Virginia to Alaska and back on an '86 Yamaha Radian

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by ruffntuff, Oct 2, 2012.

  1. jimtom

    jimtom Adventurer

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    Sand Rock, AL
    I have been captivated by this RR from the time I found it! You are the true Adventure rider. Because of you , I am now planning an Alaska trip !:clap
  2. elite1

    elite1 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2011
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    Pittsburgh-The Steel City
    "Panaceas"

    Where did you get that word? I haven't seen it used since............:D
  3. BTL

    BTL No more snow!!

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2011
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    St Albert. Alberta Canada. IBA Member 50093
    What a great story...kinda had lump in my throat reading first part as I too was the recipient of a drunk driver hitting my motorcycle but very fortunate for me went over the offending vehicle and lived to ride again.

    Your report should be an inspiration to all. Just go for it. Thanks.
  4. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2007
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    325
    Location:
    Frozen Prairies USA
    I've done this trip - at this time of year - but for God's sake I had heated grips and heated gear! And it should be noted that I still occasionally got nearly hypothermic.

    Love the report!:clap:clap:clap
  5. jimbowie

    jimbowie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2010
    Oddometer:
    100
    Location:
    Texas prairie.
    Anna, great ride report and thank you so much for taking the time to document the trip. My wife and I travel all the time two up on our trips and we have met so many wonderful "strangers". People have always been very kind and caring to us and we, like you, are always appreciative of their kindness. Afterall, they are only strangers until you talk to them. Thanks again for bringing us all along on your wonderful adventure. We hope you have many more in the future.
  6. ruffntuff

    ruffntuff TUFRDR

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2012
    Oddometer:
    114
    Location:
    Charlottesville, Virginia
    Day 20:
    June 9, 2012
    Denali National Park

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    Denali was supposed to be the peak of my trip; the epic highlight I had been waiting for. Every time someone asked me where I was going to go in Alaska I would say, “I don’t know, but I know I want to see Denali.”

    Of course it was the only place I knew of in Alaska. How was I supposed to know what I wanted to see in a foreign land 5000 miles away? I just wanted to ride there. I didn’t really think much about the “then what” factor. If I planned too much on what to do in Alaska that meant I would have to make it there, which was something I’ll admit I was unsure of.

    I knew the only way into the park was an unfortunate bus loaded full of couples, families and vacationers. I could hardly bring myself to get excited about it. I considered riding the bike as far as I could and just hiking around. But from what I was told at the Visitor’s Center, there were no trails and lots of bears. They told me NOT to hike alone.

    So, there was only one way for me to see the grand landscape of Denali National Park; from the romantic environment of a bus full of tourists. Talk about a shock to my system.

    I signed up for the early shuttle leaving the hostel so I could plan on spending the whole day in the park. Although I was less than eager to sit on a bus full of people all day, I was excited to see a small patch of blue sky peeking through the clouds when I left. Who knows, maybe I’d get to see McKinley on a rare clear day.

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    As I was waiting for my bus to leave I received a discouraging phone call. It was Gary. He informed me with unseasonable amounts of rain, mud slides south of Kluane Lake had closed the Alaskan Highway from Haines Junction to Destruction Bay. This meant I would not be able to get to my ferry in Haines if the roads weren’t clear by my departure on the 14th.

    I tried not to panic and asked Gary what to do. We tossed around a few options. I could come back to Anchorage and try to get a ferry from there. I could back track over the Top of the World Highway all the way down to Whitehorse to get to Haines which would take 4-5 days. I could stay on track since I still had 5 days until my departure and hope the roads would be clear by the time I got there.

    I felt nauseous with anxiety. I think Gary could sense it and he chuckled while he said, “It’s all part of the adventure.” Yup it sure is.

    I explained I had just purchased a ticket to go into the park for the day and didn’t have access to internet to do any sort of research. He offered to check out ferry information in Anchorage and get back to me with any updates on the road conditions. In the meantime, he suggested I enjoy the day at the park. I was already there.

    I sighed, call my Mom, and told her the situation asking if she could help look for solutions as well. I was beginning to feel I should not go into the park and just hitch a ride back to the hostel since the shuttle picking me up wasn’t going to be there until late afternoon. I didn’t think at this point I’d even be able to enjoy being there.

    My Mom encouraged me to take advantage of one of the few days I had without rain and to explore the park. So I settled for a day of sightseeing.

    I had a roundtrip ticket to ride the bus to the Eielson Visitor Center in the middle of the park. It was a three to four hour ride to get there. Oh boy.

