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Old 10-12-2008, 02:53 PM   #16
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends in Alaska - Part IX

A reason to have two-way communications if there ever was one: Coming down Whitehead St. from the north in the heavy tourist traffic, turning left onto US-1 to get the h--l out of this hot, humid, and way-too-crowded tourist mecca, who do I see pulled up at the light, ready to make his own turn to the south but Russ! Too late for me to stop in the intersection, I rode half a block until I found a spot to pull up to the curb and waited. And waited. No Russ. Well, we'd agreed to meet at the buoy at 12 noon, so off I went again. The time was about 11:45, so I only had to kill 15 minutes and we would meet up at the marker.

At 11:55 I rode past the marker and around the block. Next time around the block, I found a spot within view of the marker and parked the bike. Russ should be showing up any time now, I told myself. At 12:15, feeling that if a thermometer were stuck into my flesh it would register "well done", I elected to get moving toward the mainland. I dutifully left a message on Russ' voice mail, telling him what I was up to. Truthfully, any movement would be welcome, but from Key West any meaningful movement must be back toward the east. And it felt VERY good to be moving that way again.

Now that I was back out on a highway again, it was possible to revert to contemplation mode. All along the keys, but in particular as I neared Key West, I had seen motorcyclists riding along, enjoying the weather just as I was. Almost to a person, they were in minimal clothing, and sans helmets. To them, I'm sure I looked to be the oddity. But having seen a few cases of road rash, I preferred the Roadcrafter and a helmet, along with a little discomfort the few times I was stopped.

It was about 2:00 in the afternoon when I reached Tavernier and I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I fueled the bike and then found a Waffle House. Until a trip to the south in 1988, I'd never heard of Waffle House, but they quickly became my favorite stop for a quick, fairly good meal, any time of day or night. An added bonus, they have some of the best iced tea to be found anywhere – strong and sweet (sorta like a good woman) - and this was definitely an iced tea day.

While eating, I kept a close watch on the highway, expecting to see Russ come through at any time, being quite sure that I was in front of him now. Finishing my meal with no sight of the familiar Nighthawk, I resumed my travels to the mainland.

Just as you're coming into Florida City from the south, Card Sound Road intersects US-1 to enter the city. All traffic coming off the keys must travel this short stretch of road, and then US-1 turns northeast, and 997 branches off to go due north for a ways. Knowing that Russ had to come through here eventually, I stopped in front of an adult beverage store with a large parking lot, left my Hi-Viz Yellow Roadcrafter jacket hung over the windshield, with the bike parked as near the highway as was safe, and waited in the shade, slapping the numerous flies that had decided I was to be their evening meal. It was just over an hour before I saw him approaching, but here came Russ, riding down the highway... And there went Russ, going on down the highway. I might as well have been invisible for all the notice I got.

Hurriedly donning my jacket, helmet, and gloves, I took off in hot pursuit, never to see so much as a taillight again that day or the next. Oh well, we were again headed to the same place. Mike Sachs had offered to have his students swap tires and service the bikes of any ldriders who came through the Atlanta area, and we were taking advantage of his generosity. DeKalb Tech now became the destination. At this point I was in the mood to travel and get to some place cooler, so I actually welcomed the chance to make good time without needing to keep track of someone else, or him of me. For the most part, Russ and I were comfortable with whatever speed the rider in the lead would set, and had had no problems in that respect. But I knew that once I decided to let the Concours get into its power band, the Nighthawk would be working awfully hard to keep up. And once on the Turnpike, it would be time to cover distance.

As luck (or poor planning on my part) would have it, I managed to hit the Miami area around rush hour again. Found myself taking the "scenic route" once, but got back onto the right road shortly thereafter and over onto the turnpike. Originally, I'd thought I would stay on I-95 to near Fort Pierce and then switch to the turnpike, as they are within sight of each other for most of that distance, and I-95 is free (a powerful incentive for someone as frugal as me). But once on the turnpike, I was glad I'd made that choice. Traffic was much heavier over on the interstate, and those of us on the turnpike were probably traveling 10 to 15 mph faster. Plus, there was virtually no LEO presence on the turnpike. Thus the distance from Miami to Orlando was covered in a respectable length of time.

With the sun over the horizon, this part of Florida had cooled to just about the perfect temperature, given my state of acclimatization, the gear I was wearing, and my rate of progress. It was a good time to be traveling. Surprisingly, there were fewer insects sacrificing themselves on my windshield than I would have expected, here in this warm, humid climate. Still, they managed to necessitate washing the windshield at every gas stop, something I'd been able to forego earlier in my ride.

As I rode north on Florida's Turnpike north of Orlando, with traffic almost nil at this late hour, I wondered to myself if the travelers on this stretch of highway were out to make sure they got their money's worth from the tolls. Where traffic had been moving at a very respectable pace between the Miami area and Orlando, now it was moving at what could be called a blistering pace. Determined not to be rear-ended, I put safety first and foremost (at least that was my excuse) and kept up with traffic. There went my gas mileage again.

Wildwood hadn't changed all that much since I used to stop here in my cross-country trucking days. It was about 11:00 PM when I pulled in there to gas up again and grab something at the Waffle House where I'd often stopped in years gone by. Knowing I'd be riding all night, I wanted to be sure I was well nourished. Once again I took the time to enjoy a good meal and some delicious iced tea, after which I felt ready to continue on 'til daylight as I headed for I-75.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002 I-75 North of Wildwood, Florida

* * * * * * * * * *
Observation Enroute:

By the time we got to Key West, I had become acclimated to the high temperatures. Even though it was up to 93 F, I never felt the need of the Mira-Cool vest again. But that worked against me as I rode into Georgia late at night. Now I found that I was ready to put on the Widder's when the temperature dropped to 60°F! No wonder those guys from the redneck belt sound like wimps. So was I after a few days exposure to the heat. My hat's off to those guys when they ride in sub-freezing temperatures - what a shock to the system it must be.

* * * * * * * * * *

As I rode on, crossing into Georgia, the evening chill became more pronounced. But to stop and dig out the electric vest and put it on was something I couldn't bring myself to do. How could I face myself the next morning, knowing I had become such a wimp that I had to wear an electric vest in south Georgia in April, after riding down the Alcan in below zero temperatures. So I did the next best thing - got out my thinsulate jacket and put it on. Still a bit chilly, but much better. Damn! Egos sure can be hard to live with, and harder to live up to.

Something else that occurred that night had me shaking my head at my own frailty. Even though I have a Vista-Cruise throttle lock on the Concours, the speed will still vary a bit due to gradients, wind strength and direction, other traffic, etc. So I keep a pretty close watch on the speedometer and adjust the throttle as necessary. At one point I noticed my speed had fallen off quite a bit so I nudged the handgrip. Checking again in a moment or two, I noticed the speed had not changed, so I gave it another nudge. This went on for 5 to 10 miles, with no indicated change in my speed. It was just when I began to get concerned that something may have been happening to the engine that I realized I had been watching the thermometer rather than the speedometer. After that I slowed back down to a sane nighttime speed and started watching the appropriate instrument.

At Cordelle, Georgia, I stopped for an early breakfast, then continued on past Macon and up to the suburbs of Atlanta, where I found Mike's class at about 10:00 AM. Having made better time from Key West than I'd anticipated (I'd neglected to stop for a promised delicious oyster dinner along the east coast of Florida), I was here at DeKalb Tech a day early. "No problem", said Mike, "we'll get your bike in right away". And so they did. The rear tire had been shipped to Mike ahead of time, but the front tire was obviously not going to make the entire distance either. Mike called his local supplier and found a Michelin 100X in the size I needed. This was something I could grow accustomed to real easily - being treated like royalty. Many thanks to Mike and his students.

Those students showed themselves to be both eager and well-taught. Although I kept an eye on everything that they did to the bike, I could have walked away and left the bike to them without a second thought, they were that thorough and conscientious. Mike is an excellent instructor, obviously.
Mike, seated, explains something to attentive students.



Russ showed up a little later, and we compared notes for a while, then he brought his bike in for new tires and service. After the fall in California, his needed a little more attention than did mine, and with Russ and two students working on it, got it back in good shape in short order.


Late that afternoon we rode up the highway to Tucker, and got a room at the Masters Inn so we could get some laundry done and catch up on our rest.

Thursday, April 25, 2002 Tucker, Georgia

Today was spent in getting a few more items taken care of on Russ' bike and riding to lunch with Mike and friends in the afternoon. We had already checked out of our motel room, so when Mike finished work that evening we stopped by his place, and then all rode up to Marietta to enjoy a sumptuous meal with his friends, the Joiners. Ralph and his wife are touring riders themselves, with some impressive trips under their belts. (NOTE: A couple of years later Judy became the first woman rider to complete the IBA Ultimate Coast to Coast ride, piloting her Honda Shadow from Key West to Deadhorse accompanied by Ralph.) We enjoyed looking at each other's photos and comparing notes on various places we'd been 'til late in the evening. Another visit that was hard to end.

Leaving our host's house shortly before midnight, Russ and I parted ways for a brief period. Due to a death in the family, he would ride east to North Carolina to attend a funeral, while I continued north toward our next rendezvous point in Dale City, Virginia. Thus I was off once more on a nighttime ride. It may well be that the novelty of riding when it is both dark and warm brings a fascination that keeps me wide-awake and alert. Whatever it is, darkness has never discouraged me from continuing on, so away I went toward Chattanooga.

Friday, April 26, 2002 I-75 North of Marietta, Georgia

Upon reaching the southern outskirts of Chattanooga, I realized that while I was still feeling fine and capable of riding for many more hours, if I were going to see any of the spectacular scenery I'd ridden to view along the Cherohala Skyway, it was time to stop and get some sleep so I could take advantage of the daylight tomorrow. Around 1:00 AM I found a room and settled in for half a night's worth of rest.

Allowing myself the luxury of sleeping in the following morning, I was the next-to-the-last vehicle out of the motel parking lot. Ahhh, vacation life is good! While the sun wasn't shining brightly, at least it was neither raining nor snowing, so it was a good day for a ride. After a hearty breakfast, it was time for some sightseeing, along with a cautious look at Deals Gap and "The Dragon". Up I-75 to Sweetwater, then TN-68 over to Tellico Plains, where I got onto the Cherohala Skyway.



