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Monday, July 30, 2012

Romanian Youth: Join T.H.I.S!

Romanian politics are a tough subject.  Up until today, I have generally avoided the topic in this blog, in Romania, and in my relationships with Romanians.  But today there is a Boston Globe article on yesterday's vote on the impeachment of Romania's President Basescu, and I believe it is time to publish my one idea on how my beloved Romania might solve some of her domestic political problems.

First, the underlying assumptions:
  1. There are far more university-educated Romanians between the ages of 20 and 30 than there are well-paying jobs for college graduates in Romania.  Hence, there is a body of perhaps a million to two million smart, underemployed youths in Romania. These youths have a vested interest in growing the Romanian economy.
  2. A major barrier to the growth of the Romanian economy through foreign direct investment is the Romanian government's reputation for rampant corruption and stifling bureaucracy.
  3. Even as the Internet-organized Obama campaign of 2008 rallied the youth of America to get him elected President of the United States, a coordinated block of a million or more young voters could sway many local, regional and national elections in Romania.  The fact that Romanian youth are even more Internet-savvy than Americans could facilitate such coordination.
Now, the idea:

Join T.H.I.S.

The objective of T.H.I.S. is an honest government that serves the people, rather than one that sees the people as its subjects, there to serve the government's ends.

T.H.I.S. does not (ever) form a political party.
T.H.I.S. does not give money to any political party.
T.H.I.S. never sponsors a candidate for office.
T.H.I.S. evaluates elected officials on four measures:

T. for Transparency.  Transparency means that government offices have clear glass windows in all their office doors.  Transparency means that all domestic functions of government are open to financial audit and ethical inspection by independent citizens or citizen groups, that meetings are open to the public, and that government officials have nothing hidden, because they have nothing to hide.

H. for Honesty.  Honesty means that government officials tell the truth, admit when they err, admit what they do not know, and work to remedy such shortcomings, rather than cover them up.

I. for Integrity.  Integrity means that elected government officials do what they say they will do.  In politics, not all promised goals might be achievable, but the politician with integrity strives to keep his word to the people.

S. for Service.  Service means that the government exists to serve the people, and not vice versa.  Officials acceptable to T.H.I.S. embrace and evince the philosophy of government by and for the people.

T.H.I.S. is an independent organization of Romanian youth.  Perhaps its public face is no more than a Web site.  The dedicated people at T.H.I.S. evaluate sitting officials on the four criteria listed above.  A rating scale might be developed for each, hopefully a simple one.  Thus, a T.H.I.S. Score could be reported prior to each local or national election.  T.H.I.S. members, if they vote as a block, could remove low-scoring officials.

In the first election cycle, the effect of T.H.I.S. might be such that by the second election, officials would be paying attention to the principles of T.H.I.S.  

After two election cycles, T.H.I.S. could reform fair Romania, and allow her to blossom, as her beauty and talent so richly deserve.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 23 Post Is Complete

For faithful readers I want to report that the story started several days ago, "Valdez to Otter Falls Cutoff," is finally finished.  I hope you enjoy it.  It was quite a day!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Valdez to Otter Falls Cutoff

On a long ride such as mine, certain days stick in the memory as exceptional.  One such day was 11 July.  I awoke at the Keystone Hotel in Valdez, Alaska, after a good sleep.  I rode out on the only road out of town, and soon learned the source of the hotel's name.  One rides away from the sea up Keystone Canyon.  It is a deep gorge in the mountains featuring sheer cliffs and long, voluminous waterfalls.  The cool air beneath the morning clouds made me wide awake, anticipating what I might see when I reached the top of the climb.

At the top, I found these views of Alaska. 


 I rode on northward to Tok, where my path would rejoin The Alaska Highway.  Here is a sampling of scenery on the road I was riding.
I reached Tok about lunchtime, where I enjoyed another excellent salad bar at Fast Eddie's.  I then made the decision to ride on, and to make this well-started day my day of departure from the 49th State.  At the final U.S. fuel stop on the highway, I found I had caught up with three couples from West Virginia, all mounted on Gold Wings, whom I had met at the Keystone Hotel in Valdez that morning.  We spoke briefly, as they were bunking at this place for the night, and I planned to ride further, hoping to put the very rough sections of road between the border and Haines Junction, Yukon, behind me while the weather was good, and the sun was at my back.

As it happened, I made good time south-eastward, as most of the potholes had been filled, and the long stretches of new Macadam had been well-packed by the truck traffic in the ten days I had spent riding "the loop," (as the Tok - Fairbanks - Denali - Anchorage - Tok route was called by some fellow riders).  At about 7:00 PM, I was at a small resort community called Destruction Bay, along the shores of the large Kluane Reservoir, which the Alaska Highway borders for many dozens of miles.  I stopped at a restaurant/motel/gas station in Destruction Bay, filled the tank, and inquired of the young man at the register whether there were a room available.  He told me, "We are not full yet, but I am holding rooms for eight motorcycles that have assured me they will be here tonight.  Are you going to have dinner here?"  I told him I would, and he said he'd call the cell number the group had given him and reconfirm their intentions.  "Check with me after dinner," he said, "and I'll be able to tell you for sure."

