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Old 10-05-2008, 08:18 PM   #1
Alcan Rider OP
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Location: Just over the rear wheel
Oddometer: 4,006
Five Corners On A Connie: A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska

Bikes come in all flavors, as do adventures. You don't have to be mounted on the latest and greatest “adventure” bike to be having a memorable ride. In fact, any time you take a tour on what might turn out to be an “inappropriate” bike, you may find yourself having an unplanned adventure, as this rider found out a few years ago.

This little ride took place in 2002, when yer humble scribe was but a youth of 63. Old enough to know better, but too addlepated to resist. While the original report was written up shortly after completion of the ride, no proper venue was found for displaying photos along with the narration until ADVRider came into view. Please forgive the long-winded narrative and dearth of photos.

Part I

Okay, for the nitpickers out there, it wasn't really a full five corners. That would require hitting Deadhorse, aka Prudhoe Bay, to make it a true, 100% five corners. But Tok, Alaska was close enough for me, especially in early April. Have you ever heard the line of the song that goes "When it's springtime in Alaska, it's forty below"? Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but not by a whole lot. It can get mighty nasty up in the Brooks Range that time of year. So I wimped out, and turned in a southerly direction as soon as the roads allowed.

This whole thing started when I decided to make the 7th Annual Crawfish Boil hosted by well-known Iron Butt rider Shane Smith at his home in McComb, Mississippi. There are many riders east of the Mississippi whom I had met only via e-mail, and now there would be the opportunity to put faces with names, and to get better acquainted. Not long after making the decision to catch "Da Boil", as it was affectionately known among LDRiders, Kerry Perkins of the COG (Concours Owners Group) List announced the "First Annual Below Sea Level Ride" to be held at Death Valley the weekend before the Boil. By starting my ride a few days earlier, I could do both, so plans were adjusted accordingly.

Within a few more days, it hit me! I'd be near the southwest corner of the U.S. at Death Valley, and not very far from the southeast corner when at McComb, MS. By taking a slight detour coming back home, just a couple thousand extra miles, I could do a Four Corners Tour while riding around the country. Checking into that option, I found that it would make a nice little diversion, as well as give me an excuse to see some new places. From preliminary travel plans, it looked like the distance would be a maximum of 15,000 miles "IF" I rode all the way back home. Some thought was also given to leaving the bike with friends somewhere in the Pacific Northwet and flying home as an alternative.

Now let me assure you that I was still exhibiting some semblance of sanity at that time, as my plan at this juncture was to build a shipping pallet, strap the Concours to it, then ship it south by truck a couple of weeks before my planned departure from the Seattle area. But when you reach a certain age, sanity has a way of slipping out of one's grasp, and is replaced by... well, INsanity. As D-Day approached, I began watching the weather along the Alaska Highway (still known respectfully as "The Alcan" by many of us old-timers) and was pleased to see that it was staying clear and cold. This meant that there would be mostly bare asphalt all the way down into British Columbia. Spring was also approaching, however, and that meant almost certain rapid changes in the weather, with snow sure to be falling somewhere along my route. Thus the vigil began.

The closer to the date I'd chosen as my "final decision" day, the more I felt that I could ride the bike down to the South 48, and kept hoping the weather would hold. From riding in the fall, I knew temperatures down to zero or so would be tolerable, and figured that with the longer days of spring, I could ride for 10 or 12 hours each day, then when the sun went down and it started getting cold, I could get a room at a lodge or motel along the way. The only foreseeable problem would be starting Annie after leaving her sitting outside overnight. But confident that locals would have the means to get any type vehicle warmed up enough to start after a cold night, that potential problem was set aside as being a non issue.

Giving up the Aerostich Roadcrafter and switching to a two-piece snowmobile suit provided me with better protection from low temperatures, although scarcely any from asphalt burns and bruises. However, it's hard to be a safe rider when you're numb from the cold, so that's what I decided to wear come below-freezing weather. With the lightly insulated, but windproof, snowsuit, there's no need for electrically heated garments until the thermometer drops below 20°F, or even colder once I'm acclimated.

Meanwhile, annual maintenance was underway on "Alcan Annie", along with a few upgrades that I thought would make the trip easier and safer. This is what she looked like on March 19th:

From the COGList I'd learned that several list members had added the Audiovox cruise control, so one was picked up in Anchorage and plans were made to install it. Driving lights would be a welcome addition in the South 48, where it gets dark at night during the summer months (don't know why y'all haven't figured out that it's better the way we do it in Alaska - stays light when it's warm enough to ride, gets dark when you have to put the bike away). And then the annual new windshield, new bulbs all the way 'round, and new tires and wheel bearings, of course. Also from the COGList, I'd learned about extenders that would provide a slightly larger envelope of somewhat calm air behind the fairing, so those were added to the bike for this trip, along with stuffing a couple of vents with foam pipe insulation - a tip I got from Doug Grosjean's webpage.

Since many of the gas stations along the Alcan were no open except during the tourist season, a 3 gallon auxiliary tank was added to supplement the 7.5 gallon main tank.

Now it was getting down to the wire, and I had yet to build the pallet or contact a trucker who might haul the Connie south for me. In addition, I realized that there was a part of me that really wanted to ride down the Alcan, and my procrastination was doing the job of forcing me to ride Outside, and I was happy about it. The Alcan remains one of my favorite rides, and I didn't want to miss a chance to do it again.

Some might think I'd have learned by now, but those who know me well realize that I never will. If there are three weeks worth of work to do on the bike, I'll start ordering parts four weeks before my trip is to start. That usually leaves me finishing the last bolt tightening just minutes before I pull out of the driveway. This year was no different. Thursday I browbeat some poor, unsuspecting souls into helping me get the bike up the steps and out of the basement shop.

To be a little ahead of my starting point of the previous year, when I never started the engine until the bike was loaded and I was ready to depart for Northern California, this time I cranked up the engine to make sure it would run. Warmed it up for a few minutes, then shut it off and went back to tying up loose ends.

Friday was spent sorting and packing, revamping the lists I'd sweated over last year after my return from California. Saturday was given over to cleaning up the shop, putting tools and leftover parts away, and then little incidentals like installing the windshield, bungeeing the extra clothing on the top of the Givi, and trying to find room for the computer hard drive I was delivering to a friend on my way out of state.

Saturday should have been a breeze, but I kept finding little things I'd been putting off until the last minute - and now the last minutes were upon me. Finally, at 6:30 PM, enough was enough, and if it wasn't done by now, it didn't need to get done. Besides, I'd tried to give myself a cushion in case the weather turned bad along the way, and I had to lay over for a day. That cushion was gone, and I was going to get to Seattle late if I didn't get moving.

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I do NOT consider myself a "tough" motorcyclist. Rather, just an old geezer who has spent too many winters in Alaska. The reason I felt confident in heading south on the Alcan Highway in early April - still winter this far north - is that I am pretty acclimated to the cooler temperatures after having just survived another winter in which anything above -40° is considered mild weather. It is my opinion that anyone, regardless what area of the world they call home, can become acclimated to these temperatures and make the same ride I did, if they care to. The motorcycle was of more concern to me, as factory R & D is not usually concerned with operation of these two-wheeled vehicles under sub-Arctic conditions. To help prepare the bike, I had synthetic lubricants everywhere I could use them: The engine/transmission, front forks, and rear shock all contained 5W-40 Mobil Delvac 1, the final drive carried 75W-90 Mobil 1 gear lube. The engine cooling system was filled with my usual mix of 60% anti-freeze and 40% distilled water - good to over 50 below. The speedometer cable and all grease zerks were lubed with Mobil low-temp synthetic grease. Being synthetics, the lubricants would also offer superior protection in the hot temperatures I was anticipating later in the ride.

Saturday, April 6, 2002 18:40 Glennallen, Alaska

Someone asked me to give details as to what sort of gear I had on; what steps were taken to keep warm. In answer to that request, here it is, from the skin out: Long-sleeved cotton tee shirt and LD Comfort undershorts, Widder System II electric vest with arm chaps and Widder leg chaps - connected to a Widder Electronic controller that I have velcroed to the outside of my tank bag, quilted thinsulate pants and jacket, wool shirt and Draggin' Jeans, Chill Factor snowmobile bib pants and jacket, relatively thin knee-high wool Nordic skiing socks, Sidi On-Road Sympatex boots with a sheepskin liner in the sole (thanks to a recommendation from Barb, at Alaska Leather), Widder electric gloves, Nolan N-100 helmet. Just in case it got really cold, I also carried a polar fleece balaclava that goes under my helmet and well down over my chest and the back of my neck. The gloves and heated handgrips are connected to a Warm 'n Safe electronic controller so I can warm my oft-frostbitten hands separately from the rest of my body.

You may notice that none of my cold weather gear was modern high tech - no polypropylene undergarments or socks. Most of what I had is stuff I'd been wearing for many years, and had kept me from freezing to death thus far. Besides, I'm a cheapskate (as a KLR owner, that's redundant, isn't it) and will keep wearing it until it's worn out. Since this trip, however, Cabela's has been getting to know my credit card number from memory. We are now preparing to ride comfortably down to 30 below.

To make it down the ice-covered side street to the highway I'd left my tires underinflated for a little more traction. Thus, departing home, my business partner followed me to the gas station with a cylinder of dry nitrogen in order to reinflate the tires to their proper pressures. Finally fueled up, zipped up, aired up, and plugged in - onto the highway at 19:27 with one stop scheduled before I got to the Alcan at Tok. With the days getting longer now that the vernal equinox had come and gone, it was still quite light as I headed north. Light enough that when I made my stop 80 miles later, I could see snow clouds hanging in the valley ahead of me. At my request, my friend phoned a neighbor about 15 miles up the road to see if it was snowing there. All clear - so away I went. Temperatures so far not bad - around +20° F - so no need to turn the Widders on yet, but the heated grips and Widder gloves felt good, and were keeping my fingers toasty.

After fueling in Tok (and getting a strange glance from the station attendant) the direction became generally southeast for the next 1300 miles or so as I headed for Milepost 0 of the Alcan at Dawson Creek, British Columbia. It's 93 miles from Tok to the Yukon line, and the trip was getting off to a pleasant start. Temperatures were still above zero, although getting closer to the mark as I neared U. S. Customs at the border. When it hit +10°F, I turned the Widders on, but only on the lowest setting.

Having mounted a pair of Hella driving lights on one of Larry Buck's mounts just before leaving, I spent some time getting them adjusted to throw light where it would do the most good. It was immediately obvious that they were a good investment, as I was able to see well enough to keep my speed up even though I was in moose country.

Riding at night on a two-lane road with little traffic is, to me, a pleasant experience. It was clear and crisp, and when I made a stop to tinker with the lights, or just to get off and walk around a bit, a glance skyward would reveal a nearly-solid canopy of stars, twinkling by the zillions. The only other place where I've seen night skies nearly as clear was in the Four Corners area in Arizona. The Northern Lights were also visible that night, although very faint, but the stars gave off enough light to walk around easily without artificial illumination - one of the many reasons I love living in Alaska despite the extreme climatic conditions we sometimes have to endure.

Preparing for this trip, and the attendant heavy traffic I was expecting to find in various cities along the way, I'd installed a pair of Saeng Quick-Scan mirrors on the windshield. Nearing the border, with the temperature down around 5 above, I hit a series of sharp bumps in the pavement and the mirrors, their adhesive too stiff from the cold to hang on any more, fell off and dangled by the opposite side tether until I could stop and remove them. Into the side bag they went. Oh well, won't need them on the Alcan, I'm sure.