As I watched the numbers on the GPS III+ altimeter rise, the numbers on the digital thermometer fell at a corresponding rate. Trying to remember the formula for adiabatic cooling with altitude gain, I began to see raindrops splashing off my faceshield. Now I began to wonder if I might yet see some more of the white stuff before the day was over. But with only a bit of hail as I surmounted the high point on the TN-NC border, I surmised that my former (bad) luck was now safely behind me. In retrospect, I believe it had taken a shortcut over the mountains, and was now waiting in ambush a few miles ahead. Fifteen short miles after entering the great state of North Carolina, I was on my side again. But at least this was different - for the first time since I bought it, my Concours was laying on its left side. And I'd only brought a right hand foot peg bracket. Oh well, even Boy Scouts sometimes find themselves unprepared.


There's something about the sudden sound of plastic and steel sliding across asphalt that jars one out of the pleasant thoughts that usually accompany a leisurely ride through scenic countryside. Kind of an "Oh, s__t, here we go again" thought replaced the previous reverie.

In the moments after picking myself up and dusting myself off, I pondered the lists of things I might have been doing wrong. The tires were both new, with just 250 miles since installation. But I'd already had the bike leaning farther over on earlier curves, attempting to get them scrubbed in before I had to resume a more frantic pace in the quest for the final corner of the tour. Walking back to where the bike first started making marks on the pavement, I saw where it slid from the wrong side of the center line out to the shoulder of this tight, left hand switchback, and realized that I had let the bike drift into the oncoming lane as I was looking over my shoulder to watch for oncoming downhill traffic. Grinding my boot sole into the asphalt, I could tell that traction was good there. But on the thick paint stripe, it was more akin to walking on wet floor tile. Simple carelessness on my part. Even putting along at a sensible, sightseeing pace is no time to let down one's guard when there are but two wheels underneath. Lesson learned, dues to be paid when the bills come in.




Strap pieces to the bike, apply a little duct tape from the roll I’ve been carrying since Whitehorse (I'm getting good at this now) and on to Deals Gap, where I would ride the 318 curves of US-129 with a greater humility and a heightened sense of vulnerability.


Tip-toeing along at my rolling-roadblock pace enabled me to inspect this mountain motorcycle mecca, and to contemplate its magnetism, other than the claimed 318 curves in only 11 miles of narrow two-lane pavement.

Coming from one of the most wide-open states in the wide open West, I felt confined by the abundant foliage bracketing the roadway. In Alaska, we approach every curve with caution, as around each one there can be large rocks, huge RV's, or animals weighing more than a fully loaded touring bike and rider combined, with intelligence only slightly greater than that of the average RV's pilot. Here, in these hills and hollers, every other curve was a blind one, and these daredevil sportbike riders must have a blind faith (unwarranted, I'm sure) in the ability of the drivers of oncoming vehicles that exceeded mine by orders of magnitude. With deeply ingrained habits firmly in control, I accelerated boldly on the straightaways, only to turn my brake rotors a cherry red as I came up to a corner. No more surprises, thank you.

One sign of squidly behavior sticks in my mind: Dual skid marks ending at a bit of wreckage on a small hillside, with dark ashes and scorched tree trunks offering mute testimony that someone had taken the term "crash and burn" very literally. At long last, and yet in a way, too soon, the Dragon was behind me.

Coming off The Dragon (where I must have set a new record for the slowest transit - had to pull off to let a Suburban get by) to the north, I elected to take the scenic route rather than head back to the slab at Knoxville.



Thus I found myself winding along the Foothill Parkway, heading for its intersection with US-321, eventually coming to a bigger road at Pigeon Forge, TN. As I drew closer to this home of Dollywood, it was easy to see that tourism is alive and well in this neck of the Tennessee woods. Rural innocence but a thing of the past, and blatant commercialism running rampant.

Although I had read of its scheduled occurrence months before heading off on this trip, the fact had slipped my mind: But now I was amply reminded that this was the site of the annual gathering of those-who-come-only-in-matched-pairs – the HondaHoot. Must have been thousands of them swarming up and down the surrounding roads. Enough accessory lights between them all to illuminate the north side of the Smoky Mts. And something I found a little odd - there were nearly as many riders on steeds whose owners were determined to save lives at the cost of eardrums. Guess the two-wheel brotherhood proves engine oil is thicker than... water-cooling.

Crowds being anathema to me, I was soon back on I-40, and then I-81, with surprisingly light traffic for an interstate. There are those riders who find the superslabs something to be avoided at all costs. But here in Tennessee, as well as in parts of the neighboring states, these limited access highways allow one to cram more scenic miles into a few short hours than any other roadway. To me, the bucolic landscape brought back memories of a distant childhood, in which life was simpler; more relaxed. It was a pleasant interlude, a time of refreshing before diving back into the competitive world of the I-95 corridor. In addition, there was repair work to be done once more, thanks to the unforgiving North Carolina pavement. Leon “The Animal” Begeman had already been notified that I was on my way, and once again with a bike in need of band-aids.

So on this evening I only rode as far as Glade Spring, Virginia, where I spotted a motel with a restaurant adjacent - just what was prescribed after the events of the afternoon - and called it a day. Not the best day, but certainly not the worst.
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Old 10-12-2008, 03:00 PM   #17
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To Mr Bowler Hat & Spuds Mackenzie:

Thank you both, your flattering comments are appreciated.

Going back over this story, adding little bits here, correcting a minor error there, has me reliving the whole experience and enjoying it nearly as much as the original ride. Someday I might find time to write up a few of my other longer rides - such as the following year when I rode south on my '82 Suzuki, then rode back home on a brand new GL1800, traveling a bit over 18,000 miles in the seven weeks I was gone from home. Ahh... memories.
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Old 10-12-2008, 03:10 PM   #18
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What a great adventure.. that Connie took a beating and kept on beating!! thanks for sharing your memories and pics with us
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Old 10-12-2008, 05:07 PM   #19
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Yesterday's rain melted most of the last week's snow off our more traveled roads ( except my steep driveway), so i figured i'd go for the end of season ride ... see just how far i could get up the haul road ... yeah i know i crazy. It didn't take too long to scare myself ... turned around after about an hour ... but a great ride none the less ... cause any road time is great time. Dropped the bike off at the Outpost for the end of season service and the dreaded "recall" maintenance visit ( EWS, steering damper, and brake line.) Oh well ... at least i had no road breakdowns this season. Took the bus home. Surfed the net into the evening and came across this thread. You're crazier then me . It was/is a great read. Brings a smile to my heart ... especially since i woke up this morning to 6" of snow on the ground ... and then i started figuring out how i was going to ride home from the Outpost next week. I don't think GPS is going to help ! Wait ... maybe i AM crazier than you . But you are way more skilled. Got in a couple 15 F day trips in when i lived in Tok ... but never a -15 F road trip. Looking forward to the next intallment from a fellow traveler.
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Old 10-12-2008, 06:25 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taigaak
Yesterday's rain melted most of the last week's snow off our more traveled roads ( except my steep driveway), so i figured i'd go for the end of season ride ... see just how far i could get up the haul road ... yeah i know i crazy. It didn't take too long to scare myself ... turned around after about an hour ... but a great ride none the less ... cause any road time is great time.
Nice to hear from a fellow Alaskan - thanks. Your ride up the Haul Road sounds a little like my own last one - covered here: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=389184

We've had the same sort of slop down here, by the sounds of it. Seven inches on Sept 30, then another 8" on Oct 2nd. But warm wind and rain for a couple of days has turned most of it into puddles. Thank goodness for global warming - even if it only lasts for a few days.

Have to spend a couple days in the big city - Los Anchorage - so won't get another installment done for a while. Sorry I didn't get more pictures, but that was back when a 32MB memory cost more than a 4GB does today, so I didn't have room for all the photos I would liked to have taken. Maybe I'll have to do it again some day.
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Old 10-13-2008, 12:15 AM   #21
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part X

Saturday, April 27, 2002 Glade Spring, Virginia

Knowing there was work to be done today, I was out of the motel and on the road just a little after sunup. Even skipped my breakfast routine in order to get moving sooner. This actually helped, as when I finally did stop close to noon, I was hungry enough to dispose of a good meal that kept me going the rest of the way to Dale City.

Although I had been warned that in Virginia the speed limit was pretty strictly enforced, with the assistance of several rabbits who apparently weren't aware of that caution, I arrived at Dale City in good time and found Leon's house without a problem. Leon had warned me that I would be getting there in the midst of a family gathering, so I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. But it's not in Leon's nature to leave a friend in need to his own devices, and he was helping me within minutes of my arrival.

Where else but in the world of long distance riding would you find friends so willing to assist. Not only did Leon scrounge up every one of the needed parts long before I arrived at his house, but in just a few minutes Dale Horstman showed up, ready to tear into the familiar Concours as well. When I thought that everything that could be repaired had been repaired, Leon found a piece of clear plastic and fashioned a replacement for the missing Baker Air Wing that looked as good as the original. That's the kind of guy to have along on a long trip across the wilderness - or available to help on a long trip around the U. S. Thanks again, Leon and Dale.

While I was too busy with repairs to take photos of the scene, just before leaving I took a quick shot of Leon’s “John Deere Ninja” that I had last seen in Alaska as he was getting ready to do a quick run from Deadhorse to Key West in July of 2001. Here is a photo of it at that time, with the John Deere logo displayed on the fairing.


And this is the back side of the windshield, showing the brace for the tall windscreen, along with the shelf full of switches and electronics that Leon had installed. Don’t bother asking, I have no idea what most of that is, and by now Leon may have forgotten as well, being that today he rides a somewhat stock V-Strom.


Not long before the repairs were completed, Russ pulled up at the curb, ready to resume our quest for the final corner. The sun was dropping toward the horizon when we pulled out and headed east to I-95.

Nearly five years had passed since I'd last driven around D.C., but nothing had changed. It is still a mess. Nevertheless, we were soon north and on our way to Baltimore. Somewhere between the two cities the rain began. Softly at first, then with real intent. We'd been through this a couple of weeks earlier, on a similar highway in similar terrain on the far side of the continent, but there was something about the traffic on I-95 that differed from that on I-5, and we both felt that it would be safer to pull off and stop for the night. Maybe it was the fact that riding south from Seattle we were leaving the large cities behind and getting into the open country, and here we were heading into the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Regardless, there was just too much traffic, and the visibility was too poor on this rainy night, so we found a motel that would allow our two sorry looking bodies to enter, and called it a night.