Over a surprisingly good dinner, I enjoyed a conversation with a couple from the West Coast (was it Oregon?) who were headed up to Alaska to take part in a bicycle race.  Then, I went back to the desk to pay for dinner, and to ask about that room.

"I reached them," the clerk said, "and they assured me they would be here tonight to use the rooms."  By this time, it was after 8:00 PM, and the long Yukon twilight was falling.  "You know that you will end up with unused rooms tonight," I stated as if fact.  He said. "Maybe, but I have promised to hold them for these eight bikes."  "Okay," I said, "I'll ride on to Haines Junction."

It is a long way between motels up there.  I took these pictures as I rode through the evening.

When I reached Haines Junction it was as dark as it gets at this time of year this far north, and the hour was 12:30 A.M.  I stopped at the only motel in sight, and was not at all surprised to see a long line of motorcycles parked beside its rooms.  I went into the lounge, which it turned out had closed at midnight, by law, but where a few young people were playing cards, and the barmaid/motel clerk was having a nightcap of bottled beer.  "We're closed, but may I help you?" she asked.  "I sure hope so," I said.  "Do you have a room left?"  "Sorry," she replied.  "Did those bikers all arrive recently?" I asked.  "Yes," she said, "they took all my vacant rooms."  "I think they had reservations in Destruction Bay," I told her. "I was refused a room there because he was holding them for a group on eight bikes."  "I did hear one of them say something about Destruction Bay," she said.  "Do you have camping gear?  Pine Lake Campground is just five Km. down the road.  I'm sure you could tent there."

I found signs pointing to Pine Lake Campground to the left, and followed a dirt road some 2 Km into the dark night, but not a sign of a campground entrance did I see.  The road ended in a cul-de-sac.  It was 1:00 AM.  I had been riding since 07:00 the previous morning.  I recognized that my inability to locate the campground might be my inability, period.  I found a gravel patch off to the right of this dirt road, turned onto it, put on my full-face helmet to shield myself from mosquitoes,  and still wearing boots, chaps and leather jacket, lay down on the gravel beside the parked Rocinante, covered myself with my tent's rain fly, and fell asleep.

The all-night pumps in Haines Junction.  Tent fly needed folding after serving as a blanket.
An hour and a half later, I awoke feeling somewhat better.  I decided to fill up the tank at the all-night pumps in Haines Junction, and ride on.

Before riding on down the A.H., I snapped a picture of a bright moon over this remote Yukon village.
Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, at 3:00 AM, 12 July, 2012

Some time after 3:00 AM, I arrived at an RV Park called Otter Falls Cutoff.  I decided to salvage what sleep I could, turned in, and pitched my 1967 Gerry Year-Round Mountain Tent in a grassy area not too far from the restrooms.  A voice from beside a campfire a hundred meters away called out.  "What are you doing, riding at this time of night?"  "Good question," I replied. "Come on over and enjoy a warm campfire," said the voice.  "I'll be over as soon as I set up my camp."

Mr. O'Neil of Whitehorse had a roaring fire of round logs burning in a steel campfire hoop, and we sat together on the bench of a picnic table.  We were one camper-truck removed from his, so when he arose to get himself another beer, and to bring one for me, he had to walk around the front of the empty camper.  I watched him do a classic collapse as he tried to make the turn toward his own.  I went over and offered a hand up.  Once on his feet, he successfully negotiated the mission, and returned with three beers, one for me, one for himself, and the one in his breast pocket that I'd noticed when I'd first come to the fireside.  We soon learned that we were contemporaries to within a month, and shared old times for an hour or more.  As the sky began to lighten, we finally went to our separate "homes," and once in the tent, I stripped to the skin to allow evaporation of that long day's moisture, before getting into my sleeping bag.  I took a playful picture to mark the end of a memorable touring day.

In the morning, I snapped one last shot of the place where that perfect day had ended.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Michael J. and Mike Fox, Texans

A few posts back I promised to introduce Alaska Highway personalities.  I have been sidetracked.  But, now that I have survived the ride back down the road and am in a comfortable room in Dawson Creek, I shall pick up that theme.

