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Day 6
June 10th, 2004
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


My watch sounded off promptly at 6am and I rolled over and stuck my feet on the floor.  I was still missing my high tech alarm clock, mostly because it had a snooze button.  I clicked on the TV and a weather babe said a "foonal" system was moving in from the coast and heading for the mountains.  Great, right where I am going.

My first task for the day was gas.  I left the motel, went 2 blocks and anchored at the gas mart I bought popcorn from the day before.  I filled the 13 up to the tune of 7.3 gallons, man that was close.  I went inside to have my card swiped.  Not a single gas station I visited in western Canada had a swipe at the pump set up.  It was quite annoying.

On my way out of the city, I missed the Yellowhead sign and wound up turning around at the landfill driveway.  I went back the direction I came looking for the sign.  I found it, and a few minutes later I was out of city.

A quick running 18 wheeler set the pace out of Saskatoon, and I held on for dear life as we raced across the prairie.
Cloud shadows moved across the prairies as I zipped westward. 




















 
  
I     watched cloud shadows move across the land as I rode west.

I passed a slow moving RV with Georgia plates.  I wondered where in Georgia they were from,  I hoped they noticed my Alabama tags.
The sun was soon replaced by thick rainy looking clouds.  I knew I was in for a all out race with the approaching rain front, to see who was going to reach Jasper first.  The weather radar on TV put me at the disadvantage, but I knew I was quicker.

East of Maidstone, I was cruising along minding my own business.  Even on auto pilot, I'm aware of my surroundings.   I could see a east bound 18 wheeler moving at a fast clip.  One of the hundreds I've seen already this morning.   The truck and the 13 were closing down on each other in hundreds of feet a second, when it reaches 50 car lengths from me, I see a small animal dart across the road from the north side.  My mind computed, "that skunk is fixin to get his ticket punched", then I thought "surely the driver ain't gonna try to avoid it?  And if he does, and jack knifes, what will I do?" I calculated I needed to slow and check both shoulders for an escape, not deciding which one to take till I see the direction the trailer will go, which I knew was going to slide hundreds of feet before coming to a stop, but I HAVE to know both options are good so as not to waste time looking when the time comes.  In a half second all was computed and I was taking the necessary action.  I went to the lever and peddle, and the powerful stoppers of the 13 grabbed the bike, quickly bringing it down to a manageable speed. The 13 was taking precaution action even before the truck driver knew what HE was going to do.  Sure enough the driver cut hard to his right, and the trailer swung in then out, I took the 13 near the shoulder prepared to go out in the prairie if the truck jack knifed in front of me, but it never did.  The trailer lined back up after swaying, and all was well, except for the skunk, he was still rolling when I came by.  The sack with the odor burst, and I rode by the spray.  The odor nearly knocked me off the 13.  It was awful.  

I was pissed at the driver for being so stupid.  Hit the damn skunk and be done with it.  Don't try evasive maneuvers at 80mph.  The guy must've been a tree hugger of some kind.  The man could've killed himself and hurt me.  I can assure you the reproductive cycles of skunks are so vast 10 more were waiting to take his place.  I was scared the skunk mist hit me when I came by and I was going to be banned from civilization for the next few days.

After that the rest of the day was anti climatic. (not really)

Closing in on North Battleford I ran into a slow steady rain.  Up came the screen for what I hoped would a short rain.  I was wrong.  It rained and rained.  Riding in the rain can be fulfilling and annoying.  As long as it's not a cold rain, I can get by, but this one was borderline.  Air temp was reading a cool 57 degrees.

The dark skies and clouds dampened my spirit and the road.  At least it was a calm, light rain, and not one of those that beat you down.  When I'm the rain I shift into a another level of awareness, although I took comfort in the fact my bike has ABS.  So far, its never came into play.

The rain picked up for a few miles then abated, but the skies were still dark.  It would be this way most of the way to Jasper, as I passed in and out of the pockets.  I lost the race to Jasper.  The rain had socked in and the front was passing over.

There are lots of baseball fields and golf courses along the Yellowhead.  I wondered how folks found time to play the sports in the short summers up here.  One thing they did have going for them, don't need lights with the long daylight hours.

I played the miles-kilometer game into Lloydminster.  My guess was within 25 miles.  I entered the city in a steady drizzle and found a gas mart with a liquor store next door. 

