Wednesday, October 7, 2009


My apologies for not resuming the blog when Dee and Cal resumed their trip, but now that they are back home, I wanted to reflect a little on what I learned.

From the outset I was appalled at how little I knew about our neighbors north of the 49th parallel. That is why I initially created the Google map, not actually thinking I might continue to follow along with new points each day. That idea evolved later. At first I was just trying to figure out where Saskatoon was. Since then, I have learned so much about the western Canadian provinces, and even took this as a prompt to relearn the names and general outlines of all the provinces and territories. It was also cool that I was able to travel to Canada (Vancouver) myself during this time, and in this way meet people from all over Canada.

To be honest, my knowledge of the North Central States was not a whole lot better, thus I learned about this part of our country as well. Here is where I gained a new understanding of the role of the French in the early history of the region, as well the importance of rivers in exploration, not to mention the crucial role of railroads in westward expansion. Somehow the viewpoint of the trikes made all of this more apparent, like seeing things from a covered wagon perspective rather than from a speeding automobile. It is also fascinating to see how some of our major Interstate Highways still follow the old corridors.

Geography and history were not the only topics I explored. Ecology and biodiversity were interesting subjects, as well. Compare, for example, the Inland Temperate Rainforest of British Columbia with the Sand Hills prairie of Nebraska. What a fascinating contrast. A few simple observations about road kill led to reading about timber wolves, and a comment about bears and mothballs to finding out more about grizzlies (and from there about thinhorn sheep). I also gained a deeper awareness of the importance of preserving natural habitats.

Some trivia facts were merely that, trivia, such as where the towns of Hazard and Anselmo, NE got their names or where the "real" center of the U.S. is. Likewise for the pronunciation of "ch" in names depending on their origin. Other "surprising" facts are hardly trivial, such as the names of the longest river in the country and the third largest man-made lake, or that wolves are social and grizzlies solitary.

One of the most valuable lessons was a renewed appreciation for Native American (aboriginal, First Nation) peoples and their cultures, especially their religious observances (at Bear Butte and Lac Ste. Anne, for example). Reading about legendary Americans such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull was humbling and inspiring. Preserving their cultures and languages could be as important to the world as preserving biomes and biodiversity.

From Dee and Cal I learned the importance of consistency and flexibility. My new moto for the coming months is "Go with the flow, and keep on trikin'," to mix metaphors. I also learned from them that weather is a more formidable adversary than terrain. Some barriers, such as hills, have to be met head on. No way around it. In other situations, it is better to wait for the wind to change or the rain/snow to let up (and take full advantage of a tail wind if one comes up, of course). Finally, it is not the destination; it is the journey.

Oh, yes, one more thing: if you have had an ice cream today, life is good.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hungry Hill

The Bulkley River Valley

The Bulkley River is a major tributary of the Skeena River and is paralleled by Highway 16 in the region of Smithers. Despite the fact that its major tributary, the Morice River, is actually larger, the confluence was still called the Bulkley by Poudrier, a government cartographer who, it is rumored, never saw the region.

And for another piece of trivia, the inhabitants of Smithers are commonly called Smithereens.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ursus americanus kermodei

Dee and Cal missed seeing the Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei)), which fascinatingly is a subspecies of the American Black Bear. They are neither albino nor related to polar bears, nor the "blond" brown bears of Alaska's "ABC Islands". This color variant is due to a unique recessive trait in their gene pool, and about 1/10th of their population have white or cream-colored coats. From what I can tell, they are found only in central British Columbia.

Because of their ghost-like appearance, "spirit bears" hold a prominent place in the Canadian First Nations/ American Indian mythology of the area. (See also Touching Spirit Bear.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On the Road Again

After three weeks on the Alaska Maritime Highway System (ferry), Dee and Cal are on the road again, starting out with a bang, riding 91 miles to Terrace, BC. They are on BC-16, which is part of the Yellowhead route of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

B.C. Border Crossings

Another trivia question: how many times have Dee and Cal crossed a border into the province of British Columbia? By my count the number is seven (7), once from Alberta, five times from Yukon, and once from Alaska. They have crossed the border out of BC six (6) times: five times into the Yukon and once into Alaska. That makes a total of thirteen (13) BC border crossings so far. All this is assuming they made it off the ferry in the wee hours of this morning. The coverage map shows Verizon service right around the Prince Rupert area so hopefully we will hear something from them yet this evening.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Alaska's "First City"

The picture Dee posted of the entrance to Ketchican claims that it is "Alaska's 1st City." Yet Sitka claims that it is "The First City in Alaska." Which one is correct? Without going into the details of determining exactly when a given city is established, it is clear that Sitka is the older. Ketchican's history dates to 1883, while Sitka's history begins around 1800. How, then, can Ketchican claim to be Alaska's first city?

Well Ketchican calls itself "First City" simply because it is the first stop in Alaska for ferries and many cruise ships traveling north through the Inside Passage. Its vibrant native Alaskan heritage, scenic location, and picturesque hillside houses and staircases make it a popular destination for travelers. It is also known as the "Salmon Capital of the World."

Ketchican is situated on Revillagigedo Island, 90 miles (145 km) north of Prince Rupert, BC. It is separated from Gravina Island, where Ketchikan International Airport is located, by the Tongass Narrows. In August 2005 the 2005 Highway Bill provided for $223m to build the Gravina Island Bridge (nicknamed "the Bridge to Nowhere" by its critics) between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. The bridge would have connected the island of Ketchikan to Gravina island where the airport is located so you can drive to the airport rather than taking the ferry across the waters. After years of national and international ridicule over the expense of this project, the Alaska government ultimately chose not to build the bridge, and will spend the appropriated funds elsewhere.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ursa americanus

Way back on June 5, I wrote about grizzlies, and today it is time to look up black bears (Ursa americanus). I had been planning to do this for a while, and the trikers' visit yesterday to the AnAn Creek Wildlife Observatory in the Tongas National Forest provided the motivation to do it today.

Unlike the Grizzly, the American Black Bear has never been an endangered species. It is the most common bear species native to North America and lives through out much of the continent. Black bears are found in 41 states, including Arkansas. :-) Black bears are omnivores whose diet includes plants, meat, and insects. Their diet typically consists of about 10-15% animal matter. The black bear eats a wide variety of foods, mainly herbs, nuts and berries, but where available (as in Tongas) salmon is a favorite food.

Like many animals, black bears seldom attack unless cornered, threatened, or wounded. They are less likely to attack humans than Grizzly Bears and typically flee for cover as soon as they identify a human visitor. Deaths by Black Bear, though, are most often predatory, while the more numerous grizzly fatalities on humans are often defensive.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Wrangell Narrows

Although I can't find much information about it, the Wrangell Narrows fascinates me. It is so narrow (and shallow) that cruise ships cannot make the passage, and even the ferries have to pick the right time of the tide, which I am guessing is the reason Dee and Cal have to leave Petersburg at 3:00 am.

