They peddled their bicycles packed with equipment and made their determination clear with every meter forward. I was truly humbled by their presence. We would always slow down to give them a wide space and a wave as we passed by. I often find that bicyclists are among the few outside our sport that understand and are interested in my long-distance motorcycle trips. I believe that their endurance mindset is very similar.
As we headed down to Fairbanks, Jeff and I tried to calculate when we would meet up with Joe. We guessed that somewhere between Hot Spot and Fairbanks he'd be pulling up behind us. The beautiful clear skies that day made for good riding and a speedy trip down south. As we pulled into Fairbanks our first assignment was a call to the BMW MOA answering service. Weird thing, there was no new message. I asked the associate on the phone if Joe had picked up my last call. "No, he has not tried to call in." was the reply. I guessed that Joe had not made it to a phone yet. We continued southeast, heading down to Tok, Alaska and stopped to fill up our tank at the same station we did on the way up. We hit the phones again - with the same outcome. This time I left a message that estimated our destination for the day's ride. Joe must have started to take it slower. I figured it might take another day to meet up with him again.The road view from Tok to the Yukon border is much less distressed by man than the last stretch we had just come from, but most of the vista landscapes were of scrub forests, marshland and river deltas and not much else. At one point, the clear blue skies were disturbed with the smoke of another ground fire, which looked to be just starting but already an inferno. White smoke poured upwards to the heavens making a clear path from its source. I'm sure that within a few hours the entire area was again filled with the smoky mist we had faced coming down from Chicken.
We were glad to be heading away from this disaster. The closer we got back to the Canadian border the more scenic the surroundings became. We passed through customs with a wave and took in the majestic melting snow capped mountains before us. We kept pushing on; the last 100-mile stretch was truly a pleasure to ride. Highway 1 for a good length runs the total south shoreline of Kluane Lake; with the other side of the roadway banked with the foot of the Kluane Mountains. As we rode on, the sun pulled lower in the sky, making a warm glow over the vastness of the mountain view. We continued on until we hit Haines Junction, YK and ended up putting in another 625 miles that day. We stopped at a small motel right at the junction fork. Our late arrival made this choice our only in the area. After checking in we again made our call, this time convinced that Joe would have left a message, but no deal. Jeff and I parked ourselves at the bar and ate its late dinner fare. I distinctly remember the surreal feeling of that evening. The night sky's royal blue glow held what felt like a never-ending dusk. There was light enough outside for the bars lighting not to add much to the room's overall light. The activity in the bar was that of a night scene; local's drinking and young couples playing pool. The effect of this never setting sun was very seducing. It is said that many a man has found his way to these parts in the summer months and feverishly worked at twice the output in half the time. That man is then fooled when the sun turns its back in the winter months, only to desert his enthusiasm in the cold.
We rose to another beautiful day. Our doorstep overlooked a valley of forest green with a mountain range of blue topped in spotted white patches in the distance. Jeff and I grabbed a quick sit down breakfast and saddled up to ride on. Once again, we placed that unrequited call. I knew Joe to be a good rider and I also knew that when he took off from us he wanted his space, so I thought maybe he had just decided to ride his own ride. I recall thinking that I should have been less dictatorial in my decision-making earlier on. My plan was to continue to keep leaving messages for Joe and wait for his reply. That morning we had a passing visit from our old friends the ravens. The first few times they appeared I thought that I needed pictures of these creatures because of our history together, so when I spotted a group coming up in the distance, I pulled out my pocket camera and snapped one off (well, in fact you can hardly see the birds in the shot). Besides a little construction traffic outside of the junction we had a wide-open highway to speed us on our way. And speed we did. Throughout the ride I was impressed by what a good match the F650 was with my R100GSPD. Fully loaded, both bikes had no problem cruising at 85 mph. The clear sky and open road made looking out for animals and the like an unchallenging task. About 100 miles in for the day Jeff called over the CB that his bike's overheat light was on. We pulled over to see if anything looked out of place with the cooling system. Outside of some dirt on the radiator core, the system was holding its water. With the fan seemingly to still be functioning, it looked good to go. We hopped back on our rides and proceeded to take it a bit slower, thinking that maybe the speed was too much for the F650 loaded down like it was. For the next 150 miles the light would come on for 30 seconds and then blink back off again. We stopped and tried using a toothbrush to clean the suspected dirt from blocking any of the precious radiator core fins. This seemed to work for a short while. But only a short while! Then we decided to clean off the radiator core fins with a hosing of water. We stopped at the next roadside motel we could find. The proprietor allowed us use of their hose and we did a bang up job of thoroughly cleaning the radiator. This last fix seemed to do the job. All the time we were dealing with the F650 problem we were passing gorgeous panoramas and even with all the attention paid to Jeff's cooling system it did not take away from our enjoyment of the road that day. The "big (so called) attraction" was Watson Lake, YK. This village was made famous by its signpost forest, a collection of ordinary street signs started back in 1949 by a member of the Army Engineers while working on the Alaskan Highway. The project has grown to well over 10,000 signs with the help of worldwide visitors that have stopped by to hang up whatever sign they have managed to pilfer from their hometowns. We stopped for the obligatory photos and headed back out for one of the destinations I was looking forward to, Laird River Hot Springs. Located directly off the Alaska Highway, this stop provides the weary traveler a place to soak in nature's bath. We had intended to hit three hot springs during the trip but my breakdown threw off the schedule and these stops were the first off the list. Tonight we would at last be back to our original plans. The stop also had a hotel room waiting for us by reservation. About 45 miles outside of Watson, Jeff's bike started speaking again by way of the overheating light. We pulled over and this time the problem was evident; the cooling fan was on the fritz. We played with it and got the fan to spin but only on and off. We had only about 45 miles to the Laird River Hot Springs so it seemed that heading there was our best bet. 15 miles down the road Jeff's radiator makes like Old Faithful and sprays most of its coolant out the overflow bladder. So there we were once again, 60 miles from nowhere. Thank god we had a satellite phone. It was those damn ravens. All you had to do was look at those frigging birds and you're toast. About an hour later Jeff rode off with the tow truck from Watson Lake and I stood there on the lonesome span of road. It was not ravens crying out in laughter I heard this time, instead it was a sad Irish love song that filled the air! What the hell was I hearing? The solemn pith of a lovelorn flute played in the forest beyond the roadway. I sat on my bike for a minute thinking that this sound was some kind of audio hallucination. Finally I pulled off my helmet and took out my earplugs and yes, the music of a lonesome Irish ballad was playing over and over through the woods that banked the highway. I remounted my beemer and rode slowly in the direction of the song. Now I figured it out. The bridge that we had just passed before Jeff's bike spit it's precious coolant had below it a campsite for some fisherman. That hour and a half we had sat around thinking we were the only people from there to Watson Lake, we were in fact about 2000 ft away from a couple of guys who never said a word while they were likely listening to us commiserate about being stuck in the middle of nowhere. Well, at least they were not grizzlies!