On the Caribbean coast now!

24 September – Day 64

Siquirres, Costa Rica to Puerto Viaje, Costa Rica
Distance: 119kms

Today I dipped my toes in the Caribbean.  It was lovely! You can tell we’re on the Caribbean and not the Pacific ocean side of the country, because all of a sudden there seem to be Rastafarians, reggae music and Bob Marley t-shirts everywhere. In no more than a couple of hundred kilometres – the country has changed! We got in early and took our time finding some accommodation…  although it’s low season, quite a few of the places aren’t prepared to negotiate on their prices at all. It’s strange really – we saw afterwards that one of the cabana places Adrian went to is offering a 30% discount for bookings over the internet… but wasn’t prepared to offer a real life, here right now potential guest any discount at all!! The plan is to have a couple of days here before heading into Panama and then shipping the bike across the Darien Gap to Columbia.

Puerto Viaje is mostly a ‘hippie tourist’ town with lots of yoga studios, retreat centres etc. Happily, that means they have yoga classes – and soy milk! It is very, very hot and they are low on water here… so low, that in the toilet cubicle at a cafe where we first stopped, the owner had put up a sign urging people to flush only when really, truly necessary.

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!

There’s a bear in there…

31 July – Day 9

Jasper, Alberta

Adrian with six small glasses of beer

Adrian doing some beer sampling at Jasper Brewing

Distance: 0kms

The weather couldn’t have been better… warm and sunny with a sparkling blue sky; the kind of day that just smells like summer. It was a day full of that lovely feeling that your skin is being gently kissed by the sun. Not burned, just tenderly embraced.

We decided to walk from town to the start of the Jasper Tramway (a cable car going up to the top of Whistler mountain)… or rather we negotiated and then agreed that we’d walk there and bus it back. Although Adrian likes bushwalking, and will happily go for a hike, I don’t think he’s particularly fond of walking as a form of commuting. Whereas I love it!

According to the map, it was only 5kms. Easy! Except… the map lied. Or possibly, we misread the map. It was about 8kms I’d say, with about 5 of those straight uphill, on a road with no verge, meaning we had to step into the bushes any time a car came past. Did I mention that it was a gorgeous summer’s day, so we had the sun beaming down on us for all 8kms?!

And then there was a bear incident. Well, a sort of incident. Which made me wonder why I’d even considered walking up to the start of the tramway in the first place. Anyway, we were trotting along at a reasonable pace when we saw cars start to pull over up ahead, 50 metres or so in front of us. That can only mean one thing in Jasper National Park: native wildlife has been spotted. Sometimes it’s a bison, or a goat, or a caribou. Or, a bear. We reached the first car, and the driver wound down his window to tell us “So a black bear just crossed the road. Just up there, 20 yards that-a-way. We thought you should know. Be careful.” My first though was to check if there was room in the car, in case we needed to jump in. However it was chock full of kids. However the car behind it, which we walked past next, only had two adults in the front seats so there was plenty of room if necessary. Just at that moment, the black bear crossed back across the road no more than 20 m from where we were standing. As Adrian helpfully pointed out, he was at least three times further away from the last bear when I kept telling him to get back on the bike. Yeah, thanks.

View from the summit of Mt Whistler, Jasper

View atop Whistler Mountain, Jasper

The bear disappeared into the bushes, the cars drove off and we continued on our merry way… although for me it was slightly less merry, given that all I could think about was if/where/when we’d see the next bear. And we were only 2km in at this point – so there was still a loooong way to go.

Anyway, we made it up to the tramway without any other bear sightings, rode the tramway up the 1,000m to the almost-summit and then walked about another 1.5kms to the summit. It was beautiful! Jasper really is a gorgeous, albeit tourist-filled, town.

We ended up lunching atop the mountain before slowly making our way back down the mountain into town – by tramway then by bus.

I finished the day with a 1.5 hour yin yoga class at the Jasper yoga studio – bliss after a long day of walking and a week of sitting on a motorbike.

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!