Alaska Denali Hwy - Now with more Night Riding

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by GaryAK, Aug 30, 2011.

  1. GaryAK

    GaryAK Easy Going

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2010
    Oddometer:
    255
    Location:
    49th State
    Another ride in our ADV apprenticeship. Several cosmic factors converged - we finally got a decent weather window after a lack luster cool and rainy summer, Deb's new DR650 needed a shake down cruise, and commitments were temporarily at bay. And the Denali Hwy was just sitting there waiting to be ridden with it's Fall colors. Let's ride...

    The ride took place Aug 27/28, 2011. Mileage was 621 miles over two days.
    Day 1 - Anchorage/Glennallen/Paxson/Denali Hwy/Cantwell.
    Day 2 - Cantwell to Anchorage

    The bikes:
    Deb's 2011 Suzuki DR650

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    Gary's 2011 Suzuki Vstrom 650

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    First, an hour of slabbing it to get past Palmer and on to the real riding
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    Then a several mile traffic jam - and I realized it was state fair time. Great.
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    After making 5 miles in a half an hour, we stopped for gas in Palmer.
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    After leaving Palmer on the Glenn Hwy, we noticed that the Fall colors were starting to make their appearance. This would become more prominent as our trip progressed.
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    The roads were mostly empty, although we did witness karma visit a speeding hunting rig - a truck pulling a trailer with two 4-wheelers that was the scourge of the otherwise peaceful road was chased down and spent some quality time with an Alaska State Trooper. We were more than glad to pull over and give the trooper the right of way in his pursuit of the lead-foot. Sorry, no pics of that.
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    The roads were nice and twisty
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    Climbing through Chickaloon Pass
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    Totally digging this ride
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    Starting to get a few sunny breaks - even better!
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    Matanuska Glacier
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    Looks like a group of ADV riders
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    Rolling into a road construction zone
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    Yep - a bit of a wait for the pilot car
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    Deb kept me entertained while we waited
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    Wasn't a bad place to wait - the views were very decent
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    After the construction zone, we stopped at a neat rest area - with plenty of panoramic views
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    Chomped down a little lunch
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    And checked in on the Hurrican Irene news
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    Back on the road - the high flat tundra of the Eureka area
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    After a hour or so of straight roads, we were coming into Glennallen
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    Gassed up in Glennallen
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    Glennallen
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    We head left
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    North toward Paxson
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    Another construction zone - 11 miles of this. Bless this gal - she invited us to the front of the line and saved us miles of dust
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    After the construction zone - lots of this!
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    Near Paxson
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    We're now on the Denali Hwy! The first few miles are paved
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    The sun was getting low, but it was gorgeous
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    It was quickly becoming apparent that we were very remote and a long way from anywhere
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    The pavement ends - now about 100 miles of dirt road lie ahead
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    Here's the part where the night riding from the title comes in - we passed up a perfectly good lodge - Tangle River Inn at Tangle Lakes in favor of another 40 or so miles to the McLarren River lodge. We would regret this decision. But in the mean time, we were thoroughly enjoying the road, the views, and the ride
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    A couple of things to point out here - as you notice, it's getting dark, and this pic was taken on the fly at the McLarren Pass - the highest point of the Denali Hwy. That's the McLarren River down there - and of course, the McLarren River lodge - where we planned to stay tonight. The cosmic universe had other plans for us...
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    Still coming down the pass - and still getting dark
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    Sorry for the blurry pic - I was trying to show the temperature which by now, had dropped to 30 degrees F
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    So we pull up to the McLarren lodge to find the entrance blocked with trucks and trailers across the driveway. What?
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    Then we spot the sign that says the entire place has been rented out for the weekend for an exclusive wedding. I guess we're not staying here tonight - yikes!
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    So we pull off a mile down the road to grab a snack and discuss our options.
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    This looks like a nice side trip - just not tonight
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    Last pic for a bunch of hours. It was getting dark and the temps were around 30 degrees and no room at the inn. We considered camping, but the chilly wind convinced us to get back on the bikes and plug in our heated gear. Checking the maps, the next lodge was the Gracious House at around mile 82 - which was 40 some miles further up the road. Deb wasn't crazy about driving in the dark, but she agreed that we should move on at reduced speed to the Gracious House.
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    The next bunch of hours would be memorable. It took us nearly two hours to travel the 40 some miles to the Gracious House - which I missed in the dark and drove on by. During this time, it got completely dark. Riding in the dark wasn't that bad - occasionally, owls would swoop in front of us. At one point, a porcupine ambled off the road side. Then there was the freezing rain drizzles for a few miles that froze on our face shields, necessitating to raise them in order to see. The miles went by slowly, but we felt we were proceeding at a safe speed of 20-30 mph - dodging the potholes in our low beams. As mentioned, I missed the Gracious House in the dark - and I stopped 10 miles past and it was now 11:30 pm. Deb said she saw it, but it only had one light on - possibly shut down for the night. Crap.

