17 Aug 2012 – Once upon a time, wild animals ruled these parts. Elk, wapiti, moose, wolves, cougars and so on. We thought those days were long gone, that the relentless march of civilization had pushed those magnificent animals far back into the wilds.
Well of course, if you’ve been in the mountains you know that’s not exactly true. The various wild animals get pretty used to having man around. Sometimes we leave out food, or eliminate predators, and sometimes, shelter!
This young elk (I think it was an elk) was wandering around the eastern edge of the campground when I went to the bathroom in the morning. We passed by each other with a few yards between us, each of us giving the other the eye. At some point, maybe while I was in the bathroom, (can’t quite recall now), a woman must have got a little too close or didn’t give the guy enough of the hairy eyeball – and got charged by the young fella! There was some hollering and running around. No one was hurt but I suspect the woman ran back to her fifth-wheel and cowered, while the elk took refuge from the crazy humans in the cooking shelter. I tried to get as close as I could to get the picture, but he was giving me the hairy eyeball as I crept stealthily closer. So I just took the picture and backed away before he decided to take a run at me too.
Back at the campsite, we got things packed up and got ready to leave.
The plan for today was to get to Grande Prairie, but at midday there was some doubt – more on that later!
So, into Jasper for some gas and then we headed east …
… toward Hinton, where we’d turn north on Highway 40 …
Heading north, Louise and I switched places, with her leading. This doesn’t happen often so when it does happen, it’s worth a picture from the bike!
At some point in the late morning, just south of Grande Cache, we spotted a plume of smoke ahead. We thought maybe it was a small fire, but when we got abreast of it, it turned out to be the … smoke … from a pulp mill or a saw mill or something. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a fire.
So by lunchtime we rolled into the town of Grande Cache and stopped for gas first, then looked for a place for to eat. There was some tension as we looked for a place, which I attribute to the fact that Grande Cache has … a federal penitentiary. I guess somehow we just couldn’t shake the unconscious feeling that we could be jumped by escaped convicts at any moment.
Anyway, we found a place to eat, looked very grande and modern on the outside …
… but on the inside it was all early 1990s cafe diner kitsch. Decent food and service though.
As we were getting back onto the bikes after lunch, Louise said she was having trouble turning the handlebars to the left. I figured that a pebble had got up inside the handlebar assembly and that it would fall out out on the road right away. Boy was I wrong.
It turns out that there are two things Grande Cache is known for, one is the federal penitentiary, and the other is … Grande Cache Coal. The coal mine is just north of the town and it turns out that this coal mine is the reason that the town of Grande Cache exists. It’s pretty a cool facility – it actually spans the highway and everything is black with coal dust! There’s a coal conveyor belt that carries coal from the mountain on the NW side of the highway across to the processing plant on the other side.
Eventually Louise insisted we stop and check things out – the bike just did not want to turn to the left and the entire front fairing was vibrating. We pulled into a rest stop / garbage bin area at the side of the road and got out the tools.
After peering and poking and prodding …
I figured out what had happened. There are two bolts to the frame that support the front fairing/dashboard assembly. Both bolts had vibrated out and fallen away, one somewhere down the road and the other bolt had fallen in between the forks and the lower triple tree assembly, binding when the handlebars are pushed left.
Since we had the one bolt remaining, Louise and I put back in, held things together and tightened it down real good’n tight.
I’d have to pick up a new bolt in Grande Prairie.
In all the miles we’ve put on all the bikes on the highway since 2007, this was probably the worst mechanical issue we’ve ever had – knock on wood. There’s been some electrical stuff that failed, like Louise’s push-to-talk button last year, but this was the first time I had to really break out the tools and fix something that could have stopped us.
Anyway, with the one remaining bolt tight, we chugged some water, got the gear back on, and headed on up the highway again.
We carried on, determined to find a campsite in the city of Grande Prairie. It became pretty obvious that we were getting closer to the city – the volume of traffic on the road, especially trucks, increased dramatically. I had the GPS programmed to direct us to a campsite on the edge of town. Well it turns out that the city of Grande Prairie has grown significantly faster than the GPS maps. The campground on the “edge of town” turned out to be a subdivision now! After some riding around, seeing more of Grande Prairie than we needed to, we decided to get a room for a couple of nights at a fairly new Holiday Inn back on the highway.
We found out the next day that there was a municipal campground 2 minutes farther up the highway. Oh well, as it turned out, we were better off in the hotel anyway. Our room was nice, we had a shower, then went for dinner, leaving the bikes right outside the front door.