    The rules were, you could get off the bus anytime to hike around (so long as you had bear spray) and catch the next one that passed. Buses tended to frequent every thirty minutes or so. This made me feel a little safer about getting on a crowded bus of strangers. If I started to have a panic attack, I could bail.

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    The road coming into the park was windy and cut along the edge of the mountains with steep drop offs and overhanging cliffs. I would not want to be one of those bus drivers. Watching them maneuver around blind turns and passing buses on sharp narrow curves was enough to make me wish I was on my bike again. I could see straight down from my window hardly able to see the shoulder of the road. I tried not to imagine the bus rolling all the way down the hill to the bottom of the basin.

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    I cannot describe the beauty of this place powerfully enough. No words could serve it justice. All I can illustrate is what I saw. The snowy mountains peaked as far as I could see and we followed them along the edge of a deep valley of fingering rivers through arctic tundra.

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    I couldn’t help but feel an immense loneliness overwhelm me. The people on the bus were annoying me. The noisy giggling couples and families made me want to puke. They just made me more depressed. I couldn’t get excited about being in the most breathtakingly beautiful place on earth. I felt guilty and angry for not enjoying it.

    I tried to distract my emotions staring out the window. I didn’t talk to a soul. I just wanted to be left alone and see some wildlife. The bus driver said he was surprised we hadn’t seen any yet; just my luck. I was on the bus for three hours before we finally saw a fox cross the road ahead of us.

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    My anxiety was about to make me vomit by the time we finally made it to the Eielson Visitor Center. I couldn’t get off the bus fast enough. I wandered around and saw there was no view of Mt. McKinley as it was socked-in from the base. I did however find the Alpine trail heading up the mountain. It was only a mile up to the ridge and I think the only trail in the park. I ran for solitude.

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    It was a strenuous 1000ft climb. The mountain was fogged over half way up and I walked through the clouds. I felt my anxiety start to ease as I began to sweat and breathe hard. I found peace in the privacy of the wilderness.

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    I wondered why it was I felt so comforted when alone and yet so lonely when surround by the rest of the world.

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    After rebalancing my thoughts and emotions, I made my way back down the mountain to face another four hours on the bus.

    I saw a lot more wildlife on the ride home. If you ever go to Denali, ride on the left side of the bus going in and the right side of the bus coming out. This way you are on the window side facing the valley and mountains, not a rock wall.

    I saw a herd of caribou sleeping together curled on the tundra. Their antlers were surprisingly large. They seemed so cozy and comfortable together careless of the flocks of buses streaming by.

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    I saw some grizzly bears from very far away. They were scouting around the river beds looking for fish (or people) I’m sure. I couldn’t believe how blonde they were. I always imagined them being browner.

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    I also saw some Dall sheep; the rock climbers of the park. It’s amazing how they can get around on such steep grades. If you look hard enough you can see them at higher elevations. The mountains are often speckled with little white moving dots not to be mistaken for snow.

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    We stopped at Toklat River for a pit stop. There were bathrooms and a little gift ship I went into. I bought probably 40 post cards hoping to have enough to send everyone back home. I was officially a tourist.

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    The herd of people gathered back on the bus and we continued on. I saw several other native wildlife species; moose, snow hare, ground squirrel, and several birds or prey.

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    After the bus was stopping every ten minutes to let people take pictures, I was beginning to get to the end of my rope. I’m glad I had the window, but I was getting ready to punch the next person that leaned right over me with their camera in my face. I was more concerned with making it to the shuttle back to my hostel at 6:00.

    The bus made it back to the park entrance at 6:15. I was thoroughly depressed and in a rotten mood. I ran to the shuttle parking area hoping they were waiting for me or late. I missed it. The next one wasn’t until 9:30. I wanted to cry and I did.

    I walked along a few paths around the Visitor Center and decided to head towards the main road to hitch a ride back to the hostel. I had hitched a lot before, when I hiked the Appalachian Trail years ago. I wasn’t too keen on doing it alone, but I didn’t care.

    When I got down to the road I saw a couple that I recognized from the hostel. They were hitching and it immediately put a smile on my face. I walked down to them and asked if I could hitch with them, I was going to the hostel too. They didn’t mind at all so the three of us walked together down the road with our thumbs out.

    They were a nice married couple from Australia taking a year off together to travel. They asked if I was the one on the motorcycle and when I told them yes it sparked a hue of friendly conversation and connection.

