2000 Stories - 20 year old tales of Key West, Maine, and Alaska in y2K

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by MapMaster, Nov 15, 2020.

  1. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Vision Quest & Glacier

    Rather than staying awake and fasting for four days as practiced by some Native American tribes to prompt life guiding hallucinations, the motorcycling equivalent can be induced by riding across the Great Plains for 3 days. Bluffs rising in the distance were gathering and shifting position to channel me along a predestined path to the unknown. Lengthening shadows blacked out the rest of the world and the sliver of sunlight lit the only choice for what life was left of this existence. Sentinels on the rising canyon walls solemnly watched the motorcycle's progress as it gathered speed while time slowed down. Eons old rock layers crumbled and fossilized dinosaurs emerged, gaining form and flesh. Their heads tilted back readying a roar that would engulf the road and me in a silent maelstrom....

    No mushrooms were consumed to provoke the above. Big Sky country demands one's imagination to fill it.
    And I think every serious rider should do that trek at least once, on westward bearing for maximum effect. :deal

    Reality's return saw me camping on the west side of Glacier National Park. I had taken the road around the southern park boundary and the next day, free of luggage, I rose up the Going To The Sun Road and thoroughly enjoyed poking along with my head on a swivel. The road would be an absolute hoot to ride at a spirited pace, but I knew traffic would make that impossible. It was a fantastical day anyway.



    My photo album for the trip includes a lot of postcards. I thought this was one of them, but no. I do get lucky with the lens sometimes:

    Spot the mountain goat:

    There's one:


    Not your typical Goldwing:
    Though made in America, this one had a Japanese plate. I didn't meet the rider to find out how he had transported it, but it was a novelty to see labels printed with Japanese characters overlaying the engraved English lettering on the brake and clutch reservoirs.


  2. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Splashing North
    2 days to reach Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaskan Hwy.

    Motorcycle characters:
    I met myriad motorcyclists over the miles of meandering, with many mirthful moments. Though some claims of doubtful truthfulness may have been mouthed. :evil

    A fellow VFR rider in Glacier NP was on a family vacation. His wife was driving the camper truck with the kids. Now THAT's a way of doing it that most of us mere mortals would never be able to pull off!

    A CBR600 rider who had recently relocated to Grande Cache bemoaned the loss of power at elevation. Said he couldn't pull wheelies through 5 gears like he could at lower elevation. Could barely manage one in first gear now.

    Chatted with a Florida fellow on a repurposed Harley police bike while we were waiting for a pilot truck to lead us through a 20 mile construction zone. He was an older guy who worked a providing flowers to cruise ships. He was travelling from from Vancouver to Halifax and then Florida before returning to Vancouver. He expected to be on the road for six weeks.

    I'd certainly ridden the VFR though a bit of gravel over the years, but I was street rider. I recorded the following in my journal regarding that initial 20 mile construction stretch:
    Loose grip on the handlebars
    More speed

    By the time this trip was over, I had added over 400 miles of often intense gravel road riding experience. It effected quite a transformation. Much later in the trip I was looping around a gravel parking lot and spun the rear wheel a bit. It was a ho-hum moment and I didn't even blink. The VFR does okay on gravel as long as it's not too deep. However, as I would learn first hand, it's a lousy mudder and absolutely sucks on sand.

    A map error in led to the first of the gnarly gravel segments, a 50 mile stretch that started out fine, but gradually deteriorated to heavy washboards, deep ruts, and really loose stuff in the turns. The hand painted sign for route 517 that I took was a warning that I did not heed. Not fun at all, but it led me to the Kananaskis mountain region (K-country is how the locals referred to it) where I picked up paved roads and great views.



    The K-country bighorn boys:
    It wasn't mating season so no head-butting happened.

    I had ventured in that direction to avoid Calgary on the way to Banff where I camped for the night. I was keenly anticipating the Icefields Parkway the next day which turned out to be:

    Cold :vardy
    Posilutely and absotively beautiful!

    Hey girls! The boys are looking for you further south:



    I camera stalked this ginormous Elk, wanting to get a picture of it with its head up. He raised it twice for only seconds during 15 minutes of gorging great gobs of green grass and I missed it both times. So finally I just stood with my eye glued to the viewfinder and waited.

    Bagged it!

    Saw a sign for Valhalla north of Grande Prairie - Bryen could ride his Valkyrie there, a homecoming for Grendel's Momma. :D

    I'd had rain most of the day, but it finally dried out after I cleared Grande Cache.
    I was quite happy to miss this massive cloud and made it to Dawson Creek for the night without further moisture molestation:
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  3. Ladybug

    Ladybug Bug Sister Supporter

    Nov 6, 2005
    Spokane Valley, WA (the dry side of the mountains)
    WOW - getting the shot of the Elk took a lot of patience and it turned out great.
    MapMaster likes this.
  4. vt700guy

    vt700guy Been here awhile

    Jun 25, 2017
    NW Oklahoma
    Love the report so far.
    MapMaster likes this.
  5. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    The AlCan - Bullwinkle's Charge

    Also known as the Alaska Highway, Alaskan Highway, or Alaska-Canadian Highway. All the signage says Alaska Highway, but I picked up AlCan from some long ago history reading and being a properly rebellious motorcycle guy I refuse to bow to convention.

    Just getting to the start of it felt like I'd completed a major trip.
    (:doh It was only 3,950 miles to get here. :lol3)

    Got both milepost 0 signs.
    The tourist edition:

    And the real one downtown :deal:

    Saw five large black bear along the road the first day. It’s summertime and the living is easy for bears right now. All of the ones I saw were sitting in the cleared stretch between the road and the woods munching away. I couldn’t really tell what they were eating, but there must have been a lot of it around. I watched one for about fifteen minutes and it never got up. It was getting covered with dandelion fuzz and occasionally shook itself like a wet dog generating a miniature snow storm around it.


    Toad River was the night's camping spot and I had a beautiful lakeside setting. There were three cow moose around the small beaver pond lake in the evening. One of the staff said that the bull moose would often hang out in the corner of the lake nearest my tent site.

