Mountains, Moose, and Miles: a Montanan's Alcan Highway Story

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by MTrider16, Oct 16, 2010.

  1. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
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    1,860
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    Eastern Montana
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    Monday August 16, 2010 – Day 11 – “Back to the Alcan”

    I had set my tent up in the dark and when I stepped out in the morning, I immediately reached back and got my camera. It’s a tough life to wake up in Alaska...

    but I’ll survive. ;-)

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    With a granola bar for breakfast, I packed up and headed south picking up some gas at Paxton. It was a beautiful clear morning and I enjoyed the views.

    This little pond was still so I stopped for a quick pic.

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    I made it to the Tok Cut-Off and headed north to Tok and the Alcan Highway. I hoped to be in Canada tonight.

    Michelle Shocked sings a little song about a friend that moves to Anchorage.

    Hey Chel you know it's kinda funny
    Texas always seems so big
    But you know you're in the largest state in the union
    When you're anchored down in Anchorage

    It’s a story about life and how it passes by one day at a time, and the relative significance of the human experience compared to this large landscape.

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    This large state is amazing, so this song was running through my head as I was looking across this river valley at this mountain. I had ridden about 20 miles along this river watching this mountain grow until I got to this place.

    I believe this is Mt. Sanford.

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    I continued on north through these mountians to Tok. I was filling up gas and I saw a small café called the Grumpy Griz Café. They had a nice burger and fries, and then I stopped at the bank to exchange some currency for my trip in Canada.

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    This is Tetlin junction, and I had to stop and take a picture of this sign. It is about 220 miles to Fairbanks from here. Last Wednesday, I had traveled 687 miles from Dawson City because of the road closure to get to this sign. I just about cried that night.

    About 20 miles from the border, I was stopped at a construction zone. The flagger motioned me to the front of the line. He was a native and willing to chat a little. After I asked about the danger of riding a snow machine on the river he mentioned that he fell through the ice last winter. He lost his gear and his axe and was wet, but walked a ways and found a deadfall and started a fire. The next day he was found by a rescue party. He went back and recovered the snow machine, but couldn’t find his axe that he had for 20 years. Then he said that a lot of younger people didn’t like this job because it was too hard to stand out here all day. He was 68 and had worked up on the North Slope. I was disappointed to see the pilot car.

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    Here you can see some of the road damage that was on the Alcan. As you can see from all the tire marks, it makes for an interesting ride. It wasn’t too bad on the motorcycle as you would watch for the flags and then look for the easiest way through the damage. I would image that it would be less fun if it was raining and the visibility was poor.

    Oh yeah, the mountains were kinda pretty also. ;-)

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    This is Pickaxe Handle Lake. I saw it from the road and had to stop and take some pictures. The reflections were just awesome.

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    The road is up in those trees there.

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    A duck swimming amongst the reflections of the trees.

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    I don’t think I’ve ever shown everyone what my cockpit looks like. The orange device is my spot tracker, on top of my tank bag. I kept the camera, phone and wallet in the tank bag. The GPS is mounted on a RAM mount on my handlebars. I would keep the speed and the daily trip meter showing on the main screen with the map. In Canada I changed the units to metric so I knew how fast I was going and what distance I needed to travel that day. The bikes trip meter was used to keep track of gas mileage.

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    These were the mountains I stopped to take a picture.

    Back in the Pacific time zone the daylight was fading fast. I picked up gas and some supper in Haines Jct. There was a campsite just a short ways down the road.

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    I was able to get to the campsite by 9:00 PST and set up the tent as the evening sky got darker. The neighbors to my site invited me over for a coke and a taste of gumbo soup.

    As I wrote out my notes for the night, I thought of the children’s song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands”. This grand landscape was all part of God’s creation and he is the architect. He is big enough to hold all this, and my life within his hands. It certainly gives more comfort and direction to life than Michelle Shocked’s song about Anchorage.

    Stats for Day 11: 487 miles, 13.7 gallons of fuel, 12.5 hours
    #41
  2. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
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    Eastern Montana
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    Tuesday August 17, 2010 – Day 12 – “Cassiar Hwy??”

    Another morning at a campground; I roll out of my bag about 6:00 am and start to pack. By 7:30 I’m on the road. I barely got to Haines Jct last night so I wanted to cover some miles before getting breakfast. Whitehorse would be my next fuel stop so I planned to see what I could find for breakfast there.

    The mountains looked pretty in the morning light.

