In June of 2017, four of us headed out to ride our motorcycles to Alaska. These memories are from that trip. Enjoy!
Grande Cache, AB was where we set up camp this night. Where? Don’t blink you might miss it. It really is off the beaten path on your way north, but once you leave Jasper, it is on the main road that will take you most directly to Dawson Creek, BC. Also known as, The Alcan or Mile Zero, Dawson Creek is the starting point for people heading north. Grand Cache is the kind of place that when you show up, people seriously question why you are there. That’s what happened to us anyway.
A bit of history. The construction of the Alaska Highway started on March 8 of 1942. The completion of the highway, approximately 1700 miles, was October 28, 1942. Can you believe that? It took then almost 8 months to build a road 1700 miles long. To put that distance on a map across the US, if you started in San Francisco, you would end up in Omaha, NE. To put this in perspective, Minneapolis just started a construction project on 35 W heading to and from South Minneapolis that is planned to take 4 years to complete. How long is that stretch of road? About 3 miles. Uggh!
After leaving Canmore, AB in a cold and rainy downpour, we headed toward Lake Louise to gas up and to do a bit of sight seeing. I was truly amazed at both the Fairmont Chateau and the Moraine Lake Lodge. There were grand and gorgeous and perfectly placed to soak up the surrounding natural wonder. I hope to spend some time there someday with my wife. The weather was clearing up some for us, so we were able to start shedding clothes. Allen was so heavily dressed up with layers and rain gear, it looked like he was competing with the Michelin Man. The whole group was battling with cold and wet and trying to find the perfect gear to remain comfortable for a long day ahead. Good thing we still had 20 some days or so to get the gear figured out.
Leaving Lake Louise, heading north towards Jasper, we jumped on the Icefields Parkway. Most of the rain by this time had stopped, and the sun started to come out. This portion of the trip was gorgeous as we headed towards Jasper. Glaciers dotted the mountains. Rivers and lakes of ice blue ran along the highway and waterfalls cascaded down mountains.
After a morning and afternoon of meandering north, we ended up in Jasper for some wings and a beer. This stop was well deserved as we hadn’t eaten since that morning in Lake Louise; here we treated ourselves with the finest gas station gourmet available. We also needed to dry ourselves off because we got hit with another downpour as we headed into Jasper. The wings were good, the beer was cold, and we had already had a big day behind us. Spending the evening in Jasper would have been great, but I think we all realized that it was still early and we should get a few more hours in before we call it a night. We topped off with espresso and other forms of caffeine, geared back up and hit the road towards Dawson Creek, the start of the Alcan.
Leaving Jasper, the terrain began to change drastically. We no longer had the sharp peaks of the Icefields Parkway. The mountains around us started to flatten out and the forests around us started to close in on the road. After we turned off the Trans-Canada highway in Hinton, AB, we had the road mostly to ourselves. We were now back on Highway 40. (Remember Crows Nest Pass and the gravel. Equally as wild but, it was paved this time, thankfully.) The next gas stop was 100 miles away, and we were nearing a time that would have been best to buy a bottle of bourbon and a six pack, pitch a tent and recharge. Think dusk, large animals, and the sky in the distance were black and threatening storms. But damn it, we had places to be.
After one near miss by an asshole in a hurry, trying to pass the lot of us with inches to spare, we made it to Grande Cache for gas. By now we were all feeling pretty damn good and had hit the stride. We had about 200 miles to Dawson Creek, and we still had at least two hours of sunlight ahead of us, and were prepared to push on to find a campground down the road. But, things started to get a bit weird at the gas station in Grande Cache.
It felt like everybody that we talked with at that gas station was conspiring against us to keep heading down the road. Nobody that we talked to wanted us to leave that town. It was freaking weird at the extent of the stories and reasons for spending the night in Grande Cache, that came at us from what seemed like completely random people. What was going on? The gas station attendant, the random customer the attendant knew, the young women who was walking across the parking lot all thought it was going to be catastrophic if our group was going to go anywhere that evening.
Grande Cache, was the gateway of the Willmore Wilderness Park, but it was also in the middle of an oil boom. Think of Williston, NorthDakota. So we were surrounded by wilderness, but it was taken over by oil trucks, construction, and heavy equipment. The road leading into Grande Cache, which we had just experienced, had become more debris ridden (mostly mud and degraded pavement because of the heavy equipment) as we got closer to town. Supposedly, as we leave town, the road was going to get worse. Much, much worse. According to the locals, the roads were covered in inches of mud, fog was thick as night, large animals both live and dead littered the roads. Live animals ready to pounce in front of you at any given moment, and dead animals from having been run over by the oil trucks, now stacked two and three deep. The picture painted by the locals was bleak. The clearly did not want us to leave. With the evening setting in, rain clouds beginning to drop their water, and the locals highly encouraging us to not venture forward as we would most surely never live to tell about it, we decided to camp in the town campground. And my imagination started to run wild……
A quick stop for the nights provisions, we found the campground, found a site that was relatively high and not completely water soaked. We circled our tents in wagon train fashion for protection from the psychotic locals that were going to come at night, kill us, and feed us to their children as sacrifices. Or so I thought as I told this story to my fellow campers.
We had a nice dinner of freeze dried food in between rain drops, washed it down with a bourbon or two, and went to bed for a really great night of rest….
Until tomorrow morning when we heard some scratching outside the tent…… Okay not really. But going to bed thinking about the road ahead certainly left some doubt in our minds. We were going to either face the forthcoming dangers, the muddy roads, wild animals and zero visibility or high tail it back and find a different route around.
Parting shot: Listen to the locals, but take heed. Make decisions based on the information around you. All to often on this trip, we were painted the picture of doom and gloom on the road ahead only to find out that what was presented was not even close to being as bad as presented. So take caution, but move on if necessary. Then again, if you don’t let yourself play into the fears of others, you might never be able to tell your own zombie apocalypse story where the locals came to rob you blind and then to sacrifice your body to the Oil Gods of Grande Cache.