The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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"Finding your stroke" or "Getting into the swing of things" is something that has to be found as you go along when you are doing something new, you never start out with it already in your pocket. For me, traveling long distances day-in and day-out is not something that I'm super familiar with, yet . It always seems to take a few days to work out a pace and find your “flow” as they say. For me it seems like Monday, our third day, was closer in that direction.
We woke up early after a solid - albeit short, sleep so we could swing by the nearest town to try and procure a tube that would fit my rear tire as soon as the local shops opened up. I stayed back to pack stuff up and remove my wheel again and have everything ready in hopes that a tube could be found and we could be underway asap. A bit later I here the cheerfully revving brraaaap braaap of my dad coming back into the campsite throttling his motor, signaling to me that he had found something that would work. The tube was slightly the wrong size but it would get the job done until we found a larger town which would likely have more options. I promptly stuffed the new tube into the tire, mounted it, filled my Camelback up on water from the hand-pumped campsite well and we were on our way.
The day was showing promising signs of bearing good weather and (provided we didn’t have any troubles) we were hoping to make up some miles today. "Miles", and how many of them we needed to make up for the last two days of slow-going, had been on my mind heavily. But the morning rolled on, the fog lifted, and we started making consistent ground. I felt my thoughts slowly shifting, not just my focus and dwelling on making up miles, but my overall mindset and mental state. That feeling of relaxing and settling in to the groove had pushed its way through to the front of my mind and was setting up shop. For as long as I get to just be out riding my bike I'm thinking it'll be a permanent new location for it.
In the afternoon we gassed up at a small town. My dad used to work on a river rafting outfit when he was a kid where you would get flown in way up river and then spend 7-10 days rafting down the river. Apparently this little town was where it finished and my dad hadn’t been to it since he was working that job as a kid. He said it hadn't appeared to have changed a wink in those 40 years.
The Fraser river, which is a predominant river running through BC going South down through Vancouver has been so swollen due to the rainfall this season. So full that they have had evacuation warnings in some areas where the river water is at risk of overflowing and breaking through the banks. The small town seemed to be handling all this extra water and its issues in stride though and making the best of it.
We headed out again and took what appeared to be a short cut on the map that went through a more adventurous section of the map taking us up a couple thousand feet of elevation and then also switching to dirt. This was a welcome occurrence and I was more than eager to get Keepa dirty and put her through her paces a bit.
With the altitude came a bit of condensation and light sprinkling causing the road (which is actually considered a hwy on the map) to get nice and slick with thick mud, exactly what I was hoping for. The sky broke, the sun came out, and the scenery began to open up.
We were in cattle country and there were many ranches sprawling as far as I could see adjoining one after the other. Apparently we went by one of, if not the, largest cattle ranch in Canada. There were many cattle guards and signs that read “open range, cattle at large”. At reading this I pictured gangs of roaming bandit cows lurking around unseen bends, waiting to ambush our little caravan like in the old west. The most that happened though was pop’s already bent pannier coming loose from all the bouncing around on the bumpy road and going for a tumble in the mud. The bikes performed great and I really enjoyed taking that shortcut. We eventually got spit out in a small town and we proceeded on our way north.
We rode for the rest of the day, passing through more and more towns of varying sizes and characters but all with a progressively more relaxed demeanor than the towns before. This seems to be a common trend as we head further North, if it proves to hold true it’s a good sign for places to come.
If a traveling ‘groove’ must be found only with distance and time on the road, I feel like we are slowly sinking into ours. At the end of the day I was cruising along open roads with my feet kicked up on the highway pegs, one hand slouched on my hip and the throttle locked at a steady open click, my mind starting to feel just as relaxed as my body. For the rest of the day the only thing to be seen for as far as as the long rays of the setting sun could stretched to, was the passing of vast expanses of open scenery, lush forests, meandering lakes, and open pockets of farm land scattered in between it all. Bends in the road brought on new expanses around each turn.
All of the scenery though did have a common aesthetic to it, a common 'feel' or auroa about it. As we carried on down the road covering mile after mile, all of the terrain seemed to have a sort of leading sensation associated with it that gave you the feeling of be funneled in one direction, North.
As I sit back and soak it in, if this is what it’s like to travel via motorcycle, I feel like I could get used to this. A picture that I snapped earlier in the day sums the feeling up nicely.
9. Now Serving: "Miles" - Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner
For the next two days, we ate miles, looots of miles. They were served up in every way from “early morning wear-everything-you-have-almost-below-freezing” to "sweltering afternoon-sun-too-hot-to-be-sitting-still-in-riding-gear”. We were hoping to try and make it to Dawson City - which is in the middle of the Yukon, for the start of the adventure motorcycle meet-up which was in its 20th anniversary this year. To do this though we had lots of miles to ride, and so we set out to get it done.
When you are riding a popular motorcycle route around the North of America you end up running into a fair number of other motorcyclists. More often than not you continue to bump into the same people at gas stations as you push on further down the road.
Along the way we met Darby, she is a bull mastiff and was traveling with her family in her own cart/container all the way from Ohio. She seemed content chewing on plastic water bottles for amusement while her owners filled up their bikes. When it was time to roll out she would just jump right back into her deluxe trailer and cruise on down the road.
We proceeded to burn further north, passing through plenty of fog, rain, and clear blue skies.
The next day we were up at 5:00am to break camp and get to boogey-n. We didn’t stop for breakfast for a few hours but by the time we did I sure was ready for it. They say the best seasoning is hunger, and good ol’ Red River hot cereal - cooked on the back of my bike by none other than the 2nd best Red River porridge maker my dad (1st best is his dad), had never tasted so good.
As we burned further north, stretching the day into ever longer periods of time in the saddle, we started seeing more and more wild-life.
We passed from town to town riding all day long. There were hat collections (this one had more than 8,000), sign collections, and giant cinnamon roles to be had.
The cinnamon role was bomb and the owner of the only restaurant/gas station in the town was super interesting. In the winter time the Yukon Quest sled dog race goes right through this small “town” and all of the dogs/racers have a check-point at her establishment for rest and sleep. Several hundred antsy sled-dogs howling and looking to get running again must be quite the sound.
This old dog though I think was more beet than us.
We rode for 12 hours the first day of our push and 15 hours the second day to finally roll into Dawson City in the middle of the Yukon around 9pm. With the sun never setting and just going around in circles above you it’s pretty easy to get lost in time and forget about exhaustion. We had finally made it to our first main destination, the whole reason for rushing, and to catch the start of Dust-2-Dawson.
Dust-2-Dawson is the name of the motorcycle 'event' that we were going to and the name seemed fitting as we literally went from dusty no-mans land to all of a sudden winding up in a town in the middle of nowhere called Dawson. We finally got in around 9pm and although we had gotten up at 4:30am and been riding for 15 hours we were both pretty stoked to have made it in time for the start of the 20th anniversary of the Dust-2-Dawson meet-up, it seemed like our exhaustion was all but forgotten. The history of the meet-up – and it is in fact a meet-up “NOTA rally”, is important to understanding the significance of the gathering I want to paint the picture. Seeing as it has already been well described before I’ll let the people who truly know about it do the talking.
The quote below describes the background of Dust-2-Dawson as seen by one of its original founders who goes by the ADVrider inmate name “Fighter”:
Ca$h Register, along with Jim Coleman and myself are the original founders of the Dust To Dawson (D2D) “gathering” back in 1992. It was hatched over a few s in the Dawson’s Midnight Sun where we first met.
A little pre-history. In Spring of 1990 the Alaska Last Frontier BMW Club here in Alaska receive a letter from an Oklahoma rider by the name Ca$h Register. In that letter Ca$h related this story:
Ca$h and his long time riding buddy Jim had planned a mega-trip to Alaska for 1990 and were going to attend our little local rally. They had pre-paid their entry fee and about a month prior to lift-off Ca$h collapsed in a restaurant. Heart attack.
Jim was with him at the time and tried in vain to resuscitate his best friend. Paramedics on the scene weren’t having much luck either. At Jim’s insistence they hit the go button on the paddles a third time and Ca$h’s heart lit back up. Obviously their much anticipated trip to the North was on hold. OBTW, to this day… Ca$h’s business cards include the phrase “You only live twice” Our local club, upon reading that tearful letter and hearing the story, sent a refund to Ca$h and Jim and included for each of them a club license plate frame.
Fast forward to June of 1992. I was on a solo run to Dawson City, YT and saw two well decked out PD’s parked in front of the Midnight Sun. The Oklahoma plates with the LFMC frames caught my attention immediately. It didn’t take me long to determine who owned those two GS’s. Ca$h and Jim had finally made it to the North country after an extensive rehab. Doctors to this day are at loss to medically explain what had happened.