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    I stopped at a combination gas station and grocery store when I got to Whitehorse. I asked another guy who was filling up for gas where he would eat breakfast and didn’t get much of an answer. When I was closer to the airport, I pulled over at a small hotel that had a restraint and got some breakfast.

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    After Whitehorse, I was driving on part of the Alcan that I had routed around by taking the Campbell hwy out of Watson lake.

    This bridge by Teslin crossed an arm of Teslin lake.

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    Today I wanted to take the Cassiar Highway, Hwy 37, south along the coastal range in BC. However, when I left home, and several days along my trip the highway was closed at the junction to the Alcan because of a forest fire.

    The turnoff is called Jct 37, and when I got there the gas station was crowded with an RV caravan. I pumped the gas into my bike, chuckling as I listened to the RV owners discuss how much this gas stop was going to cost them. In the store I learned the Cassiar Hwy was open, but you had to follow a pilot car through the section with the forest fire. There was a line forming at the roadblock just outside the gas station.

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    While waiting for the pilot car, I end up talking to a fireman from Michigan on an R1200GS. He has taken a month off and is touring around.

    As we travel along the highway following the pilot car, I was surprised that we never saw visible flames, just some burned areas. After we got out of the piloted section, I pulled over for a quick break.

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    The road is mostly paved, but has some gravel. The Alcan is wider also.

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    As I kept going south the smoke started to dissipate and the views of the mountains improved.

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    This little shop sold jade and other rock curios. They have a bunch of pictures of them pulling a jade boulder out of the hills

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    Dease Lake was the next fuel stop. After picking up fuel, some water and snacks for the campsite tonight, I stopped at a restaurant called Mama Z’s. For their special they were serving a buffet, but it was really good. While I was sitting and eating, the fireman stopped in. Turns out he had gotten a motel room next door for the evening.

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    Sitting at the table after eating, it was tempting to stop for the night. However I still needed to put in some miles tonight or tomorrow would be a long day. About 7:30 I get back on the bike and continue south.

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    The setting sun and the shadows from the clouds make for some picturesque views. This bridge crosses the Stikine River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean near Petersburg AK.

    The river also flows through a small community called Telegraph Creek. Out of Dease Lake, there is a scenic gravel road that follows a creek down to this town. This road is on my list of places to visit in the future.

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    Since I was there, I decided to take a picture of the grating used on the bridge deck.

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    It was getting later, and the sunlight gave the clouds brilliant colors.

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    Another fire was giving off large clouds of smoke.

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    I finally put on 70 miles after dinner. The moon over the hills set the mood for the evening.

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    It was finally 9:40 when I got to Kinaskan Provincial Park and set up the tent for the night. It was a pretty campground.

    Stats for Day 12: 568 miles, 10.9 gallons of fuel, 14.1 hours
    #42
  3. TownPump

    TownPump Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 3, 2005
    Oddometer:
    555
    Location:
    Cleveland, OH
    This is fantastic...:lurk

    Thank you...keep it coming...
    #43
  4. akadvntr

    akadvntr Frozen

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2007
    Oddometer:
    225
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Great report with awesome pictures! Really sorry you were so limited on time.
    :clap Rock on!!

    Ken
    #44
  5. akadvntr

    akadvntr Frozen

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2007
    Oddometer:
    225
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    BTW, what kind of bag are you using on the back? I am looking for a waterproof duffel to strap on mine.
    #45
  6. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,860
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
    Thanks TownPump.

    Ortlib is the name of the company that makes the bag. It does a good job of keeping things dry. I bought mine through riderwarehouse.

    David
    #46
  7. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
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    Wednesday August 18, 2010 – Day 13 – “Fire”

    I got up early, packed up the tent, and was on the road by 7:00 am. This was going to be my best picture day, but I didn’t know it yet.

    The day started out with some clouds hanging around as the sun worked its way up over the western mountains.

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    The next fuel stop was about 79 miles down the road, which would be a good place to stop for breakfast.

    The mountains were beautiful, with wisps of clouds running over their slopes.

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    Through the gaps in the trees I could see waterfalls from the snowmelt.

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    A small river ran along side the road and so I walked out to a gravel bar to take this picture. The clouds were moving fast and would dramatically change the lighting every few minutes.

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    The bike was parked at the turnout for the river so I took a picture of it and the road while I was there.

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    The Bell II lodge was my stop for breakfast and fuel.

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    Maybe I’ll have to come back in the winter and try a little snowboarding. :D

    It was a nice little place with espresso and a good breakfast.

