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MOTO GUZZI NORTHWEST Rider Adventures

Timothy rides with COG to Hyder, AK.

Once again I was invited to ride with the COG (Concours Owners Group) on their annual trip to Hyder, Alaska. This ride is put on at no cost by my friends Dave & Cheryl  Owen in Prince George, BC. They call it the Northern Exposure. This is my story.

I left early from work Wednesday at 12:30pm in Vancouver, WA. I headed north on I-5 and stop at Bob and Marian Nolan’s in Auburn, WA, to say hi.  I didn’t get a chance to talk much with them at their Door Burner Party the weekend before. That in itself is a story we won’t go into right now.

When I pulled in their driveway there was Marian at the dining room table peering out the window looking puzzled as to who this was driving in. I can’t blame her, since I’m usually on a different bike whenever I stop by. Once I removed my helmet I saw a big smile then a wave.  She greeted me at the door with a big hug and told me Bob was out in the shop and couldn’t be disturb at the moment, because he was involved in a delicate project.  We sat down to chat for a while and I told her I was on my way to Hyder, AK. to get Hyderized.

“You’re kidding you say.  With who?” she asked. 

I told her my plans. And wouldn’t you know it, she then told me about the fine art of drinking 180 proof whiskey in Hyder. Bob & Marian have spent a fair amount of time in Hyder and in the Yukon. By this time it was time for Bob to be disturbed. We walked out to the shop where he was putting on the finishing touches on jewelling a stainless steel plate for one of his friends.

Marian said, “Timothy is on his way to Hyder.”

“You don’t say,” Bob replied.   He then proceeded to tell me of his experiences in Hyder. I just love listening to Bob’s stories. If I could only do a quarter of the things in my life he has done, I’d be happy.

I got them to pose for me by my bike. What a couple! They are still so much in love, just like two teenagers. I hope I will be so lucky in my golden years. Knowing Bob and Marian makes me wish I had gotten into Guzzis much sooner so I could have ridden with them. Bob’s mechanical understanding and ingenuity, I’ve yet to see his equal. They are truly treasures of the Guzzi community and of the Northwest.

I jumped back onto I-5 N. until I got to the Guzzi dealer, Skagit Powersports in Burlington, WA., to pick up two spark plugs and a spare headlight bulb. Guzzi is well requested there with twelve new Guzzis on the floor.  They even bought a new Dyno for their shop to assist in fine-tuning.

    After that I headed east on 20, then north on 9, a quiet little road lined with trees, green grass, lakes, and the Nooksack River, which borders much of this winding road. I stopped in at the Acme Cafe in Acme for a bite. It’s a nice mom and pop kind of place with good home cooking and decadent deserts. I find these kinds of places much more enjoyable than any corporate franchises. Don’t you think so? Back on 9, I get to Sumas, WA, the border crossing. I must have looked bad that day because the Canadian customs picked the EV11 and me apart for two hours. After thirty or more crossings I guess it was my time to be searched. After passing their test they welcomed me into Canada.

  I was to meet my friend Tine Matherly, who I’ve ridden on two Three Flags Classics with and a number of other rides, at the Alpine Inn in Abbotsford, B.C.  It supposedly was to be just over the border two blocks on the left. Well I drove all over for an hour only to not find an Alpine Inn. I asked locally and looked in the phone book, no Alpine Inn.  I called the 1-800 number Tine gave me only to get a hardware store. Of course being in Canada the phone number would be different.

Now feeling like I had just stepped into the Twilight Zone, I made a call to Tine’s cell leaving a message and to his wife and mine just in case.  I found a Super 8 and checked in since it was 9:45pm by this time.  I again left another message with Tine telling him what motel and room I was in, and if I was not able to hook up with him I’d meet him in Prince George.

Well by 5:00 am the next morning no Tine, so I headed east on 1 to Hope. Then north on 1 where for about 120 miles you go through Fraser Canyon with the Thompson River running at the bottom of this narrow canyon which was carved out by glaciers some 14 million years ago. A beautiful ride to say the least. Just before Cash Creek it starts to dry out and becomes a little flatter.

This is where I stopped for breakfast. Curiously instead of some of the patrons speaking Spanish like back home they were speaking French. An interesting change I would say, Ay!

   I headed north on 97 towards Prince George where it’s kind of desert, but nice just the same until I reach the community of 108-Mile House where I filled up at 89 cents a liter. There are sawmills everywhere with huge kilns. The beetle kill ran rampant in this country like it did stateside, only here the timber community is permitted to salvage the trees instead of letting them lay and rot to create a fire hazard. All lumber is kiln dried to insure no insects are exported.    

   When I got into Prince George, it was 1:00 pm and Dave and Cheryl Owen were gone so I parked myself under their tree and got out my can of spray cleaner polish and cleaned the EV.  I’ve got to put on a good face you see.  Twenty minutes later Cheryl drove up.  She rides a Kawasaki Ninja ZX900 and rather aggressively, I might add. Dave was still out for a ride with the boys on his new Kawasaki ZX-12R. After a cool drink, it must have been 95 degrees that day, we sat on the back deck soon to be joined by more COG members: Phil Tarman from Colorado, Wayne Wilson from Kenmore, WA., Jim Tait from Saskatchewan, and Rich Chandler from San Francisco, CA. I then got the word that long lost Tine was on his way.   He was in Williams Lake only three hours away.