Sunday, April 28, 2002 Elkton, Maryland

With the deadline for completing the Four Corners Tour rapidly approaching, Russ and I were up with the sun - if there was a sun to be seen that morning. We switched on the weather channel and watched closely. We were going to get wet this day, there was no doubt about it. Two weather fronts were moving eastward, directly in our path, and both carried heavy rain, according to the forecasts. Earlier, we had debated going directly up I-95, through New Jersey and then across the Bronx (on what has to be one of the worst pieces of pavement in the U. S.) to New Haven, Connecticut. My own preference was to go north around the Big Apple and cross the Hudson on the Tappan Zee bridge to miss most of the big city traffic. The weather made our decision for us.

By turning onto I-476 at the southwest edge of Philadelphia, we were able to squeeze between the two weather fronts, even finding dry roads when we got to Scranton, Pennsylvania. But shortly after we turned east there onto I-84, we caught up with the backside of the first front. Thankfully, the rain wasn't terribly hard, and we only had to ride in light rain or drizzle the rest of the day. Traveling was good enough that just south of Worchester, Massachusetts, we left I-84 and got onto US-20 to follow a stretch of two-lane that I'd enjoyed on one of my last trips up that way, and stayed on it until we rejoined the interstates by getting onto I-495 near Marlborough.

We entered our eighth state of the day at Kittery, Maine, but ended up backtracking on US-1 across the bridge into Portsmouth, New Hampshire to find a hotel. There is a fine looking Best Western that, surprisingly, welcomed a pair of wet, bedraggled bikers into its warm confines. It was 9:30 PM and the rainy night had cooled down to 37°F. The dry beds were a most welcome sight, and we retired for another good night's rest.

Monday, April 29, 2002 Portsmouth, New Hampshire

The view out the window that morning revealed the remnants of an early morning snowfall in the parking lot and on our bikes. We took time for a leisurely breakfast, served by a middle aged man who has to be in competition for the title of "grouchiest waiter in the state", then loaded the bikes for what we hoped would be our last day of riding on the Four Corners Tour. At this point we knew that all we had left to do was ride some 400 miles to Madawaska, Maine and we'd have finished, but only two days ahead of the deadline.

The weather was 42°F and still a bit drizzly at 11:15 AM as we headed north on I-95, back into Maine. There was some construction that held our speed down, along with all the other traffic. Due to the drizzle and the congested traffic, I was riding with my modulating headlight on quite a bit of the time. It helped in those infrequent times we were able to do some passing. It was while I was following a dump truck through the construction zone at maybe two or three miles over the 45 mph speed limit that I suddenly saw flashing blue lights in my rear view mirrors. Hmmm, I was just keeping up with the flow of traffic, officer.

As I pulled to the shoulder, I glanced up to see Russ carefully continue on by, as though he and I had never met. Thanks for the moral support, pal! I could imagine the razzing I would get later, and was mentally preparing a stinging rejoinder even as I took my helmet off.

The officer's concern, it turned out, was my modulating headlamp. He explained that "alternating" headlights were only allowed on emergency vehicles in the state of Maine. Normally I have a copy of the Executive Order legalizing modulating headlights right with my registration, and it might well have been at that moment, but I could find neither anywhere on the bike. Well, when you pack for a long trip, you're bound to forget something.

Not wishing to spend time explaining the semantic difference between alternating lights and a modulated light, I first explained that the modulating light was perfectly legal on any U. S. highway, Maine's laws to the contrary notwithstanding. But then I assured him that just to please the him and any others of Maine's finest, I would refrain from using it while within that state. Not to be outdone, he explained to me that other motorists, upon seeing my flashing headlight coming up behind them, might mistakenly think I was a police officer. With a grin I responded, "Yep, they sometimes do - and pull right over. Sure helps get through traffic." He grinned back, we shook hands as I wished him a pleasant day, and we both proceeded on toward our respective destinations.

We were nearing Yarmouth, just north of Portland, when Russ signaled that he needed to get off the interstate. Apparently his Honda was not running right. We pulled in to a local gas station and borrowed their Yellow Pages to look up Honda dealers. Lo and behold, there was an ad for Reynolds Motorsports - the same dealer that has perennially hosted an IBR checkpoint. A good chance they would be more willing to help a long distance rider than the run-of-the-mill neighborhood Honda dealer. So off we went to find Reynolds Motorsports of Gorham, Maine (but really Buxton, Maine - or is it the other way around?). Luckily, we found them.


We must have had some pretty desperate looks on our faces, because they took Russ' Nighthawk in right away to check it out. While waiting for the mechanic to do the diagnosis, we walked in the drizzle up to the corner restaurant to have a little lunch. When we got back, Russ got the bad news - his bike was pronounced DOA. Seems the compression was way too low, and a leakdown test revealed it to be both rings and valves, with the rings being the worst. That meant at least re-ringing the pistons just to get it to run for a while longer. No time for that if we were going to finish the Tour.

While waiting for the results, we had wandered around the huge inside showroom, looking at both new (wistfully) and used (wishfully) bikes. Afraid of what the mechanic might find, Russ was considering the comparative merits of three of the used machines in what he felt might be his price range. The one that rated the highest was a '98 Triumph with side bags and tail trunk, and sharp looking to boot. Once he'd been told the Nighthawk wasn't going any farther without major surgery, he started looking for a salesman. Realizing that this could take quite a while, and watching the hour hand's steady advance, along with the darkening skies outside, I told Russ I would run on up to Bangor and wait for him there, as I wanted to visit with a friend, and in case he was delayed until late and wanted to stay over in a local motel. From there, I could also give him a weather and road report, as we were hearing rumors of snow to the north.

Not delaying any further, I rolled the Concours out into the rain and headed by the quickest shortcut to I-95. It was raining steadily, and getting cooler, as I rolled up to the toll booth to get onto the Maine Turnpike. The toll taker said something to me that I couldn't understand with my helmet on, so I removed it and asked him to repeat it. He said with a smile "No charge. Anybody riding a motorcycle on a day like this deserves to ride free". I grinned back, thanked him and, putting my helmet back on, got out of there before he had a chance to change his mind.

On the way up to Bangor, one of those things happened that made a lasting impression on me. I'd stopped at a rest area to use the men's room, and in addition to several other men, there was a pair of young men who appeared to be in their early twenties or younger. I noticed them giving me funny looks, almost sneering. With the "Hi-Viz Lime Yellow" Roadcrafter on, I often got second looks from people, but these two were making a point of looking at me, and not trying to hide their apparent amusement. But what really impressed me about the incident is that the youngest of the two had dyed hair that was a near-perfect match for the “Hi-Viz Lime Yellow” Roadcrafter. And they thought I looked strange.

Nearing Bangor from the west, there's a slight elevation gain before dropping back down into the Penobscot River valley in which the city is situated. For about two miles near the crest of this rise I was riding in light, but threatening, snow. Thankfully, it was left well behind and the temperature was back up to 36°F when I exited to the Bangor Mall at 6:15 PM.

As I'd ridden north a few days earlier, I had recalled that a young lady of my acquaintance from Glennallen was going to college here in Bangor. So I phoned her father, a friend of mine back home, and found out where she was working and how to get hold of her. Turned out she, who is an absolute teetotaler, was working as a bartender at Ruby Tuesday's in the Bangor Mall. It was dinner time, I had worked up a pretty good appetite from the afternoon's ride, so as soon as I had unloaded my things into a motel room, I headed over to eat. First, however, I left Russ a voice mail to let him know where I was, the conditions I'd ridden through on the way here from Buxton (or was it Gorham? ), and the motel phone number.

Having not the slightest inkling that I (or anyone else from Glennallen) was in the area, my young friend was delightfully surprised to see me. She even offered to buy my dinner (which, being the old-fashioned, chauvinistic male that I am, I refused). We had a pleasant visit, during which I was introduced to nearly every other employee of the establishment, and I got some photos of her mixing drinks to take back home for her parents to see, as they couldn't picture her working at this job any more than I could.

Later, back in my motel room, I kept expecting either the room phone or my cell phone to ring at any moment, with Russ on the other end telling me what time he expected to arrive in the morning. At the same time I kept a watch out the window, just in case.

Some time after 9:00 PM my vigil was rewarded, as I watched the double headlights of a motorcycle turn in to the motel parking lot. There was no doubt in my mind that it was Russ, as no one else was so insane as to be out on a motorcycle on such a miserable night. Intercepting Russ as he pulled up to the registration office on a shiny Triumph, we went inside and, being so happy to see that he'd made it on through, I paid for a separate room for him as well. We were going to make the final corner together, and on time!




This time we left the bikes parked, and walked across the street to the Applebees so Russ could have some dinner. He hadn't eaten since our lunch together in Buxton (near Gorham, I think ), and was pretty hungry. I went along to hear about his afternoon. Between bites, Russ related what had gone on after I left. Once he got the purchase of the Triumph taken care of, he had to see what he could get out of the Honda. Turned out to be heartbreakingly little. One of the mechanics gave him $250 for it - less than he had invested in his auxiliary fuel cell, which he couldn't transfer onto the new bike. But despite the loss, I could tell Russ was happy with the Triumph, and wouldn't be missing the Nighthawk as we rode back west to Seattle.
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Old 10-13-2008, 07:06 AM   #22
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I take my hat off...

I wish I could do half the riding you've done when I reach your age. Even more, I hope to be able to ride at your age!!!!I haven't finish the whole thread, but this is a mayor accomplishment.

I've been working on my bike to have it ready for a long ride, most probably Alaska. If everything goes well, I'd like to meet you on the road!!!! Keep it coming
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Old 10-13-2008, 10:59 AM   #23
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Wow! $250 for that nighthawk! That mustve hurt.


Keep it coming though!


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Old 10-13-2008, 01:15 PM   #24
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Hurt?

By the time he sat on the Triumph, he forgot about it!

Great story!
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Old 10-14-2008, 09:30 PM   #25
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Incredible trip!!!

Wow...all I can say is what a trip!! Too bad about the Nighthawk giving out though . Can't imagine riding a bike in -15 F temps though. You are one tough biker. I just hope I'm still up for putting in long days on the bike when I get older.
Eagerly awaiting more of this sweet RR!!!
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Old 10-15-2008, 12:31 AM   #26
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part XI

Tuesday, April 30, 2002 Bangor, Maine

(Once again I must apologize for the lack of photographic accompaniment to this RR. Our focus was on getting to the Madawaska post office before any more disasters befell us.)

Today is the day! We're going to finish our Four Corners Tour. So it's taken us nearly the full allotted time, so what. We've had fun, seen a lot of country, met some really great people , and experienced quite a few new things (some of which we could have happily done without). After breakfast and refueling the bikes, we hit the road at 9:30 AM with the sun coming up through a hazy sky and the temperature already up to 46°.