    “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
    Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
    Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light”

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    Crossing the Nass River, I had to stop and check out this little one lane bridge.

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    It was wood, single span, a nice piece of engineering.

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    For you non-engineers, here is a pic of the river.

    I was trying to get to Prince George for a hotel reservation. I had to stop taking pictures and start making miles.

    Kitwanga was the next gas stop, and I had a sandwich at the little store there. Now I was on highway 16, a major road between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

    “Welcome to the hotel california
    Such a lovely place
    Such a lovely face
    They livin’ it up at the hotel california
    What a nice surprise, bring your alibis”

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    After covering the 156 miles to Burns Lake, the smoke from the fires caught up with me.

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    Surprisingly there was some clear air between Burns Lake and Prince George, but the ominous plume said this would not last.

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    As I got to Prince George at 7:00 pm, the smoke started to settle in. When I checked into the motel, I found out they didn’t have guest laundry facilities. Rats, with a shower, it was too late to go to a Laundromat, so the laundry would have to wait till the morning.

    “ ’relax,’ said the night man,
    We are programmed to receive.
    You can checkout any time you like,
    But you can never leave!”

    I don’t have an ipod or other form of music, sometimes a song will get stuck in my head and I will hear it all day. Glen Fry and the Eagles were the band of the day.

    I had some dinner at a faux New York Italian place, and got to bed. After 3 nights of tenting, the bed was a nice change.

    Stats for Day 13: 532 miles, 9.3 gallons of fuel, 12.0 hours
    #47
  8. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,860
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
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    I got up early and went to a coffee shop for breakfast and coffee. The smoke really settled in overnight.

    The laundromat opened at 8:00 so I went over and got the laundry started. It was a good time to update my log (yes, pen and paper!) and check out my routes on the GPS. Another traveler was also washing clothes and came over to check out the maps I was looking at. He was 75 or so and had lived in BC awhile. He suggested that I come back and ride through some dirt roads in the “ranch” country.

    Finally after wash, packing, and fueling, I’m on the road at about 10:00 am. I also would change back to Mountain time today, so it was going to be a shorter ride than I had planned.

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    It was sad that the smoke was so thick, it looked like a beautiful area. There were shadows of mountains in the smoke amongst all the trees.

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    I took a little detour of the main highway to see this stream.

    I stopped in McBride for fuel and then found a small café for lunch. The owners and some of the patrons were grousing about how expensive the Olympics were and the liberals plan to bankrupt the province. I felt right at home. ;-)

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    I drove to Jasper and then headed up to Hinton where I picked up fuel. Heading south from Hinton, the road turned to gravel after a few miles. Wohoo, this was the riding I had come for!

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    The road wound around some forest lands, with lots of oil, gas, and coal mining. The pickup drivers were going somewhat north of 70 mph which was more than I wanted to do, so I kept a close eye on my rearview mirror. Fortuneately it was after five in the evening and there weren’t very many. However I kept on the gas and didn’t give up much ground. I also adjusted the rear suspension preload up and forced more weight onto the front wheel which made the bike more stable when I hit some marbles.

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    At Nordegg I picked up fuel and then traveled on a few miles to a campground. It was 9:00 pm MST and I wasn’t paying too much attention as I hurried up and set up my tent. As I was laying in my sleeping bag and listening to the background noise I realized I was listening to a gas turbine. :lol3 I don’t know if it was a compressor or generator but it was a distinctive sound like those I have heard at work in Montana.

    Stats for Day 14: 413 miles, 10.7 gallons of fuel, 10.0 hours
    #48
  9. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,860
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
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    It was cold in the morning, and the smoke was just as thick. Add to that, I was getting tired, and was running out of Canadian currency. While the last item wasn’t much of a problem, all the others factored into my change of direction. I was going south today.

    With the cool weather and smoke I didn’t take many pictures today. I stopped at Nick and Leslie’s Café in Rocky Mountain for breakfast and to warm up. I continued east until I got to Hwy 2 in Red Deer, and I turned south to Calgary. Picking up fuel at Crossfield, I kept heading on to Calgary and the Trans Canadian Hwy for a short jog east.

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    At Medicine Hat I stopped at this structure commemorating the native tribes of the region.

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    There were several paintings depicting history and culture of the natives.

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    Metis were mixed race, and there were several groups in this region and south into Montana. There was a good sized settlement in Montana near Lewistown.

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    Art from the plains tribes.

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    And more... It was a very nice display, with explanations from the artists.