I introduced myself to these two holligans and another chapter or two was written. That evening over a few adult beverages the three of us hatched a plan to tackle the Dempster and try to make the 500 mile run to Inuvik. The road had been closed for several days due to high water on the Peel River. Lack of gas at Eagle Plain was most definitely our main issue. We waited a day or two for the road to re-open and made our break. The three of us had a wonderful ride. I remember Ca$h standing on his head at the Arctic Circle. It was his 60th birthday. Both Ca$h and Jim were excellent riders as I later substantiated on my visit to Ca$h’s hometown of Dill City, Oklahoma… the summer after we all met. Two walls of Cash’s shop were smothered with trophies and plaques that both of them had earned.
Jim’s life was tragically cut short on Halloween eve 1994 while returning home from Cash’s place…… his R100GS was no match for the Suburban.
On the original 1992 Alaska trip Jim and Ca$h had taken a side trip to Eagle and both were so taken by the beauty and solitude that they made a pact with each other. The deal was struck that when either of them died, the survivor would return to the North Country with the remains of the fallen. A year later Ca$h gave me a call from Whitehorse.
“Fite… I’m on my way! Got Jim with me in the tank bag. We were doin’ a hundred on the Casiar and Jim was laughing his head off”.
I will never forget that call, nor the one I had received on the previous Halloween night.
Ca$h was retracing the exact route the two of them had taken in ’92. He camped in the same places, hit the same cafes, took pictures from the same vantage points. Had a at the “Sun”. Jim’s final ride with his life-long riding partner Ca$h was just as it was the first time they came north.
Ca$h (with Jim in the tank bag) rounded a hard right hander about 10 miles south of Eagle and there on that windswept mountainside stood a single tree. The anemic looking black spruce, that had survived a myriad of brutal winters, stood tall against all odds. The view was spectacular. Ca$h later told me that when he rounded that right-hander, thoughts of Jim were so vivid that Ca$h began to weep uncontrollably. The thoughts of his lost riding partner were so intense… and the pain so near…. he could barely keep his PD upright. It was on that lonely road with its breath-taking view and scrawny tree that Ca$h said his final good-byes to Jim Coleman. An emotional two man private ceremony gave way to the Jim’s final send off and a plaque being posted on the tree. Ca$h turned around and headed back to Dill City.
For many of us it has been a long time D2D tradition to make a side trip into Eagle, Alaska (on our way to/from Dawson City) and to stop at Jim’s Tree. We do it for Jim AND Ca$h. You can see in the photos where a brush fire has swept through the area. That fire, along with brutal weather conditions wouldn’t dare “mess around with Jim” The tree has been visited and annointed by many of us and the memories of both Jim and Ca$h are alive and well. It is my hope as “keeper of the Tree”…. that the tradition continues. Carry On. Fite
I originally read about D2D on ADVrider when I was looking for things to see on my way through to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. After I read the above description I knew that it was something that I wouldn’t want to miss. The two day event is chock full of activities. In addition anytime 200+ adventure motorcyclists pull into a fun old mining town like Dawson City there is always a good time to be had.
We camped at a campsite across the water where a small ferry operates 24-7 bringing everything from foot traffic walk-ons to big
rigs across the briskly flowing Yukon River.
After getting set-up, pops and I split up to go explore the area. I was oblivious to the fact that it was the summer solstice that day (the longest day of the year) and we just so happened to be in an amazing location to witness it (pretty far North and access to a great look-out spot). I met some younger Dawson-locals originally from Germany who said that “if there is ever a party in Dawson, tonight is the night” and that the top of "The Dome" was the place to be. They asked if I wanted to tag along and of course, I like to party.
So I hopped on my bike and followed them up a winding steep road just outside of town. I saw another local pedaling up the steep road on a bicycle, there was only one place he could likely be going slowed down and pulled up next to him and offered a tow to the top. He looked at me and the bike with surprise and then excitedly looked for a good place to grab onto, the pannier worked great. Once we got to the Dome a few of us road our bikes right to the tippy-top where we had 360 degree views. People began showing up and getting lively for the show. A small plane was doing some pretty fun looking stunts for the crowd too.
From this vantage point later in the night you could watch the sun dip ever so briefly behind the mountain ridges to the west and then come back up about an hour later slightly to the right.
When the hour for the sun to do it's dip came, there were lots of people hanging out having a good time and celebrating this unique day so far North in this remote, but rowdy little town.
By the time I hopped the ferry back home I had been up for almost 24 hours, 15 hours of which was spent riding, and I should have been pretty beat. But with the sun never setting, being stoked about finally making it to Dawson City, and getting to see and be a part of an awesome Solstice in a unique little place, I was pretty impressed with my lack of overwhelming lethargy.
After a solid sleep, the next two days were full of riding, tom-foolery, and sometimes just shooting the shit with other riders who have all made the same crazy trek to the same out-there spot. There's a great energy about being around so many people that all love to do the same thing.
On Friday night there is a Biker Banquet where everyone gathers to eat and give awards out for things like youngest/oldest attendee, most crashes, furthest distance traveled to get here, etc. The organizers also talk about the history of the event which is so routed in the group of guys that 'started' it.
After food and drink the biker games begin and people get rowdier. The games start around 9 and go until after midnight. All of the games focus on rider skill and technique. There are Blindfold riding contests, Slow Races (those who have the best balance and can ride the slowest from start to finish line win), Ball Drops (dropping tennis balls in consecutively smaller containers while riding), and Slalom events. If you enter a “Two-up” event there is the Water Balloon Toss and Hot Dog Bite (apparently only co-ed teams or lady teams allowed).
And of course, don’t forget to do the Sourtoe Cocktail at the Downtown Hotel so you can join the ranks of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Story goes that the original toe was lobbed off after a Dawson City local came into the bar with frost-bite on his toe. They dropped it in some alcohol to preserve it and then things get weird and people start doing shots with the toe in the shot. Now it's a thing and you can do a shot with the toe as well, provided you buy strong enough liquor to preserve it with .
Well I can't pass up an opportunity to join the ranks of the sick and twisted so I had to do it.
For anyone wondering, the texture is like rubber.
Next up is riding the Top Of The World Highway passing over and out of the Yukon and back into ‘Merica to head to Fairbanks.
Chicken, Alaska, the biggest little town in eastern Alaska was where we had our sights set next. It was our first destination after heading out of Dawson City and would be our first stop in Alaska. We had heard that the home-baked pies crafted up by Susan were crazy good and I am not one to pass up top notch baked goods, especially if they involve berries.
Before we headed out we wanted to do a few touristy things that we hadn’t been able to get around to yet the past couple of days. I wanted to snap a few photos of the infamous Dawson City and we also wanted to do a tour of one of the old dredges used during the big Klondike Gold Rush. These things were used to dig for gold and could move and process amounts of earth in search of gold on an unimaginable level. The one we really wanted to go see was called Dredge No. 4. What they were able to achieve in terms of infrastructure, engineering, and sheer determination that long ago is mind boggling to think about. The lengths they were willing to go to make it happen makes it so unique as well. If you stim-out on history scope the link above, it’s pretty impressive. In essence though these enormous gold-digging monstrosities floated on a small pond of water that they were constantly digging up earth in front of, sifting through and removing the gold from, and then re-depositing the sediment out the back as they inched further and further forward, zig-zagging there way through whatever area of land they wanted to dig-up.
On our way out I snapped a photo in front of the downtown hotel and snapped a few more around town. What it was like in the late 1890′s with 40,000 people in it at the height of the gold rush I can only imagine.
We milled about a bit, fueled up on gas, picked up food for the next couple days, and rode our bikes onto the small Dawson City ferry to take us across the Yukon River. We were now turning East to start heading towards the Alaskan border. The route from Dawson back to Alaska is via the Top Of The World Highway and the name is very fitting. The road cuts across a mountain ridge-line for several hours of dirt riding and eventually crossing the border out of the Yukon and into Alaska. You definitely feel like you are up on a highway in the clouds.
There was a feeling that this border would be more relaxed than most so I asked the border guard if he would snap a couple pictures for us. There are only two guards stationed here to watch over this border, just two. One for entering the US and one for entering Canada. They each live in two separate cabins right next to each other. The guy said he is stationed there for 72 days straight then he goes back home for a bit. I wonder how often they crack s together and ignore the rules, because rules in a place that seems so far removed and remote such as this just seem silly. Who's gonna tattle on you, the single other human that's there with you?
We continued on East and the 'Murica side of the Top Of the World Highway was just as nice.
Eventually the road slowly dropped in elevation and we began to fall into a valley.
When we came across the town called Chicken there was no confusion as to whether we had found it or not, on top of that, there wasn't anything else anywhere near it so it's hard to miss in spite of it's size.
Here are some handy facts about Chicken, this was written up and posted on the saloon door:
This is it in all of it's glory.
We stepped inside the Chicken Saloon and ordered a drink from the bartender....
