Alaska 2015 (finally) - 6 weeks and 9500 miles, solo

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by 1200gsceej, Jul 23, 2015.

  1. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    I so want this ride report to be, well, more than it may wind up. I rehearsed catchy titles that would draw people in. “Alaska 2015 – by way of South Africa”; “Bookends – Cape of Good Hope and the Arctic Circle”; “California to Colorado – via Alaska”; “10,000 miles solo in 6 weeks”; and so on. In my head I wrote (and re-wrote) opening paragraphs and arranged images and captions as a thread to weave the story. I wanted to capture and transmit my excitement (and my disappointments) in the written word and share it with others.

    Alas, I am perhaps more suited to writing technical presentations and software user manuals than adventure novels. Something gets in the way between the images and feelings in my head and the organization of words that reaches the paper. I sit here, six+ weeks after I started my journey with my daily journal and my 1000+ photos, and the task is daunting. Transcribing and uploading. I fear it will take me as much time as the trip itself! Looking back, a posting every day or two along the road (from a motel or Starbucks, even) and including a photo-of-the-day seems like it would have to have been better. But I did not have the equipment or process to do that. Nor did it fit into my image of me on this ride. So, like getting down to the Valley floor from a hike to Half Dome after the sun has set, you take one step at a time. So here goes.

    Some background:
    After false starts in 2011 and 2013, a number of events converged to make 2015 the year I would ride to Alaska. Known commitments next summer and a recent birthday were most prominent in my decision. And then there was the family get together scheduled for July 4th weekend in the Colorado Rockies which would provide a necessary time to leave Alaska, although I would need to get back to California sometime. So, on June 1, 2015 I set out.

    My long time friend and riding buddy, Ol’Badger, had this to say when I told friends and family about my plans:

    I suppose you're all wondering why I am not accompanying Carl to the Great Frozen North. After all, he's not heavy, he's my brother. Well, I'd love to, but I don't wanna. It's over 6200 miles from home to Anchorage and back... way too far. I don't easily handle over 300 miles a day. And I'm tired, just not retired.

    There's also the fact that Carl is blessed with an active bucket list whereas I am blessed by having no bucket list. To me, motorcycling is the best way of sightseeing; it's just not the best way of traveling to the sights.

    That last line got me to thinking. After the longer rides that he and I have done together, and the solo rides that I have done over the last several years, I’ve come to realize that I like the ride as well as the sights. Now this did not come up in my daily trip journal, at least not so explicitly. As a matter of fact, I only “wrote it out loud” just now. I will return to this topic again somewhere down the road. But for now let’s just say that I was not deterred by planning a trip of 300+ miles a day for 35+ days. I was looking forward to it.

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  2. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    So, first things first, here is the Spotwalla track of my trip

    Click on Alaska 2015, then Adjustments to see more detail.

    I left on June 1st and returned home on July 9th.
    The entire trip was about 9500 miles.
    #2
  3. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Days 1-3 California, Oregon, Washington (June 1,2,3)

    Alaska!

    Just the mere word conjures up images of faraway places, with mountains and snow and glaciers and bears and ‘frontier folk’. I do not remember what got me thinking about riding there. I guess I just kept running across ride reports of people who had done so. And after a while I began to think of myself as taking such a trip. It was never the obsession or bucket list or ‘must do’ that some people assumed. But I did keep at it – planning and talking to people, ordering Milepost, buying the Adventurous Motorcyclist’s Guide to Alaska, and making a spreadsheet of towns and routes and mileages.

    The first three days of the trip would take me to Redding, CA; Redmond, OR; and Wenatchee, WA. Redding is not that far away from the Bay Area, but is home to Jack’s Steak House, a place that Ol’Badger and I always route our trips through when possible because we love eating there. So at some point in the spring, I mentioned this to Ol’Badger and asked if he would like to ride along with me for the first three days – have dinner at Jack’s, and send me off to Canada and beyond! I was delighted that he said yes. It made the start of the trip just like the many that we have done. His companionship those three days meant that I did not start a 30+ day trip alone.