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    Back in Montana. Had to stop and take a pic of this combine by the road. The hills in the background are the Bears Paw Mountains.

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    So from Medicine Hat I took the road south through Port of White Horse and down to Havre. There was a road I wanted to see across the Missouri.

    I had never driven into Havre from this direction, so I had to stop and take a picture at this viewpoint.

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    For those of you who don’t know how to pronounce this town’s name:
    Ha – with a short a, like Hal or happen
    vre – like ver, as ever or never

    Anyway, I stopped in at the Siesta Motel, a nice little family run place. It was 6:15 pm, so it was a nice night for a shower and dinner at the café next door. There I met another rider from eastern Ontario. He was looking for an inexpensive hotel or campground to stay at, the $65 that the Siesta wanted was a little too much. I guess price is relative; this motel was one of the least expensive places I stayed at the whole trip.

    Went to bed, and slept like a baby.

    Stats for Day 15: 507 miles, 8.4 gallons of fuel, 11.0 hours
    #49
  10. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,860
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
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    Saturday August 21, 2010 – Day 16 – “Montana!!!”

    I got up fairly early, but then decided to get breakfast. With packing and all, I think it was closer to 10:00 before I got on the road.

    There is a little ski hill in the Bears Paw Mountains south of Havre and the road is paved out to it.

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    There was a creek running along the road. I don’t think you could take a bad picture of the trees and creek here.

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    Here’s where the bike was parked. It was a beautiful road to ride.

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    I had turned off the main road and was looping past a small school called Warrick. Then the route angled north past Cleveland, MT.

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    Finally I stopped at this memorial. This is at the Bear Paw Battle Field, the place that Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce surrendered to Gen. Miles after their long running engagement with the army. This September battle ends the long summer of flight of the non-treaty Nez Perce as they looked for a place of refuge. The survivors were held in Oklahoma for seven years until they returned to the reservation in Idaho.

    http://www.nps.gov/nepe/planyourvisit/bear-paw-battlefield.htm

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    From the battle field I backtracked south through the mountains and headed towards the Missouri river. There are gas wells through these hills with the accompanying compression sites. The roads have the meandering feel of a combination of ranch and natural gas field.

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    Continuing south the Missouri River breaks open in front of me, and the road starts to meander through the valleys towards the river.

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    According to my topo map, it is about a 1000 feet elevation from the bench north of the river to the river bank. It is rugged country.

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    Here the road drops down to the river bank.

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    The McClellan/Stafford ferry is a simple affair. Just a barge with a small motor to drive the hydraulics for the winch and the ramps. I drive on and the operator comes and takes me across the river.

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    Here is a picture of the ferry and operators house from where I parked on the south bank.

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    Hours of operation and weight limits. The Montana road map says it is operational from April to October and gives a phone number to call.

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    As I was driving up from the river, these two rams were by this water hole getting a drink.

    “Time is tickin' away, tick tick tickin' away

    Right now is the time that we gotta get with it
    The gift that He's given ain't just an exhibit”

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    The road from the ferry ends up at Winifred and I fill up with gas. All the touring around the countryside this morning has taken some time and it is later in the day. I decide to keep heading south and pick up Hwy 200 across to Glendive. Here is the intersection of the cut across road from Hilger to ghost town of Maiden.

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    It is a beautiful little valley, and I can bypass Lewistown.

    “All the money in the world
    Can never stop the hands of time
    And a wasted day in your life
    Is more than a crime”

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    There are thunderstorms crossing the plains in front of me, and the wind is fierce at times. I stop in at Winnett and find out that I have missed the worst of the wind.

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    This little café has some really good homemade pies. I decide on a piece of raspberry. I talk a little with the owner. She is a good egg and enjoys this business out in prairies of central Montana. When I ask her how long she has had this bar/café, she mentions that she wishes she hadn’t waited so long to start, it has been too short.

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    The sun is setting as I get close to Glendive.

    “You got a gift and you best start using it
    Cause if you don't you're gonna wind up losing it
    Get busy like a school boy makin' an "A"
    Cause time my brother is tickin' away”

    This little DC Talk song echos through my head as I ride up to my home.

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    Here’s a quick self portrait at the end of the trip.

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    A few bugs died on the windshield.

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    Another tire is about worn out.

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    So here are a few FAQ’s I get.

    Q. Would you do it again?
    A. Yes. Now that I’ve been to the end of the road and back I will try to stop along the way and explore a little more.

    Q. How did the bike work?
    A. It was good. The smaller 800 is good for the gravel roads, but a little low on power and speed for the long stretches. It is a nice compromise for this trip.