We then took that drink outside and walked one building over into the Chicken Cafe and ordered some BBQ chicken, served up by the none other than the same guy who was our bartender just a minute earlier, he had just walked out the bar and into the cafe so he could serve us food as well!
We followed the food up with some of the home-baked goods that others so raved about. Some BBQ chicken, couple s, followed up with some pie and my Dad and I were feeling preeeeetty damn good about our decision to come here. The food did not fail to impress.
We camped for free in the gravel parking lot and spent the rest of the night shooting the shit with the handful of travelers and locals that gather around this glorious small little spot. The local group of folks (4-5 people) and us sat around telling stories, mostly them telling us about Chicken and its eccentricities, us gawking at the holes in the saloon door that were blown out with their home made “panti-cannon”.
With the reluctant donation of a willing ladies thong we even got a showing of the fabled panti-cannon and they got to tack another gunpowder-obliterated undergarment to the saloon’s ever growing ceiling collection. With a thong packed in on top of two and a half shot glasses of gunpowder, the blast and subsequent concussion was deafening.
They lit another one off around 3:30am after a fair bit more drinking that had even more gunpowder in it, along with another donated thong as well. Not a single person in town batted an eye, then again, everyone in town was just them.
- – - – - – - – -
As exciting as the characters of Chicken and the panti-cannon were, it was another traveler that captivated my interest the most. He was guy in his late 70's probably, traveling with his wife in an old pick-up with a camper on the back. He didn't seem like the RVing grandparents type though and at first I had him pegged as a local, or at least a local an Alaskan, he didn't seem like a tourist or a traveler in the same way that we were. He seemed at home here, or at least in this sort of traveling lifestyle. He had a fairly quiet demeanor and spent most of the initial evening time just sitting and enjoying other peoples conversation, sipping on his s. He had a warm look on his face and a smirk-y grin, I got the impression that he seemed like a chill guy and one of those people that has stories under his belt, and that's why he's so quiet and content to just sit and enjoy listening to other people tell stories. Me being me I got to chatting with him and that was that. With some intrigued questioning and nudging of conversation he eventually over the course of a couple hours and several s told me all about the things he had done throughout his life, his life story was by far the most varied and extensive history I had heard from any stranger before and I found him absolutely captivating. Sort of like when you get a bit older and you realize just how ****ing cool your grandpa is and how it's fascinating hearing all the things they have experienced in their long life. Everything from winning the famous Omak Suicide Horse race, sailing in St. Marks, flying bush planes in Alaska, to getting bored and deciding to train to do the famous Iditarod sled dog race at the ripe and spry age of 63. When he decided to try and race the Iditarod he moved to Alaska, built a home himself to train out of in the boonies, and 3 years later successfully completed the Iditarod race (he broke his neck the 2nd year so it took him a bit to rehab before he could successfully race it to completion).
Through talking with him I also learned that his name was Jeanne. I also learned that he was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer 2 years ago. He was very frank about his prognosis and outlook and he openly said that he would be surprised if he was still around in 2 years. He still had such a sense of calm about him when talking about this though, and his spirit was just as perky and happy as when he was talking about the other things that he had done in his life. I knew that I had to ask him more questions as it's rare that you meet someone like Jeanne. I asked him "For a guy that has done so much with your life already and always lived with a drive and passion for doing what you were interested in that moment and flying by the seat of your pants, is there anything that you know you really want to do before your time is up?"
He thought about the question pensively, but only for a moment, and then laughed and smiled with the same smile he had so easily brought forward throughout our long conversation, and said that "If there was anything left that I desired to do I'm sure that I would get out there and be doing it already!" (he was still actively traveling the world and flying his plane regularly) I drew from this that the thought of "What do I do now that I know I'm going to die soon" never really crossed his mind because he always did the things in life that he wanted to do, he never back burnered anything. Living his life up until this moment in that way allowed him to - now knowing that he doesn't have much time left - live out the last of his time in comfort about what he has and hasn't done because he always lived his life to the fullest.
In the morning I walked over to where him and his wife were camping and talked with him again over camp breakfast. Before we parted ways he said that after we had all gone to sleep he had thought more about my question that I had asked. He said that although he hadn’t come up with anything that he has yet to do or wished he'd done differently, he wanted to explain that he did understand why I asked the question. He understood that I was asking the question from a place of interest being that I am young and (hopefully!) have a lot more living to do, and was seeking any wisdom from a man who had so obviously lived his life to its fullest.
He said that if he can impart any wisdom that he has learned through his his long list of life experiences, it is that:
” there is no point in spending your life doing things you don’t want to do and that don’t give you joy. You can make all the money in the world but you need to learn how to have fun. You MUST learn how to play. Since I was diagnosed with cancer 2-years ago I haven’t had a single bad day. I simply don’t have time for bad days, so I make every day a good day. Life is short and if you can get started with that mentality young, you’ll do just fine.”
With that he ended our conversation and left me to digest. With his joyful attitude, piercingly insightful eyes backed by many years of a life well lived, he looked at his wife with a smile - who had been sitting next to him quietly sipping her coffee mug held with both hands for warmth, and said simply that they should head out and get going, saying "We have things, to go do."
If I had any question about finishing up my work in Seattle and heading South in the fall, Jeanne and his wise words sure stomped them out.
The next morning we headed out of Chicken. This place, in all of its little eccentricities, is quite the joint. If you are going over the Top of The World Highway in either direction, it's worth a stop-off for sure. Maybe it was the people, maybe it was me having no expectations, whatever it was I left with a full belly of food, as well as good times. It's a quaint little place that isn't trying to be anything it's not, and it'll likely never be anything much at all considering it's far out there location and character, and that's just the way it should stay.
We were heading for Tok, a junction of sorts, where you can either head West towards Anchorage or head North towards Fairbanks. We were en route to Fairbanks at this point to meet up with my friends Sophie and Thaddeus so we would be taking the northly route.
With all the pretty scenery and seemingly endless sunlight we quickly found ourselves burnt out and falling asleep. Nice thing about Alaska is everything is so rural that you can pretty much pull off the side of the road anywhere and more or less not be bothered. We took this as an opportunity for a quick nap and recoup on the way to Fairbanks.
When we eventually rolled into Fairbanks we had some bike maintenance to do and needed to source some parts so we went to the shop who’s name we had heard about most often from people at the Dust-2-Dawson meetup and who’s shop came highly recommended, ADV Cycle Works over on the North end of town in Fairbanks. After being in and out for several days and getting a glimpse of how they do things over there, Dan and Shawn Armstrong are quite the duo, they sure do know their way around ADV bikes, and their outfit is a great example of how a local shop should be run. Hats off to you guys
My friends Sophie and Thaddaeus now live in Fairbanks and they have been kind enough to offer up what space they have in their cabin for my Dad and I to crash there for a few days while we re-collect ourselves and then make a dart north to ride the Dalton Highway. My pops is flying back to Seattle on the 1st of June and so we are planning to do the ride to Prudhoe Bay via the Dalton Highway before then. After some last minute bike fixes (blown rear axle bearings on my Dads bike) from ADV Cycle Works we were ready to head out.
The Dalton Highway (also known as the haul road) is a predominantly dirt road that stretches from just north of Fairbanks 414 miles up to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. It was originally built to haul goods etc up to supply the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System in ’74. If you follow it all the way it takes you first up into the Arctic Circle and and then you get to continue on up to the Arctic Ocean. Where the road ends is the furthest north you can ride in the Americas. Although with the first leg of this trip my goal was only to have a good time, get a feel for what traveling via motorcycle was like, and iron out the mechanical kinks etc, I had definitely made it a personal goal to make it to the top so that I can hopefully ride to the bottom at some point as well, thus riding "Tip-to-Tip".
On the first day we waited until the afternoon in Fairbanks debating if the weather would clear. We deliberated for a bit, sat around staring at the sky twiddling our thumbs as if trying to bag an alpine summit while reading the whether seeing if a window will open up.
**** it, it wasn’t going to clear, my Dad only had about half a week left, and we weren’t going to let the weather sully our chances of making it to Prudhoe Bay. We set out from my friends cabin in Fairbanks and the roads progressively became more and more dirt. It's kind of cool because there is a blatant cut-off where the road just stops being paved, you can see it in the picture below. All dirt and gravel from here on out.
The further north we got the more the weather and road deteriorated making the ride a lot more fun. Man I hate super slab, at least have it be a dirt super-slab like this thing
And of course, on came the rain making everything nice and sloppy, again though, way more fun.
Around 9pm we made it into the Arctic Circle and snapped our photo’s with the famous “Arctic Circle” sign. I felt pretty touristy doing this but it was sweet to finally pop a squat in front of the sign that I had seen so many other riders take photos at as well.
