Day 9: Talkeetna

Day miles: 292
Trip miles: 3824
North Pole to Talkeetna

In the morning I found the bike charged and ready to go. After fueling up and spending some time at the car-wash getting the infamous Dalton Highway mud off my bike, I headed for the Parks Highway toward Denali National Park. I had found Above Alaska Aviation on the internet when searching for flight instruction in Alaska and decided I drive to Talkeetna to check them out.

I was glad to be back on the bike, and also to get out of the Fairbanks area. This was the only place I had ridden highways with more than two lanes since Vancouver, BC and I wasn’t liking it much.

The George Parks Highway was beyond words. You’re surrounded by mountain ranges and little else for hundreds of miles. I didn’t bother taking many photos on the way down; what to take a photo of? There is no centerpiece here, just endless mountain ranges and wilderness. They act as the picture frame to everything that you do here.

The ride was short relative to much of my prior days, so I made it to Talkeetna early and wandering around a bit, taking in the place. It immediately reminded me of Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor is about forty-five minutes drive from where I grew up, depending on the season. In the summer it can take forever due to traffic, but in other months it can be faster. It is a tourism driven town, bustling with activity in the summer as visitors come to nearby Acadia National Park. Talkeetna is the base town for those wanting to climb Mount McKinley, usually taking a glacial flight from here to about seven thousand feet up the mountain. When the tour buses were in town during the day, everything was packed, but in the evening it starts to quiet down to climbers, straggling travelers and seasonal workers.

The bulk of my flight training was ten years ago, although I did a few hours in a J-3 Cub three years ago. I did that training with George Kirkish of Vashon Island Air specifically because I thought his training in a tail-wheel airplane was the kind of instruction I wanted. In general, flying in a small airplane as opposed to a commercial airliner is like riding a bicycle or motorcycle instead of taking the bus. In both latter cases you have all the time you want to look out the window, but you tend to just yawn and do something else before too long. The old trainers like the J-3 are simple airplanes but that makes them better airplanes because you’re encouraged to focus on learning to fly where modern airplanes often have niceties to make flying easier, like an automatic transmission makes it easier to drive a car.

I didn’t intend to finish my training in Alaska; I would have had to have planned better, including bringing my pilots logbook for starters. But I hoped I could get some unique training from Above Alaska like I had from Vashon Island air, where I was challenged to fly the plane and build the skill. I walked into the hanger where I met Lance, one of their instructors. I told him my story and scheduled to go up with him in their trainer, a Champ, much like the J-3, later that night.

I liked the Champ. It was very much like the J-3 but had better forward visibility, particularly when taxiing on the ground. We spent about an hour flying around and getting used to the plane, as well as some low altitude river flying, and then landed. It was great to be in a small plane again and I was glad it was going to work out. Not only was I in Alaska, but I was flying in Alaska, and in respect to my father this was a particularly meaningful thought to have as I looked out of the cockpit over the wilderness landscape.

I set up camp at the RV park that doubled as a boat launch along the Talkeetna River. There was a system of unofficial trails leading from here into town and plenty of space to wander around as I caught up on more phone calls due to there being service here. “Beautiful downtown Talkeetna,” as the signs and bumper stickers say, is centered on a single short street and therefore is very walkable. I planned on being here for at least a couple days to see what I could glean from flight instruction here.

Day 8: Stuck in North Pole

Day miles: 0
Trip miles: 3532

That is North Pole, Alaska, not THE North Pole. However, they do have a pole which they had dropped from an airplane at the magnetic north pole and then recovered by a search party.

After catching up on sleep and the internet in my hotel room, I loaded the bike back up in the early afternoon only to find the battery completely dead. It is debated as to if you can push/bump start a fuel injected bike. A young kid outside a hardware store would later tell me that Arctic Cat makes EFI snowmobiles that don’t have a battery, so it’s gotta be possible. Nevertheless, the bike was heavy and I was not on the top of a big hill to try.