    Q. Could anyone make this trip?
    A. Yes, the Alcan is paved and I would be willing to take my car to Fairbanks, but skip some of the gravel roads. Hey, if a scooter can make it…

    Other advice:
    It is a long road, so be prepared. There aren’t a lot of services so you will need to compromise and improvise if you have problems. The gas stops along the Alcan are about every 50 miles, which is pretty easy for most travelers. If you need gas, stop and fill up, don’t wait. At Dawson Creek in Alberta, the visitor center has brochures with the mileage for the gas stops and campgrounds. Tires that are steel belted for gravel roads are recommended because of the construction.

    Stats for Day 16: 444 miles, 12.5 gallons of fuel, 10.2 hours

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    Some people like fuel mileage and mileage data for planning, so here is my spreadsheet with all the fuel stops.
    #50
  11. rick danger

    rick danger Off the wagon

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2005
    Oddometer:
    5,078
    Location:
    Oneonta, NY
    Great RR!! Thanks so much. I really enjoyed it. I had a similar trip planned a few years back. But from NYC. A little over 5000 miles one way. I was going to do it on a GS 1200 adv. I bought the bike with this trip in mind for its fuel capacity. I had about three months off from work for the trip, but my dad got sick and I never got to do it. Now I'm up to my ears with building an addition on mom and dads house for me and my bikes. But I still want to do this trip one day. Thanks for letting me do it vicariously. (sp?)
    #51
  12. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,860
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
    I understand how life changes.

    The distances are amazing. From here in Montana it is still closer to Key West than Prudhoe bay.

    Glad you enjoyed the report.

    David
    #52
  13. ~TABASCO~

    ~TABASCO~ www.rideonadv.com

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2008
    Oddometer:
    380
    Location:
    Tejas
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    That's cool ! Thanks for this valuable info !
    #53
  14. MrKiwi

    MrKiwi Ageing Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,881
    Location:
    Lower Hutt, New Zealand
    A great ride report, one I have booked marked for future reference. The mileage chart at the end is great too. Really handy.

    I enjoyed your story and the way you have told it, a very good balance. You seemed to have enjoyed it very much so good on you.

    Cheers from downunder...
    #54
  15. Mtnjohn

    Mtnjohn Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Oddometer:
    788
    Location:
    SW Montana
    Great Report. I have caged it from Havre/Chinook south through Lloyd and kayaked under the ferry cable. I hope to head North threw there in a few years. Good ride.
    #55
  16. manfromthestix

    manfromthestix Lost in Space

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2004
    Oddometer:
    3,145
    Location:
    Lexington, Virginia
    +1 on a nice report, great photos, and too bad you didn't have more time! That's a lot of miles in 14 days, good job!

    Surprisingly there was some clear air between Burns Lake and Prince George, but the ominous plume said this would not last.

    I lived in Lander, Wyoming for many years before moving to Virginia and the forest fires out west were an annual event to pay attention to (we don't get too many fires out here with >50 inches of precip a year). I was on a Pacific coast tour and one day decided I'd had enough and was ready to get home, so I rode from Seattle to Butte, Montana in one stretch. I would have kept going since I was only a few hundred miles from home but riding through heavy smoke all day had destroyed my eyes and I had to stop. It didn't do much for my lungs, either; it took several days to recover. I don't think I could fight fires for a living, man that's tough work.

    Anyway, thanks again for the tour!

    Doug
    #56
  17. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,860
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
    Thanks mrkiwi, hope your plans work out. Glad the report is helpful.

    It certianly takes some adjustment. Everyone has different tolerance levels, you gotta decide what your going to get used to and what your going to avoid. Glad you enjoyed the report.

    Yes, I want to camp and ride around that area, lots of good roads to cover in this state. I need to do more out west too.

    David
    #57
  18. ks7877

    ks7877 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 18, 2008
    Oddometer:
    12
    HaHaHaHaHa
    hey, wait a second ...

    Great job on the ride report!
    #58
  19. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,860
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
    :augie You're exploits stand out among all other scooter riders. :gdog :ricky Truely a great one. :bow

    David

    Am I out of trouble yet?
    #59
  20. IpponDuro

    IpponDuro Now with Camel Toe

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,006
    Location:
    Burlington Wa.
    :thumb Nice Ride, Nice Report. I made a pretty similar ride a couple months before you with 2 other ADV'ers, Looks like the weather cooperated for you also.
    #60