As you travel farther north of Bangor, you start to feel like you're in the north woods of Maine. It even reminded me a little of some of the highways near Anchorage. We spotted a sheriff's car at the Howland exit, and no more LEO's until we were through Madawaska.

* * * * * * * * * *
Observation Enroute:

In order to avoid gaining undue attention from the local constabulary, it has become my habit as I travel to observe the customs of the area residents regarding strict (or not so strict) adherence to posted speed limits.

The speed limit in Maine is obviously a subject of local interpretation. In the southern part, traffic seems to move at, or within 5 mph of, the posted limit. And no wonder, as examples of Maine's finest are seemingly omnipresent. However, as one moves farther north, and further from the large population centers of the Boston suburbs, it appears drivers are on the honor system, with LEO's being few, and VERY far between. The inevitable result is... highway anarchy (but rapid progress). Bowing to the wisdom expressed in the phrase "When in Rome..." Russ and I attempted to stay with the flow of traffic. At 80 or so we managed to keep most of the 18-wheelers in sight, but were occasionally passed by empty logging trucks.

Once on US-1 out of Houlton, the rules changed. The speed limit dropped to 55 mph, and for a few miles it was observed. At first there were small towns in fairly close proximity, so that it was futile to build up speed, as it was soon time to slow for the next hamlet. It didn't take long to catch on to the technique employed by "Maine-iacs" of the region, to wit: One waited until his own vehicle was abreast of the lowered speed limit sign before releasing the throttle, not a foot sooner. The minor municipality was transited at a speed precisely 10 mph above that shown on the signs, and as soon as a sign showing a higher limit was viewed, that speed became the target. This rewarded those with superior eyesight and more rapid acceleration.

Another peculiarity became apparent within a few dozen miles, that being that any driven speed MUST end with the numeral "5". For most lengths of the highway that simply meant adding the 10 mph mentioned earlier to the posted speed limit, i.e. 55 mph speed limits were driven at 65 mph. In the event some newly-graduated, inexperienced traffic engineer with no more than book learnin’ calculated the speed limit should be 50 mph, the locals took it upon themselves to correct this glaring error, and added the missing 5 mph to the 10 mph that was understood to be included in the "proper" speed, and still drove at 65 mph. It was obvious that the people of Maine have certain laws that MUST be obeyed, regardless of state statutes.

* * * * * * * * * *

The ride from Bangor to Madawaska was pleasant and uneventful (which, in many cases, adds to its pleasantness). The sun was shining through a light haze, but still providing some welcome warmth. The temperature was comfortable, and the highway was good, if not great. Russ was a little ahead of me arriving in Madawaska (now that he was riding the Triumph, that began to happen more often ) and was already parked in front of the post office when I rode up.

The attractiveness of the New Brunswick landscape just across the St. Johns River had been catching my eye for quite a few miles, and finally caused me to stop for this photo. This is the village of Ste. Anne de Madawaska, New Brunswick, if my recollection is correct.


I recorded the following in my log upon my arrival at the Madawaska P. O.: Time: 14:15 EST, odo. 94765.6 (after leaving home with a reading of 84024.7), trip odo. 10,739, GPS 10,489. And there's still the little matter of the ride home. Thinking about it, I find I'm glad that there are still several thousand miles to go before I'm back home and the ride is over. It will still be a while before I begin suffering the letdown that accompanies parking the bike once more.

The people of Madawaska lived up to the reputation that they seem to be gaining among the long distance motorcycling crowd. Several of the residents walked up to us, parked at the curb in front of the post office, and queried whether we were doing a Four Corners Tour. This is the only place we've been where the locals seem to have any knowledge of this event, and they seem to embrace it wholeheartedly. Perhaps they've felt neglected and forgotten way up there in northern Maine, and this tour is their one and only claim to fame. Regardless of the reason, we felt welcomed and appreciated by everyone who spoke with us.

The happy riders enjoying the knowledge that they have accomplished their goal.



Photos taken, final proofs mailed off, visiting over, we rode farther into town and stopped at a Dairy Queen-type place (we couldn't stop at a real one, as neither of us was riding a Gold Wing) to have some lunch. Checking our maps, and glancing at the sky to determine the potential weather, we decided to ride on west to Fort Kent, and then take Rt. 11 south through the middle of the state. It turned out to be a good decision, as 11 is a good road, and a most welcome respite from the interstates we'd been traveling on for too many thousands of miles already.

All good things must come to an end, and at Sherman we rejoined I-95 to finish our ride back to the motel at Bangor, where we settled in for a good night's rest after our celebratory dinner.

Wednesday, May 1, 2002 Bangor, Maine

The feeling of elation at having completed the Four Corners is still with us, and we're feeling positive as we load up to head west. Russ has never been to Niagara Falls, and I haven't visited the site since October of 1997, so we're headed for that attraction next. At this point I haven't made up my mind positively whether to ride back to Seattle, or to turn north in North Dakota to take the shortcut home. I'm doing my best to rationalize the run across to Seattle as I know I want to prolong the trip for as long as possible. Since I'd left my cold weather gear in Seattle, and it will still be a bit chilly on the Alcan, riding to get that clothing will probably serve as my excuse.

As we ride back out of Maine and into New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and then New York, we both become aware of a change in our routine. Now, instead of Russ chuckling at me as I dispense large quantities of gasoline into my two tanks, we find we are having to stop at approximately 150 mile intervals for Russ to refuel. With the auxiliary fuel cell, I'm able to go twice as far without needing to stop. Revenge is sweet!

We make good time westward but nevertheless it's dark when we enter Buffalo on our way to Niagara Falls. As it has been for most of the past five days, rain is falling lightly, but next to the falls it is hardly discernible from the spray. We can't get out to Goat Island due to some ongoing construction, but we do get next to the American Falls for some photos, and then cross the Rainbow Bridge to view the falls from the Canadian side. We are fortunate in that we are here while the light show is going on, and enjoy the various colors illuminating the falls, the spray, and the mist above it all.






It's late when we finally cross back into the U. S. and head for I-90 again. For most of this trip the GPS has been little more than an extra odometer, or a device with which I can mark the locations of our various spills. This night, however, it proves to have some practical application, as I take Russ on an unintentional midnight tour of downtown Buffalo, New York. That's what I get for being a cheapskate and wanting to avoid the toll on the short section of I-190 near the Peace Bridge. The gas wasted riding up and down streets, trying to find our way back out to the interstate, probably cost several times as much as the toll. But we did get to see a little more of the state of New York. WAY more than we really wanted to.

Finally back on the interstate, we only rode until we spotted an exit with a motel near Hamburg, NY and decided to call it quits about half past midnight. Riding in the rain after being in it for most of the evening wasn't inviting enough to keep going. Besides, we had an appointment to meet Doug Grosjean Thursday afternoon, and we had plenty of time to get there after a good night's rest.

Thursday, May 2, 2002 Hamburg, New York

The rain hadn't stopped, but the temperature had risen one degree to 51°F by 9:15 AM when we mounted up once more for points west. The rain started to lessen as we neared Cleveland, and just a few miles west of the I-271 split we exited the interstate to find a place to have a meal and dry out. While dining, a gentleman came up to us and started a conversation. He'd pulled in to a parking spot next to our bikes and noticed the Alaska license plate on mine. As we were the only obvious motorcyclists in the place, he spotted us quickly. He questioned us extensively as to where we were going, where we had been, etc., etc. Asked if we were going to write a book about our trip. Uh, no. This is just another motorcycle ride, albeit a bit longer than most we take. Nothing to make a big deal of. We'll leave that to the guys who ride around the world, or from Deadhorse to Tierra del Fuego or something like that. Heck, we're just out having a good time.

We were pleased to find that the rain had quit and the skies were looking brighter when we got back on our bikes. The weather continued to improve as we rode west toward Toledo, and our planned rendezvous with Doug Grosjean at the Clyde, Ohio Whirlpool offices where he spends his days.

To get even with Russ for ignoring my plight as I pulled off the road at the insistence of the Maine trooper, I'm going to tell this one on him. After finishing lunch there in Ohio, we headed north a few blocks to get back on I-90. We had to cross over the interstate and go down the westbound on-ramp, as we were headed for the Toledo area and we were still east of Cleveland. However, I watched as Russ, in the lead, turned east down the eastbound on-ramp and proceed to accelerate as if to fetch something he'd lost back that way. Maybe the meal on an empty stomach had dulled his navigational senses, or perhaps he thought he might have missed something in our late-night tour of Buffalo and wanted to see it again. Anyway, I went to the bottom of the westbound on-ramp and waited for quite a few minutes until he passed, now going in the proper direction.

Doug knew we were coming, and came out to meet us shortly after we pulled up in the parking lot. He showed us a bit of what he did there - lots of neat CAD stuff with the computer - and then took us through the factory for the grand tour. Having been an appliance repairman in an earlier life, many of the pieces I saw were familiar to me. All that served to make it that much more interesting. Watching the assembly processes was fascinating for someone of my bent. (Okay, "twisted" is more like it.)

Doug had made arrangements with his S.O., Sharon, that we would all join her at Dearborn, Michigan for a dinner party. Russ and Doug headed that way by one route, while I took another, a little farther west, in order to make a brief personal visit. It was still warm and light when we left Sharon's house together to convoy over to the "Transylvanian" restaurant. Now prior to this visit I'd always been impressed with Doug's obvious intelligence, both through private e-mails we had exchanged and from the many writings he has posted to various lists. But when we got inside the chosen dining establishment I began to wonder if something darkly sinister lurked just beneath the surface of this mild appearing rider. How would you feel if you'd been invited, all unsuspecting, to dine with the Adams family?

Actually, we had a great time, sharing laughs among our small group, and with the restaurant staff, as we enjoyed a very good meal and great company. It may have been Sharon who wondered why she had agreed to join this bizarre fest as Russ and I, aided by Doug, shared some of our motorcycling "treasured memories". Once again, the clock betrayed us, and we headed out the door to the accompaniment of grateful looks from the staff. A round of photos in the parking lot, and Russ and I once again hit the interstate headed toward Seattle.
Sharon, Doug, and Russ pose for a “parting shot”.


Distance was not on the agenda this night, however, as the heavy meal put us both in the mood to stop for the night to get caught up on our rest before continuing across the continent. We made it west of Ann Arbor (where a serious accident on the interstate had closed a portion of I-94 and had us once again taking the Cook's Tour of a city we really had no desire to see) and upon spotting a motel near Exit 159, we called it a night. At our arrival time of 11:30 PM, the temperature was still 51°F, the exact temperature we'd started the ride with that morning.
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Old 10-15-2008, 10:06 PM   #27
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part XII

Friday, May 3, 2002 Chelsea, Michigan

We're relaxed this morning, as we no longer have a schedule, and it is, once again, a beautiful morning. Finding a laundromat, we get our dirty clothes turned in to clean ones once more. It was late - 12:20 PM - when we finally pulled out of Chelsea with our next planned stop at Don Damron's Fireside Inn over in Stevensville, Michigan, not far from the shores of Lake Michigan.

As we tooled west on I-94 into the city of Kalamazoo, we watched two sportbike riders pull onto the interstate on our right. Clothed in typical fashion - helmet, gloves, nondescript jacket, jeans, tennis shoes - they proceeded to cut through traffic in a manner guaranteed to irritate the cage drivers they were dodging, failing to use turn signals or common sense. They stayed on the interstate for about 4 miles, then exited in the same manner - cutting across several lanes of traffic just in time to get the off ramp. It was interesting to note, from our position in the hammer lane, that they had progressed to only about three car lengths ahead of us despite all their antics. My hope is that they live long enough to mature and learn to ride safely and responsibly.

We found Don's fine dining establishment with no trouble, and sat down to enjoy a good meal. Our waitress found Don for us, and he joined us for some lively conversation while we ate.

Don gets the blame for talking us into this, as it was during our delicious dinner that we decided to do an IBA SaddleSore (1000 miles in 24 hours) from Stevensville. There were no planned stops for either of us before Montana, we wanted to get across the Midwest as quickly as possible, and I-80 should provide the perfect venue for that attempt. Checking maps and GPS, it looked like the Wyoming border would be just about far enough.

So when it came time to leave, we got out our SaddleSore witness forms (which I vainly carry with me on every trip) and had Don witness our starting odometer readings. He pointed out that his daughter Kaitlyn, who had at one time held the distinction of being the youngest Iron Butt member, earning her certificate 3 years earlier at the age of 6 while riding behind Don, could have signed them as well. Had that occurred to us, we would have been honored to have her signature on the dotted line. It was a real joy to spend the time with Don and Kaitlyn. But once again, the ticking clock was controlling our ride, so off we went at 5:05 to fuel up and get our official starting time.


In previous sentences I've noted my inability to cope with the documentation portion of an official Iron Butt ride, and it turned out this one was no exception - but I didn't discover that until it was too late to remedy the situation. Russ and I both rode a couple of blocks south on Red Arrow Hwy. to a large station to fuel up. We obtained our receipts and dutifully folded them and put them away for safe keeping. However, I failed to put on my reading glasses first so I could ascertain exactly what was printed on the slip. But the printout was over three inches long, and two inches wide, and filled with fine printing, so it had to have every bit of information I required, right? Or so I thought - for the next thousand plus miles. It wasn't until I sat down about 25 hours later, in a restaurant in Torrington, Wyoming, that I discovered there was no time printed anywhere on the receipt.

Having traveled the route many times in the past 40 odd years, I am all too familiar with traffic in Chicago and its environs. And yet we managed to find ourselves crawling from Indiana toward the Illinois line as part of a 10,000 vehicle creeping mass, with the temperature only slightly lower than what we had experienced in Houston and Florida. Perhaps in the future I should consider such things before heading out to do a 1000 mile day. To complicate matters, the cooling fan on my bike refused to come on, leading to the temperature gauge climbing into the red, and coolant spitting out onto the hot pavement. Once again we found ourselves clear over to the left hand side of the pavement, which on this portion of interstate is akin to riding through a trash heap rather than the rain-washed cleanliness of northern I-5 where I'd found myself in a similar situation nearly a month earlier. After letting the engine cool for a bit, we decided to chance moving forward again, looking for the nearest exit to get onto a surface street where we could expect to move occasionally to aid in cooling the radiator.

As good fortune would have it, we had to ride less than a mile to get to Exit 2, and got onto US-41, which took us south to US-30 where we were able to resume our westward direction. By shutting the engine off at stoplights, and keeping the bike rolling whenever possible, we were able to make it west to US-45 where we turned north to rejoin I-80 and get back up to a comfortable speed. From then on, we had but one goal - get to Wyoming by tomorrow afternoon.

In my days of being chased back and forth across the country by a 48' semi-trailer I had carefully measured the differences in time and miles around or through most major cities from coast to coast, and found that experience proving useful as we neared the Quad Cities region on the Mississippi River where it divides Illinois and Iowa. We stayed on I-80 and circled to the north, and before we realized it, were headed west again in Iowa. It was just 10 minutes before 10:00 PM when we crossed into Iowa, and we continued to make good time as we made our way toward Nebraska. At Exit 220, near the town of Williamsburg, we stopped to fuel up. It was somewhere to the west of there that I recall being passed by a car with Alaska plates. Well, what better rabbit than one of my countrymen - so I set off in hot pursuit. This was even more than Russ felt comfortable with apparently, as his headlights began to diminish in my rearviews. Checking my speedometer, I realized that my fellow Alaskan was probably in a much bigger hurry to return to the state than I was, and reduced my speed to something less likely to prove instantly fatal in the event of a mishap.

Saturday, May 4, 2002 Clive, Iowa

Can you believe it? The restaurant at the Flying J, where I've faithfully eaten a meal every time I pass through the area, is closed when we arrive just after midnight. So we made a u-turn and went back to the Pilot truckstop we'd passed up a few miles north. Sure enough, the fairly heavy meal this late at night made me drowsy, and in less than fifty miles I spotted a rest area and pulled in for a 2 hour nap. This was one of those times when the difference between riders worked against us, as Russ was still wide awake and ready to keep riding. He stopped too, however, and we both got some sleep, although mine was fitful due to the cool temperature. At 03:45 we were back on our bikes and headed west once more.

We crossed the Missouri River into Nebraska at 5:15 AM and made it another 16 miles before I was once again overcome by a case of the drowsies and we stopped for another brief nap. This time Russ was able to sleep quite well apparently, as I had a bit of trouble waking him once I was ready to travel again.

We had made it as far as the Petro Truck Stop at Exit 353, near York, Nebraska by 8:30 AM, and stopped there for breakfast. It had warmed up to 54°F by this time, with the sun starting to come up behind us through a slightly hazy sky. Although it isn't something I usually have, a cup of coffee helped to get me back on schedule and ready to put some miles behind us once we were back on the interstate.

As we made our weary way across Nebraska toward the Wyoming line, I became aware that this SaddleSore attempt, taking place on the interstates here in the Midwest U. S., was probably the most difficult one I'd ridden up to that point. The miles slowly added up as we continued across the boringly flat stretch of landscape. While seemingly featureless to the casual glance, I usually enjoy it, as I remember various points from many earlier trips across I-80, and years before it, on old US-30. In fact, when I travel through here by myself, I often get off the slab and take the two-lane for a change. It has hardly been altered in the more than 45 years since I first came across it, headed for a summer ranch job in Oregon. I continue to enjoy pleasant memories, and some not so pleasant, but soon they are all left behind as we leave I-80 at Ogallala to take US-26 into Wyoming.

This is another highway that I frequently travel, ever since a vacation trip with three teenage stepchildren as we returned home to Alaska a few years earlier. With 3 teenaged siblings in a car together for an extended period of time, it is imperative that they have something to do. So we retraced the Oregon Trail - as much as we were able - from Jefferson City, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon. Along this stretch of US-26 from Ogallala to past Guernsey, Wyoming, there are many historic sites (and sights) related to that famous trail from the early days in our nation's history. Even the kids were fascinated by the things we saw and the places we visited on that trip.

It was just after noon local time when we left Ogallala, but that meant it was 2:00 PM in Stevensville, Michigan, two time zones east of us. That gave us but 3 hours to make the 155 miles to Torrington. Not a problem so long as all went well. Having been over this road several times, I wasn't worried, as I felt we would be able to keep our speed up enough to maintain at least a 55 mph average - that would get us there within the allotted time. As a matter of fact, we had a sufficient cushion when we neared Chimney Rock, one of the major landmarks along the Oregon Trail, that we sidetracked a couple of miles to stop and take some touristy photographs of the sight from a distance.


Leaving Chimney Rock, we were within 55 miles of Torrington, and had just over an hour to get there. We crossed the line into Wyoming at 2:48 MDT and 11 minutes later pulled up to the gas pumps at the first station we came to in Torrington. Making sure the receipts had the correct time on them, we realized that we had completed the 1000+ miles just under the wire - twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes since we had fueled up in Stevensville. That's cutting it close.

We talked one of the clerks in the convenience store into coming outside to witness our odometers and sign the witness forms. Then Russ, who had friends to visit in Montana, hit the road again while I walked over to the restaurant with all my paperwork for the ride, and sat down get everything ready for submission to the IBA while I waited for my meal. It was while doing that, that I discovered the lack of a time stamp on my starting receipt.

The lack of proper documentation for the ride doesn't bother me all that much. It seems failing to properly document rides has become a habit for me. So after dinner I get back on the bike with a destination in mind, yet subject to change along the way. In the meantime, there were some sights to be explored once again.



And Register Cliff, where I had to wait while a herd of cattle was moved across the road by a few cowboys before I could get close enough to take this photo.


But as the miles go by, I decide to continue as planned, and keep going until I get to Buffalo, Wyoming, where I find an EconoLodge with nearby restaurants. This will serve as the starting point for some riding I have in mind for the morrow, weather in this high country permitting.

Sunday, May 5, 2002 Buffalo, Wyoming

If I had to live somewhere other than Alaska (not a thought I wish to dwell on), northern Wyoming is one of the few places I would consider making my home. Here in Buffalo, the Big Horn Mountains loom to the west, and the Black Hills are less than a day's ride to the east, as inviting a set of roads and scenery as you'll find almost anywhere. It was a mild morning as I headed west across I-25 and up into the mountains with the small town of Worland as my destination for now. Climbing toward the summit, I met quite a few riders headed the other way, and wondered to myself if there might not be an organized ride going on. Or maybe these local motorcyclists were just as eager as I was to get out and enjoy the good weather.

The last time through this area I'd crossed from west to east through Shell Canyon, and now I wanted to take a look at Ten Sleep Canyon, which lays a few miles farther south. On the way, I rode over Powder River Pass, where the weather was cool (38°F) and the skies were cloudy overhead.


The “Ya, I vas dere” photos taken, I descended through the Canyon and then through the slumbering little town of Ten Sleep. Again, there was what appeared to be a disproportionate number of two-wheeled vehicles gathered at cafes and bars for a town of this size. Couldn't blame them at all.

