North to the Yukon, Day 4 – Getting the bikes dirty

View From The Dirt

View from the Smith Dorrien Trail (aka Route 742).

Today was Day 4 of our trip, in which we rode from Hinton, Alberta, just outside of Jasper National Park, to Dawson Creek, British Columbia.  While it was a lovely ride, it was really a traveling day where the goal was to get to the next destination – namely the start of the Alaska Highway, which happens to be in Dawson Creek.

So instead of telling you about the pleasant roads and the kilometer after kilometer of pine forests and natural gas wells, I’m going to go back to the start of Day 3 to tell you about our morning’s ride.

For those of you who not as familiar with motorcycles, Howard and I are riding motorcycles that are classified as adventure bikes.  They are basically bikes built for touring, but with some ability to, if not go off road, at least run well on dirt roads.  Howard’s KTM (the orange bike) has more off-road ability than my softer-focused Yamaha.  These are both big, heavy bikes that weigh in the vicinity of 600 pounds.

But as many of these adventure bikes that are out there, a good percentage of them never make it off the pavement.  Howard is a devoted dual-sport rider (that is, on and off road riding), and has a smaller, more dirt-oriented bike as well. And he was determined we should get our bikes dirty.

Route 742 off of Alberta 40 south of the Trans-Canada Highway near Banff

Route 742 off of Alberta 40 south of the Trans Canada Highway near Banff.

The night before as we were looking over online maps, Howard picked up that we had passed an interesting road 30 or so kilometers back that followed a winding path over the mountains up to Canmore, AB near the Trans Canada Highway, our initial waypoint for Day 3 on our way to Banff and Jasper national parks. So we decided to check out Route 742.  We headed back south on Alberta 40, then stopped to fill up our tanks.  (One of the rules of riding in remote areas is never pass a known gas stop in hopes of finding an unknown one!) The manager of the gas station said the scenery on the route was gorgeous, but that the road was gravel/dirt and could be pretty rough.  But then he looked out at our bikes and said, “But you’ve got the bikes to handle it.”

Now you should know that while Howard is an experienced dirt road rider, I am not.  I’ve always had street-oriented tires on my bike in past that always get kind of squirrelly when you throw gravel, sand or mud at them. But before this trip, Howard and I both put K60 Scouts on our bikes – tires that are equally at home in the dirt and on pavement. (i.e. – They are 50-50 street-dirt tires.) My bike also has some electronic riding aides that help with making the bike handle better under low-traction situations.


Howard in front of me on the Smith Dorrien Trail (aka Route 742)

So we ride up to the road (also known as the Smith Dorrien Trail), and it’s starting to rain. But I figure, I’ve got the right bike and tires for this, and I’ve got an experienced dirt rider with me.  No time like the present.  It took a few kilometers, but I gradually got used to the feel of the bike on the washboarded gravel road.  The new tires were great – I had so much more control on the gravel than I had had with my more street oriented tires.

As I rode, my comfort level went up, and I was soon able to ride the relatively low speed limit on the road.  Eventually, I even dialed back the electronic help one notch to better match the conditions.

At the end of the road, we had done about 89 kilometers worth of dirt/gravel road over a mountain pass in the Rockies, and I had found a whole new way of enjoying motorcycling.

Before I start feeling too proud, however, when we came near the end of the road, where there were lots of people parked to go hiking, Howard noticed there was a Smart Car in the lot.  Now, while the Smart Car didn’t go the whole route, it was still there…)

Howard with his KTM Adventurer and my Yamaha Super Teneré

Howard with his orange KTM Adventurer and my blue Yamaha Super Teneré

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North to the Yukon, Day 3 – Weather With You

Riding in the Rain

Photo by Howard Koontz

“Everywhere you go, you always take the weather, take the weather with you.”
-Neil Finn

There’s always the assumption that if you don’t have perfect weather on a motorcycle trip, something’s wrong. But I would have to say that an adventure is what happens when everything isn’t perfect.

Two by two, hands of blue...For most of our trip so far (and we are now at the finish of day three), we have had wind, rain, cold and damp in various measures each of the days. While we could have done without some of the wind, the rest have all been just part of the adventure.  We’ve always managed to get stopped in time to close up the vents and get the rain gear on. Of course, not all our gear is glamorous.  We rough, tough bikers use giant bus boy rubber gloves over our regular gloves to keep the rain at bay.

