July 20, 2003 GMT
Vancouver, The Yukon and Alaska

We flew into Vancouver on Monday 2 June with a set of throw over panniers, some tools, clothes and Tourist Visa´s for the USA. We had a wonderful start to our trip by staying with some friends while we bought bikes and insurance. We hadn´t done a lot of research so were a bit surprised on Tuesday morning when we walked into the Honda Shop and asked for “Two Transalps please”, only to be informed that Honda don´t sell Transalps in North America. Thus we embarked on 3 days of catching buses all over Vancouver to find the right bikes and so it was on the Friday that we picked up 2 brand new Kawasaki KLR650 on/off road bikes.

Departing Vancouver we headed to Whistler for a couple of days with Doug where we went for a wonderful cycle and swim.

The next week was taken up riding through Beautiful British Columbia. We rode to Prince George then headed west and north up the Cassier Hwy. What amazing scenery – snow capped mountains, glaciers, bears, wolves, moose, coyote, caribou and squirrel..

We entered the Yukon Territory and headed west on the Alaska Hwy (The Alcan) to Whitehorse then went north again to Dawson City which is an old Gold Mining Town. On the way we met two guys also on KLR's. Rusty and Tim soon became known as "The Dudes" and we had a great time riding with them. From Dawson City we took the Top of the World Hwy to Alaska. What an amazing road. About 200mile of gravel road along which you look down on the mountains around you. Apart from not being able to get Karen Carpenter out of my head the whole way, it was just magnificent. The border crossing into Alaska (USA) was pretty unique/remote. When Tim (one of the Dudes) declared he was carrying a shotgun (in case of a bear attack) the border guard said "Hey man, that's cool - We like guns here!" I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. The first town over the border - "Chicken" is also a little odd (special) with its population of 16 and cafe/souveneir/pub and no flushing toilet in the whole town.

Next stop was Anchorage where we spent a wonderful weekend with Ann and her gorgeous dog, Penny.

Denali National Park was just beautiful and we saw Mt McKinley (Highest mountain in North America) and 3 Grizzley bears.

Then we undertook our biggest biking challenge yet - The 1000mile return journey from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle and on to Prudhoe bay. The road, known as "The Haul Road" was built to facilitate the construction of the remote section of the Trans Alaska Pipeline and varies in quality from tarmac to mud. The countryside in the Arctic is incredible. As we went further north we rode over the Brooks Mountain Range at the magnificent Atigun Pass which (even in summer) was covered in snow, then on to rolling
hills covered in tundra (a small shrub that survives in the frozen artic swamp lands). Prudhoe bay wasn't much but there were about a 100 caribou just outside town and it was pretty amazing to see most of the bay covered in ice. The ride was challenging and great fun. And the pipeline gets my engineering side very excited!

The next highlight was Clearwater campground just outside Delta Junction where we spent 2 days relaxing next to a beautiful river and meeting lots of wonderful people at the Clearwater Lodge. Sherrie from Clearwater then invited us to Chitna with her family and friends to camp for a few days. They have a salmon wheel which is this fabulous contraption used to scoop salmon out of the river when they are
sporning. We spent the 4thJuly with the gang and once again we're made incredibly welcome.

From Chitna, we went to Valdez and spent a wonderful day viewing glaciers, icebergs, whales, sealions, porpioses and puffins from a boat on Prince William sound.

After a couple of days traveling back through Canada we rode from Whitehorse into Skagway along the wonderful Chilkoot Pass.

From Skagway, we caught the Alaska Marine Hwy down the Inside Passage. It was like being in a massive fjord for 2 days. On board the ferry, we sat and slept on the top deck in the solarium on these wonderful sun lounges. From here we not only saw the snow capped mountains but also whales, dolphins, dozens of Bald Eagles and hundreds of salmon jumping. They allowed us to take 1 bike off the
ferry at Sitka (where we saw totem poles and the Russian Orthodox Church) and Ketchican. From Prince Rupert, we caught the BC (British Columbia) ferry to Vancouver Island , upon which we saw a pod of Orca's (Killer Whales) along with more amazing scenery.