Stopping to fuel up at Worland, with the temperature up to 73°F now, I got to enjoy this ranching town for a few minutes, and wondered what it would be like to live here year around. Probably just as well that I was just passing through on a day with good riding weather, as I can remember some days, crossing Wyoming on I-80 in the winter, when a person wouldn't have wanted to be outside at all.

From Worland, it wouldn't have been but a short ride south on US-20 to Thermopolis and the famous hot springs there. It was tempting, but the anticipation of Shell Canyon was too much, and I instead turned north toward Greybull, where a right turn in the middle of town would take me toward the dot on the map named Shell, and its namesake canyon carved deep into the west side of the Big Horn Mountains.



As I came out of the upper end of the narrow canyon, the wind picked up, blowing from the southwest rather briskly, driving scudding rain clouds past the surrounding peaks, and even blowing virga (which I usually refer to as "veil rain") toward the ground, which it never contacted due to the dry winds blowing across the terrain. I've been here in nicer weather, but there's something about foul weather that attracts me, and I stood next to the bike for a while, watching it. Then a couple of photos, and back onto the Concours to see what else awaited us.

It had been my hope when I started out this morning to be able to ride up to Burgess Junction and then ride back west on US-14 Alt to connect with US-310 and enter Montana via that route. But when I got to the junction, I saw several feet of snow just past the Bear Lodge Resort, with the road plowed out only as far as their parking lot. That meant I'd have to go on over Granite Pass and get back onto the interstate at Ranchester. Oh well, it had been a pleasant interlude while it lasted.

The lights of Billings were inviting as I stopped there for dinner and gas. But it was not yet 6:00 PM when I was ready to go again, and I really wanted to get as far as Butte before the weather turned nasty, if it did. According to weather reports I had seen on TV the previous evening, a snowstorm had come through the area the day before, and another one was on the way. Livingston and Bozeman were similarly inviting as the evening turned into night, but I had slept in late this morning and was feeling fine, so onward I rode. There was snow on the road, and some serious snow flurries in 33°F temperatures as I climbed in the dark toward the top of the Continental Divide just before dropping down into Butte. At one point I had to stop between snow squalls and clean off my windshield and faceshield so I could see the road. The road continued to wind toward the top, and I wondered how much colder it would get as I climbed, and if I would have to turn back to one of the spots that had seemed so alluring earlier. The sign marking the summit of the pass and then the highway descending back down the west side were both welcome sights, and I was glad - both that I had continued on this far before calling it a night, and also that Butte was no farther than it was. It was slightly warmer, 35°F here in Butte upon my arrival at 10:15 PM, but I knew that could change before morning. At least this was a haven in which to relax for a day or two if the weather forced a stop.
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Old 10-16-2008, 10:02 AM   #28
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends in Alaska - Part 13

Monday, May 6, 2002 Butte, Montana

Fortunately, only a light dusting of snow fell this morning, so I brushed it off the bike cover and took the cover up to my room to dry while I walked to the nearby restaurant for breakfast. By the time I had checked out of the motel and had the bike ready for travel again, it was 10:45 and the temperature had climbed to 41°F. Still, as I rode north and west toward Missoula and another climb and pass through mountains, I found myself ducking in and out of snow squalls and even one ground-whitening hailstorm. Not too strangely, I found mine to be the only motorcycle on that stretch of highway that morning. Then again, Russ might be just ahead or just behind me. Wherever he was, I hoped that he was enjoying weather as good as, or better than, this that I was riding through.

Progress was steady, as the morning weather report had warned of a major snowstorm headed toward Butte, and I wanted to get out of the Rockies and down to a lower elevation before I found myself stuck here for two or three days. As I zipped past Missoula I noticed the clouds ahead appeared to be getting thicker and darker. Lookout Pass was getting to look more and more like a long shot. The last 5 miles of the climb to the top were the worst for me, as the temperature had already dropped to 32°F and the drizzle that was falling at lower elevations had turned to a light snowfall. Just as I neared the top at 2:00 PM, with the temperature now down to 30°F and snow coming down steadily, I pulled in to a roadside rest area and took a couple of photos. Now that I was at the top, and it was literally all down hill from here, I could breathe easy.


Sure enough, the run down past Kellogg, Idaho, then back up over Fourth of July Pass and back down again through Coeur d'Alene and into Post Falls was nice, with dry roads most of the way. But while I was inside getting some snacks after fueling up at the Chevron station, a hailstorm hit the area and deposited nearly half an inch of the little white balls on the ground in about five minutes. I made that gas stop last a good, long fifteen minutes.

Now that I was out of the mountains, the pressure was off to get somewhere other than where I was, so the ride over to Spokane was done at a more relaxed pace. While the temperature there was relatively mild at 52°F, there was a pretty stiff breeze blowing from the northwest. Past the city and headed southwest on I-90, I started thinking about Snoqualmie Pass ahead, and wondered what shape it might be in. There's a westbound rest area a few miles before Ritzville, and I pulled in there to see if I could check on road conditions ahead. This was around 4:30 PM and I knew it would be dark before I got beyond Ellensburg and started back up into the Cascade Range. The report I heard was that the temperature was 33°F and there was slush on the road. Not impassable at that time for a motorcycle, I thought, but what might it be like 3 or 4 hours later? Especially with a storm coming off the Pacific and headed this way. I already knew what snow looked like, and I knew how bikes behave in snow, I didn't need to ride 2 or 3 hours to find out. So I wimped out again and headed south on US-395 toward the Tri-Cities.

Now some folks don't care for deserts, they're too dry and dusty. But when you want to avoid precipitation, a desert offers the best chance of doing so. Just as when I headed for Cache Creek up in British Columbia when I was tired of seeing snow, so I headed for the driest area I knew of now. While it didn't warm up a lot - it was still only 56° when I rode through Kennewick - there was a pleasant dryness to the air that I reveled in. Across the mighty Columbia River into Oregon, and then down I-84 a few miles to the small community of Boardman where I found another EconoLodge with an adjacent restaurant, and I felt it was time to stop, as I had used up my good weather luck for the day.

Tuesday, May 7, 2002 Boardman, Oregon

There's just nothing quite like turning on the motel TV to find out that the weather behind you is far worse than the weather ahead of you. Spokane had received 8 inches of snow during the night, Lookout Pass 13", Butte 10", and places in between had similar amounts. There wasn't even any rain predicted for Portland, my next destination. My decision to hurry out of that area yesterday turned out to have been a good one, and I was happy with the route I would be riding for the rest of this day.

The temperature had only dropped to 54°F this morning, and it felt warmer as I walked next door for breakfast. At 10:20 I was out on I-84 headed toward Portland. The day grew progressively brighter and warmer as I rode down along the Columbia, through the Gorge, and on past the string of Oregon State Parks that line the south side of the river.


It was as I was nearing Multnomah Falls that I looked up and saw snow falling on some of the peaks high above the interstate. And yet it was warm and bright where I was riding. I can handle the sight of snow just fine under those conditions.

Just after 1:00 in the afternoon I found myself crossing the Columbia again as I entered the state of Washington on I-205. A few more miles and I stopped to call Ron and let him know I was headed his way. It was necessary for me to swing by his house to pick up my cold weather gear, and from there we would ride up to Cafe Veloce for dinner. Ron would try to contact another rider or two to see if anyone could join us.

Traffic was at its heaviest as I made my way past Sea-Tac and turned off onto I-405 toward Renton. Fortunately, the HOV lane was lightly traveled and I was able to maintain a good speed as I hurried to get to Ron's house without being too late, the way I usually seem to be. Our timing was great, and we got to the restaurant around 7:00 PM and proceeded to sit down to a delicious meal. Cori Phelps was able to join us a little later, and Ron and I got to listen to some of her recent adventures aboard her Yamaha. She has some very interesting stories to tell, and is good at relating them. Here in Washington the same problem arose that had plagued me all around the country - that of too little time to spend with the folks I most enjoy spending it with. Soon it was time to part company and head north toward home.

On the way across from Maine I had decided that so long as I was going to get all the way back to Washington before turning north, I would go right back to where it started - the Blaine Post Office. So after Cori, Ron, and I said our good-byes, that's where I headed. Got my unofficial finish photo from within a few feet of where this ride had started a month previous, and then bid a sad farewell to my Four Corners Tour as I turned east to cross the border at Sumas.


Finding no likely looking motel around Sumas, I proceeded to cross the border into Canada and found one within a few moments at Abbottsford, British Columbia. A good night's rest, and I could begin a serious quest for the home state.

Wednesday, May 8, 2002 Abbottsford, B.C., Canada

With the exchange rate between U. S. and Canadian money being so favorable to U. S. citizens right then, it was pretty easy to justify a hearty breakfast when dining north of the border. So I splurged. Afterward, waddling over to my room to finish packing, I mused on how much I enjoy traveling in Canada.

The weather is good as I head east on TC-1 this morning. It continues to stay dry until I get past Hope and there is a brief light shower before it dries up again, to stay that way all the way up to Prince George.

The Fraser River canyon again, as I never tire of taking photos in this scenic wonderland.



Past Spences Bridge a few miles, I find a roadside stand open as I ride past it. Realizing that I probably won't see one again on this early spring trip, I backtrack a few miles to stop in and buy some fruits and a bottle of juice. Then it's on up through Cache Creek and to 100 Mile House for my first gas stop. It's along here that I notice there is no power to some of my electrical accessories, so I pull in to the little park and historic museum at 108 Mile House to do some repairs.



Getting to the offending part necessitates removing the seat, which in turn requires removing the auxiliary fuel tank. Pretty soon I have parts sitting in a circle around the bike while I search for the problem. Turns out a blade-type fuse protecting the power distribution panel has a little corrosion on it, just enough to stop voltage from getting through. A thorough scraping with a jackknife blade was all it took to insure I'd have toasty hands and an illuminated thermometer all the way home.

One of the reasons I'd elected to stop here at 108 Mile House, even though the weather was still pleasantly warm, was the gathering of heavy gray clouds ahead of me. But, thankfully, the threatened rain never materialized, so I rode on to Prince George and got a room. It wasn't that I was too tired to continue riding, rather it was just that I was in no hurry to end this trip, so I was taking all the time I needed to get back home.

There was a mock-Chinese restaurant (run by real Asians) next to the motel, so that's where I had my dinner. Seems there are a lot of so-called Asian dining establishments springing up all over, but only a few of them have really good, traditional Asian dishes. However, this one beat starving, and I didn't feel like riding all over Prince George trying to find the best place. Next time I'll see if I can't schedule a dinner stop farther north in Chetwynd and sample the highly recommended cooking at the Chinese restaurant there.