    We walked for quite a ways before a car finally stopped. It was a girl in a pick-up with a dog in the bed. She said she couldn’t take us all the way to the hostel but she’d go as far as she could. We scrunched into the back and enjoyed a quick lift.

    Phase two of our hitching experience took even longer than the first. I was surprised how many people passed unwilling to pick up a few people, two of which were women. I don’t think we looked threatening, however the majority of the people passing were probably tourists anyway. I had had enough of them for one day, especially being one myself.

    We finally got a ride just a couple miles from the hostel. We probably walked as much from the park as we got a lift. I was in a better mood already having just experienced a non-tourist adventure and anxious to check my email with any updates on the road.

    I had a message waiting from Gary. The road to Haines was now open by one lane. Thank God. I enjoyed my relief at the pub with hostel peeps and felt satisfied and comforted interacting them.

    Plan tomorrow: Denali Highway (134 miles of gravel) to Valdez

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    A forced smile at the "view" of Mt. McKinley
  7. MizzouRider

    MizzouRider Long timer

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    Jan 22, 2007
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    1,824
    Location:
    Fly over zone
    RuffNTuff, I sure understand your feelings. Something about a solo bike trip, you just get used to being so happy when you are alone.. Tough day, hey, at least the rain let up. For a day..
    Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip. We leave for Alaska in less than five months.
  8. RoninMoto

    RoninMoto Wanderer

    Joined:
    May 12, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,706
    Location:
    In the mountains?
    I was at Laird Hotsprings when those slides happened. I was nursing sickness and trying to get south. Luckily there was only 1 lane closed south of me. The Campbell Hwy that I had been on they day before had washed out in a few places. I think there are many people on motos who were affected by those rain storms.

    I did not go into Denali when I was there a few weeks before you. I only camped close by. After reading your accounts about the bus ride and tourists.. I hope you got to see what I did.

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    Fingers crossed that your next report has you smiling and loving life. :deal
  9. vtwin

    vtwin Air cooled runnin' mon

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2005
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    7,788
    Location:
    NorCal
    Sorry you had a bad experience at Denali. I enjoyed my little bus ride and enjoyed the tourist. It had been a long time since I had interaction with people, but coming from a larger family, I was comfortable with all the people. Plus I got to sit next to a pretty asian girl.:evil Her boyfriend/husband did give me the stink eye though, since he had to sit wayyy in the back.:lol3
  10. 131unlimited

    131unlimited Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2008
    Oddometer:
    498
    Great ride, report, folks and one hell of a lady ! props to you ruffntuff ! Enjoy ! :)
  11. TH

    TH There and Here

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    912
    Location:
    Northern VA
    Thanks for you continued updates. This is an excellent ride report. It's more than just pictures, it captures feelings, emotions, and your thoughts as you progress through this journey!

    On a side note, your Radian reminds me of my first bike I bought after I got out of the military, a 81 Suzuki GS650L. I rembember that it was a decent bike, but not as comfortable as my current rides, so I have to give you strong kudo's for riding a nice vintage Yamaha for the distances that you have.

    Since I live in Virginia, perhaps one day our paths will cross.
  12. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Jan 31, 2010
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    Location:
    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    Bravo ruffntuff. Great ride. Great ride report. Great Bike.

    What's next?

    Nick
  13. GeoDiablo

    GeoDiablo compulsive troublemaker

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    Apr 25, 2006
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    Location:
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    What an adventure and ride report. You are an impressive young lady. Unfortunately, as often happens, I've caught up with the narrative and now have to wait for the rest of the story.

    I'm sure it will be worth it.

    Not many people of any age have the "balls" to take on their dreams the way you are. Keep living this way and you're going to have a beautiful life. It's stories like yours that help make ADVrider the jewel that it is. Thanks for taking the time and effort to share. I know your brother would be proud of you… as I'm sure all of your family is.
  14. Tim_Tom

    Tim_Tom Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2011
    Oddometer:
    953
    Location:
    High Desert, CA
    First I want to thank you for taking the time to do this RR. I found and read through the whole thread this afternoon. I love the fact that you did this ride on what many people would consider such an 'bad' choice of adventure bike. It just proves that the bike doesn't make the adventurer.

    Like you I ride an old UJM. A 30 year old Suzuki. Bought it because that was all I could afford on the college student budget. Kept it because now it is MY bike and I will never see anyone else riding one just like it. Also I've found it to be a very capable motorcycle. Sort of ironic considering these bikes were a dime a dozen when new. But now they possess an honesty that modern bikes don't have.

