Bearing South, Bearing Goes South

I wondered to myself, “Just how many places are there in the world where you can be more than 1,000 miles from the nearest Honda dealer? Antarctica? Siberia? The middle of the Sahara? The Amazon Jungle?”

I guess there would be worse places to have mechanical issues, but I could not think of many.

June 28

Good news first: I woke up with hearing in my right ear! Hearing the world with stereo sound again is so nice. Now the bad news: My morning inspection did not go well.

I like to do a fairly thorough inspection of Annie each morning before I take off. I don’t do anything too technical, but I always pay close attention to the “disposable” items (ones that always need periodic replacement) like tires, chain and sprockets. A tire blowout on a car is inconvenient, but one on a motorcycle will most likely end you in the hospital.

In Alaska, I had noticed a random “clunk” that only happened occasionally and at slow speeds. It was one of those things that would not be present when you wanted it to be, so I could not diagnose it. At one point I was riding around in circles in a parking lot, helmet off so I could hear, jumping up and down on the pegs. I thought the sound was most likely due to a sagging in my luggage systems, but I still found nothing. Even in Anchorage, I could not locate its source.

I found it this morning: Lateral play in my rear wheel. When inspecting a motorcycle (especially a used one that you are thinking of buying) it is prudent to grab each of the wheels and try to twist them in the directions perpendicular to the wheels intended rotation. If there is any play, the motorcycle should not be ridden. Though this test should be a daily one, I had obviously neglected it.

The culprit was my brake side bearing (which is better than having issues with the chain side bearing….I’m trying to stay positive). An issue like this causes the rear wheel to run in near constant misalignment, which explains my earlier concern about the quick wear on my rear tire.

Mosquitoes in the area were oppressively thick as I set to work dismounting the wheel (Yukon mosquitoes are like normal mosquitoes except that they are twice as large and possess only half of the endearing personality qualities) . This task requires both hands, a knee and the opposite foot to complete; so I basically had to resign myself to being a continental breakfast for this parasitic community. I tried a few methods to “shim” the wheel secure to no avail. I spent about two hours performing the dual role of mechanic/blood donor before deciding that there was nothing else I could do. I struggled to obey the admonition of my license plate phrase:

On the bright side, the play was minimal. Maybe just a few millimeters where the rubber meets the road. Also, the bearing was still silent and there was no drag to the spin of the wheel. Furthermore, I knew this bearing issue had existed for well over 1,000 miles already without worsening. What else was there to do but carry on?

I rode for about half an hour before stopping for gas. Today I would be riding the remote Stewart-Cassiar highway (AKA highway 37), so planning fuel stops would be vital. I asked the cashier what he thought about making it to Vancouver in two days. The first word out of his mouth was “Ooof.”

I was about ready to continue when I met two awesome guys, Mark and Wayne. Mark spotted my sign and we started chatting. It didn’t take me long to understand that these guys were legit riders. They had both been down to the tip of South America and knew a ton about adventure riding. They are from Kamloops, BC (Yes, that is a real place, not an alternative way to measure engine revolutions. {Gosh, I hope someone gets that joke. It has to be one of my best.})

I mentioned my mechanical issue and they jumped right in: Twisting, prodding, examining the rear wheel. I asked them what they would do if it was there bike. They both seemed comfortable with riding down to Prince George, the next city where I could get parts (around 800 miles away). It was a huge blessing to get a second (and third) opinion. This interaction did not fully alleviate my worry, but it helped immensely.

I tried to enjoy my ride as I continued on. The scenery surely helped.

At the first gas stop, I was approached by a gentleman wearing a big smile and a maple leaf on his ball cap. He pointed to my hood ornament and commented, “I like your chicken.” The look in Sonic’s eyes indicated that he was about to turn into a raging blue ball of fury on this friendly stranger. He calmed down once I gave the gentleman a full history of 90s video game systems and Sonic’s general awesomeness. I saw Mark and Wayne at this stop, as well as the next station.

In the store at Bell II:

Well, he’d probably go Everywhere, even with a bad bearing.

When I made it to Meziadin Junction I had a decision to make. I could keep going, making progress and saving the miles on my bad bearing; or I could take a dead end detour through Hyder, Alaska to see the heralded Salmon Glacier. It turns out I did not actually have a decision since Rita, my travel guide from eleven days earlier, had informed me that I would be making this detour.