    One of the harem:


    In the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of a very large body slowly lumbering right past my tent. The site was closely bounded by heavy brush, so there wasn't more than a 3 foot gap for him (I assume) to get by. Had the nylon not been there, I could have reached out tickled a 'knee'. (I was about to say 'private parts', but my arms are not that long. :lol3)

    Eventually Bullwinkle moseyed beyond (it took a while, I think he was browsing) and I shifted in the sleeping bag. That spooked him into a thundering charge back past the tent and a big splash into the lake.

    Freight trains may be louder, but I've never been lying down next to the track when one has gone by.
    Animals are generally intelligent enough to avoid large boulder like humps while running, they don't know that it's nylon that would 'squish like grape', but that was not part of my analytical thinking at the moment.
    Fifteen hundred pounds of ungulate slamming hooves into the ground a couple feet from one's head is NOT a pleasant experience. Trust me on this one. :deal
  6. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    The AlCan - Beary Tales

    Disclaimer and shameless plug:
    Parts of following will be familiar to those who've read the Beary Tales collection that I posted earlier this year. You'll have to bear with the redundancy. :D
    For others, that thread stitches the stories together out of the actual sequence, has more general bear info, and includes greater elaboration of my appreciation and respect for them. So please do check it out if you're finding my word-smithing to be of some interest.

    Wildlife and scenery are plentiful up north. A frequent opinion offered up in Alaska trip planning threads is a preference for the Cassiar Highway, claiming that it has better scenery. Going through the pictures of this trip, I'd have to say otherwise. It is beautiful along both routes. I think the Alcan suffers in some minds because it's longer and certainly has more stretches of less dramatic countryside. But I think the total amount of "WOW!" is actually a bit better on the AlCan.

    Different day, different sheep. These are Stone Sheep slightly smaller and have more turned out horns than their big horn cousins. Stone Sheep and Dall sheep are sub-species of a separate group called thinhorn sheep appropriately enough.

    I have this in my journal as Folded Mountain, but don't remember if that's it actual name or just what I called it for obvious reasons:

    Muncho Lake - beautiful view, terrible mosquitoes!

    Another flock of Stoners: :bmwrider


    The two bear sightings today garnered a story each, but no pictures.

    Bear Number 1
    I had just passed a pickup and was gaining on an RV ahead of me. As I crested a slight rise in the road, I saw an SUV in a pull-off area on the left and an unfolding tableau. A man was backing out from the tree line at the far side of the parking area. He was holding a leafy branch with his arms stretched out in front and a black bear was following him out of the woods! :yikes
    I hit the brakes but was too far along to make the first entrance and aimed for the second one.

    I didn’t have a clue about what exactly I could do, but I was willing to attempt something to distract it. Fortunately, half-formulated plans of roosting past a mauling bear while blasting the horn were rendered moot by the pickup I had just passed and an oncoming van. They both pulled in and I saw the potential maulee make it back inside of his vehicle.

    In retrospect, it seems that the bear was just looking for a handout. If the bear had been charging, an entirely different and unpleasant result would have occurred.
    The one detail that didn't fully register until I thought back over the scene was that the man was showing a lot of butt crack. His shorts were about at half mast. :-)

    The moral of the story is: Yes bears do shit in the woods, so before you do, make sure they aren’t. :deal
    The next time that guy had to stop along the road, I’ll bet he answered nature’s call from right beside his car. And I’ll bet that it was a very long time before he had to stop again. :lol3

    After that bit of excitement, I stopped at Liard Hot Springs for a soak. My first experience in a hot spring and it was maaaaarvelous! (Hot springs became a frequent target as the trip went on.)

    The picture is of the Beta Pool which was closed down in 2013 because of bear activity.

    But the Alpha pool has been developed very nicely. This pic is from my 2015 ride:

    As I was gearing up to leave from there I chatted with Peter, a KLR rider from Seattle, who had pulled in for a quick look and headed out before me.

    Bear number 2
    Back on the road, I soon found Peter stopped on the right shoulder straddling his KLR and taking pictures of another black bear in the clear cut area off of the left shoulder. An oncoming van had pulled off to the left to gawk also. I pulled up beside Peter and realized that this bear was not sitting in the field munching away like most of the other ones I’d seen. It was slowly but steadily ambling towards the roadway. I voiced my unease at the situation and suggested that hanging around this close didn’t seem like a very good idea. Then I followed my own advice and pulled away, observing subsequent events in my mirror.
    The bear walked to the van and then right past the back of it out onto the road heading towards Peter who had been calmly stowing his camera. Then he realized just how close the bear was getting, and some frantic clutch grabbing and throttle twisting followed with a fishtailing rear wheel and ejected gravel in his wake. Leaving another disappointed handout-seeking black bear behind. :(:

    The Signpost Forest at Watson Lake:

    Another shot from 2015 documents the yearly growth:
    44,000 in 2000, 78,000 in 2013.
    Apparently they hadn't gotten around to putting up a 2014 sign count sign. Slackers! :wink:
    BigDogRaven, TaMPerer and Ladybug like this.
  7. BoyBlueRider

    BoyBlueRider n00b

    Feb 7, 2018
    NE Oklahoma
    Subscribed: MapMaster, I'm thoroughly enjoying your storylines and proficiency with prose. Please keep it up - I can hardly stand the wait for the next installment.
    MapMaster likes this.
  8. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Alcan Pub Joke Setup and Prophecy

    A Scotsman, English bloke, Irish fellow, and Alaskan walk into a bar...

    My twin!

    A most eclectic group of southbound riders stopped at the Rancheria complex where I was tenting for the night. (Another of the gas station/store/bar/restaurant/motel/campground et al complexes that dot the highway. If they don't have it, you don't need it. :deal)

    Neil - Scottish: on his VFR flown over for the ride.
    Collin - English: currently working in Miami, riding a Triumph.
    Paul - vacationing Irish on a Buell purchased for this trip.
    Ben - BMW mounted Fairbanks resident.

    I joined them for dinner and it was great conversation, I was laughing most of the time.
    The European contingent used to work together and this trip was a bachelor outing to finish in Vancouver for Paul's wedding. Ben had joined up with them on the day's ride.