    Alaska is on my list, and was planned for last summer; but I only had a three week window and so settled for simply a coast-to-coast-to-coast ride. Your report is really making me wish I stretched those three weeks into five weeks and made it to Alaska.

    Keep the report coming please. Your story is wonderful.
  15. interloper

    interloper n00b

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2013
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    Location:
    NYC Metro, for now
    Long time lurker...new inmate here :D
    Great report and fantastic writing...thanks for sharing...
    It's reports like these that made advrider such a great site
  16. drdubb

    drdubb OFWG

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2009
    Oddometer:
    495
    Location:
    Raleigh, North Carolina
    Interloper

    If you've not done so, check out the möbius thread. The riders are a couple on New Yorkers and they have an annual adv party.
  17. old fart bob

    old fart bob Armchair adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2010
    Oddometer:
    100
    Location:
    Michigan
    So what's next? Round the world?
  18. RoninMoto

    RoninMoto Wanderer

    Joined:
    May 12, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,706
    Location:
    In the mountains?
    I've been trying to put this bug in her ear... Maybe with help from the comunity it will become a reality. :deal
  19. Irish John

    Irish John Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2008
    Oddometer:
    235
    Location:
    Lawrence, KS but I'd rather be in Ireland
    Your RR brings back a lot of memories about my first trips. Traveling solo is a two edged sword isn't it. Keep writing and sharing your experiences. Shared memories teach us all.
  20. ruffntuff

    ruffntuff TUFRDR

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2012
    Oddometer:
    114
    Location:
    Charlottesville, Virginia
    Day 21:
    June 10, 2012
    Denali – Valdez, AK: 370 miles

    “The sky was blue and the sun was shining. My spirits were lifted and I was pumped to head for the Denali Highway, 130 miles of gravel road through one of the most scenic remote areas in Alaska.” (Journal excerpt)

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    I was up early, eager to enjoy the nice weather. I made coffee and ate oatmeal in the hostel kitchen while writing postcards for everyone back home. The excitement I felt, contrary to my depression yesterday, was almost unbearable. I felt like a child that could hardy sit still in anticipation of riding a roller coaster before exploding with thrill. I knew the weather could change fast and I was fervent to enjoy the little bit of blue sky and sunshine I finally had.

    I packed up the bike and headed to the post office down the road before realizing it was Sunday. I had lost track of the days from traveling. They were all starting to blur together, not to mention, my mind was fogged with dreams of riding the epic road ahead. I stowed the cards away safe in a zip-lock, so they would stay dry if it decided to rain later.

    I headed back to Cantwell to fuel up the bike and RotoPax. I knew I’d be stretching it thin to get to the next gas station in Paxton on the other side of the Denali Highway. All was ready and I headed down the gravel road.

    “The scenery was unbelievable. I felt like I was riding through a painting from some fantasy enchanted land. It was unreal. There was open tundra with streams and ponds surrounded with lush grasses and snow tipped peaks in the background. The mountains were so massive a photograph couldn’t even capture it.” (Journal excerpt)

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    The condition of the road was worse than I imagined. Heavy rains made sections soft and muddy causing my tires to slip and fish side to side. I stayed in the tire tracks made by other drivers avoiding the deep mess while averaging 5mph.

    Other sections consisted of hard packed gravel similar to the Top of the World Highway that made cruising a bit easier and less stressful. However, the gravel often included large rocks that would grab my tires and jerk my handle bars around. I had to ride with strong arms but soft joints to bare the impact and keep the bike straight.

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    Pot holes scattered the road everywhere. They were impossible to miss. I crossed a bridge at one point with a lip on the end to meet the road. As I came off the bridge I went straight down into a deep pot hole hidden on the other side. I felt the forks bottom out hard and suddenly heard a loud dragging sound on the tire.

    The edge of the road had thick gravel rimming a deep ditch. I stopped in the middle of the road to avoid possible disaster while preparing myself for a disappointing halt to my adventure. I walked around to the front of the bike wincing as I barely squinted a look. The fender was fractured on one side hanging half way off, lying on the tire.

    I was relieved it seemed trivial. I can ride without a fender. It didn’t look repairable so I helped finish the job and ripped it off the other side, freeing it from the forks. I chuckled thinking how naked the front of the bike looked now. It almost looked like a dirt bike, which it may as well have been for this ride.

    I felt it was my endowment to Denali, a piece of armor sacrificed as a contribution in humble respect for the epic road. It was my token for passing through the untamed territory on two wheels unscathed. I carried it with me the rest of my journey.

