by Poni Princess

Several months ago The Carolina Rider introduced you to Gary Burgess. If you will recollect, Gary posted his desire to find a riding buddy to join him on a once in a life time journey from Charlotte to the Arctic Circle and home again. His dream has been to complete the Trans Canadian Highway while riding a Gold Wing in all 49 states & 10 Canadian Provinces. At the time we first met him he was bike-less and you could kind of say almost unemployed nearing the completion of an engineering contract for one of his clients.

He spent about a year researching the bike he wanted for this special trip. It couldn’t be just any street bike; it needed to be very sturdy, radiator cooler, and capable of carrying all the gear he would need to complete the dream. After several weeks of many phone calls and lots of emails, he found that bike in Hickory, NC. Gary says, “I found my Wing on craigslist after looking for a year. A used car dealer was selling it for an attorney who was selling both his HD and Wing because of health problems.”

I asked Gary about his reasoning on choosing a Gold Wing. He mentioned he had owned one before and found it to be amazingly reliable. “I owned a 1977 Wing which I purchased new and rode it across the US and Canada on previous trips. The Wing is a very reliable bullet proof ride. A used Wing is almost always mechanically perfect and mine came with a warranty. It was also priced to sell. I had to make two trips to Hickory - with the second one to purchase and bring it home.”

Things were falling into place. The bike was his, finishing the contract job meant the time was his, and on July 29 the road was his as well. Not having any luck finding a riding partner even after numerous internet postings and conversations, Gary left his driveway totally alone and headed northwest. Not until September 9th would he sleep in his own bed again. Gary is an adventurer for sure and this trip had a directive that would allow him completion of some ‘bucket list’ items as well as add to his collection of ‘been there, done that’s’.

Traveling throughout the USA and Canada is pretty old hat for Gary. He has put many miles on other bikes, but this trip allowed him to log 12,885 land miles on the brilliant yellow and new-to-him Gold Wing. His total trip was 13,355 all consecutive and all in six weeks time. He and his bike floated 470 of those miles and slept on a ship via the Alaskan Marine Highway where he saw the Northern Lights up close and personal with his own eyes.

On this trip Gary was able to complete the remaining portion of the Trans Canada Highway No. 1 (Calgary to Sault Ste. Marie) that he had not traveled on previous trips and the Yellowhead Trans Canada Highway No. 16. He had always had a goal to ride the entire route. Another check mark on the bucket list! It has also been his desire to ride in all 49 states of the US and by hitting 16 States on this trip he was again able to check another line item on the bucket list. He also added 4 Provinces, 2 Territories, 11 Capitols and 5 Factories (1 former client & 1 former employer) bringing totals up to every State, every Province, every Territory that you can drive to which to date includes 42 Capitols and 633 Factories. Factories? Really? Yes, Gary loves to tour factories and has experienced and seen manufacturing you just can’t imagine. He says of future places to go, “the capitols in the capital cities of Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto, Albany, Montpelier, and Hartford are next on my bucket list.” What ambition!!

In the month and a half he was away from home he saw numerous glaciers and beautiful highways including the Icefields Parkway along with beautiful rivers, streams, waterfalls and mountains including Denali, Mount Robson, Mount Wrangell and Mount Saint Elias. These are places I have never heard of but there he was on his yellow Gold Wing experiencing all of it in some pretty brisk temperatures. Gary says, “I slept in 40 & 50 degree weather and much of my travels were in 50 and 60 degree weather - which I generally enjoyed as the few 80 / 90 degree days made me sleepy.” Snow & rain prevented him from making Prudhoe Bay which was his ultimate goal. Gary admits, “Wet roads, 14 F and snow prevented me from making Inuvik – I expected but never thought I would actually be stopped by snow in late August.”

He saw double rainbows, took 2554 pictures and ate dinner with pipe line workers at pipe line camps. That had to have been some interesting conversation! He found time to take in various museums including the Royal Terrell Museum with 50+/- of different dinosaurs and various fossils. And on his return trip he was also able to stop in his home state and see family and his beloved Spartans win in Michigan.

Gary proudly conquered about 750 miles over gravel road (Taylor, Top of the World, Dalton, Dempster and parts of the Alcan and Klondike Highways). Not many of us would want to attempt that. Heck I get giggly just on a gravel parking lot! He also did 50 miles on the wet and slick Dempster and Dalton Highways - the only 2 North American roads to the Arctic. In addition to eating with the pipeline crews he mentions, “I ate Elk, Reindeer, Bison, Walleye, Halibut, Pickerel, Salmon, Smelt, Rainbow Trout, etc. I brought home Birch Syrup - made from Spruce Trees. I met and shared meals with other travelers and local people. Some lived without access to radio and TV. Satellite TV and the Internet has changed some but not all of their lives. AM, FM and XM is generally not available to most of the Northwest."

On a trip like this Gary was very dependent on his navigational tools but he says, “Police confirmed that there were no AM / FM stations when I ran into tornadoes in Nebraska. My Gold Wing warned me of thunderstorms in the Lake of the Woods forcing me again to stay in a motel in the Lake of the Woods area. The motel and the entire town of Kenora lost power twice that night.”

He even came across four legged creatures on his long journey. It was nothing for him to encounter wildlife closer than they allow in zoos. “I essentially saw everything except polar bears and wolves (albeit they may have seen me)! I enjoyed the sighting of 100 bison, 12 bears (black, brown and grizzly), 12 moose plus elk, caribou, bighorn & dall sheep, coyote, deer, eagles, fox, hawks, mountain goats, musk ox, orca, porcupines, salmon (silver, pink, Chinook), and whales. On average most were only about 25 feet away.”

I truly admire the bravery and tenacity of a person that has a dream and acts upon it like Gary has. He didn’t let the typical barriers of family, work, and especially age stop him. He does admit he received miss-information from the person selling him a sleeping bag at the camping store. He really should have had a bag rated sub-sub-sub zero!! But this was an amazing trip with some memories he will have forever.