7/30/2011: On Sunday, July 31, Nancy and I are headed “North to Alaska!” This year we’re wrapping up our 13th “Annual Not Goin’ To Sturgis” ride/two-week vacation into a three-week trip to Alaska in conjunction with a breast cancer fund raiser ride sponsored by the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation. And no, we aren’t riding to Alaska; we’re getting there with the help of Alaska Airlines.
Arriving Sunday night we are then taking a few days to do a little sightseeing via car. Plans are to visit with with past Grand National Champion Mark Brelsford and spend some time on the Kenai. Then, on August 5 we meet the rest of the group of riders at MotoQuest Tours/Alaska Rider Tours in Anchorage and head out on a two-week dual sport adventure around Alaska and up to the Arctic Circle.
Plans are to try and post at least a few words and some pictures every evening, but that will depend on an Internet connection.
Please join us on our adventure and check back from time to time.
By the way, did I mention that this is a dual sport ride? I know I did, but what I didn’t mention is that while all 15 participants on the tour ride motorcycles very few spend anytime in the dirt. This will certainly make things very interesting. One thing that they all had to do is get some off road-training. I worked with Nancy for three weekends trying to get her comfortable off road. she even went to Sacramento for 3 days of off-road training. And while she is getting the hang of the finesse that she must use in the dirt she does make mistakes.
Nancy and Gin compare their hurts from one day at the three day off-road camp in Sacramento,CA.
More damage due to poor technique. You got to hand it to them though, they hung in there and finished the training and rode away better riders!!
7/31/2011/0915 Well, it’s already started! Nancy’s mon gets patted down going through Security. I thought, every time I go through an airport it’s the senior citizens under scrutiny.
Well, in this case she asked for it. When they say empty your pockets they mean it. And take coats and jackets off. What they don’t say is that you also have to remove the hide-a-pack around your waist and under your shirt. I hope this isn’t an omen of things to come. On a positive note, this may be the most exciting thing that has happened to her in a long time. Ha!
8/1/2011 – Here we are at a nice B & B, Highland Glen, south of Anchorage a wee bit. It’s beautiful here except for the sky dripping on us. Temperature is delightful, about 50 degrees at 6 am with a high today supposed to be about 65. Waiting for breakfast, then off to some sightseeing and a visit to MotoQuest to check on our boxes of gear that we shipped up via UPS. The word is that all 5 boxes (110 lbs…) are here and accounted for. That’s good news! More later…………
We found our way to MotoQuest and met the nice folks there. We retrieved a couple of our boxes to finish readying some our gear that we had shipped up here. We then wandered through downtown Anchorage trying to decide what to do next. We headed east and found our way to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. We almost didn’t go in, as the admission was a bit pricey, but we did and were pleased to find lots of live action going on – such as native dancing, storytelling and guided tours through the “mini villages” that were constructed on the grounds.
8/3/11 So, here we are on the third full day in Alaska. We’ve made it as far south as Soldotna, approximately 150 miles south of Anchorage. Despite the three days of rain there is a sliver lining in the cloud hanging over us: The mosquitos are keeping a low profile. We arrived yesterday afternoon after taking a detour to the Portage Glacier. In good weather we would have taken the boat tour up to the glacier, but the wind was blowing up a storm and the water was quite rough. Wouldn’t have been a lot of fun.
When we got in I decided to have a doctor take a look at my left thumb which apparently got infected from a splinter I picked up while doing yard work. By the time I got to the clinic the Doctor had left, but the office assistant gave him a call and 15 minutes later he was back, evaluated my thumb and wrote a perscription for two antibiotics. All I can say is not in SoCal in a million years would anyone get that kind of service.
The Aspen Ridge B & B we are staying at was originally built by Johnnie Parks a rather famous native american builder in the area. He normally builds a cabin 17 logs high which makes for a low ceiling. The original owner happened to be 6’4″ tall and insisted Johnnie added two logs to the height and so it was. Beautiful place.
Today, we didn’t go far. We only went up the road about 10 miles to the town of Kenai. They have a nice visitors center with lots of interesting stuff. We had lunch at a great local spot called Louie’s and went back to the B & B for a nice nap. Ahhhh, vacation!!!
