For many years my family and friends would ask if I needed new maps, and I would always tell them I have the latest. My GPS units get map updates three times per year and I get paper maps from the Alberta Motor Association regularly when planning trips. There’s also Google Maps. So there’s no way I’m getting lost.
I just have a different trip planning mentality than most people and, as the road signs at the top of this page prove, I’m not the only one who may seem a little geographically challenged at first glance.
Grande Prairie, Alberta, is located about 460 km Northwest of Edmonton via Hwys 16 & 43, which makes the signage above a little confusing if you don’t know the geography. It is also possible to get to Grande Prairie via Hwys 16 & 40 but, while more scenic, that route is about 620 km. Highway 40 comes in to the city from the south whereas Highway 43 enters from the north, traverses the city, and then exits to the west. It is just south of the intersection where Hwys 40 & 43 meet in the northern city that this signage exists, making it entirely possible to go West to Alaska or North to Edmonton from that one intersection in Grande Prairie.
Similarly, missing the background may have led to the confusion of my family and friends when I would say such things as I was planning to ride East to Colorado. Mary and I signed up for a Sport Touring Rally in Golden, Colorado, which is in the same Time Zone and about 2,000 km south of Edmonton. My maps were fine when I planned the trip to Golden via Thunder Bay, Ontario, which is about 2,000 km and two Time Zones to the East of Edmonton. The questions came again, but we hadn’t spent time with my cousins at the cottage for over a decade so the little detour made perfect sense. To me.
Yes, I rarely plan trips with a singular purpose.
My world isn’t upside-down but I again blew minds when I said we were going South to Alaska. We planned to attend a Sport Touring Rally in Sooke, on Vancouver Island, which is definitely South of Edmonton. From Sooke we went to Bellingham, Washington, and caught an Alaska Marine Highway System Ferry for a two and a half day journey up the Inside Passage to Haines, Alaska, before riding up to Anchorage and Fairbanks. Mary and I both felt this was the best, and most affordable, Inside Passage “Cruise” option, even with the motorcycle stored below, and you only have to ride the Alaska Highway one way. It is a fantastic trip if you’re so inclined.
But our biggest detour was San Francisco, via Scotland. I rode our ST1300 down to San Francisco, parked it at a friends’ place, and flew home. Mary and I then flew to London where we picked up a rental ST1300 and spent three weeks visiting my cousins in Scotland and daughter #2, who was working on her Ph.D. in Lancaster, before flying to San Francisco for, you guessed it, a Sport Touring Rally in Northern California and two weeks of riding to get home.
Before you think that rallies and big detours go hand in hand, here’s the last one I’ll mention and a rally doesn’t enter into it. You may or may not know that the Capital City of the Northwest Territories is 1,496 km North of Edmonton, and you’ll likely guess that I wasn’t planning to circumnavigate the globe when I announced I was heading South to get to Yellowknife. What I was planning was an Iron Butt Ride which requires at least 1,610 km of riding. To surpass this minimum distance I first headed to Wetaskiwin, which is about 72 km South of Edmonton. Reversing course from there resulted in a certified IBA Saddlesore ride of 1,655 km.
My friend Mac joined me for the entire ride, his first Iron Butt certification, and buddy Darren joined us after a few hours. Darren used to live in Yellowknife and wanted to go up and visit with friends, Butt without the distance challenge. We spent a day in town during which Darren took us out to where the Ice Road from Season One of TV’s Ice Road Truckers began. On the way home we split the trip into two days with an overnight in High Level. I sometimes consider re-doing this trip as the Deh Cho Bridge over the Mackenzie River opened about three months after our trip and would eliminate the 30 minutes waiting for the ferry ride.
Never once on any of these trips was I lost or confused about where I was heading. My family and friends have pretty much given up asking about my maps and just shake their heads and watch the SPOTWalla tracks when I’m on the road. And I have fun planning adventures to keep them scratching their heads. He’s going where?!?
- From R. Bruce Thomas