South-Central Alaska on 20 Year Old Hondas

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by PistonPants, May 21, 2009.

  1. PistonPants

    PistonPants Crankcase Scavenger

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
    Oddometer:
    504
    Location:
    Cantwell, AK
    In Alaska we've had a recent stretch of outstanding weather. To coincide with this, my neighbor, Bubba and I had three free days to take a tour.

    Very loosely planned, we wanted to see either McCarthy/Kennicott or Valdez. Starting from Cantwell, AK, we had until Copper Center to decide.

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    Like these guys for example:
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    Bubba is aboard his '89 Transalp and myself on my Trusty '88 NX650. Bikes that Honda could barely give away in the '80s, before the term 'Adventure Tourer' was ever uttered. Enough of that...

    East bound and down, we're loaded up and truckin'....
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    East across the Denali Highway into a bluebird day in the Alaska Range!
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    A little dusty out there, but a nice north breeze sweeping it off the road and away from lungs and air filters.

    A little lunch stop at the Susitna River bridge. Entertaining graffiti on the guardrail, some ddating back to the '50s when the highway opened.
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    Sadly it seems as if the Gracious House near the susitna will not be opening its restaurant this summer.:cry No after-work pie and burger trips this year.

    The fun continues with more sublime scenery and a relaxed cruising pace to take it all in.
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    Onward to the Maclaren River Lodge to stop in for a soda*. Maclaren is a year-round destination, accessable by snowmachine in the winter months. It is wicked remote.
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    From the Lodge, we climb up on Maclaren Summit, with its stunning view.
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    The highway continues on to Tangle Lakes where the pavement resumes for the rest of the trip to Paxson. Still above tree line with the mountains doing their thing.
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    Head into Paxson for gas....
    More to come real soon
    Piston
    #1
  2. squonker

    squonker Eat my shorts

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2006
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    4,160
    Location:
    Yellowknife, NWT
    Nice!
    #2
  3. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
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    60,282
    Rugged beauty! :thumb

    :lurk
    #3
  4. PistonPants

    PistonPants Crankcase Scavenger

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
    Oddometer:
    504
    Location:
    Cantwell, AK
    The best trips begin on Mondays. Nobody is on the road. We had the Denali Highway all to ourselves. We saw only two other vehicles in the 135 miles from Cantwell to Paxson. It was good.

    We rolled up to the gas pumps at the Paxson Lodge and there were a couple of KLR's parked across the lot, the riders striding over toward us. they were part of a group of Dutch motorcyclists on a Moto-Quest tour. There were eleven of them in all asmor bikes kept arriving. Sounded like they were having a great trip, riding throughout the state, seeing all the good stuff, staying in lodges, eating good, and flogging on borrowed bikes.
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    While lubing my chain and giving the NX the once over, I noticed a bolt that mounts my rear fender/luggage rack is missing. The DH taketh away. Last time across, my instrument pod broke loose and finished the trip held on with a cam strap. I begin to search for an 8mm bolt I can steal from a less critical location to fill in for luggage duty. No dice. As the last of the tour group rolls in, so does the support truck. Bet he has some metric bolts. The support driver, Ben, opens up the tool/spare compartment, slides open a drawer full of various metric goodies. He says root through there and find something that works. Sure enough, a nice 8x25mm fastener perfect for my needs. Generously, he gives us the bolt, declines my offer to pay him and gives us both a sticker. Moto-Quest is run by Alaska Rider tours. They are a great outfit. Check them out:
    http://www.akrider.com/

    Gassed up and not rattling my load into oblivion, we head south on the Richardson Highway. Cruising along, taking no pictures along the way, dodging Kamikaze caribou we make our way to Glennallen for gas, coffee and decide where we ultimately want to go. The locals were friendly, as we chatted with a pair of joggers and got a suggestion of where to camp that night. We sat out in front of The Hub and sipped coffee and watched it all unfold.

