to an apple from the fruit bowl and was now napping in one of their beds… but hey, it’s Alaska.

Adrian finally arrived a couple of hours later and we went into town for dinner with Ben. Fresh vegetarian spring rolls and tofu and quinoa salad?!! Oh yes. I was so happy. Go Anchorage!!! If Alaska caters to my dietary preferences, surely I’m set for the rest of the trip? Who would have thought that between the fur, gun and bear/moose tourist shops we would be able to find such good food?! I think Adrian is a little concerned that my food expectations – which were very, very low – have now been inflated to unrealistic proportions.

Anchorage itself is a cute little city. The population is about 300,000 and it seems pretty spread out. Every second shop in down town sells furs – clearly that’s a big thing here. And there are a heap of bars… according to my cabbie, Alaska has the biggest alcohol problem in all of the US.