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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Oron, Dec 27, 2017.
The K bikes have gobs of power, but the suspension of the GS / GSA is special.
We awoke to perfectly blue skies and crisp temperatures. We said our hasty goodbyes to Chip and Addie and loaded up the Beemer for the very short ride to the Seattle bound ferry. It's funny how the mind can easily get overloaded. I was just about to put Orcus in gear when I realized that I was wearing my water shoes, and not the riding boots left behind on a bench. The forty-minute ferry ride offered iconic views of the Seattle skyline. After preferred unloading ahead of the cars, we climbed the hills of downtown Seattle and then merged with the heavy traffic on the 5 heading north. The ninety mile ride to Bellingham was uneventful, and offered reverse views of what I had encountered two weeks earlier.
Orcus on the ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle
arrival in Bellingham, Washington
We had read online to be at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal no later than three p.m. We arrived early in Bellingham by 11:30 a.m., ate a bite at Skylark’s Hidden Cafe, and then proceeded to check in at the Alaska Marine Highway office. We were told by the worker at the counter to be at the dock not a minute after three p.m. We had plenty of time, so we decided to visit the Haggen Market and stock up on beer, snacks, and fruit for the three day voyage. Some guy in the parking lot got a laugh watching us pile the groceries on our already heavily laden mule.
holding her ferry ticket to Alaska
packin' the mule
Being obedient passengers, we were in line ready for boarding at 2:30. By three p.m., three noteworthy truths revealed themselves. The first was that we were not going to board at three. The second was that the MV Columbia was replaced with the smaller 408 foot MV Malaspina. And the third truth was that there wasn't another motorcycle joining us on this ferry. These facts had repercussions with my emotional well-being. We were forced to wait in the hot sun until 4:45, when they allowed us to board. The Malaspina was oversubscribed, so some passengers lost their berths. And the complete absence of motorcyclists suggested that only a masochistic idiot would schedule a trip such as this so late in the season. I quickly recovered from the first slight, didn't have to deal with the indignity of the second, and tried to bury the third issue deep into my subconscious.
The ferry staff was helpful loading Orcus, and even provided extra tie down straps. Orcus was strapped down like a robotic Gulliver, all the better to weather any ocean swells. Our four-person cabin was clean and comfortable, with a little extra room to spread out our belongings. (I had booked a four person cabin on the remote possibility that my son and his girlfriend could have joined us.) Those without a cabin were forced to sleep on bridge deck lounge chairs or set up their tents on deck. One guy I met planned to sleep under the stars in his hammock, “unless it rains.”
ready to handle the ocean swells
our cozy cabin
not everyone was able to get a cabin berth
departing Bellingham... well, not quite
Within a quarter hour of leaving the dock, the crew discovered that the “oiler engineer” was not at his assigned position, and they were forced to halt the ship and lower a launch to go pick him up back at the dock. The cable of the crane that lowered the launch was mucked up with a bird’s nest and this Three Stooges fuster-cluck delayed our departure by forty minutes. Dinner was in the main galley. The food was cafeteria quality, but the galley staff made a genuine effort to provide a tasty meal, and I appreciated that. The view out our cabin window was of nearby islands with rocky shorelines and thick trees, with a setting red sun in the distance. There was a sense of majesty as we steamed into the night. Miles 90.
let's go get that oiler engineer
coastal view from the upper deck
sunset view from the porthole
In for more
North to Alaska! Betsy was awake at dawn and encouraged me to look out our porthole. The word porthole is a misnomer, because it was a generous twelve square feet of panorama. We were already passing through the Johnstone Strait, and it seemed as if the mountainous shore line was completely filling the window pane. I had slept well in my berth. The Malaspina’s two four thousand horsepower diesel engines hummed through the night with a distinctive vibration that gently shook our cabin, almost as if one of the shaft drives had previously been tweaked by a grounding. The morning hot shower was first rate. While dressing, I noticed huge pods of dolphins racing alongside the ship and surfing our wake. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, I would be surprised if they weren't doing this for pure joy. We pushed through a flat sea at almost seventeen knots. We spotted seals, otters, and eagles. (If you wish to spot eagles, just look for “golf balls” - their white heads, in the trees.)