"Wrangell Narrows, 20 miles of narrow tidal waterway, separates Mitkof Island from its close neighbor Kupreanof Island. In some areas Wrangell Narrows is barely wide enough to accommodate the Alaska State ferries and does not allow for the passage of larger cruise ships. The "Narrows" is famous for it many navigational markers. With tides that can range from a high of 19 feet to a low of -4 feet in one day, the water often rushes through the Wrangell Narrows adding to the navigational challenges. (geography)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Megaptera novaeangliae

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is one of the many marine mammals inhabiting Frederick Sound in the region of Petersburg.

"Of the estimated 6,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific, approximately 1,000 feed in Southeast Alaska during the summer. Nearly half of the Southeast Alaska feeding population, or approximately 500 whales, will enter the Frederick Sound area during the summer. They are after the very abundant herring and krill (shrimp-like crustaceans), which thrive in these waters. This makes Frederick Sound one of the best places in the world for observing the feeding behavior of humpback whales.

"Steller sea lions, harbor seals, Dall’s porpoise, and Orcas (killer whales) are also frequently seen. The area contains two major and several minor sea lion haul outs. Sea lions and humpback whales are often seen in the same feeding locations and interaction between these species is common. Harbor seals are seen both in the water and on the many rocky islets throughout the viewing area. A variety of sea birds is also present." (Petersburg)

"Found in oceans and seas around the world, humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 kilometres each year. Humpbacks feed only in summer, in polar waters, and migrate to tropical or sub-tropical waters to breed and give birth in the winter. During the winter, humpbacks fast and live off their fat reserves. The species' diet consists mostly of krill and small fish. Humpbacks have a diverse repertoire of feeding methods, including the bubble net feeding technique.

"Like other large whales, the humpback was and is a target for the whaling industry. Due to over-hunting, its population fell by an estimated 90% before a whaling moratorium was introduced in 1966. Stocks of the species have since partially recovered; however, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise pollution also remain concerns. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, there are at least 80,000 humpback whales worldwide." (Wikipedia)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Largest U.S. City

More trivia. Name the largest city in the United States. Notice I did not say the most populous city. What I am after here is the largest in area. If you named Oklahoma City, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Antonio as your top five you would have been correct as far as cities are concerned. But what if we also include consolidated city-counties (city-borough in AK and city-parish in LA)? In this case it turns out the the largest city is Sitka, AK at 4811 mi2. (See wikipedia.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Lynn Canal

"The Lynn Canal is an inlet (not an artificial canal) into the mainland of southeast Alaska. The Lynn Canal runs about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the inlets of the Chilkat River south to Chatham Strait and Stephens Passage. At over 2,000 feet in depth, the Lynn Canal is the deepest fjord in North America and one of the deepest and longest in the world as well. The northern portion of the canal braids into the respective Chilkat, Chilkoot, and Taiya Inlets. Lynn Canal was explored by Joseph Whidbey in 1794 and named by George Vancouver for his birthplace, King's Lynn, Norfolk, England."

Lynn Canal connects to Stephens Passage via Favorite Channel, on which lies Juneau, AK. At the entrance to Favorite Channel from Lynn Canal is the Sentinel Island Lighthouse.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Dee and Cal reported seeing six bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on Thursday. Although bald eagles have flourished in Alaska and Canada, the species was on the brink of extinction in the continental US late in the twentieth century. Thanks to conservation efforts (and to banning of DDT) stable populations have recovered.

"The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve was created by the State of Alaska in June of 1982. The preserve was established to protect and perpetuate the world’s largest concentration of Bald Eagles and their critical habitat. It also sustains and protects the natural salmon runs and allows for traditional uses; provided such uses do not adversely affect preserve resources. The Preserve consists of 48,000 acres of river bottom land of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers. The boundaries were designated to include only areas important to eagle habitation. Virtually every portion of the preserve is used by eagles at some time during the year."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Inside Passage

Links: Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS, Inside Passage)


Tuesday, June 23, 2009


After 75 days en route, Dee and Cal are in Alaska! Here is what they accomplished.
Days en route:75
Days on road:60
Rides 10-29 miles:4
Rides 30-49 miles:27
Rides 50-69 miles: 20
Rides 70-89 miles: 6
Rides 90-129 miles:3
Miles total: 3207
Miles/day mean: 43
Miles/ride mean:53
Miles/ride median: 49
Also, the Google map has been updated. :-)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tagish Lake Meteorite

By latest report, Dee and Cal are not going to Whitehorse, but were to spend the night last night in the town of Tagish, which gives me the chance to write a little about the Tagish Lake Meteorite.

"On the morning of January 18, 2000, a 150-ton space rock plunged into the earth's atmosphere, landing between the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in a remote vacation village, Tagish. The rare Tagish Lake fireball left an orange-white and blue contrail that lingered for 10 to 15 minutes as hundreds of observers witnessed the early morning events.

"The first aerial over-flights showed no crater or fragments left to demark the fireball or its impact. But fortunately for the science community, one week later on January 25th, a nearby resident, Jim Brook, found the first meteorite fragments while driving homewards on the ice of Taku Arm in Tagish Lake. He knew the frozen lake well, and had the presence to pick up the dark icy rocks with his hand inside a plastic bag. What Brook had uncovered was an extraterrestrial clue from the early solar system, a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite.

"To date, 500 more fragments have been found near Tagish Lake and hundreds have been recovered from the site - many still encased in ice. The space events of January 18th were the largest ever recorded over land by the Defense Department satellite systems. Scientifically, ;[Tagish Lake] is the find of a lifetime,' says Peter Brown, meteor scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Western Ontario and co-leader of the meteorite recovery investigation. 'The entire process of recovery of the material and determination of where it comes from makes this the scientific equivalent of an actual sample-return space mission - at a thousandth of the cost.' " (From AstroBiology Magazine.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yukon Native Language Center

Posting for Dee and Cal, Travis reported that they were on schedule so far, but that they would be arriving in Skagway on Tuesday instead of Sunday. I interpret this to mean that they decided to spend a night or two in Whitehorse after all. Or maybe they just wanted to take their time.

In any case, while they are in the Whitehorse vicinity, it is worth mentioning the Yukon Native Language Center (YNLC) at the Ayamdigut Campus of Yukon College in Whitehorse. The Centre is a training and research facility which provides a range of linguistic and educational services to Yukon First Nations and to the general public, promoting an awareness of the richness and beauty of Yukon First Nations Languages and an appreciation of the fundamental role they play in the transmission of culture and values from one generation to another.

Similar initiatives can be found at the Alaska Native Language Center (ANLC), Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures (CSUMC) at the University of Wisconsin and the Indigenous Language Institute (ILI) in Santa Fe, NM.