U. S. Customs being the last warm haven on my home side of the border, I took advantage of their comfortable rest rooms and made sure I was properly dressed for the night ahead. Leaving there, and making the mild descent to the actual boundary line between the U. S. and Canada, I realized belatedly that I was riding on solid ice. Fortunately, it had been sanded lightly and neither tire slipped at all.

Being that I'd been up long hours getting ready for the trip for the past few days, and was a little tired, I opted to stop for the night at Beaver Creek, 21 miles inside the Yukon, and then make a hard push the next day to get off the Alcan. So at 1:00 AM Yukon time I checked into the lodge at MP (Milepost) 1202 for a good night's rest.
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I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
The Lure of the Dalton, The Lure of the Dempster, Haul Road Chronicles, My Evening Rides, Alaska Primer
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Old 10-05-2008, 10:52 PM   #2
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska, Part II

Sunday, April 7, 2002 11:00 Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, Canada

Now in an all too transparent, but lame, attempt at coming up with an excuse for what happened shortly after getting back on the road, let me point out that the Concours is known by all its riders to be a rather top-heavy bike. And with an added auxiliary fuel tank mounted over the pillion seat, as well as a large GIVI tail trunk with a fairly heavy riding suit bungeed on top of it, Alcan Annie was definitely a well-stacked lady.

After a hearty breakfast, it was back onto the road, with the temperature around 25°F in the shade, and freshly fallen snow melting where the sun was hitting it. All in all, a beautiful day to be traveling. Once again heading southeast, I soon noticed a heavy gray snow cloud in the valley ahead. It seemed to be supported by the peaks of mountains on either side of the highway, and snow curtains could be seen draping themselves down to ground level. Sure enough, about 12 miles from Beaver Creek I found the first of the fresh snow on the pavement. Fortunately, the sun was hitting it with warm rays, and in the vehicle tracks there could be found a dab of wet pavement every foot or so. Thus, with speed reduced and cheeks firmly grasping the seat cover, I continued on to see how much worse it would get.

At the 18-mile mark I crossed the bridge labeled "Dry Creek #2" and then started up a mild grade at about 35 mph. At that point, for some unknown reason, I'd convinced myself, with no compelling evidence to back up the notion, that I'd be riding in snow for the next 50 or 60 miles. With that mindset, I began climbing this little incline thinking that I might just as well find out how well I could handle the deeper snow that I was sure I'd be riding in for the next hour or two. That's how I came to take my first ever (but not last) spill, and found myself sliding along next to my Concours, wondering how far I'd slide before coming to a stop.

After the shock of going down, hearing the sound of plastic and metal sliding over the snow-slicked pavement, and then the realization that my travels had come to a standstill, I was enduring a mixture of disappointment and disbelief that had me somewhat dazed for a few seconds. Crawling over to Annie as she lay on her side, calmly idling away, I hit the kill switch and then turned off the key. For what seemed like several minutes, I sat there in the snow, surveying the wreckage. As it slid along the highway, the bike had slowly turned end-for-end and was now facing back down the hill, as though she wanted to go back home. Back that way was the Givi top case, which had broken the locking tab off the base plate. Up the hill, in the direction we'd been traveling, was the right side bag, lacking a chunk of the top rear inside corner. The right side Baker Air Wing was laying off to the side, and anonymous small bits and pieces were scattered around like kernels of corn in a chicken pen.

Not sure how long I spent just looking at the mess, and thinking that here, less than 300 miles into the riding season, I was stopped cold, unable to continue on this trip that I'd spent countless hours planning, anticipating, and working toward. But even before I got Annie back up on two wheels, the realization came that I didn't have to quit. Just the month before I had succeeded in mounting full Givi luggage on my trusty old Suzuki GS1100G, and the tires were at least good enough to get me to Seattle before I'd have to replace them. If I could get the Connie hauled back to Beaver Creek, then hitch a ride home to Glennallen and get the Suzi, all that would be necessary after that would be to transfer my load from the Concours to the Suzuki and be on my way again. With luck, I'd lose no more than a day. With that positive thought in mind, I went to work at getting back on the road.

First, of course, it would be necessary to get Annie back on her feet. Off with the tank bag to make it a little lighter. Down with the side stand so I wouldn't find her falling onto the opposite side once I had her up again. Then back up to the bike, get a good hold, find some footing in the snow (the Sidi On-Roads are GOOD!), and HEAVE!

Hmmm. The first foot went all right, but someone must have dropped some extra weight on it while my back was turned, as that was about as far as it wanted to come up. Okay, a little more preparation to give me time to think about what I was doing. Clean the snow away from the tires so they don't slip sideways as I'm lifting. Dig down to pavement a little better where my feet are placed so I can put all my effort into lifting. Find a good handhold on the auxiliary fuel cell for better leverage. Then... let's try this again. Trying to remember everything I've learned about lifting a fallen bike, I concentrate on keeping it moving once it starts, and this time it came all the way up, then over gently onto the side stand. Wow! It still looks like a Concours now that it's vertical again. The windshield is hanging by one screw, but I have enough extras (nylon, so they break off and save the windshield - and me) to replace the missing ones.

The right side damage is now visible and I take stock. My right hand driving light is history by the looks of it. Larry Buck's driving light mount is well made, but it isn't designed to be a roll bar, and has been re-arranged by the drop.

The right mirror is bent back as it is designed to be when subjected to this mistreatment, but is unscathed otherwise. The right hand antler is broken halfway up the vertical leg of the "L" and the side bag won't stay attached. Doesn't matter, as the bag itself is too damaged to hang on the antler anyway.

To get myself moving in the right direction, I tackle the easiest things first. Dig out the screws for the windshield and remount it. Now Annie is starting to look ridable once more. The tank bag goes back on. The tail trunk goes onto its base, and I wonder how I can fasten it so it won't come off. I'm starting to get the idea that this isn't as bad as I'd feared. Maybe I can even continue. No fluids on the ground aside from a little gas that leaked out of the fuel cell, and I mentally redesign the vent to prevent that in case of future drops. Up to this time I hadn't even considered the possibility of personal injury, but now I examine that aspect. There's a little sore spot on my right elbow where I landed initially, and a tiny matching tear in my jacket sleeve to mark the location. One other little tear on my pants leg, but no other marks or soreness. At this time I had the presence of mind (barely) to shoot a quick photo of the GPS, giving time, location, and average speed and distance to this point.

By this time the temperature had risen to about freezing, and the snow cloud has moved on, leaving me in bright sunlight. It's far too warm for the snowsuit, so off it comes as I get down to business.

Shortly after I first got up on my feet a car zoomed past. The driver appeared to be an older lady, and I didn't blame her for continuing on down the road. She couldn't have helped much anyway. Then there were some northbound trucks, but they wouldn't have seen me until they dropped over the hill and were headed downgrade, so stopping on the slick surface wasn't even an option for them. I'm sure they passed the word on to southbound drivers via CB so someone would stop soon. Sure enough, in a few minutes a pickup pulled in ahead of me and the driver came back to see if he could help. By that time I had things pretty well under control, but he had an unused strap with him that he offered, and it proved to be just what I needed to hold the tail trunk on for the next 3000 miles.

Next was an empty truck heading back south for another load of travel trailers. He stopped to see if there was anything he could do, but without a way of hoisting the bike up onto his trailer, there wasn't much of any way he could help. When he left, I noticed that he was never able to get over about 10 mph all the way up the hill. Maybe that was steeper and slicker than I'd estimated. (It was. With everything white it is difficult to judge an incline like that. Going back that way in June I stopped at the top of the previous hill to take a photo and realized that the one on which I had fallen was much steeper than it had looked on that ill-fated day.)

In previous trips I've sometimes found it necessary to temporarily carry some of my gear on top of the tail trunk, and for that reason carry a small cargo net made for the back of station wagons. A few straps from HelenTwoWheels are always along "just in case", as well as a couple of bungee nets. All these items came into play in the next few minutes as I tried to reassemble the broken side bag, and transferred some of the more vulnerable articles to the opposite side.

Two hours after falling, Annie was tied together and ready to continue the trip. The pieces of driving light were in one of the side bags, the tail trunk was strapped on, the windshield was as good as new, and it was warmer now so snow was beginning to melt a little again. Airing the tires down - the front to 28 psi and the rear to 30 psi, I felt confident we could make it to the top of the hill and would decide my course of action based on what was found there.

Knowing I didn't want to experience a second fall, I kept the bike in first gear with my feet sliding along, ready to catch it, until near the top of the hill. Once on level pavement again, where the sun's rays had been able to do their work, I found more wet pavement, and despite my caution and concern soon found myself flying along at the ground-gaining speed of 35 mph. To my chagrin, within five miles I found the pavement to be nearly clear and only damp.

Still a little leery of how my bandaging attempts would hold together, I held the speed down for a while. But when I got across the White River...

...and hit the straight, smooth pavement in that stretch, I decided it was time to test my workmanship. Watching closely in the mirrors for any sign that my load wanted to part company, I eased the speedo on up to 60. With everything looking good, I slowed back down to a more sedate pace, pleased with the way things were looking.

About 65 miles down the road I stopped at Kluane Wilderness Village, a combination gas station/restaurant/repair shop/motel/convenience store/whatever-else-you-might-need, like many along the northern Alcan, to buy some lightweight rope or cord. The only thing available was some 5/8" diameter polypropylene rope, in bright yellow. There are times you have to take what you can get, and this was one of those times. The rope was run over the mirrors and behind the windshield to hold the driving lights up, as they had been loosened by the fall, followed by the washboard gravel, and the mount was banging against the top of the fender on this washboard gravel.

With the bike and load solidly fastened together once more, it was time to start making up for lost time. I'd had a meeting set up in Whitehorse with a fellow who was going to help man the checkpoint for the '02 Rendezvous and I had yet to see him face to face. That made it important that I get there before too late at night. With the tires deflated a bit, I didn't want to get too wild in the corners, but after stopping and checking them several times for heat, and carefully exploring their behavior, I felt confident in picking the speed up a few notches.

As a result, I arrived in Whitehorse around 8:00 PM local time, and we were able to get together over a late dinner. At my request, Mike had brought along a partial roll of duct tape he had laying around the house, and my thoughts were becoming more positive all the time.

After saying our goodbyes, it was off to a motel for me for a good night's sleep, something I have never done before when riding down the Alcan. Seems the day had taken a bit out of me, and it would be time to get a new start the next morning.

Monday, April 8, 2002 Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

It feels good to sleep in. When traveling like this, I let my body dictate the hours of rest, knowing that when I awaken naturally I'll be refreshed and ready to put in a long day. Thus it was that I barely made it out of the motel room by the 11:00 AM checkout time. The temperature had dropped to -22° C overnight according to the TV weather report, and I didn't mind letting the sun get a little head start before I went out and wiped the frost off the seat. By the time I got to the Petro Canada station 5 miles south of town, my digital thermometer was showing 18° F above, and it felt good. After topping off the main tank and the aux. fuel cell, I headed for a restaurant and some breakfast.

Entering the dining room I got a few strange looks that were becoming customary and then sat down and enjoyed what, to me, is the most important meal of the day. About 12:25 I headed out to the bike, ready to see what the rest of the Alcan looked like this early in spring.

