July 24 , 2006
The Lone Librarian rides again
While we toil and weather a brutal heat wave, Emory librarian Selden Deemer is marking his 60th birthday by riding his Honda Pacific Coast bike on a solo, round-trip journey to Alaska.
Deemer, who began his ride in Dahlonega, Ga., on July 2, expects to be back in Georgia by mid-August. His wife, School of Law librarian Pam Deemer, is a motorcycle rider as well.
Her husband’s solo trip “is something he needs to do every once and awhile to recharge himself. After 36 years, I don’t worry too much. He’s not a wild man on the motorcycle; he’s all about the ride not the image. He seems to be having a grand time, and I’m a little jealous,” said Deemer with a laugh.
Deemer documents each day on the road in an illustrated Web log. As of press time, he had made it to Alaska, headed to Anchorage. Below are excerpts of his travels.
“I’ve been riding motorcycles since 1962, and I have never stopped riding. But I haven’t had a long distance adventure in a while, and to celebrate my 60th birthday, I have decided to ride to Alaska. On a 12-year-old motorcycle. From Georgia. solo.
“Why? It’s certainly not for the comfort. On a motorcycle you have little opportunity to change position, and you are almost always too hot or too cold or too wet. Nor for the excitement—long distance motorcycle riding involves long periods of intense boredom. But still I do it, and I’m looking forward to riding 10,000 miles this summer.”
July 2, 9 a.m., EDT Georgia
The journey is begun. First stop, 18 miles up the road for breakfast at Two Wheels Only. This is going to be a hot day, with a high of 100 degrees forecast for Cairo, Ill.
July 4 Maquoketa, Iowa The first day of the trip I was tense, and a little out of practice, not having ridden the bike since June 18. With brand new tires, the handling was a little off. The second day was so hot that riding was a chore. Today everything came together, I found my “seat,” and I felt comfortable the entire way…. At
8:50 p.m. the first 1,000 miles were behind me (only 9,000 miles to go).
July 6 Duluth, Minnesota
Northern Minnesota seems to be filled with odd-ball attractions, including the world’s largest hockey stick and the Giant Blue Gill of Orr. It must be the long winters….
The border crossing was uneventful; I didn’t have to show any of the documents I had brought along … only my U.S. passport. Southwestern Ontario along the border is not so picturesque. Eventually I turned north into lake country….
July 7 Trans Canada Highway
The Trans Canada Highway is like the Energizer Bunny—it keeps going, and going, and going….Lake of the Woods quickly receded in my mirrors, and gradually the landscape turned to prairie, often in a gorgeous bright yellow, with mile after mile of canola in full bloom.
July 8 Calgary, Alberta
Another long ride across the prairie, in perfect temperatures (70s all day long) with mostly a tail wind. I didn’t realize until this trip that new-mown hay has so many different smells. They are all pleasant, and I don’t have enough of an olfactory vocabulary to describe them, but in each region I have passed through on this trip the hay has smelled different. Hay smells have been an unanticipated treat. I’ll be staying with an old systems friend in Calgary. The best parts of the trip are turning out to be breaks from riding, staying with friends, and talking about old times and what lies ahead.
July 11 Canadian Rockies
The Fog of FUD: Fear, uncertainty and doubt are the three horsemen of the journey. Last night I felt a little overwhelmed by the enormity of this undertaking: 2,700 miles down the road but another 2,000 before I even reach Alaska. This morning, about 15 miles west of Calgary, the fog lifted in seconds, as the Canadian Rockies came into view. The ride from Banff to Lake Louise, and then up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper was so spectacular…. At one point I was so overwhelmed with emotion that my eyes started to tear up. It was an Omygod, Omygod, Omygod ride all day long. Imagine Yosemite National Park. Then imagine it for 200 miles. With glaciers.
July 12 Jasper, British Columbia
Why am I doing this? First and foremost, I love and enjoy long-distance motorcycle riding. In beautiful country, with good weather, riding can be a peak experience, rivaled by little else….This trip is definitely more about the journey than the destination.…I’ve been burning out in my work for the past few years, and I felt a need to re-energize myself. I haven’t experienced life so intensely since my second Outward Bound course in 1989. As an introvert, being around people often drains my energy, while being alone energizes me. The irony is that having little or no contact with people (or radio, or television or the Internet) for hours and hours every day makes it easier to make contact with complete strangers, and I am engaging in more conversations than I have in years. I hope to return from this trip re-energized….
And then, there is Alaska itself. Global warming, regardless of the arguments about its causes, appears to be a settled scientific fact….
I have met too many people who deferred things they wanted to do until they were too old to do them. Increasingly (especially for those of us involved in technology) we live in a controlled environment, often in a virtual world, insulated from real life by climate control, media, the Internet. It would not surprise me if the majority of the population cannot find north on a sunny day.
