Arctic Relay 2012 - aka "Pass the Gringo"
I generally do at least one group ride a year with some buddies who live in Portland, Oregon [I live in Oakland, Calif.]. The group has morphed and changed over the years, but these are the guys that got me excited about motorcycle touring in the first place - who showed me the ropes and inspired me to pursue this crazy passion. As we all get older and life happens, the number of people who actually come out for these trips is getting smaller and smaller. Regardless, I look forward to these rides all year long. They're usually 7-14 day affairs - with the longest one to date being 3+ weeks coast to coast in the summer of 2009.
When I started talking about an Alaska ride, response was lukewarm. CJ was down, for sure - but he had somewhat limited vacation time. Rob was definitely into riding but had no desire to log the kind of straight highway miles that'd be necessary to get all the way North. Fred and Winson had babies. Pesky babies. My wife was also interested in being a part of the adventure, if it worked out - and she too had limited vacation time. So... what to do.
I was bummed at first about not sharing the whole trip with at least one person. I considered just doing the ride solo - maybe doing a different ride with my Portland crew and something else with my wife. In the end, I came to the conclusion that I really wanted to share this adventure with my friends. The struggles, the triumphs, the debauchery, the inside jokes .... motorcycle adventures are just more fun when shared, IMHO. So, I decided to figure out a way to stitch together my various riding companions so I'd be able to share parts of this big adventure with all of them. The Arctic Relay is born.
I love it when a plan comes together...
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It worked out that I'd switch riding companions every week or so - with about a week solo at the very apex of the journey. I logged just shy of 9k miles over 5 weeks. It was an adventure of a lifetime - one I'll never forget. This is a story of ...
... and sunsets.
... and wildfires.
... and the midnight sun.
It's a story of...
Troubles at the border.
Getting away from it all.
And the occasional roll in the hay.
I bought a 2002 V-Strom 1000 in January of 2011 - largely in anticipation of this trip. I wanted a bike that would be comfortable for long highway riding, capable in the dirt, not too precious [ie. cheap], and powerful enough to haul around my 230lb. self with a passenger [Kate... what do you weigh, like 90lbs.?] and all our stuff. This bike fit the bill perfectly. It came with crash bars, and I added my usual bolt-ons - heated grips, SW Motech side racks w/ Caribou cases, a cheapo trunk, highway pegs, and a bash plate. I also wired in my GPS, a couple whips for heated gear, and a 'cigarette lighter' outlet under the seat. Besides getting the clutch basket modified to eliminate the 'chudder' these early 1000's suffer from at around 4k rpm, the mechanicals are bone stock.
I 'shook down' the bike and proved it for long adventures with a trip out to and around Eastern Oregon last summer as well as a two-up adventure last October out to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Ariz. via Yosemite and Death Valley. The Suzuki performed flawlessly on both trips - I had confidence it'd do the Arctic run just fine.
In preparation for this ride, I mounted a set of Heidenau K60 Scout tires, bulked up my tool kit and collection of spares, hung a new chain, changed the rear brake pads, and gave the bike a general once-over - oil & filter, fluids, etc. Actually... Tyler at Hayasa Motorbikes did most of that... but I paid for it. I sent him a postcard...
If you're in the Bay Area, own a Japanese bike, and don't know about Hayasa, allow me to learn you. Tyler is the best. Period.
Valuable shade in Eastern Oregon - outside Rajneeshpuram [which is now a Christian youth camp... hilarious]
The "plan" ...
The general plan was for Kate to ride with me up to Portland, where she had a cousin getting married on the front end of the trip. In PDX, I would rendezvous with one friend who would ride with me around Washington and just across the Canadian border. In B.C., I would rendezvous with another friend who would accompany me up to the Yukon. In Whitehorse, I'd push off solo - up the Dempster and across the Top of the World. Then, Kate would fly into Whitehorse, and we would take the ferry down the Inside Passage and ride to Seattle. Kate would fly home, and I'd finish the trip solo.
Caution, Charlie Brown ahead
Looks like we're in for a great report. Keep it coming!
Subscribed and looking forward to the pictures and story. :clap:clap:clap
This is kind of a crappy map, but here's the overview of the whole route. Does anyone have suggestions for good-looking map images from GPX info? I'm just screen capturing from Garmin Basecamp here.
Day 1-3: Oakland to Portland, OR
On June 27th, Kate and I pushed off from home. We would take three days to get up to Portland, where we had a family wedding to attend. This would serve as a shake-down for the gear that Kate would bring with her when she flew up to meet me later in the trip [a backpack and dry bag strapped to the tops of my side cases]. Look at how clean everything is!
Day 1 would take us slabbing up the I-5 [ugh...] and then jumping off onto the 36 at Red Bluff. We ended up at an excellent municipal campsite in Douglas City, Ca. - highly recommend it. [292 miles total]
We were following some Destination Highways routes, including the CA-3 through Peanut. Nothing like peg scraping two-up with a full load of gear! No photos, unfortunately.
Day 2 took us further up the CA-3 to Callahan for my annual visit to the Callahan Junction. The owner / bartender [Joe?] is an old biker. In the bar, they have a collection of dusty, old 'forever' bottles - belonging to soldiers that never came back from WWII.