I asked a contractor working nearby to give me a jump, and he sent one of his workers over with a pickup truck. He was impatient though, and the bike wouldn’t immediately start once I got the cover off and the cables on, so he took off. I debated calling BMW Roadside Assistance, but was reluctant because I knew I would have to work at finding someone helpful.

I called up Dan at Adventure Cycleworks and talked it over with him. He was very helpful and gave me the number for the local Harley dealer that also sold BMWs, as well as the part number for the battery and some other contacts. The dealership would have a battery the next day, but of course I had to get the bike there myself if the service department was going to be any help.

I checked back into the Hotel North Pole, getting my old room back at a discount because they hadn’t cleaned it yet. They mentioned that they had a jump-starter and I took them up on it. I expected it to be one of those battery packs that you can plug into your cigarette lighter outlet, or maybe the same with clamps, but in fact they had a really nice standup battery charger with a built it jump-start setting. Because it gets so cold in Alaska, there are outlets in the parking lot for hooking up engine block and battery heaters when parked overnight, convenient for running the battery charger as well. The bike has a small sealed battery, so I put the charger on low and let it sit. This time, I noticed that the fog light came on as soon as I hooked up the charger. The fog light has a toggle switch, as well as a relay that so it won’t come on unless the headlight is on as well, so this was odd. I had already replaced the relay once because it wasn’t closing, but now it was stuck open. Rather than muck with it, I pulled the fuse for the fog light.

Then I walked over to the NAPA auto parts store for a battery tender. Because it was down the highway, I got walking directions from Google and wandered threw a maze of residential streets. North Pole started growing on me, as the developments were just dirt roads with nice small homes and cabins. I happened past the visitor center along the way, and stopped in on my return trip. They were incredibly friendly there and I got the map tour of town as well as the opportunity to send a post card and have the stamp cancelled from North Pole. One of them had to make a trip into town and even gave me a ride back to my hotel.

I came back and the bike started fine, so I switched to the battery tenderer, which had a lower charging rate which is easier on the engine and so that I could return the nice [expensive] charger to the hotel. I wandered around a bit for a meal, and found a local department store where I picked up an AC charger for my phone and some Brenneke Black Magic shells for the shotgun. Convenient town, this North Pole is.

I decided I would trust the battery and not go back into Fairbanks in the morning for a replacement at the dealership. The day off hadn’t been too bad as I got the opportunity to rest and talk to some people close to me. Tomorrow I would head back on the road. I hadn’t been sure of what the middle of my trip was going to be when I left Seattle, but I determined that I would first try to get some flight training in Alaska, and if I couldn’t satisfy that I would ride down the coast for a couple of days. Either way, I was headed toward Denali National Park.

Day 7: Back to the interior

Day miles: 529
Trip miles: 3532
Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay) to North Pole

I was up early this morning to settle up with the hotel and have some breakfast before the oilfield tour. The day begins with opening the shades to see the sun. Notably, there is no sunrise here. Google says,

These days, the sun never sets in Deadhorse, AK.
The next sunset is in 40 days.
1:28am (AKDT) Jul 29 2011

Deadhorse isn’t a walkable town. I decided I would leave my gear at Deadhorse Camp rather than try to find a place to leave it at the Arctic Caribou Inn where Tatqaani Tours is. This meant it was very cold riding the bike between buildings. Fortunately I followed a couple in their vehicle, as I didn’t know the way and probably would have gotten lost and colder.

I ran into CJ and friends again, the three adventure riders out of Wisconsin that I had met in Fairbanks. They were coming on the same tour so we got to catch up a little and joke around. They show a short film at the beginning of the tour, which is mostly a BP propaganda film. As best I can tell, extracting oil actually improves the environment and helps endangered species reproduce, growing up healthy. I’m not really sure how, but that’s the way it is.

The only buildings we weren’t allowed to take photos of were the security shacks, which was a little amusing as they’re just a shack. There’s nothing fancy there to plot against. Anyway, you spend the whole tour in the bus except for a stop at the failed “East Dock” where you can take off your shoes and put your feet in the water, if you want. I still don’t understand why I would want to do this. It sounds cold, and taking off my boots and two layers of socks didn’t sound that great either. I guess I’m just not any fun. I took a few photos, but I had brought my wide angle lens and the road was pretty far from everything.