We spent the morning relaxing, walking the decks, and vainly searching for orcas and whales. At one point, the crew announced humpbacks off the starboard, but by the time we rushed on deck, they were out of sight. By eleven a.m. Alaskan time, the Malaspina had cleared the western protection of Vancouver Island and we gently rocked amongst the swells. After lunch, cloud cover descended and wildlife viewing became a more remote possibility. We retreated to our cozy cabin and read our Kindles. Betsy took her third nap of the day. She claimed the ship's engines acted like a strong sedative. At first I thought it was the beer, but then it dawned on me that our cabin, number 146, was directly over the engine room. We may never see a whale, but we will certainly get off the ship well rested.
view from the bow
starboard side view
port side view
Off Waglila, Canada, we approached a very narrow channel. It seemed to be less than a thousand yards wide. Enhancing the dramatic effect, at the narrowest point, a gorgeous cream colored Nordhavn 96 squeezed past us at cruising speed in the opposite direction. That was an enviable way to tour Alaska's Inner Passage. Betsy has an almost surreal ability to spot wildlife. Once while vacationing in Costa Rica, she frantically told me to stop the car. I pulled over in near panic. I had to back up the car and even after she pointed in detail up into the trees, it took me a full minute to spot the sloth camouflaged against the branches. She now sat in the chair looking out our porthole and within a half an hour was able to point out to me the distinct dorsal of a finback whale, the exhales and rising tails of a humpback, and numerous porpoises. Big ass fish were jumping completely out of the water. Off the starboard side, towering white waterfalls were seen in contrast to the evergreen backdrop. Not all sights were natural. We witnessed a tug pulling a massive barge the size of an apartment building that contained what appeared to be red sawdust. Another massive barge went by loaded with dozens of containers and several yellow school buses perched on top like cherries on a Sunday. By six p.m., the clouds descended to near the water line and a light drizzle washed the decks. It was good to be inside our cabin, warm and dry, beers in hand, watching the wilderness on display. Dinner was delicious custom grilled fresh rockfish, potatoes, and vegetables in the dining room.
lots of navigational hazards
poor quality photo taken through the porthole - can you spot the eagle?
Nordhavn 96: southbound along the Inner Passage
white water inlet
It was in the middle of the night when the darkest thoughts and doubts emerged. I awoke at two in the morning and peered out the porthole. It was heavy wet fog. The ship was rolling and creaking; the window streaked with rain. A light from a nearby shore line was just barely visible. We were hurtling through the night into the unknown, like a scene from Apocalypse Now. Every twenty-four hours we traveled another four hundred fifty miles toward Northern latitudes. Every mile colder, wetter, and more inhospitable. Every mile into greater potential peril. Fellow travelers on this ship had a car, van, camper, truck, some all-weather heated cage capable of insulating them from the harsh elements. Not to mention protection from some massive moose or elk or grizzly wandering onto the highway. I imagined slamming on the brakes and trying to control a 900 pound motorcycle on a rain slicked highway. Historical data suggested the Alaskan weather turns in September. What did the ferry worker mumble when he saw me waiting to load? Something about being late in the season? Where were the other motorcyclists? Where were all the other adventure bikes? What the hell was I doing? Betsy was breathing deep in slumber next to me.
I awoke to a new dawn with restored optimism and confidence. We pulled into the Ketchikan Alaska terminal at seven a.m. and we had a three hour layover. Ketchikan boasts as being the Salmon Capital of the World. There were three large cruise ships already lined up along the shore. The port call gave Betsy and me a chance to stretch our legs and seek out wi-fi. A hotel across the street had an open connection and we quickly caught up on texts, emails, news and weather. Rather than walk the two miles to the town center, we hiked up a steep tsunami evacuation road and wandered through a residential area. We watched seaplanes taking off or landing every five minutes just yards from our vantage point. Back on the ship and underway, we roamed the deck and spotted the distinctive exhale of numerous “humpies.”
SS Malaspina as background to "those lost at sea memorial"
Malaspina at the base of the evacuation road
After six hours, we arrived in Wrangell. Back in the late 1800s, this was a major stop for prospectors during two gold rushes. With only a forty-five minute stop, we had to hustle to see anything more than a few shops of the simple downtown. I used my time to search for the perfect saddlebag sticker. The sun came out for the first time in a day and a half. Just before dinner, the ship passed through the Wrangell Narrows. This was a thrilling experience as the ship threaded the needle through the winding strait. You could almost look in the windows of the simple fishing cabins that dotted either shore. I can only imagine what it looked like from their perspective. Dinner was tasty grilled halibut with rice and vegetables.
upper deck campsite
docking at Wrangell
you could almost touch the shore while eating lunch
At 7:45 p.m., we arrived in Petersburg, known as Alaska's little Norway. We again had only a short stop, this time only twenty minutes. Betsy stayed behind, but I ventured on shore and was treated to the shocking sight of a massive sea lion that pulled himself onto a dock. He was so large, about the size of a couch on its end, that I had trouble believing he was real. As I moved closer for a better photo, he slipped back into the water before I could raise the camera a second time.
underway through the narrows
The Malaspina docked in Juneau before six a.m. I heard the activity on deck but didn't bother to get out of my berth. Betsy was driven by her morning coffee, so she quickly dressed and decided to go to town and find a better cup of coffee than the ones on the ship. Within twenty minutes, she was back. She said that Juneau downtown was too far to walk and there was no coffee in sight. I looked out our porthole at heavy fog and fell back into bed. Two hours later, the overcast started to clear and we were underway to our destination of Haines. I was excited to get on with the motorcycle ride. The last three days had been fun and relaxing, but Orcus was starting to kick her stall and needed to be exercised.