    The joggers suggested Squirrel Creek Campground 35 miles south of Glennallen. We went there and camped. I went out to gather firewood and found myself transported through time and space to a Zeppelin album cover
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    We set up our cozy camp and cooked delicious dinner with Bub's little ipod dock rocking into the night.
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    Dig in!
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    Got to run.
    More report later.
    Piston
    #4
  5. PistonPants

    PistonPants Crankcase Scavenger

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
    Oddometer:
    504
    Location:
    Cantwell, AK
    Tuesday morning we make coffee, leisurely break camp, pack up and head south. We've made up our minds to go to Valdez. It is a perfect cloudless day heading into the Chugach Mountains. Almost zero traffic on the Richardson.
    Mt. Billy Mitchell.
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    Then up the Tsaina River to Thompson Pass.
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    The Worthington Glacier.
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    Topping Thompson Pass.
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    The view down into the Lowe River on the other side of the pass.
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    Then down the other side, down the Lowe through Keystone Canyon to sea level in Valdez. In Valdez we poked around town a bit, looked up my old roommate from Girdwood who now lives in Valdez with his wife. They run Magpie's Bakery where we ate lunch. After Lunch we took a ride out Mineral Creek for a little dual sport fun. Supposedly the road goes six miles or so into the mountains to a mining area, but avalanche debris still had the road blocked off pretty early on. Pretty place though.
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    The ride back into town.
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    A day this nice in Valdez is so sweet. The locals rejoice.
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    Very cool Mustang.

    Next we rode around the bay over to the pipeline terminal and had a break on the beach in the sunshine watching birds and kayakers.
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    Time to say goodbye to Valdez and head back north. Keystone Canyon was a really fun ride. Spectacular place. Very light traffic.
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    Bridal Veil Falls
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    Then we climb back up into Thompson Pass again.
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    Now its time to put down some mileage so Wednesday's ride isn't a brutal late night butt burner to get back home. We head back north into Glennallen for gas and coffee hang out at The Hub and watch as pretty much the exact same scene unfolds as the day before. Next we head west on the Glenn Highway looking to get some beer and find a place to camp. A little place called Basin Liquor hooked up the beer sold to us by a feisty old lady. Entertaining. She suggested camping by Tolsona Creek. We set camp, cooked dinner, listened to music and relaxed after a big day.
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    Charcoal Mellowed.

    Final installment coming later.
    Piston
    #5
  6. FLYING EYEBALL

    FLYING EYEBALL out of step

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2008
    Oddometer:
    10,709
    Location:
    north of seattle
    Great Stuff! :clap
    #6
  7. Dessert Storm

    Dessert Storm Dances With Drunks

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2005
    Oddometer:
    841
    Location:
    Off route, recalculating
    Fantastic! :clap

    Never tire of Alaska RRs
    #7
  8. Gaston Gagne

    Gaston Gagne Past Easy

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2006
    Oddometer:
    2,237
    Location:
    Western Piedmont, NC
    You two know how to travel. Thanks for that.
    #8
  9. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2007
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    4,100
    Location:
    Okie near Muskogee
    Damn, you guys go all out with the food at camp. Will be following this one.
    #9
  10. AKtracks

    AKtracks Kilted Fükengrüver

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,261
    Location:
    Fairbanks, Alaska

    Yeah, just don't follow him to a BBQ joint. :lol3

    Great ride & report guys :clap , hope to see you on my next run to/through Cantwell. :thumb
    #10
  11. PistonPants

    PistonPants Crankcase Scavenger

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
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    Location:
    Cantwell, AK
    Seems I'll never live down the BBQ debaucle. Dub was sick. He even had a note from his Mom. Enough of that.

    Woke up, coffee, break camp, pack, head west. Breaking out of the black spruce doldrums of the Copper Basin. The highway is spotted with quaint rural dwellings (lonesome hillbilly cabins) along the way. Lots of junk cars, satellite dishes, smoldering trash....Twist the right grip.

    The going gets interesting as we climb into the mountains approaching Sheep Mountain. Lion's Head is center in the distance.
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    From the start, we had planned to have a bite at the Sheep Mountain Lodge. A beautiful setting, good food, clean, nice accomodations, and obvious pride in ownership and upkeep. Serving travelers since 1946.
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    Bub had halibut tacos, I had bacon cheesburger. We each ate a cubic yard of carrot cake for dessert. Wrench up the preload.

    Shortly after we stop at the Matanuska Glacier/Lion Head overlok for some photos.
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    Amazing scenery, light traffic, sensuously curving asphalt. I believe that the Glenn Hwy between Sheep Mtn and Sutton is the most entertaining stretch of pavement in our great state. I went across it only once before 15 years ago in the back of a VW camper bus. I remember aching to have my CB750 Super Sport instead.