    We discussed our options - either turn around for 10 miles back to the Gracious House (which well may be shut down for the evening), or keep going for 36 more miles to Cantwell. Also, Deb's gas tank was getting low - we had last fueled in Glennallen, so we decided that if the Gracious House was shut down for the evening, it would add another 20 miles on her tank to get back to where we now were. Given the circumstances - we decided to do the 36 miles to Cantwell and a Chevron station, fuel up and go from there.

    The one neat thing about our current situation was that it was now clear (and cold - 28 degrees), and the sky now had a zillion stars and the Northern Lights were dancing across the sky. Sorry, no pics of this. Another hour and a half of reduced speeds, we made off the Denali Hwy and on to the Parks Hwy and were gassing up at the Chevron station in Cantwell. I had my hot grips turned up full to keep up with the cold.

    The Chevron station was closed, but all lit up and the pumps would take credit cards - so we gassed up.
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    Deb scanning for hotels
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    We head North on the Parks Hwy toward the Denali Park area - lots of hotels there. But then, the cosmic universe threw us a bone. Two blocks from the Chevron station, Deb spots an "OPEN" sign off to the left - and we are drawn to it like a couple of moths. Turns out, the "open" sign belonged to the BluesBerry Inn. We pull up and it looks dark, but there was an after hours number on a sign on the door. Deb calls it, a guy answers and a conversation ensues that bears fruit - she said the guy said to drive around back - he had a cabin for us. Score!
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    Deb goes with owner Rod to swipe our credit card and we settle in to our new found shelter - complete with heat, bathroom, TV, and wifi - a very humble score! (I think Dr. Rock and LDF stayed in these places last year on their Mobius 6 trip)
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    Deb's red nose could rival Rudolf's
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    My hands look a bit red as well
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    It was really late - and Rod told us to sleep as late as we wanted and not to worry about check out time. I must give Rod's BluesBerry Inn some positive props. Clean, reasonably priced, amenities, bike-friendly, and all the blueberries one could want for the picking. Still a little pumped from the last hours on night patrol on the Denali Hwy, we watched TV for a little while and then slept the sleep of the dead. Got up at 8 am, and then went back to sleep until 11:30 - and really felt refreshed and ready for more riding.


    Our morning arrived with plenty of sunshine and 70 degrees. We made breakfast on the porch - hot tea, oatmeal, and scrambled eggs (Mountain House).
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    Blueberry bushes all over these hills
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    Morning sweetie! :raabia
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    Deb wanted to sit on her DR while eating - what a gal!
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    After sleeping late and a leisurely breakfast - we were finally ready to hit the road at the crack of 1:30 pm. :norton
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    216 miles to Anchorage - we headed South, surrounded by awesome Fall colors
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    Miles and miles of this was mesmerizing - we scored!
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    Doesn't show up well in the pic - but that is Mt. Denali in the background
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    Just North of Trapper Creek, we found a rest area for some lunch
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    Goodies - yum!
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    Pulled into another rest area just North of Wasilla for a break
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    Where we met a neat ADV rider - Lana and her dog Chi-Cho. Lana and Chi-Cho are from Ft. Nelson B.C.
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    Chi-Cho rode in a specially modified tank bag behind the windshield. He was a friendly pup and loved pets.
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    Getting close to home - just passing through Wasilla - home is now only an hour away
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    Last pic of the trip - just blocks from home
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    As mentioned, this was a short trip - mostly a shake down for Deb's new DR650 and some of our gear and strategies. Of course, we never planned to ride the Denali Hwy in the dark, but it turned out to be a very neat experience. The swooping owls and the pristine star fields, not to mention the Northern Lights were unexpected bonuses. Of course, we'll do this trip again, but I suspect it will never be the same adventure as we just had. :clap

    The bikes performed flawlessly, the heated gear works at night as we found out (Gerbings), we escaped doing responsible things for a couple of days, and we had a blast. Good times. :D

    Thanks for coming along,

    Until next time,

    Gary & Deb :norton


    Previous Ride Report
    http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=703627&highlight=Alaska+Triangle
    #1
  2. yellowknife

    yellowknife Is In Canada

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    717
    Location:
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Thanks for posting - your pictures were great to view.

