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.
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.
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…)