The ride up to Callahan is awesome, and then we took Gazelle Callahan road back to the 5. We had to make some miles, so we suffered through some more I-5 up to Roseburg, OR. [278 miles total]
Day 3 we I-5'd it up to Brownsville, OR, where we were able to get off the Interstate and connect pastoral back roads up to Oregon City - through Lebanon, Silverton, etc. The destination was Camp Angelos, a summer camp East of Portland. [208 miles total]
Kinda light on the photos these first few days, sorry. It gets better!
Days 4-6: Portland, OR
Kate's cousin, Anna, rented out Camp Angelos, a classic summer camp, for what turned out to be one of the most fun weddings I've ever been to. It was a hippie affair, full of love and levity. The ceremony was held around the campfire circle, the reception was in the main lodge, and everyone stayed on bunk beds in small group cabins.
All the guests took turns being photographed in front of the wall of flowers. This is me with my lovely wife, Kate.
The rain and mud didn't stop anyone from having a raging good time.
Everyone was excited to hear about our upcoming adventure. There were a few bikers among the other guests, and the resounding sentiment was one I've gotten a lot of since I started planning this trip "... oh man, I'm so jealous...".
After the wedding weekend, Kate flew home to Oakland, and I rendezvous'd with my friend Fred. He took me camping off the bikes the first few times I ever did it, and his long-time riding buddies have become my Portland crew. Fred rides a BMW R1100GS, but the recent arrival of his second child meant he wouldn't be joining on this trip. Here's Fred with his daughter, Addie.
Addie drew me a picture to send me on my way - her interpretation of Alaska, I think.
Sunday night was spent catching up, bullshitting, and planning with Fred and the guys who'd be joining me on the trip. Oh yeah, and lots of this...
Day 7: Rob takes the baton
This is Rob - he probably rides more than anyone I know. He rides a Kawasaki Versys, and before that it was a Yamaha TDM850. He knows how to pick cool bikes.
Rob's going to ride with me around Central Washington until our buddy CJ does his marital duties on the 4th of July - his 20th wedding anniversary. We're definitely going to take the scenic route, because on the 5th, we want CJ to be able to make it to wherever we are in one long day of riding.
Day 7 takes us from Portland to Selah, WA - near Yakima. [217 miles total]
We stop at the 1885 Bar & Grill in Naches - site of Fred's infamous bachelor party a few years ago.
They had a condom vending machine in the bathroom - the center option is LifeStyles 'Snugger Fit'. That's a polite way of putting it...
Day 8: Selah, WA to Republic, WA
We have what we think is a cool campsite in Selah last night. Turns out, the canyon we were in made every passing vehicle sound like an engine-braking semi truck. Add to that, at about midnight, a group of inconsiderate neighbors pulled it, claimed a campsite, and started chopping firewood and partying. Didn't sleep too well that night...
Today, we push Northeast to Republic - a very cool town. Our route takes us through Wenatchee, Chelan, Omak, and Tonasket. [286 miles total]
I attempt to use the ram ball mount I installed on my crash bars to take still photos, as the video was really shaky. Turns out, most of the stills were blurry too. This one turned out ok.
Here's me with the 'Strom.
We camped at the fairgrounds in Republic. It wasn't especially scenic, but it was really comfortable. The grass made for a soft bed, the sites had free electric hook-ups [charged all the gadgets], and there were coin-op showers. There was also a covered kitchen structure with a propane grill. We stocked up at the local natural food store and had a killer camp dinner.
Day 9: Colville Indian Reservation
My map says 'Indian' Reservation... is that still the correct way to refer to these geographic areas? Native American Reservation? I don't know...
On the recommendation of Slackmeyer [who I've had the privilege of getting to know through the East Bay Meet & Eat gatherings], I wanted to check out the route between Electric City and Inchelium, WA - in the SE corner of said Reservation. We decided that Republic was a fitting city in which to celebrate the 4th of July, so we did a day loop in and around the Colville Reservation and stayed at the Republic Fairgrounds a second night. [195 miles total / ~25 on dirt]
We did our first ferry crossing of the trip [many more to follow] from Gifford to Inchelium.
We always look like a friggin' Aerostich catalog in these trip photos...
I was itching to get in a bit of dirt riding, so Rob aired down his street tires, and we rode Wilmont Creek Rd. on the Southern Most part of the day's loop - headed NW. It's barely on most of the maps I saw of the area, but the trusty GPS picked it up.
We passed a couple of ranches, and saw these fine creatures being herded somewhere by a pickup truck and cattle dog. We nearly got run over by the herd, actually. It was pretty exciting.
After the ranches, the road turned to rarely-traveled double track. It was nice, hard-packed dirt up and over a mountain pass. Beautiful riding!
Rob was stoked! [Me too.]
It turned out that the whole town of Republic shuts down on the 4th of July, and everyone goes up to some State Park nearby to watch the fireworks. We were done riding for the day and didn't really care about fireworks, so we were glad to find the Republic Brewing Company open. They weren't serving food though, so we ran across the street to the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken and potato salad. They let us eat it in the pub ... works for me. Add some microbrewed beer, and you've got all the red, white, and blue this motorcyclist needs.