The tour was full of interesting information from our security office/guide about people working up on the slope and the history of drilling up there. Occasionally we stopped so people could take pictures of a bird or some other furry animal of some kind.

The strangest part was being on the edge of the continent. It had been three thousand miles of driving since I left Seattle and I was five hundred miles from a city. It isn’t that rare to spend an entire day heading away from civilization, but to do so averaging sixty miles per hour takes you awfully far away. The town, the landscape, the bleak ocean, everything adds to the feeling of remoteness. While talking to a mechanic working on the stove at the camp about my trip, he remarked, “so you’re doing your fathers bucket run.”

I suppose he was right, I always wanted to go to Alaska, but so did Dad. Thinking about this started shaping the rest of my trip after Deadhorse as well. Other events, like the float planes at Moon Lake and the people in Manley had reminded me of my father, I knew he would enjoy these.

While overhearing someone talk about themselves too much on the tour, for a moment I lost faith. They were preaching their accomplishments out loud to another rider. I started to wonder, why was I so far away from home, which has recently firmly returned to Maine and so alone, out here? I’m not the sort of person who measures themselves against other people, but sometimes I fall into the trap of doing so. Reaching Deadhorse was also a personal challenge.

Somewhere on the trip I caught a video on public television about Alaska bush pilots. One of the pilots being interviewed, when asked about the dangers of being a bush pilot, stated that he realized he could die anytime he flew, but he was alive. Flying, dangerous or not, was a reminder that he was alive.

Driving my motorcycle up the most remote highway in the United States, to the edge of the continent, hundreds of miles from civilization; this is not a safe or smart idea. But these are the challenges that define us. I’ve had many conversations with other motorcycle riders who want to take a trip like this since I’ve left, and my advice to all of them is that they just need to go. That’s it, go. That is how I ended up standing on the ice of the Arctic Ocean.

After the tour I managed to find and figure out the gas station, as well as track down a gift store. I checked in with CJ about their plans, which were to camp just north of Coldfoot. I told him that I’d camp with them if they showed up in Coldfoot before I finished dinner.

The ride south was easier this time. I was familiar with the road and the weather was about fifteen degrees warmer. I caught a picture of a bear but I’m not sure what kind it is. I’m pretending it is a Grizzily/Polar hybrid because they sound cool.

I didn’t see CJ by the time I was finished with dinner and gassed at Coldfoot and it was only about 5pm so I decided to make Fairbanks that night. Five or six hours later, I was back in the city. I stopped at the first hotel I found and was told that most of Fairbanks would be booked but I could get a room fifteen miles down the highway at North Pole. I had driven through North Pole on my way north and thought the town looked pretty cheesy, but I just wanted a bed, so off I went. I eventually found the place in the back of a mall parking lot. The sold me a “mini-suite” at the price of a double, which meant I got a fridge. Whatever, I just wanted a bed. I dumped all of my gear in the shower, ordered pizza delivery and got some much needed rest.

Day 6: The Haul Road

Day miles: 488
Trip miles: 3003
Manley Hot Springs to Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay)

I packed up in the morning and sat in the bar again for breakfast. I enjoyed listening to an old local man tell a couple men about War and Peace and other feats of literature. This was an interesting contrast to the young men talk of the front-end loaders they had driven the night before. I called ahead to Deadhorse Camp to reserve a room and add my name to the tour list; you can only get to the Arctic Ocean by passing through security on an official tour, and you need to give 24 hour advance notice to them for a background check. Then I walked over to the airport for a photo, fueled up at the general store, and headed out. I retraced eighty amazing miles along the Elliott Highway to the start of the Dalton Highway.

The haul road was built for hauling equipment and supplies to and from Prudhoe Bay. It is a road built for trucks, over four hundred miles long, with only three gas stops in the summer: Yukon River (Mile 56), Coldfoot (Mile 175) and at the end at Deadhorse (Mile 414). In between there isn’t much built by humans beside the constant companionship of the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Occasionally there is a small Alaska DOT station or a pump station for the pipeline, but there are no available services here. On occasion the haul road is paved, often full of dips and heaves, which don’t bother the bike much. The rest of the time it is various consistencies of dirt, gravel and mud, depending on weather and road construction.