The UN declared 2008 as the International Year of Languages. "Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression – valuable resources for ensuring a better future are also lost."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Teslin River, Lake, and Fault

Dee and Cal are scheduled to stop overnight tonight at Teslin Lake, which is a prominent feature in the Terrain view of this region: 80 miles long, 2 miles wide on average, and nearly linear (a favorite landmark for VFR pilots). This natural lake is on the Teslin River, which runs from south to north toward the Yukon River. The Alaska Highway runs along Teslin Lake for over twenty miles including the longest bridge on the entire Highway, the Nisutlin Bay Bridge. The road bed is reported to be a see-through metal grating, which should be great fun for the trikers. At the far (north) end of the lake the highway turns west on the famous Johnson's Crossing Bridge over the Teslin River.

All of the rivers that Dee and Cal have crossed so far drain into the Atlantic or the Arctic Ocean. Teslin River, on the other hand, drains into the Pacific Ocean (or rather, the Bering Sea) by way of the Yukon River. Remember that the Yukon is the third longest river in the U.S., behind the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers.

And of course the reason that the Teslin Lake is long, narrow, and so nearly straight is because of the Teslin Fault.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cassiar Mountains

Dee and Cal spent the past six nights in the Liard River basin (including two nights at Watson Lake). Having crossed the Rocky Mountain Trench, they headed into the Cassiar Mountain Range today. Tonight they plan to spend the night at or near the Continental Divide.

The name Cassiar is derived from the word "kaska", a corruption of the Indian name of McDame Creek (a tributary of the Dease River, which drains into the Liard River), where the Kaska Indians assembled in summer to fish and trade. One anthropologist says "kaska" means "old moccasins", a term of scorn that Tahltan Indians applied to the neighbouring Kaska Indians in the Dease River area.

There is also a ghost town named Cassiar, which was a small company-owned asbestos mining town located at the red star in the map above. The town, which had a population of 1,500 in its heyday, had two schools, two churches, a small hospital, a theatre, swimming pool, recreation centre and a hockey rink.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Preview of the Week

Unless Dee and Cal happen across another camper with satellite internet service, they will probably not be able to post again until they reach Skagway. Knowing the rest of us they way they do, however, the trikers have kindly posted a list of their predicted overnight locations. Not only are these sites tentative, I am not even certain of their exact locations. Nevertheless, the map above is an approximate, speculative, provisional preview of the final week (325 miles) before ALASKA.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Peterson Mountain

Dee said that "Peterson Mountain" was a much harder challenge than Steamboat Rock, but when I tried to find the location, nothing came up in the search engine. So I did an elevation graph of the road between Toad River and Muncho Lake. Based on this, I am guessing that Peterson Mountain must be about at the red balloon on the Terrain view above.

Alces alces

It was good to hear from Dee and Cal again last night and to read about their sighting of a moose. (Also interesting that they saw bison so far up into the mountains.) The species Alces alces is called "moose" in North America and "elk" in Europe. To confuse matters further, what North Americans call elk are the second largest species in the deer family, moose being the largest. Moose are also distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males; other members of the family have antlers with a "twig-like" configuration.

The moose spotted by Dee and Cal was probably of the Western or Northwestern subspecies (Alces alces andersoni), although it could have been of the Alaskan variety (Alces alces gigas). Behind only the bison, the moose is the second largest land animal in both North America and Europe. Moose are generally solitary with the strongest bonds between mother and calf. Two individuals can sometimes be found feeding along the same stream. (See also Cetartiodactyla.)

Anyone remember the Rocky and Bulwinkle show?

The trikers are about 270 miles from Whitehorse, so communication may still be a problem for a while longer. Take care (and enjoy the Nisutlin Bay Bridge at Teslin Lake).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Watson Lake, Yukon

Awhile back I promised not to speculate about where Dee and Cal might be headed next, yet I am about to speculate where they might be now. Just can't help myself. In any case, I surely jumped the gun by talking about the Continental Divide last night, because the Divide is beyond Watson Lake, YT on the Alaska Highway, and I am pretty sure the trikers will be able to post from Watson Lake. Watson Lake is right at 200 miles from Toad River Lodge where they were Monday night, and they did say they were going to slow down and enjoy the scenery (in this stretch said to be the best anywhere on the Alaska Highway). So I am going to go out on a limb and say that we will hear from Dee and Cal from Watson Lake tomorrow (Sunday) night, or perhaps as early as this evening.

Watson Lake is a community of 1000-1500 people, a small town by most standards, but in this region a booming metropolis. It lies along the Liard River in the upper Rocky Mountain Trench and, obviously, is near a small lake by the same name. It is known as the Gateway to the Yukon. The town is also famous for its Sign Post Forest.

Near Watson Lake is a small community called Upper Liard and another called Two Mile Village, both home to the Liard River First Nation.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Continental Divide

If you have been following the River List you will have noticed that the rivers up to and including the Missouri drain into the Atlantic Ocean via the Gulf of Mexico, while all those after it in the list drain into the Arctic Ocean, hence a continental divide, the so called Northern or Laurentian Divide. Still not exactly sure where they are, we can assume Dee and Cal are approaching or have passed the Great Continental Divide, beyond which the rivers all flow into the Pacific Ocean. Travel plans posted before they started call for Dee and Cal to return by way of Glacier National Park (or near it), where the Northern and the Great Divides converge in a "triple point".

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bison bison athabascae

Since Dee and Cal are still incommunicado this evening, I am going to take another little side trip, down the Liard River again to Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte, home to the Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae), not to be confused with the Plains Bison (Bison bison bison), the other surviving North American subspecies. The highest point of the Wood Bison is well ahead of its front legs, while the Plains Bison's highest point is directly above the front legs. The Wood Bison is also heavier, with large males weighing over 900 kilograms (2,000 lb), making it the largest terrestrial animal in North America.

In contrast to the other mammals I have written about here, the Wood Bison is threatened to the point of nearing the status of endangered. Efforts to preserve these populations have been partially successful, but encroachment threatens them as well as hybridization with plains buffalo polluting the genetic stock. Another issue is that of habitat fragmentation, which makes the observation of wood bison crossing the Liard in summer as well as winter an important one.

The Liard River

Since the Verizon service seems to have disappeared for a few days, we don't know for certain, but by now Dee and Cal should have crossed the Liard River via the famous Liard Suspension Bridge (mile 496) in the Hot Springs vicinity. Had they stopped there, rented a canoe, and floated east on the Liard, they would have been in for the ride of their lives. The Grand Canyon of the Liard is a 20-mile stretch of Class IV and higher rapids. After descending into the foothills the river levels out and is joined by the Fort Nelson River on its way to the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories and on to the Arctic Ocean.