    Neil's VFR was the European match of mine, except he had double the miles of mine (and I was at 45,000 at that point). He extolled the benefit of a Scott-oiler (naturally :D) and I ended up getting one after this trip was done. I highly recommend it, I've gotten over 40k out all my subsequent chains on old Red.

    Collin was the quiet one of this group - at least I didn't jot down any of his particulars.

    Paul's tale of the trials and tribulations involved with riding the Buell had me howling. He'd become acquainted with every Harley dealership in Alaska and western Canada. I think there were three different weld repairs to the frame and exhaust mounting at that point. The incredible part was that he was going to take his wife two-up on the bike for further travels for the honeymoon! Married for life, or divorced in two weeks; I'd hate to give odds for either outcome. :lol3

    I had told them of my plans for the Arctic Circle. As they were getting ready to depart, Ben looked at my bike and said that if it rained, I wouldn't want to be on that road with those tires. How true those words would prove to be!
  9. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    AlCan Contrasts

    Not much in the way of pictures for the third day on the AlCan getting to Alaska, but several tales to compensate.

    Kulane mountains:

    The first two stories for the day deal with disappointing encounters. I usually avoid any bitching or negative commentary in ride reports for several reasons. I don't like negativity in general or listening to others bitch in particular, and being fortunate enough to go on lengthy motorcycle rides is a huge boost to my normally positive attitude, so I rarely get pissed off on a trip in the first place. The contrast of these two events remind me again of how good the trip was, so I decided to include them.

    #1 - Friendly, but worn out:
    I stopped for coffee and chatted with the lady at a place near Koidern. Nice old gal, she’d been there for thirty-one years and is ready to retire. I forget what model it was, but they had a big RV parked out front with a huge lemon sign on it. Not too pleased with their experiences in it I’d say. Nice as the lady was, this was one of the few places that I stopped at that looked old, dirty, and worn out; really gone to seed. Every other place, old or not, was usually very clean and functional at least. Many were very nicely decorated, not posh but obviously well tended.

    #2 - Mushroom Lady
    The vast majority of the people living and working along the route have been very friendly and helpful, it not quite as knowledgeable about the road as they think. The flag lady at the last active construction zone I hit today was a notable exception to the pleasant demeanor of the populace. Unlike every other road work stop I'd made, she didn’t wave me to the front of the queue. I pulled up anyway to find out what was going on up ahead and once I could tear her away from complaining about life to a pickup driver, all I could get from her was a lot of pissing and moaning about how she didn’t know anything because they didn’t tell her anything. Mushroom lady (in the dark and feeding on manure) didn’t know how long the construction zone was, or how long the wait for the pilot truck would be. I guess the thought of checking her watch occasionally never occurred to her. I hope she lived alone, I'd hate to think someone else was so miserable that they had to put up with her.

    #3 - Not my first choice for riding partner:
    Paul, a BMW rider from New York, was the first of several riders that I would share road time with under varying circumstances during the trip. I saw a motorcycle parked behind a tractor-trailer rig in front of a Beaver Creek restaurant that I chose for a dinner stop. I surmised that the rider was one of the chaps sitting in the RCMP patrol car just behind the bike. After a so-so buffalo burger I started updating the journal when Paul finally came in. We introduced ourselves and he filled me in on the details of the lengthy conversation he'd had with the police. It seems that the tractor-trailer driver had committed some serious mayhem earlier, blasting past him in the construction zone with no warning, slinging rocks and gravel in the air and forcing him to the side and nearly off the road. Paul took exception to this behavior and gave chase. Eventually the truck stopped out front and Paul pulled up, got off his bike and after some heated words, attempted to visit great bodily harm upon the trucker. At this point the Mounties were summoned and order was restored. The police were willing to bust the trucker, but it would require Paul to remain in the area for awhile to press charges while at the same time he would have to face an assault charge in return. So in the end, no one was fined and everyone left unhappy.

    Paul was heading for Fairbanks that night and mentioned that he was getting a bit worried about his rear tire. The tire wasn’t just bald, it was worn down to the steel cords leaving about an inch wide band of frayed wires showing in the center. :yikes
    When I saw its condition I offered to escort him as far as the border to provide assistance if the tire failed (I had plans for the border crossing that would hold me up for a bit). I suggested that he settle for Tok, about fifty miles away, because I didn’t think his tire would last the extra two hundred miles to Fairbanks (actually, I couldn’t understand why the tire wasn’t flat already).

    We headed out with him in the lead. His technique for the frequent gravel patches was interesting to say the least. Without slowing down all that much, he would throw both legs as outriggers, not dragging his feet, but to be ready if needed. This was a highly questionable behavior in my mind for contributing to the control of a 600 pound motorcycle.

    Paul and I exchanged addresses and parted at the U.S. Customs station. He was continuing on and I was going to wait around about an hour to try to get a picture of the “Welcome to Alaska” sign at midnight. I got in touch with him after the trip to find out if the tire made it. I still don’t believe it, but he successfully nursed that tire all night and reached the BMW dealer in Fairbanks the next morning.

    #4 - Alaska at last:
    After killing some time talking to the customs agents, I went a few miles back to the welcome sign to take a couple shots of it and the bike. With a longish exposure I got a natural light picture that may not be the sharpest image ever recorded, but works for me. I couldn’t wait until exactly midnight because the mosquitoes were too thick. Even with bug spray and leaving the full riding suit on, they were buzzing in front of the helmet so bad that opening the visor long enough to snap the picture was torment. I rationalized that since there was a time zone change involved, it was already after midnight on the Canadian side, so 11:45 p.m. on the Alaskan side was close enough. :deal
    To be precise, the picture was taken from Canadian territory at 00:45 a.m. PST, July 14, 2001:

