A turn in the weather whistled a bolt of cold over my body, goose-fleshing as we journeyed towards Jasper and Banff in Canada’s Alberta province. Cold inquires at first investigated the tips of my fingers, chin and nose, feeling their sharp little claws sink in when my gums were no longer warm. What did I expect from alpine towns—amid the snow-capped Canadian Rockies—revelling in their own microclimates.
“Oh look, thar she blows.” Far out in the distance a whale blew, and a pillar of water fountained up. My eyes widened at the calm beauty. Ferrying for the best part of two days from Juneau, Alaksa to Prince Rupert, Canada became our third cruisey foray into exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage, courtesy of its Marine Highway. Taking the slow ferry gave us the flexibility to experience life and logistics as the typical family might along this coastal connection of communities: bring your vehicle, bring your dog (or “marvellous other”), and enjoy what is essentially a poor man’s cruise.
Where the city ends, Juneau Icefield begins—and keeps going and going. Undoubtedly, its centerpiece is Mendenhall Glacier. Like just about everything else in Southeast Alaska, it sits inside Tongass National Forest. Incredibly, a temperate rainforest no less, which in parts endures more than 16 feet of annual rainfall. No surprise that a fine drizzle falling on the coastal city is often present, wetting the leaves and branches, then gathers into big drops that plop onto your head and arms. Although the rain is such a natural occurrence in Juneau, it almost starts to feel invisible. The incessant murmur on the rooftops wasn’t likely to dampen the euphoria here.
Having learned it was “bubble net” season for a short spell sporadically through the summer months, and hoping to catch the tail end of it—no pun intended—I unearthed that such a phenomenon only occurs in Southeast Alaska by an elite few. Indeed, there was no time to lose in catching the ferry to the state capital and book on the next available whale watching tour with Juneau Whale Watch.
After perhaps the liveliest non-rallies I’ve experienced—Dust to Dawson—the road to Thompson’s Eagle’s Claw Campground in Tok beat backward under us. I rose the following morning muddy-eyed having burnt the candle down to a nub. Stepping out of Tok and leaving behind the fairytale of trees whose brindled bark reminded me of muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason, we rode into a peevish wind towards Fairbanks. The sky told of something dark and foreboding, evening-coloured beneath an unbroken ceiling of charcoal grey at two in the afternoon. I got the most spectacular chills. Something wayward and menacing, wild as the day was long, not knowing a forest fire had triggered part of the expansive cloud cover.
If you haven’t heard about Dust to Dawson (D2D), you’re in for a real treat. Come, just trace a line on the map to Dawson in Yukon, Canada, hop on your moto from wherever that might be in the month of June and start riding. You’ll doubtless encounter crews of other bikers doing the same, if not make fast friends with some along the way. If you can, try not to rush or grab at getting there for a ride both rewarding and nurturing is likely to appear. Rock up to Dawson but just don’t call it a rally. Despite such a disclaimer, you’ll be in the thick of an atmosphere filled with the boundless joy and warmth that is D2D. And if you’re lucky, the experience will pull, tickle and tease you, perhaps challenge and enlighten you too. It did me.
Just up the road from Anchorage to Wasilla, located on the northern point of Cook Inlet in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, southcentral part of the state, saw us become furiously fast friends with Ian Goodwin and his wonderful wife Kristina. Kind and curious as much as brisk and efficient, Kristina radiated a lightness and joy more than anything else. Her conversations, devilishly dirty laugh and zest for life hoisted me up and carried me somewhere else. Jase meanwhile struck an instant bond with Ian, I was smitten.