The previous night, in the motel room, I had emptied both side bags and spent almost an hour duct taping the right one back together to some degree of structural integrity. Along with straps to the passenger grab handle to help support the weight, there were straps fore and aft keeping it in place, so everything was going to stay intact, regardless of my speed today. And speed was on the menu, of a certainty. There were people in Seattle expecting me, and I wouldn't be late if I could help it. The weather was definitely a factor yet, as there were still almost 2000 miles to go, and every kind of weather possible in those miles. But I was southbound now, and it had to get warmer, right? Was I ever in for a surprise!
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
The Lure of the Dalton, The Lure of the Dempster, Haul Road Chronicles, My Evening Rides, Alaska Primer
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:08 PM   #3
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I read your report a long time ago on the SCMA Four Corners Motorcycle Tour page. It's great to finally see the pictures too. Thanks.
"Bad planning is the mother of adventure." - Richard Grant
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Old 10-06-2008, 12:20 AM   #4
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Wink This one has history as well as a story!

Subscribed and ready to roll along with you.

"Enough Robert Pirsig-esque philosophizing. My bike didn’t need maintanenece and my Zen was around the next corner. Time to ride." Sly-on-2
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Old 10-06-2008, 03:54 AM   #5
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That's one heck of a way to start such an ambitious ride

It's gotta get easier

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Old 10-06-2008, 07:16 AM   #6
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part III

From then on, it became a case of "sit there, twist that". The fuel cell was a blessing, as I was able to concentrate on making time without having to plan my fuel stops for stations that would be open. As I cruised south of Whitehorse, I was once again impressed with the improvements in the Alcan over the past 10 years. While the pavement suffers the normal seasonal damage from frost heaving, it still is in very good condition compared to what I find in many parts of my home state. In seemingly no time at all the small, lakeside village of Teslin came into view. Crossing the Nisutlin River Bridge at the south boundary of Teslin, I was reminded why steel grate bridge decks are unpopular with motorcyclists. This is the longest such span on the Alcan, and I was glad to now have it behind me. Farther south, Rancheria was still closed as I rode by, but it looked as though someone had started to plow the deep snow out of the driveway. Maybe it would be open when I came back through later, headed north. Next, it was Watson Lake, 274 miles from breakfast (and also the warmest temperature I saw that day at +33° F ). Beyond that, fuel for bike and rider would be at Liard Hot Springs in order to be able to make Fort Nelson in case everything between the two was closed down when I went through.

A few miles north of Liard Hot Springs, I started noticing an abundance of hoof prints in the snow along the shoulders, and a general destruction of the nearby flora. It was obvious that a good-sized herd of bison had been in the area recently. Caused me to be extra diligent in my roadside scan. A little later, Trapper Ray's lodge showing up alongside the highway was a most welcome sight.

While eating at Liard, a young trucker mentioned that the highway had been nearly impassable from Fort St. John to Pink Mountain when he'd come through the morning before, and it had continued snowing heavily for most of the day, from what he'd heard later. He asked me how far I was intending to go that night, and I answered that I didn't intend stopping before Dawson Creek (still another 478 miles to the south) if I could get through. Once again I got that look that said "You ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer, are you buddy?" With his warning in mind, I figured I'd best hit the road and see what it looked like from the seat of a Concours. After Liard Hot Springs it's 195 miles to Fort Nelson. Fortunately, most of the bison were in the area just before I'd gotten to Liard, and I'd only have to watch for moose, elk, caribou, sheep and deer for the rest of the ride.

While the highway was, for the most part, clear and dry, parking lots and gas stations were not. Up here in the semi-wilderness a gas station might consist of nothing more than a small cabin with one, two, or three pumps out front. No paved apron, no canopy overhead. And after a winter's worth of snowfall being packed down, then warmed by the springtime sun during the day and refrozen each night, they become two to six inches of rutted, pot-holed ice, that's a real challenge when you're on a bike. Having been down once, I felt no compulsion to show off my dubious riding skills, and paddled the bike up to the pump at nearly every stop. Another reason to be glad I had the auxiliary fuel cell, as it meant fewer such stops to contend with. Now, with it being the time to travel again, by carefully maneuvering the Concours from its parking spot in front of the lodge, we got back onto the pavement and headed southeast once more.

Shortly after pulling out from Trapper Ray's at Liard, the sun dropped over the mountains and it began to get dark. As it was a crystal clear night, I knew it would be getting pretty chilly.

Parking briefly in a gravel pullout, I donned my Widder vest with arm chaps, put on the Widder gloves and plugged them in, and prepared for night.

As the temperature was still ten degrees or so above zero (F), I didn't think I would need the leg chaps or my balaclava. After all, I was heading south, where it would be warmer. Yeah, right!

Something that had never occurred to me while I was packing my gear, nor had it while the sun was up and the temperatures were hovering just below the freezing point, was that the freezable liquids in my luggage could do just that - turn to solids! The realization came to me after the sun had gone down and the temperature started dropping. Too late now to do anything about it, just have to hope things didn't break, although all liquid containers in my luggage are, themselves, packed in turn within zip-lock bags - just in case. (Note: Due to this lesson, the GL1800 will have a homemade “electric blanket” in the tail trunk when it is asked to take me on long trips in the northern winter.)

The Alcan winds, twists, and turns, plays roller coaster for a while, and then teases you with a few miles of straight or gently curving, beautiful pavement before it takes you back in time to the twisting, turning, rolling highway it started as some 60 years ago. It won't let you get bored. As I continued along I mentally tracked my progress, comparing what I was seeing with that which I had seen before. You can travel the Alcan week after week, the year around, and it will never appear the same twice. So it became a game to try and recall exactly what this or that spot had looked like in past trips, and what would be coming up next. This sort of mental activity I find helps to keep me alert, and I definitely didn't want to succumb to inattentiveness this night.

Even so, a little later in the evening I was surprised to find myself almost at the top of Steamboat hill before I was aware of it. Twenty years ago there would have been no mistaking the location due to its sharp turns and steep grades, but now it had been tamed to just another climb and descent.

Interrupting the solitude of that wilderness highway are places like Muncho Lake, with its assortment of lodges, many still shut down for the winter when I rode through, then Toad River with its abundant elk in the neighborhood, Summit (the highest point on the Alcan at 4250 feet elevation), Steamboat, and finally Fort Nelson. Arriving at my usual fueling stop, the Blue Bell Inn, restaurant, gas station, laundromat, convenience store, etc., I got fueled up just before they closed at midnight. Going inside to pay and grab some snacks in case I had to spend the night alongside the road, the attendant volunteered that I was the first motorcyclist through this year. Guess I could understand that, as most have better sense than I was displaying. Having no reason to stick around, and the only cold parts on my body being my feet, it was on down the road again.

Tuesday, April 9, 2002 Alaska Highway, just south of Fort Nelson, B.C., Canada

Fort Nelson is only 283 miles from Dawson Creek, and Fort St. John is 47 miles closer than Dawson Creek. But, that 283 miles can seem pretty far at times, and this night was one of those times. My feet were the only parts of my body that were feeling really cold so far, but living here in Alaska, I'm no stranger to cold tootsies. On occasion I would wiggle my toes to make certain they still had feeling, and then grin and bear it. And grin I did. Despite the less than perfect motorcycling conditions, I was having fun. The thought that I could stop and don the Widder leg chaps to help keep my lower extremities warmer came to me, but the realization that I'd have to strip down to my LD Comfort undershorts to accomplish that feat dissuaded me. I knew I could stop, get off, and walk around for a bit to thaw out if it became necessary.

In addition to watching for animals that fully expected to have the night to themselves, there was the need to be especially careful on every curve, REALLY careful on curves on hills, because of all the sand that had been spread over the recent snowfalls and ice. That concern kept forward progress to less than the desired quantity.

Being that the Connie was down to one driving light, I aimed that one right down the center of the road so it would reach out a little past the high beam. It still helped considerably. Having but one driving light was proving to be a blessing also, in a way. Using 55 watts less than my first night on the road, I was able to turn my heated clothing up higher without overtaxing the alternator - to a point. Four hundred watts can be spread only so thin. Keeping an eye on the voltmeter's glowing little red eye, it became apparent that to keep the electrical system happy, the engine needed to be spinning at around 4,000 rpm or more. This meant dropping occasionally down to fifth gear, and a few times to fourth, or even third. But that was a better choice than keeping the bike's speed up, as falling again was not considered an option, especially under these conditions on this lonely stretch of road.

As I rode, I kept an eye on the thermometer, glowing there on the shelf as though daring me to continue in the face of its declining readings. And while riding, I made comparisons with the temperatures I'd just ridden in back in Alaska, where the lowest reading had been 3°F above. Now the numbers were dropping that low again… then even lower. The appearance of the zero was momentous, then it rose, along with the elevation, to a few degrees above, only to descend further as the road dropped into a temperature inversion. Down to -9°F, now back up to +12°F, then down once more to minus 9°F and up... no, down even farther, this time to -11°F. For miles it went that way, up and down, up and down.

As anyone who has done much riding on a motorcycle equipped with a digital thermometer can attest, even a one-degree change is immediately noticeable. Thus I was able to determine that my little digital had about an eight second lag time before displaying the drop or rise in temperature that I was able to immediately sense as I passed through it. Crossing the Buckinghorse River at MP 173 I felt the most severe drop in temperature that I'd experienced so far. Sure enough, the numbers soon indicated -15° F. In a mile or so the road climbed out of the valley and the temperature climbed back up to near zero. But my elation was short lived, as the drop into the channel of the Beatton River followed in about half an hour. This time I saw the -15°F displayed even before the bridge, and just as I was crossing it, felt a sharp drop in the temperature. My estimate was that it dropped another 3 degrees before the thermometer could react and, thankfully, the road started climbing right away so the coldest spot was left behind in short order.

Just after crossing Beatton River, Mae's Kitchen appears on the east side of the highway, and I couldn't help glancing over to see if there was any sign of life. At this point it wouldn't have taken much to lure me into a warm room and a comfortable bed. In the past I've noted that my metabolism slows down around 0'dark-thirty and I become more susceptible to the cold, so I was starting to feel the effects of the cool night air. I'll be the first to admit that I would have preferred the temperature to be 20 degrees warmer, but at least I was riding after 5 months of enforced idleness, and that meant life was good.

Between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John, a distance of some 240 miles, I met fewer than 10 vehicles, nearly all of them semi's; tankers hauling fuel north from the refineries further south. As a form of entertainment, I imagined the thoughts going through the minds of the drivers as they met this two-wheeled anomaly appearing out of the dark, cold night. Things like "What the ___ is that fool doing out there on a motorcycle?", or "That guy must be a total idiot, doesn't he know it's 20 below [°C] and there's ice on the road up ahead?", and other such laudatory comments. Late at night, on a long, empty road like that, I'm easily entertained.

Next was the climb up to the top of the hill at Pink Mountain, and to find what had happened to all the snow that fell the previous day. As I passed the entrances to the two lodges on opposite sides of the highway, I could see the remnants of a heavy snowfall, and there was still a bumpy coating of thick, well-sanded ice all across the road. Tiptoeing through this at a much reduced pace, I was glad to see that the south-facing pavement on the other side had received the benefit of a sunlit day, and only slowed for a short distance to be sure there was no black ice hiding under the cover of darkness. From that point on, it was back to sit there, twist that, while keeping a sharp eye out for four-legged roadblocks.

Onowon came into view, and I slowed once more, looking longingly at the buildings, which were bound to be warm and cozy inside, but by this time Dawson Creek was less than two hours distant, and the breakfast that I was planning to enjoy there provided a greater incentive than the interior of a motel. Besides, it was ridiculous to succumb to the temptation of creature comfort at this stage of the ride.