Posted by Leah Chapman at 09:38 AM GMT
August 02, 2003 GMT
Vancouver Island, British Columbia and Alberta

Vancouver Island was just fantastic. We rode on the logging roads through the mountains and camped by beautiful lakes and rivers. We met Bruce from Pt Alberni on a KLR who tracked us down the next day to give us spare tubes, a spare tyre, a beer each and a great chat (thanks Bruce). We met Steve, from New York City (Imagine That!) on his way to live in Washington State, on his beautiful 1972 BMW 600 Boxer (with the toaster tank left in NY). What a great time the 3 of us proceeded to have. After spending a night on the beach in Tofino we headed for Salt Spring Island which is a magical place full of artists, natural beauty (Lakes mountains, beaches, forests etc) and incredible friendly people. Lisah took us on a tour of the island and we relaxed in the evening on the dock by the side of the lake. Leaving Salt Spring Isand we
accompanied Steve on his homecoming ride (via the beautiful city of Victoria) to Port Townsend in Washington State where we met his girlfriend Maya and had a great time wandering around this beautiful boating town.

Since we were in Washington State we looked up some people we had met in Skagway and what a welcome we received. Rob, Barb and Sue (and Logan) gave us an amazing weekend in Anacortes and cruising the San Juan Islands on their beautiful motorboat - Harmony Bay. Not to mention the food - Rob and Barb are some team in the kitchen.

After a quick stop in Vancouver we headed up to Whistler to catch up with Doug again and headed for Jasper and Banff. The plan was to get accross BC in 2 days. Not likely - we kept meeting wonderful people who suggested bigger and bigger "loops". Just outside Kamloops we got the first puncture of the trip. So it was out with the repair kit and compressor (Dom had rigged up a connection on one of the bikes) on the side of the road. We pushed on to Vernon that night and on arrival met Don in a Gas Station - after having a beer with him he decided his backyard was a much better place for us to camp than the local campground. He proceeded to talk us into an even bigger loop (right down to the USA border) then took the day off work to join us part of the way - Thanks Don, the loops were worth it. Although all these detours took us some 500 miles out of our way what beautiful countryside we saw. Mountains and lakes everywhere. We camped that night in Creston and woke the next morning to 2 more punctures - each of our rear tyres were flat. Dom did a fabulous job of repairing them all and never even swore once! 3 punctures in 36 hours!

We eventually made Jasper and the massive Columbia Icefield and it was just awesome. We then started
heading south for Sturgis. We took a beautiful shortcut down the Kanaskis Trail (in Alberta) then onto a rough dirt road. After about 80km of gravel road we came around a corner and there was a road block due to the fires. The only way out was the way we came. It was late at night and a group of folk from The Prairies adopted us and gave us beers to make us feel better – the medicine worked wonders.

Posted by Leah Chapman at 09:41 AM GMT
August 09, 2003 GMT
Montana and Sturgis

We crossed into Montana and spent my Birthday drinking wine and eating a picnic next to a beautiful lake. Then started heading east on I90 – Sturgis here we come. In Billings we were in a Gas Station when we met a lady, Rebecca and her Grandaughter Jordan. In no time we found ourselves welcomed into their (hot air ballooning) party, drinking daquiris made on a gas fired blender (sounded like a chainsaw) and ended up staying the night (along with Rebecca, Jerry and Jordan) at Dawn and Larry's house. What amazing hospitality, we thought we were going to pitch the tent in their garden but no we were given the guest room. Larry even moved his car out of the garage so the bikes would be safe.

On the way to Sturgis we visited the Battle of Little Big Horn memorial where Custor was killed. The ride towards Sturgis was really exciting. From 1000miles away the tempo was building as we saw more and more bikes on the road by the mile. The service areas were full of bikers and everyone was in great spirits. Then we were immersed into the town (along with 600,000) other bikes. It took about 45 mins to get 8 blocks accross town but it didn't matter as we had so much to look at. There were all sorts of bikes (mostly Harleys but everything else you can imagine too) and all sorts of people. We spent the next 5 days out on the rides through the Black Hills of South Dakota - the Needles Hwy and Iron Mountain road with their tunnels and switchback bends that go around nearly 360deg while climbing steeply up the hills. The Wildlife loop where we saw deer, bison and Prairie Dogs. Mt Rushmore with its famous presidential carvings and Crazy Horse the Indian equivalent. We went out to the amazing sandstone desert formations called The Badlands and to beautiful Spearfish Canyon. Everywhere we went there were thousands of bikes and bikers.

Posted by Leah Chapman at 09:44 AM GMT
August 26, 2003 GMT
Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Colarado

Leaving Sturgis we headed back west via Devils Tower, an amazing rock jutting straight out of the ground that was the USA's first National Monument and is a climbers Mecca, to Cody. From Cody, we rode the Chief Joseph and Bear Tooth Passes - amazing roads that wind up and down the huge mountains. On the Bear Tooth Pass we met 3 Aussies, John, Ron and Phil, who have shipped their bikes over from home for Sturgis and Milwaulke. With these guys we camped in Yellowstone National Park for the next 2 nights and enjoyed the mountains, lakes, geysers and heated rivers that make Yellowstone so famous. On the first nights camping we had sat down for dinner when a massive bison/buffalo wandered right through the campground. He was literally 2 metres from where we sat but no one was giving up their dinner.

We rode through the Grand Teton National Park's huge mountain range then headed south through the corner of Idaho into Utah, swimming in the incredibly blue, Bear Lake on the way. In the south of Utah we hit Canyon country and were blown away with the rugged beauty of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park and slept a night in a Tipi.

Just outside Zion we met a group of guys from New Orleans for an entertaining evening of story swapping then headed for the Grand Canyon. Wow - it's huge. In the Grand Canyon, Sam from Swansea (Wales) joined us and played the harmonica while the sun rose.

From the Grand Canyon we rode to Monument Valley and once again watched the sun rise between these wonderful rock formations that jut vertically out of the ground and are just amazing. It´s easy to see why the Indian people hold this place in such mystical regard.

We rode through the beautiful desert to four corners where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet, then on to Mesa Verde where the ruins of old Indigenous settlements have been uncovered. Some of the structures are entire villages that have been built in dry stone walling. These structures are still largely intact and sit on tiny ledges half way up shear cliff faces. There isn’t one or two but dozens of these dwelling places that date back to 800 years ago.

We then continued through the west of Colorado and it was such a pleasure to see some greenery again after the stark beauty of the deserts. We then crossed back into the east of Utah to visit Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

In Canyonlands we drove along the top of three distinct levels. It is called the Island in the Sky and from there we looked down onto a plateau that has been created by a layer of hard rock that wasn’t weathered, then down into the gorge and Colorado River on the third and lowest level. The three levels are at massively different heights and are separated by shear cliff faces. Being at such different altitudes they have completely different climates and hence different plants and animals. Once again the entire area is coloured red so it makes for spectacular viewing.

The Arches National Park is a serious of amazing rock formations that have been heavily weathered to form natural arches. Most of the arches involve walking to view them and we had a wonderful early morning hike to visit some of the more famous ones. It was great fun playing underneath them and taking photo’s.

We then rode back into Colorado and rode along the wonderful Ridge Road that makes up the Colorado National Monument. Combine magnificent scenery with twisty roads up and down mountains and through tunnels and you’ve got Colorado. It was just a pleasure.

We had quite an amazing experience while in Colorado. We pulled into a tiny town called de Beque at about 9pm one night. We met a chap, Don, who was stood by the side of the road where a temporary shelter had been set up. We got chatting to Don asking if there was a campsite nearby. He was helping set up the corrals for a mustang (wild horse) exhibition that was happening over the weekend. He was chatting away to us about the horses when Roby arrived. Roby is the president of the Mustang Association and was to stay out with the horses over night. They suggested we pitch the tent under their shelter and spend the night with Roby. Well, what an experience it was. Roby is one of those older guys who is full of wisdom and insight. He shared the most wonderful stories with us, from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (He has a photo of himself as a baby sat on Butch Cassidy’s lap) to rounding up wild horses, to saving mistreated dogs and the help he has from his neighbors and friends. We hung around the next day and saw the horses in action and left town in the afternoon feeling very lucky to have spent time with Roby and his friends.

We went down to Leadville and back to Copper Mountain where we stumbled on Super Moto Racing. This is a wonderful type of bike racing where the track combines motorcross jumps with gravel road and sealed track. It was great to watch.

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is just beautiful and when we were there we had to pull into the visitor center as it was raining so hard. We met some people who gave us the advice; “Wait until the weather clears as it is snowing up ahead”. Snow in the middle of summer while England and Ireland are having a heat wave. What’s going on? Luckily the hot chocolates in the restaurant were great. We waited it out and continued over Camerons Pass at higher than 10,000 feet.

We bid goodbye to the mountains and headed east. The following day we did 700 miles from Colorado across Nebraska and Iowa to Wisconsin. It was about 105 Fahrenheit and flat the whole way. We were on our way to Milwaukee and the Harley Davidson 100 year anniversary party.

Posted by Leah Chapman at 09:46 AM GMT
September 02, 2003 GMT
Milwaukee and one or two Harley Davidsons

On arrival, we were adopted by a lovely family in Big Bend (just outside of Milwaukee) when we were looking for a campground. The week involved riding around to the wonderful events that Harley Davidson had put on. We toured the Buell Factory, saw BB King in concert, checked out the nightlife, cheered the 10,000 bikes on their parade through the middle of town and met loads of great people. We caught up with our Aussie mates who we had camped with in Yellowstone, we met Welsh Sam who had played the harmonica for us while the sun rose on the grand canyon and had a few beers with Max and his friends and family when we eventually worked out that the campground was right next to where we stayed. The event was just amazing, Hundreds of Thousands of Harleys everywhere we went and everyone with huge smiles on their faces. People were standing on the overpasses and waving at the bikes on the motorways. Even BMW took out a billboard advert – “We’d say Happy Birthday, But you wouldn’t hear us! – Congratulations Harley Davidson”.

One of the highlights was even watching the police clear the street party after the pubs shut on the last night. About 10 bikes (HD’s of course) with sirens and lights blazing drove in staggered formation up and down one side of the street while about 10 polices horses did the same on the other side. It was quite a sight. The police had everyone off the streets and away home within 45 minutes of closing time and so endith the party and it was some party. No one even minded that we were on KLR’s although we got some ironic smiles here and there.

Posted by Leah Chapman at 09:48 AM GMT
September 15, 2003 GMT
Michigan and Ontario

Leaving Milwaukee, we drove around the top of Lake Michigan and over the magnificent Mackinaw Bridge and down to Flint where we had a great weekend with Robin (who we’d met on the ferries on the Inside Passage of Alaska and then in Sturgis) who made us really welcome and helped Dom with the new panniers (side boxes) on my bike. These are state of the art Coleman Esky’s (cool boxes) in a beautiful army green colour. They look perfect and along with the frames that we picked up in a outdoor store cost the princely sum of $30. Compared with those fancy aluminum ones (that don’t even keep the beer cold) at $700, we look a class act. They are fantastic and Dom did a magnificent job on them.

Robin and her friends gave us a fascinating tour through the GMC pickup truck motor plant where they work. We saw robots at work and watched while a single shift assembled some 1100 engines.

From Flint we headed east into Ontario and stopped just over the border in a tiny town called Coruna. Here we took Dom’s bike into the Kawasaki dealer as it had been using oil. It wasn’t obviously burning oil and it wasn’t down on power but it was gradually using more and more. The head mechanic, Mark looked at it and stripped it down. What he found was that the cylinder from new had been slightly warped. When the rings were new they were able to compensate but once they had worn a bit they were allowing a tiny, but ever increasing, amount of oil past on each stroke. Hence, the oil loss without any obvious signs. Fair
play to Kawasaki, they had a new piston sent out overnight and Mark had the cylinder rebored to an oversize of 20 thousandths of an inch. Kawasaki covered everything under warranty and we were back on the road the night after dropping the bike into the dealership.

From Coruna we headed to Niagra Falls arriving late at night. We drove down past the falls and back up to the main street which looks like a mini Las Vegas. We jumped off the bikes and immediately got chatting to a guy called Steve. He was part of huge group that had been at an Automotive Industry Trade Exhibition. Well what a welcome we got when Steve brought us back to the pub with him. These wonderful people from all over Canada made us feel like royalty. To the extent that when Ray remembered he still had the keys to 3 suites in the Sheraton (that he had been presenting his products in) and we were given our choice of which room we wanted. We had unlimited views of the most famous
waterfall in the world from our balcony. The traveller life is a rough life.

The next morning we took some photo’s and sadly said farewell to Canada – What a wonderful country with wonderful people. Thankyou all so much. We are already talking about where we’ll go next time we visit.

Posted by Leah Chapman at 09:51 AM GMT
November 01, 2003 GMT
Massachusetts to Texas, Lots of friends and great bike roads

We blitzed down through New York State into Springfield Massachusetts. We had a tip off from Ireland that our great friend Sean Daly was there and we set out to surprise him. I think we succeeded! We spent the following 12 days becoming part of The Big E. The Big E is a huge Exposition that started in 1916 as a agricultural show and now includes the state buildings, homewares, side shows, circus performances, parades, concerts - you name it, the Big E has it and it represents all 6 states that make up New England. We had a fantastic time helping out on Sean and Liz’s Dingle Crystal stand and Mike and Alice’s Irish goods stand. Springfield and The Big E was a totally unexpected and wonderful part of the trip. We felt like we completely belonged to a scene of work, parties and camaraderie, we met so many people and made so many new friends, had so many laughs and shared so much.

From Springfield we made a flying one night visit to New York City to catch up with some family and friends. We just love this exciting city. What a thrill, riding the bikes through the Big Apple. It was all too short but - We’ll be Back!

Now, do you all remember “The Dudes”? We met Rusty and Tim in The Yukon and rode into Alaska with them. We’ll, from NYC we rode to Tim’s house just north of Baltimore, where we spent a wonderful evening and the next day. Then we skipped around the Chesapeake Bay to Rusty and Bev’s for a few days of complete relaxation. We caught up on the diary, fixed and fiddled with the bikes and ate the famous Chesapeake Bay Crabs. Both Tim and Rusty have wonderful workshops full of motorbikes so Dom was in his element.

From Rusty and Bev’s we headed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, through Wasington DC, west across Virginia and onto the Skyline drive then the Blue Ridge Parkway. In total, some 500 miles of perfect road that twists and turns in long curves along the top of the beautiful Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains. Between the road and the scenery it was heaven. And that’s not all, The Blue Ridge Parkway ends in North Carolina at the entrance to the Smoky Mountains. Now this is bike country with twisty roads everywhere! The most famous is Deals Gap, 340 odd bends in 11 miles and huge grins at the end of it. Througout this area, you just ride from one magical road to the next. Our favourite was the Cherohala Skyway. You could (and people do) spend weeks in this area and not get bored. The scenery, the people, the riding, the walking, the mountains, the lakes, the waterfalls - it was just so beautiful.

Our next move was to Sunny Florida to catch up with our wonderful friends Martin and Jackie, Austin and Aisling. Dom and Martin grew up together in Waterford and we had been really looking forward to catching up with them. It was no disappointment. They live in beautiful Palm Coast where the weather is warm and
life is good. We spent the next two and a half weeks catching up on a lifetime of stories. There was never a quiet moment

After the first weekend of our visit we headed south for a few days, down to the Florida Keys where we enjoyed the Bohemian atmosphere of Key West (Where Hemmingway wrote “The old man and the sea”) and went snorkeling on the reef. On the back up to Palm Coast, we camped a night in The Everglades National Park and the next day joined a great group of young agricultural students and their lecturers on a tour of an Alligator Farm that included a wild airboat ride and snake display.

That evening we rode until quite late, finding a camping spot in the dark. The next morning, when we packed up the tent, there on the ground sheet having a lovely snooze was a snake. He had crawled in between the tent and goundsheet and must have been delighted with the warmth we had provided for him overnight. We have since been told he was a harmless ribbon snake but you would have thought he was a deadly killer from my reaction! It made my skin crawl.

We left Palm coast on the Sunday of Biketober Fest after spending the day at the Daytona raceway watching the bikes race on this famous circuit with its amazing banked “walls” at each end and twisty inner circuit. Aisling and I got to meet an Aussie racer and Aisling even sat on his bike.

Our next stop was New Orleans (N’Awlins to those of you that don’t know how to pronounce it properly) where we visited the guys we had met in Utah. We were well and truly looked after by Ray and Jo who showed us the lake, drove us around all the New Orleans sights and over the longest bridge in the world. We walked around the wonderful French Quarter including the obligatory walk down Bourbon Street. We were joined by John from Chicago and had a great time. Joe and Ray both have lots of cruisers and wonderful garage’s. Dom even had a ride on Joe’s Harley Davidson Chopper.

From New Orleans we headed west to San Antonio where we visited 2 of the wonderful old missions, Conception and San Jose. We were adopted by a lovely family on Saturday night who opened their home to us when we were lost then stayed with Thomas (who we met in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on his BMW) and his wife Terri. They are a great couple and are helped us with our preparations for heading south. This includes new top boxes for both bikes. Wonderful aluminum toolboxes from Home Depot.

Now we´re ready for Mexico.

Posted by Leah Chapman at 09:54 AM GMT
 
 

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