My first night on the highway was spent at the public regional campground known as Tetsa River Campground, at Mile=347, KM=558.  It was a wilderness campground, meaning outhouses, but no running water and no showers.  I had stopped there because I glipsed its sign as I was riding through a particularly nasty stretch of newly laid loose gravel of several Km in length, and having ridden 347 miles I was already tired and looking for a place to stop.  I met the caretaker, a happy and hospitable gent who lived in a camper trailer.  He offered me a jug of filtered water from Fort Nelson, and showed me to site 6, which had a grassy area in which to pitch my tent.  As it was to be a one-nighter, I pitched my mountain tent, the 1968 Gerry Year-Round that I had had since new.  (I joke that it is the only house I was allowed to keep following my divorce, in 1972.) 

As I was preparing to eat my beef jerky and trail mix dinner, two fellows pedaled in on a sit-down bicycle, replete with a trailer full of camping gear, and a similarly man-powered tricycle..  They settled in Site 7.  I soon learned that these intrepid adventurers were Michael J. Fox (not the actor), 62, and his grandson Mike Fox, 14.  They were from Texas, and were riding the Alaska Highway in celebration of young Mike's graduation from the eighth grade.  He is a big, strong boy, and hopes to play football in high school.  I told him I could think of no better way to get in shape than to do what he and his grandfather were doing.

Such men make us motorcyclists humble.  I have taken to calling out "Respect!" to the bicyclists I pass along lonely mountain roads.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Anchorage to Valdez

Aliza Kimbell at home in Anchorage, with Rocinante
On Tuesday the tenth I bid farewell to my hosts, Kelly, Charlie, Aliza and Taylor, and departed Anchorage.
Along the Seward Highway, southeast of Anchorage
Rocinante and I made a morning ride eastward down the Seward Highway, past the epicenter of the Alaska Earthquake of 1964. 

We turned off at the sign reading "Portage Glacier/Whittier." 
Portage Glacier, as seen from the road.
Ten mikes farther and I was at the toll gate to the 2.5 mile railroad tunnel through which one must ride to reach the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal at Whittier.

That tunnel ride on greasy steel grating laid between the train tracks was harrowing.  "We send the bikes through last, a minute and a half behind the last car, so that you can keep up enough speed to be stable," said the toll collector, handing me a brief brochure, "Information for Motorcyclists."  "We know that bikes can get squirrelly in the tunnel, and we don't want you coming into contact with the rails."  "Squirrelly" proved an understatement.  It was a lousy four minutes.  But, Rocinante stayed upright, and brought us to Whittier.

In Whittier I found a post office at the far end of a pedestrian tunnel
Pedestrian Tunnel
leading from the docks to the "city center," which is mainly made up of boatyards, railroad yards, and an apartment block in which the port's workers live.  I sent a card to Hannah Lehman, my 12 year-old granddaughter from Boulder, Colorado, who is presently attending a three-week American Dance Festival school at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  Hannah is a long way from home, and I thought she might appreciate an encouraging post card from Daddy Duncan in Alaska.  The post office attendant in Whittier turned out to be one Suzanne Eusden, formerly of Gilford, New Hampshire, and a cousin of the Eusden family that frequents Randolph, NH.  She was once a "hut-man" for the AMC, and reports having owned five pairs of Limmer boots in her life.  When I told her that my daughter Christal (Hannah's mother) was once a lifeguard at the Ravine House Pool, and that my son Brian had once been a hut-man at Grey Knob in Randolph, she got quite excited.  Minutes flew by until I had to head back through the tunnel to catch my ferry to Valdez.
Aurora approaching Whittier

Departing Whittier

Low clouds hid peaks, but heightened drama.

As Alaska must have appeared to Captain Cook.

We passed many icebergs.  Glaciers contribute these hazards to the sea.

Sea lion, and a seal?


S.S. Sierra departing, laden, from Valdez

The ferry ride was dampened by the low clouds and rain, though we did see two whales, a couple of sea lions and an otter resting on a navigational buoy, and a few dolphins swimming on the shoreward side of the ship.  The Aurora was a perfectly fine ferry boat, and the ruggedness of the Alaskan shore was evident, with deep forested mountains appearing to rise vertically from the sea for scores of miles, and snow-capped mountains visible through breaks in the clouds.  Once in Valdez, I took advantage of my early "motorcyclist's priority" exit from the car deck to ride straight to The Keystone Hotel, the only inexpensive hotel in Valdez, and to book a room for the night.
Valdez from the sea.
So, this short trip had some adventurous aspects, one "small world" experience, and offered me a seaman's view of Alaska.  But the next day was to be adventurous, indeed, and as perfect a touring day as this Don Quixote wannabe could have imagined.

Friday, July 6, 2012

"The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men..."

Written July 6, 2012, at a campground in Healy, AK, next town north of the entrance to Denali National Park.