Thursday, May 9, 2002 Prince George, B.C., Canada

While a restaurant specializing in Chinese food is not my first choice for a good breakfast, it beats Eggs McScrambled. The personal refueling done, there was nothing to do but load the bike, top off the fuel tanks, and head northeast for the Alcan.

South of Prince George I had noticed the lakes were all opening up with the warm days of spring. Here at the slightly higher elevation, and more northern latitude, the lakes were turning dark as their surfaces prepared to thaw, and there was occasionally some open water along the edges, sure signs that spring would eventually reach here as well. Having been in a bit of a hurry the previous month, southbound, I now took a closer look at my surroundings as I rode along in the sunlight. The Hart Hwy. has seen a lot of changes in the 40 years since I first traveled it. More homes and businesses, pavement where then there was gravel, and even commercial electricity with poles and wires announcing to one and all that civilization had come to this far northern wilderness.

With the sun rising toward its zenith, its warming rays brought a spring-like quality to the air and I found myself wishing the day could go on and on in this same manner. The two-lane highway had little traffic, and compared to the interstates and large cities I had been riding through just a few days prior, it seemed I had the road to myself - just the way I like it.

Arriving in Chetwynd just after lunch time, I filled the tanks once more and made the decision to take BC-29 north - also known as the Hudson's Hope Loop - to intersect the Alcan at about MP54 and shave off 29 miles as I bypass Dawson Creek. This road twists and winds, climbs and descends, as it passes through the historic town of Hudson's Hope and then follows the mighty Peace River - the only river to breech the Rockies - on its way to join the Alaska Highway north of Fort St. John.


It was while traveling through the Peace Valley that I watched the odometer turn to all zeroes as it recorded the first 100,000 miles in its busy life. This didn't really impress me all that much, as during its life, the bike has traveled nearly 50,000 miles with various problems that kept the odometer from advancing. In reality, it now is approaching 170,000 miles of travel, and seems to be prepared to add that many more before calling it quits.

Before I was really expecting it, the stop sign appeared that signaled the intersection with the Alcan, the next-to-the-last highway I would be traveling on my way home. Shortly after I turned north once again, I remembered telling Doug Grosjean that I would give him a call once back on the Alcan safely, so I pulled over to the side of the road to take advantage of the last cell phone reception until Whitehorse. Five minutes later, I was rolling on the throttle again, with plans for a final overnight rest at Fort Nelson that evening. After that there would be no stopping this old horse, heading for the barn.
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Old 10-17-2008, 10:34 AM   #29
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts and Ends In Alaska - Part 14

Observations Enroute: The Alcan

On my first ever drive up the Alcan (officially, the Alaska Highway) it was very much a wilderness drive over a definitely wilderness highway. It was January 1962 and, returning from a 30-day military leave to Fort Richardson just outside Anchorage, I found a brand new compact Mercury two-door in Detroit that needed to be delivered to the Avis car rental franchisee in Anchorage. Picked up the car in Detroit on January 2nd, with 26 miles on the odometer (I still have the log of that trip). Only 4000 miles were allowed for the drive, but seeing as I wanted to swing out through Seattle to pay a visit to some friends there, I disconnected the speedo cable in Minnesota and gave the car an extra 2000 break-in miles, at no extra charge to the customer. Rather generous of me, in my unsolicited opinion.

Roads I hardly recognize these days for all the population growth, were gravel and lonely 40 years ago. The afternoon and evening before I arrived at Dawson Creek and the beginning of the Alcan, I spent driving through the worst snowstorm I have ever been in (and I've seen a quite few in my time). No snow tires or tire chains to be had in the diminutive 13" tire size that was just becoming available on American cars. Fortunately, the car didn't have enough power to spin the tires, so it just kept going. By the time I got to Prince George, all the other traffic going my direction had pulled off at hotels and motels to escape the terrible driving conditions, save one traveling salesman from Vanderhoof, and a fellow in a Mercedes sedan. We'd been keeping each other company for over a hundred miles by then.

Later that night, sleeping in the passenger seat alongside the Hart Hwy., nestled down in my sleeping bag, it dropped to -42°. When I turned the radio on the next morning a little before dawn, the only station coming in was KXEL in Waterloo, Iowa with its country music (we called it hillbilly back then) disc jockey. When I heard it, I remembered my uncle, living on his ranch farther west in B.C., telling that they listened to that station more than any of their local ones.

Back then the Hart Hwy. was all gravel, and there was virtually no traffic on it that time of year. A cow moose was trotting up the road ahead of me at one point, and I guess I was "herding" her a little too closely, as she suddenly skidded to a stop, and turned to come directly at me. Visions of moose hooves thundering down all over that little car had me wishing I'd been more patient. But she veered to one side, and passed within inches of the side of the car as she strode defiantly back whence she came. When I started breathing again, I proceeded toward Dawson Creek, in less of a hurry.

Leaving Dawson Creek, I had noticed literally hundreds of snowshoe hare carcasses flattened all over the highway for miles. Thought it very strange, and read in the Alaska Sportsman magazine some months later that it was due to the hare population being at its peak that year, causing that particular phenomena to occur. Never seen anything like it since, anywhere.

In the ensuing years, the Alcan has been tamed to a large degree. Trutch Mt. has been bypassed, although the old highway leading to it can still be seen to the east for several miles. The original builders had neither the time nor the equipment to haul in the huge amounts of fill that the present highway needed to traverse the swampy ground it now crosses. Steamboat has but a hint of the twists and turns, along with steep grades and drop-offs without guardrails, that used to cause panic in the flatlanders who found themselves facing it, especially when rain turned the gravel surface to slick mud.
The road over Summit is still pretty much the way it was gouged out of the rock walls some 60 years ago, but at least now there are guardrails along the side next to the canyon. Not always a good idea in my estimation. Before they added all the guard rails to highways here in Alaska, you could be pretty sure that by the second serious snowfall of the winter, the poorest drivers had been weeded out, and you felt a lot safer knowing it was the more skilled survivors who were approaching you in the other lane.

Nowadays the Alcan is, to a great extent, a good, paved two-lane highway through what is still wilderness for the most part. The Canadians have done an admirable job in designing their highways, and have preserved the feeling of traveling through pristine wilderness even while motoring down a wide scenic highway at freeway speeds. In addition, the people who populate this highway seem to be of a special breed. For the most part very friendly and helpful, yet with the same streak of independence that I observe in my fellow Alaskans. No better place to get in a bind, because these folks have seen it all, and know how to fix it. Just be patient, because if the fish are biting up the road, your problem may have to wait.

This stretch of road remains one of my favorite rides or drives, winter or summer, and probably will remain so for my lifetime.

* * * * * * * * *

The ride up to Fort Nelson was warm, pleasant, and uneventful, just the kind I like. Rolling into Fort Nelson at around 7:00 PM, it was still a long time 'til sundown. With the vernal equinox over a month past, the days here were noticeably longer than those in the South 48 states. First finding an overpriced motel, I checked in, and then took a half-mile walk to one of the few restaurants to stay open this late. After riding all day, it felt good to stretch my legs, then after the hefty meal I ate, I needed to expend some more calories. Getting back to the motel, I found that a strange looking vehicle had arrived, with the owner staying in a room near mine.





Seeing the owner outside, cleaning his rig, I walked up to him and introduced myself. He identified himself as Joe Garcia, from Santa Fe, New Mexico. The trike he was riding/driving had been built by himself and a partner, who did this for a living at a business called The Fab Shop. It had a built-up 454 Chevy big block, Turbo-Hydramatic, Buick rear axle with dual rear tires, and pulled a small utility trailer. Judging by the number of locals who drove by to gawk at it, the trike had attracted a lot of attention coming into town.

Joe and I visited for a while, and then I retired earlier than I might have, as I knew tomorrow was going to begin the big push for home.

Friday, May 10, 2002 Fort Nelson, B.C., Canada

By now I realize that it's time to end this ride and get back home, so I'm down at the office and helping myself to some of the "continental breakfast" food shortly after 6:00 AM. Then out of the motel and headed north well before 8:00 AM. Joe's trike is still in front of his room, but he's out and packing as I pull out.


It's cool this morning, and there are clouds up ahead, but it's still dry as I make time toward Steamboat Mountain, Toad River, Muncho Lake, and the other waypoints along the Alaska Highway.
Around Mile 437, riding along the shoreline of Muncho Lake, still frozen over its entire surface.



Forty miles farther north, memories of delicious pies lure me in to Trapper Ray's Liard Hot Springs Lodge, but I make it a quick stop as there were a few drops of rain on the windshield just as I neared the Liard River crossing.

When I dressed this morning, I knew I'd be riding all night, so the Roadcrafter got bungeed on top of the Givi tail trunk once more and I donned the snowmachine suit for guaranteed warmth. Buttoned up for rain, I again hit the road with Watson Lake and fuel as my next destination. Joe passed the lodge on his trike just as I was finishing my travel preparations, so I hurried to catch up in order to have a little company for a few miles of this lonely road. Pretty soon we ran into a little more drizzle, and Joe has slowed down. With no windshield and no protection from the wind trying to blow up his pants legs, he's not enjoying the rain. I pass him, knowing I can't afford to dilly-dally if I want to get on home without another overnight stop.

Around 60 miles before Watson Lake there's some construction that was started the previous summer and, hopefully, would be completed later this summer. But as I ride over it today, all I find is washboard gravel, with windrows of loose crushed rock between the tire tracks. Slowing down to a speed at which I can control the bike fairly well yet still have the advantage of gyroscopic stability from the tires, I bounce along, ducking from flying stones whenever I meet an oncoming vehicle. There's been no rain in this area, so dust is another nuisance.

There are scraggly black spruce trees growing in the swampland fairly close to the highway, and I'm riding slowly anyway, so I stop to use the natural "facilities" just inside the cover of the trees. While I'm so stopped, Joe and his trike nearly catch up with me, and I watch his progress in my rear view mirror as I get under way once again. Apparently the trike doesn't like the washboard any better than my Concours, as he travels even slower than I do while on it. Pretty soon the gravel ended and the pavement resumed, so I was able to hurry on to Watson Lake for my next fuel stop.

Joe rolls into the Tags station as I'm fueling, and tells me that he has had enough for the day. He looks cold, and admits that the weather has sapped his energy, so he'll get a room here and regain some of it tonight. It's only 3:15 PM, and I'm not interested in stopping, so I bid Joe farewell and get out onto the highway, headed west toward Whitehorse.