Inside I found a small table and stool, and had the usual.  I failed to notice I'd just commandeered the gas jockeys desk.  This place employed a guy to pump gas.  He came over to speak and I offered his table back, but he declined, said he was glad for someone to talk to.
 
The man looked old beyond his years.  His hair was a mess and dirty looking, while his hands and face were cracked and dry with more than a few scars. The thick eyebrows on his head were salt and pepper.  He said he use to be a mechanic, but was layed off after 15 years on the job.  Now he just barely squeaks by.  He's been pumping gas here for 2 years.

"yeah, but look at the bright side, you get to see ALL these FINE ladies coming and going in here."  As a smartly dressed, attractive blonde in high heels, drives up and comes in.

"Well yeah, but I'm too old to do anything about it," As he waved at a man heading to the liquor store.  "That guy is like a clock, the store opens at 10 and he's there.  Doesn't miss a morning.  I know all the regulars.  So what do you back in Alabama?"

" Firefighter, for a few more months anyway.  Going to retire soon.  Family? Wife?"

"Wife left me years ago, and my kids live back east, ain't seen them in years.  You know I wanted to be a cop long ago."  The tone in his voice lightened when he said that.  When I asked how cold it gets here in the winter he said, " Son it gets so cold here you'd never believe it after coming from where you come from, try -20 or -30."

"Really," in the matter of fact tone.   I wanted it to sound like I didn't doubt him.

He did not say why he never fulfilled his dream of being a cop.

I finished my morning break, and went back to the 13.  While I was gloving up, I looked back inside and saw the old man sitting at his stool, starring through the rain dropped covered windows at his gas pumps, waiting for the next car to roll up.  For reasons I don't know, this chance encounter, has stood out from the many I came across on this trip.  I threw my leg over the 13, and punched the starter, and the 13 came to life with its high tech snarl filling the parking lot.

The man continued to look outside and I could feel his eyes on me as I circled the Honda back out to the highway.  I gave him one last wave from the handlebars and he kind of gave me a salute.  I was sad for him.  I know he feels like his life passed him by and he missed out on the things he wanted to do, like becoming a cop.  I wanted to tell him he still has many years left, and although he couldn't be a cop, he could pursue other dreams, but I don't know if it would've done any good, it appeared as though he had given up, and was just playing out the string.

Back on the Yellowhead I pointed the 1300 west bound away from Lloydminster.  I was back in more rain and it contributed to my sad feelings about the man at the gas pump.  I looked in my mirrors rearward and could see  my tracks in the wet road, leading back to Lloydminster and the depression that seemed to permeate the city, and I'm not just referring to gas mart.  Perhaps it was the dark, rainy day, but the whole place was in a state of despair.

The Yellowhead morphs into 4 lanes west out of Lloydminster into Alberta.  The cold rain was having a affect on me and I just wanted to get to Jasper now.  In Vermillion, route 41 and the Yellowhead intersect, and at the crossroads I spotted a cafe called the Journey.  I pulled up in the drizzling rain and went in for something to eat.

I was working on my journal when my wife called and asked why I had not called, when I said I hadn't checked my messages, she asked, "WHY NOT?"  "Dang baby I've only stopped one time this morning, and then I was engrossed in a conversation with a gas jockey."  "DO WHAT?"  "Never mind."  I knew I'd never be able to explain.

Lunch was a pretty good Veal parma.  

After lunch I went over to a gas station and topped off the tank.  A couple from Calgary pulled in on a Yamaha Venture.  They advised it was raining where they came from.  They were nice folks and we chatted for a few minutes.  They told me how great the Icefields Parkway is.
























                              I met this friendly couple in Vermillion

I ran into and out of rain all the way Edmonton.  There were no outer loops to take, the Yellowhead takes you right through the middle of town.  Oil refineries dotted the landscape, the smell reminded me of New Jersey.  It took me 30 minutes to negotiate through it.

Leaving the city, the weather improved.  The clouds began to break apart, and the sun actually appeared.  I was thrilled.  I was feeling warm again and the riding was good.  I knew it wouldn't be long before the first vestiges of the Rocky Mountains would come into view.