Instead of canoeing east, however, the trikers will have continued west on the Alaska Highway, which follows the Liard River for considerable distance (past the mouth of the Kechika River on the other side, for example). Eventually they will cross the Liard again as it swings north into the Yukon in the northern end of the Rocky Mountain Trench. The source of the river is the Saint Cyr Range of the Pelly Mountains. The name "Liard" comes from the French word for Eastern Cottonwood, which grow in abundance along many sections of the river. Because of the abundance of wildlife, the Liard River Valley and the surrounding area vies for the title of Serengeti of North America.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Kechika River

Being just a vicarious triker, I am free to explore places inaccessible to Dee and Cal. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather be with them, but since I'm not, I will take a little side trip. The Kechika River will not make it to our "river list" because the trikers will neither cross it nor follow it, but it deserves a blog entry nonetheless because: (1) it flows into the Liard River, which the trikers will cross (and then follow) soon, (2) most of its course is within the Rocky Mountain Trench, which I've already written about, and (3) its pristine watershed is home to moose, caribou, stone sheep, grizzly and black bear, timber wolf, (which we have encountered before) as well as elk and mountain goat.

In the image here, I have redrawn the Alaska Highway in red to make it more visible. The green balloon is where Dee and Cal stayed last night. The Kechica River rises near the lower center of the image and flows northwest before curving toward the Liard, which it joins at the Alaska Highway. You can click on the image to make it larger, or if you go to the Google map, you can zoom in and out as you wish.

What makes this river valley especially special are "the wildlife populations and ecosystems which flourish around and along the river. ... Not only is the river corridor pristine, but the valley as a whole remains largely free from roads, leaving the Kechika River as the largest remaining undisturbed watershed in British Columbia." I would love to quote the entire website, but you owe it to yourself to follow the link above. Also read about the Denetiah Provincial Park.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rangifer tarandus caribou

The Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) are threatened by habitat encroachment in Alberta and British Columia. They are not considered "endangered" because the species, Rangifer tarandus, is still widespread throughout the northern Holartic. But woodland and mountain caribou do not migrate over vast distances the way their northern cousins do, which makes them particularly dependent on their regional habitat. (See

"Mountain caribou are an 'ecotype' of woodland caribou that inhabit the deep snowbelt regions of the interior rainforest of British Columbia and parts of three US states. Their large hooves act as snowshoes that allow them to spend winters high in the subalpine and alpine forests, where snowpacks can reach depths up to four meters. The deep snows act as a barrier to predators, and as a platform that allows the caribou to reach their winter food source, lichens that grow on old-growth trees. Mountain caribou are the only member of the deer family to move to higher elevations in winter."

"The main threats to caribou are habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation. Industrial logging has removed much of the critical old-growth forest that caribou need for food and for cover from predators like wolves and cougars. After old forests are logged, young shrubs and trees grow. Moose, deer and elk move in, attracted by the new growth. Their presence in turn supports more predators which incidentally and unsustainably prey on caribou. Before their habitat was fragmented by logging and other developments caribou were largely able to avoid predation through their unusual seasonal movements and by spreading themselves throughout extensive old-growth forests."

Caribou are unique in the deer family in that both females and males grow antlers. Caribou are larger than deer and smaller than elk, with males weighing approximately 175 kg (350-400 lb). Their hollow fur insulates them through the long mountain winters.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sixty-Day Update

Dee and Cal have now been en route to Alaska for sixty days. Just for fun, I compared the first thirty days with the second thirty.
Days en route: 30 30
Days on road: 22 24
Rides 10-29 miles: 2 1
Rides 30-49 miles: 6 9
Rides 50-69 miles: 12 8
Rides 70-89 miles: 2 3
Rides 90-129 miles: 0 3
Miles total: 1123 1501
Miles/day mean: 37 50
Miles/ride mean: 51 63
Miles/ride median: 54 55

The three rides of over 90 miles is amazing, but more impressive, in my view, is the riding consistency. Out of the first 30 days, 22 were on the road (73%), 14 of which (64%) were rides of over 50 miles. Out of the second 30 days, 24 were on the road (80%), 14 of which (58%) were rides of over 50 miles. That is consistency. Since they are ahead of schedule, this is a great time to adopt a "slow down and enjoy" program.

(The "mean" is the average distance per day or per ride. The "median" is where half the rides were less than and half more than this distance. In the first 30 days, the outliers were on the low end, so the mean was less than the median. In the second 30, the outliers were on the high end, so the mean was greater than the median.)

The Rocky Mountain Trench

On the High Plains and into the Canadian prairie, the Terrain View of the map has, with notable exceptions, been mostly monotonous. Not so now. I have been watching the terrain ahead as Dee and Cal approach the Northern Rockies, and for a few days now I have noticed a feature that seems highly unusual, a deep valley in a perfectly straight line for hundreds of miles, the orientation of which is an almost uniform 150/330 degree geographic north vector. Today I discovered that this is the Rocky Mountain Trench, primarily the result of faulting (with minimal glacial carving). What you see in the image above is the northern half of the Trench, beginning at the Yukon/B.C. border. It continues at just a slightly different angle to the southeast all the way to Montana.

For orientation, Fort Nelson is in middle of the upper right quadrant (at the confluence of three rivers). The town of Watson Lake would be at the top edge (or barely above it) and toward the left. Prince George would be just off the bottom edge and toward the right. The large lake in the middle of the Trench is Lake Williston on the Peace River. To the northwest, the Tintina Trench continues on through the Yukon to Alaska.

The mountains east of the Trench are the Rocky Mountains, but to the west of it are the Cassiar Mountains in the north and the Omineca Mountains a little further south. We will check out the Trench again when the trikers come back through it a little further south on their way home.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ovus dalli stonei

Enough about predators for now, although I'd also like to write about cougars and black bears sometime. Another North American mammal that Dee and Cal might see in this region is the Thinhorn Sheep (Ovus dalli), not to be confused with Bighorn Sheep (Ovus canadensis). As the name suggests, the horns of this species are thinner than those of the Bighorn Sheep. They also have a more open curl, which some consider more elegant. Two races of Thinhorn Sheep call British Columbia home. The white Dall's Sheep is found in the Yukon and in the extreme northwestern corner of B.C. The darker Stone's Sheep is more widespread, being found in much of the region the trikers are in now, especially at Muncho Lake.

Living as they do in some of the most remote wilderness in British Columbia, both Dall's and Stone's Sheep have not suffered seriously from the encroachment of human activities. There are healthy populations of both, and that is perhaps a solid lesson in the importance of maintaining large tracts of intact habitat.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ursus arctos horribilis

The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is a subspecies of brown bear (Ursus arctos) that lives in the uplands of western North America. Half of the grizzlies in North America live in Canada, and half of these live in British Columbia, mostly in the northern regions. (Look out, guys.)

In contrast to timber wolves, grizzlies are normally solitary animals except during salmon spawn, when they congregate alongside rivers and streams. Every other year females produce 1-4 young which weigh only 1 pound. They can grow to be over 1000 pounds in adulthood. Being omnivores, they feed on a variety of plants and berries including roots or sprouts and fungi as well as fish, insects and small mammals. The Grizzly Bear is primarily nocturnal and in the winter puts on up to 400 pounds of fat, becoming very lethargic. Although they are not true hibernators and can be woken easily, they like to den up in a protected spot, such as a cave, crevice or hollow log during the winter months.