After a chat, we all rode out to Moose Spring Lodge Resort. Now that’s a stretch! I was expecting a log building with a moose head over the bar.  Nope. It is an ex-US radar outlook station about 25 miles Southwest of Prince George. We drove up to the general store to check in and there sleeping with a dog on the side deck was a 5 1/2 month old fawn. I inquired about it and the lady told me that loggers brought her down because her mother got hit and killed on the road. When I walked out the fawn came up and licked my hand then checked out the EV without a care in the world.

After I freshened up in my room, I walked over to the restaurant only to hear someone in back of me hollering, “CALL THE POLICE!” It was Dave Owen. You see two years ago we all stayed at his house and being the early riser that I am, I walked out to check on my bike at 6:00 am and unbeknown to me, he had set the house alarm that night. You might say everyone in the house was all wide-awake at that point! 

Dave looked a bit banged up.  Someone had T-boned him on his new bike only six weeks earlier. “No problem, I just got the bike out of the shop two days ago,” Dave said.

We walked to the conference room where there was a ton of beer on ice. “The secret to any well attended Canadian Rally, you see, is free beer,” said Dave. 

Just then my long lost friend Tine walked in and told us his Concours was experiencing electrical trouble and he’d had to bang on the J box (this holds three soldered in relays in place) to get his bike started. This, I thought, was not a good sign.

At 6:00, there was a 16 oz. barbecue steak dinner then at 7:00 Paul Taylor, winner of the 2003 Iron Butt Rally, was the guest speaker.  Dave did some recon work for Paul on a B.C. road for him in 2003 during the rally. Small world wouldn’t you say?

The next morning, I walked out to check on the EV and the fawn did a 100-yard dash over to greet me.  So I petted and scratched behind her ears. Just then Gino Sindaco, an Italian immigrant of thirty years who now lives on Vancouver Island, walked out. Speaking in a strong Italian accent he told me of the old country and riding old Guzzi singles on the streets of Rome and out in the country side.  He sat on my EV and I teased him about being an Italian gent riding a HD. “You’re Italian, you should ride a Moto Guzzi not a Harley” I said. We just laughed, and talked then laughed some more.  I always meet the nicest people when riding a Guzzi.

After breakfast we all rolled out at 8:30 headed west on 16 to gas up at Vanderhoof. When we arrived there I noticed Tine’s bike was leaking a large puddle of coolant. Phil Tarman who writes the tech tips for COG newsletter determined it was a small split in the radiator. While Dave fetched some Bars Stop Leak, Phil looks at the EV then Tine’s bike back and forth about six times. Then said, “You will never have this problem.”

“Never!” I said. “Guzzi likes the KISS philosophy (keep it simple stupid)” 

Dave soon returned.  Amazingly the stop leak worked so on we went.  Next stop Smithers for lunch. The riding structure is simple, we all ride at are own pace stopping at a couple of designated places along the way to regroup. With Dave running sweep thank you! From Smithers on it’s breathtaking scenery, towering mountains with ice blue glaciers atop feeding waterfalls dropping thousands of feet. Lush green grass with purple flowers on the shoulders of the road and clear blue lakes, eye candy around every corner.

At Kitwanga Junction, we gas up and head north on 37 for approximately 85 miles where you cross a one lane wooden bridge.  Be careful here, wooden bridges can be very slick when wet and also just as slick when dry from the dust. At the 93-mile mark is Meziadin Junction and we turned west on 37A.  You will have one of the most spectacular rides you can imagine, for the last 38-mile leg. A narrow canyon with glaciers covering mountains and waterfalls on both sides of you. One glacier comes right down to the roadside. Coming in to Stewart you will ride along side a raging river fed by the waterfalls.

Stewart is an old mining town and Canada’s farthest northern ice free port via Portland Canal. Oddly there’s even a museum here dedicated to the lonely toaster.  That’s right, 4,800 different toasters all in one place. Who in their right mind would think of such a thing? Surely it must have been a long winter that year. Keep on going on the main road through town and two miles out you will reach the border marked by an old stone storehouse building built in 1896 by the US Army Engineers while surveying the canal. This storehouse is the starting point for the International Boundary permanently, located in 1903.

As soon as you cross the border the pavement stops.  You are now in Hyder, AK., the only southern Alaskan community accessible by road. It is like stepping back in time eighty years. Buildings are scattered here and there, seeming to have no rhyme or reason. The road surface is packed mud and gravel between potholes. Population lists 100 but locals tell me it falls to around 20 in the winter. Originally called Portland City the name was changed in 1914 after Frederick Hyder. Gold and silver lodes were discovered there in the late 1898. The last major mine closed in 1984.

We checked into the bar/motel the Sealaska. Looking out of our room is a spectacular view of the canal and mountains. A very calming feeling came over me, just like I was at home and at peace with the world. Never have I had this kind of feeling at a place in all my travels.

