Having reached the outskirts of Portland at a pretty spot in Oregon by the name Lake Oswego, we dropped into Radioman’s place, a moto-friend’s house full of ‘Life Improvement Specialists’: guys that thrived on selling Harleys for a living. Their warm hospitality and sharing in the complementary ground of two wheels left us refreshed as much as raring to go on the next leg.
Scooting up to Seattle to spend lost time with year-old motorcycling friends, Mike and Shannon, while forging fast friendships over Moscow mules, further spiced up the time before reuniting with another Washington-based biker. Just across the water, near Puget Sound. Washington in just over a whirlwind week: I’d highly recommend it.
Looking skyward one night after immersing myself in Ballard’s Backfire Moto event to see the moon hang small and yellow and gibbous, I wondered if that would be the last time for a while. Night would soon be lost to the dominating daylight.
Out of the captivity that can be felt in cities, we all but raced into Canada having gotten dangerously comfortable in one spot, the planets got their house in order and allowed us a nourishing pit stop in Vancouver and Pemberton. Connecting with more riders—Rob Barnett and Eric Peterson, accompanied by their marvellous others—treated us to some Thai tucker with a restorative place to lay our heads, and a slap up lunch in the sun respectively. Grateful to Great Britain and back, we made our farewells and tracks and I managed to ride a fair old distance on the Cariboo Highway before wanting to throw my helmet down the road.
Pooped beyond recognition while pondering into the middle distance as to where we might make camp, over walked Kevin whom within minutes offered up his log cabin overlooking Williams Lake. What a guy, I’m always blown away by peoples’ selflessness towards two-wheel waifs and strays. There must be a word to convey all this soul-nourishing human kindness that is selfless as it is unconditional—I made a mental note to unearth it.
After a 400-mile stint in the saddle, the following afternoon saw us chatting to a local in McDonalds: always handy for a spot of free WiFi and an “Oooh-that-hit-the-spot” cuppa coffee. And randomly as much as fortuitously found ourselves spending the afternoon getting our “WWOOF” on. (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms.)
Namely volunteering at Double D-Lux Trail Riding and Zoo Petting farm to: brush the horses down, giving them a hearty back scratch into the bargain; feeding the pot-bellied pigs; and warming up newborn rabbits in the very appealing exchange of warm, free digs. Not to mention all the duck eggs we could devour. Not exactly ‘work’ per se having landed at the farm during a quiet period, Peter, the manager seemed content to let us hang out with him and simply keep the farmyard animals company. Shame I reacted with a royally bad allergy to anything with fur—damn those defective genes of mine!
Rolling down the Stewart-Cassiar highway—peppered with “Wildlife Corridor” signs—sight of our first black bear set my heart to racing at the exact moment I’d been jabbering on about spotting one. Then another. And another. All within 15-miles of each other, which to my mind was fairly concentrated. Although a friend mentioned they’d sighted 27 on the same road! A further two appeared before the day was out. Most were fearful to the staccato hum of our motos, who cared only about grazing on the sweet grass by the roadside, not me wielding my camera and shooting with reckless digital abandon.
I garnered not one photo holding any juju: Jason’s job, not mine. Although one with jaws constantly occupied stayed firmly put, nose in grass, glanced our way now and again but showed no sign on concern. In fact, he was pretty indifferent to our presence.
Awestruck as much as anxious when I saw a glint in the bear’s eye, a mirco-expression sensing it looking right at me. The bear paused eating, cocked his head, studying me across the asphalt opposite. I studied his facial expression, the curl of his lip holding in tufts of grass and the bend of his ear. A magical, perfect millisecond. A rare moment that the creature tolerated our company. It took less than a moment to fall in love with the bears and the wild euphoria brought about by the wild. A real first for us, something better than good. Something heart-grabbingly good.
I couldn’t have asked more from this fine encounter but I guess they’re cute one minute, ripping your face off the next, huh. Not usually, no–polar bears perhaps–but the thought can’t help but race across your mind. Unpredictable creatures at times, welcome to bear country.
On my return from ablution and necessity, the thought occurred to me we were no longer top of the food chain, yet it was intriguing to witness their trepidation around us. Still, it took no more than a lick of sense to give them a wide berth. ‘Hey black bear, I’ll probably decline on joining you for a teddy bear’s picnic.’
Jason’s reality and a little self-imposed stress kicked in. “Lisa, wait until another vehicle comes past before you start your engine—don’t startle that bear, okay?” I nodded silently and followed his sage instruction like a student in nature’s grand classroom.
We went on with our day and into Iskut, a small, mostly aboriginal community in the Stikine Country of northwestern British Columbia. Watson Lake, perhaps one of the Yukon’s more quirky attractions where 77,000 signs awaited our arrival. The tradition began during the Alaska Highway Project in 1942 when US soldier Carl Lindley spent time in Watson Lake recovering from an injury. A commanding officer asked him to repair and erect the directional signposts, and while completing the job, he added a sign that indicated the direction and mileage to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. Others felt inclined to follow suit, and well, the trend caught on. Terrifically.