By the way, didn’t get anything posted last night due to a connection problem We’re sitting in Starbucks using their WIFI.
We’re heading back to Anchorage tomorrow to get ready for the big adventure!
August 5, Anchorage: We awakened on our fifth day in Anchorage to more rain. We are staying for two days on campus of the U of A. After a quick breakfast the skies cleared and the sun came out. With it came the highest temperature we’ve seen – 66 degrees.
After breakfast Walt attended a Staff meeting after which he went to MotoQuest to help prep some of the bikes that we are using. A little clean up, install mirrors on several and check tire pressures. Riders started showing up to take their bikes and either ride around Anchorage or return to our digs. Nancy and mom got to be really good at getting around Anchorage as they ran errands all over the place along with picking people up at the airport. Dinner at 7 PM followed by a discussion of why some of us were here – very emotional! And finally the Medallion. Very powerful.
Saturday August 6: Finally! The ride has begun. Today dawned (even though if stays light most of the night) without rain. It was a spectacular day. Traffic was light, and the views didn’t disappoint. Glaciers and mountain tops along with cool temperatures, good road and a great team makes today very special.
Brendan, our MotoQuest guy, is the “man.” He’s hauling all our gear and camping stuff so we don’t have to.
The Matanuska Glacier was a spectacular sight. I went up around the bend and then there was this mountain that has so much snow! Wow!
We’re camping at Copper Center for the first 2 nights. We pitched our tents by the river and fell into bed – we were tired, but content after our first day.
Augst7, 2011 Copper Center Lodge: Up at 5 AM this morning and the temperature is hovering at 55 degrees with about a 14 to 20 knott wind; at least it is dry and there are patches of blue in the sky. Today is also the first time we will riee off road and all are looking forward to the challenge.
The first order of business was approximately 60 miles of paved road that passes through some spectacular scenery like snow capped mountains; the low ceiling limits our view of many of the mountain peaks as they disappear into the clouds.
The pavement ends and 60 miles of dirt road stretches out in front of us. The road is an old railroad grade that was used to transport supplies to Kennecott and copper out. Story goes that copper wasn’t mined, but picked up off the ground in large chunks.
When we awoke this morning, the temperature was 50. On our return, the temperature (in the sun) was 95. At the end of each day we service chains, check oil and check nuts and bolts.
We invite you to also check out the “official” link for our trip: http://womensmotorcyclistfoundation.org/blog/ On this blog, you will find comments from all of the participants, and also links to their blogs. It’s fun to get other’s take on the events and see their pictures too.
August 8, 2011: It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to post real time for the next couple of days because of the slow Internet connection at Copper River, a lack of Internet connection and no power at our digs in Tok, but I’ll bring you up to date as soon as we get both, probably Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. If you don’t see any pictures, come back later – we will post pictures as soon as we have enough bandwidth to load them.
Today was a short day. Breakfast again at 7 AM, but was served late, about 7:20. Had croissant with eggs and sausage. After breakfast we packed, loaded the truck and took down all the tents. On the road about 9 AM and headed to Tok. Just outside of Copper Center we caught our first glimpse of the Alaska Pipeline in the not-too-far distance. Before we traveled too far down the road, we stopped at the Wrangles-St Elias NP Visitor Center. We watched a wonderful movie about our nation’s largest national park that has the largest glacier in North America.
Our luck ran out today with the weather – rain and cold with muddy roads and lots of construction, miles and miles of it (one stretch went on for 12 miles). But, with the dual sport bikes, with knobby tires, we did not have any problem negotiating the bad pavement or lack of pavement. Also, our new Olympia gear worked great – keeping us warm and dry. And our waterproof boots are living to our expectations so far.
For our convenience, gas stations are positioned approximately 50 miles apart which is great for the bikes with small tanks. By the way, did I mention how crazy it is to use such small bikes for such long distances and high speeds? The 250s are going about 90 miles before they go on reserve – the KLRs can go 200+ miles. We, on the KLRs, carry gas for the smaller bikes. I’m not quite sure why the powers to be feel that because they build a small motorcycle they have to fit it with a small tank?
