It’s “long-distance riding, bugs, eccentric people and … pure contentment” as we once again tag along with “Jesse” James Corson on his epic road-trip across North America. Part four sees the Canterbury beekeeper tackling the Alaska Highway and once again encountering stunning scenery and tall tales, but this time on a new steed.
By James Corson
‘We are The Highwaymen,
Riding the roads
And twisting the grip
Hoping like hell
When it’s wet
We won’t slip.’
The Tiger died on me in Montreal. She had stalled on a hill at a red light and the starter refused to crank the triple pots back into life. A new starter was to be found in the depths of the English Midlands, three weeks away, and I was resigned to the fact that the journey was over.
I was philosophical about it, telling myself that some things are not meant to be. Even so, I was gutted. But then, my mate in Saskatchewan had said, ‘James, take my Africa Twin, she needs an outing.’ … So I did!
I powered the bike up the lazy curve to the low pass at Summit Lake. The expanse of the Northern Rockies stretched out in an endless wriggle of mountains and mist. We were headed north to the Arctic up the arterial Alaska Highway, hacked out of the boreal forest at the end of the second world war, after the Japanese had landed in the Aleutian Islands and the Americans had gotten worried.
That evening I wrote in my diary that crossing Summit Pass and dropping down into the Muncho Lake watershed would go down in the annals of my life as ‘being up there’. The reality was that it was just the prelude to a month-long odyssey of long-distance riding, bugs, eccentric people and pure contentment.
No matter that when I woke in the morning to the sound of gentle rain on the tent, it wasn’t rain but bugs looking for breakfast. Or when my boots were full of water after a day of torrential rain on a gravel road, I was smiling like a sandboy at the thought of a hot shower and a dry bed in the attic of a former brothel in Dawson City.
It was in Dawson that I met Troy and Lyel one Sunday afternoon. They were stood on the wooden board walk outside another dilapidated hotel sharing a joint. I had slowed the bike to avoid a rain filled pothole and we had made eye contact. I killed the motor and laughed with them…
“Aye for sure Paddy, it’s been a long and muddy road. A cold one might restore the zing.”
My new found mates were goldminers. We whiled away the afternoon with lies and beers, during which Lyel disappeared, to return with a piece of ivory that he plonked down on the table in front of me.
“Mammoth”, he said. “I found it while dozing off the overburden of a cut we were doing a while back. Take it home, it’s 23,000 years old.”
His mate Troy ordered more beer and pulled a small wooden box from his jacket. “I can do better than that.” He smiled as he pulled a gold nugget from his treasure and dropped it into my hand.
“That’s over a million years old… better take that too. We found it in the clean-up after we found the Mammoth.”
Later that evening I made my way back to my attic brothel (former!) pit, clutching the mammoth tusk embedded with gold, and as I stretched out in the soft sheets I chuckled at a text I had received from my nephew a few weeks before.
‘The exploration of the unknown is beautifully simple. Balance a purposeful direction with an acknowledgement of the uncertainties that lie over the horizon. It doesn’t matter which way you go… you will be surprised.’
Late summer sun
The journey run
As geese head south
Sweet prairie soil
Your gentle soul
Your Northern woods
And endless stretch of gold
Rest easy as the north wind blows
The sun drops
The wolf howls
And the Bear sleeps.
*For the rest of James Corson's epic journey, read: