June 19, 2005 GMT
Hello Denali!

I'm 5500 miles into the trip, now in Fairbanks.

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I have seen moose, a bear, bald eagles, wolves (today in Denali, chomping on a Caribou leg), two dots I'm told were Caribou, two more dots I'm told were grizzly bears, and six dots I'm told were Dall Sheep.

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Glaciers are everywhere and I saw Mt. McKinley (Denali, to locals) clearly driving North yesterday in the bright sunshine. I thought I could take better pictures of the mountain once IN the park, but alas--clouds today. So long story short, I have no proof of Denali. But as you can tell from some of these shots below I do have proof of some great views and good times on the road.

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Where's Ichiro?  Yukon!

These shots were from disposable cameras developed at Walmart in Anchorage with prints and a digital disk of photos. The sharpness is not great, but film just looks better to me, even from the plastic camera. You get the picture (har har). My mom should have another disk developed soon and sent to me via email for upload. Gotta love the web. That set will have pictures of Salmon Glacier and Bear Glacier. (See previous entry! JSM 12/17/05)

The names of things around here are literal. Denali means ‘the Big One’ (mountain). Fox Creek is where someone once saw a fox. Lac la Hache is a lake where a Frenchman found an axe. Moose Run ... well, you get the picture. Makes me think Deadhorse won't be too pleasant.

So I have two new tires. I wore the other two square. The mechanic in Anchorage said I had 500 miles left on the rear tire (in the middle of the tread) or 2000 if I wanted to turn left and right for a while. Funny guy.

Ichiro likes two new tires

Also bought and installed a new air filter. The bike had been sluggish with poor mileage and I suspected the air filter. Took it out and it was like a used vacuum bag. Yecch. The Beagle can breathe again. I also did a second oil change but the bike was overheating and choking. I checked the label and though it was the right weight it wasn't the proper stuff. I did an emergency 3rd oil change in sand on the side of the road, spilling hot oil on my hands and emptying it into my 3 liter REI platypus drinking bag. To clean up the mess the dirtiest t-shirt in the laundry bag was sacrificed. You don't want sand on your oil plug when you reinstall it. The chain is starting to squeak despite the dousing of WD-40 it gets regularly. My chain is apparently in need of replacement and the sprockets too. Sorry, not before Deadhorse. Just gotta hope she holds together. Bought a new visor for the helmet too. I had been using abrasive paper towels to clean it and that's a no-no. It's like a whole new trip with a clean visor. But it sure collects bugs quickly.

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I bought a new digital camera--Canon A95. The swiveling LCD display makes it perfect for self portraits. Ichiro fans need not worry; he'll still be prominently featured in the miles to come. I'll see if I can upload those shots soon.
It does not get dark here. The sun sets at 12:30 pm, sneaks along just barely under the horizon, then pops up again around 3:30 a.m. My flashlight and candles are lonely. I have camped at least 8 or 9 nights in row and the weather in AK has been glorious: 70's. Tonight, though, pouring rain and a backpacker's hostel near University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Since I last wrote I went from Valdez to Anchorage then down the Kenai Peninsula to Hope for a night, then Homer.

Hope:

Hope Road Ends

Along the way was Anchor Point, the furthest west you can drive (on a contiguous highway) in North America.

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Soon I'll be at the northernmost road in North America. Denali was the highest mountain in North America. This is turning out to be the highest, Northest, Westest trip ever. Saw some big halibut in Homer--the self proclaimed Halibut Capital of World.

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They have a great wildlife refuge center there. On the way back I camped at Russian River, I think, where salmon season had just opened and fishermen were lined up shoulder to shoulder pulling out limits of three salmon each as fast as they could get their lines in the water.

Denali is more a wildlife park than just a mountain. In fact you can't drive into it; you take a bus from the entrance of the park along some cliffs and through valleys looking out the window for wildlife. It was my first experience in a vehicle (not counting the Vancouver Ferry) since San Francisco. I was claustrophobic and nearly carsick.

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When I finally got on the bike again the feeling was SO great. I tried to stretch and rest my weary hands on the bus ride. They are raw, burned, filthy and claw-like. They are stiff with chipped nails, black everywhere, callused, blistered. It's either arthritis, repetitive stress or worse. I used to be fastidiously clean. Now, I use those paws to take contacts in and out of my eyes. Laundry once a week--or longer, shower every third or fourth day, if possible.

Apologies for the scattershot blog style--no laptop means internet cafe is on a timer. A properly annotated blog with photos in the best places takes more time than I have. I realize that the Dalton Highway will be dangerous and grueling but plan to be in Deadhorse on the 21st for solstice. All of Alaska seems to celebrate with all night parties. Dawson City (or Creek, I can't remember) is supposed to be the best all night rager. In Deadhorse there shouldn't be too many travelers up there.

The goal was originally to hit the solstice in the northern and southern hemispheres--to chase the sun around the world and maximize sunshine (sunlight, at least). I think this trip will end for me in Phoenix. I’m beat already and I flogged that poor motorcycle. My budget is blown all the way to Panama by now. I'm also beside myself over the deaths of a chipmunk and a bird under my wheels.

I used to take bugs outside of my apartment rather than kill them, so you can imagine how bad I feel about the animals. I try to rationalize that these they just darted out in the road at the wrong time, or that natural selection weeded them out, but I realize that my speedy pleasure ride on a petroleum-combustion engine is part of the problem, not the solution. I came here to see the glaciers before they are gone from global warming and too see animals in the wild. I'm not helping either case. Maybe I'll trade the motorcycle in on a bike when I get back. You should see all the bike riders up here in Alaska. No matter where I go people react with amazement about my trip. "Wow, that's great. But we had a couple in here last week on bicycles!" Motorcycling to AK is so last year.

Posted by James McPherson at June 19, 2005 06:43 AM GMT
 


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