Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Highway 1 (Trans-Canada) Campground

As some of you who have followed my blog for a while know I used to do a lot of long distance riding back in the day. And as anyone who has done so can attest a road trip never fails to generate a lot of stories – some good, some bad, and some even real. One of my earliest posts after I started this blog described a small part of one such trip – a detour to Manyberries Alberta that didn’t turn out quite like we’d hoped when we got up that morning. I ended that post with a promise to tell the rest of the story about our experiences that day.
Well it’s taken 4 years, but here it is.
web CB 550 loadedWe left the Honda dealership in Medicine Hat still covered in now-dried mud and still with the left handlebar end pointing to the sky. (Check out the original post to find out why.) But now I at least had a new set of bars lashed to the top of our luggage, waiting for us to find a campground for the night and do some much-needed repairs.
Given that we both looked like Pig-Pen of Peanuts fame, leaving clumps of dirt everywhere we went we were hoping to find a pigpendecent campground with laundry facilities. That was the plan. Unfortunately it also seemed to be the plan of a lot of people on that road that day. We passed campground after campground, all with the “No Vacancy” sign lit up. It was getting dark quickly so when we finally spotted a provincial campground located right beside the highway we pulled in. It was primitive – some tent sites and a toilet seemed to be the extent of the facilities - but at that point we didn’t care any more. There wasn’t even an attendant; later on a provincial employee would come by and collect the fee.
As we pitched the tent by flashlight I noticed a group of about a dozen riders gathered at a site just a few yards away, so once we were organized I walked over to say hi. They had some beer (the great ice breaker) and we got talking and sharing stories.  Since they were all riding Harleys I took some ribbing about riding jap crap, but got some respect back when describing the accident in infinite detail and what a death-defying feat it was to ride the crippled beast through hell and high water just to get to the campground. I felt a bit like Arlo must have, sitting on the Group W bench. But it was all good.
Before I knew it an hour or so had passed and the Missus was at my shoulder. “Don’t you think you should fix the bike while you’re still sober?”
Subtlety was is not her strong suit, besides she was right. Changing the CB 550 bars was a pain in the ass. The wiring was internal and it all fed into the headlight nacelle where it entangled with several yards of wiring harness in a very precise yet totally arcane way else nothing worked. And getting that wiring back into the headlight without accidentally breaking a connection or two was a feat best left to those who are proficient at putting 10 pounds of shit into a 5 pound bag.  And being in the bag oneself would not help.
That’s when the flashlight batteries died.
I asked my new-found friends if anyone had a flashlight I could borrow or some batteries. Of course no one did but one fellow offered to bring his bike over so I could work by the light of his headlight. When he started his Harley I think he woke everyone up in a 5 county radius but that was too bad for them; I had light and that’s all that mattered. I also now had an audience as I worked. But the job, for once, went smoothly and a half-hour later I had it all buttoned up, the old bars were in the trash bin, and I was thanking my neighbours for the light and their enthusiastic ‘encouragement’ as I  worked.
By now it was nearly midnight. We’d had a long day and so we wished them all a good night and crawled into our tent.
At 12:01 the first freight train came by, so close the pulsating headlamp danced images on the walls of the tent while the horn’s blast for a nearby level crossing dopplered as it went by. An hour later, another one. And then another one. Every hour. On the hour. All night. Competing with the endless stream of semis roaring by on the highway as trains and trucks raced to their final destinations.
No wonder the campground wasn’t full. The main Canadian Pacific rail line was about the same distance from us to the south as the highway was to the north. It would seem the Province of Alberta had this scrap of useless land and designated it a campground for the unwary – or those who only wanted to party all night anyway so who cared?
Peace seemed to descend finally just as dawn was breaking, or perhaps it was utter medicine hat alberta highway sign trans canadaexhaustion, but whatever, we were finally getting some much needed rest when the earth shook and the skies were rent by the sound of a dozen straight-piped Harley-Davidsons starting up. Bleary-eyed, I looked out the tent flap just in time to see our neighbours and mechanics’ helpers turn onto Highway 1 heading West back towards Medicine Hat.
And that’s when I saw the patches prominently displayed on the backs of their jackets. Fortunately I hadn’t noticed the night before else I probably would have kept a respectful distance and missed out on another good story from the road.


  1. Dave, I have to say that post, and the earlier one in the link, are, easily and by far, the best written and most entertaining blog posts I have ever read. Honest! Had me cringing and wincing when you crashed, and actually laughing when the batteries died. Wow!

    1. Thanks David for the kind words but as me dear old mam used to say, "Be careful; you're just encouraging him."

  2. Cool story. I did some overnighting at a few such campgrounds along the Alaskan Highway through Yukon a couple years ago.

    1. MP - Thanks. It always seems you find out how bad it is after you've paid your money, and often not until you're trying to sleep. :)

  3. Great story Canajun. I went back to read the lead in - thanks for the link.

    Aren't you glad it was dark when you arrived. Funny how we can get along with people without any prejudgments. Just motorcyclists helping one another and swapping stories. I don't think I would have been that brave in the light of day.

    Camping trapped between a railway and a highway. We did that once in the Columbia Gorge - man you can hear those trains coming. Last summer we experienced it in Washington, but it wasn't a train nearby it was an international airport and those planes were low and loud every 2-4 minutes. Talk about crappy sleep.

    1. Trobairitz - Thanks. Sometimes it really is true that what we don't know won't hurt us.

  4. That is an incredible story and it is really touching how a motorcyclist can help other motorists without judging them.It was unfortunate that all this happened at night. However,How that guy volunteered to help you by using his flash light just proves to me that there are people out there who have a heart to help.

  5. Der Canajun:

    That could have had a very different ending, especially if the Harley riders had pulled your pants down and painted your ass blue. (This has happened to me on a number of occasions.) I can't imagine screwing around with such a complex repair in the dark. Was there a reason you didn't screw with it in daylight?

    I would have hid my wife/girlfriend in the bushes until the Harley riders had left. However, I would have thrown her mother to them in a heartbeat. Great story.

    Jack Riepe
    Twisted Roads


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