My dad seems to take pictures like he's in the 1800's now, you know how you never see anyone from old photos smiling? He's all laughs and good times until a camera comes out, then it's Stone-Cold steve austin, no smiling allowed. Maybe it's a blue steel sort of thing...I'll work with him on it.
We rode until around midnight and got just past a 'place' called Coldfoot. This is the only point between Fairbanks and Deadhorse where there is a place to get gas and a place to eat and it's at about the halfway mark. We fueled up for the last time before finding a place to camp and rest up before tomorrows 230 mile push to Deadhorse. The next morning we awoke early along with birds, they seemed to be pretty into the camp scene and know how to get a snack. Kind of a wet and mangey looking chirper.
We continued on, pushing North. No need for a GPS anymore, only one road. If we loose it, we probably shouldn't be out riding motorcycles anyways. There are still trees but they are getting smaller and smaller. Although our altitude isn't very high, the winter seasons are just too harsh and long this far north that trees can't get a hold and grow. I was told that eventually we would pass 'the last tree' and then there wouldn't see anymore until we came back south again.
We started heading towards Atigun Pass which is a part of the Brooks Range and is the highest pass in Alaska that is maintained throughout the year. I've seen my share of mountains and passes but after so much flat it commanded much more presence and awe than I would have expected.
As we climbed higher it got wetter, colder, and the road got worse. Visibility was pretty low and you never really knew when you would see a big MAC truck coming downt he road in the other direction. All over you could see where trucks had run-off the road, either from poor conditions like this or from lack of attention. You can see in the photo below that what they have in place as a guard rail has been ripped out when a truck went over the edge. Not surprised though those things would barely keep a bike from going off the edge. On the 650's we can cook along at a pretty good pace, a truck would definitely not be going that quick though.
After a few more hours of riding I switched the page view on my GPS to show a map of where I was instead of my usual digital read-out of mileage, heading, etc. For the first time since I left Seattle I saw coastline and a big blue mass of ocean come up on the screens readout! Having grown up on an island in the pacific northwest and spending much of my childhood on a boat, I now seem to have a set of sea-legs and my head gets all weird and uncalibrated if I'm away from the ocean for too long. It was GREAT to see that coastline on the screen, even if it was just a digital image, I now knew where water was and everything was right in the world again. I kept the GPS on this view for the next 2.5 hours, watching the little arrow creep closer and closer to the blue water on the map.
Now that we were out of Atigun Pass we were now on the tundra. There was nothing but vast open expanses of nothingness and no more trees where to be seen anywhere. These ridges on the east behind my bike were the last geographical features to see anywhere.
After only a few minutes of being stopped Alaskas state bird, the mosquito, where on you like stink on shit and it was time to boogey on away from wherever you were. Where the hell do they come from? What could possibly be out here that has enough blood to feed the bagillions of these ****ers that seem to come out of the woodwork no matter where you are? They are like zombies that haven't seen blood in decades and they all flock to you immediately. I say burn'em, burn'em ALL with fire. (you can see how many of them there are in the bottom-left photo)
We pushed on and within the hour we had made it to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. I finally found out the discrepancy between calling it Deadhorse and Prudhoe bay. As a handy little info pamphlet held in a box at the 'entrance of town' told me, calling it Deadhorse is like calling New York city “The Bronx”. Technically Deadhorse is a place in Prudhoe Bay. Either way though the information seemed fairly suspect and sounded like there was an ongoing dispute about zip codes and titles, so take that factoid with a grain of salt.
At any rate, we made it to the top but there would be no swimming in the Arctic Ocean for me. The entire area is controlled by BP and Conoco (HUGE oil companies for those that don’t know) and they have a tight reign on everything that goes on up there. Oil is big business here...hah actually the only business that goes on here, and they don't want you in any part of it. Seeing as it is a work camp and by no means a tourist town you feel like an outsider butting into people’s business from the moment you roll into the work camp. People eye balling you left and right, looking at you like you are most certainly lost, I have never felt like such a tourist than in this place. Essentially though this is precisely what you are doing, it’s a work camp, not a tourist destination (barring the few crazies that decide they want to go as far north as they can while riding a moto). There is a sign as you enter the area that reads something to the ilk of this is no longer a public area, you are allowed here but people have shit to do, rigs to drive, and places to get to, so stay the **** out of the way’. Obviously this isn’t verbatim, but it is clear that you are a guest at best, and it would behoove you to mind your business and not impede anyone else's.
To get to the real ocean you have to go onto BP and Conocos land, because you would be on their land and in close proximity to their oil operations, they are worried that if us non-employees were to get all self-riotous and try to **** with their oil operation it would be bad news money-bears for them, and thus you are required to obtain a security clearance pass and a background check that takes at least 24hours. Well we weren’t keen on staying in this odd place for much longer than we needed to so we made the best of what we had.
Honestly the whole place gave me a fairly eery feeling, if you have ever seen the movie Waterworld staring Kevin Costner you’ll understand what I mean. That movie was all I could think about while I was here and all of Deadhorse reminded me of it. The similarities where just too striking. Deadhorse's bustling industrial activity, being located in a super remote place literally in the middle of nowhere, set in a harsh and barren environment where all of it’s inhabitants are completely entrenched with searching feverishly for a single highly valued resource that their society needs to survive, in this case oil.
Funny enough though that resource, which we also need to run our bikes, was $5.35 a gallon here!
As always though, the ride is the fun part, if the destination is nice, it's merely a bonus. So we got our pictures, fueled up on gas and food supplies, as the next place to get either was back the way we came some 240 miles, and then got back on the road towards Coldfoot being glad to be back on the tundra.
After another day and a half slog-fest in the mud down the Dalton Highway back to where we had come from we made it to Fairbanks. The weather was about the same and it was fun slogging around in the mud on the way back. With relatively light bikes, although they aren't no scooter, we made good time and it was pretty straightforward sailing.
When we got back to my friends cabin in Fairbanks I snapped a few photos of pig in all her muddy glory before I cleaned her up.
After the mud had dried I noticed that there was still a peculiar wet spot on my right fork, boot, and pant-leg. Guess my right fork seal had had enough and decided it would be easier to die than do it's job. In the process it went out in a fanfare and puked it’s innards everywhere. I added new fork seals to the fix list to get done while in Fairbanks.
The last few days have been spent doing laundry (I’m traveling realitively light though so don’t really have much), eating a ton of food, hanging out with Sophie and Thaddaeus, lounging in the local hot springs, scoping out the wildlife by my friends cabin we are staying in, and trying to be a bit more Alaskan and shooting some guns.
Unfortunately my Fasha (pops, dad, etc) flew out on the 1st to get back to work so this leg of the trip together with him is complete. It's been a blast Dad and I'm stoked that we got to together and see this part of North America together! On the bright side he'll be tagging-in my buddy Koshal who will be riding the next few weeks and back down to Seattle with me. Kosh is flying in Wednesday night to meet-up with us here in Fairbanks for the 4th of July which will be sweet. After that we’ll both continue on riding South towards Anchorage and probably meet up with one of Kosh's friends from undergrad who's family lives there. Then(?)…well we’ll see where we want to go from there when the time comes. Not having a fixed agenda or plan sure is nice. For now, I’m going to continue enjoying this interesting and wild little oasis up in the north of Alaska.
My dad's work responsibilities were beckoning so he had flown back home to the real world and left his bike. It was time for my friend Koshal to tag in and ride the rest of the trip back down to Seattle.
I hadn’t had a working phone since I left Seattle, WA (Seattle pictured here before Kosh left) so coordinating the pick-up of said person was left up to email transfers via stolen wifi and intermittent cafe use in Fairbanks. Although it’s been great to disconnect from all the digital plugs we are constantly hooked up to during our normal daily activities, not having these basic electronic connections, such as a cell phone, make it slightly more cumbersome to plan logistics. Luckily though the air-drop went fine and we eventually connected up, Kosh had arrived. Here he is trying to be a gangster at the airport.
We spent the next day going over the bikes together and hashing out what we needed to do before we got back out on the road again. We wanted to bump up my Dad’s (for the next couple weeks Koshal’s) bike’s gearing so it cruised at slightly lower RPM while running at highway speeds. I had been using a 16-tooth front sprocket since I left Seattle and was pleased with it overall. Even in the slick stuff and loaded up with gear it seemed to truck on just fine. His bike was running a 14-tooth sprocket up front which added up to about a 1,500 rpm difference between my bike and his at speed. Seeing as both bikes could use new sprockets we ended up putting new 16-tooth front sprockets on both bikes along with new chains and new rear sprockets as well (good to change the chain when you replace the sprockets and vice versa). Both of our chains were riveted rather than set up with a handy quick-connect master-link so we commandeered Dan out at ADV Cycle Works to grind the pop-rivets off with an angle grinder. Once we had both chains off we could do the swaps.