Sometimes the the clouds and cold bring something more than sun and blue skies with puffy clouds could.  The gloom of the clouds seems to fit the harsh lines of the Rockies.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now.

We have, of course, had plenty of warm, sunny times as well.  And those times are wonderful. But just because it’s raining doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong.





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North to the Yukon, Day 2 – Going to Glacier

After a 760-mile day, it was nice to have one a bit shorter, even though there was still lots of time in the saddle.

We got a reasonably early start out of Great Falls, Montana. Glacier National Park was beautiful on Monday morning, if a bit crowded. What can you expect on Fourth of July at one of the major parks… (As a side note, I’m really sorry I didn’t get any photos of the people lining up for a Fourth of July parade in small town Montana.) But even with the crowds it was still really gorgeous and fun. Howard has never been to Rockies before.

Me with my bike near the summit of Logan Pass.

Me with my bike near the summit of Logan Pass.

Howard with his bike. It was cool up there!

Howard with his bike. It was cool up there!

Then we took back roads up to the Canadian border crossing. Very quiet station! Asked how long we would be there, where we were going, and did we have any weapons. Easy Peasy.

We then rode across some really flat open plains and then turned toward the mountains again after having late lunch at Tim Horton’s. Ride toward the mountains was beautiful, but the temperature kept getting colder and colder, and there were deep purple clouds over the mountains – it was obviously raining. We stopped, got closed up for rain, and I plugged in my jacket… And we had a beautiful ride through the mountains. Cold! Dropped down into the low 40s. And while the pavement was wet enough that we both were kicking up spray, there was no rain.

Storm clouds over the road through the mountains.

Storm clouds over the road through the mountains. (Photo by Howard Koontz)

So we got off easy.

Tomorrow we’re going up to Banff and Jasper, and riding the Icefield Parkway. Going to just take it easy tomorrow – only about 200 miles to go. Will spend time being tourists.

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North to the Yukon, Day 1 – The Longest Day

So just a note on the numbering of days. I have an itinerary with the days numbered, that start once Howard and I start riding together. So that makes this post Day 1.  The day we met up in Sidney is Day 0, and the day I prepared to leave was Day -1.

We had a good, long day of traveling Sunday. Had to cover a lot of miles (760 of them) so we would have more time up north. But we still didn’t let that keep us from collecting national parks stamps from Scotts Bluff National Monument, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, and the Little Bighorn National Battlefield.

As I’ve mentioned before, people who think Nebraska is flat and boring have never been to the northwest part of the state.  When you get to Scotts Bluff you really get a feeling that you are in the Old West.

Ralph and Howard at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Ralph and Howard at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

From there, it was on to Wyoming and Fort Laramie.  It’s a late 19th century fort with the buildings made of an early form of limestone concrete.  Historically interesting and important, if not nostalgic.

An early concrete bunkhouse from Fort Laramie.

An early concrete bunkhouse from Fort Laramie.

Overall, the riding was good, but we hit some weather around Little Bighorn National Battlefield, near the southern Montana border. We saw the weather ahead and pulled under a bridge to close up the vents, put the rain covers over bags, and get ready for the wet. We had to give the Little Bighorn short shrift given that we were trying to get ahead of the weather. We weren’t entirely successful, but but managed to miss much of the rain, if not the wind.

The cemetery at Little Bighorn National Battlefield is a dramatic lesson in a dramatic setting. Storm clouds were approaching and pushed us on our way.

The cemetery at Little Bighorn National Battlefield is a dramatic lesson in a dramatic setting. Storm clouds were approaching and pushed us on our way.

So far this has not been a gourmet trip. We got into Great Falls, Montana late enough that all the restaurants were closed, so we had to scavenge what we could from a convenience store for dinner.

Up Next: Going to Glacier, Going to the Sun, going to Canada.

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North to the Yukon, Day 0 – Meeting Up In Sidney

Our Bikes

After getting started out of Kearney a lot later than I intended, Howard and I met up in Sidney, Nebraska to get started on our big adventure. Tomorrow is our longest day – riding fro Sidney to Great Falls, Montana.  That and stopping to get national park stamps at three separate sites.

At least now my class is done and grades are handed in, so I’m now mostly on vacation.