The word "grizzly" in its name refers to "grizzled" or grey hairs in its fur, but when naturalist George Ord formally named the bear in 1815 he misunderstood the word as "grisly", to produce its biological Latin specific or subspecific name "horribilis". The Grizzly Bear is not generally considered endangered, but is listed as "threatened."

Advil Time

This preview of the next 100 miles shows what Dee was talking about, "time for Advil again." Enjoy the first 40 miles! (And from the comments from the locals, it looks like the coverage map below is right.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Verizon Digital Wireless

It is hard to know how accurate or precise this Verizon Wireless Digital coverage map is, but in any case, it appears that communication may be at least an intermittent problem for the next few weeks.

The Boreal Forest Biome

A biome is a major regional or global biotic community, such as a grassland or desert, defined by the dominant forms of plant life and the prevailing climate. The boreal forest biome is the largest terrestrial ecosystem in the world, characterized by conifer forests and a harsh continental climate with a very large temperature range between summer and winter. The global boreal forests are larger than even the Amazon rainforest.

"Like the Amazon, the boreal forest is of critical importance to all living things. Its trees and peatlands comprise one of the world's largest 'carbon reservoirs.'... Its wetlands filter millions of gallons of water each day. And as a vast and intact forest ecosystem, it still supports a natural food web, complete with large carnivores like bears, wolves and lynx along with thousands of other species of plants, mammals, birds and insects. The boreal forest is also home to hundreds of First Nations communities, many of which rely on fishing, hunting and trapping for their livelihoods. Despite its global significance, Canada's boreal forest is in great danger today." NRDC

Canus lupus

Geography and history have been my primary topics up to now, along with a little biography. Time now for some ecology.

The Timberwolf or Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) once inhabited most of North America, but their range has been reduced by over half, now limited to Alaska, Canada, and small areas of the U.S. The timber wolf is typically a grizzled gray but color varies from white to black. The ears are erect and the tail is bushy and black tipped. The male is larger than the female and average weight is 55-130 pounds.

Wolves are highly social animals who mate for life and live in packs of 2-15. The strongest male is usually the pack leader; all members of the pack care for the young which helps unite the pack. An average of 7 pups are born to each female in April-June. Usually hunting at night, they feed primarily on large mammals by chasing down their victims either slashing tendons or driving it back to waiting pack members. The wolves howl as a means of communication and to express good spirits. The wolf will usually answer to a human howl, "which is truly a Canadian experience."

In 2007, the BC government announced a "partnership" to save British Columbia's endangered mountain caribou. The partners — BC government, logging companies, snowmobile clubs, heli-ski businesses and the Mountain Caribou Project (MCP) — had agreed to protect 2.2 million hectares of high quality mountain caribou winter habitat. They had also agreed to kill predators (i.e. timber wolves). But in the big media promotion, the habitat protection received all of the focus and predator control (which had been the subject of massive protest) received little attention.

According to "the press materials emphasized habitat protection but the actions have been just the opposite. The government is relying upon killing predators (wolves) as its silver bullet to increase caribou numbers without reducing the logging that is destroying habitat."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Canadian Rockies, Terrain View

This is the Google Maps Terrain View of the British Columbia Rocky Mountains ahead of the Trikers.

Hills on the Way to Pink Mountain

Here is the elevation graph that Dee requested for the Alaskan Highway between Shepherd's Inn and Pink Mountain. I am not quite sure why the distance is off by so much, but my indicator pins (as located by Google) may not be entirely accurate.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The River List

Dee mentioned crossing the Smoky River (not to be confused with the Smoky Hill River), so this seems like a good time to review the rivers that the trikers have crossed on their journey so far. The Missouri River and all above it drain into the Atlantic Ocean, while those below it drain into the Arctic Ocean.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vancouver, BC

Why am I posting about British Columbia while Dee and Cal are still in Alberta? And why about the oppositie corner of the province from where they will riding when they do get to BC? The answer is that Vancouver is where I am this week for the annual MUSE International Conference. Actually I am here to present a paper tomorrow. Obviously I have Internet access, and I will try to keep the Google map as up to date as I can, but I may be a little lax on posts to the Vicarious Triker.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lac St. Anne Pilgrimage

Dee and Cal are camping at the shores of Lac St. Anne tonight, the site of the largest annual spiritual gathering of Native people in Canada.

"A long-established annual meeting place for Aboriginal peoples, this lake became a Catholic pilgrimage site in the late 19th century. Since 1889, First Nations and Métis people have traveled here in late July to celebrate the Feast of Saint Anne. This saint, widely revered as the mother of the Virgin Mary and the grandmother of Jesus, embodies the grandmother figure honoured in many Canadian Aboriginal societies. Lac Ste. Anne is an important place of spiritual, cultural and social rejuvenation, central aspects of traditional summer gatherings for indigenous peoples."

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people are expected to attend this year (July 18-23).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Yellowhead Highway Corridor

Once again the trikers find themselves following an historic road, the Yellowhead travel corridor. Originally, it was the secret trail to the fur cache of its namesake, the golden locked, Iroquois Métis guide known as “Tête Jaune.” Tête Jaune, (literally translated as “Yellow Head”) guided for both of Canada's greatest business rivals, the Hudson Bay Company and North West Company, the foremost fur traders of the world. In 1825, Tête Jaune led the Hudson Bay Company's chief trader, James McMillan, through the pass that still bears his nickname—Yellowhead.

It is my understanding that Dee and Cal will leave the Yellowhead Highway before it reaches the Yellowhead Pass, but it appears that they may come back through it on the return leg.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saskatchewan River

Dee mentioned yesterday that Saskatoon is the "city of bridges" with seven river crossings. The river they span is the South Saskatchewan River. Shortly after leaving the campground this morning the trikers crossed the North Saskatchewan River, which they then paralleled the rest of the day. They are still north of this river tonight, but tomorrow they will cross it again as the river swings north of Highway 16.

The province of Saskatchewan gets its name from the Saskatchewan River, which gets its name from the Cree word meaning "swift flowing river."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ian Andrew

Nothing whatsoever to do with trike trips, but I thought I should share the fact that as of yesterday afternoon, I am now Grandpa. Ian Andrew Walter is a healthy 7 lb 6 oz boy. Couldn't let Dee and Cal have the grandparent limelight all to themselves.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rural Municipalities

As Dee and Cal first approached and then entered Saskatchewan, I noticed on the Google map (when zoomed in pretty close) numbers associated with names. I was curious about what those numbers meant, but couldn't figure anything out. Tonight I found out that these refer to Rural Municipalities (RM) in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. For example, the trikers are in Kenaston tonight, which is in the RM called McCraney No. 282 (pop 431). Here is a list of RMs.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sustainable Living Project

Craik, where Dee and Cal have stopped for the night, is the home of the Sustainable Living Project. This small town of less than 500 residents is progressive enough to promote the use of more ecologically sound technologies and ways of living.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Queen City from Pile of Bones

Wascana is an anglicization of the Cree word for "pile of bones." Wascana is also the name of small spring run-off creek in south central Saskatchewan, so named for the large piles of bison bones in the area. "Pile-of-Bones" was the first name for a small site along the Wascana Creek adjacent to the future route of the Canadian-Pacific Railway, and the hamlet that resulted. The choice of this site for the headquarters of the Northwest Territories was a national scandal at the time, but the choice stuck anyway. The town was renamed Regina in 1882 after Queen Victoria, i.e. Victoria Regina (regina is Latin for "queen"), by her daughter Princess Louise, wife of the then-Governor General the Marquess of Lorne. Wascana Creek was dammed to create Wascana Lake, around which Wascana Centre was built.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sitting Bull

Since Dee and Cal stopped (however briefly) in Plentywood, MT on their way to the Canadian border, I will take this opportunity to write about Sitting Bull, because the town of Plentywood claims to be the site where "Sitting Bull and his Sioux people surrendered to the U. S. Army after living in Canada for five years." Other sources, including biographer Robert Utley place Sitting Bull's surrender at Fort Buford at the confluence off the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Dean Simmons and I are trying to run this inconsistency down.