My clutch has also started to slip a bit and seeing as I was at the end of both my barrel adjusters up on the handlebars and down on the case I figured I would replace my clutch pack as well rather than risk another 3,000+ miles on one that may-or-may-not be wearing.
After getting the side of the motor opened up and pulling the clutch plates, the plates themselves looked to probably still have a few thousand miles left in them. Since I already had the whole thing opened up I just went ahead and finished the job and packed new plates and springs into the clutch basket and bagged up the older plates to keep as a spares.
While we were putting things back together we ran into a few Brazilians who were just starting out on a vacation ride from Oregon to…well, wherever they could get in 4-6 weeks. They had flown into Oregon from Brazil, purchased several new KLRs, and had been burning up the coast for a week or so before getting into Fairbanks. They would continue riding for several more weeks until their vacation time was up, store the bikes in Anchorage (or wherever they ended up), and then fly back home. Then the next time they all got vacation they would fly back to wherever they stored the bikes and continue on the next part of their trip heading elsewhere. By the next leg they wanted to finish somewhere on the East coast of the US so they could then ship the bikes to Europe where the bikes would sit and wait for them to return to later. Sounded like quite the plan to me and it’s surprising how often I now hear about people doing this. Sounds like a ton of fun. If you only have a couple weeks at a time to travel this is the way to do it.
Although we had squared up the bikes and gotten a lot of maintenance done we still had one further issue that needed to be remedied. A couple weeks back my dad’s aftermarket muffler had snapped one of it’s mounting brackets while we were clicking on down the road and the muffler had rattled off. When it came loose it hit the ground and got kicked up in the air like a whirling tomahawk. I pulled out my Mario Kart skills and dodged it like a ninja. After circling back to pick it up with my hands. I failed to grasp that it would likely be searing hot since it just fell off a running motorcycle and it melted the tips of my winter gloves right off. We cooled the muffler with some water and strapped it to his bike. We carried on down the road with his bike now sounding like a drag chopper. Eventually I had to pass him and ride in front as that 650 motor wound out at down the road was unbearable. We ended up getting a welder to weld the two broken pieces of the bracket together but inevitably it rattled loose again a few thousand miles later while we were punishing the bikes on the road up to Deadhorse. When we got back to Fairbanks I did some interweb sloothing and found another muffler from flea-bay that would work and overnighted it up to Fairbanks. Of course though everything takes longer to get up here in Alaska and seeing as the 4th of July was this week we knew we had some time to kill.
We spent the 4th hanging out at Sophie and Thaddaeus’s cabin with friends and dinning on homemade caribou sausage, moose burgers, and delicious beverages. Just as Americans of the far North should.
A moose arrived late to the party, I guess when the sun never sets it’s hard to judge time and be punctual.
Sadly the time had come for us to get ready to leave Fairbanks and head onward. It’s been a blast getting to see Sophie and Thaddaeus again, hopefully we’ll be seeing them sooner than later now that they’ll be moving down to Portland for more grad school adventures. But until then, stay classy you two.
We have been waiting for a part to be overnighted to us for several days now and it has finally arrived. We were getting it shipped to our friend’s University of Alaska PO Box. Since it was July 4th holiday mixed with funky campus hours the package arrived a few days later than we had intended. Having that time though did allow us to kick back, eat some great food, tour around Fairbanks a bit, and spend a couple more days with Sophie and Thaddaeus.
But now a new day had come, the muffler had arrived!
We put the muffler on right in the parking lot of the UA-Fairbanks parking lot. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail we were ready to roll and get on the road.
We said our good-bye’s and bombed on down the road heading South towards Anchorage. We had 6-8 hours of riding to do so we figured we would break it up and have a stop-over in Denali National Park along the way.
After Denali we headed on down the road passing through more and more great scenery…
…helping another rider find his son who disappeared after hitting this old caribou carcass strewn across the road…
…and shooting the shit with other riders at rural gas stations. When there’s only one spot to fill up for many miles gas stations become common watering holes for people passing.
We made it into Anchorage around 11pm and had made plans to meet up with one of Kosh’s friends from undergrad, Ali, who’s family lives in Anchorage. We pulled the bikes in through the back gate to park them for the night. We scoped out her little brother’s sweet backyard play-land complete with giant trampoline, enclosed fort with climbing holds surrounding it, and a sand pit. He was rocking quite the set-up. We stayed up for a couple hours talking and catching up before sleep beckoned and we passed out.
In the morning, Ali was kind enough to feed us a ton of food before we headed out. I dig milk and will never pass up a tall glass o' the good stuff. I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff in my short few years on this earth and have yet to brake a single bone. I believe it's the milk shield I keep well fortified.
When we were back in Fairbanks Kosh and I were thinking about what we wanted to do for the next couple weeks and mapping out where we wanted to go. Our buddy Jacob was working for his dads fishing boat for the summer up in Kenai. This sounded like the perfect excuse to go surprise him and ride around the Kenai Peninsula, so that was our plan. Before that though, I had a new front and rear tire waiting for me to get picked up in Anchorage so that was our first stop. We mounted the front in the parking lot in Anchorage and stashed the rear at Ali's house. We are gonna be back in Anchorage later so I'll swap the rear then. Before heading to the Kenai Peninsula we had been warned by Ali’s parents that the road was notorious for fatal accidents due to the road conditions, small lanes, and distractingly gorgeous scenery. So we put our game-faces on and headed out with caution.
After several hours we made it to Kenai and the town docks where our buddy Jacob "Poppa" Perkins said we could find him if we were in the area. If of course he wasn’t out on the boats catching shit-tons of salmon. We hadn’t solidified any plans and instead just decided to show up and surprise him. A few quick questions to some people walking around the docks and we were directed to where we could find the one and only, “Poppa-Perkins”.
He had no idea if/when we would be coming aside from a brief “Wait…are you guys riding your motorcycles around Alaska?? You should come to Kenai!” message sent to us a week earlier so he was pretty surprised for us to just roll on in to his camp. We shot the shit for a bit and met some of the other fisherman in the camp. We started talking with Poppa-perk’ and his Dad (who’s boat he was working on for the summer) about our next few days of riding and where we were planning on going. Initially we had planned to hit Kenai, say hey, then push on to Anchor Point and then stay in Homer, which is down on the far tip of the peninsula. After that we would head back to Anchorage, pick up my stashed rear tire and then make a two day ride to Valdez on the Southeast coast. After running it over with them they suggested a great alternative. Take the ferry from Wittier, which is on the Kenai Peninsula a couple hours from where we were, directly to Valdez. This would save us half a day of riding and allow us to see a lot of the coast. The only problem being that the boat only has one sailing a day around noon out of Wittier. To get to Wittier you have to pass through the longest railway-highway tunnel in North America, which is only open one direction at a time and it cycles directions throughout the day. The alternative route would only pan out if we could get to Wittier in time, otherwise we would lose an entire day. Seeing as we had less than 2 weeks left, a day is a lot to us.
We thought about it briefly, realized if we made it to Homer and then backto Kenai tonight (about a 3hr round trip), we could maybe make the turnaround happen. We would have to get up really early tomorrow to make it up to anchorage then back down to Wittier in time for the fairy though. It would be close.
"****-it, let’s do it", and booked the nonrefundable tickets over the phone. People were BBQ'n so we grubbed down and then pushed on down the coast Southwest to Homer. On the way we stopped by Anchor Point which is the most westerly highway point in North America.
Growing up on an island in the Pacific Northwest I am quite fond of the coast and couldn’t pass up the chance to ride my bike down the beach for a bit.
We eventually made it to Homer which sits out on the very tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Jacobs dad said we had to grab a drink at The Salty Dog Saloon so that was our destination. As always we snapped a few opportunistic photos along the way.
As the peninsula thinned and we headed further and further out into the water we knew we were getting close.
At the end of the peninsula sits a very humbling place built to commemorate the sea for the prosperity it brings to some, as well as to pay it respect for the lives of others that it keeps at it’s depths.
A sea bell memorial: “This Bell Tolls For The Souls Set Free Upon The Sea”
There was a placard with this poem on it.
The sea tells a story.
It tells of the life it brings,
And the lives it claims.
Its deep dark waters are home to some,
A final resting place for others.
The sea tells a story.
It tells of the cycle of life
Running through its waters.
Fish, spawning, dying, sinking to the ocean floor,
Returning to the circle that engulfs all life.
The sea tells a story.
It tells of prosperity,
Yet how that prosperity can be unforgiving.
Nearly everyone will experience its vastness.
But some will remain there forever.
- Ryan Bundy
Close to the memorial we found The Salty Dog Saloon and had our drink.
We caught one last picture before leaving Homer. I wish we had more time at this special edge of Alaska, but we had places to go, and more things to see.
