Chapter 12
Alaska and the lower 48
And God sent Angels to comfort Victor'

And God sent Angels to comfort Victor'

Bob's Motorwerks


Ahah Sirs and Siresses,
You find me penning this little ditty in Roberts, Montana, about 80 miles northeast of Yellowstone. It is, to be honest, a small farming hamlet in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Why am I hanging out with the friendly people who live here? Well, the wife is sick. Very sick. An internal injury, known in the parlance as a ‘fuct gearbox.’

I am lucky to be at 'Bob's Motorwerks' whence the wife was taken by ambulance (actually on Bob's friend John the Pastor's trailer), who wonderfully drove 14 hours for the 600 miles to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and back to pick the wife and myself up. Bob is one of the best old style BMW wrenches around. 'Glueck im Unglueck' as some cretinous BMW gearbox designer might say.

No Eskimo jokes, please!

Somebody who is not a cretin, namely Ted Simon, says: 'the interruptions are the journey' I am very lucky to be here, but I prefer 'interruptions' that involve excessive margaritas and romantic walks along palm-tree lined tropical beaches with beautiful women. Listen to Monty Python's 'Victor/God' sketch for the precise interruptions I dream of...


This is not a minor case of a blown seal (no Eskimo jokes, please!) or bearing, but a completely unrepairable transmission. 'The worst' Bob has ever seen. I won't bore you with the symptoms of how it broke, but I must insist that it was NOT caused through my lack of care or unsuitable driving style.

I have been reliably informed that a design fault caused this massive failure. The thing has only run 55 thousand miles, for goodness sake! So far on this trip, it has been necessary to replace the ignition coil, starter motor, rotor, a couple of relays and now I am faced with this 1500 dollar stunt in parts, shipping and labour! Don't let anybody tell you that this famous German brand makes reliable motor vehicles. (For those interested, 1989 R100GS Paralever BMWs are a piece of sh**).

After this experience, I would be very surprised if any future motorcycle purchased does not have 'Made in Japan' stamped on the chassis. Before this trip, I drove a Honda Africa Twin 30 thousand miles and the only mechanical failure was easily replaceable back wheel bearings.


Anyway, before this little upset, I made it to the land of the Living Cowboy, Jackson, Wyoming. I spent 9 days with some good friends, drinking, shooting guns and fishing: Generally pretending to be more impressive than we really were.

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Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

It was particularly good because none of them have any interest in motorcycles. One night 4 of us entered a bar (called the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar) wearing Cowboy hats. I felt like a real plonker, but about half the room was sporting this head-attire and I got in for free (as I looked like a local.... tourist normally get charged 5 bucks). Received respectful nods from other hat wearers made the experience even more surreal.

The loud Country music prevented any conversation and chance of being unmasked as an impostor. Don't let anybody (including me) say that Americans have no cultural heritage. My most memorable experience was watching grown men and woman wrestling pigs in a filthy pig poo infested pit. A friend's team was disqualified for hurting their poor animal. They pulled its tail, twisted its ear and jammed it into a barrel head first!


The last report finished in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. From there Brighty, Wifey and Normy travelled around Alaska, took a ferry down then Inside Passage to Prince Rupert, headed to Vancouver Island, crossed to Washington's wet Olympic Peninsula and drove via Mt St. Helens Park, Moscow (not Russia, but Idaho), through Yellowstone and Jackson, Wy. A minor case of 4000 or so road miles in 4 weeks. A little too much per day and hence great enjoyment derived from spending more than a week in Jackson sans moto.


I don't know how to explain the difference between the United States and Canada. If you arrived by spaceship and didn't know whether you were in the Land of the Whopper or Canuckland, you could probably tell by:

a. The atmosphere: It was strange arriving off the ferry at Prince Rupert, British Columbia (Canada) after having spent 2 1/2 weeks in Alaska (USA). The whole place had a different aura about it. Much more relaxed.


b. Traffic signs: Virtually every road sign in rural United States has been a victim of the favourite pastime of being the target for gun touting (probably drunk) American motorists. When driving long distances one has to keep oneself occupied, so doing empirical surveys can be an option. On a single day in Alaska I calculated that 98% of all traffic signs had a minimum of 2 bullet holes. Guns are illegal in Canada.

c. I have met many many superbly friendly people on my travels through the USA, particularly in the BMW riding community. A lot are normal hardworking individuals. However, the United States has more than it's fair share of fruitbats. All countries have strange people; maybe they are just more visible here. Many people approach me when I am around and about, but I do spend more time in the USA pretending to be a deaf-mute Botswanan Buddhist with body odour than in Canada or anywhere else in the world.


My most unendearing memory of Alaska will be its national bird: The Mosquito. Some could well grow into the size of a small caged flying domestic pet. (The other day while camping next to Mt St Helens in Washington State a couple came flying by to check me out. They were so small, I laughed at them out loud and they sneaked away with embarrassment).

