Nebraska to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
On August 6, 1999 my son Zachary Tabor and Da;le Thornton and I began the first leg of our TIP-TO-TIP ride from Omaha, NE to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Later we would ride Central America and finally ride all the way from Omaha to Ushuaia, Argentina!
On August 6, 1999, my son Zack, best friend Dale and I, full of anticipation of adventures to come and high on adrenalin, left Omaha on two KLR 650s and Zack 1981 Honda GL 500. We packed comparatively light as we have all toured on bicycles and appreciate the need to keep it light and simple. We each carried our own tents and camping gear in the event we had to split up because of breakdown, injury or illness or the simple desire to go s own way. We did share cooking equipment and foods to minimize unnecessary duplication.
We’re geared the KLRs with one tooth larger counter sprockets, installed Metzler Tourance tires, Enduro Engineering grip warmers, Tim Bernard’s footrests, Givi tour trunk and Kawasaki soft bags and tank bag. We also installed handlebar-mounted windshields behind the bikes fairing and Corbin saddles. We used Sea bags for all clothing and sleeping bags. We were virtually waterproof and proved it often in the next 23 days.
On a beautiful sunny morning we cruised into Norfolk, NE just in time to don our rain gear as the storm of the century dumped over 12 inches in one afternoon. By the time we reached Ainsworth, NE, the sun was out again and we basked in the beauty of the Sand Hills area of north west Nebraska en route to our first night stop at the Springs, South Dakota. This weekend is the beginning of the great motorcycle trailer migration to Sturgis and we shared this pretty campground with pickups, motor homes and lots of loud bikes.
The riding around Mount Rushmore is always a joy for motorcyclists and during the Sturgis rally the ride is even more interesting. Thousands of fellow cyclists riding in formations with unrestrained exhausts beating out a cacophony of primal noises while powerful motors push highly polished chrome and paint around sweeping curves that make you lean, shift and throttle in a poetry of motion. Then came us sounding more like lawnmowers and looking like homeless people on funny motorcycles. We stayed in Sturgis long enough for a beer and a T-shirt and rode to Bowman, ND where we camped at the municipal campground. Sturgis was just day two in an 8,000 mile ride.
The third day took us through Canadian Customs; they were very thorough, but we were able to ride to the beautiful city of Regina, Saskatchewan before dark and camped about 5 miles east of town. That night we met a Belgian couple riding across Canada on Concours. They were going to ride around the North American continent. This night the hails came and beat some of the campers’ tents down. Our gear weathered the storm and we are getting used to waking up damp.
Our route was pretty straight northwesterly and we visited Saskatoon for a lunch in the park and waved at Edmonton, as we were anxious to get to Dawson Creek and the beginning of the Alcan Highway. Dawson Creek is 2,000 miles from Omaha and we had gotten pretty comfortable with each other’s riding style. Five hundred miles a day is pretty easy on the KLR with the mostly street tires and the 400 RPM benefit of the 16 tooth C/S sprockets. The Honda is purely a street bike and Zack had no idea how nice he had it with shaft drive and a smooth V motor. After the prerequisite photo op at the tourist center in Dawson Creek and a soup and donut at Robin’s Donuts, we rode the block and a half to the real mile marker ONE for the real photo.
The Alcan Highway, which begins at MM (mile marker) ONE in downtown Dawson Creek, has been greatly improved since its construction in 1943, but the next 1535 miles to Fairbanks is still an adventure. Our first night on the Alcan was at Fort Nelson, BC. There are several towns along the way and plenty of camping, gas and food stops.
We stocked up on instant oatmeal, kipper herrings and sardines, crackers and soups because we anticipated increasing prices as we continued away from civilization. We learned that where there is one person, there is civilization. Most of our mornings started with rain and most of the late afternoon camp set„ ups were in sun. It was nice not to wear the rain suit today. Watson Lake is the famous city of signs with an area as big as a football field full of posts with license plates, street signs and city/state/country signs from all over the world. The bikes were holding up wonderfully. We serviced the KLR s chains every day or 500 miles with 90 wt. Gear lube. The chains did not even need an adjustment on the 8,000 mile trek.
Memorable places along the way were dining at the log chalet at Lake Muncho’s Corner: You eat upstairs; I think Jake lives on the first floor. This night at Haines Junction, it rained as usual and we started the morning's ride cold and damp. We found out later this was the day that the 20,000-year-old hunter was found in a glacier just up the mountain above our campsite. After Haines Junction, the villages are fewer and though there were only Junction Bay, Beaver Crossing and Teslin before you get to Whitehorse, you have to have lunch at the Bayshore Motel on Lake Kluane. Soup and sandwiches was a staple with us because they are relatively cheap and filling.
Whitehorse is so big compared to all the settlements we had been riding through that it was intimidating, as we had begun shunning civilization in our quest for THE unique experience. It and Delta Junction, Alaska are the major outposts before North Pole and Fairbanks. We restocked our food supply in Fairbanks and continued till dark: about 12:30 AM, when we camped at the Arctic Circle campground. Zack and I stopped at Finger Mountain and lost track of time discussing how tough the indigenous people must be to have lived so far north that this spot 60 miles south of the arctic Circle was considered going south for the winter!