After I freshened up I met up with the group in the bar for a cold one and some of the best halibut ever. Interestingly everyone spoke English there. Some with a strong British accent, some with Irish, and of course Canadian. It was Great! A number of the group made a run up a gravel road 10 miles to see the grizzly bears eat salmon from the river. I, however, decided to stretch my legs with a walk up the wooden pier and watched the sun set over the mountains and looked up at the stars. It was a clear, clean night. It was absolutely beautiful; it can’t get any better than this.

Getting up at 5: 30 am with everyone in the room still asleep I made a run up the wooden pier with the Guzzi this time. The clouds were just coming in so I took a few photos thinking to myself this would be a nice place to live and wondering how I could talk the wife into it. I know what you are thinking, that’ll be the day! Meeting up with the group at the gas station in Stewart at 10:30 am, I put 8 liters in the fuel cell just in case. Coming out I had to take more photos of the glaciers. No words or photos can ever do it justice.  You all are going to have to make this run.

At 210 miles the fuel light comes on. How can this be? I dumped the fuel from the fuel cell in the main tank while coming out of Hyder just before Stewart. Normally I always get at least 285 miles before the warning light comes on the second time. HUMMM. A wise man once told me, “It’s good to always work off the top of you fuel tank.” Good thing I put 8 liters in at Stewart. After some nail biting I reached Kitwanga Junction, filled up, then on to 16 west to Prince Rupert.

We met up for lunch at Northern Motor Inn in Terrace. Then it was on to the last leg to Prince Rupert.  At this point you’re riding along not only mountains and waterfalls on both sides but Skeena River in most places is two miles across. Coming in to Rupert it starts to mist. (It always rains in Rupert.) We hung a right towards Port Edward. 

Going through town at the south end there is this very bumpy paved road that leads you to the cannery, our destination for the day. They were ready for us with a courtesy roped off place for all of us to park. North Pacific Cannery / Fishing Village is comprised of 28 buildings ranging in date from 1889 to 1964.  You can get accommodations from $15.00 Canadian, you furnishing your own bedroll, all the way up to $68.00 Canadian for the Lead Man’s House.

There are two plays to attend.  One told about an Indian legend of the fish people, and the other on how the cannery got started to present day. Both were very interesting and informative.

Walking through the buildings you'll see they are fixed up in period with all the machines in the cannery still there and in working order.  When you take the guided tour, they turn them all on for you to see. Cans going this way and that way, over your head then down the other side. There is an on-site restaurant appropriately located in the old mess hall where we had the barbecued salmon/cod buffet. YUMMM!!!

 The next morning, we headed back to Prince George the same way we came. It was raining a little but not bad enough for rain gear. Some of the group stayed one more day to take the ferry to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island B.C. It promises to be a beautiful fifteen-hour ferry ride going through all the little isolated island towns. By the time we got to Terrace for breakfast it had stopped raining. 

Back in Prince George we stayed at Esther’s Inn. It must be an interesting sight in winter with the hotel having a Hawaiian theme when there’s ten feet of snow piled outside the door. That’s right, there’s palm trees growing inside the hotel.

We met up for the last time with the remaining group sharing our experiences on this trip. Hans Geyer an Irishman, who immigrated twenty-five years ago now living in Barriere, B.C., tells us of tales of working in the Yukon and the beauty that’s totally indescribable.  It’s fascinating just listening to the way he speaks. Wayne Wilson of Kenmore, WA., showed a neat film from his bike cam of our trip. 11:30 pm and time for final good-byes.

Dave twisted my arm saying, “You’re coming up next year right?”

“Well in two years. I need to spread myself out,” I said.  So many neat places to see and so many new people to meet. How is one to find the time needed?

3:30 am wake up call and Tine and I were off at 4:15 to see the sunrise while we rode. A bit chilly that morning, my hands got very cold. Tine stopped to put on heavier gloves. I, however, set the throttle lock and grabbed a valve cover one at a time. Aren’t Guzzis great, no need for heated grips or electric gloves.

Going back through Fraser Canyon from this direction is much more scenic (north to south) I think. Amazing how that works out. Not only seeing the beauty, but now knowing the surface of the road I can enjoy the twisties to their fullest.

Coming back into the US was a snap. Welcome home! As much as I love B.C. the good old USA is the best country bar none!!! We had a bite to eat and filled up in SedroWoolley, WA for our final leg home via I-5. At Everett traffic was picking up.  After all it was 3:15. Seattle was a bit of stop and go but better than I would have thought being rush hour. In a bizarre kind of way I find riding in heavy city traffic exhilarating.

Coming into Kalama the EV showed 197.9 miles and I was still on the main tank. How can this be? Is my light burned out? At 198.9 the warning light came on. When this happens I’ve used actually 3.2 gallons. This would mean 62 miles per gallon, the best ever. Guzzis truly are like fine wine and Steinways, they only get better with age. It was another wonderful ride. I renewed old friendships and made new ones. Life is truly the best on a Guzzi.

 Hail to the Guzzi Gods, Long live the Soaring Eagle!

Ciao,

Timothy Barlow


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