In any case, Sitting Bull is considered by Utley and others to be an American patriot, a stubborn defender of the traditional ways against the steadfast and unwelcome encroachment of the white man. In the months after the Battle of Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull and his people fled to Saskatchewan until they surrendered some five years later due to hunger and cold. Let us hope Dee and Cal find Saskatchewan more hospitable.

Forty-Ninth Parallel

Another quiz. What is the northern most point in the contiguous United States? I admit I expected it to be the northern point of Maine, and I was wrong. Maine is below 47° 28' N latitude, while most of the U.S.-Canadian border is on the 49th parallel, the longest continuous international border in the world and all demilitarized. Due to confusion about the source of the Mississippi River and resulting ambiguity in the treaty, there is, however, a tiny area of Minnesota north of the 49th parallel called the Northwest Angle.

In any case, Dee and Cal are now north of the forty-ninth parallel and in Saskatchewan, Canada. Still not sure where they will camp for the night or if they will have broadband coverage there. Nevertheless, it is all pretty cool!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Time Zones

On April 21 the trikers crossed into the Mountain Time Zone in Nebraska. They neglected to say that they crossed back into the Central Time Zone while going north in North Dakota between Belfield and the Little Missouri (Thursday). Tonight they are back in the Mountain Time Zone by virtue of crossing into Montana. I was tipped off to this by Dean's comment about Fortuna, ND being so far west in the Central Time Zone. Dee and Cal are in Culberson on the Lewis and Clark Trail, west of the Yellowstone River now. Of course this means they will miss Fortuna. Incidentally, they spent the day riding west on US-2 (before heading north again tomorrow). Most primary east-west US Highways end in zero, but this one was named 2 to avoid being named 0.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

It's the Journey

Out of town this weekend and away from my ordinary routine, I am prone to philosphical reflection (more than usual). It has occurred to me, therefore, to share a few things I am learning from Dee and Cal. The first is that life is a journey, not a destination. In a way, Alaska is a just metaphor for all that seems far off and unreachable. But arrival in Alaska is not the most important thing; what's important is the getting there, the adventure itself. The reason we follow Dee and Cal so closely is to see what each new day will bring. What will they see, who will they encounter, what hurdles will they overcome, how far will they get today, where will they stop for the night?

And the best thing is that there is something new to be learned each day, places and things we might not have thought about in a hundred years except for the fact that Dee and Cal came this way today. I write this blog day-by-day only because of their journey. I would not have researched any of this, let alone written about it, any other way. The experience is day-by-day, mile-by-mile.

Although the destination is not important, the vision is. What sustains Dee and Cal every day is their vision, their goal. Because of their dream, they are not put off by wind and rain, hills and bad roads, no-vacancy signs and sore muscles. Sure they get discouraged and they don't try to hide it, but they are not stopped by these things. They just keep on trikin' (pardon the pun). The vision they have is like the dreams sought by the native Americans at Bear Butte, like the one Crazy Horse had there, which sustained him his entire life.

I am also learning about flexibility, willingness to take things as they come and respond accordingly, to make new plans on the basis of new information or changing conditions. This happened a couple of times in Kansas early in the trip, but the first time it really struck me was the stop in Hazard, NE, a hole in the road (from whence its name) on none of our maps until that afternoon. Really cool. Since then, this kind of openness to what the day brings has been exhibited over and over.

So thanks, Dee and Cal, for inspiring us in so many ways.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Quiz: Longest Rivers and more

Quick, name the longest river in the United States. If you said the Mississippi River, you are close. Acording to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Mississippi is the second longest river (2340 mi), followed by the Yukon (1980 mi), Rio Grande (1900 mi), St. Lawrence (1900 mi), Arkansas (1469 mi), and Colorado (1450 mi). First place, however, belongs to the Missouri River, at 2540 miles in length.

Next, name the three largest man-made lakes in the country. If you got the first two, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both on the Colorado, I am impressed. If you knew the third, Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River, I am very impressed. Yesterday Dee and Cal crossed the Missouri River at the upper end of Lake Sakakawea.

Now name the explorers who followed this river into the Pacific Northwest from 1803 to 1806? This question is a bit easier, but I will let you follow the link to confirm their names. On Christmas Eve of 1804 they finished building Fort Manden on the river at what is now the other end of Sakakawea Lake.

Finally, can you name the longest undammed river in the contiguous U.S.? This would be the Yellowstone River, which flows into the Missouri ten or fifteen miles upstream from where Dee and Cal crossed it. The explorers I'm talking about followed both rivers because they appeared to be about the same size.

The river crossing by satellite. Williston is at the top and the lake is to the right.

Wind Halo?

At 2:25 pm MT this afternoon it appears that there was wind at 10-15 mph over most of North Dakota and Montana except for a halo of calm between Watford City and Williston. Could it be true?.

Little Mo -- Terrain View

The Terrain View in Google maps shows the ruggedness of the Little Missouri River valley even better.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Little Missouri River

Dee asked me to look up the elevation change for today's ride, which is gradually downhill the whole way with a 450 foot drop in elevation between Belfield and Watford City. That is, the whole way EXCEPT leaving the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The Little Missouri River runs through the park creating a narrow valley. The uphill grade coming out of the valley is 4% for almost two miles. A "'Lordy, Lordy' hill" to quote Dee.

This is not the place to post a biography of the 26th U.S. President, but I would be remiss if I did not pass along a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: "I would never have been president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota." Read more at: T. R. the Rancher, Maltese Cross Cabin, and Elkhorn Ranch. (See also: T. R. Association, and Wikipedia). If I understand the location correctly, Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch was along the Little Missouri.

Wind Speed

If we have learned anything from the reports posted by Dee and Cal it is that wind is a much more formidable adversary than distance or elevation, maybe even than precipitation, though that is debatable and rain is not unrelated to wind. In any case, I figured out this morning that if one looks at the interactive local radar map, it is possible to click on "Weather Layers" below the map and then select wind speed for current wind conditions. As far as I can figure out, though, it does not indicate the direction.