Dale thought that we left and continued on his own another 100 miles to the historic outpost of Coldfoot. I chose to camp in the Arctic Circle camp ground and was a little apprehensive about all the black bears we saw so we slept in our leathers thinking we could survive a bear attack, Tourist! The road from Fairbanks to the beginning of the Alaska Pipe line is about 550 miles long and is paved to about 38 miles north of Fairbanks just a few miles beyond the Hilltop Cafe and truck stop. Only credit cards can be used here and at the end of the line at Deadhorse because the gas stations are not intended for cars and are not manned. The KLRs handled the gravel roads pretty well at 60 to 70 mph, but Zack GL500 had full street tires and pull back handlebars, which made loose gravel behavior more difficult.
Next day we caught up with Dale at Coldfoot named after a goldrush during the 1890s where so many would-be gold seekers gave up and left Alaska. By this time we had camped out every night for 11 straight, mostly wet nights. Coldfoot ran out of gas and we had to camp there a second day and wait for the gas truck to come up from Anchorage! The next day we left Coldfoot with two milk jugs, filled with gas, bungee corded to Zack's GL because his tank was not big enough for the 244 miles to Prudhoe Bay. The KLRs were able to go up to 300 miles on some stretches on a tank.
Entering the eerie and beautiful Brooks Range for the final stretch was the adventure we were looking for. A motorcyclist is on his own here. A lone cyclist could be lost for days or years if he were to go off the road and get injured. There are no rescue squads or tow trucks a few blocks way. We were told that a tow would cost at least $15.00 per mile.
The Dalton Highway, or Haul Road as the locals call it, is in constant state of maintenance and can have loose gravel the size of baseballs dumped on it daily. About 90 miles from Deadhorse, named for obvious reasons, I couldn’t t figure out how Dale and Zack could ride so much faster than me as I hadn't seen them for 40 or 50 miles and I was by far the most experienced rider. Cresting a rise in the road, I saw my son, Zack lying on the edge of the gravel road with the GL lying in the ditch and his gear scattered all about.
He was shaken up and bruised, but his full-face helmet and full leathers saved him from cuts and scrapes. The GL lost mirrors, the tour trunk, windshield, right side footrest, miscellaneous body panels and precious gas, but was able to limp into Deadhorse where we stayed in a hotel for the first time; the Hotel Caribou was a lifesaver. Along this stretch, riding never far from the pipeline, we crossed the continental divide for the first of several times and spotted mountain goats, ram sheep and a musk ox.
Dale is a very recent motorcycle convert, but pulled over often to breath in the beauty that you can’t experience from a cage. His feelings about the absolute quiet and peace of the Brooks Range were almost spiritual. The people in Prudhoe and along the Haul Road are special.
The footrest on a GL500 is cast iron and requires special welding rod and skills. I was told that there was probably only one guy who could help us out and that was Chris at Welding. He took the time to weld the peg perfectly! When I asked him how much I owed him, he said that he couldn’t charge me, but I insisted that I owed him something so he told me that his boss would charge $200 per hour with a two-hour minimum. I swallowed hard and he told us to have a good ride home.
The ride back was dirty because the road crews were wetting the road more than the day before causing the cement like mud to fill in the radiator fins and choking out the cooling air. We had to squirt water through the radiators to clean out the solidifying mortar so the engines wouldn’t t overheat. The chains really suffered on the 1000 miles or so of the gravel road and the bikes just looked beat. We back-tracked to Haines junction and headed south to Haines, AK to catch the ferry on the inland marine highway. We caught the ferry on a standby pass to Prince Rupert, BC and had great weather on the boat while viewing eagles, dolphins, pilot whales and the glorious woods of the Northwest Passage. Of course, it started raining as we left the boat at Prince Rupert and rode another 100 miles or so in a strong downpour to Terrace for a second night in a motel.
Another rainy day ride to Prince George for the night and again in the rain to Jasper and down to a rustic campground near Lake Louise. We camped here and were warned by the forest rangers to hang the food high or secure it in the steel lockers provided because the bears were looking to bulk up for the winter. The only visitor we had was a good sized bull elk that slept next to Dale s tent and was munching grass as we made our ritualistic coffee and oatmeal.
The ride through Banff National Park to Montana, across Wyoming and the panhandle of Nebraska was relaxed as we neared our home town of Omaha but also sad because we would have to give up this adventurers life that we cherished for 23 days and 8,000 miles on our funny looking dual sports and one really banged up GL500 Honda.
The rest of our journey from the tip of North America to the tip of South America would be in two stages. In January of 2000, Dale and I would ride with five other dual sport-riding friends from Omaha through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
Finally, on December 21, 2001, Dale Thornton, age 62 from Omaha, NE, Kevin Naser, age 42, Papillion, NE and I, Frank Tabor, age 55, also from Omaha, NE would leave for South America. Kevin had less than three weeks vacation and planned to ride to Honduras then return to Omaha by himself. Kevin and a friend had already explored South America in a small one-engine airplane.
Posted by Frank Tabor at 12:00 AM