    I headed towards Tok (pronounced toke :bmwrider, the naming story I like best is that it came from a dog that was a mascot of an engineering unit building of the AlCan). The light conditions put quite a strain on my eyes and I found myself getting too tired to make it that far. It was a sustained twilight, dark enough to want headlights on, but too light for them to do much good. I pulled over into a parking area and after making sure there were no bear-attracting garbage cans around, set up the tent (while still wearing the riding suit and helmet!) and sacked out right there. You can camp anywhere on public land in Alaska where it’s not specifically proscribed.
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  10. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    End of The AlCan

    The sign for the end of the AlCan highway was not very prominent and I would have missed it if two Harley cruisers hadn't been parked there. As I pulled in behind them I was puzzled by their license plates for a moment. There was a map outline that reminded me a bit of South Carolina, but it wasn't right and I knew SC didn't have a motorcycle plate like that. (In the days of old, there weren't 57 varieties of plates in every state for each class of vehicle.) Once stopped I could read "Honduras", how cool!
    It was a married couple, each on their own bike and we had a good chat. I didn't remember names, but the details of their trip involved shipping the bikes to Los Angeles and riding up from there. They said they didn't want to ride through Mexico because they didn't think it was safe to do so. Well that ended the internal debate I'd been having about whether I would dip south of the border when I got down to the area. It was a possibility, but I was still undecided. The trip was open ended, but I didn't have any "must see" destinations in mind. I figured I'd see how I was feeling when I got to California after two months on the road and decide then. But if native Honduran's weren't going there, I didn't need to.

    I was impressed by their effort, these were not touring bikes and they looked uncomfortable as hell to me.

    Not that I had any apparent qualifications to make such a judgement.
    During the entire time up north, the most common question/comment I got, from both riders and non-riders alike, was that VFR didn't look very comfortable. The stock reply for most of the trip was, "My lazy-boy is certainly more comfortable, but it doesn't go anywhere." I switched it up after a while and started responding, "It's like downhill skiing, if you're looking for comfort, you're doing it wrong."

    After swapping cameras and shifting bikes we each had the appropriate pictures:

    I'm trying to figure out what "corner" to call it :photog

    Fifteen years on there was a small park, displays, a full blown tourist information center, and the correct name of the road:

    There are also life-sized statues of the state bird at the endpoint now: :evil

    I headed on to Fairbanks for the "night". It was well past the summer solstice, but still wasn't getting very dark this far north. I was studying the map in the tent at midnight to evaluate options (Clare was due into Anchorage in a few days), and I didn't need a flashlight.
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  11. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Denali Show - Part 1

    I headed south on the Parks Highway to visit Denali National Park. Near Nenana, I had a brief, distant, beautiful view of a sunlit Mt. McKinley (that's what the map said then), and I anticipated stopping for a picture the next time it came into view. That never happened, it turned into David Copperfield and disappeared, never to be seen by me again, and I was in the state for three more weeks!

    Happily that was just the opening act of a spectacularly magical show.

    Though I could have done without the jostling I had to endure getting to my seat. Closer to the park, in the Nenana Gorge, the road crosses the river over what's known as the 'windy' bridge. There were warning signs about high winds, but what really grabbed my attention was a wind sock mounted on the bridge that was fully horizontal at a 45 degree angle across the road. I approached VERY slowly and was still almost knocked over when it hit me. I had to 'walk' the bike across using my legs to brace against the stronger gusts. :knary

    I reached the park early enough to book a seat on the evening bus ride to the Polychrome overlook and back, about halfway along the 90 mile road that goes into the park.

    One landscape photo in this post, the rest will be critter pics.

    I'll put the other scenery shots in the next post.

    I went and stood at the pickup area early, so that when the bus came I grabbed the front left seat and had a clear view of the magic that unfolded. We saw an amazing variety of critters;

    Arctic ground squirrels

    A red fox at a distance and on the return, two fox kits up close, all at the Savage River bridge, their den was under the bridge.

    Caribou, one was scratching its hind leg with its antlers, or scratching its antlers with its hind leg, in either case it looked like its rear hoof was in its ear.

    Ptarmigans, which are Alaska’s state bird. They look a lot like chickens, but in the winter they turn pure white.

    Snowshoe hares

    Grizzlies - two males, one far and one near, the near one was a big bruiser and almost pure white from being bleached by the sun. They refer to them as Toklat Grizzlies. Just after the second boar we saw a sow with a cub. The cub was cute and romping around, momma kept looking back at the big male we had just left.


    Two wolves! (Unusual to see them at that time.) This was on the return leg, they were at the near end of a bridge as we came around a bend. They ended up walking towards us one at a time and went pass the right side of the bus. The second one came down the left side of the road and then crossed right in front of me.

    Wolf #1


    Bull moose in velvet.


    A cow moose and calf, the baby looked like a jackass to me.
    Golden eagle, struggling against the wind, reminded me of my earlier fight on the bridge in the gorge.

    Jeremy was our bus driver and he did a great job filling us in on the details of the wildlife and told many amusing stories of his Alaska adventures.
    Most of the landscape along the road was massive tundra fields, comprised mostly of blueberry bushes.

    The only thing that normally frequents the area that we missed was Dall sheep. We discussed marmots and lynx. Marmots are often seen, but in an area we didn’t reach. One of the drivers in the park has been there for sixteen years and has seen a grand total of six lynx. A rare sight indeed. No wolverines spotted either, they are also rarely seen.
    BigDogRaven likes this.
  12. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Denali Show - Part 2

    The scenery was spectacular even if McKinley did not fully show itself. We caught a glimpse of one shoulder of the mountain. The setting sun behind the mountains and clouds provided a beautiful light show. The overlook at Polychrome encompassed rich greens in the valley (all tundra, no trees at that point), gray gravel stream beds, glaciers and snow with patches covered by black grit, dark distant mountains, and the browns/reds/tans of the bare near slopes that give the area its name.




    We gained almost 2,000 feet in elevation (1,800 at visitor center, 3,700 at Polychrome) and it got noticeably cooler.
    Jemery referred to this as 'Indian snow'...

    Apache here, Apache there. :dirtdog :lol3




    We got back to a darkened visitor center around midnight. I left the park and made it to Beyers Lake campground at about 2:00 am worried about my gas supply. It still was not completely dark, but it was noticeable darker than the previous night in Fairbanks.

