I have made it – to Chicago and on. The trip across the Atlantic was smooth. Even immigration in Chicago was such that within under 1 ½ hours after touchdown, I was in the hotel near O’Hare airport (and that included certain disorientation problems of the taxi driver). The hotel (Best Western in Des Plaines) even offered free internet access. Everything up to that point had gone surprisingly smooth – what did I miss?
Well, the answer came later that day when I called my contact person at the freight forwarder, merely out of kindness and because I like to think that in critical situations Neumann’s Law, a variation of Murphy’s, applies (Neumanns’s Law: “Murphy was an optimist”). I had been working on the assumption or better on the statement my by contact in Frankfurt that my bike would be ready to be picked up a day after my arrival.
Imagine my surprise when I learnt that my contact at DHL was surprised that I would want to pick up the BMW the next day -- the paperwork with the customs authorities had not be initiated. After that we had several telephone conversations, and after some nail biting on my part, I received the bike one day later than planned. – Oh well – large organizations and their internal communication…..
The positive of the unplanned delay: I avoided a series of thunderstorms and heavy rain in Illinois. On Saturday, May 22 my trip really began.
The first leg led me to Madison, WI. My former colleague in Frankfurt, Renate Labak, had arranged for me to meet with friends of hers who live in this beautiful location. – Thanks to Kris and Fritz Gruetzner, for a wonderful “coffee and cake” treat at their home. And also for Fritz’s ad-hoc tour of Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. The visit to the campus of the University of WI (incl. the replica of the Munich “Hofbraeuhaus”) and the thrill of a real tornado warning (loud sirens in the whole town) while checking out the family’s sailboat on Lake Mendota were memorable and exciting. (N.B.: the tornado, luckily, decided to go another way.....)
"In front of the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin"
The next day I moved on west, and following Fritz Gruetzner’s advice, I went along the Mississippi river (towards La Crosse, WI). A very scenic ride, somewhat similar landscape at the Rhine river near my hometown of Frankfurt, but much bigger. I stayed for the night in Rochester, Minnesota.
My next stop was Sioux Fall, South Dakota. On the way there I got my first impression to the vastness of the North American continent. The straight highways for miles on end, along seemingly endless fields is something to be experienced. I took some comfort from an extra gallon of gas carried in a canister; it was quite surprising to see the change in the general infrastructure. In the metropolitan areas one will find a gas station on virtually every street crossing. In the countryside of the Midwest, it is not unusual to ride for 30 or so miles until one can fill up again.
Next on my trip was Pierre, the capital of South Dakota. It meant more long stretches along vast fields (e.g. corn, wheat). It was in Pierre that I had one of those encounters, which makes motorcycle travelling so interesting.
I was checking out a campground on Lake Sharpe, near Pierre, and testing the restaurant when I was greeted with in German with “Guten Tag”. The greeting came from Judy and Kirk Miller, residents of Pierre who had come to the restaurant for drinks. Judy and Kirk run a small family business “Weston Air, Inc.”: Kirk is a veritable crop duster and Judy helps with the administrative side (she had been to Germany some 25+ years ago, hence the greeting – they had seen my bike parked in front of the restaurant).
"My ad-hoc hosts in Pierre: Judy, daughter Drew, Kirk Miller"
“Click for a larger version on this photo”
"He, too, dropped in at the Miller Residence"
They were interested to hear about my undertakings and generously offered me to stay in the garden house of their estate nearby. Kirk turned out to be a real aficionado of anything mechanical. His vehicle collection included – among others - two VW Kuebelwagen, two vintage Toyota Landcruisers, and a 1959 VW beetle is in the process of being restored. We also ended that day with a little trip around his estate on two quads.
"Kirk Miller – proficient on a quad ..... "
As I left the next morning for the Black Mountains in South Dakota, I was really overwhelmed with the Miller’s hospitality to a total stranger. Kirk, on his way to work, flew over the house, to wave good-bye.
" ..... and in the air"
Food Feature - No. 1
This is an experiment within the experiment. Following the suggestion of my friend Annette in Frankfurt, I shall attempt to write about “food” in each of my trip reports - “food” in the widest sense. It could be about special types of food, or drinks, or restaurants, or recipes or whatever could be summarized under “food”.
I shall start out with this:
"Starting the culinary trip"
The place directly across form my hotel in Des Plaines. It is a tradional American diner and seemed to have been in this condition for at least 30 or 40 years, with very little renovation apparent. But the food, all diner classics, was amazing: the half pounder hamburger was good, but the hot pastrami on rye was perfect (the rye bread slightly toasted, the meat lean and the right quantity – not too much, not too little). A perfect beginning to the culinary trip.