Dee, you probably cannot get all this on your BB, but for those of us spectating from our desks, this is one more tool for the Vicarious Trikers. For what it is worth, predicts less wind today and maybe a shift out of the WSW.

While I am thinking about it, I am not sure how many of these tools will follow you all the way through Canada to Alaska. In particular, I am worried about your broadband coverage. I have become addicted to reading your posts each evening.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Millennium Mile Map

This is the Google map for the first 1003 miles. Click on the image above to see an enlarged version.

Millennium Mile at the Crossroads

Dee and Cal passed the Millennium Mile mark today (1003 miles to be exact). This seems like a good time to recap their accomplishments to this point. The trikers have been been on the road 28 days and stopped in 20 locations. By my count 5 nights were in the tent or on the floor. The highest elevation was 3967 ft at Alliance, NE and the lowest elevation was 1300 ft in Wichita, KS. They have ridden 36 miles a day overall and averaged 50 miles a day when on the trikes. The median daily distance is 54 miles. The longest leg was yesterday at 70 miles.

The trikers are celebrating tonight at Trappers Kettle in Belfield, ND, which bills itself as the Crossroads of North America. This is because I-94 goes from New York City to Seattle, and US-85 is part of the CanAm Highway, which goes from Mexico City to Alaska (by different numbering in other locations). Belfield is also known for its rich cultural diversity with settlers here including French, Norwegian, German, Ukrainian, Russian, Irish, English, Polish and Hollanders. The percentage of population having Ukrainian ancestry is 13.6%, second highest of all communities in the country.

North Dakotan Dinosaurs

Dean Simmons pointed me to a fascinating article about the dinosaur digs near Bowman, ND, written by Tony C. Driebus (L.A. Times). The author goes to some lengths to describe the hard work under difficult conditions required to unearth these fossils. North Dakota not only has harsh winters, but brutal summers as well. No wonder the Sioux natives called this area makoshika, meaning Bad Lands. This is a good area to excavate, though, because the buttes that rise out of the surrounding grasslands hold millions of fossils. In topography, this region resembles the desserts of Arizona and Mexico. Thanks for the pointer, Dean.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Center of the U.S.

On April 15, Dee and Cal took a little side trip to the geographic center of the contiguous 48 states near Lebanon, KS. Yesterday they passed within 30 miles of the center of the 50 states (44°58'N, 103°46'W). The nearest town is Belle Fourche (the "ch" is /sh/), French for "beautiful fork" for the fork of Hay Creek, the Redwater River, and the Belle Fourche River at the site. It should be pointed out, however, that neither point is exact, since there is no agreement on which mathematical model to use. The Lebanon point was determined in 1918 by balancing on a point a cardboard cutout shaped like the U.S. This obviously would not work for the 50 states, and I don't know how that point was arrived at.

Last night the trikers were stuck in a little place called Crow Buttes Mercantile, a few miles south of Redig, SD, outside the Verizon broadband coverage. We could assume as much from the fact that they did not post on the blog, but to confirm this fact I placed a link to the Verizon coverage map in the Tools for the Journey section. This may come in handy again as they get further north.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bear Butte

Crazy Horse was still a teen (then called by his childhood name, Curly) when the Great Council of Teton Lakotas (Souix) took place at Bear Butte in the summer of 1857. It was here that he began to see the Lakotas as the same proud people as in the old days and to feel the power of their unity (Sandoz, pp 98-100). And it was here that Curly underwent an Inipi, or a purification ceremony, and had a great vision on the inclines of Bear Butte, which his father interpreted as meaning that Crazy Horse would one day be a great warrior (see Pluralism Project link below).

Violating a treaty of 1868, George Custer led an expedition to the Black Hills region in 1874, and according to custom he camped near Bear Butte. Custer verified the rumors of gold in the Black Hills, and Bear Butte then served as an easily identifiable landmark for the rush of invading prospectors and settlers into the region. Indian reaction to the illegal movements of whites into the area was intense and hostile. Ultimately the government reneged on its treaty obligations regarding the Black Hills and instead embarked on a pogrom to confine all northern Plains tribes to reservations. Incidentally, by taking Highway 79 to Rapid City, Dee and Cal avoided the Black Hills towns of Lead, Central City, Pluma, and Deadwood on US 85/385 that were the focus of the gold rush.

"The sacredness of Bear Butte as a religious site for the Lakota and a myriad of other native groups cannot be disputed. Legend and history, as well as the determination of the Lakota to defend Bear Butte today demonstrate the importance of mountain. The battle to protect Bear Butte is shaping up to be a battle between religious rights and property rights, coupled with the perceived need for economic development in South Dakota. Unfortunately, controversies involving the infringement of the religious rights of the Lakota have caused clashes between natives and those who do not see Bear Butte in the way of the Lakota and other Native Tribes." (The Pluralism Project)

I love reading Sandoz while Dee and Cal are traveling through this region.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Dakota Hogback

Back to plan A. The Mickelson Trail was a great idea, but Dee and Cal received an email this morning from the S.D. Department of Parks indicating that the majority of the trail is still snow covered, so they will be going to Rapid City after all (presumably via SD 79). I am still curious about their route from here to Belle Forche, but apparently there is only 8 miles on I-90 and the highway patrol has blessed this.

Maybe the rest of this entry should wait until Dee and Cal are actually in Rapid City, but since it is on my mind, I will go ahead post it now. When I was looking at the Terrain view on the Google map this morning, I zoomed in close on Rapid City. The interesting thing about this is that the city is cut in two by a ridge of mountains. This ridge is called the Dakota Hogback. There is a break in the hogback on the north end, through which Rapid Creek runs. The ridge takes its name from the Dakota Formation, a sandstone formation that underlies the ridge. The Dakota Hogback also goes past Hot Springs, which accounts for all the sandstone buildings.

Then zooming back out, it is also fascinating to see how the Black Hills stand apart from the Rocky Mountains like an island of mountains and trees in a sea of prairie.

George S. Mickelson Trail

As a rule, in this blog, I try to resist anticipating where the trikers will stop each day and how they will get there, but half the fun of travel is planning the trip, and half the vicarious fun for me is researching the road ahead. I had been wondering, therefore, how Dee and Cal would ride from Hot Springs, SD to Williston, ND, or rather, how they planned to get to Belle Fourche, since north of I-90, US 85 would appear the only route.

Vertical Feet
From Hot Springs to Spearfish, however, the quandary was this. US 385, winding around the west of Custer State Park, is steep, with grades of up to 4% in places, maybe more. The vertical climb is 3500 ft. The alternative route is SD-79, which runs along the east side of Custer Park and is relatively flat and straight. There are a few grades of 2%, but most are 1% or less. This is not readily apparent from the road map, but if you click on the Terrain button in the upper right-hand corner of the Google map, it becomes obvious. SD-79 is also the shorter route to Rapid City, but I had thought they might want to bypass the city because it appears to me that the only direct route from Rapid City to Spearfish is I-90, not so great for trikes. Nonetheless, when Dee mentioned stopping in Rapid City for supplies, I assumed they would take 79, and then I would just have to wait and see how they would get to US 85.