I had received lots of advice for riding this road, such as looking ahead for oncoming trucks to avoid meeting them on a corner, where they might kick up large stones at you while passing. I have a Class B Commercial Drivers License and I spent a couple years driving a truck in conjunction with a salvage job, so I probably carry a bit more sense of connection to truck drivers than most; consequently I intended to always yield to them and make the least impact on their day that I could. Many of the trucks equip large Lightforce lights, some as work lights on the back of the cab. I was traveling faster than most of the traffic, particularly the occasional RV, and a few trucks used these to signal back to me that it was clear to pass. At times the road was narrow and I would slow or stop to pull over to give the trucks plenty of room. While the road is physically large enough for two-way traffic, the sides of the road are often loose gravel. It is difficult to keep the bike upright in loose gravel, the deeper the gravel the more wobble I would get in it. I never dropped the bike, but it sure felt close a couple of times! Note that the road is also built up on a few feet of gravel to keep the permafrost insulated from the roadway. Consequently, there is no shoulder to pull off onto. Occasionally there is a road siding for stopping, but you can’t stop in the road to take a picture; keep moving.

Just before Coldfoot, I saw a roadsign that read “Arctic Circle.” I stopped and thought, “really? That’s it?” When I turned around I found the road lead to a parking lot with a better sign. While I was taking a photo of the sign, a couple of folks walked over who turned out to work for the BLM and gave me a certificate for reaching the Arctic Circle! I chatted with them for a bit before continuing on. The view is just stunning, miles and miles of endless mountains, rivers and forest.

After Coldfoot, the road gets a bit worse. The gravel sections were not technical, but required constant concentration on the upcoming road consistency. A well packed dirt road could be traveled easily, but might transition to gravel with calcium chloride to reduce dust awfully quickly, and if you weren’t paying attention it would take you by surprise. Remember that with 414 miles of highway, and 240 miles between two gas stations, you can’t take this road too slowly if you intend to every make it to the other end.

Between Coldfoot and Deadhorse lies the Brooks Mountain range. When I left Coldfoot, it was nice and sunny out, but when I reached Atigun Pass, it was 25 degrees out and snowing! I had been looking for a rest stop as it got colder, but finding none I finally stopped at the pass to put on another sweater and my glove liners. I would have liked to put on some long underwear, but I wasn’t about to take my boots and pants off in that weather so I stuck it out down the other side of the mountain.

The Brooks Range captures most of the precipitation and to the north, across the continental divide, it is technically a desert on the slope. Soon there was little more than rolling hills of tundra, with the occasional Dall Sheep herd. I pressed on.

An aside on fuel; the F800GS holds about four gallons of fuel and was getting about 45mpg. This varies a lot based on if I was running premium or regular gas, and how much time I spent on the highway at high speeds. I left a little concerned about finding premium gas, as the bike claims it requires it. Unfortunately the internet is full of arguments over why that then get distracted over how higher-grade fuels are produced, additives and what countries have a mix-grade from mixing regular and premium. For what it’s worth, I ran premium whenever it was available, and regular the rest of the time. You have no choice on the Dalton, north of Fox, Alaska and you only have a choice about half the time on the Alaskan Highway. I carried two gallons of spare fuel in a Rotopax container, which I only had to use for the 240 miles of country between Coldfoot and Deadhorse. As they say, your mileage may vary. If you’re adamant about running only premium out of fear of engine knocking, a $2000 Touratech 5 gallon add-on tank is still going to only get you a 400 mile range. I’ve read that your dealer can detune your engine for regular gasoline, that is probably the cheapest and safest route for any remote travel.

Truck traffic is lower in the summer than the winter on the haul road, because most of the construction happens during the winter when the slope can safely be traveled with minimal impact to the ground. Consequently, I saw as many adventure motorcycles as I did trucks. The man from the BLM told me that a lot of people headed for Deadhorse only make it to Coldfoot, because they turn around. This was a surprise, but when I thought about it further it is a pretty unfriendly climate up there.