An on we go. Following my very positive experience with the Miller Family in Pierre, South Dakota, I move on towards the Black Hills, to see Mount Rushmore. On the way there, on a lonely gas station on one of these straight secondary highways, which don’t seem to end, I met with a group of bikers (I believe from Minneapolis) who were on their annual trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
We arranged to meet for dinner at the Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park. Unfortunately the weather changed from sunny-warm to rainy-cold during afternoon. What could have turned out to be a relaxed ride along a beautiful landscape on great country roads, turned into a slow, careful trip: the rain had turned the dust on the roads into a slippery film, which took the fund out of riding.
Dinner at the Blue Bell Lodge proved to be okay (Buffalo Meat Loaf). But the “homemade gravy” was not something to add to the speciality (no case for the “Food Feature”).
The next day was scheduled for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. I had always wanted to be there, after having seen the film “North by Northwest” with Cary Grant (and that was some time ago). The monument itself had always seemed bigger on film or on photos. I could not avoid feeling a little disappointed.
Click here for Mount Rushmore
Next on my agenda was “Sturgis, South Dakota”. - Well known, not only among motorcycle enthusiasts, this small town is the location of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, each year in August. Originally it was a meeting place of Harley Davidson riders, but – as was confirmed to me by locals – other motorbikes are being accepted in the meantime. I had a funny experience in the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum: I found out that there I qualify as a “senior” – I benefited from a $1 discount for people aged 50 plus. – This was indeed the first time I was officially considered a “senior citizen” – and I did not even have to show my ID card…. – well…..
Click here for another view of Sturgis0
Next on my trip schedule was the area north of Sheridan, Wyoming. Actually the area is in Montana – the Custer Battlefields at the Little Bighorn. The location, Custer’s Last Stand, is where General Custer’s unit was massacred by the Blackfoot
Indian's Chief Sitting Bull. The site is impressive. It has largely been unchanged, and together with the presentation of the park rangers provides a very good impression of what happened in 1876.
Click for a partial view of the memorial dedicated to the Indians
From Custer’s Last Stand on to Yellowstone Park. I passed the city of Cody, the home town of western legend “Buffo Bill – William Cody”. It was in Cody that I found the subject of this reports “Food Feature” – see below
Buffalo Bill – William Cody
Finally, Yellowstone Park. I had heard, read and seen so much about this National Park, that I had great expectations. While the sights and the natural phenomena are really impressive, I still could not help feeling a little like in “Disney Land”. The number of visitors – it was mid-week, pre-season - was phenomenal. – It may be the more appealing surrounding, the nicer setting, but somehow I liked the serene, sincere atmosphere of the Custer Battlefield better
Click here or a view of the crowd waiting for Old Faithful
After two days in Yellowstone Park, I continued to head north. The next stop was Bozeman, Montana, and after an enjoyable stay at the TLC Inn, I went to a small place just north of Missoula. The Glacier Park and Canada are waiting to be discovered.
People Met On The Road – I:
The words of old Gentleman who saw me and the BMW in a rest area on Interstate 90 struck a chord: “The only way to see the country – on a motorbike”. This is indeed true. Biker or not – the motorcycle seems to encourage people to stop and talk. It typically starts with just a couple or words, where one is coming from, going to. This became quite common and I thought that I should mention these in my report.
Here are the more memorable people whom I met:
“A nameless family of four in Yellowstone Park near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” – on 3-week trip through National Parks of the West – travelling in a SUV, guided by Garmin GPS and worrying about the two kids potentially getting bored by “too much red rock” (the dominant color or of rock in the parks to be visited).
Click for picture
“Mike and his two nephews – from Oregon on a hiking trip through Yellowstone”. Mike’s father was in the military, stationed in Germany, where Mike was actually born. He went to school if Frankfurt and now he is a fire fighter in Oregon:
Click for picture
“A nameless mother with daughter and son – from Dresden, Germany. The saw my BMW on a parking lot outside of Bozeman, Montana. The daughter is an exchange pupil in Seattle, and was taking her family on a tour through the north-western US.
Click for picture
“Alex - from the TLC Inn in Bozeman”. He owns a Harley and is dreaming, one day, to take her to Alaska. We talked “motorcycles” for a long time. Sorry, we missed each other for dinner - and hopefully you’ll find the time to go north some day.
