Grant and Susan in Alaska
Flowers and mountains in Alaska
Quick update on the first stage of our trip to Alaska. Starting in Victoria, we drove to Missoula, Montana to the annual BMW motorcycle rally, where we presented 5 different slide shows of 1 1/2 to 2 hours each. Getting ready for the shows had consumed most of our time in the weeks since Grant had returned from South America, as we had to select about 1,200 slides out of 15,000+. But having the deadline forced us to deal with the slides much sooner than we otherwise would have, so probably not a bad thing. When we get back to Victoria in mid-August we will buy a good quality slide scanner and start scanning in some for the web site, so expect a site update in late August, including Antarctica and Alaska.
BMWMOA rally, Missoula Montana
Greg Frazier, who we hung out with in Ushuaia, was there, as well as Chris Walstow and Arlie, so we had a visit too, though the slide shows consumed most of our time. Enthusiastic response to the shows, but not a large turnout, (maximum about 150 people at any session) given that there were 6,000 people at the rally. But the folks who came were very complimentary and asked lots of questions. We also got good feedback on the shows themselves and on the book pricing.
These rallies are an interesting experience, quite tame compared to a Harley rally, though. Mostly middle-aged and older folks, they don't party too late or too loudly. BTW, the oldest female motorcycle rider was 76, about the size of my mother, (small) and she rode her own motorcycle all the way from New York to Montana. The oldest male rider was 92, and looked about 70! So we could be riding until we're quite old. We did appreciate having our cushier air mattresses with us this time, as we camped for the duration of the rally, and will be doing so at times on the road north.
From Montana we drove up to Red Deer, where we are staying with Grant's sister for about a week. The slide projector, slides and trays are on their way back to Victoria, as we definitely don't want to take them to Alaska with us.
We expect to leave here on Monday. Planned route is Edmonton --> Dawson Creek, BC --> Fort Nelson --> Watson Lake --> Whitehorse, Yukon --> Beaver Creek --> Fairbanks, Alaska --> Prudhoe Bay. Paved roads all the way except the last stretch, which is about 1/3 paved, 1/3 good gravel and 1/3 not so good gravel, per Greg, who is the Alaska motorcycle expert. Sounds like Ushuaia! Total distance from Missoula will be over 5,100 km.
We hope to be in Prudhoe Bay by end of July, then down to Anchorage and we'll see about transport options from there south. Why Prudhoe Bay? It is the furthest north you can drive in North America, so then we'll have ridden north to south on 4 continents. Since we're on the continent, and it's summer time, we figured it was our best bet to finish that red line on the side of the motorcycle boxes.
We crossed 60 degrees North today and we're in Whitehorse, a town of about 25,000 which is the capital and largest city of the Yukon Territory.
Sign forest ,Yukon
From Edmonton to Fort Nelson we paralleled the Rockies at a fair distance east of them, so the landscape was mildly interesting, but only mildly. Pretty easy traveling, and lovely bright sunny weather, not too hot or too cold. After Fort Nelson, the road cut straight west into the mountains, and has been much more interesting and scenic the last couple of days, (though no really spectacular mountains yet). We've also seen caribou and long-horned mountain sheep right on the main road The road conditions have deteriorated, though. The road was all paved at one time, but is torn up and being resurfaced for long stretches, so there's lots of dirt and gravel. The weather has stayed bright and sunny, which is a good thing, as wet weather would make these sections very unpleasant for riding. As it is, there's a lot of dust from the traffic, but at least the road surface is driveable.
Moose and young moose from the road, Alaska
We've seen lots of motorcyclists heading north and south. A few stand out - a couple on a BMW R1100RT with a dog who sits on the gas tank while riding, and a guy from Nebraska on a Honda Goldwing with (two!) 2 spare tires wearing shorts and short sleeves. He was complaining about how he hates the gravel stretches. Hate to think what he'll look like if he falls down on these gravel stretches!
And we thought we were loaded!
Tonight we're in a motel, enjoying the luxury of showers and a laundromat. For the past two nights we've been "rough" camping, which means you find a small side road which leads to a lake or river and look for a suitable site to camp. No facilities whatsoever, but lovely and quiet. Saturday night we found a spot which might have been a campsite at one time, but the road was plowed to form a two foot high barrier of dirt across the entrance, which is enough to deter cars and campers but not us. On a motorcycle you just drive around the side of the barrier, and at the end of the road we discovered a lovely deserted site by a river. Yes, for all you PC'ers out there, we know that was naughty.
I worried about bears that night, as the sound of the river rushing by was so loud we wouldn't have heard them until they were right on top of us. But we had pulled all our foodstuffs in bags high up in a tree, and Grant says organized campsites can actually be more dangerous, as the bears have learned to associate them with food. By the second night I was more relaxed, and the worst we had to put up with was mosquitos - lots of them! Oh, well - at least in this part of the world they don't carry malaria.
They grow mosquitoes very big in Alaska!