Hyder sits in a funny spot, just across the border from Stewart BC. It is one of the most Southern cities in Alaska. Zoom out to get the full picture:

There was a long construction stretch of rough, dusty gravel to get into Stewart, BC. Even at this point, I began to second guess my decision.

Coming to America:

I didn’t really see any signs for the glacier, but there was only one road going out of Hyder, so I just followed it. I had heard in a conversation earlier in the day that the glacier was only about 12 km (8 ish miles) out of the town of Hyder. As I progressed the road conditions regressed. Pavement turned to gravel turned to pock-marked dirt. Dodging the potholes seemed to inevitably lead to falling into a larger one. I winced at each bump, fearing that any one of them could be the final knockout punch to my reeling bearing.

At 20km I began to have real doubts about being on the correct road. The only traffic I had seen were mining company trucks. Eventually I was greeted by the welcome site of an adventure motorcycle coming down the mountain. There must be something to see up there.

The road got steeper and bumpier. Snow drifts became common, covering portions of the road. Something had to give: Either Man, Machine or Mount.

Would the Man yield first? Would his resolve finally wane? Would his mechanical concern convince him to turn around? Would he lose faith that he was on the correct path?

Would the Machine yield first? Would the multitude of miles finally reach critical mass? Would the endless bumps render her derelict? Would her journey end on this remote mountain?

Would the Mount yield first? Would it recognize the resolve of the Man and the durability of the Machine? Would it relinquish its treasures to these weary wanderers? Would they be found worthy?

Well….the Mount yielded first, but not the one I wanted:

The myriad of impacts finally snapped my phone mount. Thankfully it was plugged in, so it once again fell harmlessly to my left thigh.

Mercifully, the other Mount yielded after just shy of 30km on the rough terrain. We had conquered the Salmon Glacier. Neither pictures nor words will do it justice, but I’ll try anyway:

The scale is unfathomable.

I opened a can of beans and ate them slowly while soaking in the view. Soon I heard the “thump” of engines coming up the mountain and saw Mark and Wayne arriving.

I also met a guy named Allan who was riding from Florida to Alaska (he actually knew about the Nebraska Sandhills!). We all had some great conversation.

Going down:

There is actually a customs office coming from Hyder, AK into Stewart, BC. Believe it or not, this was actually my toughest border crossing. Because of the smaller size of my bear spray, the officer nearly confiscated it. I think he just really wanted to make a point about the concealing of weapons in Canada. (Since every American is short-tempered gun-toting maniac) Noted.

The gas station in Stewart was closed by the time I got there, causing me a bit of angst. Thankfully I had enough fuel to bounce through the miles of dusty construction to get back to Meziadin Junction. The station was closed, but pay-at-the-pump was an option. I was out of water, but at least I had a full tank of gas.

The detour had cost me just over 4 hours. Had I known the time commitment it would take, I probably would have skipped it. That said……wow, what an experience.

I only had about an hour of daylight remaining, so I continued on until dusk. I pulled off of the highway into some concealing trees and hurriedly set up my tent. The mosquitoes were so bad that I actually squished one against my lip with my toothbrush while brushing. Maybe I brush too vigorously.

I had a hard time getting to sleep, mostly due to hunger and thirst. I was also bothered by the fact that it was now nearly impossible to get to Vancouver the next day, as over 850 slow miles remained. The mechanical issue, coupled with the detour had cost me hundreds of miles.

I also had to concede that this issue was most likely due to my own mistake. The nut for the rear axle of any motorcycle is supposed to be tightened to a very specific torque. I did not budget space for a torque wrench and my last adjustment was way too tight. This can compact a bearing, causing it to fail.

Well, I guess it’s about time we had some actual drama! Thanks again to everyone who is following along. It can feel really lonely out on the road, but knowing I have such a great and supportive team always lifts my spirits. Now does anyone have a spare bearing laying around? 🙂


Author: BA


14 thoughts on “Bearing South, Bearing Goes South”

  1. I’ve got two different styles of torque wrench. Come and get one on your way home. Or I can mail you one somewhere.


    1. Thanks, bro! I just need to not be such an idiot. It’s so tempting to really wrench it down, which is what I did after one of my many chain adjustments.


  2. Love how you’re following Rita’s directions even with an iffy bearing!
    I’ve driven the Alaska highway three times but never the Cassiar (“Next trip!”), so it’s great hearing about this route and the other travelers you’re meeting along the way.


    1. I would recommend someone driving a round trip on the Alaska highway to go up one way and down the other. Really unique places going both routes.


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