Click for picture
I hope to turn this into another recurring feature of future trip reports.
Food Feature II:
On of my favourite places in Frankfurt it the Mexican restaurant “Rodeo” –
which arguably serves the best frozen Margaritas. When I walked along Sheridan Ave. in Cody, WY I saw this:
Click here for picture of what causes my attention
It was the time for a comparison.
In the end it turned out to be a very close match for the “Rodeo” Margarita: well balanced taste, sweet sour with a bias toward the sweet, the consistency of the the ice: perfect (slushy snow). The presentation: attractive.
The Chilis Rellenos I had as a meal and the salsa for the chips were an equally close match for my “reference restaurant” in Frankfurt, Germany.
I am putting in a resting day (writing this report, doing my washing, plain hanging around in an Indian “Tipi” before venturing into the Glacier Part and on to Canada. More about that in the next report.
Dawson Creek – the beginning of the Alaska Highway. Built in 1942, this road 2,450 km highway through the northern territories of Canada and Alaska was completed in just 8 months and provided an essential transportation link to the northwest of North Armerica during WW II, and has since remained a major transportation artery.
From here it was strictly north. Accommodation and shopping facilities and gas stations tend to become scarce and call for some careful planning. My first major stop was at Watson Lake, probably best known for the local signpost forest. Started by a lonely worker on the Alaskan Highway in 1942, this has grown into arguable the biggest tourist attraction of this location.
Next was Whitehorse in the Yukon. I had intended this to be a sort of “base camp” before going to Alaska. After three enjoyable days at the “Hide-on-Jeckel” hostel hide-on-jeckell.com, I set course for Dawson City, made famous by the Yukon Goldrush and the adventure stories of Jack London.
It was not until I arrived at the ferry on the shores of the Yukon in Dawson City, that I learnt that the passage to Fairbanks, Alaska via the Top-of-the-World Highway had been closed due to forest fires shortly after the border. The high pressure weather system was stable (temps of 30 C) and no change was likely for the next few days. This meant a trip back to Whitehorse - some 500 plus kilometres.
This time I stayed at the Beez Kneez Hostel bzkneez.com , before I moved north again, towards Anchorage. The BMW needed new tires and an oil change, and the local BMW dealer had been mentioned and recommended by several people whom I had met.
It took me two days to get there. The ride would probably have been pleasant, I am told, but the large-scale wildfires in Alaska caused a smoke haze which obscured any view. It was like fog in autumn, but smelled burnt. I missed the Manatuska Glacier, but the winding road, especially the last stretch between Glennallen and Palmer was a great ride.
The tow day stay in Anchorage was eventless (another big city) but the staff at the local BMW dealership were helpful, trying to give travellers a special treatment, whenever possible. Equipped with a new set of tires I continued to move north to Fairbanks, the start of the “real” adventure, the Dalton Highway, a 800 kilometre (500 mile) gravel road along the Alaskan gas pipeline, to the oilfields near Prudhoe Bay. To be covered in the next Trip report
It is time for a general observation on “accommodation”: I found that quite a number of hostels, motels, campgrounds in Canada are run by fellow countrymen (or women as the case may be). These places tend to be well kept, but I could not avoid a certain element of required “orderly behaviour”, in most cases communicated orally and/or by written “orders” (Do not do this, Do that, Such and such is forbidden etc.). Dawson City, River Hostel yukonhostels.com is unrivalled in this respect. Rightfully self-described as “rustic” it was a bit too rustic for me. If management would use a fraction of the cost for “do and don’t” sings for sanitary infrastructure, the place would probably receive a star in international hotel rankings. The owner/manager Dieter Reinmuth, in particular struck me as somewhat authoritarian. My roommate for the day, Rolf, was publicly reprimanded misusing a washing basin. This is not something to do with a paying guest, and if really deemeed necessary then there are other, quieter way. – Altogether the Dawson City River Hostel was a depressing experience.
