We're finally on the Alaska Highway – the real start of the trip North. Dawson Creek is the actual starting point of the Alaska Highway, Mile 0, and right downtown there is a substantial monument to attest to that fact.
For you history buffs, the Alaska Highway was built in 1942 by the US Army as a way of supplying Alaska with troops and materials in the event of a Japanese invasion of the Alaska mainland. (That mainland invasion never occurred, but the Japanese did invade the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and a fierce war was fought on American soil as we repelled the invaders at Attu, Amchitka, and many other islands in the Aleutian chain. There is a wonderful book on the subject titled "The Thousand Mile War.") The original highway measured 1,523 miles from Dawson Creek, BC to Fairbanks, AK and was completed in just eight months through swamps, across mountains and in weather as cold as –60 degrees F.
On my first several trips on the Alaska Highway, between 1968 and 1976, it was still all gravel from 100 miles north of Dawson Creek to the Alaska border - some 1,200 miles. It was still quite an adventure in those days as three or four vehicles would drive together for hundreds of miles to lend support in case someone got in trouble. Getting stuck in the mud and breaking down was commonplace. The dust could be so bad you almost stopped when another vehicle passed – particularly a semi truck. But things have changed over the intervening 30 years, and the highway is all paved now, a few miles of construction being excepted.
For 100 miles out of Dawson Creek, the wind blows so hard from our left-hand side, that Randy talks about almost scraping his footpegs on the ground because his bike leaned over so much - and that was to go straight. The wind was easily 40 – 50 knots.
Dawson Creek is in the Peace River Valley, and farming appears to be the economic mainstay. As we ride we view a patchwork quilt of brilliant yellow canola fields interspersed with the varying shades of green of wheat and alfalfa fields. Really a beautiful pastoral view that soon gives way to forests as we get north of Fort St. John and all the way to Fort Nelson.
We've all been on the road for at least four days by now, and we have developed our individual speeds and distances before stopping. Jan and I like to get up at the crack of dawn (which by the way, is already very, very early when you're this far north) and get on the road. Part of this is habit and part is practical. The BMW is the slowest of the five bikes, and Jan is the least experienced rider, so we start early to not hold up the group. Randy often starts a bit later, but has caught up with us in an hour or two, and rides with us the until the lunch break. Eric and Julia choose to get going a little later and catch us with us by lunch or early afternoon. We set a place and time for lunch each day, but aren't always there at the same time.
By Fort Nelson the BMW is leaking gas so badly from the clamped fuel hose that it must be fixed. This is the hose I was ensured did not need to be changed back in Prince George. We're lucky and find a motorcycle shop in Fort Nelson at just five minutes to closing. The owner agrees to wait until I can bring the bike in, then replaces the fuel hose in just a few minutes. It appears to be fixed for good this time.
We have made reservations at a bed and breakfast owned by Frank and Gail Parker, just outside Fort Nelson. They have a beautiful log home Frank built 15 years ago, which was turned into a B&B after the three kids moved out. Gail is a teacher and librarian at the local grade school, and Frank is retired from the local petroleum refinery. Among other things, Frank served ten years as the mayor of Fort Nelson, and was the British Columbia dog sled racing champion in 1993. They are just lovely people and provide an atmosphere as friends, not as proprietors. We have a wonderful stay with the Parkers.
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