Deadhorse camp is at the beginning of town. I found the right lot alright, but I couldn’t tell which building I was looking for. The lot was full of sleep trailers mounted on skis, clearly empty awaiting winter to come. I parked the bike in front of one building and literally fell off it from exhaustion. After standing the bike back up, I tried the door to the largest building, the same kind of door you use for a cold freezer, and found it to be the right choice. While expensive at $200/night, Deadhorse Camp provides everything you need; a private bunk room, shared showers, laundry, a lounge and a kitchen. They helped me bring my gear inside, as boots must be removed at the door, and I found I had made it in time for the end of the dinner buffet. There was some kind of wireless internet available, but it wasn’t free. I flipped through a couple TV channels, then caught up on my text messages enjoying the first cellphone service I had in days. I had to get some rest, as I had to get up at 6am in time for breakfast and an 8am tour.

Day 5: Alaska Interior

Day miles: 347
Trip miles: 2515
Tok to Manley Hot Springs

Today marked the end of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction, about 1400 miles since I started on it in Dawson Creek, BC. This was a satisfying accomplishment. From Delta Junction, I continued on the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks and stopped at Adventure Cycleworks.

This is a great local family business. I carried my spare tires with me and changed them myself, but for everyone less stubborn than me, these are the guys to talk to. You can order your tires through them and when you arrive they’ll swap them out for you. They’re also a great resource for tips on riding in Alaska, including trips up the Dalton Highway. I also met CJ from CJ Designs here with a couple friends from Wisconsin. I would run into them a couple more times as they were headed up the Dalton to Deadhorse as well.

When I left Adventure Cycleworks it was early afternoon. It felt too late to go too far up the Dalton, so I decided to ride the entire Elliott Highway out to Manley Hot Springs. What a great choice! Once past the intersection with the Dalton, the Elliott Highway is mostly dirt road for eighty miles along ridge-top. Stunning views that I couldn’t capture with a camera and a really fun road to ride.

Manley was my kind of town. The hot springs are on private property but the owner has them open to the public, however I didn’t visit. Like a lot of Alaska, folks get around on their ATVs rather than driving. The town sits on a river, and has a decent sized grass and dirt airport. I spent most of my time at the roadhouse where I rented a room for the night, listening to to the locals.

After dinner at the bar I set out to swap out of my road tires into my Continental TKC80 knobby tires that I had brought along with me. I hadn’t change tires on this bike before, but I had on others. I was stubbornly confident that it was doable and brought along a full travel set of tools, including puncture kit, BestRest pump, tire levers and spare tubes.

The first challenge is balancing the bike to remove the wheels. The rear wheel is easy to remove using the bikes center stand. I highly recommend having a center stand, it makes other maintenance easier as well, like lubing the chain. The F800GS is balanced forward when on the center stand, so removing the front wheel requires leaning it over carefully, or finding a something to strap the rear end down to. Done again I might back the bike up to a porch or something and use one of my Rok Straps to cinch down the rear.

For starters, I used a tool to remove the valve stems from the tube. This ensured I wasn’t fighting against any lingering air in the tire that I couldn’t push out due to the rigidity of the tire. Breaking the bead, which is the tire edge that sticks to the rim, is the hardest part. For the rear wheel, you can put the bike up on the center stand, and then use the side stand with the weight of the bike pulled down on the tire to do this. For the front wheel, I just used my knees, working around the tire until I was successful. There’s nothing fun about this. The worst I had to deal with was mosquitoes, but doing it in the rain or blistering sun would be painful.

Getting the tires off requires at least a couple tire levers, some muscle work, and patience. The F800GS has tube-type tires, so you don’t need any special equipment or tricks to bead the new tires. With smaller tubeless tires you can wrap a ratchet strap around the tire and tighten to seal the bead while you put air into the tire. Automotive tubeless tires usually require a machine or dangerous use of flammable gases to seat the bead. Success was eventually had, with some perseverance.