Rolling into Fort St. John, I felt a little conspicuous in the sparse 4:30 AM traffic. Had it been summer, I could have ridden along with a big sign reading "I AM AN IDIOT" and felt the same way. But before long I was back up to speed on the highway to Dawson Creek and, I hoped, a hot breakfast.

If we ride much, we sooner or later get to enjoy the carnival-ride experience of crossing a metal grate bridge deck. With good tires and a halfway decent suspension there's no problem with such a surface. Add a little rain, and it might get a bit more interesting. Throw in a cross wind and the pucker factor can increase proportional to the strength of the breeze. Now picture this one - a long, curving metal grate bridge deck, over the open Peace River with vapor rising off its surface, temperature about -5°F, at O'dark thirty. Needless to say, I took it cautiously, and breathed a little easier when I got back on sanded pavement on the other side, glad that the lights of Taylor, B.C. were disappearing in my rear view mirrors.

It was still 5 below when I got to the north side of Dawson Creek at 5:30 AM, and it didn't take long to find an open restaurant. Carefully turning around in the ice-covered parking lot, I parked near the door and went inside. By now I was accustomed to the strange looks, and besides, I didn't care. It was warm in here, and my feet were happy with that situation. Choosing a seat near the door and a little way from the main group of breakfast diners, I started stripping down to the essentials. My Widder gloves to the right, helmet to the left, jacket on the back of a nearby chair, glasses on the table out of the way. I watched in amazement as the glasses not only steamed up - they were soon covered with white frost, as was the faceshield and the outer surface of my helmet. But I didn't care, I was ready for breakfast.
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I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
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Old 10-06-2008, 07:40 AM   #7
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Old 10-06-2008, 04:39 PM   #8
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part IV

Enjoying a leisurely meal, along with a single cup of coffee and then some nice, hot tea, I had time to reflect on the first 1450 miles of my sojourn. From the time of leaving Glennallen I had been surrounded by snow, and to say the monochrome landscape was becoming boring was a major understatement. Now it was time to find something else to look at. Feeling good after the hearty repast, I decided I would make it at least to Prince George if the road conditions permitted, and probably make an early stop there for another good night's rest. Seattle would be about 8 to 10 hours from Prince George, so it could still be reached by Wednesday. Checking my watch again, and doing the quick calculations to come up with local time in Ohio, the thought that it was three hours later in the Eastern Time Zone hit me. Doug Grosjean had given me his work phone number before I started out, and he would be there now, as it was almost 9:00 AM in Clyde, Ohio. Taking a moment to write down all the parts I thought I would need, I checked to see if my cell phone would let me make a call from here. Getting no satisfaction in that direction, I found a pay phone in the arctic entry and placed the call.

Fortunately, Doug was at his desk and answered right away. After explaining to him that I'd dropped the bike a couple days earlier, but was all right and just needed some parts and pieces, I asked if he would notify the COG (Concours Owners Group) list to see if I could beg, borrow, rent, or steal the needed parts to get everything back in smooth running order. Because even though all was firmly attached to the bike again, it took nearly five minutes to get something out of the right side bag, and even longer to get it all fastened back together again. Not something I wanted to deal with for the next four weeks and 14,000 miles. During the phone call I also mentioned the fact that I'd come around 900 miles since 12:30 the afternoon before, and ridden through some temperatures as low as -15°F. It wasn't my intention to make a big thing of it, I just found it interesting in that I hadn't really expected to do either of those things. Doug asked if I minded him passing that information along to both the COG list and the LDRiders lists, and I gave my assent. Didn't realize what a tempest in a teapot would ensue from those revelations. Man, did I get a hard time from my fellow riders. In short order I became the not-so-proud recipient of the nickname "Crash". Oh well, I've been called worse.

Gassing up after breakfast, I learned that the Hart Highway toward Prince George was reported to have black ice not far out of town. There was a thick fog bank laying in a low area just west of Dawson Creek, so I stopped at a pullout short of it and put the bike on the sidestand. Sitting there with my back warmed by the sun that had barely risen above the horizon, and my vest turned down as low as it would go, I felt relaxed and at peace with the world.

It wouldn't have taken much to have dozed for a bit, but it was necessary to see what else the highway held in store for me, and there was a desire to get on down the road. After about 30 minutes the fog seemed to have lifted, and I figured I'd be able to see the ice, if any was still on the road. By now the temperature had risen to about 15 above and it was looking to be another beautiful day for riding.

From Dawson Creek it's a short 44 miles over to the tiny community of East Pine, and its twisty little river crossing, then another 20 miles on to Chetwynd. The latter town was still in winter hibernation when I passed through, and it paid no more attention to me than I to it.

The 250 miles from Dawson Creek to Prince George takes the traveler through grain fields and next to pine-covered mountains as it follows the valley of the Pine River; then over Pine Summit, around lakes, through what looks to be some great fishing country, and past many more miles of forest. It's a beautiful ride, even when the weather's a little chilly.

But once again I found myself surrounded by the monotony of the white topography. Yep, it was time to find a place with some varied colors in the landscape, and I didn't plan on stopping until I got there.

Encountering a brief snow squall through Pine Pass, the temperatures started climbing in earnest as the highway descended toward Prince George. Once down off the summit, the elevation varies less than 100 feet until the final drop down into the Fraser River valley, and that was where the temperature finally got comfortably above freezing. It sure felt good! Riding through downtown Prince George, I realized that it had been just 24 hours since breakfast and starting south from Whitehorse the previous day. Noting the mileage, later calculations showed the distance to be 1134 miles. Once more an IBA Saddlesore, had I just bothered to document it. However, this ride wasn't to get certificates, just to get to the destination, so that was merely a serendipitous occurrence.

Here in Prince George the piles of snow revealing themselves here and there between buildings offered mute testimony that spring was still a few weeks away this far north, and there was an all-too-real chance that I could wake up tomorrow to six inches or more of snow, so southward I continued.

Stopping at Hixon around 1:30 PM, the windshield was dampened with the beginnings of a soft rain as I gassed up. Talking with the clerk in the little convenience store, she told me that just a couple days earlier the area had been blanketed by a heavy snowfall. Just what I needed to hear to cement my resolve. Being somewhat familiar with the route after over 40 years of travel up and down the Fraser River valley, I knew that the one place to be sure of finding dry, bare ground tomorrow morning was the junction town of Cache Creek, which is surrounded by desert. My destination was established, and at 6:15 PM I checked into a motel in that small community, safely assured that I had seen the last of stark white scenery for a while. Total distance from Whitehorse: 1428 cool, white, but fun, miles. Had I ridden another 72 miles, it could have been a Bun Burner. No matter, I was stopping right here, where there was no snow to be seen in any direction.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002 Cache Creek, B.C., Canada

Wednesday morning found me up and feeling bright and frisky by 7:00 AM. After a meager breakfast that left me looking longingly at the closed fruit stands along the next 30 miles of highway, I was packed and ready to head south, then west. First though, I needed to notify my insurance carrier and get the ball rolling to accomplish repairs on the bike when I got back home. A little after 10:00 AM that had been taken care of, and travel could begin again. As I pulled out of Cache Creek after fueling up, there were clouds over the mountains ahead, but nothing detracted from the awesome scenery of the Thompson and Fraser River canyons that morning.

Those of us fortunate enough to have traveled these miles can only make an attempt, with words and photos, to describe the natural beauty. If you ever get the chance, spend some time in southern B.C. and over along the Alberta border in the Canadian Rockies. Sorry, but the Colorado Rockies pale in comparison.

The temperature was in the low sixties now, so the snowmobile suit was bungeed onto the Givi top case and I was once again able to wear the Roadcrafter. This left me feeling much more protected as I twisted and turned along the canyon wall above the roily Fraser River.

Coming into Hope, a slight sprinkle dampened the pavement and lent a pleasant freshness to the air. Even though I've traveled this route since 1962, I never tire of seeing this part of Canada. Outside of Hope, Trans-Canada 1, which I'd been on since leaving Cache Creek, becomes a four-lane divided highway, just like an interstate down in the U. S. Nonetheless, it remains a scenic byway as it runs along the base of the mountains that stretch from here south across the international border into Washington State. This is the kind of riding I never tire of.

Before long, it was through U. S. customs at Sumas, Washington, then a stop on a side road to make a few phone calls now that cell phone reception was good again. While arriving in the Seattle area later than I'd planned and hoped, it was still early enough to swing by Ron's house in Bothell to tighten up loose bolts and nuts, and begin repairing some of the damage from the fall up in the Yukon. Ron, gracious host as always, drove me around to pick up some extra nylon screws for the windshield, and helped me with the repairs that would get me down to Bend, Oregon, where a few replacement parts were already waiting. He also came up with some 3M super adhesive foam that we used to remount my Saeng mirrors to the windshield. It held up fine for the rest of the trip.

With Ron's able assistance, we also discovered that the right hand driving light had only separated into several pieces, but had not broken. Reconnecting the wires to the bulb and back of the light, and fitting the lens/reflector unit back into the somewhat flexible housing, the light was functioning once more. Just to be on the safe side, however, we applied a full band of clear packaging tape around the whole assembly. Later, while riding at night, I would be very glad to have both of the Hella's adding their illumination to that of the single headlight.

While at Ron's, Russ Pagenkopf from Juneau, Alaska, who would be my riding partner for this little tour, showed up on his Honda 750 Nighthawk. As an employee of Alaska Airlines, he had taken advantage of one of the perks of his employment and shipped his bike south to Seattle and flown down himself to begin the Four Corners Tour at nearby Blaine, Washington. After picking the bike up at the Alaska Airlines cargo facility, he'd ridden up to Everett Powersports to have new tires mounted and the bike serviced. Russ and his bike were now ready for the long journey.

Our plan at this point was to overnight at Blaine and then, after an early morning departure from that beginning point, meet Ron north of Seattle and ride together to the Washington coast for a lunch of fresh oysters. We retired to Café Veloce to discuss the finer points of our plan over a delightful meal, after which Russ and I headed north through the gentle Northwest rain to Blaine for a good night's rest.

Thursday, April 11, 2002 Blaine, Washington

Typical of this part of the country adjacent to the Strait of Georgia, which separates Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia, there was a gentle rain softly falling as we mounted our bikes and headed for the Denny's that we'd passed on the way into Blaine the previous night. Then back to the motel to finish packing, ride a couple blocks to the Blaine Post Office for our official photos, gas up, and away we would go.

It was a pleasant morning in spite of the drizzle, and even that soon dried up so we could ride comfortably and without having to wipe moisture off our faceshields every few minutes. Traffic was moving at a reasonably rapid pace, and Russ and I were out in the hammer lane next to the median keeping our own pace rather brisk. Suddenly, there was a cloud of steam behind my windshield. The immediate thought was that I'd hit a larger puddle and the water vaporized when it hit my exhaust pipes. The smell of anti-freeze that followed on its heels quickly laid that wishful thinking to rest. Pull in the clutch, hit the kill button and the four-way flashers at the same time, and quickly get as far to the left as the guardrail will allow while slowing to a stop. For the second time on this trip I'm thinking "This can't be happening".

But it was. After parking the bike on its sidestand, we looked back down the highway we had just covered, and the telltale stream of coolant was proof that the ride was on hold until some repairs were made.
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
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Old 10-07-2008, 12:35 PM   #9
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part V

While testing AAA's Plus RV coverage for my motorcycle hadn't been part of my original plans, this was a time to find out how useful it might be. Digging out the cell phone, I punched in the numbers and waited for an answer.