Over the next several hours, Betsy continued her streak of locating humpback whales. As we steamed further north, the mountains became ever larger. There was considerable snow on the peaks and we passed several glaciers off the port side. About a half hour behind schedule, the ship finally landed in Haines. Betsy and I packed our dry bags, suited up into our riding attire, and took the stairs down to the ship bowels to unchain The Beast. In line ahead of us was a trailer stuffed with about sixty sled dogs. The Musher's truck had trouble pulling the trailer up the port's ramp, and this delayed our departure further as the port authorities needed to adjust the slope of the ramp. I was badly overheating under all my gear. They finally let us off the ship. I carefully rode up the slippery ramp and met Betsy at the top.
Juneau morning fog
the mountains are getting bigger
sled dog trailer
let the adventure ...continue
We rode out on the Haines Highway following the Chilkat River with great anticipation and excitement. We quickly overtook the five cars, campers, and trucks that had departed before us. We passed avalanche warnings on the side of the road where mountain runoffs overpowered the road drainage and caused rock slides. Our ride through the State of Alaska amounted to a meager forty miles.
It was advantageous to have cut to the front of the line, because the Canadian border official took her time to process each vehicle. She casually mentioned a three thousand foot elevation change for the pass ahead. As we rode upward into the mountains, the temperature plummeted to the low 40's. My sweat, generated from the ferry unloading, was now chilling me under my gear. I was too cold and excited to stop, and I didn't want to make a big deal out of breaking out my heated gear since The Pillion didn't have the same option. Neither one of us was able to comfortably take photos, which was unfortunate because this stretch of highway had some of the most iconic views of the entire trip. There were dramatic elevation changes within a foreboding, desolate landscape. The entire valley seemed to be filleted open.
along the Haines Highway, Route 7
catching up to the ferry traffic
The surrounding mountain peaks had visible fresh snow and we passed Canadian highway workmen installing twenty foot snow poles on the side of the road. When I pointed out these observations to Betsy, she said that she didn't want to hear about it and accused me of creating drama, but we were both concerned that this was a precursor of what we were about to experience attempting to travel south from the Yukon in September. To compound the concern, in order to reach Haines Junction and Whitehorse, we had to travel over two hundred miles north before we were able to turn toward southern latitudes. I eyed the Garmin's northern compass heading with increasing concern. I had never felt so insignificant within the universe and so vulnerable against nature's capriciousness as I did from traveling through such a vast and remote landscape. It was a matter of trying to manage the fear of the unknown.
along the Haines Highway, Route 3, before it got too cold to stop for photos
BC / Yukon border, just before Dalton Post
Fortunately, the temperature began to increase as we descended into Haines Junction. I remembered reading on this forum that if you see available gas in Alaska or the Yukon, just take it. We topped off Orcus's tank with 87 octane at the Petro Express, as that was the only grade of gas available. As it turned out, premium or intermediate fuel was unavailable at any future stops in the Yukon. The moment we dismounted, we were inundated by wasps and flies to such an extent that it was difficult to breathe without inhaling them. The swarm was unlike anything I had ever seen. Only later did I realize that the bug guts and pollen plastered to the front of the bike, clothing, and helmets acted like a powerful pheromone to any live insects in the vicinity.
After fueling, we still needed to warm up. The restaurant choices were very limited. Ironically, our best choice of the two available for lunch was at Frosty’s, where we had hot chocolates and sandwiches. It was amazing how a little break from riding can change one's entire disposition. We both felt a lot better after the stop. I asked the waitress, how much further to Whitehorse. She was unsure and her guess was in kilometers; not much help to my frozen non-metric brain. We donned extra clothing and I put on my heated jacket liner. Soon after leaving Frosty's, I was heartened to see another GS rider, with four massive auxiliary lights ablaze, who passed us heading north. We gave a wave to each other as we flashed by. His presence on the road made me feel like less of an outlier. If I was a little nuts, then he was apparently certifiably crazy.