    I will occasionally throw in a comment about a road or a town that does not otherwise fit in the narrative. On this stretch:
    • On Tuesday morning at Starbucks in Redmond we met Eric, an inmate who rides a Ducati multistrada. He was the first person to get my “motorcycle business card”.
    • town of Shaniko, WA. Another place where one wonders “why is this here” and “why are people still here?” Met nice woman who had lived there most of her life. It is pretty isolated, and you can see practically forever in all directions.
    • WA 821 is a lovely river road between Yakima and Ellensburg.
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  4. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Days 4-6 from Nighthawk Station, Canada to Hyder, Alaska (June 4,5,6)

    Day 4 - the day of separation arrived. Ol’Badger and I went to the nearby Starbucks for coffee and pastries. When we returned to the motel I packed up my bike to leave. It was pretty strange, backing out and riding off with him standing in the parking lot, watching.
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    US 97 had been a nice road since Weed, CA, skirting the mountains, green forests and fields. But now it got dry and brown. I exited west on a winding river road at Otoville to the Nighthawk Station border crossing. How long was I staying? Did I have a gun? Why did I cross here? I told him that I found the crossing quite by accident, and chose it because it was so isolated and out of the way. When I asked him why it existed, he said he did not know why it had not been closed years ago, probably some political reasons, but hoped it was not until he was eligible for retirement.
    The U.S. station is on the left and is only a year or two old. The Canadian station is the leftmost of the two small white buildings further on and to the right.
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    Canada was beautiful. Green mountains and valleys with roads and trains and rivers. Route 5A out of Princeton was sweeping turns along the river for 50+ miles. Then Route 8 out of Merritt was also like that, only the valley got wider and dryer, particularly after Cache Creek. Both are highly recommended. By Clinton the land was flat with medium conifer forests stretching far and wide. I spent the night at 100 Mile House.

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  5. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Day 5 was to be my first 400+ mile day so I ate and was on the road by 7:30. The land was a vast rolling plain full of tall skinny fir trees. There was nothing larger than hills on the horizon for 360 degrees. And no valleys – only large depressions. It was as if the land was very old and worn down. Mountains had been reduced to hills and valleys had been filled by rivers and lakes.
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    Logging trucks piled 15+ feet high passed me regularly. I rode through Williams Lake – what seemed to be a fishing resort town. Gassed up in Quesnel. Prince George is a big place (by local comparison) and that did not fit with what I had gotten used to very quickly in the last 3 days. So I pushed west on BC 16 where the landscape changed once again. Instead of rivers the land was filled with large lakes and lush green fields and trees. The forests seemed healthier and more robust.
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    I ate lunch in Vanderhoof. Encountered more logging trucks, but now also mills. As I passed Burns Lake the land began to express more relief and was not as flat. Then at Houston the western horizon rose before me with snow covered mountains!

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    I spent the night in Smithers, a small town tucked in next to the mountains. It is a hub for winter skiing and snowmobiling and summertime biking, hiking and climbing. It reminded me of Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras of California. But Smithers was strangely quiet when I was there. Perhaps I was too early for summer.
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  6. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Day 6 is Saturday, and there is very little activity. Is it because it is Saturday, or have the tourists just not arrived yet? Why am I here? Why is anyone where they are? I can see why folks live in Smithers. It probably attracts people from all over Canada who want mountains and snow in a small and less expensive town. Unlike Whistler. Or places in Colorado. Ah, a BMW 1200C stopped in the parking lot and the rider dismounts. I first saw that bike at the Ride to the Guggenheim event in Las Vegas sponsored by BMW in 2001 when the 1200C was introduced. Although I rode there with a group, it was really my first long ride alone.

