The first shakedown we embarked upon was to see our good friends in Almeria, Southern Spain. This will be easy we thought - just ride through France and Spain and we'll be there by tea-time!!
We ignored the sane advice from friends suggesting we ferry it to Bilbao and instead opted for the Normandie Express from Portsmouth to yes, you guessed it Normandy.
From there we took one 13 hour day in the saddle down to St Jean de Luz, just outside of Biarritz, and a welcome break in the highly recommended Hotel Campanile.
I have to admit that as a fair weather, occasional sports bike pillion I was dreading the familiar pain in every joint and numb crutch that usually occurs after the first 20 mins on a bike, however I was pleasantly suprised by no such side effects on our trust new beamer. France was a joy to ride through with clear road signs and friendly french people waving at us the whole day (at least I think they were waving...).
We woke up with excited anticipation for our next day through Spain, oh how different two days can be!
The first hour was fantastic with beautiful scenery akin to the Pyranees, with fast sweeping bends and tunnels through Mountains. We weren't sure when we crossed from France into Spain as there was no border point to cross. The washing hanging out on every balcony was a giveaway - we were definately now in Spain.
After a scenic tour through Bilbao town and the ensuing argument about who's navigational cock up that was, the autocom fell silent, that is until we hit Madrid.
We took a second scenic tour around Madrid, oh what fun, then missed our turn off for Murcia and continued to Valencia at 90mph for an hour until we ran out of petrol. Realising our cock up at this point and that we couldn't turn back, we headed on to Valencia (Darren's always wanted to go there anyway!), then followed the coast road to Alicante, then Murcia and finally Los Gallardos, Almeria.
Needless to say we didn't get there for tea time, we got there at 11.30pm (16 hours in the saddle) and our kind friends had tea and more importantly wine ready for us, after which we had a lively debate into the small hours on how 'you can't get lost in Madrid'.
After 4 days of relaxation, pampering, great food, great company and lots to drink, we headed back, again taking two days to get to Cherbourg. And yes we did get lost in Madrid on the way back!
After saying farewell to family and friends in the UK we arrived in Anchorage, Alaska on the 30th July 2007.
We flew in from Heathrow via Seattle and managed to find our hotel easily despite it being 1am in the morning.
After getting our heads down for a few hours we phoned our contact at cargo and checked on the bike. Amazingly just over an hour later I arrived back at the hotel with the bike, I can't praise James Cargo enough- not a scratch on the bike and the whole process couldn't have been easier.
The next few days were spent in Anchorage sorting kit, packing and generally getting our act together. One oversight before leaving the UK was not allowing enough time for the GPS software to arrive, just shows that we couldn't plan everything! We managed to source it finally in Anchorage, it would take 3 days to arrive so rather than wait around we headed south for a couple of days riding, knowing that we would have to come back through Anchorage to pick it up on our way North.
Official start of the trip!
After all the planning and preparation it felt so good to be on the bike and living the dream. We decided not to plan too much ahead as we didn't want to be too organised - after all we are following the front wheel.
(For those of you who would like to keep in touch our trip email is firstname.lastname@example.org)
That morning the weather was not exactly playing ball, but it soon dried up revealing some amazing scenery. We arrived in the port town of Seward which caters for the tourist trade, mainly cruise ships.
After having a fresh fish supper we settled down to Emma's biggest dread - camping in Alaska. She was paranoid about not leaving food anywhere for bears, needless to say we didn't get much sleep! Thankfully the wildlife left us alone and incredibly the mosquitos, which are huge (locals joke they are the state bird) didn't bite Em who was wearing a fetching 'bee keeper' hat (just as unattractive as it sounds) but I managed to get bitten instead. Guess I shouldn't have laughed at her hat.
Ray Mears eat your heart out
We then headed for the furthest point South which is Homer. With our surname we had just had to go and get our picture taken next to the town sign.
Homer meets Homer
The locals thought we were royalty and cool that we were Mr & Mrs Homer in Homer - but no free dinners in it. As it turned out Homer was a great place, we stayed at the end of the 2 mile long spit, an outcrop in the harbour framed by snowcapped mountains.
Thats what you call secure parking
We decided not to camp as Emma succumbed to a heavy cold. If you have ever ridden with anyone with a cold linked to an autocom you'll understand why I decied to put her to bed in a hotel room and hit the bar for some Homer ale.
Leaving Homer relunctantly the next day, we headed North with an overnight stop at Girdwood. Not a very big place but we stayed just down the hill from the Ayelska ski resort in a cosy B&B with the biggest bed I have ever seen. Emma was well happy - probably because she got out of camping again (well she was still rough). If you are ever passing this way you have to stop in at Maxines - a great bar with food and drink from around the world.
Stopping at Girdwood fuel station the next morning we bumped into 2 BMW bikers - both American. The first guy couldn't believe we were travelling 2's up especially when he heard we were going to take on the infamous Dalton Highway. He slapped Em on the back and said 'well done - your a real trouper' Em looked at me all confused, I guess all will become clear when we hit the Dalton...
Continuing the road North we picked up the GPS software from Anchorage and riding on the Glenn Highway through some spectacular mountain scenery and ever improving weather we reached the towns of Palmer and Wasilla.
Next day saw us arrive at Talkeetna which is a town literally at the end of the road, famous for it's Moose Dropping festival (something about who can throw moose poo the furthest). The town is also the starting point for climbers who are scaling Mount Mckinley in Denali National Park.
With the sun still shining and Mount Mckinley as our backdrop, we headed through the national park to Healy. Denali is truly breathtaking - like riding through the pages of National Geographic. Unfortunately the American tourist is very well catered for with hotels and tours at every turn. Needless to say we avoided both and stayed in a log cabin on a hill in the woods.
Lunch break in Denali
On the road again the next stop planned was Fairbanks. A hotel on main street was to be our base where we would plan and prep for the challange of riding the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay and back.
Next morning with Emma sorting out kit and securing our accommodation for the trip north (not easy), I set about the bike. Thinking that I would have a relaxing day just getting nuts & bolts tightened and generally giving the bike the once over - that all turned to poo when I thumbed the starter - nothing, then a click.
Dammit! I was a bit peed off but also relieved that the problem had surfaced now and not tommorow when we would be in the middle of nowwhere on the Dalton.
On the fourth attempt the motor fired up, guessing that it was either battery terminals or a kill switch I headed out to the nearest motor shop for supplies. The guys there asked why I did not take the bike to BMW - It turned out that 10mins down main street BMW had a dealership at the rear of Harley Davidson!
So not at all nervous I ride a fully loaded, covered in crap GS into the parking lot of a Harley dealership. Expecting a frosty reception I am greeted with a knowing smile and directed to Scooter - the BMW man in the corner of the showroom, what follows is what I believe travelling on a bike is all about - Scooter and his workshop mechanic drop everything (they prioritise travellers) and diagnose a faulty side stand switch as the problem. I am soon able to fix the issue myself with the guys lending me their gear - we then proceeded to chat for longer than I took to fix the bike! - thanks guys, great service.
On returning to the hotel I discovered Em had had a similarly challenging day sourcing the hotels for the trip. Because the road is so isolated you have to book in advance the accommodation you need and because there is only a couple of hotels (I use the word hotels loosely) it can prove difficult getting a room. Thankfully she had won through and the rooms were booked.
Because we were returning to our base hotel in Fairbanks, I decided to leave some of our kit in the hotels baggage room, reducing our travelling weight ready for the slippery stuff.
The next day, my big dream of riding the Dalton finally begins...
Nervous? Me? Never!
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