Down came the screen and up went the speed.  I brought the 1300 up to 90 mph on the smooth, open road, and quickly dispatched the hundred or so miles to Edson.  I was passing through the town when I spotted an internet cafe.  I parked the 13 on the curb and went inside.  

A soft spoken lady was behind the counter, I asked her what the procedure was and she pointed me to the desk top.  Two dollars for 8 minutes.  
I foraged around for a couple of those 2 dollar coins they use in Canada.  I don't know for sure, but I think that's the problem with the Canadian dollar, that and a little too much socialism.  When you make dollars out of coins it reduces the value automatically.  All dollars should be paper, it's a psychological thing.

My 4 dollars bought 16 minutes of internet surfing.  I went to my checking account, and answered only the vital email out of the 76 I had waiting.  I left a note on the ST bbs that I was alive and well, and approaching the Rocky Mountains.  When I finished I got back on the road. 

As I neared Hinton, the Rocky Mountains appeared.  Always an inspiring sight.  The mountains were covered in clouds, and it looked like more rain was trapped on the west side.  I stopped at a McDonald's for a apple pie and Coke.  I checked the map to see how far I had to go, and left VJ a voice mail as to my whereabouts.

The rain hit me shortly after I left Hinton.  I slowed down as I eased my way along highway.  The Yellowhead follows the valley as it takes you into Jasper.  Mountain peaks guarded the approach on all sides. The rain was steady as I made my way.  Several times the Arai tried to fog in the cool, wet air.  I cracked the bottom to clear things up.



























                 The Yellowhead slices through the valleys into Jasper

It was a beautiful ride into Jasper despite the weather.  Traffic was moderate as vacationers made their way into and out of the mountain resort.  The rain was a steady drizzle when I entered the city.  The resort is small so I didn't have much trouble finding the motel.

I was circling around the building looking for a parking lot when a figure leapt from curb.  "Guy!! HEY GUY!!"  It was VJ.  "So how'd ya know it was me?"  "Now how many jokers ya think ride into Jasper on ST 1300 loaded for cross country?"

He showed me where to park and helped me get my stuff upstairs.  The room was great, and I was looking forward to a hot shower and a long deep bath.

I ended the day with 575 tough miles, but I was in Jasper and felt good about completing phase 2.  The toughest part was over.  The scenery and the leaning will improve from here out.  We will be riding through some truly amazing country the next few days all the way to San Francisco.  I'd been on the road several days and was glad to have some company for the next phase of the trip.

I'm primarily a solo rider, but I do enjoy a few days with old friends on a long tour.  I had been looking forward to this phase since leaving Minnesota.  But before tomorrow, we have to celebrate our arrival in Jasper and the completion of phase 2.

After I settled in we took a stroll in the light rain to a pizza parlor, where we had some good pizza and conversation.  VJ is great guy and good friend, but I can't understand his Indian (Asia) accent, and he can't comprehend my southern.  We said "huh" so many times it was getting comical.  We were eating and talking and finally he said.  "Slow down so I can understand."  " I was about to tell YOU the same thing."  Somehow we were going to have to work this communication gap out.  People must have struck us a strange riding duel.

At last I got to ask him something I'd always wanted to know.  "So what is it about ya'll and motels?"  " I dunno, I think its because you can buy them a dime on the dollar, and a family can run them cheaply."  VJ works for a software company in Silicon Valley.

VJ brought me up to date on his trip so far.  He came up north through Idaho and Montana.  This was his first long solo trip and he was amazed and thrilled.  I could tell by the tone of his voice he was excited to share it with me.  I always love it when someone gets to do something they'd been wanting to do for a long time.

It was still raining when it was time to walk back to the motel.  We stopped off in the bar and watched a little tv before going upstairs.
VJ clicked the TV on for the latest weather report.  It wasn't good.  More rain in the area, but getting better as you move southward.  It was the area we were in.  It just rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest, accept if if you ever come this way.

We have a short ride tomorrow to Salmon Arm.  We won't decide till then on which side of the Cascades we'll go.  It will depend on the weather in the Seattle area.  I have good riding planned for both scenarios. 

Sleep time came quickly after the weather report.  The great thing about VJ the man does not make a whimper when he sleeps, as if he goes unconscious.



Next: the Icefields Parkway and more British Columbia scenery.  Great riding.
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