Day 10: Border crossing / Kootenay Lakes / CJ Rendezvous
Day 10 was a big one. Having satisfied our decision to spend the 4th of July on American soil, we got an early start out of Republic and headed for the border. The plan was to spend today riding a loop through the Kootenay Lakes area and ending up in Creston, BC - a near border town that CJ could get to in a reasonable slab day from Portland. [Our day of riding is 267 miles total]
As we headed towards the border crossing at Grand Forks, I snapped this picture - for use somewhere in the ride report. Turns out, this border was as fitting a place as any for motorcyclists to use caution.
The Canadian border guards that received us were super friendly, as pretty much all Canadians are [I'm married to one]. They asked us all the usual questions re. booze, firearms, illicit substances, etc. We were then instructed to pull the bikes in behind the building and come inside to 'process paperwork'. We obliged, handed over our passports, and waited. And waited.... and waited. The border officer in charge came into the waiting room at one point to tell us that they were having some technical difficulties processing our documents. No problem... we'll wait.
At about the 45 minute mark, one of the officers came in and asked me for the keys to my bike's luggage. It became clear that their 'technical difficulties' were actually them tearing apart and searching our bikes from top to bottom. Seems strange that they didn't have to tell us they were doing so.
What happened next was absolutely priceless. After about an hour of waiting, we hear the back door open and close, and two border guards appear at the reception desk - wearing bullet-proof vests and sidearms, rubber gloved up and not looking pleased. One of them is holding a small plastic baggy full of white powder; they ask us if we can explain it.
My first reaction is laughter. I think they're messing with us. It only takes fractions of a second for me to realize that US / Canada border guards probably do not mess with people in this way. I don't recognize the baggy, and I look at Rob nervously, hoping he does. Luckily, Rob's laughter continues past the several second mark. The next five minutes or so are spent with Rob explaining to the guards what Anti Monkey-Butt Powder is, that it comes in a big bottle that's inconvenient to carry on the bike, and that his wife does make-up for television - which is why he has such an unusual and incriminating-looking baggy at his disposal. I guess she uses them to store mixed powders for individual actors or something.
After assuring us that they could run tests on the spot to analyze the powder if they wanted to [my guess is that they already had], the officers were apparently satisfied with our explanation. They returned our documents and keys and let us go on our way.
Needless to say, Rob and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. As we're packing up, I realize that I HAVE to capture the moment on film. I'm pretty sure that most US border officers would NOT let you take a picture of them holding the illicit baggy after such an ordeal ... but the Canadian guard does! Again... just so friendly. Here's Rob - judging by that face, he just tried to snort a line of the stuff.
We're now several hours behind schedule, but we just need to decompress from that whole episode. In Grand Forks, I decide to get a haircut while Rob scouts out a breakfast spot [that's right... that whole border episode happened pre-coffee!]. I get a fairly bad cut from a very friendly barber.
After collecting ourselves, Rob and I hit the road ... and what a road it was. The route from New Denver to Kaslo is about 35 miles of constant twisties through an amazing river valley. The pavement was fresh, and there was pretty much no traffic besides other motorcyclists. We passed a handful of high performance sport bikes - I was leading the pack on a fully-loaded V-Strom with semi-knobbies, fairly proud of myself.
We have yet another ferry crossing - on the Osprey 2000.
The road from Crawford Bay down to Creston is, I believe, what the authors of Destination Highways call the #1 road in British Columbia, by their rating system. It certainly is fun. I get to ride it twice! In Creston, we get a room at the Downtowner [not recommended], and set off down the street to do our laundry. At the laundromat, we see this sign. Seems like an interesting business. I wonder how liquor delivery via cab would go over in Oakland.
At about 8pm, CJ rolls into town after his big slab day. His wife is happy, and he's ready to ride.
The three of us have a good meal and lots of Kokanees up the street at some bar & grill. After dozens of games of pool [CJ always wins], we move to the patio and meet some drunk locals. These were perhaps the only unfriendly Canadians we met - threatening to run us over with their truck over a drunkenly misunderstood joke. Yup... it's good to have CJ along.
Update... Anti Monkey Butt sponsorship!
Thanks for sending us a note on your interesting experience. The founder of AMBP has just completed the same trip ..see attached. He didn’t have the trouble you did, but he is a ‘Heavy User’ so had to take the whole bottle.
We finally have a Travel size Anti Monkey Butt Powder and I think you earned yourself a few free bottles. Send me your address and I will send some out to you. I’ll try and share your experience for our Facebook fans as well.
DSE Healthcare Solutions, LLC.
I asked that they share the generosity with Rob, being the one actually carrying the elicit substance.
Here's the photo, from the founder's recent trip up the Arctic Circle. Looks like the Dalton.
This report is off to a great start. You know how to travel, Steve- hippy weddings, authentic bars, good roads, border patrol agents that let you go with your baggies of white powder. Nice.
Awesome ride! Looking forward to the full report. I might need to tag along for the next adventure.
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