We got back on the road, the same road we had far to recently been just coming the other direction on. We were now headed back north, back up the coast en route to Kenai. After a soberingly close encounter with a large moose running across the road, we were reminded just how careful and alert you must always be when riding, especially on these roads as the 'deer' in alaska can weigh over half a ton. Aside from the near moose collision the ride back up to Kenai was nice and the weather a nice crisp 52 degrees . We made it back into our friends boatyard camp in Kenai shortly before midnight. Upon which time a large fire was just getting going, subsequent -runs and merriment were had, and the long early ride to be had in just a short few hours was all but forgotten about.
Of course, Poppa-perk threw two giant fillets of fresh caught salmon onto the fire. With nothing more than a few lemons, couple turns of pepper, and splash of olive oil, that salmon was some of the best I had ever had.
We stayed up late into the morning getting salty, swapping stories, and listening to the decades of experience that these men had out on the open ocean.
Eventually the morning caught us and we called it a night. We needed to get at least a few hours of sleep. With any luck, in 11 hrs we would be boarding a ferry in Wittier, and on our way to Valdez.
Not long after we shut our eyes to get some sleep my alarm woke me up. The inside of my tent was bright with early morning sun. I had purposefully not unpacked my bike, with the exception of my tent and sleeping bag, so that I could sleep as much as possible before we needed to head out. Kosh had played it smart and crashed in one of the campers that Poppa-perk was staying in. I like to think I have become attached to my tent, but it could also easily be attributed to stubbornness.
It took us 30 minutes from the time my alarm went off to when the bikes were packed, warmed up, and ready to ride. This was about 30-45 minutes faster than we usually take, even if we weren’t cooking breakfast.
I’ve noticed when you get on the road this early in the morning that you kind of operate in auto-pilot for a bit. It isn’t until a few miles into the ride that your brain starts to boot-up and do more than just the basic functions that are necessary for navigation and staying upright. The previous night didn’t help with this mental frost layer either. We had a great time last night. Once our brains shook off the early morning stale I think we were both feeling the repercussions of yesterday evening’s chosen form of re-hydration.
It could always be worse though and as long as there isn’t any major downpours of rain this morning we’ll be just fine. Lucky for us though the weather was looking promising as we headed onto the Old Seward Hwy.
Our goal was to ride back up the Old Seward Hwy, avoid having any accidents on the notoriously accident prone road, make it to Anchorage to pick up my new rear tire that we had stashed at our friend Ali’s place, spoon the new tire on, double back onto the Old Seward Hwy, again avoid having any accidents, and make it to the Wittier Tunnel at the right time when traffic is flowing in the right direction of Wittier.
It would be tight, but we were making good time so we took a pit-stop to coffee up.Coffee truck pooch greeted us with a stick expecting us to play. We obliged
We got to Anchorage and rolled into Ali’s parent’s place. I had pulled my bike up onto the center-stand and begun removing the rear tire assuming we would have time to mount my new tire in her parent’s driveway. Ali’s dad scoped out the scheduled openings online and saw that the next opening in our direction was coming up quickly. There was no time to replace my tire if we wanted to get to Whittier and not miss our boat. With this new information I strapped my tire on the back of the bike for later and we said our good-byes to the ever hospitable Chard family.
This time the sun was shinning so we had to stop for at least one photo on the gorgeous Old Seward Highway.
Luckily we didn’t stop for any longer than we did because by the time we got to the tunnel we were the last people to be let in just before it closed. We even had to wait to get clearance to since they were so close to closing it.
They had a speed limit in the tunnel....
...but we were the only ones so tunnel blasting was a must, the sound is just too good.
We got into Wittier, confirmed our tickets…
…and scoped out the town for a few minutes before we boarded our new floating home for the next 7.5 hrs.
Kosh and his bike almost lost a battle of physics involving slick wet steel and a heavy bike vs. gravity. Gravity almost won but Kosh managed to keep it together. The deck hand helping people load didn’t appreciate the miracle on ice Kosh had just performed to avoid running him over. The rest of the boat then loaded up and we got our bikes strapped down before heading upstairs.
The boat was pretty big and there was ample space to walk around the various decks.
After eating some food and getting a lay of the land I passed out for a while to regain some sleep that we hadn’t been getting much of the last few days. After a good rest I woke up and saw this kid killing his boredom by spitting on his hand, letting it drip onto the window sill, and then catching it back in his mouth after it slid off the edge.
Parent’s didn’t seem to notice/care as they had 4 other little munchkins that they were trying to keep from jumping overboard. Whatever though, he’ll probably survive the next super-bug when we all get sick. After a few hours of gorgeous scenery, whale sightings, and beautiful icebergs we were slowing down and entering into the Valdez. Along the way we saw a few of the now famous Alaskan crab fishing boats from the Discovery channel hit “The Deadliest Catch”. They were headed out of port to go get some crabs.
Once we got to shore the first order of business was some food, the ferry food wasn’t anything to write home about. We had heard that The Fat Mermaid was the place to go for some good grub and a pint so we sniffed it out.
After eating some bomb pizza and relaxing for a bit we asked the waitress where people such as ourselves could crash for the night on the cheap. She said that there is a spot just out of town where the local teenagers go to party by a river. She said we could probably throw up our tents there and not be bothered by the local rozzers. Cheap and hassle-free, perfect.
After a short windy trail we found the river bank that the waitress had spoken of. There were a lot of birds swarming over the water feeding close by. This meant there must have been a lot of fish in the area. In light of this we did a quick once-around on the banks to look for bear tracks that would indicate if our chosen tent spots doubled as the local bears breakfast table. Not seeing any, we decided to set up shop right on the bank and get some rest.
I love falling asleep hearing flowing water and waking up to the fresh cool breeze that it brings. Tomorrow we were heading Northeast towards Tok Alaska where we will then turn Southeast and try to make it over the border and into Canada. After that….? Well we’ll see how far we get tomorrow.
Wow, so I have been teeerrribbblle about updating this since I got back home. For anyone reading this my apologies. I have now been back in Seattle for a while and as may be obvious from my lack of posts I have put writing/follow-up on the back burner. I don’t have any real excuse so I won’t feign a relevant one. In any case being back in Sea-town has been good and as always, I am pushing to be in the saddle and on the road again. First though, let’s get caught up on this previous leg of the trip before moving on to what’s next.
We last left off with Kosh and I camping out in Valdez. We had no midnight bears in our campsite that needed to be wrestled so with the next morning we awoke refreshed and rested.
Such good photographers.
We had been putting off taking the time to change our oil because we were in a bind to catch the ferry from Wittier to Valdez. We were now pretty far past due for a fluid swap. It seemed fitting to change our oil here, but also was a sobering reminder of the infamous history Valdez shares with oil. We picked up a turkey pan from the local grocer and rode out to find a dump where we knew there would be a transfer station as well. Spoke to a couple people working the machines and asked if we could do the job there and dump our oil in their oil drums to which they kindly obliged.
We swung by a glacier on our way out, or at least what’s left of it. There has been a remarkable reduction in these glaciers over the years and it is evident when comparing photos from a couple decades ago to the present..
Kosh was less than impressed.
Most signs that we see are laden with bullet holes. Shooting shit full of holes seems to be a common way to pass the time up north. The info-board to describe the glacier and show it’s fun-facts resembled Swiss cheese.
We pushed out of the port of Valdez heading Northeast with our next destination being Tok Alaska. Tok is a place I had been a few weeks earlier as it is the main junction for heading North to Fairbanks, West to Anchorage, Southwest to Valdez, or in our case, Southeast back into the Yukon. We started climbing up into the mountains to get over the range that socks the Port of Valdez in geographically.
Things started to get cold, but as always, Kosh was game and the scenery more than compensated for the inevitable cold it brought with it.
A few hours later we were cresting the pass. We had to wait for a bit at the top due to construction. This man had his driving attire on lock-down. Dragging on a cig with a big-gulp sized coffee he was stylin for sure. Of course, he was also accompanied by his finest Ugg Slips and flannel jammy-jams.
The further we got from the pass the warmer the temperature became. After a few hours of riding we were sitting comfortably again. With the warmer weather we decided to stop for our first real bit of food for the day and make some road-side breakfast.
With a full nights sleep and a belly full o’ oatmeal I was feeling spry and ready to boogey. I told Kosh we probably had another 5+ hours of riding until we got to Tok, after that we would just ride until we couldn’t anymore. My new-found energy was a little much for Kosh though and he decided he had had enough, it was better to just walk than endure my cheeky one-liners and terrible voice impersonations over out intercoms for the next 5+ hours.
After remembering that we were in the middle of nowhere he came back around.
We powered through the afternoon and into the evening. We made it to Tok, ate some crazy delicious Thai food out of a truck on the side of the road, finally changed my tire that I had been carrying around since Anchorage, and just so happen to run across a tire-only waste-bin. Convenient.