My NH-PGR friend Bert and I had been talking about a ride to Alaska for a year or more.  We'd e-mailed and IMed each other a hundred times, or more.  We are both old riders, he a few years younger, but on a Yamaha Royal Star whose total miles far exceed those of my 1982 Honda Silver Wing, and Bert rode almost all of those miles.  He is a respected fellow oldrider.  But, after meeting on 23 July in Great Falls, MT, and riding together through Glacier National Park, camping for one night and spending two in motels, we learned that our touring styles were incompatible, and parted ways.  Such things happen.  I greatly respect Bert, and hope he, too, has made it to Alaska.  I even hope that we bump into one another up here.

Bert: If you read this, thank you for keeping the idea alive for a year, and for helping to make this trip happen.  I am sorry that you reacted negatively to having me on your wing, but such is life.

As Robbie Burns once wrote,
"The best-laid plans, 
Of mice and men,
Gang aft aglay."

There are no hard feelings on this side, and I hope none on yours.  But, you were right.  It was not working.

Ride safe, my friend! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hail Wyoming!

Written July 4, 2012, in Fairbanks, AK

An early darkening sky meant a storm was brewing as I rode into Wyoming from the south, having exited westward from Custer, South Dakota after parting with fellow oldrider Kenn Neher of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.  Kenn had met me in Omaha, joined me for dinner with my lovely niece Talya McDougall in that city, then accompanied Rocinante and me as far as Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Kenn has now had occasion to meet two of my favorite McDougalls, as when Piper and I drov e from Campton to Aspen to move her to Colorado, we stopped in Edwardsville, specifically to have lunch with Kenn, whom I  had met previously only on academic business.  I'd known Kenn had a BMW touring bike, but until this trip I did not know that he is a far-traveling soul, and a fine companion on a long ride.

Kenn and I bade farewell at the Monument, then he took off southeast toward home, as I headed northwest, toward Wyoming and beyond.

Riding U.S. 16, the two-laner out of Custer, I got as far as Moorcroft, Wyoming, when the late hour and darkening sky caused me to stop at the pleasant-looking, if traditional, "ma and pa motel" called the Rangeland Court Motel.  There I met the proprietor, whose name is Melinda, and whose husband is an active duty member of the military, and not present that evening.  Melinda proved an interesting and interested woman of 50-something years (I guess), and she offered me a somewhat spartan but perfectly clean room at a fair price.
I parked my bike with the aft end protected from the incipient storm by the porch roof, calling the office to tell Melinda that I had done so.  She brought me out a plywood support to put under my sidestand, lest it dent the tarmac driveway.  Warm and dry, I prepared for bed, and had just fallen asleep when startled by what sounded like machine guns firing at the room.  I ran to the sound of the guns, and flung open the door.  Hail.  Big, fast hailstones were smashing into the Harley parked next door, and those reaching the drive were exploding in white flashes against the pavement.  I was glad that only the hardest shells of my bike, the fairing and front fender, were exposed.
That is hail on the tarmac.
The next morning, Melinda came out to inspect her property.  She had a cup of coffee in her hand, but did not offer one to me, nor look at me happily.  I asked if there had been any damage.  "Yes," she said, "the siding is dented, and my truck also.  But I cannot file a claim for these, because I just did so a few months ago, and have just completed repairs.  I am afraid to file again, lest the insurance company designate this a high risk zone, and cancel our policy."

Melinda, you have my best wishes.  You are running your business well.  I hope that things work out well for you and your husband.  Tell him, please, that this blogger thanks him for his service on this Fourth of July!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Kind Kind of People One Meets on the Trail

Written in Room 211 at Skarland Hall, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Mile 0 Marker, Dawson Creek, B.C.
The Alaska Highway is a road through the wilderness of British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and eastern Alaska. Over 1400 miles in length from Dawson Creek, B.C. to Fairbanks, AK, it was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in eight months back in 1942, after the Japanese had invaded two islands (Attu and Kiska) in Alaska's Aleutian Chain.  Fearing their using those islands as bases from which to close the sea lanes by which our Alaskan cities and military bases were supplied, the American government put high priority on carving this road.  The Japanese war effort had thus far been invincible.  The defense of Alaska was crucial to preventing the Japanese from gaining a foothold in North America.
Today, driving the Alaska Highway is still a legendary adventure.  It is largely straight and flat, across wooded plains and slow rivers.  But it also crosses the Northern Rockies of British Columbia, some mountains that offer views to rival those of Glacier National Park, several hundreds of miles to the south.

In the Northern Rocky Mountains, B.C.
So let this post serve as an introduction to the environment through which I have ridden with the noble Rocinante for the past seven days.  And in that environment, we have shared many meetings with fellow travelers, and with local wilderness dwellers.  And they have been consistently kind to us.  My next few posts should come soon, in rapid succession, as I devote a day here at the University to telling of the kind kind of people one meets along this trail.
The Alaska Highway skirts many lakes.  The fishing is said to be excellent.