The babies sat in the driveway, tarped over, covered in snow half-melted in the April sun.
I brushed them off, to let the sun begin to warm the silver shrouds, to soak some life back into the batteries.
It’s my motorcycles that make me hate early spring days. The melting snow turns my dirt laneway into treachery for two wheels and it is utterly impossible to remember how many clothes you have to wear to survive the temperature change that a 100-kilometre (or more) wind chill brings to a gorgeous +5C or even +10C sunny day.
I take turns admiring and snarling at the early season bikers. They must have electric socks and vests and electric hand grips … the kind the snowmobilers have. Or maybe they really are just tough, with some sort of immunity to the cold, like the fabled prospectors of a hundred years ago, eschewing comforts in trade for adventure.
A couple of years ago, I was one of them … unwittingly, I have to admit. I chose May 1 as the day to begin a six-week journey down the Alaska Highway. The journey would continue south and east, as far as Ottawa then turn around and come back home.
The whole trip is a longer story, but it’s the snowstorms that stand out in my mind – three of them, in fact.
The first was on May 2. Never underestimate the weather on the Alaska Highway.
It started to snow just before Toad River, south of Liard Hot Springs. I had stopped at the café to warm up, drink soup and tea and try to figure out how crazy I really was. A father and son from Alaska pulled in on a couple of Harleys.
“You are not alone,” echoed in my head like that voice in the science fiction movies.
The Dad told a story of riding through a sudden snowstorm in the California mountains, the son just clearly wanted to get back on the road and up to speed. Being 19 years old will do that.
That Dad had ridden through stuff like this boosted my confidence and, as they got up to keep going, I asked and they agreed to let me tag along.
I am sure they would have gotten further that day without me along, riding in terror with my shoulders up around my ears, and I thank them for their patience. Who knows, perhaps my fear kept us all safe.
Further down the road, waiting for the two other snow storms, I learned there is a picnic table in Jasper with bicycle seats for stools (yuk), a historical underground world in Moose Jaw and an old hotel in Leland where, if you order a steak dinner, you have to cook the steak yourself.
Things I never would have known without being forced to stop and spend an unplanned night in an unexpected place.
The ride from Jasper to Banff was so cold that even with those little chemical warmers in my mitts and my boots I had to stop every half hour to thaw out.
Last year, I rode my bike north from Vancouver in the third week of May. Outside of Fort St. John, on the 19th of May, found me riding through a blizzard, visibility about 100 yards.
How is it we forget so fast?
I have heated hand grips on my new bike, but it still doesn’t make up for the bone-chilling cold of early season riding. Call me a wimp, but I wait a little later in the year to wake up the babies and content myself by dreaming of winter riding in the Baja.