I spent the rest of the evening listening to the local young men talk about working on the North Slope. I was interesting to compare stories of the truckers I had heard some different sources. Some made them out to be speeding dangers who were paid by the trip and only cared about getting to the other end of the highway. Others were more respectful and noted that most of the companies up there had vehicle speed governors on their trucks. I’ll include some specific notes as relevant later on, but for the most part I’m sure reality is somewhere in between all of the stories. After a beer, I headed off upstairs to my first night in a real bed on the trip.

Day 4: Alaska!

Day miles: 516
Trip miles: 2168
Teslin, BC to Tok, AK

A building trend of late mornings continued. I had breakfast at the cafe where I camped and took some time to upload photos to flickr over the unreliable wireless.

Nevertheless I got back on the road. I quickly reached Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territories; a big city! The first since the start of the Alaskan Highway.

I struggled when leaving Seattle over what to wear for boots. I had a pair of military style fake leather boots, and my L.L. Bean boots with Goretex lining and Thinsulate insulation. I was tempted toward the “Bean boots” but a bit of nice weather made me take the lighter ones. This was a mistake, as I was soon waking up and riding in wet weather in 40 degree temperatures.

I had been on the lookout for a good outdoor clothing store, and in Whitehorse I finally found one: Coast Mountain Sports. This was like an L.L. Bean or REI, as opposed to a hunting outfitter like I had been finding so far along the way. I was able to find a pair of Goretex lined hiking boots here. While not perfect for riding because they had no ankle support, they were much warmer. I also picked up another upper layer and some merino wool glove liners to go inside the thicker motorcycle gloves I wear in the rain. This would all prove very useful later on.

When planning my trip, I came up with a handful of ideas as to what to do during the middle of my time off. One idea was to do some backpacking in the National Parks, so I brought along a lot of backpacking gear: a stove, pot, water filter, bear canister, etc. This turned out to be excessive, and I decided to ship home 35 pounds of it from Whitehorse. The weight wasn’t a problem but I was getting tired of moving around the bulk every night. I found a Mail Boxes Etc that claimed they could ship to the states, but once I had everything packed, they discovered they couldn’t ship personal items by ‘courier,’ which included UPS and Fedex. A customs problem perhaps? I don’t know, but my big box went home Canada Post. I don’t know if or when it will arrive.

I wandered around Whitehorse a bit, sipping a soy latte from Starbucks for kicks, laughing at the first annual Whitehorse naked bike ride, and their ensuing problems with the police. It was a nice sunny day, but I had a long way to go and soon got back on the road.

After dinner at another roadside truck stop/cafe, I passed through an area called Destruction Bay. It started sleeting as I arrived and in less than a mile I saw danger signs warning of heavy crosswinds, rocks in the road, and animals in the road. Unabated, I continued through and made it unscathed.

I eventually reached the border, where my Washington “Enhanced Drivers License” was picked up my the RFID scanners and I was let back home to the states pretty easily. The first sign was in the United States was something about the roads. The pavement at the border was fresh, but that wasn’t it. Perhaps the MUTCD specifies line painting in such a way that we become accustom to?

I pushed on late into the night and reached Tok, Alaska. Shortly thereafter I found a small park on Moon Lake and set up camp for the night. I was pleased to find a couple of float planes beached here. I grew up around them, and this trip is as much in memory of my father as it is for me. I made it to Alaska and it was just how we both hoped it would be.

Edit 2011-06-18: Cleanup up the post a bit.

Day 3: Alaska Highway

Day miles: 422
Trip miles: 1652
Tetsa River, BC to Teslin, BC

I woke up in a drizzle today, packed up and headed down the road. I soon began seeing signs for Tetsa River Outfitters and their “famous” cinnamon buns. Hungry and in search of coffee, I was sold right away. The camp ran on a generator but had a solar powered Trace system with a few strings of C&D batteries, which I recognized from my years working in telephone offices. When I asked about their origin, the proprietor came over to ask if I was familiar with the system at all as he was having problems with the inverter. Another patron and I looked it over, but the owner was pretty busy and we didn’t talk to him about it again. It seemed as though the former owners had passed away and he was struggling a bit to fill their shoes, but the food and coffee were good. Mostly I enjoyed the lifestyle that was communicated by the buildings and equipment. From the distance to anywhere, these folks clearly survived out here on their own ingenuity.