When I get to Rancheria, about 75 miles from Watson Lake, I see that the lodge is now open, so I stop in for a hot meal, knowing that it may be my last for a while. I sudden rain shower dumps on me as I'm getting the bike parked, and I see snow clouds up ahead. Nevertheless, I am determined to enjoy a leisurely meal, even as I scan every southbound vehicle for signs of snow packed on their rear end. After eating, there's nothing to do but get back out onto the highway and find out what sort of conditions await me.

One of the things I've learned about the Alcan from years of traveling it - the weather can change drastically within a few miles, then change back again in the next few. Although there was snow falling on both sides of me, and sometimes both ahead of and behind me, I was happy that none fell where I was. Being that the highway from Rancheria to Whitehorse is in good condition and traffic was very light now that it was getting past the hour when most locals were traveling home from their jobs, I was able to make very good time as I traveled west and then northwest toward the Yukon's capital city.

It's a few minutes before 9:00 PM when I fill the tank just outside Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. There's still a little light in the western sky as I get back onto the highway and head toward my home state, now anxious to end the journey - so that I can begin preparing for my next one. As I thread the sharp turns dropping down into the tiny hamlet of Champagne, I am again aware how I enjoy this ride, even with its less-than-perfect roads. In a few miles the road straightens out again, and I can resume my cruising speed toward Haines Junction.

Ten-thirty or so now, and I'm passing through Haines Junction with a right turn at the junction to go north toward interior Alaska rather than south on the Haines Cut-Off to the northern end of Southeastern Alaska. The driving lights I had when I came south a month ago would be welcome tonight, and I vow to replace them before another trip to the South 48.

A note from 2008:
Those who have traveled the stretch of the Alaska Highway north of Haines Junction to the Alaska/Yukon border only in the last 3 or 4 years aren’t aware of what it used to look like. For many years after the highway was first paved north of Whitehorse, that distance was merely a thin layer of asphalt laid over the original gravel road, with little attempt at realignment. It was not until the Shakwak project (http://www.hpw.gov.yk.ca/trans/engineering/shakwak.html) was started in the late 1990’s that this “orphan” section began to be upgraded, starting near the border and working southward. On this trip northward, some clearing of new right-of-way had begun, but north of Burwash Landing it was still the old, narrow, shoulderless highway, with occasional forays through gravel stretches left unfinished from the construction season of the previous year. Only north of Kluane Wilderness Village was the road widened to more modern standards, and in that area permafrost and poor underlying soil conditions had already begun to take their toll on pavement laid down just 3 or 4 years earlier.

* * * * * * * * * *

The construction hasn't really resumed on this stretch, and the gravel portions are still ungraded from last fall when the crews put their equipment away for the winter. Now every grade is washboard, covered with a thin layer of loose gravel. It doesn't take long to discover that swinging over to the downhill lanes on the left side allows me to climb the grade on relatively smooth, well packed gravel. Destruction Bay falls behind a little after 11:30 and Burwash Landing is just up the road. But snow is starting to fall now, and the gray sky has turned an unfriendly black ahead of me. For a few miles now, the highway is straight as an arrow, with roller coaster hills following the terrain, as the snow turns to heavy, wet flakes that are starting to impair visibility.

Saturday, May 11, 2002 Kluane Lake, Yukon, Canada

As I make the last curve coming into Burwash, snow is falling harder and seeing the road is becoming a serious problem, with the flakes reflecting back a large percentage of the illumination the headlight should be putting on the pavement ahead of me. Around the turns, and back onto old, narrow pavement. I meet one other vehicle, and have to come to a stop when I do, as the road is invisible with the combination of oncoming headlights, wet pavement, and heavy snowfall. Moving once again, I find my windshield is plastered with at least half an inch of heavy, wet snow. Stopping to wipe it off doesn't do much good, as it's already opaque by the time I'm moving again. Looking over the windshield is possible, but then my faceshield is plastered with snow as well. I try lifting the faceshield, but my glasses get splattered with snow immediately and act more as a blindfold than as vision enhancers.

There's absolutely no shoulder on this stretch of highway, so I have to stop at the edge of my lane with the four-way flashers on to remove and store my glasses in the tank bag. The faceshield being worse than useless, I leave it open and blink as snowflakes sting my eyeballs. I'm now back to speeding down the highway at almost 25 mph, keeping an eye on the mirrors just in case there's a vehicle coming up behind me.

With the temperature hovering just below the freezing point, there's been no need for the electric garments except for the heated grips and Widder gloves. But as the night wears on and my metabolism slows down, I find myself turning the vest’s Heat-Troller on to its lowest setting. Somehow the added warmth makes me feel more isolated from the miserable weather going on all around me.

The dawn (figurative only) of the new day finds me peering over the top of the windshield, trying to see the road in spite of the thick, wet snow that continues to fall. At around 2:00 AM, pulling in to Kluane Wilderness Village, the only 24 hour gas stop between Whitehorse and Tok, I realize that I'm getting tired of riding under the present conditions, and as I'm filling the tank, I ask the nearby attendant if they have any rooms available. "Sorry", he says, "we're all filled up". Well, guess I didn't really want to waste money on a room at two in the morning anyway. After a quick iced tea and a candy bar it's back on the bike and headed northwest once more.

The snow seems to have tapered off a bit as I dodge chuckholes and washboard a few miles from my gas stop, and is now becoming rain as the road loses elevation in its quest to join the Tanana River valley ahead. Shortly before I reach Beaver Creek, the westernmost community in Canada, precipitation has stopped altogether and the clouds to my right are breaking up with the light of a soon-to-be-rising sun behind them.

Slowing to near the speed limit (man, 30 km/h is slow) as I cruise by Canada Customs west of town, I realize it's now less than 20 miles before I'm back home in Alaska, and the ride is nearly over. The inevitable feeling of disappointment is beginning to make itself known. It will be good to be with longtime friends in a familiar setting once more, but the adventure is about done, not to be repeated for at least another year.

Passing through U. S. Customs was only slightly more involved now than in pre-9/11 days, with the necessity of producing photo ID which was then copied by the customs agent. Perhaps the agent, judging by my bedraggled appearance, felt that even if I were a terrorist, I represented little danger to anyone but myself.

At the familiar Chevron station in Tok, I fill the main tank only, as the distance to Glennallen is but 142 miles. It's tempting to stop at Fast Eddies for breakfast, but with home cooking (my own) a mere two and a half hours away, I resist.
Closer to home, I pull over to watch water flowing over the ice on the Copper River and know that spring is well on its way.
__________________
"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 10-17-2008, 10:41 AM   #30
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A Four Corners Tour That Starts And Ends In Alaska - Conclusion

A few miles south of Tok, when the clock shows 24 hours since leaving Fort Nelson, I check the odometer and confirm that I've done a bit over 1000 miles in one day once again, for the fourth time on this tour (only once intentionally), but still no cigar. That's all right, as the ride is reward enough and the sun has warmed things so that it's much more comfortable than what I'd experienced coming through the Shakwak construction north of Kluane Lake.

As I pass the Nabesna Road at MP60 I am tempted to turn and ride up to my house to check how it has fared through this past winter. But it's time I face the inevitable conclusion of this ride and put it behind me, so I continue on toward Glennallen. Entering the town, I spot familiar vehicles with familiar faces peering out from inside. Under the coating of Shakwak mud, neither the Concours nor I are recognizable, so my waves go unreturned. Still, it is good to be home, if only to give me the opportunity to prepare for a future trip.

Pulling up in front of the apartment that I have referred to as my temporary home for the past seven years, I start removing luggage and accessories, and carry them inside to be sorted through over the course of the next week or two. There are many little, seemingly insignificant souvenirs of the past 5 weeks in there. Each one, as I pull it out, will evoke some memory of a place, person, or time that I will savor. Most will have to be deposited in the round file, but for a few moments they will serve a higher purpose. Recording the odometer reading, later calculations show that the total distance traveled in the past five weeks amounted to 17,100. A few days later, with another 200 miles on the odo, I find the oil level down just one pint, with none having been added during the entire trip. Not bad for an engine with over 100,000 miles on it.

Long before I got back here I knew that this experience was too good to let it be the only one like it, and while riding along I'd been planning for future trips. Maybe a Four Corners Tour starting in Maine in December? The 48 states plus Alaska in 10 days ride, but with a start at Alcan, the U. S. Customs station on the Alcan Hwy. at the Yukon border? And another Crawfish Boil - definitely! While I may or may not ever do another long ride, there's nothing to stop me from dreaming.

Was this trip made too early in the season? Obviously not, as it was successful, even if not made under ideal conditions. However, the following year I left home just a week earlier in the spring, but towed the ’82 Suzuki on a trailer behind my one-ton van to Haines, where I put it on an Alaska State ferry to Bellingham, WA to start the road trip. Driving over Chilkat Pass between Haines Junction on the Alcan, and Haines, AK, wind and snow combined with darkness to prevent seeing the right hand edge of the road, so I had to drive along the left side, using the snow berm as my guide as the wind did its utmost to push me off the wind-polished snowpack. Definitely not something I would have attempted on a bike.

Most who read this understand the passion that drives a rider to continue when most others would stop, or at least look for a place to spend the night, waiting for conditions to improve. The hardships, the discomfort - they're all a part of the whole experience of long distance riding. Why would someone want to leave out an important portion of his experience? As with most men who live by choice in rural Alaska, I love the outdoors. Travel is one of my main passions as well. Motorcycle touring gives me both of these things in abundance.

A couple of weeks after returning to Glennallen, I rode the Concours in to Anchorage to get a damage estimate done for the insurance company. The temperature felt warm when I left home, around 60°F, so I only wore a long-sleeved cotton tee shirt under my Roadcrafter. Going through the Eureka area in Tahneta Pass, I noted the temperature had dropped to 50°F and it felt pleasantly cool. Underdressed for the temperature as I was, it was obvious I was back home, and happy with the situation.

As I've grown older, and hopefully a bit wiser, the realization has come to me that the mighty deeds we do are really of little consequence. But what we can inspire others to do by our own actions is. If my ride, and this recounting of it, can inspire other riders to say "If that old duffer can do it, it'll be a piece of cake for me", then I will have accomplished something worthwhile. The United States, along with our neighbor to the north (for most of you), Canada, offer some of the very best riding to be found anywhere in the world, along with great people to meet along the way. Keep your priorities in their proper order, and look after your families first and foremost. But once those responsibilities have been taken care of, get out there and see the world. You won't regret it.

Thanks for traveling with me - a good journey is always best when enjoyed with friends.

__________________
"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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