An expample of the “order culture” in the Dawson City River Hostel
Click here for an impression of the rustic setting – the kitchen
People Met On The Road – III
Steve and Charles from Pennsylvania on two BMWs R 1150GS. They are on a 6 week tour through Canada and Alaska. I met them for the first time in Watson Lake. We briefly talked about our resp. trips. Steve and Charles were very helpful in providing info about the BMW dealers in Alaska. Subsequently we met by chance twice in Whitehorse, both times over dinner in a restaurant next to the hostel I was staying in. Steve and Charles were also forced to chance their travel plans due to the wildfires in Alaska, across the border from from Dawson City
Click for picture of Steve and Charles
Lieselotte (“Lotti”) Stein-Finder (left) – before leaving on this trip, people had mentioned that they had met their next door neighbours by chance, travelling far from home. Well this happened to me, too. Imagine my surprise, when I realized that I had just met a former colleague of some twenty years ago. I had not met Lotti for some years and we spent a lot of time talking about “the good old times” in the financial community of Frankfurt. Lotti is off an canoeing/rafting tour in northern Canada. – By they way: the halibut filet in mustard sauce she prepared in the hostel kitchen in Whitehorse should have made it into this Food Feature, but I forgot to make a photo. This meal, complemented by a simple, but good Californian Chablis from the local liquor store deserves to be specially mentioned, however.
Click for picture of Lotti Stein-Finder (left)
Rolf from Denmark, travelling Canada by bike. My roommate in the Dawson City River hostel and sufferer of the owner’s public “wrath” for misusing a washing basin. See his homepage.mac.com/rolfsw
Click for picture of Rolf from Denmark
Petra & Arno from Switzerland. I first met them in Watson Lake, where we stayed in the same motel. Petra and Arno are from the western part of Switzerland and have taken a leave of absence from their job to travel Canada for 3 months. We seemed to on the same general route and met coincidentally for several times, either at scenic view points, on the road or at motels. – Thanks for the cold beer in Beaver Creek (!).
Click for picture of Petra and Arno from Switzerland
Renate & John Ferguson, from Victoria, Canada on a trip to the western/northern provinces. First met at the hostel in Whitehorse and later in Dawson City. Renate has a German background and I very much enjoyed our discussion about the Canadian/German cultural differences, based on the examples of how some of the places we stayed in were run.
Click for picture of Renate & John Ferguson
Dave Hinks from Chicago on the way back home coming form Prudoe Bay. I met Dave having breakfast in Whitehorse. He was waiting for his Kawasaki to get new tires and provided a “real time” impression of the condition on the haul road from Fairbanks to Prudoe Bay.
Click for picture of Dave Hinks from Chicago
Food Feature IV:
When in Dawson City, hostel roommate Rolf suggested that I try Klondike Kate’s restaurant in downtown Dawson City for breakfast. The “Special” for $4,99 was a classic: has browns, eggs, and a choice of bacon or sausages. It formed a solid basis for a 320 mile (530 km) trip back to Whitehorse.
Click here for a view of the restaurant
The two-day stay in Anchorage was eventless (another big city). The staff at the local BMW dealership was helpful, trying to give travellers a special treatment, whenever possible. Equipped with a new set of tires I continued to move north towards Fairbanks, the start of the “real” adventure, the Dalton Highway, a 800 kilometre (500 mile) gravel road along the Alaskan gas pipeline, to the oilfields near Prudhoe Bay on the shores of the Arctic ocean (“Beaufort Sea”).
The ride from Achorage to Fairbanks, some 600 km, was not too much fun: the air was filled with the smoke from numerous wildfires in Alaska and north-western Canada. - Mount McKinley (highest mountain in North America) was completely hidden by the smoke. The only picture I took in the National Park was that of a sign that said, that –even without the smoke- one should count oneself lucky if one saw Mt. McKinley; it is often hidden in the clouds. Oh well…
Fairbanks is the official end of the Alaskan Highway.
It has some some 30000 inhabitants and is the second largest city after Achorage. There was conflicting information as to whether whether the Dalton Highway (the haulroad to Prudhoe Bay was open). At the visitors center in Fairbanks they gave the thumbs up. However, there would be a lot of smoke for most of the 800 kilometres but otherwise it should be okay.
Smoked-out in Fairbanks
So, the real adventure was about to begin: 1000 miles or 1600 kilometres of mostly gravel road. The beginning war almost a disappointment: perfect blacktop. The Elliot Highway leading out of Fairbanks had some 60 miles or so of the best paved road I have ever seen: it seemed quite new and perfectly smooth. But this was about to change soon.
A little bit after having passed this sign, I met two bikers on BMW R1150GSs – see also below. It was fun riding a small group for a change and I certainly felt much better having some company of the first few miles on the Dalton Highway. After having reached the Arctic Circle, I was on my own again.
I stopped at Wiseman, a small hamlet just north of Coleman, at the beginning of the Brooks Range, to stay for the night.