    YK
    #2
  3. Moto-Kafe

    Moto-Kafe Gnarly Entre-manure

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2010
    Oddometer:
    741
    Location:
    Heart of Dixie........Alabamie
    Excellent report...........an easy read for someone who dreams of riding in that area someday!! :clap
    #3
  4. Perry B

    Perry B Perry B

    Joined:
    May 18, 2008
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    135
    Location:
    Orange County California
    A fun read.
    #4
  5. Wolfgang55

    Wolfgang55 Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,800
    Location:
    Next to Rio Bravo
    Good job Gary & Deb.

    Neat to see a couple riding their own scoot & into their own experiences.

    Please take us w/ you again.
    #5
  6. soph9

    soph9 Would Love to ride ALL the TIME

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,628
    Location:
    Stony Brook. NY
    I love how the landscape has turned from summer to fall since we were there late July. Would love to go back at this time to catch the fall colours. Too bad about Maclaren River Lodge. Maybe next time. Nice ride and I see longer ones in your near future...why not ride down to the lower mainland? We can return the favour and have you and Deb stay with us. Plan Plan Plan!:clap
    #6
  7. Rotten Ronnie

    Rotten Ronnie Crash

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2008
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    Location:
    Kelly's Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada
    Thanks for sharing!
    #7
  8. Sundowner

    Sundowner Bort

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Sun Over Beach, Oz
    Beautiful colours to the landscape. Nice ride guys. :clap That red nose and red paws were well earnt. It must be wonderful to ride under the Northen Lights. Glad you found such a great place to stay. Great journey.
    #8
  9. GaryAK

    GaryAK Easy Going

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2010
    Oddometer:
    255
    Location:
    49th State
    Leslie - Sure - bigger and better rides are in the works, and we'll be sure to stop in and see you and Cheryl. :clap

    Yeah, we were looking forward to staying at the McLarren River lodge - but it wasn't meant to be. When we got home, Deb called them and they told her this was the first time in 10 years that they had closed to the public. I guess this was meant to be part of our adventure. :D

    Gary
    #9
  10. AK Rider/MotoQuest

    AK Rider/MotoQuest Ride Alaska & Beyond

    Joined:
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    461
    Location:
    Alaska, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles
    Looks like you caught a pic of the last half of our gang! I see Dom from Kingfisher Roadhouse in Cooper Landing, and some guys from Progressive Suspension.... It was nice waving to you on the highway!
    Ariel
    #10
  11. DR. Rock

    DR. Rock Part of the problem

    Joined:
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    Location:
    NYfC, yff
    Looks like a great ride -- adventures begin when the best laid plans break down. Way to make the most of the situation. :thumb

    Any reconsideration to an intercom system? Deb could have told you when she saw the lodge you drove by. :wink:
    #11
  12. soph9

    soph9 Would Love to ride ALL the TIME

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,628
    Location:
    Stony Brook. NY
    Intercoms and heated gear....both come in real handy especially since your fall and winter comes so fast.:D
    #12
  13. GaryAK

    GaryAK Easy Going

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2010
    Oddometer:
    255
    Location:
    49th State


    Hey Doc & LDF - :super

    Yes indeed we've given consideration to an intercom system - in fact, I'll be poring over your Mobius gear section for the particulars of modding the Scala to ear buds.

    Yeah - my goof on missing the Gracious lodge - but the BluesBerry Inn was great too! :clap

    Watching for M8! :rayof
    #13
  14. GaryAK

    GaryAK Easy Going

    Joined:
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    49th State
    Ariel! :wings

    We thought that was your group we passed. Yes - it was nice being in your aura even if only for a few seconds. :clap

    We're due for dinner again - give us a yell when things quiet down. :beer

    Gary & Deb
    #14
  15. retrocycle

    retrocycle Imp

    Joined:
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    Crystal River, Fl
    Great ride report
    #15
  16. GsVs

    GsVs Goin' Somewhere

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    Hoosier (IN) USA
    Thanks for sharing ....

    Great pair of bikes for the trip !
    #16
  17. Oldone

    Oldone One day at a time!

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    MN. (summers) AZ. (winters)
    #17
  18. 2WheelsRBetter

    2WheelsRBetter Teach Me to Wheelie

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    6
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Enjoyed your report very much Gary and Deb. It was great meeting you (again) in Girdwood last night. Beautiful evening... Cheers!
    #18
  19. GaryAK

    GaryAK Easy Going

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2010
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    255
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    Chris - Yes, it was fun meeting up with you and Lisa. You guys look great on your snazzy Ducatis. :nod I couldn't help but snap a couple pics:

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    Safe travels and hope to see you guys soon! :clap

    Gary
    #19
  20. AKDuc

    AKDuc Alaska Born Ducatisti

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    6,762
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Very nice recording of a fun little adventure!

    Lovely photos, even the last 2. :wink: Hi Chris :D

    Thank you for sharing.

    Mark H.
    #20