Before leaving Tok we gassed up and asked the clerk how far it was to the Alaska/Yukon border. He checked his clock, looked at us confused, and said “Are you trying to get their tonight?” We were familiar with this response though and he needed to have been much more taken aback by our intentions for us to doubt our resolve to make it. We were used to riding 13+ hour days on the regular by this point. No matter how firm our saddle-buts were though the night was coming and with night, came the cold. So we saddled up and got to moving, hoping we could race the dropping temps to the border.
We made it through the border and out of Alaska customs but then we oddly had another 20 klicks until we would cross the Yukon border into Canada. This put us riding in what appeared to be a no-mans-land along a wide dirt road cutting through what appeared to be an open expanse of nothingness. A place where, in my mind, neither Alaska or the Yukon were in charge. It gave me one of those feelings you get when you are left home alone as a kid. The feeling that you should really make good use of the time and do stuff you aren’t supposed to. Unfortunately there’s nothing to do out here aside from breaking the meager speed limit.
A few minutes later and we were clicking on down the road. Something in my mirror caught my eye. It appeared to be reflecting something on fire. I turned my head around and saw the scene over my shoulder for myself. It was the most vibrant and in-your-face sunset I had ever been present for, I paged Kosh on the intercoms and told him to slow-down and look behind him
We were riding due east at that point which put the sunset directly behind us with nothing in front of us to indicate the momentary beauty that was transpiring out of view. We could have easily never seen it. Funny how you could miss something like that and just never know. It pays to look around you outside of your bubble every now and then.
We rolled up to the Yukon border shortly after the sunset and just a hair before midnight. We were greeted by two border staff who seemed bored out of their minds. Both were kicked back in their chairs, work boots up on the desk, staring at an overhead monitor which I’m pretty sure was playing an episode of 30 Rock. After riding all day I was loopy as shit and in full form for cheeky late night jokery – of which the female guard was not amused in the slightest. After clearing both of us she did let us go back across the border to grab a victory shot with their maple leaf. The dulteration of said maple leaf was not approved of either so we promptly left the border.
It was late and we were tired so we found the first suitable place to pull off the road and throw our tents up.
The next morning we set-out heading Southeast again. Our goal was to make it back down to the coast to the sea port of Haines. This would entail another border crossing back into Alaska but much further south than where we were crossing today. When in places where the vast majority of the land is wide open expanses of country with small pockets of people sprinkled in between it becomes important to get gas whenever you can.
We pulled off at this little place to fuel up but unfortunately it was dry and completely out of gas. I did however see the unmistakable green and ruby-red stems of a rhubarb plant.
For a moment I thought Kosh and I just might score what would llikely be some amazing homemade rhubarb pie that would logically be being sold inside. All grandmothers make good pie right? Just like they were out of gas though, I was out of cash. With no ATM machine likely to apparate to our location, we left not only without the much needed fuel, but also unfed.
Kosh had a memorable moment with the dog though.
The nearest gas station was another 50+ miles down the road so we emptied a Gatorade bottle to drain some gas from my bigger tank if Kosh ran out before I did. We dropped the speed back and eased up on the throttle to milk out as many miles as we could from what was left in our tanks. We made it to the next gas station and stopped for breakfast to put something warm in our bones. The wind had started to pick up gradually as we rode further South and we were noticing how gusty it had become. The name of the restaurant adjoining the gas station seemed to be fitting for the weather conditions.
The waitress informed us that the area was prone to be windy, hence the restaurant name, but she did not enlighten us to the fact that a windstorm was rolling in. Not having any internet, TV, or radio made us none the wiser to any sort of warnings about weather conditions…or anything really for that matter. When we went back out to the bikes the wind had picked up even more and it was fairly ridiculous now. We tried to snap a photo and right at that moment the wind blew the camera off the back of my bike. The picture clicked and captured this lovely bit.
We chocked the extra wind up to the area norm and got on down the road. If you were able to ignore the heavy winds the road was great.
Eventually though the wind got too erratic to be taking any photos. The last one I snapped was an accidental shot of my tankbag as the wind violently chucked my bike into the other lane forcing me to drop the camera onto the tether, one hand on the throttle, the other attempting to get back to the handlebar. After being glad I wasn’t off the road in a ditch (or the lake) I promptly put the camera away.
My picture taking took a toll on pace and I had fallen back quite a wase. When I caught up to Kosh he had pulled over to take a look at the lake and recoup after he himself had almost been blown off the road. My “ooohh, buddy’ face was indicative of how close we came to biting the dust.
Camera placed firmly on the ground this time for a lake pic.
We didn’t take notice of it at the time but looking back there wasn’t a single other person on the road but us. We maybe should have taken note and done the same but only hindsight is 20-20. Shits weird up here, besides, we had just eaten at a restaurant called “She’ll breeze”. Aside from a spot when some trees buffered us from the winds furry I didn’t take any more photos until we got to the Alaska border later that evening.
We later heard that a semi had been blown over onto its side and off of the road where we had been that very same day and that whole towns had also lost power due to the intense winds. Next time we’ll read the conditions better, but not much else to do but push on as we had.
We were under the impression that the border closed at 8pm and we had a ferry booked the next day. Realizing we may not make it in time we spent the last hour and half before the border bombing through winding alpine roads, tucking behind our windscreens to reduce drag and eek out every MPH we could as our motors gulped for non-existent air up high in the pass. We were stoked when we made it before 8pm but only to find out that the border was actually open until midnight, just like the previous one. I had been scanning the side of the road for good tent spots in case we didn’t make it to the border and had to sleep somewhere overnight.
We crossed the border just before 8 and after that we were in much less of a hurry. We continued our descent in elevation down from the border towards the sea port of Haines.
Kosh’s moody shot, I think he’s having a love moment with the bike.
It was a pretty beautiful spot though, in a wet dreary sort of way.
Ladies take note, if you marry me, as part of the honeymoon I promise to book an all inclusive night at this party-palace.
We got into Haines just in time to grab a drink and some food at the local bar, make a couple phone calls to check in, and even found a cheap bed and breakfast with one room left to crash in. Of course when we got there they said they made a mistake and only had the master suite available. We were done looking for a place to stay and could use a warm spot so we caved.
I drew straws for the pullout but it was still like sleeping on a cloud compared to the ground. It was the first night in the whole trip that we had paid to sleep inside and the second night that I had been in a bed since I left home 3 1/2 weeks earlier. I was reluctant at first to drop the coin but man-o-man was it nice to have a hot shower and a warm bed to sleep in. Breakfast the next morning was pretty damn good as well. I know I ate my money’s worth that’s for sure.
Hey; this is a fantastic RR, very beautifully written and laid out. I guess you've just done a bulk post on the HUBB to get us up to date? Where are you now?
Trip looks amazing, you have a great bike - I wish I had the dollars to get such a good one and farkle it up! I'll be on a 125cc with some soft panniers :P Haha!
Well done! Hope you're still on the road and having a blast.
Thanks Nicola, glad you are liking it. Yeah I just did a bulk post all at once.
Niiiice, that's rad you are riding a 125cc. The less 'ideal' the circumstances makes for a better adventure I say. I'll be looking for your RR.
This next post will now be up to date on the RR. Getting prepped now for the next leg.
Originally Posted by nicola_a
Hey; this is a fantastic RR, very beautifully written and laid out. I guess you've just done a bulk post on the HUBB to get us up to date? Where are you now?
Trip looks amazing, you have a great bike - I wish I had the dollars to get such a good one and farkle it up! I'll be on a 125cc with some soft panniers :P Haha!
Well done! Hope you're still on the road and having a blast.
In the morning we woke up to an amazing sunny day which was a nice change to the previous days winds and looming clouds. We headed to the ferry terminal first thing in the morning to confirm our tickets for the early afternoon ferry to Skagway.
After getting the tickets we had time to burn so we checked out the town. It’s a popular town for tourists and there was a large cruise ship that had pulled in that morning, flooding the town with people.
We played the part and snapped some pictures.
Had drinks and food at this place the night before, definitely felt like an old saloon.
We heard that there was a family of bears out by a nearby lake so we went to go check it out. The road out there was nice.
There were lots of people out fishing for salmon.
A bit down the road I saw one bear come out and cross the road with a freshly caught salmon in its mouth. I stopped and waited to see if it would cross again but to no avail. When I went to leave I looked to my immediate left and saw the same bear had come around down the side of the path in the woods and was watching me through the trees. Once I noticed him he turned and left.
We scoped out the lake for a bit then headed back.
Again we ran into the same bear, he seemed interested in the bikes when they were off and quiet (or more likely the potential food we may have). Kept coming out of the woods and up to us out when we stopped. Unfortunate that this bear was so used to humans.
He was definitely more interested in stealing freshly caught fish from the fisherman though.