July 13 Fort St. John, British Columbia
Today, the forecast for rain may finally come true, with off and on rain predicted all the way to the Alaska border. There’s no point in washing the bike, which is now thoroughly encrusted with a mix of dead insects and Alaska Highway road grime. I have never seen anything like it; when it rains, the road kicks up a gray-brown slush that coats everything….
“Does riding in the rain count as bathing?“ I wish I could claim that line as my own, but it’s stolen from a BMW motorcycle ad. Overcast most of the day, with rain starting about 40 miles south of Fort Nelson….
Even though it was only 4 p.m. when I stopped for a cup of hot tea at the Toad River Lodge, they had Internet access, a restaurant and a room with a private bath for $59. Heavenly.
Toad River Lodge is at mile 422 of the Alaska Highway. According to the menu in the restaurant, the area got the name because during the construction of the Alaska Highway, vehicles had to be “towed” across the river. The lodge has a collection of more than 6,000 baseball caps stapled to the ceiling and walls. In a back corner of the store, I saw six wolf pelts, a lynx and a wolverine. We’re a long way from Kansas, Toto.
July 14 Watson Lake, Yukon Territory
A quick hit and run update from the Watson Lake public library. Five moose (four juveniles and one adult) sightings in the first 45 minutes on the road this morning. Also a caribou, much more majestic than the moose (whose local nickname is “swamp donkey”). In my head, I had always understood that a full-grown moose is about the size of a horse, but it wasn’t until I saw one by the side of the road that my gut took this in. Ever since Dawson Creek I’ve been trying to follow large vehicles, in hopes they will run interference against large mammals for me….Tomorrow, Alaska!
July 15 Dawson Peaks Lodge (Alaska)
What a wonderful place…. Two years ago their only communication with the outside world was via radio-telephone. Now fiber optic cable runs the length of the Alaska Highway, they have WiFi in the lodge….
The road itself is more varied than I had expected; perhaps high gas prices ($4–$5 a gallon) are having the effect I had hoped for, and are discouraging travel by large SUVs and RVs. One would think that with a name like “Alaska Highway,” the main overland connector to Alaska would be big and wide. In many places it is, but a little bit north of Fort Nelson this famous highway becomes narrow and curvy, more like the more open sessions of GA 60 south of Morganton, except with gravelly patches….
The only motorcycle accident I have had since 1969 occurred less than a half mile from my home.... I am now acutely aware that to a large degree my survival is entirely in my hands. Sometime in the past few days I entered a state of heightened awareness while riding, combined with great care in everything I do. Nothing is rushed…. Whenever possible, I find a vehicle to follow, preferably a large one, so that the other guy can be my moose catcher. Better yet is when I can put myself between two vehicles, one to catch the moose; the other to pick me up if something happens. At 145 pounds and 60 years of age, there is no way I’m going to pick up 650 pounds of motorcycle and 50 pounds of gear if I drop it. If it falls, it
stays until help arrives….
July 16 Skagway, Alaska
5:15 a.m. Arriving in Skagway yesterday, I had no reservations or plans, as usual. The hostel was full; they suggested checking Sergeant Preston’s Lodge—also full. I went to the town information center to check what was available. Given the crowds (9,500 people from cruise ships on Wednesday alone), urban camping was not attractive, and motel/B&B rates were steep. One of the park rangers said she had once stayed at Cindy’s Place, cabins in the woods about a mile outside of town….
Nobody was home at Cindy’s Place, but I looked around and saw what appeared to be an available log cabin, so I left a note on the front door of the house, and rode back to town to get gas….
Roughing it—NOT: Back to Cindy’s. Still nobody home. I unpacked the Jet Boil and made myself a cup of hot tea, prepared for a leisurely stay on the front porch until someone showed up. I didn’t have long to wait. It turns out that Cindy is in the California Sierras, and her sisters Nancy and Judy are running the place. The cabin I had looked at earlier was the only one available.
Technically, it is a log cabin, but “cabin” does not do justice to the accommodations. There is a mini-fridge, microwave, coffee maker, dishes and utensils, a well-stocked bookshelf, wood stove, electric space heater, toiletries, even an L.L. Bean flannel bathrobe. At this moment, I’m looking out the front window at a hummingbird feeding. Last night, what’s-her-name gave me a couple of fresh-baked snickerdoodles, which I ate immediately, and a small rhubarb coffee cake for breakfast. Also a bowl of fresh fruit, milk, cereal and English muffins. And the teas! White, green, black and flavored…. Oh, the hardships that I am enduring on this trip. Did I mention the hot tub at Cindy’s?
Follow the adventures of the Lone Librarian at http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~libssd/Alaska2006/.