Have you ever tried making a phone call while standing in the median with traffic whizzing by at 65+ mph just a few feet away? My hearing is not the best anymore anyway, and this situation didn't lend any assistance. Finally, I just explained precisely where I was, the nature of my problem, gave my membership number, and told the person on the other end that I hoped they could understand enough to get a truck out to get me. Whether I ever got an affirmative answer or not, I'll never know. Russ and I stood there on the backside of the guardrail for 45 minutes without seeing any sign of a tow truck or wrecker.

We were almost convinced we'd be there until traffic thinned out sometime late that night, when a pickup with a two-bike trailer whipped in right ahead of me. Thinking that AAA had really been on the ball, I was surprised when the driver told us that he'd seen us standing here as he drove northbound on the opposite side, going to pick up a bike and take it back to Lynnwood Yamaha, where he worked. As a thoughtful gesture to fellow motorcyclists, he'd stayed in the left-hand lane as he approached our location to see if we were still stranded there. I'm sure the gratitude we felt for his concern was evident on our faces as we loaded my Concours alongside the Yamaha he'd picked up earlier. As we were driving back to his shop, the driver introduced himself as Andy Hardin, the service manager at Lynnwood Yamaha.

Unloading the Concours in the yard behind the shop, Andy pointed to a tent set up next to the building and told me I was welcome to work on my bike there, out of the rain that was becoming imminent. Before starting on the bike, we contacted Ron, who said he would be headed up that way as soon as he could get moving.

At this point it's appropriate to mention that Russ and I had discussed the possibility of one of our bikes breaking down on the Tour, and we'd agreed that the partner with the operating bike could continue on, as there was no need to sacrifice both rides because of one bike's problems. But Russ was having none of that. He stayed there with me, even though Ron had also shown up to offer whatever assistance he could. And it was comforting to have all that help, even though there was only room for one person to work. That comfort didn't come without its price, however. Russ spent some time photographing me in as many embarrassing positions as possible, chuckling all the while. To add insult to injury, he used MY camera for the pictures. Although we didn't know it at the time, I'd have my chance to get even later. Heh-heh.

It didn't take long to find the problem - a bolt holding a cooling line into a casting had backed out, allowing the coolant to spray directly out of the water pump onto the ground. Both the bolt and the O-ring on the coolant line were gone. Andy found two metric bolts, one of which was exactly right.

Trying a Yamaha O-ring didn't work as well, though, but calling a nearby Kawasaki dealer resulted in finding 3 of the proper O-rings in stock. Ron and Russ hurried down the street to pick 2 of those up for me (luckily, as the first was destroyed in attempting to install it, as this photo of the Connie's lifeblood running across the floor illustrates).

Finally, thanks to having the second O-ring, and after being stopped for nearly six hours, the Concours was back together and ready to travel once more. This time, with Loctite ensuring the bolt would stay around for the remainder of the trip.

Once we were sure the Connie was again roadworthy, and Russ and I ascertained that our bikes were loaded properly and ready to go, we offered our heartfelt thanks to Andy and Lynnwood Yamaha, and made haste to get back on I-5. Before heading south, however, we had to go back north to pick up the tour where it had come to a halt earlier in the day. There was no way I would allow anyone to say that the Concours hadn't covered every inch of the Four Corners under its own power. Now, almost an hour after we'd left Lynnwood Yamaha, we were once again moving in the right direction.

As luck would have it, our timing was such that we got to the heart of Seattle just at the beginning of "rush hour". Having worked right through lunch, we were both ready to stop for a bite to eat, and soon found a spot not too far off the interstate. Not a dining establishment we would have chosen under other circumstances, but for the moment it sufficed. Knowing that traffic would be heavy for another hour or two, we took our time and regrouped, so to speak.

An hour and a half later, with traffic in the downtown Seattle area lessened considerably, we headed south once more, into the rain that we could see falling from thick, leaden clouds down Tacoma way. Fortunately, traffic moved well, and we were nearing Olympia as darkness approached. Russ was in front, setting a good pace. Earlier, he'd told me the Battleax tires he'd had installed on his Nighthawk inspired confidence, and he was moving just a bit faster than the traffic. It was while we were leaving Olympia and traffic had thinned just a bit, that I took over the lead and discovered something that aided us for the next five thousand miles.

During my winter maintenance and preparation, I'd added a Kisan headlight modulator. If someone in a cage seemed to want to park in the number one lane, without making an effort to pass the vehicle next to him, I would hit the high beam, which would activate the modulator. Apparently the driver woke up, thinking that this might be a LEO in his rearview. Whatever, it proved to be very helpful and later, whenever Russ was in the lead and a stubborn driver refused to yield, I'd pull up behind the driver and flip on the modulator. It probably worked in 7 or 8 out of 10 tries. But once full dark arrived, the modulator no longer modulated, so we were on our own again.

At one point, heading south from Olympia toward Portland, attempting to goad a young male driver into being our rabbit for a few miles, it became obvious that he was expecting US to be HIS rabbits. No thanks, it doesn't work that way. We lost him in a bit of heavier traffic and went back to finding our own rabbits.

At a rest area south of Portland, Russ and I stopped to compare notes and decided that stopping for the night and getting a good night's rest might be the wisest course. Neither of us had had a really good rest the night before, and after catching up, we could make better time tomorrow. Just as we were getting ready to remount, a young rider on a ZX6R pulled in next to us. Riding in the steady rain, just as we had been, the rider looked half drowned. But he seemed cheerful and ready to continue. During a brief chat, he revealed that he was headed for Southern California, wanting to arrive there the next night. Under questioning, we found that he was getting a bit cold, as he wasn't really properly dressed for an all night ride in the rain. His feet were especially suffering, he mentioned. Russ dug into his side bag and brought out a pair of polypropylene socks and handed them to the young man, telling him to wear them to help keep his feet warm. A moment that made me proud to be riding with Russ.

Damp, and a little weary, Russ and I found a motel at one of the exits off I-5 in Salem. It would be nice to get a good night's sleep and then ride steadily the next day to make it to Death Valley in time to meet up with the group down there.

Friday, April 12, 2002* Salem, Oregon

The next morning, feeling well rested, Russ and I hunted up a restaurant to start the day off with a good breakfast. We both knew meal stops were going to be an unaffordable luxury today, once we were back on the road. While I'd been hurrying to get from Dawson Creek to Seattle without being terribly late, Russ had been acting as coordinator for the parts that were coming from all over the U. S. Unbeknownst to me until I arrived in Seattle, these parts were headed to Bend, Oregon, to be held there by Carl Metler, one of the great guys (and also the Executive Director) of the Concours Owners Group. Now Russ and I were headed for Bend to meet Carl and to install the needed parts onto the Concours.

Once we found Carl and his charming wife Rhonda in Bend, we quickly removed the damaged parts from my Concours and installed the replacements that had been waiting there for our arrival. After an all-too-brief visit, we were back on the road with the intention of making it to Death Valley before morning.

There are several things that can cause poor gas mileage on a motorcycle. One of those things is a strong head wind. Another is a highway that's straight, has good visibility for a long distance ahead and behind, and that has little traffic and no towns. Funny how quick you can go through a tank of gas under those conditions. Such a road is Oregon Hwy. 31 heading southeast off of US-97 from the vicinity of LaPine. Having topped off our tanks before leaving Salem that morning, we waited until we were heading off into the more unpopulated south-central desert before refueling at LaPine. With just over 10 gallons of useable fuel aboard there was a chance I'd make it to Reno before having to stop again. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I discovered my fuel gauge bouncing off the "E" only 275 miles after filling up.

We stopped in Standish, California to allay my fears and grab some minor sustenance, while I calculated my mileage at a pitiful 30.6 mpg for this leg, and Russ smirked as he dribbled a little gasoline into his fuel-sipping Nighthawk. This wouldn't be the last time Russ cackled gleefully when observing the disparity in our fuel consumption rates. But my time would come before this ride was over. He who laughs last, and all that.

Once on US-395 again, we would sometimes ride side-by-side on this sparsely-traveled highway to give ourselves the advantage of two headlights and four driving lights revealing a path through the darkness as we hurried toward Death Valley.

Reno, Nevada isn't a really large city, especially when traversed from north to south, and we were intent on making it seem as small as possible this night, with many miles ahead of us. It was around 11:30 PM when we saw the last of the lights along the southern edge of Reno, and dark desert highway ahead of us. It was also starting to cool down noticeably.

With neither Russ nor I sure of the gas station schedules for the next 350 or so miles, we stopped for fuel in Carson City near midnight, again noticing the drop in temperature as night progressed here in this dry, high altitude air.

Saturday, April 13, 2002 US-395 south of Carson City, Nevada

This night I found that once again my expectations exceeded what nature had prepared for me. Both Russ and I had been feeling the cool of the night, and as we dropped down along the shoreline of Mono Lake, coming into Lee Vining, California, I noticed my tell-tale thermometer dropping to 26°F. This isn't supposed to be happening, for crying out loud! Here we are in California, the land of sunshine and seashores, far from the frigid north, and we find below freezing temperatures. How far south would I have to go to insure staying warm?

As the highway gained altitude once more south of town, I found Russ' headlight dwindling in my rear view. Turning around to see what might be wrong, I found him putting on nearly every bit of warm clothing he had along. My snowmobiling suit had been left rolled up in a plastic bag at Ron's or I would have been doing the same thing. As I have pointed out before, the Goretex of which the Roadcrafter is made only slows the wind, it won't stop it. So I donned the Widder vest, arm chaps, and gloves, feeling like a real wimp now that I was here in "sunny" California, and stayed pretty warm for the rest of the night. One more gas stop at Bishop, and then on to Lone Pine, where we turned east onto CA-190 and into Death Valley.
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
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Old 10-07-2008, 02:15 PM   #10
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Old 10-07-2008, 10:45 PM   #11
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part VI

The brightening of the eastern sky ahead was a welcome sight, giving promise that the cold night was nearly over and we would soon be riding in warm comfort. This route into Death Valley was an unexpectedly pleasant experience, with the twisting pavement finally offering the type of riding we had been hoping to find, and the temperature rising to a pleasant degree with the drop in altitude.

Finally, at around 6:00 AM, we arrived at the motel at Stovepipe Wells and found the front desk. The night before, I'd phoned them from farther north to assure the management that we would indeed be arriving eventually, just hold the room and charge the credit card. So it didn't take long to get checked in and parked in front of our room, the luggage unloaded and stowed inside its spacious air-conditioned comfort.

Arriving when we did, just a short time after sunrise, there were people already up and about, enjoying the cool of the morning before the hot desert sun began beating down on this little oasis. This reminded me that breakfast would soon be prepared, and I was feeling hungry after our all-night ride with its chilly temperatures. Russ preferred to examine the back side of his eyelids for the moment, so I left to wander about, hoping to locate the dining room as well as find any others from the COG group.

There was a lovely swimming pool near our room, and it dawned on me that I'd forgotten to include a pair of swimming trunks in my packing. Guess being surrounded by snow when I was packing at home had pushed the thought of swimming from my mind. This wouldn't be the last time I'd regret not having the proper gear for taking a dip.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky a few more of the vacationers came out of their rooms into the rapidly-warming daylight, and I started meeting some of the riders who had ridden to the spot the previous day. Soon I was seated at breakfast with a couple of them, and we began to get acquainted over our morning refreshment. This was nice, finally being able to relax with no distant destination imploring me to hurry.