    After arcing through a few miles of turns we came upon the construction zone. Across our state, highway engineers are busy straightening curves and leveling hills. Six or so miles of twisty fun Glenn Hwy "modernized".:cry

    The silver lining: The flagger had stopped a sizeable line of cars, RV's and trucks to wait for the pilot car. One of the priveleges of motorcycling is our God given right to roll up the shoulder to the front of the queue and chat with the cute girl with the stop/slow sign and orange clown suit. Follow the pilot rig through the carnage. Driving nails in the coffin of another great road.
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    The end result for us was a road wiped clean of any slow annoying traffic.:clap Sorry no photos of the incredible twisty run. Got to go see it for yourself. We kept a brisk pace with grins on our faces that barely fit inside our helmets. Most entertaining!

    Once we got to Palmer, we needed gas, and decided to hit Hatcher Pass. The pass was still closed to through travel over to Willow, as I expected, but its not very far out of the way and worth it for the views and winding asphalt.
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    Hmmmmm, ya think so?

    Wasilla-Fishhook Rd is cool. Narrow, winding, green tree lined. Then north on the boring, busy and all too familiar Parks Hwy. Gas in Willow. A soda* stop at the Big Su bridge, 150 miles downstream from our lunch stop on day 1 on the Denali Hwy.
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    A final gas stop to top off in Trapper Creek, 100 miles from home. The final grind was tough on the butt, but fast paced and fun. Saw black bear mom and cubs at Byers Lake. Broad Pass is a welcome sight with our familiar home slice of mountain range. The tour comes to its proper end.

    Piston
    #11
  12. Gaston Gagne

    Gaston Gagne Past Easy

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2006
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    Location:
    Western Piedmont, NC
    At what point were you when you called the other night. Just for perspective's sake.
    #12
  13. BetaTrialsGuy

    BetaTrialsGuy D i r t - Z a m b o n i

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2006
    Oddometer:
    168
    Location:
    CA desert in Winter / Traveling in Summer
    Thanks for a great read and all those fantastic photos!
    ----------:clap-----------:clap------------:clap

    I followed your course on my map in order to get
    more acquainted with your country. The more I
    see, the more I lust for laying down my own tracks.

    Thanks again!
    #13
  14. wachs

    wachs just passin' through

    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
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    Location:
    Tumalo, Oregon
    beautiful - not much snow eh?
    #14
  15. fyr

    fyr iRoast Coffee

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    Location:
    Bytowne, Canuckistan
    Saaaweet!
    I love the campfire cookouts. Beauty pics lads- Cheers
    #15
  16. jigdog

    jigdog Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2006
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    NJ
    Was that shrimp and kielbasa?
    #16
  17. PistonPants

    PistonPants Crankcase Scavenger

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
    Oddometer:
    504
    Location:
    Cantwell, AK
    Gaston: When I called you was right before the picture of the tiny NX atop the rocky ridge. That was where I was when we spoke.


    Yes it was kielbasa and shrimp with Zatarain New Orleans style red beans and rice. Mmmmmmm. Good calories because there was a hard frost on everything in the morning.

    Piston
    #17
  18. Tapeworm

    Tapeworm Ride it like you stole it

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2008
    Oddometer:
    15
    Location:
    Tanzania, East Africa
    Must be freezing camping out in the snow!
    Great stuff!!
    #18
  19. vermin

    vermin unrepentant thinner

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    550
    Ok Ok I am a little envious, great ride report on great roads. I know what you mean about the glenn highway they were busy shaving the lumps off it when I came through last year and it bummed me out, thats progress. spose the indians weren't too keen on wagon trains either. I am very jelous of your bike I think that is the best bike made for all round motorcycle abuse. My buddy gatorjane has to talk me out of buying one about once a year. He claims they are heavy,
    #19
  20. PistonPants

    PistonPants Crankcase Scavenger

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
    Oddometer:
    504
    Location:
    Cantwell, AK
    Yeah the NX is a great all 'rounder. It was my only bike for a few years and it did duty as a pretty rugged dirt bike. I've gone pretty DEEP into the backcountry on it. It's my favorite bike I've EVER owned. If you can get your hands on one don't be talked out of it.

    Bub's Transalp is another excellent mount. Both bikes came to these shores for only 2 model years. They didn't sell. But they were peoduced around the world for decades. Go figure. I picked mine up used for $1250. A lot of people spend more than that on hard luggage, or chrome billet stuff.

    Piston
    #20