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Steptow and Son


I visited all the usual sights in the 49th State of the Union. George Rahn the BMW dealer/mechanic in Fairbanks is indescribable. His compound makes Steptow and Son’s yard seem Teutonically tidy and efficient. The man is a complete star. His first comment to me was whether I was really from England or just putting on an English accent.... QED!

I drove 400 miles in one day for 5 pictures! I had to prove that I made it to the Arctic Circle. The road up there was nowhere near as difficult as claimed by all and sundry who had been there. I suppose compared to Africa and New York, any road is easy.

I also met Henrique and Ivan from Brazil on R1100GS and DR800 respectively, doing their own Americas thing. Fun people. My heart bled for another chappie whose CD player on his BMW K1200 LT (aka Light Truck) wasn't working because of the slightly undulating terrain.

The whole drive from Fairbanks to Anchorage was a complete washout. At the visitors centre at Denali Park it said the visibility ON Mt McKinley was 0%!!!

Bill and Elizabeth in Anchorage were wonderfully hospitable and helped me do a full service on the Wife. I also did an Africa slide show at the local fire station where Bill worked.

Sheep skin


You should never say never. I once swore that I would never get a sheep skin seat cover as it looks too 'German'. When Bill’s friend Barb said she would tailor one for free, I couldn't refuse, but under one precondition. It had to be black so you couldn't recognise it from a distance or in photographs!

The Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage was pretty good and the weather held up reasonably well. I spent July 4th in Seward taking in the parade and witnessing their Mountain Marathon. Running three and a half miles up hill is one thing, but legging it down a 75 degree boulder and scree strewn incline reeks of madness. Birdman was 40th and Elvis came 87th!

There is no point harping on about the standard of American drivers - both the car and Winnabagle variety. I am blesses to be alive in the face of such murderous odds. American drivers make African, and particularly Kenyan bus drivers seem like courteous, balanced, non-drugged-to-the-eyeballs professional chauffeurs.

Inside Passage


The coast of Alaska has a reputation for being a little damp, which made the beautiful sunrise across a crystal blue sky and shimmering emerald sea even the more memorable.... The location: The south bound journey of the Alaska Marine Highway ferry, the MV Taku, down the so called 'Inside Passage'. Such awe-inspiring views of glaciers, gnarled snow capped peaks, Orca whales playing catchem with the boat. Spotting 5 bald eagles swooping out of a golden setting sun was nothing to turn you nose up at either. All top stuff and well worth the expense.

I pretty much legged it from Prince Rupert, via Prince George and the superb Route 99 through Whistler (with a pleasant couple of days chez John, Christa and CJ the bear, err I mean bear-chasing-dog) to Vancouver Island.

Staying near Victoria with Tom was good. He was a great host and scanned many pictures onto a CD for me. Riding off-road with him, I fell off and stuck a hole in my right hand rocker cover. The temporary (60 mile) repair involved gluing a tyre tube patch over the hole and reinforcing it with a key fob and racing wire and putting the cover back on upside down!

Crossing to Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula (USA) I had the opportunity to analyse a case study of how to (not) handle Customs officials. Ahead of me a loud Harley ridden by a local rider with an obnoxious attitude. His bike gets a full search. The next one through, foreign registered bike, foreign passport etc (i.e. me!) gets only a cursory chat... The difference: I switched my engine off, removed my sunglasses and was friendly and polite.... My stay in this allegedly beautiful area was cut short by the damp weather. If I liked rain, I would have spent the last 11 months in Scotland!

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Moscow, Idaho


Mt St. Helens Park was well worth the visit in terms of views and especially because of the great twisty pavement (the American for 'road'... They walk -if they actually ever do- on a 'sidewalk'). The journey east along the Columbia and Clearwater Rivers was rather pleasant too. On the way I stayed with a very pleasant couple, Steve and Mel, in Moscow, Idaho. I had randomly called them out the BMWMOA book. What is really weird is that Steve had read of my trip on the BMW of South Africa Website months earlier. A small world indeed!

Yellowstone Park was very pretty, but far too crowded. Being one of the crowd myself, I cannot really complain. I don't mind sharing beauty with a few people... but every man and their dog....

Hang on.... The UPS man has just appeared clutching a big heavy box hopefully containing the wife's new gearbox. I hadn't planned to visit the (second?) biggest bike rally in the world in Sturgis, South Dakota, but with it starting in 2 days and only being 300 miles, it seems like a good idea.


After that.... Denver via the usual sights to Las Vegas and then: 'Mexico here we come'. My only Spanish is 'El loco' and 'Dos cerveza por favor'..... Should be all right there then.

Over and Out,

Prof. Dr. Dr. Bright , BDC, Diplom-Kneipenwirt a.D.

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