    A magical day!
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  13. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Denali Postscript:

    Denali tried to huddle under the covers the whole time I was there in 2015 as well, but I managed to get some great views when I rode the TAT around it. :deal



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  14. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Running on Empty

    "I ran out of gas twice once."
    "I ran out of gas once twice."

    Either works.
    This is what happens when you empty the tank in the first place and then get enough go-juice to ease on down the road another twenty miles, when the next gas station is still a dozen miles further on.
    One of those tales that are much better in the telling than the acquisition.

    Obviously it was raining, hard (the camera stayed tucked away all day, verbal pictures only for this tale). The only exception to bad weather in this state is when you're in the middle of a plague of biblical proportions (locusts or or mosquitoes - take your pick).

    The gas stations that I passed last night after leaving Denali were closed. The only fuel location the AAA map showed that I could reach from the campground now was ten miles back up the road. When I passed it there was a chain stretched across the entrances, which portended more than just a nightly closing to me. I was unsuccessful in the attempt to get some gas from any of the campers, but the campground host said that station was open last Tuesday, so I shelved my reservations and headed north in the rain. No luck, the lot was still chained off and no one was about. As much as I regretted wasting the time and gas on this detour, it did provide me with a memorable sight. As I was turning around to head back, a wolf appeared on the side of the road right in front of me. Its rain-soaked matted fur and gaunt appearance were a far cry from the normal depictions of these creatures, but the look in its eyes as it stared at me for a few seconds conveyed an alien strangeness that awed me. I assume that it came the conclusion that I wasn't food, or a major threat. It just turned around and disappeared back into the woods.

    Having spent extra gas that I didn’t have on this detour, I made it about eight miles south of the campground before the inevitable happened. Being stranded at the side of the road in the rain doesn’t make my top ten list of enjoyable ways to kill time, but I wasn't miserable, just annoyed. I wasn’t under any time pressure yet as far as getting to Anchorage, and I assumed someone would be along eventually. Assistance arrived after about twenty minutes, but some relativistic effects that Einstein never explained become manifest under these conditions, so it seemed like three hours. Three northbound riders stopped and one of them had a half-gallon jug of Rescue, a petroleum derivative intended for immediate use after running out of gas. It needs an already hot engine and mine was just warm enough for it to catch, but it did not run smoothly at all. Instead of nursing that half gallon for all I could, I had to rev the engine hard to keep it from stalling.

    So I assumed the position on the side of the road a second time. A family from the campground pulled up. I had asked them about gas earlier, so they knew that I hadn’t stopped to add my contribution to the soaking of the landscape. They gave me a lift to the next station and when no one around was heading north, took me back to the bike. I had kept the empty Rescue bottle for use as a gas can and knew I could make it back to the station easily with a half gallon of the real stuff.

    After reaching the station again, it was time to eat and dry out.
    I had an audience as the layers were shed. After the rain jacket, helmet, suit, sweater and heated vest had come off, I looked at the matronly lady taking in the performance and said, "You can relax, that's as far as I'm going." She laughed.

    It was too late for breakfast (as in they weren't serving it, I can eat bacon and eggs anytime :dukegirl). I settled for a burger and lots of coffee. Perusing the shop while killing time in the forlorn hope that things might become less wet.

    I saw a bear safety notice warning hikers to wear little bells to avoid surprising bears and providing information on how to identify bear scat. Black bear scat has seeds and berries in it. Grizzly bear scat has seeds and berries and little bells in it.

    Eventual I squelched down the road a bit further and turned a motel room into a refugee camp for the night. Anchorage tomorrow to meet Clare would be an easy reach.
    "Northern Exposure" plot lines that I heard today:
    "Shoot at the girl while she’s in the outhouse." :eek7
    A tourist’s jaguar was stolen by a local hoodlum. It didn’t take long to recover. :deal
    A guy trying to impress a girl by claiming to be a spy: “I did really well at CIA’s sneak school.” :fpalm
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  15. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    An Alaskan Experience

    After fifty-eight hundred miles in sixteen days, I didn't mind a hotel stay loafing around Anchorage for a few days while Clare worked.
    I met T and Tommy and replaced the chain on the bike, we checked out some local spots in the evenings and made travel plans for the weekend. We decided a car rental would be more effective than riding two up.

    Clare decided that she could live in that house:

    Purple pine cones:

    Caught a beautiful sunset:

    We set out Friday morning with great expectations for an adventurous day of wildlife observations and spectacular scenery seeing. We were bound for Seward where we would enlist for an eight hour cruise aboard one of the many tourist boats plying the waters around Kenai Fjords National Park. Those expectations turned out to be all wet. We were dunked into a day deluged with road delays, dashed by rough seas, drenched by near continuous rain, dampened by the lack of anything even remotely resembling sunlight – in a land noted for exceptionally long summer days - and doused with the misery of a boat load of sea-sick passengers. Other than that – it wasn’t a too bad, at least we weren’t devoured by mosquitoes.

    The 120 mile trip took over three hours due to construction. The car was definitely the right choice as navigating some of the work zone stretches on the bike would have been extremely sketchy. Russ, a coworker of Clare's and local resident had told her that Dall sheep and mountain goats were frequently seen along the road, especially in the vicinity of Girdwood, so she was quite keen and equally disappointed as we passed through the area and saw nothing but rain on either leg of the trip. The countryside and views of the Cook Inlet were nice, but the area's beauty was muted by the dreary weather that dogged us the whole day. We made it to Seward in time for our voyage, but the uninspiring start to the day was not going to improve much.