Canada has more road signs that are pictures rather than words compared to the United States. The best have been the wildlife road signs. I saw many more signs warning of wildlife than I saw actual wildlife. I wondered if Canada negotiates territory with animal herds, as I would often see a sign for moose, then one for horses, then another for moose. How do they negotiate their borders? Normally the signs for horses show the horse running or jumping, I can’t tell the difference, but then I saw one of a horse standing. Perhaps it was a sign for wild mules? Later I saw three signs in a few miles that had different size antlers and I was ashamed to have no idea what animal they were meant to represent.

Further down the road, I stopped for a late breakfast at Toad River lodge. I had an enjoyable long conversation over food with a couple traveling with their baby daughter from outside Toronto to Whitehorse, where she doing the Yukon River Quest from Whitehorse to Dawson City for some kind of charity.

Eventually the sun came out in time to have nice weather while passing Muncho Lake and appreciate its unique color. Back on the wildlife front, I was getting a little disappointed about not having seen any wildlife on the Alaskan Highway. Eventaully I started seeing Wood Bison. Then I saw an animal crossing the road up in the distance. When I passed where it crossed I looked in the woods and saw a wolf staring back. I have a fondness for wolves, so my disappointment was completely cured by this sight.

I spent the night at a campground on Teslin Lake at a truck stop. This provided some decent wireless access for uploading pictures and catching up on email, as well as having breakfast conveniently located nearby.

Day 2: Dawson Creek

Day miles: 597
Trip miles: 1230
Alexandria, BC to Tetsa River, BC

Shortly before I left Seattle, I found out that there were delays on the Stewart-Cassiar due to wildfire, so I decided that I would head to Dawson Creek so that I could ride the entirety of the Alaskan Highway. Dawson Creek is also sometimes called “Mile 0,” due to being the start of this highway. When I got to town, I started following signs for an information center. Along the way I stopped to take a photo of a Boston Pizza that had a banner up supporting the Vancouver Canucks over the Boston Bruins.

The information center was incredibly useful. I got a convenient list of services along the Alaskan Highway to stuff in the map pouch of my tank bag for easy reference. Services are far apart on the highway and you drive by nearly as many remains of stops that have gone out of business as you do open services. I also picked up a copy of the Milepost, an inch thick annual publication that details all of the highways in the northwest. Mile by mile information contained within tells you just about everything you could possibly want to know. I chatted with a couple of motorcyclists about our plans here in the parking lot, and got a picture of myself to commemorate the stop.

I stopped by an outdoor clothing store here and a bit further down in the road in search of an additional base layer. Unfortunately both of these places were focused on hunting and fishing. Not only could I not find a base layer in my size, almost everything was camouflage.

When I finally headed out down the highway, I was hit with pretty gusty wind. It is somewhat strange having to lean the bike to counter the wind and continue riding straight ahead. I was reminded of crabbing an airplane. Quite tired from the night before, I eventually I stopped at a rest area for a brief nap to get my wits back about me.

Late that night, I found a provincial park along the Tetsa River. Camping parks like this are much better when they are remote and you are far from the cities. Once the tent was up, bike unloaded and everything packed away from the bears, I got some much needed rest.

Day 1: BC99

Seattle, WA to Alexandria, BC
Day miles: 633
Total miles: 633

I left on a typical Seattle day: overcast and gloomy. I did not set a time to leave, but ended up on the road around 10:30am. Since I live south of downtown, this unfortunately meant that I hit morning traffic getting through the core. I am the type that often prefers the sensation of progress over actual progress when it comes to driving, so I got off Interstate 5 for a bit downtown and took surface streets past the usual choke points on the interstate.