1 August 1998 - Fairbanks, Alaska As usual, the Americans have brought home with them. Fred Meyers, Lamonts, Sears, all the same stores up here - feels just like the USA! I realise it is, but somehow you just don't expect it to be the same this far north. Roads aren't any better than in the Yukon, though, and all the prices are the same numbers, just US$ instead of C$, which makes them 50% more expensive. Gas is cheaper, though. The weather was really awful coming out of Whitehorse, wet and cold but we put on all our rain gear and eventually outran the bad weather. We spent last night on the Yukon border and crossed into Alaska this morning. We're leaving tomorrow morning for Prudhoe Bay, should be there Sunday. Arctic Caribou Inn, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the end of the road in North America 6 August., 1998 - Deadhorse, Alaska So where is Deadhorse, Alaska, you ask? It's the town that services the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, so it's at the driveable top of North America. Two days up, a day to recuperate, and two days back - about 450 miles each way of poor gravel and dirt roads - the Dalton Highway it's called. The road isn't too bad when it's dry, but very slippery when it's wet, so if it hasn't rained for a few days the highway crews send out water trucks to wet it down just to make it exciting for us motorcyclists! On the way back they didn't need to water the road, the rain got it plenty wet for us. Glad we didn't leave this trip any later. The locals up there say June is spring, July is summer and August is fall. When we left Prudhoe the temperature was 41! Even the guys in the antiques that were driving all the way from Mexico had an advantage over us - 4 wheels and a heater! Bike and the antique truck, Prudhoe Bay
We're feeling rather proud of ourselves. After consulting the encyclopedia and our trusty GPS, we determined that we have now ridden around the world two up on the same motorcycle. Just to be different, we have done it from north to south instead of east to west. We have gone from Nordkapp, Norway (the northernmost point in Europe), to Cape Agulhas at the southern tip of Africa, then from Ushuaia in South America to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Prudhoe Bay is not quite 180 degrees west of Nordkapp, but we have also ridden New Zealand and Australia, so we've definitely circumnavigated the globe. It has taken over 11 years to complete a total of 39 countries, 5 continents and 98,000 km on the motorcycle. We have a few thousand more to put on in order to get back to our start point in Vancouver, so about 101-102,000 km around the world. Plus whatever we lost on the speedo when it quit in Mexico.
Grant and bike on the Dalton Highway, Alaska, half way down - it got worse...
We're back in Fairbanks last night, spent today washing clothes and the motorcycle, which was about as dirty as I've ever seen it after the mud roads coming down from Prudhoe Bay! The truck traffic going up on the weekend was light, but heavier coming back down during the week. And of course, the muddy roads really made it pleasant - we couldn't go faster than the trucks, so they all passed us and spewed mud on us. Checked into our motel here in Fairbanks, and proceeded to climb into the shower with all our gear on to wash the mud off ourselves! The risks of renting motel rooms to motorcyclists.
Bear sign in the hotel, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
Grant washing up in the tub after the Dalton Highway, Alaska
Modern Christmas lights vie for attention with pioneer antiques
We drove another two days in the rain to get here. We did drive into Denali National Park, but the weather didn't give us a break - no views of Mount McKinley. Last night we camped in a state park south of Denali, but this morning it was raining when we had to pack up the tent - so tonight it's all hanging up to dry in the motel room here. Anchorage is much nicer than Fairbanks, also more touristy and more expensive - I guess the two go together.
We had a really beautiful drive down from Anchorage to Homer, which is as far south as you can drive in Alaska (are you seeing a pattern here?) - without going through Canada, to Haines, 25 miles farther south. Stayed in a B&B in Homer for a couple of nights, and took a boat out to a bird island to try to spot puffins- nothing too close, but we did get some pictures.
Susan's best bird shot ever - puffin landing on Bird Island, Alaska
Then we headed northeast, 3 days driving from Homer to Haines. Southern Alaska is much more scenic than the Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay road, and the last few days we've had nice sunny weather, although not warm. Perfect for riding except for all the road maintenance going on in the south of Alaska and the Yukon. We repeated the road from Tok to Haines Junction, but since that was along the edge of the Kluane National Park, and it had been pouring rain our first time through, we appreciated the scenery this time and got some nice pics.
The Haines Road from Haines Junction to Haines is gorgeous, spectacular snow-capped mountain peaks etc., at least until you hit the US border, then it's just along a boring river through the trees!
We're in Hazelton tonight, after a very late night - our ferry from Ketchikan was 3 hours late, which meant we didn't get to sleep until 4:00 a.m., then were up again at 9:00 for docking in Prince Rupert. We drove about 300 km, then we were both pretty much done in so decided to crash here for tonight.
We have now done our two trips on the Alaska Ferry system, and the logistics compare with the ferries in Chile! Told to arrive at 6:00 a.m. in Haines for the ferry to Ketchikan, we did so, and sat for 2 1/2 hours in the pouring rain with one other motorcyclist and were last to board at 8:30 a.m. On the bike, we are used to being loaded first, not last, and especially when it's raining!
The loading system is incredibly convoluted, the ferry just wasn't designed for what is effectively a milk run with lots of small stops, and especially trying to maneuver some of the behemoths people were driving onto the ferry. Talk about conspicuous consumption - one couple had their very own bus - I'm not talking a VW Westphalia here, but a full-on 70-80 passenger commercial bus. Brand new, but obviously modified as a motorhome for two.
A motorhome for two, towing 4 wheel drive... then there was us on a bike. They really didn't understand!
So we arrived in Ketchikan 6 hours late on Sunday afternoon, then were scheduled to depart for Prince Rupert, B.C. at 1:00 a.m Monday morning. There's not much open in Ketchikan that late, so you end up hanging around the ferry terminal after about 11:00 p.m. The actual departure was 4:00 a.m., and we arrived 3 hours late into Prince Rupert. Very unimpressive!
Back in British Columbia, we made reasonable progress south, considering that there are no coastal roads in BC, so you have to go way east before you can turn south. We detoured for a short visit to Chris and Arlie in Salmon Arm before heading back to the coast. We stopped in Vancouver for an even shorter visit with Gerri, and for some pictures of us and the bike by the photographer for the Vancouver Sun (everyone gets to be famous for at least 15 minutes!). We arrived back in Victoria on 22 August, 1998, feeling like we had really done enough travelling for a while. But only a while...