lunch stop at Frosty's
The ninety or so mile ride to Whitehorse was a gentle easy cruise, certainly compared to the previous several hours. By the time we reached the outskirts of Whitehorse, we erroneously assumed that there was not much more to the town ahead and we took the first option available. It was a working man's trucker motel called Casa Loma. The woman working behind the bar checked us in. All I needed was a credit card and whatever information I deemed appropriate to fill out on a little index card. There was a simple no nonsense atmosphere to the place that I liked. I had my second unintended "crash" of the trip when I dropped my helmet in the parking lot. There was no damage beyond minor cosmetic, but it put me into a short-term funk. I was upset at myself for being upset with myself. The motel room was our sanctuary. It comforted me that future miles would lead us away from the frozen North. We had a surprisingly good dinner at the empty adjoining Restaurant. I drifted off to sleep playing back the images of the day. Miles 247.
Casa Loma motel
We rode out the next morning at 7:40 with 48 degrees. I plugged in my heated jacket liner, but soon realized it was not heating. The inertia of riding kept me from pulling over. Betsy wore her Darien pants over her jeans over long underwear. She had on multiple layers under her Darien jacket and was kept warm without heated gear. I thought of all the possible reasons why I was getting no heat. After several hours of riding, we stopped for fuel. I pulled up to the pump and read a hand lettered sign saying “out of gas.” Fortunately, I was not desperate for fuel, but was certainly becoming anxious. We did not dismount and quickly resumed our speed.
Jake's was a disappointment, but no panic yet
After another hour, we saw another fuel sign on the Garmin, Johnson Crossing, but rode right by it because it didn't appear to be the commercial business that we were looking for. As the fuel sign retreated from the screen, I made a quick u-turn, and we pulled up to the pump. I didn't feel relief until I heard the fuel splash into the tank. Johnson Crossing offered some fabulous baked goods, and I was able to troubleshoot the heated jacket liner. It took a forced fuel stop to discover the rheostat was incorrectly set. The Pillion shopped around but regretted not splurging for a neck warmer, hand knit from Samoyed dog fur.
Johnson Crossing: fuel, snack, and warmth stop
After our twenty minute stop, we rode on. There was no better feeling than full fuel, full belly, empty bladders, and a functioning heated liner. The Yukon was flat and surprisingly uninspiring. It was a sea of never-ending blunted forest. After another hour, ahead on a massive straightaway, we excitedly saw another motorcycle in the distance. We sped up, caught them, waved, and photographed the tandem riders.
Near the Swift River, we fueled up together and formally met married couple Gustavo and Vivicone from Argentina. They rode a Super V-Strom and were traveling from Whitehorse to Los Angeles. I never got the story straight because of language barriers, but I believe they flew into Whitehorse and were riding a friend's motorcycle. As we warmed up around a wood stove at the back of the Outpost, we traded personal information and destinations past and present. We also met a German couple in their twenties on a three month odyssey, bicycling and camping from Whitehorse to Vancouver. While the four motorcyclists were huddled around the wood stove, the two bicyclists were outside on the patio typing on their laptops and keeping cool. Our new found camaraderie was short lived, and the three couples all left at different times.
Beemer, Super V-Strom, and the two bicycles
At Watson Lake, on the southern edge of the Yukon, we stopped to take the obligatory photos at the Sign Post Forest, now seventy-five years in the making and with over 100,000 signs.
Sign Post Forest
We reconnected with Gustavo and Vivicone, and had an uninspired lunch at Andrea's Restaurant. Riding on, we rode over newly oiled and graveled roads. These construction sites caused a few moments of concern as traction was badly compromised. As The Pillion reminded me, there are two seasons in this part of the world: Winter and Road Construction. The scenery improved with surrounding mountains, sightings of a black bear, numerous buffalo, beaver, mountain sheep, and bald eagles, but regrettably, no moose despite numerous signs warning about their presence. We also passed by a recently overturned eighteen wheeler, already attended to by first responders. By 5:30 p.m., we were tired and started looking for a place to stay.
approaching a bison herd
there is always one wise guy in every crowd
for all you assmen
along the Alaska Highway
On the shore of Muncho Lake, the beautiful Northern Rockies Lodge appeared in a clearing like a mirage and we pulled into their spacious gravel lot without hesitation. Gustavo was already exiting the front door of the lodge with a big grin and a room key in his hand. I would have been inconsolable had there not been a room available for us, but we were easily accommodated. Many of the other guests were sportsmen and tourists from nearby Canadian provinces. The log cabin style lodge was owned by a Swiss couple that also ran a bush flight service. The lodge featured quality European hospitality, with high thread count duvet covers and fabulous dinners. I had the wiener schnitzel and spaetzle with imported Austrian beer. It was a little pricey as compared to Alcan Highway amenities that we had experienced to date, but when you consider that virtually everything had to be trucked in with a three hundred mile, six hour round trip, it was quite reasonable. Betsy was quite thrilled with the accommodations. Miles 441.