    There are several outfits offering day and half-day trips out of Seward to Kenai Fjords as well as others based in Whittier cruising in Prince William Sound. Sifting through all of the brochures, I settled on an all day (eight hour) trip to Kenai Fjords National Park with Major Marine Tours because it seemed to cover the greatest area, out around a peninsula to the Holgate Glacier. The trip also included a Park Service Guide to provide narrative and an all you could eat salmon and prime rib buffet. A disclaimer stating that there were no guarantees of seeing any wildlife was understandable, but otters and puffins could be expected and harbor seals, whales and many other birds hoped for. My thinking was that seeing more was good, the potential consequences of being on the water longer were not considered. In other words, I suffered a complete brain cramp. :doh
    Clare and I had been on multiple ferry trips across the English Channel and the Irish Sea and it was rough sailing every time. I think Neptunus Rex is still getting even with me, trying to balance out all of the smooth riding I did below the ocean's surface on submarines in the Navy, by making all my time on top of the waves unsettling. :uhoh

    We did see some noteworthy sights. Bald eagles were observed before we were underway, very wet and dejected looking bald eagles, roosting on pilings in the harbor, they appeared to be wishing earnestly for the weather to improve.

    Moving out of the marina, we saw a yacht that reportedly belonged to Mel Gibson. It was a clean looking ship with a helicopter perched on the stern. Supposedly a limo was sent ashore the previous day.

    We also saw several sea otters while still in the calm harbor waters. As Clare would put it, "They're so cuuuuuute!"

    As we moved out into more exposed waters, the wind and waves picked up and the boat started pitching and rolling exuberantly. Clare asked the Park Ranger if it was usually this rough, he replied, “sometimes it is worse!”

    Puffins and sooty terns were also seen and that was about it for critter spotting.
    It was interesting watching the terns skim along inches above the waves, making use of them to ease their flying, but I couldn't watch them for long without having the wave action the boat was going through seem magnified. Puffins on the other hand, had to beat their wings furiously to achieve level flight about five feet above the surface.

    A malevolent gaze:

    It wasn't long before most of the eighty-odd passengers aboard were feeling a touch of the old mal de mer.
    That's when my thinking changed from anticipation of sights still to be seen to the dreadful realization that we had to put up with six more hours of this! Space at the railings would've have been at a premium, but once relieved of whatever their morning meal was, most got back under shelter from the rain and spray. I was definitely green in the gills, but managed to hold onto my breakfast. Clare's stomach was stronger than mine and she didn't suffer much until the return trip. For some however, it was far too much.

    I believe the claim that no one has ever passed away from sea-sickness to be true; that's because it's so miserable you have to get better to be able to die. Two ladies were suffering badly enough that the captain was going to put about and head home early. One girl was eight months pregnant and a nurse on board was getting concerned for her welfare. The other hard hit victim was an elderly lady with diabetes. Fortunately (?!?) a Coast Guard cutter was in the area and the skipper arranged to transfer these ladies and their husbands over to it. We lay to in a sheltered cove and soon the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mustang appeared through the mist. The cutter wasn't that much bigger than our boat, so it was going to be buffeted by the seas also, the crucial difference was that at thirty knots, they'd be back in the harbor in less than half the time.


    With the rescue complete, we finished our trip to the Holgate Glacier and saw a couple of small ice avalanches, but no massive chunks calved while we were there.


    After hanging about for a half an hour, we started the return leg and soon hove too to serve dinner. :dukegirl
    While many wanted no parts of any food, most tried to eat something. I knew from past experience that I handle rough water better with a full stomach, so I loaded up, Clare also ate well. We both managed to doze a bit until we hit the open seas again. After that we held onto to railings under cover outside for the fresh air and tried to stay warm. As we returned to our mooring, the captain made a final announcement on the PA system. He knew that not many had enjoyed the voyage and that a standard, 'We hope you've had a great day and we look forward to seeing you again' spiel just wasn't going to fly, so with a masterful understatement that made me laugh out loud, he merely said, "You've just had an Alaskan experience!" :photog
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  16. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Where do bears go when there are no woods?

    Pay attention boy & girls, there will be a quiz at the end of this tale.

    Having thoroughly enjoyed the experience in Denali last week, it took no effort at all to convince Clare to go for it as well, so we drove up Saturday and I sucked it up and suffered through a repeat performance. :evil

    The bus trip this time was just as fantastic. No wolves this time, but plenty of other action on the critter front. With the same schedule as last week in effect, Jeremy was the driver again and we settled into the primo front box (well worth starting the boarding line 90+ minutes in advance).
    Caribou led off the show:

    And then fox kits from the same den I saw last week appeared by their bridge, noticeably bigger than last week:

    Dall sheep in the distance, moose, male grizzlies, hares and picas all played their parts against a backdrop that included a double rainbow and a gorgeous sunset. The stars of this show turned up at the end of the first act and they put on quite the performance at the end of the outbound leg. Jeremy paused at the Polychrome rest area and asked if anyone wanted off at that time, he was going to take the bus just up the road to a turn-around point and stop back at the rest area for a ten minute break. We all wisely decided to stay on board, not wanting to take a chance at missing anything up ahead. We went about a quarter mile further and as we rounded the last bend we came face-to-face with Momma Brown and the Two Cubs. They were right in the middle of the road, bearly twenty-five yards in front of us! :wink:


    A bit of historical background will aid in comprehending what transpired next.

    There was no road access of any kind in the region when McKinley National Park was established in 1917 (the park name change to Denali was in 1980, the USGS changed Mt. McKinley to Denali in 2015 - the mountain had always been Denali to the state of Alaska). The railroad reached the park entrance in 1922 and a road into the park to Kantishna was built in stages from 1923 to 1938 (Kantishna was established in 1905 as a mining camp, and to this day there are still private land holdings there.) The possibility of tourists driving personal vehicles to the park didn't exist until the McKinley (now Denali) Highway reached the park from the east in 1957. This was a 135 mile gravel/dirt road that permitted some adventurers to drive (and ride :ricky) to the park, but the traffic volume was understandably small. That would change in 1971 when the Parks Highway, linking Anchorage and Fairbanks directly, was completed. An increase in traffic that would degrade the park experience was foreseen and in 1972 private traffic was banned beyond the Savage river crossing, 15 miles into the park; and there are limits on the number of trips allowed for permitted vehicles (buses, other park vehicles, and Kantishna residents). Since then generations of bears and other wildlife have lived out their lives near the road, unmolested and unfed by what little traffic there is.