    I realized at this moment my side cases were getting caught in the shocks and ripped from the bottom seam. I had already duct taped them when I noticed the holes but now that was failing as well on the bumpy road. There wasn’t much I could do about it, other than raise the cases a bit higher. However, I was unwilling to unload all my gear to make that adjustment in the middle of the Denali Highway. They would just have to do.

    I continued on averaging 15-30mph. I wanted to find a place to hike around but there was never a good place to park the bike safely. I hardly saw a soul and continued stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures.

    I knew there was no way I could capture its beauty thoroughly enough to serve it justice. Around every bend in the road and over every hill my eyes were stunned with such exquisite magnificence I wanted to record every image in my mind forever.

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    It took me seven hours to get to the other side of the Denali Highway. I was surprised I almost made it without pulling out the RotoPax. It’s amazing how much gas you save when you slow down. I finally refueled just ten miles or so from Paxton. It’s a good thing I had it too, because when I got to Paxton, the gas station was closed. I’m glad I wasn’t relying on it.

    I headed South on the Richardson Highway until Gakona Junction at the Tok Cutoff 56 miles away. When I got there I was exhausted and starving. I realized I was so excited on the Denali Highway I hardly ate or even rested in the last seven hours. All I did was ride and take pictures from the middle of the road.

    It was starting to sprinkle, but I could still see blue sky in the direction of Valdez which kept me optimistic. I pondered going back up to Tok to the motorcycle campground 125 miles away. But I had heard Valdez was a beautiful “must see” town to visit in Alaska. It was another 130 miles, but if I could get a second wind, I wanted to take advantage of the little time I had left riding in Alaska. My time was passing too quickly.

    I was sick of my trail mix and peanut butter but my options in the store were limited. I bought a loaf of white bread, pack of sliced cheese, and bologna. I made my sandwiches on the porch out of the rain while I contemplated what to do.

    I had never enjoyed white bread and bologna so much as I did then. I think I ate four sandwiches. I would never have thought to eat such a thing in “normal” life. But it gave me the energy I needed. Plus, anything different from what I had been eating was far superior.

    I decided to head for Valdez keeping my fingers crossed that I’d ride out of the rain. I settled back onto the highway at a comfortable cruising speed thankful to be on smooth pavement. Every now and then, I’d catch a glimpse of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline all the way to Valdez.

    Just 50 miles before getting to Valdez, I stopped for gas at Tiekel River Lodge. The rain had stopped and the sky was still blue. When I went inside to pay, the gentleman there was very friendly and seemed just as excited as I was about the weather. I told him I was headed to Valdez. He said I was a lucky girl to have a clear day and to hurry up and get there before anything changed. It was rare to see the mountains on the coast of Valdez.

    The next 25 miles of the Richardson Highway were gorgeous winding between the Chugach Mountains. After passing Mount Billy Mitchell the highway began a steep twisty climb perfect for any motorcycle enthusiast. The hairpin turns spiraled around the mountain passing Worthington Glacier all the way to Thompson Pass.

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    This is where I felt I was on the top of the world. When I summited the pass I felt my heart lift and I smiled and laughed thinking of Dan. I could feel his face in my face and imagine his expressions in my expressions. I knew he was there and felt giddy being there with him.

    The elevation is only 2,678 feet, however it’s above treeline showing bare-bone peaks of the snowy Chugach Mountains as far as the eye can see. It was breathtaking. Snow poles marked the edge of the highway for snow plows and the road looked as if it would fall off the edge of the world.

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    The next 7 miles descended the mountain with steep switch-back turns and dropped me back to sea level in just a quick fifteen minute ride. The change of environment was amazing. I went from an arctic wintry terrain to a lush canyon following a river winding along steep rocky cliffs blanketed with emerald moss laden rocks and waterfalls trickling down to the road. It was just as majestic as any fairy tale setting.

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    I came into town and headed to Valdez Glacier Campground. It was a cheap $10/night so I got settled with my site and wandered around the campground. There was a beautiful waterfall close by and nesting bald eagles I could hear from my tent. They were nesting above one of the campsites that were blocked off to not disturb them.

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    I talked to the camp host about trails to the Glacier, and he offered to take me up there tomorrow since the trail was hard to find and follow. I asked if I should worry about bears and my bike overnight. He said the bears recently got into someone’s cooler and he couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t be intrigued by a motorcycle with food in the cases. He let me borrow a blow horn just in case I had a problem.

    It was good to be in the tent again, although sleeping was a bit difficult worrying about bears. Eventually I fell asleep. It was the first time sleeping in my tent in Alaska.