While realizing that I should lay down and get some rest, I was feeling good after breakfast, and there was too much to do and see for me to feel sleepy. Many of the riders took off for a circuit of the valley that would take them over passes and through all the most scenic areas. Having just parked the bike, and afraid that I might be too tired to keep up with all these fresh riders, I decided to stay closer to the motel. In a little while Russ was up and ready to take a ride with me, so we headed south to investigate the rest of the valley floor.

By now the sun was beating down, and although it was a "dry" heat, it was still mighty hot for two Alaskans dressed in motorcycling gear. Our first stop was at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center to grab something cool to drink and to discuss our potential route. We decided to see how bad it could get and headed on south toward the spot marked on the map as the lowest elevation in North America at 282 ft. below sea level.

While we rode, I kept a close watch on my digital thermometer, as I was interested in what extremes this whole tour would present. Watching as the digits climbed above 100, hovering at 103°F for several miles, then climbing again as we continued to descend, the highest reading that stayed on the display for more than a few seconds was 105. Perfect! I prefer nice, even numbers, and with the -15°F that I'd recorded 4½ days earlier this would make the extremes 120° apart - good enough for me. So as we approached the turn off to Artists Loop I slowed and turned in, coming to a stop on the edge of the side road. However, as soon as the bike quit moving the heat from the fairing and the engine below it hit the sensor and the temperature indication quickly hit 120 and climbing. I'd wanted to take a photo of the high temperature as it actually was, so this just wouldn't do. We could sit there in the sun, waiting until the indication came back down, and if either of us lived long enough, that one could snap the photo for our survivors to enjoy. Somehow that didn't appeal to our sense of logic, so we had to come up with another plan.

Russ had a bottle of juice that he'd purchased back at the Visitors Center, so I asked him to put a drop or two on the sensor to cool it off. That worked - too well. Now the display indicated it was only 89° out there. Well, nothing to do now but wait, as we knew it would climb back up, and all I had to do was be ready when it passed through 105 once more.

Now Russ had shown a lot of patience with me and my idiosyncrasies to this point, but I suspect his patience was wearing thin as he stood there in the still, hot air, with the bright California sun beating down on his black FirstGear jacket while I waited for the exact moment to snap my photo. Finally the numerals appeared as they should, the photo was snapped, and the camera put away so we could continue through the twists and turns of Artists Loop.

Most riders are familiar with the fact that if you are riding at 53 F, and the temperature drops to 52 F, you can feel it nearly instantly. For me, it was the same way on the Alcan as the temperature dropped from -12 to -13, then to -14, etc. But Death Valley was off my personal scale. There was no sensible difference from 100 to 105°F, so far as I could discern. For this test I'd purposely left the Mira-Cool vest in the motel room, wanting to see what effect the heat would have on me, and how long it would be before I noticed it. Didn't take long. About 30 miles after we left the last stop (at least it seemed that far, might not have been), I started feeling the first hint of nausea. Told Russ it was time to turn around. We got back to the Visitor Center all right, and sat in the shade sipping iced tea for a while before venturing out into the sun again.

After getting back to the motel room at Stovepipe Wells we got cleaned up and ready to attend the dinner party that was planned for the evening. A good crowd had shown up, with most coming from other parts of California. Frank Taylor and his lovely wife had ridden in from Salt Lake City, Utah, "Idaho" Bob Rainey from his home state, and if my failing memory isn't too far off, there were a couple of gentlemen from Texas. Wherever we came from, I believe the feeling was unanimous that it was worth the distance. As with nearly all such gatherings, the lies and tire-kicking continued into the night until heavy eyelids and planned early-morning departures brought it all to a close.

Sunday, April 14, 2002 Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, California

With no real schedule to keep to today, Russ and I made a late departure from the motel. So late, in fact, I was afraid I'd be charged another day's room rent. But the management was generous, and we got off with just the standard outrageous charge. It was in the mid-80's as we headed west out of the Valley, and not unpleasant at all, now that we had acclimated. Just to be safe though, I was wearing a Mira-Cool vest that had been soaking in water all night. Combined with the extremely low humidity, this was as good as having air-conditioning - until we stopped for gas at Lone Pine. But a cold bottle of iced tea took care of that until we were once again underway, this time back north on US-395. We were going to retrace the route the others had ridden the previous day, but in the opposite direction.

Arriving at Big Pine, we turned east toward Death Valley once again. We'd been told that CA-168 crawled over two passes between the Nevada line and Big Pine, and provided some great scenery. Having the time to enjoy the side trip, we were looking forward to the views.

Coming down from Westgard Pass, and out of the trees, I turned back to use the natural "facilities" the way we find ourselves doing in Alaska. While back a ways off the road, I heard a motorcycle stop very near where mine was parked. Soon I heard a voice calling to see if I was all right. I responded that I was merely answering nature's call, and the rider acknowledged and rode off again. As he pulled away, I could make out enough of the bright red bike to (mis)identify it as an ST1100. After all, aren't all ST1100's red?

Russ was waiting down the road a mile or two at a large gravel pull out, and when I pulled in, he was ready to go again. I led as we continued east, past Spring Creek Ranch, and up the hill toward the final pass prior to entering Nevada. As I got to the top - Gilbert Summit - I pulled off onto a gravel patch to take some photos of the panorama spread out behind me while I waited for Russ to catch up. And waited. And waited.

After a few minutes, I sensed that things were not as they should be. There were no good spots to pull off and take pictures until this one, so Russ should be coming on up. I'd better go back, it could be that this climb, combined with the heat and elevation, caused his bike to act up and maybe quit on him. Not sure what I might find, I headed back down from the summit.

About half a mile from the top, the driver of an oncoming car flagged me down. "Your friend ran off the road, but he's okay", she told me. And then went on to describe how far back down the road he was. This was not the news I wanted to hear, but at least Russ was okay, although how good "okay" was could be open to interpretation.

When I got near where Russ was standing, I felt much better. At least he was able to walk around. His bike was down off the side of the road, in among some little desert bushes, which were trying unsuccessfully to hide some rather large, nasty looking rocks.

By this time Russ had detached as many things from his bike as were readily detachable, as well as a few things that shouldn't have been. His windshield was history, there was a deep ding in the gas tank, one bag had been ripped loose from its binding, and the handlebar was tweaked severely. Other damage surfaced much later, as we proceeded toward Las Vegas.

From the looks of the tracks, Russ had apparently taken the left-hander a little wide, and once onto the loose gravel of the narrow shoulder, it was all she wrote. The big rock right in his path as he headed out across the landscape hadn't helped, either.

When I arrived at the scene of the mishap, a very helpful gentleman had already pulled up in his SUV and was doing what he could to help Russ. A few moments later a motorcyclist pulled up and parked on the shoulder near where we were looking at the bike. As he pulled up, I recognized the bright red as probably being the same one I had seen pulling away while I was standing behind the tree earlier, and now noticed it was a PC800, not the ST1100 I had assumed it to be. But when the rider removed his helmet, I was astounded to see that it was someone I recognized from having dined with him in Glennallen, Alaska the previous summer. Will Edwards, from near Seattle, Washington, just happened to be riding the same lonely road across the north edge of Death Valley that Russ and I had chosen. Talk about a small world!

While I would rather have met Will again under better circumstances, it was really good to see him again. A retired motor officer, he has many, many years of experience on two wheels, and was certain to be a welcome addition to our little company. As we stood there talking, Will told us that he had been heading for Las Vegas to see the "Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit, as we were planning to do. Thus it was that we two became three.

The helpful gentleman in the SUV lived in Las Vegas, and offered to transport some of Russ' belongings to his home where we could pick them up later, after Russ got his bike in better shape for carrying all the gear. So off we went, Russ in the lead, Will and I following. As luck (bad) would have it, we were riding into a fierce headwind almost all the way into Las Vegas, and with no windshield Russ was having quite a battle, hanging on to his bent handlebars while nursing some soreness in his neck and back.
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
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Old 10-08-2008, 11:09 PM   #12
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part VII

Monday, April 15, 2002 Las Vegas, Nevada

My first visit to Las Vegas was in late summer, 1992, when I was trucking all over North America. That time I was hauling a load of computer manufacturing equipment from Boise, Idaho to LAX for air shipment to Israel and decided to take a swing through Sin City. Driving west across US-93 from Caliente, Nevada that night, I'd noticed a glow in the sky in the distance. One hundred miles to the south, hundreds of megawatts of electricity were being consumed to make this probably the brightest lit spot on the face of the earth. The next day I dropped my trailer at a truckstop and bobtailed around the city, looking in awe at the number of places a sucker and his dollar (or nickels, dimes, or quarters) could be separated.

Interested in a little sightseeing, I'd hooked on to my trailer the next day and drove down 93 toward Kingman, but turned around just inside the Arizona line to take another look at Hoover Dam. I'll tell you, the best way to see the U. S. is from a cabover semi-tractor, provided it's air-conditioned and has a comfortable bunk. But the best way to experience the U. S. is from the seat of a motorcycle.

Now here I was back again, maybe my tenth visit in as many years. The initial fascination had long since worn off, and it now appeared only as another big, busy city sweltering under the hot desert sun.

We'd found a room Sunday night at the Motel 6 on W. Tropicana Blvd. and settled in for an extended stay. Russ needed to get some work done on his bike, and we had planned all along to visit the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit. As it turned out, Russ spent most of his day getting the work done on his Honda and purchasing parts and a new helmet. Will and I headed on to the Venetian to view the motorcycles, urging Russ to get there as soon as he could. From all we'd heard before coming down this way, it would be worth every cent of the admission price, as it proved to be.

Something happened that Monday morning that made us wonder if it was safe to be in our company. Russ and Will left the motel in the morning to ride over to the Honda dealer Russ had contacted to work on his bike. They left the motel headed east, and were making a U-turn at the first intersection to head back west. As they made the turn, Russ looked in his rear view mirror and saw Will and his bike on their sides.

When we had arrived in Las Vegas the evening before, the wind was howling through the city. It was obvious, from the amount of debris that was blowing all over, that wind of this velocity was unusual, even for Las Vegas. Along with the wind came light, loose sand. It was a thin layer of this sand, virtually invisible, that had been Will's undoing. Fortunately, there was no discernible damage to the bike or rider, but we began to wonder...

Tuesday, April 16, 2002 Las Vegas, Nevada

The wind had died down to a steady breeze, and while it was pretty warm, at least the humidity was nearly non-existent. At 9:30 in the morning Russ and I were ready to get back on the highway and headed for San Ysidro, the second corner of our tour. Will was going to head back home to the Seattle area, so we'd said our good-byes the night before.

We topped off our tanks and prepared to get onto I-15 southbound. As we rode along, Russ in the lead, I detected a strong odor of gasoline, and closer investigation revealed a nearly steady stream of the fluid coming from Russ' bike. Signaling him that we needed to stop and check it, we pulled off the interstate and parked along the curb of a subdivision street, in the blazing hot sunlight. The fuel valve from his auxiliary tank was leaking, and it took a few minutes - which included removing the filler from the tank - to correct the problem. Now we were ready to make time in the desired direction.

There was no windshield available in Las Vegas for Russ' bike, so he had called ahead to a Cycle Gear outlet in San Marcos, California. They would have one sent to their store by UPS and have it waiting when we got there Tuesday afternoon. Now we had an appointment to keep prior to making the corner at San Ysidro. Once again Russ was riding without a windshield, but with new handlebars and without the vicious headwind it was much easier so we maintained a good pace.