    So when Jeremy stopped the big yellow bus, momma bear paid us little heed. She gave us a glance and then nonchalantly ambled over to the side of the road and went over the downhill edge into the brush. The kids hung back a bit, not quite sure what to make of the monstrosity in their midst, but seeing that mom was not particularly fussed, they followed in her wake.


    The calmness exhibited outside the bus was the polar opposite of the pandamonium within. Faces lit up like the sun and if any black moods were present they were lifted by the spectacle before us. Everyone crowded the left hand windows, cameras were clicking, and the bus gained a five degree list to port as we watched their progress.

    They disappeared into the brush, but soon surfaced behind us, climbing back into the road to continue their stroll.

    Jeremy changed the bus's bearing and followed at a sloth-like pace, maintaining a mandated separation about fifty yards behind them.



    Momma let the cubs take the lead and after a look back that seemed intended to make sure we were keeping our distance; paused, squatted, and proved - right there in the middle of the road - that bears don’t just do it in the woods. The resulting picture, enlarged and framed, now hangs proudly in my bathroom.


    Eventually they exited stage left:

    Pics of the ride out in the next post.
    Quiz time: How many of the eight species of bears did you spot in the narrative? :y0!
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  17. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    We had to put up with annoying vistas, rainbows, and sunsets on the way back:





    The bus ride finished after midnight. Jeremy was questioned about why he was out so late by one of the rangers and said that ‘some things had come up’. Clare and I made it back to Anchorage around 4:00 a.m. A long and exhausting weekend, but well worth it.
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  18. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Gadding around Alaska

    The next major stories are about riding the Haul Road, aka The Dalton, aka AK route 11; to the Arctic Circle and back. While the stories are what this retrospective ride report is all about, continuity would suffer if I skipped all of the intervening bits and a few interesting pictures would fall by the wayside as well. So I'll provide an overall chronology for the next ten days or so now before entabulating elaborate explanations of ensuing events in this entertainment. :evil

    Clare flew out on Sunday and I shifted my base of operations to T and Tommy's place. Their generosity and hospitality were an immense contribution to my further explorations of the state. In gratitude I helped them split their winter wood supply (I managed to assist with the first four of seven cords before the back said "no more") and then treated them to a nice dinner.

    The forecast for Monday sucked for riding, so I checked out the Alaska Heritage Center in Anchorage. It was a very enjoyable visit, and I learned many facets of Native American culture. They had an exhibit of the types of boats used by the different groups under construction; hollowed cedar logs, bark canoes, skinned kayaks, and larger umiaks. The umiak was twenty-seven feet long and I was impressed that nineteen feet of it was covered by one walrus skin. The hide had been butterflied to double the area it would cover.

    Cedar wood smells good:

    Tuesday I looped out to the Arctic Circle and came back via Valdez, checking out the Iditarod Race headquarters in Wasilla and putting my feet on a glacier for the first time in the process.

    Mush puppies:

    Worthington Glacier on the Richardson Highway north of Valdez:


    A little further south on the Richardson:

    Also south of Thompson Pass on the Richardson:

    I was back in Anchorage on Sunday and spent the day patching holes in my saddlebags and going to an airshow with T and Tommy and friends. The Blue Angels were featured, but one of their planes or pilots, was OOC and while seeing only 5 in the air was unique, the performance was a bit ragged.



    Looped out to Homer on Monday and was back Tuesday, with a few tales to relate in a separate post on that leg.

    The Homer hop exhausted the tires so I got them changed during the last Anchorage layover.
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  19. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    To the Arctic Circle

    Two days out of Anchorage on the first loop I reached Fairbanks in the late afternoon. I tried to contact Ben, the BMW rider I met on the AlCan coming up, to see what he thought of the current forecast and with the hope that he'd want to ride up with me to the Circle the next day. But my carrier pigeon had bolted after the first wolf sighting, I couldn't find the telegraph office, and he didn't respond to my smoke signals. The weather was clear at the moment and after some internal debate, l decided to head for the Arctic Circle this evening.

    The Dalton crosses the Arctic Circle 60 miles north of the Yukon River crossing. All told the round trip from Fairbanks to the Circle was 380 miles with the pavement ending 40 miles north of Fairbanks, the rest was well graded gravel and dirt.
    They would start chip sealing the road the next year. :dirtdog

    I hoped to meet up with another rider along the way. This was one section of the trip that I would have welcomed some company. Run off the side of the road up there and you might not be found until the vultures are spotted circling your carcass after the winter melt-off. :p3rry

    When the pavement ran out, I slowed down appropriately and plodded along at about 30-35 mph. The road was OK, the gravel wasn’t too loose or deep, so my speed was limited more by how much abuse I wanted to subject myself and the bike to from the pounding delivered by the bumps in the road. Not too far from the start of the Haul road proper, I saw another rider in a pullout area cooking a meal. I stopped and met Ed, a recent high school graduate from Michigan, out on the grand tour in a style I found refreshing. Like me, he was camping, but he wasn’t bothering with campground fees, any likely spot off the side of the road would do. He had a fishing pole that had seen a lot of good use, “License, we don’t need no stinking license!”. :evil

    His bike was a perfect choice, a 1978 Suzuki GS550, in-line four cylinder, standard style cycle. The very essence of the UJM (universal Japanese Motorcycle).
    To be kind, it had seen a lot of hard use and abuse.
    To be honest, I hadn’t seen a ‘rat bike’ that "good" in over fifteen years. If it ever expired, he could leave it dead on the side of the road and not be out more than $400. Ed had a much newer sport motorcycle at home, but it wasn’t nearly as practical for this trip as the used beater he was on. All of the extra weight from the gear and a six gallon gas can strapped to the back had an additional benefit in that it lightened the front end which, along with his dirt bike and racing experience, made handling the rough road a pretty easy task for him. We decided to travel together to the Circle. He was heading all the way north with the intention of taking a dip in the Arctic Ocean! (He seemed like a real nice guy, but I think marathon runners and polar bear club swimmers are a bit touched. :loco)

    We set off together under increasingly cloudy skies. Ed soon pulled a good bit ahead and I worried that my pace would be too slow for him. It was not a problem, every once in awhile he’d pull over and let me catch up.