Last night, however, I received an email from Dee saying that they have changed their itinerary, which I take as permission to share it here. They are no longer going through Rapid City, having found a "rails to trails" bike trail called the George S. Mickelson Trail (map). It starts in Edgemont and ends in Deadwood (109 miles). They will pick it up at Minnekahta Junction just west of Hot Springs. It follows the route of an abandoned railroad branch line constructed by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in 1890-91 and last operated by the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1983. Therefore, even though there is still a pretty good climb, its slopes are much more gentle than US 385. It sounds marvelous. Dee says that they plan to sight see in Hot Springs all day Wednesday and leave for the bike trail Thursday, weather permitting.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spelling and Pronunciation

The "ch" in Wichita and the "tch" in Hutchinson are pronounced like /ch/ in chair, but the "ch" in Chadron, derived from Chartran, is pronounced like the /sh/ in shower. Between Chadron and Hot Springs, SD is a little town named Oelrichs, where the "ch" is pronounced like /k/ in kid. Apparently it depends on the source of the words. Hutchinson is an English name, and Wichita is the Anglicization of the Native American tribe by that name. Chadron is French in origin, and Oelrichs, German. Those of you familiar with German know that "ch" is pronounced in different ways depending on the context in that language, too, but to my knowledge "chs" is always pronounced /ks/.

To take this a step further, recall that yesterday Dee and Cal posted a picture of a marker for the Chadron-Chicago Cowboy Race of 1893. Notice that the "ch" in Chicago is /sh/ as it is in Chadron. From this we might guess that the name "Chicago" is French in origin, and we would be right. It is the French version of the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa (wild leek), a kind of onion plant common along the Chicago River. The name Cheyenne is also a French version of a Dakota or Sioux word, although apparently there is some question about exactly which.

If we look at the names of other towns or counties in Nebraska we find "tch" (/ch/) in Mitchell, Thatcher, Litchfield, and Hitchcock, all of English origin. Likewise, Chase, Cherry, Orchard, Champion, Manchester are English (so /ch/). Wolbach (/k/) is German, and Antioch (/k/) is Greek. It turns out that Burchard is pronounced "ber'-churd" by the locals, and I am guessing this has been Anglicized from either German (berk'-hard) or French (bur-shard'), but that is pure speculation.

On an unrelated note as the trikers leave the great state of Nebraska, my sister lives in Rulo, which is about as far from Chadron as a town can be and still be in the same state.

P.S. Enjoy the Plunge!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Crazy Horse, Part I

If there is one thing I enjoy more than hiking for relaxation it is reading, so when Dean Simmons recommended author Mari Sandoz to Dee and Cal, I rushed right over to my local B&N to pick up a copy of Crazy Horse. I am about a fourth of the way into it and enjoying it thoroughly. Not only does Sandoz tell the story from the perspective of the Native American, her distinct style of writing draws the reader into that point of view.

This is not intended to be a review of the book, but I would make a couple of personal observations. First, I am struck by the notion of contingency, in the fact that the whole sequence of events with far reaching consequences was set in motion by an unpredictable and seemingly minor occurrence, the emaciated cow of a Mormon emigrant straying off the "Holy Road" (the Oregon/Mormon Trail) on the Platte River. The lives of thousands of individuals were altered inextricably by the whim of this otherwise insignificant beast.

Second, when I was much younger, the history of the settling of the West seemed like the distant past to me. But now that I am sixty, I realize that General Custer was born less than three of my life-times ago, just two life-times before I was born, one life-time before my grandmother, and Crazy Horse was younger than Custer. Not so long ago.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The French Fur Trade

One of the things now on my list of things to research is the French fur trade in the High Plains during the 19th century. This first came up in my reading about Fort Kearney. Then today I started reading Crazy Horse (which I will write about later), and a prominent character in the second chapter is a fur trader by the name of Jim Bordeaux. And now Dee and Cal have stopped in Chadron, named after the manager of the fur trading post in that area, a Frenchman by the name of Louis B. Chartran.

The ride from Alliance to Chadron must have been miserably cold and wet, but it would seem that the last 14 miles so so might have been "all down hill," as they say. Here is the elevation map from MapMyRide.

Case in Point

It doesn't take a rocket scientist (or even a meteorologist) to see what I meant yesterday about temperature extremes on the High Plains. It was just Wednesday that the Trikers were happy for a patch of shade in 82 F, and now less than three days later they are waiting out a broad band of snow and ice with ground temperatures right at freezing. The wind chill might be even lower, although the wind at present is just 3 mph. The high today is predicted to be 47 F.

Dee, if you are stuck in Alliance another day, I am guessing your mobility will be limited (like not moving your trikes from the room), but it would be interesting to see what Carhenge looks like in the snow. Still I hope you can find enough of a break in the weather to get north of this band.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The High Plains

Elevation mapping tools are improving, but I am still not entirely sure of their accuracy. The image above was prepared using MapMyRide, and a map created by Gmaps-Pedometer is similar but slightly different. For example, the latter does not show the "valley" at mile 163 (around Hyannis) shown on the former. (You can click on the image above to see an enlarged version.) Nevertheless, what is quite clear from both maps is the relentless but gradual climb from Hazard to Alliance, almost 2000 feet over 230 miles. At an elevation of 3967 ft Alliance, NE is nearly the highest point on this trip so far, though there will be some higher mountain passes further north.

The high elevation but lack of mountains is a perfect setup for the high winds that Dee and Cal have been fighting. The High Plains has the highest potential for providing wind generated electricity of any part of the country except for off-shore areas. Combine this with the semi-arid climate, and you get wide extremes in temperature as well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Anselmo B. Smith

This morning I was reading about the "TINY" town of Bingham, where Dee and Cal spent last night (Wed). The population is said to be twenty, give or take a few, but it may have been as high as 200 in the 1920's. Surfing from this page, I clicked on links to Ashby, back down the road where the trikers stopped for a break yesterday, and Whitman. This then brought me to Hyannis. Hyannis, NE was named for Hyannis, MA, home town of the civil engineer who surveyed the Nebraska town, Anselmo B. Smith. End of story, except for the fact that Mr. Smith shows up in the histories of a number of Nebraska towns, including one named after the man himself, Anselmo, NE. Dee and Cal rode through this town between Broken Bow and the National Forest on Monday.

In the town of Anselmo, NE there happens to be St. Anselm's Catholic Church, nicknamed the Cathedral of the Sandhills. The church, of course, is named for St. Anselm. No one else may find this remotely curious, but it seems like a strange coincidence that the church named for a late 11th century cleric in a town named for a 19th century surveyor should have such similar names.

Incidentally, Anselmo B. Smith also platted the metropolis of Kearney, and one source I found indicates that he may have surveyed the city of Lincoln for the state.