Oh, in case anyone was wondering – Howard’s Camel ADV auxiliary fuel tank worked fine today in the cooler weather.

More tomorrow.

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Let’s Ride: North to the Yukon and Southern Alaska, Day -1

It’s late, and there’s still lots to get done before I can roll, but tomorrow I head out on a trip I’ve wanted to take for a long time.

My friend Howard and I are riding our motorcycles from Texas (for Howard) and Nebraska (me) up to the Canadian Rockies; up the Alaska Highway up to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory; then down the Cassier Highway to Stewart, British Columbia and Hyder, Alaska; then across Canada down to extreme northwest North Dakota to see where my grandfather homesteaded back in the early 1900s; and then finally back home.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be posting photos, maps, and accounts of our trip. Hope you’ll all come along for the ride.

Good night!

North to Alaska map

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Another Big Tremor in the the Earthquake in Slow Motion: Part 1 – Some Context

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 is going down in history as a really big day in the world of television. The fact that C-SPAN aired cell phone video through the Periscope social media service for much of the day provided by Democratic members of Congress holding a sit-in in the U.S. House is nothing short of a siesmic change in our media world. This is the first of two blog posts looking at how television is changing.

Let me provide some context here.

Ken Auletta, Three Blind MiceJournalist Ken Auletta, writing in his book Three Blind Mice, said that the television networks were facing an earthquake in slow motion in the late 1980s.  There was the rise of cable, the growth of VCRs, the broth of new broadcast networks, and the realization by audience members that they ought to be able to control what they watched and when they watched it.

That earthquake continued to rattle on through the 1990s and the 2000ies with the growth of digital cable, direct broadcast satellite, DVDs and the digital video recorder.

And then, as I posted back in October of 2005, Apple set off what has turned out to be one of the biggest tremors in this ongoing quake.  Apple announced a new version of the iPod music player that  would now handle video files as well as music. Apple entering the video player market was a small thing. the big thing was that Apple was partnering with Disney to sell ABC Television’s top-rated TV shows through the iTunes media store. These programs were available the day after they aired on the network and cost $1.95 per episode without commercial interuption.

As I told my freshman class that morning, all mass media have both a hardware and a software component. There had been cool video hardware before, but there had not been such a revolutionary new source of programming for these devices that could be used by ordinary people.  The fact that Disney was willing to sell their top television titles the day after they air on broadcast in a form that you can keep and replay as often as you wanted was a truly major change in the media world.

That revolution of consumer control over what, when and where they want to watch continued on with the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

While the click-wheel iPods with physical hard drives are now in the archives of history (though I  happily still use my final edition iPod classic), watching video on our mobile devices is more popular than ever today. While our video world is quite different today, it does involve watching video that we have purchased online and either download or stream to the latest technological marvel.

At the end of my post nearly 11 years ago, I noted:

“Mark my words, Oct. 12, 2005, was a big day.”

I stand by that statement today, and I would argue that 11 years in the future, I will hold up the importance of Wednesday, June 22, 2016. More on that tomorrow.

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Wild Ponies: ‘Making It’ in music in the age of streaming and file sharing

There’s a popular trope out there these days that with streaming music and file sharing, there’s just no way for musicians to make a living as musicians. Game over.  Done. Unless you’re already big and famous.

But don’t tell that to Doug and Telisha Williams, aka the band Wild Ponies. As of this writing in the spring of 2016, the Williams have just released a new album, Radiant, on their own label; they released a limited-edition acoustic version of the same album at the same time; and they have a new album in the works to be recorded in the summer.  They’ve also been touring throughout the US and Europe, and in March they completed a two-week tour of … the Yukon Territory. Yes, northwest Canada, where they travelled from the airport on a trailer attached to a snow machine. (That’s north country speak for a snowmobile.)

Doug and Telisha met in high school where he was the drum major and she was a majorette.  They then played together in a rock ‘n’ roll cover band. “We eventually got married and tried day jobs, and that didn’t work, so we went to being musicians,” Doug said in a recent interview.  They’ve now been married more than 17 years. Wild Ponies play roots and Americana music – sort of a mix of country, bluegrass, blues, folk and rock. When they got started everything was acoustic, But their latest album is all-electric for Doug’s guitar, though Telisha still plays the upright bass. They are often accompanied by drummer Megan Jane and multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin.