After we got to Cycle Gear it didn't take Russ an hour to have the new windshield mounted and his bike ready to go again. Fortunately, there was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store just across the side street, so I had something to do while Russ worked on his bike. Alaskans are reputed to be the largest per-capita consumers of ice cream in the world, and it is only through diligent effort that we maintain that reputation. Had to stay in practice and maintain our reputation. The things I'll do for my home state! .

Nearing sundown, we arrived at San Ysidro around 6:30 PM and saw a little more of the town than really necessary as we searched for the San Ysidro Post Office. Having difficulty finding legal parking near the post office, we pulled the bikes up to the curb in front of the sign and quickly took our obligatory photos.

The red strap that was installed in the Yukon, still holding the Givi tail trunk on in California.

It didn't take us long to find our way back out to I-805 then I-8 and get our bikes pointed east. It was just after we'd started toward Arizona on I-8 that Russ and I had our first, but far from last, mix-up due to a lack of communication.

Being the idiot that I am, I'd failed to change my dark tinted faceshield to the clear one while we were stopped at San Ysidro. So now, with the sun well down over the horizon, I realized I needed to get it done if I were to see where I was going. Leading at the time, I signaled for a right turn to change lanes and take the next exit, which came up sooner than I'd expected. Russ was caught behind a couple of cars and didn't see me get off the freeway. We were now separated, with no plans made for getting back together in case of such an event, except that we had each other's cell phone numbers.

As long as I was off the interstate anyway, I went ahead and found a store with a large parking lot along the street I'd gotten off onto, then proceeded to change my faceshield and take care of anything else that needed attention for the all night ride that was to follow. It wasn't long before my cell phone rang. Russ had realized what I'd done a bit too late to get off the freeway with me, so he'd gone on up a few more exits to one with a fast food restaurant. After getting directions from him, I rode up to join him in a meal that was overdue anyway. Now we were ready to travel.

Having read of many riders encountering high crosswinds as they passed over the summit east of San Diego, we were prepared to fight them ourselves. But to our relief, there were only some benign breezes to cool us before our descent into the purgatory of the Imperial Valley. We continued to make good progress as we approached the Arizona border.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002 I-8, nearing Yuma, Arizona

Midnight and a new day arrived together just minutes before we left California and crossed into Arizona at Yuma. A quick stop to refuel and grab some liquid refreshment and snacks, and back onto the interstate. The miles continued to fall behind as we waited for the sun to come up ahead of us. It was just getting light when we turned off I-8 at Gila Bend and headed north to intersect I-10 west of Phoenix. A few miles to the west on I-10 there was a Rip Griffin Truck Stop that I'd stopped at several times in the past, so we turned that way to grab some breakfast.

After breakfast, our next destination was the Cycle Gear outlet in Mesa, Arizona. I'd had a friend back home mail a spare Givi mounting plate there for me to pick up. We took a few minutes in the parking lot to bolt that on, completing the final repair to my Concours and allowing me to discard the strap that had been holding the tail trunk to the bike for the last 4600 miles.

Prior to our departure from Alaska Russ and I had made plans to visit the Big Bend country of Texas if we had the time. If we kept moving at a steady pace, we would have ample time before we had to be in McComb, Mississippi Friday night. Electing to abandon the interstate in favor of some two-lane highway, we continued east on US-60, fueling again at Apache Junction and then headed across the dry, hot country toward New Mexico. At Globe we turned onto US-70, which would take us on to Lordsburg, New Mexico, where we would once again join I-10.

To two Alaska riders, this vast expanse of fairly flat, dry land was something to behold, and this stitched panorama of the sight north of a long, straight highway doesn't begin to do it justice.

We stopped a few more times to capture samples of the strange (to us) topography.

Just west of Bylas, AZ, shortly before crossing the state line into New Mexico, Russ found a large pullout with a lone tree (although even that term is stretching it a bit as this wasn't much more than a tall bush) that offered a token shelter from the hot sun, because he needed to do some more work on his ailing bike. Thus the term "shade tree mechanic" became a reality there in that desiccating climate. The 6 1/2 years that have passed since that day have blotted the exact nature of the repair from my memory, but it was serious enough that we were there for over an hour while Russ worked on it. Long enough that at one point we had to move both bikes to stay in the shade as it circled around our miniscule shelter.

This stop provided me with my first opportunity to get even with Russ for his photographic hi-jinks in Seattle.

Finally the repairs were completed to Russ' satisfaction; his bike was repacked; and we prepared to leave Arizona behind. Except that the Honda's engine wouldn't turn over. We tried push starting it to no avail; the engine was locked.

Taking a break to think things over, the thought occurred that the problem might be hydrostatic lock. A little sleuthing proved that to be the case, and by removing all the spark plugs it was soon cleared up, but not before Russ got a facefull of gasoline. The offending cylinder was apparently the first one to come up on compression stroke so there was insufficient inertia to damage connecting rod or crankshaft, and there was no indication of any damage to the engine. We breathed a joint sigh of relief when it was once again running smoothly and quietly, as a blown engine at this point in the Tour would have severely afflicted our schedule.

Now we were once again on our way to Lordsburg, where we enjoyed a meal at a Wendy's (or was it a Burger King??) just off the highway...

...while gazing out the window at traffic going by on the interstate...

... then rode on over to Las Cruces to spend the night at one of my favorite Best Western motels.

Thursday, April 18, 2002 Las Cruces, New Mexico

Las Cruces has always been a city I enjoy waking up in. This morning was no different. It was cool and dry, with a soft breeze gently shaking the leaves in the trees that surrounded the courtyard. Beautiful weather for a ride, and that's what we had planned for the day. It was just after 4:00 PM when we got to Marfa, Texas on our way down to the Rio Grande River at Presidio. There would be daylight for several hours, so we continued with our plan to take in the Big Bend area. Along the way, we had many more miles of the flat, featurless vistas I had come to expect in Texas, along with an occasional oddity.

Speaking of oddities...

Yep, my chance to get even.

And then, surprise! – some actual scenery.

In many trips back and forth across Texas on I-10, I-20, I-40, I-35, I-45, and numerous two-lane highways in the past 40 years, I have gained the impression that Texas has more square miles of nothing to see than several other states put together - including Kansas. But the ride along the Rio Grande in that part of the state had me revising my opinion. Maybe I'm just a sucker for natural, rugged, mountain scenery, but I found myself rubber-necking like any other tourist as we rode down the narrow valley. I'll go back for another look, and many more photos, someday.

Years later, watching one of the movies in the Lonesome Dove series (I think it might have been Return to Lonesome Dove) I spotted this exact scene -

Presidio surprised me a little by appearing to be a somewhat normal small, border crossing town down along the river. Sort of what El Paso might have been like 150 years ago. But once we moved downstream a few miles, modern civilization was left behind as we went back in time.

If anyone ever asks me whether I've seen the movie Lonesome Dove, I can now tell him I've been there. Yup, been to Lajitas, Texas. Didn't see a herd of pigs running around chasing snakes, but they may have been resting in some shady spot as we rode by.

Stopped briefly in Terlingua to look up a fellow I'd met in Glennallen many years ago, but found that he'd moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, so I just had a cold iced tea and took off after Russ again.

Dusk was coming on swiftly as we passed the Big Bend National Park Headquarters near Panther Junction, and we were soon back to using our driving lights as we sought to avoid the numerous deer yet quickly get back onto a main highway and once again resume our trek eastward. Neither of us was aware at the time that we were starting out on our first 1000-mile day together.

Reaching Fort Stockton around 11:00 PM we fueled the bikes, then found a restaurant in which to fuel the riders.

Friday, April 19, 2002 Fort Stockton, Texas

We finished our supper and got on our bikes just at the hour they were in danger of turning into pumpkins. We had been hoping all along to get to McComb Friday night, but we still had a few miles to go (900, actually). So away we went once more, ready to do those miles at a SaddleSore pace.

Getting separated west of San Antonio, Russ and I followed divergent routes getting into that city, but managed to join up again in time to look for a place to eat breakfast as we exited to the east on I-10. Taking an exit with a likely looking dining establishment, we parked in front and proceeded to remove helmets, gloves, and riding suits. About the time we were ready to head for the door, a young lady - presumably the waitress - came out and announced that the restaurant was closing. This met with some skepticism from Russ and I, as the patrons within showed no sign of preparing to leave. In fact, a car pulled up and the driver strode on in and took a seat at a table with no sign that he was being refused service.

We took photos of the place, and noted the location (I-10, Exit 587, on the southwest side) in order to publicize the anti-motorcyclist attitude we witnessed there.

It's nice to be able to report that in all our travels, that was the only instance of bias that we were aware of. We rode on up to Seguin to have our breakfast.

While stopped there, a gentleman approached us, asking a few questions about our travels. Before leaving, he mentioned that he had a friend who had ridden up to Colorado and thought he was traveling a very long distance. The man said with a big grin "Wait until I see him again, I'm gonna tell him I met some REAL riders today".

With that, I thought to myself “Yeah, if we can just learn to keep our bikes upright”.

Now we couldn't claim that we hadn't been warned about the traffic snarl known down south as I-10 through Houston. But we were moving along so well as we entered the west side of the city that we were sure we'd just hit it lucky. We didn't even notice as we passed the escape route labeled I-610 North, and kept speeding on down the interstate, blissful in our soon-to-be-educated ignorance. With a suddenness neither of us was prepared for, all the lanes of traffic came to a standstill. In a moment we started moving again, but only for a few feet, then it was back to sitting motionless. Did I mention that we hit Houston at 11:00 AM? And did I report that it was a fine sunny day, with nary a cloud in the sky. And is there any need to comment that Houston has one of the more humid climates to be found in the United States? When we finally got under an overpass, we prayed that traffic would stay halted for a while just so we could cool off.

Once we got past the bottleneck and traffic started moving fairly steadily I, who was in the lead at the time, led us the wrong way so that we ended up getting spit out onto a downtown street - not at all what we wanted. So Russ got his first taste of my unscheduled city tours, with more to come later, I'm ashamed to admit. The good side of all this was that we really appreciated the open interstate once we found it again.

Over in Louisiana, I-10 never seemed as bad to me as the complaints I've read from other riders would have indicated, but that may be due to the quality of roads I'm used to riding up north. In fact, we both rather enjoyed the highway across the state, especially as we got off I-10 onto I-12 east of Baton Rouge.

While I've crossed the high bridge into Baton Rouge many times in a semi, this was my first time on a motorcycle. Don't think I'd care to do it in a high wind, but the view from the bike is great. You could see all the way from the haze on the left clear over to the haze on the right. And having spent many years driving truck on twisty mountain roads, I always enjoy the winding freeway through this city. Made the bike ride a bit more interesting as well.

By staying in the saddle and moving with the flow of the traffic in the passing lanes we arrived in McComb just about sundown. It was great to be there, and know that we'd have a day to just goof off and have a good time, as well as get caught up on laundry and any shopping we had to do.
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
The Lure of the Dalton, The Lure of the Dempster, Haul Road Chronicles, My Evening Rides, Alaska Primer
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Old 10-12-2008, 11:14 AM   #13
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends in Alaska - Part VIII

Saturday, April 20, 2002 McComb, Mississippi

It had been just five years since I last drove through McComb, Mississippi, and the town hadn't changed enough to notice. McComb is still a small country community beside the interstate. We got up well after sunup and took our time walking over to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. By the traffic up and down the main street, it was obvious to one and all that there were a number of motorcyclists in town. By now, McComb is used to this annual spring pilgrimage and we were greeted by friendly smiles wherever we went. Shortly after noon riders began the slow but steady migration across the interstate to Shane's huge yard.