Anyway, I digress. The ride to Tok could have been as spectacular, or more so, as the ride to Kennecott if the there wasn’t rain and the temperature and clouds weren’t so low. Wonder of wonders: just before getting into Tok, the skies cleared, clouds went away and the sun came out. After gas it was off to the campground, Thompson’s Eagle Claw motorcycle-only campground. This is a very cool place with some unique options for a stay in a theme-of-your-own “dream” place. You have your choice of tent-camping or staying in a tent cabin, ambulance, the bunk house or a teepee; very unique. And Vanessa, one of the owners, is also unique. As the story goes, she and her partner lived in a school bus for two years while they finished the campground before building their own house. There is no Internet, no power, and if you want a shower you must heat the water with a wood fire.
Didn’t take many pictures today on the way up to Tok because of the rain, but here are a few after our arrival.
Tonight there was another Medallion Pass, as there will be at the end of each day’s ride. Walt has witnessed several of these in the past when he participated in a couple of legs of the Pony Express Ride. The Medallion Pass is an extremely emotional event even when you don’t know the riders passing the medallion. Now, after several days, the 15 riders and Brendan Anders, of MotoQuest, are functioning as a team and we are finding out more about their motivations and personal details of their lives. This makes an emotional situation all the more intimate.
August 9, 2011: Up early today with reasonable looking skies. Plenty of clouds, but no rain, yet. Breakfast was at Fast Eddies in downtown Tok. That’s almost funny as it is more a “T” intersection with a stop sign and not much more. There is an airport (they’re all over the state) and a State road maintenance station responsible for abut 50 miles of road.
Those of you that live in the cold climes know that summertime is the time for road repair and we gotta tell you that in Alaska the work is wide open. We’ve ridden miles and miles of roads that are in a variety of repair/disrepair. On the way to Dawson City one of our riders, John, dropped a gas can off the back of his KLR. Shirley and Walt stopped, refueled Shirley’s KLX250 and tried to catch up with the group. Unfortunately they were stopped by a flagman at a construction site for about 15 minutes. While there Walt asked him some questions about the road which is paved between Tok and up to 4 miles before Chicken, AK. They quit repairing the road in October and close it in November and it stays closed until April. You can expect 3 to 4 feet of snow, but the temperatures are so low that it doesn’t melt until mid-spring.
Chicken, AK is an interesting place. There are several year-round residents and not many more summer residents. The town is isolated from the outside world during the winter save mail being brought in once a week on good weather days. What’s for lunch in Chicken? What do you think…?
From Chicken we headed over the “Top of the World” Highway. The road between Chicken and the Canandian border is not paved. Not to worry, again we had the right bikes for the ride. It rained on us some more, but we had a great time getting to Dawson City. Crossing the border was uneventful and right near there we caught our first sight of some caribou.
To get to Dawson City, you have to take a ferry ride across the Yukon River. It was amazing to feel how strong the current was on the crossing. We set up camp just as the skies opened up, and it rained for a good hour after that. Nancy’s hair got a good washing… and it washed a lot of the mud off the bikes from the day’s ride. Dinner was great a Sourdough Joe’s and then it was time for another Medallion Pass Ceremony.
August 10, 2011: Today is a “down day.” We hung out at the campground and used the time to recharge our personal batteries, do laundry, and wander Dawson City and do some shopping. An afternoon nap felt great and the clean clothes will be appreciated when we take off down the road. The weather has been hit and miss all day, but it has been warm, dry and snug inside our tent.
(insert photo of lady on paddlewheeler)
August 11, 2011: WOW, what a day!! Ever had those days that start out perfect and then they begin to unravel, thread by thread? Today started as picture perfect; up at 6 AM pack the bags, eat breakfast, take the tents down and ride.
The weather was perfect and quite warm in the sunshine even though it was in the 40s when we got up. We ate at the Midnight Sun in Dawson City, a short walk from the campground. We had planned to leave around 9, but as usual we were a few minutes late, but no worries, we had all day to make Eagle Plains, about a 250 mile ride up the Dempster Highway. The first 100 or so miles were great riding, especially with some rain showers to help keep the dust down… but…. when we got within 100 miles of our destination, that’s when it got dicey. The rain got harder, and the road surface got nasty. The road surface turned to mud soup and made for tough going. First, one rider went down and just got banged up some, no big deal. She spent the rest of the day in the chase truck (and has since gotten back on the bike to continue riding the next day). More seriously, another rider fell and hurt her hip and had to be airlifted to Anchorage. It made the day very long, and put a dark cloud over the day.