Bear thought these two little kids fishing with their dad had something on their line. He came up behind this rock and surprised them and they dropped their gear and scampered further back. No luck though, they hadn’t caught anything yet. Dad high-fived the kids after the bear left.
It was time to get to the ferry to line up so we left the bear to its food hunt.
We loaded up the bikes into the ferry and strapped them down. That’s Sean and DonnyO with the BMW GSAs strapping down their bikes as well. We then saw this beast parked a few rows away. I’ve looked into them since and they are ****ing awesome. If you want to see more check outActionMobil.com
Kosh and I checked out the new ferry digs that would take us to Skagway.
Kosh decided he couldn’t put up with my shitty jokes anymore. It was best to throw me overboard and carry on solo.
This was a relatively quick ferry in relation to the ferry to Valdez and in a couple hours we were pulling into Skagway. Skagway is a whole other beast compared to Haines. It’s the same concept, historically relevant town for Alaska, but there were currently 3…yes 3 cruise ships in port.
Our ferry unloaded and we looked around town for a bit.
Kosh went to investigate the legitimacy of the brothel.
Local baller rolling in a ‘Limo’.
Noticed a saloon who’s windows were filled with this liquid gold.
I guess Rainier Beer was shipped up here back in the day from Seattle. It reminded me that no matter how hard you try you’re really not that far from home. When we get back to Seattle we’ll be kicking a couple cold ones of these back.
With the cruise ships continuing to unload their passengers we could see the small town was going to turn into a shit-show real quick.
We made the choice to get out of town and see where the road takes us for the rest of the day.
We set out of Skagway burning up the road and gaining elevation. The skies were opening up and we were headed Northeast for another border that would take us into BC.
We crossed the border with no issues and pulled over to put on a couple more layers as it was deceptively cold at that elevation.
We rode for a while and dropped back down in elevation. My excessive water drinking from my CamelBak took its toll on my bladder and we had to pull over. While here we had a moment to reflect. The road ahead looked good.
Where we currently were was great.
But with Skagway being our last ‘real’ destination, for the first time since the trip began, I had the feeling that we were now heading home. Until now I was always so excited about where we were going that never found myself looking behind us at where we had come from.
But as we were getting back on our bikes I was seeing the road behind us in a way that I simply hadn’t seen it before. The road behind us was not just a road back to Skagway, or back to Alaska, it was a road that lead back to the unknown. For the first time since we left home I now had the feeling that rather than riding too something, we were instead now riding away from something.
We got back on the road and for me the conversations over our intercoms were quiet for a while. Although Seattle was several long days and many miles away it was a weird feeling to have our ‘next up’ destination be a place that I had already been. A place that I had a job, house that I called home, and a warm bed to come back to at night. A place that I felt I had so recently just left. For the last couple months I had been looking forward to being on my bike with nothing but the open road in front of me to go ride and explore. With every turn bringing new scenery and places I had never been. Now that I had been doing just that for the past several weeks…it seemed weird that I wouldn’t be doing it anymore. Four weeks is only 4 weeks, as far as trips go it’s pretty damn short. For me though it was 4 weeks of doing exactlywhat I wanted to be doing. Riding my motorcycle to places I hadn’t seen or been to before, with nothing else on the agenda but enjoying ourselves, the people we were with, and the places we were in.
I remembered what Jeane told me a few weeks earlier about “not wasting the time you have”. I turned my mindset around and got back to enjoying the ride home. It was a brief moment of reflection and I’m glad I had it, because if I hadn’t, I would have spent the rest of the ride to Seattle dwelling on the timer that was slowly clicking down to zero.
We kept riding for hours and with the sun beginning to set behind us we chased our shadows down the road.
With the sun now beginning to set we pulled off the road for a dinner of champions, Cheez-Whiz and Triscuts.
The sun was now gone and we set out to find a place to camp for the night.
With the sun gone it was now getting cold quickly and we were wanting to call it a day. We were ticking along scanning the sides of the road for places to pull off the road and stealth camp but we hadn’t seen anything decent now for 20 miles. There were a couple of possibilities but when stealth camping by a road you want to think about where drunk drivers or sleeping big-riggers will potentially conk out and run off the road. A renegade big-rig will turn your peaceful tent-sleep into an eternal slumber pretty fast. This means not pitching your tent in the woods on the outside of slow bends or next to a long boring straight stretch. As we came up to a bridge our lights bounced off the reflective striping of some tents off to the left. We slowed down and doubled back. Sure enough there were 3 tents and a gaggle of bicycles piled together on the underside of the bridge. We pulled in as quiet as we could and gingerly set-up our tents trying to not wake the neighbors.
In the morning we woke up to frost on the bikes, a smoldering campfire, and a pyramid of bicycles.
We made some breakfast and then hung out with the neighbors for a bit. They were in 3 separate groups. A 15y/o kid (left) was riding from Vancouver BC to Anchorage AK on a recumbent bicycle with his Grandpa (second from left) who was riding all the way from New Mexico. He said that he joked about meeting up and doing part of his Grandpa’s trip with him and the next thing he knew his town’s newspaper had caught wind of the idea. After that backing out wasn’t an option, he had to go and do it. Then there were a couple (center and second from center) from Buffalo New York who were riding all across the US on break from college. They had ridden up and down the east coast, across to the west coast via the south, and now were heading all the way to Anchorage before heading back down then cutting back across to the east coast via the northern route. The third ‘group’ was a guy from Mexico City riding solo, trying to get from Anchorage Alaska all the way back home to Mexico before he started college in Mexico City in the middle of September. He had a long way to go but he was chasing his bicycling idol who was on a round-the-world trip. His idol just so happened to be on the very same route and only a few days ahead of him. He was determined to catch him and was peddling crazy amounts of miles each day to achieve this.
We heard all about their wild misadventures. It sure was inspiring seeing people out there going and doing seemingly irrational stuff for the hell of it. Before we packed up and left they told us about a young Italian couple in their 20′s they had passed the day before that were heading north. We were likely to see them at some point while heading south. They said that the couple were walking from New Mexico. Yes that is right, walking from New Mexico. All the way to Anchorage Alaska. They were taking a break after school and had decided it would be a fun thing to do. After we got back on the road sure enough we went buzzing past them. I gave them an encouraging horn blast and an enthusiastic fist-pump to congratulate them on being so close to their goal. They had the biggest shit eating grins on their faces.
A few hours later and we were eating a second breakfast of bomb cinnamon. We fueled up the bikes as well before changing directions again to now head due South via the Cassiar Hwy.
We heard that the Cassiar Hwy was a great alternative to the larger more developed route to Prince George so we decided to take it. Man was I glad we did. That road was great from the minute we turned onto it and opened up the throttle until the minute we turned off some 450 miles later.
Sweeping turns with no traffic.
And gorgeous scenery.
After turning off the Cassiar and heading East now towards Prince George we ran into another Action Mobil, damn these things are sweet.
The owner was a French woman, probably in her late 50′s. When I asked her where’s home for her she turned around and pointed at her Action Mobil. She said she got bored, decided to sell her house and buy one of these instead. She was single, retired, kids were all grown up, and she just traveled around the world year-round with her scotty dog in her Action Mobil. She had been traveling for several years now and had been all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and now the Americas. She just followed the warm weather seasons from region to region. She had no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. Amazing lady.
We were now winding down our trip. In the next two days we had 1,000 miles to cover before we would be at our doorstep in Seattle, WA. It was a bit of a tall order but Kosh and I didn’t have any other major stops to make so we started laying down the miles.
Along the way we murdered lots of Alaska’s state bird…
…passed through lots of farmland…
…some super dry arid areas at 93+ degrees…
…and had blue skies all the way.
On the last day we made it to the Canada-US border.
Yep, Kosh, “w” is for Washington.
A little over 100 miles later and we were rolling into Seattle. Crossing over one of the many bridges that link up the city, this one always reminds me of coming home.
We pulled into the driveway, I flicked my kickstand down and then…well I just leaned back and sat on the bike. It felt comfortable to be sitting on it, more comfortable than getting off. It felt like I could just as easily pull out of the driveway and head down the road again but in the other direction for a few more thousand miles. I juggled with the idea for a moment seriously wondering “why not?”. In the end reason won and I reminded myself to have patience, at least for now. All in good time.
4 weeks, 7,500+ miles later and it all went by like it was just another weekend ride. As a test-ride it was a success. No major issues that couldn’t be solved, gear worked as intended, bike performed just as I hoped, and as suspected I had a blast.
In addition to a successful test-ride I picked up a lot from this trip. I met a lot of great people, had a ton of fun with my friends, and saw some pretty amazing places. All while essentially in North America’s own back yard. The main thing that I’m left with though – after the dirt and grime from a few weeks on the road is washed off, after the bike is tidied and put back in order, after it’s all said and done – is a lingering and all encompassing feeling that trumps everything else…
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