It would be futile to attempt to describe the Crawfish Boil to anyone who hasn't attended such a fest, so I won't. Those who have been to one know what it's like, and those who haven't will have no idea what they've missed. Russ and I each had a great time, getting to meet many of the celebrities of the long distance riding crowd and even visit with a few. I felt like a teenager at a rock stars convention. And we all felt a debt of gratitude toward Shane and his lovely family for putting this event on year after year.

Over 300 bikes of every description and riders (likewise) from all over North America converged on this little Mississippi town.

Larry Buck even brought some redesigned brackets for the lightbar I had tried to destroy and installed them on the spot, while I stayed out of his way.

While riders sat and stood around swapping lies, others were busy preparing the feast.

And then it was time to partake.

It was about here that I was given instructions. According to these knowledgeable southern gentlemen, if you want a piece of tail, you have to pinch it first. Not the way we've learned it in Alaska, but what do I know?

After feasting, the crowd resumed the enjoyable pastime of renewing acquaintances and telling tall tales until long after dark.

Sunday, April 21, 2002 McComb, Mississippi

Knowing that most of this day would be spent grinding out the miles, Russ and I made no attempt to get an early start. After the bikes were packed and ready, we rode over to Shane's to say our farewells. Nearly all the other attendees had already left, and the clean-up was in its final stages.

Back in McComb, it was a beautiful Mississippi morning in which we fueled up at noon and departed in the 83° warmth. According to the odometer on the Concours, we had traveled just over 6740 miles since I had left Glennallen, not even halfway yet. Today's riding included a planned visit to Mayor Corky (the late Professor “Corky” Reed) down in Lower Alabama, so we angled across southern Mississippi toward Mobile.

Mobile is, to me, the archetypal deep south city, and I retraced a path taken many years ago to enter from the west side on US-98. The stately old oak trees weave a seemingly solid canopy over the broad Dauphin Street as it nears the old city center. Along with the sight comes the memory of getting my semi stuck under one of the branches after I'd turned onto a side street, with the trailer on one side of the branch and the exhaust stack on the other. With the aid of a police officer to block traffic while I maneuvered to extricate the tractor, I'd managed to avoid becoming one of the area's permanent attractions.

Russ and I elected to do a little sightseeing while at Mobile, and exited the interstate to visit Battleship Park on the edge of Mobile Bay. We had quite an enjoyable time, clambering up and down ladders on the USS Alabama, and then touring the aviation exhibit in its new building. Staying until closing time, we knew we'd have to make good time getting on over to see Da Mayor.

Our time spent with Dr. Reed went by all too swiftly, and left us wishing we'd had the full day to enjoy his enlightening company. But we had already used up most of the cushion we had when we left Blaine, and there were still two more corners to visit before we could stamp FINI on our tour. Somewhere around 11:00 PM we were back on I-10 eastbound.

Monday, April 22, 2002 I-10 near Milton, Florida

The dread I-10 high speed, run-over-you-if-you-aren't-doing-triple-digits traffic never materialized, and we just continued riding at our pace just a little over the posted limit, passing a few vehicles, and being passed by even fewer. Not very many miles after getting back on the slab, Russ and I had one of those miscommunications that led to us inadvertently splitting up once more. Russ had been leading, doing a fine job of it, but I needed to make a brief pit stop so I passed him with the intention of leading us off at the next exit. Russ misread my intention (I hadn't signaled him properly, or if I did, he couldn't see it in the dark of the night) and passed me again, only to speed off into the distance as I was riding down the exit ramp. Since I was already off the interstate, I continued to take care of my business, tinkered a little with the bike to kill time just in case Russ turned around and came back looking for me, and then got back on I-10 to look for Russ. No sign of him. Oh well, we both knew where we were headed next - Key West - and we'd probably be there late tonight or early in the morning. We could get back together then.

One of the many benefits of being on the LDRiders list is the advice you get from other riders, the way they will share mistakes they have seen others make, or that they themselves have made, and suggestions for avoiding those mistakes. Sometime in the past I read advice regarding parking a bike in first gear, rolled forward against engine compression, before putting the sidestand down and leaning the bike over. That was something I know I'd done in the past, but neither consciously nor consistently. However, on this trip I was very conscientious about doing it every single time I parked the bike. The bike never came close to rolling forward off the sidestand, regardless what sort of grade I was parked on.

Another message related an incident in which the rider, in the wee hours of the morning, after many hours in the saddle, attempted to pull into a gas station but hit the curb and dropped his 'Wing onto its side. Thus forewarned, I was extra cautious in the early morning hours... but not quite cautious enough.

Somewhere in Florida, just west of the junction of I-10 and I-75 a few hours before sunup, I pulled off the interstate, crossed over the side road and pulled over to the edge of the on-ramp to park and check my map. As I recall, I was also getting chilly and had planned to put on my Widder vest.

The pavement had recently received an additional strip about 18" wide along the right hand edge. As I stopped, I slipped the Concours into first gear, pushed it forward against compression, and lowered the sidestand. Carefully dismounting to the left, I lifted my right leg over the seat and watched the bike tip over to the right, with no way to catch it. I had made the mistake of letting the contrast between the new dark strip and the older gray asphalt convince me that the right hand edge was raised and would cause the bike to lean to the left. The opposite was actually true, and the bike was leaning to the right even before I dismounted. Bummer! This is why I carry a spare right hand footpeg bracket with me on my trips. Somehow the bracket had survived the spill on the Alcan, but a simple tip-over snapped it
Not only was the bike on its side, but also the angle was enough to tip it beyond the horizontal, and there was less than a foot between the top of the bike and guardrail, so there was no room to squat beside the bike to lift it in the usual manner. This was not going to be easy. About that time I was getting a bit unhappy with myself.

While I stood there surveying the situation, traffic started flowing down the ramp and onto the highway. It must have been time for people to start driving to their jobs in that area. Now back home, all you need to do in a situation like that is to wave for help and within a few minutes someone will pull over and lend a hand. Florida isn't quite the same as Alaska. No fewer than ten cars zoomed by, no matter how vigorously I waved my flashlight. someone must have taken notice, because soon a State Police car came flying the wrong way up the ramp, blue lights flashing. The officer, after ascertaining that no one was injured, helped me get the bike back up onto its two wheels. He was obviously concerned that I might have been too groggy to handle the bike, or was incapacitated in some way, because he stayed, talking, for some time. By this time, of course, I was wide-awake, and no longer in need of donning the electric vest. We visited for a few minutes, during which he told me that he was an MSF instructor, and as such was especially concerned when he'd been told there was a "motorcycle wreck" on the ramp. A wreck of a motorcycle maybe, but not a wrecked motorcycle, thank goodness. I thanked him profusely for his help, and then remounted to go find a lighted parking lot in which to change the footpeg bracket.

That parking lot was found within a few miles, and the broken bracket found its way to a dumpster. While there, I had the opportunity to help an elderly gentleman (and he probably was thinking that he was being helped by an elderly gentleman) who had no taillights on the back of his battered pickup. One of my fuses took care of the problem, along with some electrical tape to insulate the offending bare wire that was hanging loosely from the harness. It's nice to be able to pass on the help we get from others.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, even including the rush hour traffic in the Miami area. Fortunately, I had paid close attention to recommendations of list members (something I had neglected to do when passing through the lengthy parking lot that is labeled I-10 in Houston) and kept moving at a reasonable pace all the way down to the intersection of the Sawgrass Expressway with I-75. That is, until I ran out of gas.

Not really out of gas, as I discovered later, but at the time it appeared I was. There's something about Florida that doesn't agree with me and gas. Prior to this, the only time I've ever had to call AAA due to being out of gas was in 1989, driving a cage just west of Orlando. That time my tank was dry, and the gauge and low fuel light had both been warning me for some time. But this time I knew I should have had a couple of gallons left in my fuel cell. Nevertheless, there I was, stopped on the side of the freeway, waiting for a can of gasoline. Thankfully, the sun was low on the horizon, and there was a mild breeze blowing. In my full Roadcrafter, I was a tad overdressed for standing around on a warm Southern Florida evening.

A few more miles that night was enough for me, and at Florida City I found an inexpensive motel with a restaurant nearby, and called it a day. Tomorrow would be corner Numero Tres (when in Cuba del Norte, speak as the Cubans... ).

Tuesday, April 23, 2002 Florida City, Florida

Checking my cell phone this morning, I found that Russ had left a message on my voice mail. He had continued on to Key West the night before and checked in to a motel along the beach, to which he gave me directions (that I promptly forgot).

While the temperatures in this part of Florida were no higher than in many places I'd already been riding, the humidity was something I couldn't bear for long. There wasn't a hint of a breeze, and even in the cool of the morning, with the sun a barely visible blob above the murky horizon, I would perspire freely with the slightest exertion.

Leaving the motel around 7:00 AM after a delicious breakfast at a nearby restaurant, I found myself moving along smartly behind what looked like a local delivery truck. At least he knew where it was safe to make good time, and when it was time to slow to the speed limit. After I lost this first local guide, I made it a habit to check out the license plate of the vehicle ahead of me. Florida is thoughtful enough to provide the name of the county on the bottom of the plate, which made it easy to determine when I was following a local by the word "Monroe" in that spot and, assuming that these drivers were familiar with speed enforcement patterns in their own locales, I depended upon them to provide me with a "rabbit" escort as I sought to get to Key West in the least amount of time. This system, along with my recent experience coming west, worked even better on my eastbound leg as I was able to make it from Key West to Key Largo in just 2 hours and 3 minutes.

As I rode across the Keys Highway, enjoying the warm sun and the cooling effect of the nearby ocean, several times I noticed swimmers and waders far out from shore, and only up to their thighs in water. It certainly made me wish I had swimming trunks, and the time to take advantage of the warm water and white sand beaches. Alas, duty called.

Before leaving on this trip I had queried members of the ldriders list who either lived in Southern Florida or were familiar with the highway to Key West as to the speed one could expect to travel between Key West and the mainland. Everyone gave the same answer: Beware, as along that highway speed limits are heavily enforced. It was with pleasure that I noted the maximum presence of LEO's to be at either end, with much lighter enforcement through the middle section. Consequently, I arrived at Key West over an hour ahead of my anticipated schedule.

My early arrival allowed me time to visit the landbound buoy that marked the southernmost spot in this southernmost community in the Continental U. S., take the requisite photo, and then find the local post office from which to mail proof of my visit back to the Four Corners headquarters.

While standing there in the parking lot next to my bike, I was approached by a local motorcyclist and we enjoyed a brief discussion of the joys of our mutual avocation. Then it was off to find Russ at the location which I was no longer able to recall. While riding around in this tourist trap town, I was amazed at the sheer numbers of scooters seemingly everywhere. As I drew closer to what I presumed to be the center of the "downtown" section of the city, pedestrian traffic became so heavy that vehicular movement was barely perceptible. I couldn't get away from here quickly enough!
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
The Lure of the Dalton, The Lure of the Dempster, Haul Road Chronicles, My Evening Rides, Alaska Primer
Haul Road Primer
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Old 10-12-2008, 11:36 AM   #14
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As always a fab write up for the trip impressive is the word !!
Starfish have no brains...I know some people like that

48 states in 28 days
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Old 10-12-2008, 12:59 PM   #15
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Originally posted by Alcan Rider
Please forgive the long-winded narrative and dearth of photos.
That's the best part.
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