“We’ve never been with a traditional record label,” Doug said. “We’ve never courted any of the major labels. And while we’ve flirted with the small indie labels, we’ve now formed out own small label.  When you have your own label, it means you spend more time on the business side than you want to… But it also gives you the responsibility.  You have to do your own work with radio promoter and the promotion person.

“It also means you have to raise your own capital, which is tough. It means you have to have a closer relationship between you and your fans.”

Doug says that principles for success he and Telisha count on come from the work of Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly and his theory of the “1,000 True Fans.” This is the idea that artists can be successful apart from a large company or media organization if they can find 1,000 true fans.  Kelly writes:

“A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res-version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.”

Doug says that artists who have a thousand or so true fans can have “a pretty good middle-class life. We don’t survive without fan engagement.  We don’t play a show anywhere where we don’t know someone in the audience on a first name basis.  Anywhere in the world. Amsterdam, London, southern Germany… Little towns in southern Germany.” (Full disclosure – your author and his wife are true fans of Wild Ponies.)

Wild Ponies inhabit a part of the music business (media business, really) located somewhere between the mega-stars who bring in enormous numbers of fans and the garage bands who hope to get a hundred plays on YouTube.  They inhabit a spot between the long tail and the short head on the media distribution curve.

For the Ponies’ first professionally produced album, Things that Used to Shine, they raised more than $30,000 from 340 backers through the crowd funding Web site Kickstarter. To get funding though Kickstarter, musicians (like everyone else seeking Kickstarter funding) put together a video pitch along with written details about their qualifications and the album they intend to make. Potential contributors pledge to fund projects they find interesting, but they only get charged if the project reaches the financial goal the creators set. If the project doesn’t reach its funding goal, no money is exchanged.  Assuming the project does reach its goal and gets funded, the people who pledge do not get an investment in album; instead, they get the satisfaction of supporting the project and very often some kind of reward, such as a copy of the album, a t-shirt, or even a dinner with the artist. (When filmmaker Spike Lee funded a small indie movie through Kickstarter, $10,000 donors got to go with Spike to a Knicks NBA game.)

Doug says that he and Telisha are pretty happy with the way their professional life is going. “People say “I hope you guys make it.”  But we are doing well.  I don’t even know what ‘make it’ means.  We’re paying our bills.  You can be a successful lawyer without arguing a case before the Supreme Court.  But I consider us successful. I love what we do.”

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Some thoughts on Captain America, IMAX and 3-D

I went to see Captain America: Civil War yesterday at the IMAX theater in 3-D, in which Marvel continues to show that super hero movies can tell stories of personal and political substance.

While I have enjoyed most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, I think the two most recent Captain America moviesCivil War and Winter Soldier — are both excellent character studies and meditations on values. Both deal with the importance of personal loyalty, your moral code, and a willingness to sacrifice yourself for something bigger. They also look at the complex issue of a World War II era soldier/super hero having to come to terms with a post-9/11 world.  I mean, we don’t really expect summer pop corn movies to give a deep examination on the nature of contemporary fascism. And yet, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says about his Black Panther comic series, along with dealing with heavy contemporary issues, you also need to have “supervillians with cool powers.” (BTW, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther (king and super hero) is one of the best things about Civil War. He brings a gravity an depth to the film as both a protector and ruler of a peaceful country that has just suffered a devastating loss. Name sound familiar? Baseman is the great classically trained actor who played Jackie Robinson in the biopic 42. As a second not, I’ve had no interest in Spider Man for years.  The version of the web slinger in Civil War is a great interpretation!)

As a side note, I would say that the IMAX production values of the movie were excellent, especially the extended battle scene shot in native IMAX format.

The 3-D? Not so much. The film seemed to be primarily shot with 2-D composition that did not make the 3-D interesting or useful. Lots and lots of quick cuts which moved the action along but don’t work well in 3-D. Three-D movies don’t have to be shot in 3-D to be effective, but they most definitely need to be composed for 3-D.
The Tron reboot, Prometheus, and Gravity all made fantastic use of 3-D. In all of those, the 3-D was used to place you in the scene rather than to show off action.

Regular readers here know I’m a fan of seeing movies in the best theater possible, and the cost of an IMAX ticket is well worth the money for Civil War.

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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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