The next day began with rain, which added to the dismal atmosphere created by the smoke. I had to cover some 380 kilometres that day, and somehow it did not look as of this would be a fun ride. However, it started out all right. Despite the rain and the smoke I managed to cover some ground. At the center of the Brooks Range, near Atikun Pass conditions became dramatic. There was heavy traffic (trucks passing you at 60 plus mile per hour, and the dust they raised) in combination with the smoke lead to zero visibility. My only option was to stop and way until the dust had settled.
But after a while, the gravel seemed to have lost its dread - I thought. Cruising along at a moderate speed, the bike had grip and even the somewhat thicker gravel sections were cleared without a problem.
That was until I was within reach of Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. Just 40 kilometres to go and there seemed time to look around. Well, wrong. The minute I did that, I hit a section of deep gravel. The bike veered violenly. Unable to control this (Idid not want to break hard), the emergency exit was down the shoulders of the road and into the tundra.
Not intended as a gesture of sympathy with Deadhorse (see next pic below)
As seen on the wall of the Deadhorse General Store
The BMW had come to a somewhat abrupt stop. Because of the soft ground and my Dainese protective equipment I was not hurt (my ego perhaps a little bit). The motorcycle itself was not damaged at all, but left pannier (Zega box) had absorbed most of the impact and had taken a beating. It was severely bent but the content (mainly my computer and related stuff) was okay.
A patrol car of the Alaska Pipeline stopped and help me lift the bike – and that was that. I might add that I proceeded very carefully.
Accommodation alternatives in Deadhorse are limited. I spent the night in the Artic Oilfield Hotel. This place is owned by an oil company to have a place for its workforce – there are a limited number of rooms for tourists.
While the left Zega box was still doing its job, the damage was such, that I would have to replace it. I placed an emergengy call to my friends at the “Zubehoershop Frankfurt” zsf.info. Klaus Schrader who runs the place, did indeed solve this problem: the new box would be ordered from Touratech sent to Fairbanks via UPS.
The next day I had to take some photos of “downtown Deadhorse”. Unfortunately I did not get my Deadhorse sticker. It was the5 th of July and all businesses were closed. Still, I did get the photo – see above.
This is as scenic as it gets near the Beaufort Sea
The weather had not improved. It rained slightly and somehow I had to fight the thought that I might not make it back to civilization. But I am happy to say that the return trip was eventless and two day later I arrived In Fairbanks again.
Equipped with a new pannier box, the general direction was south. The end of the Alaskan part of the trip was near. Having covered some 14.000 kilometres since I had left Chicago, I wanted to give myself and the motorcycle some rest. I booked a passage on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry form Haines to Bellingham, Washington State. This would same me some 3000 kilometres on the road.
The last stretch of the ride from Fairbanks to Haines (Haines Junction to Haines) was among the nicest rides so far: good pavement, nice winding stretches and a beautiful landscape.
People Met On The Road – IV:
Boyd Hyatt and Scott Robertson from West Colorado on their trip to the arctic circle. Very much BMW-minded and great fun to be with. We met by chance at the beginning of the gravel section of the Dalton Highway to Pruedhoe Bay. – Thanks for the beer to celebrate making it to the arcitic circle.
Click here for a picture of Boyd and Scott
Ines (Bundschuh was her surname– if I remember correctly) has an interesting profession: she is a carpenter from near Stuttgart in southern Germany. She has travelled extensively and has been working in her profession in Sweden and of lately in Edmonton, Canada. She set out to conquer Alaska and the north-western Canadian provinces by bicycle. We met at Billies Backpackers Hostel in Fairbanks.
Click here for a picture of Ines and myself cooling it on the porch of the hostel
Don Corwin, proud owner of a almost new BMW R 1200 C. We met on the road from Tok to Haines Junction. Don was on the way back from Anchorage were he had his BMW serviced. We had a great conversation about motorcycles and the BMW dealerships in Alaska. Don had learnt German in high school and seemed to enjoy a little chat with a “native”. Interestingly enough, Don is another carpenter who specializes in renovating historic buildings. He lives in Skagway.
Click here for a picture of Don and his R 1200C
Food Feature V:
This week the food feature covers seafood. I had just made it from Fairbanks along the scenic Haines Highway to Haines and had to wait for the ferry to leave. Situated in the small yacht harbour of the city, right next to the moored boats was the “Lighthouse” restaurant and bar. Their “Seafood Burger” sounded interesting. Filet of halibut on a toasted bun:
Click here for an image of the restaurant
Together with a fresh draught bear, the was the perfect end to my Alaskan experience.
(PS: the espresso, served in a large papercup, however, was not something that I would want to have again)
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