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Day 5
July 22, 1999
Ft. Nelson to Iron Creek

We try to get on the road by 8 am, as we need to cover 300 miles today, but the BMW won't cooperate. Jan has been having a very difficult time shifting the transmission since Prince George, but now she just can't get it into gear. I get it started, but can smell the clutch plates burning, and see that the clutch cable is frayed almost completely through. So we are back to see Dan, the local Yamaha dealer who fixed the fuel leak. Luckily I brought along a spare clutch cable (as well as brake and throttle cables, and a toolbox full of spare parts) as I knew that BMW parts would be impossible to find up here. Dan has the new cable on, adjusts the clutch in just minutes, and after looking at Randy's chain which he determines doesn't need replaced just yet, we are on our way. Eric and Julia have joined us at the dealership and Eric waxes the chain on both Triumphs. So, we are on our way by 9:30 am a late start I just hate with 300 miles to run.

The BMW under repair at Fort Nelson, BC

It gets pretty remote up here. Randy and Eric both talked about bringing GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) units with them, but I dissuaded them. Said they didn't need them. The directions to get to Fairbanks are pretty simple. From Seattle you go straight north to Dawson Creek, then take a left. Fifteen hundred miles later you arrive in Fairbanks. There are so few roads up here you just can't get lost.

Toad River and the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia

With a population of just under 5,000, Fort Nelson is the only town for 600 miles along the highway between Fort St. John and Watson Lake. With a population of only 1,800, Watson Lake would be just a village in any other part of North America, but out here it's a regular city. This is very unpopulated country, to say the least.

The Alaska Highway winds through the Northern Rocky Mountains descending Steamboat Mountain Pass in northern British Columbia.

After several days of warm weather and sunshine, the sky is starting to cloud up, and 70 miles after leaving Fort Nelson we stop to put on rain gear. I notice a bracket has come loose on the sidecar. It turns out none of the bolts have lock washers, and a nut has worked it's way off. (The sidecar is a Russian-made Sputnik sturdy and unrefined.) I have a great supply of tools and parts with me, but no nut with this thread size, and so Randy and I improvise by wrapping some gasket material around the bolt and cinching it down with a small hose clamp. The quick fix should hold until we get to Whitehorse 500 miles and a day and a half down the road, where I can buy some new nuts and bolts to complete the repair.

Randy in full gear near Toad River, BC

It's tough going today. The roads are very narrow and winding through the mountains. We have agreed to meet around noon for lunch at Highland Glenn Lodge on beautiful Muncho Lake, and Eric and Julia have been waiting for over an hour when we finally pull in. Randy is riding with Jan and me. The BMW decides to run out of gas just five miles from the lodge, strangely enough with gas still sloshing in the tank, but apparently unable to get to the carburetors. My frustration with the BMW has reached a new high, but as luck would have it we are within a mile of a gas station. We make it to lunch, and the bike runs fine for the rest of the day.

Scenery-wise, this has been our nicest day. For hours we run through the mountains. Across Steamboat Mountain and Summit Pass, and beside the winding, rushing, stone-filled Tetsa River. We see mountain sheep and two caribou. Eric, Julia and Randy see some bear, but I miss them. We ride through the heart of the Northern Rockies at Muncho Lake and Stone Mountain Provincial Parks. The scenery is just spectacular.

Dall sheep near Stone Mountain Provincial Park, BC

Mid-afternoon we all agree to meet at Liard Hot Springs, a Provincial Park just off the highway. Randy and Jan don't partake, but I join Julia and Eric in the developed outdoor springs. It's a great stop, but after a half-hour in the warm sulfur water I wonder if I'll be able to stay awake for the final 100 miles to Iron Creek Lodge.

Eric & Julia enjoy the waters at Liard Hot Springs in northern BC, about 500 miles up the Alaska Highway.