Riding like hell-bent riders, we munched 1,500 miles in six days before the side-stands went down in Whitehorse, Yukon. Staying with a close friend of a friend while acquainting ourselves with another friend of a dear friend, we kicked back for the week with Heather—an au naturel, yoga-loving, zany Canadian and Boštjan, a kind, adventurous Slovenian; generous with his time and who possessed balls the size of church bells. Riding his R1200GSA on the ice-trucker roads in both Alaska’s and Canada’s mind-numbing -40C was chillingly testament to that.
Taking timeout for a week to fit and replace Jason’s fourth water pump plus tyres on the rears prepped the bikes for what felt like the final stretch. 7am yoga at Long Lake beneath a bright ball of rays eased my knotted body into a relaxed state of calm. Yet by 10.30pm, the blinding sun showed only early signs of settling down for the night. A melon twister for us Brits.
Another few hundred miles down the road saw black, leafless trees stood atop the hillside like skeleton hands shoved up from the underworld and us cross the border. Forest fires being a healthy part of the ecosystem in promoting a lifeline for new growth. Hearts stolen at first sight by Alaska, our eyes glided over countless chevrons of snow-capped mountains and gigantic glaciers that did anything but disappoint. Jagged edges to razor sharp points glowed blue with an endless supply of ruggedness: inching into wild Alaska we were. Our wilderness-seeking habit would be well-nourished here.
For the next 386 miles, the longest hop we’d ridden in one stretch for a while, we finally landed in Tok at Thompson’s Eagle’s Claw Motorcycle Campground, we happened to receive the first bikers of the season badge—while enjoying the cherry pick of the forest’s intimate snuggeries. A bear-free night although with leaves constantly whispering in the sky made my blood rustle through my inner ears—unlikely scenarios magnified in the architecture of my imagination. Serving only to invite and spread new and unfounded rumours. Inside my chest pulsed something huge, something full of possibility, something a little afraid. My eyelids eventually closed over outsize eyes.
Awaking to an amphitheater of birdsong and a haze of green lichen mist, the forest was enchanting as I’d remembered, imagination somewhat tamed but its sorcery still holding me rapt. The huge spruce trees were shimmering kaleidoscopes, each needle a polygon of morning light. Shame we missed out on the site’s steamy sauna by 24 hours, a muscle soak would’ve hit the sore spots.
Still, we were headed straight to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city to see a friend, trained as a Therapeutic Massage therapist among many other skilled techniques in wellbeing, people and family. Riding alongside yet more massive mountains, all partially powder-coated where trains trundled up the track, our arrival saw Lana’s husband plonk a glass of something strong and fruity in my right hand while Lana placed a steaming bowl of caribou (North American reindeer) stew in my left. Only to be replenished by two helpings of homemade rhubard crumble. A sneaking suspicion told me that Alaskan life was going to agree with me.
Kick-starting one weekend at the Cates’ cabin in Seward—accompanying Lana and her kids while the boys went off mountain-biking in Denali National Park—the beachside shelter oozed in a nautical style while the rainwater purled from cloud to roof to eave. Higgledy–piggledy ran rampant throughout the place: kinks and curves where there should have been straight lines; uneven floors; an add-on here, a lean-to there; and a joyfully tiny staircase fashioned with thick boat rope spiraling to the first floorboard-creaking storey. The quirky place was something akin to Rubeus Hagrid’s house (Harry Potter) and Bilbo Baggins’ (Lord of the Rings). I adored it.
What Lana loved most was creating things, working with her hands, connecting her fingers to the engine of her mind. Painting subtle works of art, whipping up tantalising spreads or curing the ailments in Jason’s neck and spine to name a few. I could forever hear her four-year old daughter Rose smiling—an enormously inquisitive mind connected to an eidetic memory housed in such a tiny and doll-featured body. Her brothers Miles and Chris added to the fun like a barrel of monkeys.
Stumbling on an article about why Denmark in particular is renowned for being the happiest country on the planet, I recently discovered the word “hygge”. Well known throughout the northwestern European country, it’s as Danish as the finest bacon as far as illuminating the soul goes. It means creating an inviting atmosphere, taking pleasure from the good things in life while enjoying the company of great people.
An example would be dipping freshly baked bread into homemade soup in the warm glow of candlelight. Or a sticky bun on many a Danish occasion, a bottle of Belgian raspberry beer or sipping red wine with a big-hearted woman and laughing at a film together until your jaw and sides ache in equal measures. Love Actually will do that to me every time.
Namely, according to the accepted definition: “A complete absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; deriving happiness from the presence of gentle, soothing things…The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive.”
That’s it! That’s the word I’ve been craving to name and better understand for more than the last two years. I adore as much as advocate this concept and wish to promote hygge in my life at every turn. Thanks to each and every person we’ve encountered in this context, particularly Lana, her husband JC and their beautiful family, this is exactly what we’ve had the stellar good fortune of experiencing and absorbing—rasher after rasher, bowl after bowl and time after time.