Keep in mind that there are no real emergency services on the highway. An ambulance was summoned by a good sumariton via radio phone. (By the way, the lady that drives the ambulance is also the road maintenance foreman!) The satalite phone would not function due to either no satalite or the heavy cloud cover.
Thanks for evacuation insurance. I estimate that the flight from the crash site to Dawaon and then another flight to Anchorage ran up a tab of about $40,000. If you plan to ride to faraway places you need to be prepared.
We were suppose to camp for two days in Eagle Plains, but after the long and arduous day we all opted for a hotel room. The problem is that on Friday there were two bus loads of people coming and all the rooms were taken, but the managers pitched in and make arrangements for us to “camp” inside in the rec room, laundry room and even Cathy, the road maintenance foreman and ambulance driver, offered her two spare couches.
August 12, 2011: We awoke to a new day, and the weather looked much better! We spent the the morning assessing the damage from the day before and washed off most of the mud from our bikes and our gear. After figuring out where each of us were sleeping that night, we geared back up again and headed to our planned most Northern destination, The Artic Circle.
The Artic Circle is only 26 miles from Eagle Plains; the roads were dry and hardpacked and offered no issues. After a short and lovely ride we arrived at the the southern border of the midnight sun. Small trees and a harsh landscape covered with tundra was the norm. So was the wind – constant. After pictures and lunch we built a inukshuk, a trail marker and sign of good luck.
The hardiest seven riders decided to an improptu ride farther north to the border of the Northwest Territories, another 40 mile ride. For the most part the road was in good condition and hardpacked. several miles befor the border the road starts a gradual climb, today to the clouds, literally. Rain and wind and slipery road, but not that bad. After reaching our destination and a few pictures it was off to Eagle Plains, the pressure washer and chain service.
For the Medallion Pass this evening we had a group of Australian tourists join us. After the ceremony they collectively donated over $200 to Adventures for the Cure!
APOLOGY: Please excuse us for not keeping this blog current. We have been faced with poor or no Internet access on many days and those days that we have had access we’ve been so tired that we just didn’t make any entries. Also, as you read you will find that we have had other problems that have kept us quite busy. Again, we’re sorry for any inconvenience.
Walt and Nancy
August 13, 2011: Today we leave Eagle Plains and make our way back to Dawson City. For a change, it’s not raining and that is good news. We figure the Dempster has had some time to dry out and the ride from Eagle Plains to Dawson City should be an easy one. As it turns out, it is. We even kick up some dust on the way to Dawson. Before leaving we say our goodbye to Kathy Brias and Evelyn, the lodge manager. Kathy has an interesting distinction: she is the first female Road Foreman for the Yukon Highways and Public Works and she is also the lady that drove the ambulance that helped our Kathy on the Dempster.
What a difference a few hours of dry weather makes. For the most part the Dempster is hard-packed and offers little challenge. On the way down we passed a grizzly bear and her cub, but didn’t take a chance of stopping to take pictures.
Today, even after the long ride down the Dempster we have energy left over. After gassing in Dawson some of the group rode to the store to pick up food for dinner, some took the ferry to the hostel we’re staying at to make sure there is room for us, and others took a ride up to the Dome overlooking Dawson. There’s even some sun shinning through.
The Dome a very cool place and offers a bird’s eye view of Dawson City and the surrounding area. The road to the Dome has some nice corners. After the Dome, several of us rode up the steep dirt road to a Forest Lookout on an adjacent peak. Instead of the lookout being on stilts high in the air, it is a log cabin placed at the edge of the peak. A little different than what I’m used to seeing. This one really has all the comforts of home.
After another trip across the river by ferry (by the way, it runs 24/7 and it’s free) it’s just a few more blocks to the hostel. What an unusual place! Plenty of young and older people staying there. Nancy and I met a fellow motorcyclist from Switzerland. He’s riding his own BMW GS and plans on picking up his wife from Seattle in a week and heading to Phoenix and then San Diego or Virginia Beach, whichever moves him at the time. He’s been on the road for a three weeks already and plans to be out at least another couple of months.