    We stopped at the Wildwood General Store where I passed on the chance to obtain an Arctic Circle patch. I believed that getting a souvenir before I reached it would jinx the trip. The only comfort facilities available was an outhouse, which was fine then, but I shuddered at the thought of having to use it in winter time with temperatures of –40. (I’d use a bucket indoors and just go out to dump it.)

    The next stop was the Yukon River crossing. The bridge there has a wooden deck and is on a considerable slope, downhill as you go north. It was no trouble at this point, but if wet, it would be a concern. After gassing up at $2.30+/gallon :eek7 (the average price in the states that year was 1.51/gallon) we stopped and took pictures of us and the bikes parked right under the Alaska pipeline. We weren’t there more than a couple of minutes before a security truck pulled up, just to keep an eye on things.


    The rain started as we pulled out from there and I soon verified the truth of Ben's warning about my tires.
    They treat the gravel roads up here with calcium chloride. This is supposed to help limit the amount of dust generated by traffic when things are dry. I don’t know how much good it does, because things had been pretty dusty, but I suppose it could’ve been worse. What I was nonplussed about, was discovering that when wet, a road treated with calcium chloride feels like greasy elephant snot. To this point I had found my VFR to be a fair dirt/gravel road bike as long as the surface was dry and not covered too deeply with loose stuff. It was now revealed to be an absolutely lousy mudder. The rain got harder and as the road saturated, my speed dropped more and more. It was now no longer a case of modulating speed based on how much bouncing and shaking I wanted to put up with. I was down to 10-20 mph through the worst sections and just praying I wouldn’t crash. I came far too close for comfort to dumping it three times when the front end started tuck. :yikes
    We hit one stretch of pavement (chip seal) and I actually stopped just to confirm it with my feet, marvelous! :bow

    Alas, it was only a one mile long test segment. :becca
    I went from elation to despair in little more than a minute. :waysad
    It was getting late in the evening, kind of dark because of the low cloud cover, and it was getting colder
    So being wet, chilled, and tensed by treacherous road conditions; I was not a particularly happy camper. :bluduh

    Fortunately we arrived at 66º 33’ North latitude without mishap. :clap
    The free camping area became our exclusive domain for the night. The rain started to let up a bit and I was glad to crawl into my tent and relax. Ed heated a couple cans of soup and I offered raisins, jerky, and peanuts for dinner. We ate and conversed across the gap in the tents and I checked out his copy of “The Milepost” without need of a flash light. When I finally settled down for sleep, it did not come easily. Gusting winds and the relative lightness of the ‘night’ where not conducive to sawing logs. Eventually I gave up on the attempt and rose to face the day.
  20. MapMaster

    MapMaster Human Compass

    Sep 28, 2008
    Pittsburgh, PA
    From the Arctic Circle to the Yukon

    Wind and rain greeted me upon exit from the tent. Brief periods where the sky would brighten while Ed and I were breaking camp only made the subsequent downpours all that much harder to take. The one benefit from the weather was that the mosquitoes were absent. Ed attempted to adjust his chain and at the end of the process it wasn’t any better than before he had started. I had noticed yesterday that it was in really bad shape and would slip on the sprockets a bit when pulling out. This morning we saw that he had lost some of the rollers on it. I had serious doubts that it would survive getting him up to Deadhorse, let alone there and all the way back to Fairbanks.

    Post trip contact with him revealed that it did make it, and that he had encountered snow during that run. :vardy
    But given that he stayed in Alaska over the winter (working on a fishing boat IIRC), the Deadhorse run constituted balmy conditions for him. ;)

    We took pictures in front of the sign to document reaching this northern outpost and split up from there, Ed to the ocean, me to southern muck. The camera remained stashed after this.



    X marks the spot:

    The road hadn’t gotten any better, but with less dark conditions, I decided to start out carefully and see how it would go. Worst case was that I would plod very slowly back to the Yukon crossing and if things were no better, take a room there for the night. The first forty miles were absolutely terrible. At one point I was leaving a muddy wake behind me. I came upon a construction zone were the flagger told me that it had snowed in Deadhorse last night; good luck Ed. Going thru the work area I fell behind the other vehicles in the group so far, that the flagger at the other end started the next group north before I had cleared the area. I was not amused!

    Several times the bike tried to tuck the front end under and spill me. Keeping a loose grip, yet being on high alert to catch/correct the front when it tried to cross me up, made this the most intense stretch of riding I've ever done.
    The closest I came to losing it was when crossing over a loose gravel ridge, three inches high and wide, running parallel to me in the center of the road. I didn’t cross it at enough of an angle and kept things upright more by luck than anything else.

    It took almost three hours for me to cover that stretch, then conditions started to improve a little and I covered the remaining twenty miles to the river crossing in about forty minutes. Just before the improvement started, I saw a Kawasaki Voyager, a heavy touring rig similar to a Gold Wing, making its way north and thought, “Boy, is he in for a tough day of it.” I saw only a few other bikes heading north today, mostly BMW GS types, a much better tool for the conditions.

    Eventually I pulled into the parking lot at the Yukon crossing and almost crashed again. Their parking lot was pure mud, there was no gravel providing any grit to bite on. After gassing up I went into the restaurant for a well deserved break. There I talked briefly with the female half of a couple riding a BMW 650 GS Funduro who were heading for the circle and planning on being back in Fairbanks that night. Her partner was from Glassport, PA not ten miles from where I lived. They mentioned that the Voyager rider that I had seen had dumped his bike in the parking lot.

    Riding the Haul rode in the rain on a sport-touring bike is:
    ⦁ Foolish
    ⦁ Tense
    ⦁ Unnerving
    ⦁ Enervating
    ⦁ Exhilarating
    ⦁ Never to be repeated
    ⦁ Worth mock bragging about afterward

    I've often described that experience concluding the tale in my best macho John Wayne imitation, "Yep, I done the Dalton. Back when it was all dirt! {harwk, spit} But at the time I was saying, 'I want my mommy!'" :D