The drive to the Canadian border was familiar and uneventful. Once at the border I was directed to park and go inside to provide my CAFC 909 for my shotgun. They wanted to match the serial number on the paperwork to the firearm on their own, so I sat inside for around a half hour waiting. When all was finished and I came outside one of the border agents was waiting to talk to me about my bike. As it turns out, she has an F800GS as well and we chatted for fifteen minutes about aftermarket accessories before I went on my way. All told, I had a great experience at the border.

Once in Canada, I set my GPS to take me through Vancouver to Whistler. Years ago I had driven BC 99 and my memory of it made me want to do it again on the motorcycle. This was a great decision. Once past Whistler, it is remote two lane mountain road, following a river most of the way. The only setback is that it seems that every RV rental comes with directions to come here as well. Fortunately the bike has plenty of power and I was able to whip around all the RVs within a minute of coming upon them.

My detour ended near Cache Creek where I had a nice dinner and caught up on the Canucks/Bruins game. I’ve kept my minor allegiance to the Bruins to myself while up here for my own safety.

I had decided to ride the entire Alaskan (Alcan) Highway, so I headed for Dawson Creek, BC from here. BC99 had plenty of provincial parks along the way, and I was hoping to find one for the night now. Unfortunately I seemed to be in a dry spot for parks, so I unrolled my sleeping bag on the ground in a rest area alongside the highway for the night instead.

By the way, Spot made my name my messenger (tracker) unit. Being a less than creative chap, I named it “orange.” Because, it is. A couple people have thought that it says orange on the site so often because that is some kind of status of my device, like I am at Defcon 2 or something. This is not the case. Everything is green here!

Alaska Motorcycle Trip

Last year I bought my dream motorcycle, a BMW F800GS.

While I was growing up my father occasionally spoke of wanting to go to Alaska some day. He rarely had a lot to say, so this stuck with me. As I grew older, his health continued to deteriorate, primarily due to smoking, drinking, and a lack of getting out. By my twenties he was out of work on long-term medical disability and didn’t leave the house much.

Two months ago he passed away, at only 58.

So I leave today for a three week self-supported motorcycle trip to Canada and Alaska from Seattle, Washington. There is never going to be a better time to achieve your goals then the present.

I believe the F800GS to be the ideal blend of existing BMW Adventure motorcycles; bikes designed to get off the beaten path anywhere in the world. It lies between their smaller single cylinder “thumpers” like the original F650GS and the larger two cylinder “boxers” such as the R1200GS that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride in the Long Way Around TV series and sequels.

My plan is to take the Alcan highway up. Once in Alaska I will ride the Dalton Highway north past the Arctic Circle to Deadhorse. The Dalton connects the oil industry in Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the rest of Alaska. Over four hundred miles of dirt road with only a couple stops with services (with populations of 25 and under), the route is remote.

I have left the middle of my trip open. By the time I will have returned to Fairbanks I will have ridden over 3000 miles and I will evaluate then what is next then. Obviously I may be tired of riding, but once out in the great expanse I may just want to sit for a spell. Growing up I used to spend a lot of time at cabins in the North Maine Woods, mostly just sitting. One option is to ride back over to the Yukon Territories and ride Canadas sister route, the Dempster Highway. If I don’t feel like riding as much, I may get a charter plane into the trail-less and road-less Gates of The Arctic National Park. Time will tell.

Towards the end of my journey I plan to meet up with 175+ motorcycles in Dawson City, Yukon for the annual Dust To Dawson motorcycle gathering. Then 2000 miles home to Seattle.

I’m carrying all the typical supplies for backpacking. I have a change of tires as well. Not spare tires mind you, I’m doing so many miles I’ll need to change them. Besides, the bike currently rides on tires primarily meant for the street. Before the Dalton Highway, I’ll swap on a set of knobby tires for the dirt roads. Because it can be hundreds of miles between service stations on some of the routes I will be traveling, I’m carrying a 2 gallon Rotopax fuel tank. I will also be camping in remote wilderness, so I’m bringing along a 12 gauge shotgun.

I have a Spot GPS Tracker, so you can monitor my progress either on the Spot Adventures or directly on the Spot Website. When possible, there will be updates on Twitter, photos on Flickr, and posts here.