Northern Rockies Lodge
our very comfortable room
our view from the room
Superb RR well done , amazing story can't wait for the rest. I also think Bobby Orr is the GOAT. Got a problem with the Pats though, LOL. I think we are about the same age, hope you have good health, ride on. Oh ya I also had a Kawasaki 750 triple way back.
Thanks! The H2 was even crazier. In the early '70s, it was the nastiest ride on the street.
During my travels, I encountered animosity towards the NE Patriots from virtually all NFL fans outside of New England. Jealousy is a powerful emotion. The NE mantra is "They hate us, 'cause they ain't us." In a league structured on team parity, the Patriots run since 2001 has been remarkable. I look forward to February 4th.
We checked out of the lodge at eight a.m. to another cold and sunny morning. The steep mountains to the east blocked the rising sun. The temperature was in the low 40's. After fueling, The Pillion and I mounted Orcus in very high spirits. I plugged in my heated gear. Gustavo and Vivicone were packing their bike as we pulled onto the Alaska Highway. I was careful not to overwhelm the grip of the cold tires as we challenged the twists along the banks of Muncho Lake. This section of road offered some of the most technical riding of the trip, as we danced in the canyons along the river banks of the Toad River and then Racing River, and eventually through Stone Mountain Park.
The Pillion dressed for battle at 8 am
After several hours of riding, we encountered multiple road construction sites. The only advantage at these stops was that the flag persons would often encourage (or at the least allow) motorcyclists to the front of the line to avoid the flying gravel and dust from vehicles ahead. One stop in particular stands out in my memory, as we were forced to follow a pilot truck over freshly laid deep, loose gravel, down a steep hill with reverse camber slopes. Orcus slid badly and I was very fortunate not to have lost control. The Pillion listened to me swearing into the Sena for about twenty minutes. At other sections, road crews applied oil mixed with gravel, or sometimes injected hot tar into dug-out expansion joints.
not my favorite road sign
crossing the North Tetsa River
overlooking the Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park
ongoing road construction with varied road surfaces
Gustavo, Vivicone, Oron, and Betsy waiting for the lane closure to open up
Later in the day, while waiting for our side of the road to proceed on the single lane, we spoke to a guy who claimed ten minutes earlier he almost hit a moose right before he overtook us on the road. Rather than relief at our good luck, Betsy was disappointed that we had missed the sighting. After three and a half hours, our first intentional stop of the day was at Fort Nelson for gas and drinks. We reconnected with the Argentinians once again. We then proceeded south to Pink Mountain for our second gas stop of the day. The proprietor was a colorful fellow. He mentioned to Betsy that she might want to visit his pet goat, Bob.
Betsy asked, “So where is the old goat?”
His reply, “Which one? Bob's outside to the right. Your husband is over there to the left.” I had mercifully kept my earplugs in and only heard about this exchange much later.
Pink Mountain stop... and home of Bob the goat
Back on the highway, we raced along multiple high speed straight-aways interspersed with four metal surfaced bridges. (Am I the only one that freaks out crossing these?) The Alaska Highway road surface in this region was best described as coarse sandpaper asphalt. If normal asphalt is 220 grit, then the Alaska Highway was an 80. Before arriving in Fort St. John, we passed multiple industrial prefab housing cubicles for the use of area workers. Fort St. John was busy with all manner of trucks, and had a very industrial, frontier feel. We saw refineries burning off natural gas with great plumes of yellow flame. We then crossed the Pease River to Dawson Creek, where Betsy snapped an iconic photograph of Orcus and me in front of the Mile Zero Alaska Highway sign. We spent the night at the comfortable Wyndham Hotel.
"We are now LEAVING the world famous Alaska Highway"
There was great relief and celebration in completing our portion of the Alaska Highway. In retrospect, I worried more about this portion of the trip than was justified, but Betsy was time constrained to return to work in Boston, and I worried about getting her to the airport on time. The weather for our journey was very favorable. This allowed us to cover respectable mileage each day. Perhaps global warming will soon allow motorcycle travel in this part of the world into October. Just as the Dempster or the Dalton Highway can be “easy” or a nightmare depending upon the weather, I suppose, so could a trip like this. We were fortunate the gods were accommodating. Miles 438.