    I continued northwest on BC 16 with these fantastic mountains on my left. As I approached New Hazelton I get a “bong” from my GPS! It is the first TourGuide POI alert. You can find out about TourGuide POI files here. I made two. One was for gas stations from the Milepost, 50 miles apart on every major road I would be on in northern B.C., Yukon, and Alaska. The other contained sights that I wanted to see – glaciers, bridges, bear viewing places, visitor information centers, passes, side roads, special places to eat, and so forth. I set the alert distance to 10 miles. When I got that close, the GPS would ‘bong’ to let me know. I did not have to insert these into my routes, nor keep a list on my tankbag to which I would need to keep referring. It worked very well for me for this trip. So I took a break and visited the old town of Hazelton. This is the bridge into the old town.
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    Paddleboats could navigate this far up river, bringing supplies to be distributed further by land.
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    Back on the highway, I soon reached the junction with the southern end of the Cassier Highway. A very nice European tourist offered to take a photo of me with the bike under one of the many iconic signs that I would encounter.
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    The first 60 miles of the Cassier is almost literally a tunnel through a forest of trees. Later I could see the peaks of the mountain ranges that bordered each side of the road. When I stopped at the Ness River bridge, I met a couple in their late 20’s who were driving a Canadian RV rental and towing a car with CA license plates. They asked me how far it was to the nearest Alaskan town. They were from San Diego (where it was too hot all the time) and were relocating to Anchorage – sight unseen it seemed to me. They really did not seem to know where they were or how far they actually had yet to go. I wish I had given them one of my cards and asked them to send me an email sometime next winter to let me know how they were doing.

    At the Mezidian Junction I took 37A south toward Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK. The trees close in and obscure the lakes and river, but the mountains and pass were spectacular.
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    Just down from the pass across from a wide turnout is the Bear Glacier – just lying there in wait for me. I would develop a personal relationship with the glaciers that I would encounter on this trip. I came to feel that I knew them, perhaps only as acquaintances as opposed to old friends. But the takeaway is that they are dying, slowly withering and fading away, and that they will never be ‘old friends’ unless I take some action.
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  7. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Hyder, AK

    I passed through Stewart, following the signs that lead me out to Hyder. And there it is – Welcome to Hyder, AK – as I rolled across an invisible line. Hyder is quite a little town. Until two years ago it had no paved streets. Now there is a “T” of smooth black asphalt starting at the border for ¼ mile, then splitting ½ mile south (left beyond the parked cars in the photo below) to the new causeway/harbor and north (to the right) barely 1 mile to the edge of town (although it does continue 3.5 more miles to the National Park Service bear viewing area at Fish Creek). You cannot go much more than a block off the road in any direction.
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    The signpost at the T junction.
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    I missed *the* gas station in Stewart on my way in. I make it a habit to buy gas each evening so that there is one less thing to do (or to forget) each morning as I am setting out on a new day. So I cop a U-turn to go back and get gas, only to discover that Canada takes the border quite seriously, even if the US/Hyder does not. I would need to be “prOcessed” (long O, Canadian style) in order to cross and get gas. Indeed, the car ahead of me was getting searched! (Like, where could it have come from? Canada?) So I return to the motel, figuring that I’ll only go through that process once. And, no, there are not special passes for folks who live in Hyder who need to pop into Stewart on a regular basis to buy gas, get groceries, etc.

    The town is filled with fascinating people. Some live there all year. Others arrive in April to make buildings ready, then leave in October after shutting things down for another winter. There is no cell service, but there are land lines. People walk to see, or pick up the phone and call, and actually talk to other people (no texting). When I arrived there was a note on the bar door of the Sealaska Motel with my name on it saying that the door to my room was unlocked and that the office/bar would open at 5pm. When I stopped in the fudge/gift shop and said I was spending the night, the lady there (Caroline) said, “Oh, you must be Carl.” Everyone knows everyone else, even though they may not *like* everyone else. Everyone knows what is going on in town. There is no police force. They take care of problems and disputes among themselves. As I was told, “Where is anyone going to go?” The border stops you ¼ mile away, and there is cold ocean and wilderness in the only two other directions.

    The weather forecast was for rain the next day along the entire Cassier highway. I did not want the first thing I came on this trip particularly to see to be in the rain, so I decided to spend one of my slack days in Hyder and wait out the rain. I went by the bar after dinner to make sure I could stay another night. There I met Dilbert and Leah riding a Triumph from Nebraska, some other travelers headed for AK, and some locals. Though it was still bright at 10pm, it was eventually time for bed. The next day was filled with reading, relaxing, picture taking, some laundry, and back to the bar.

    Black bears roamed freely through the town – I saw 3 at various times during my stay. One crossed the road right in front of the motel and passed between the Glacier Inn and home next door.

    Things to see and do in Hyder:

    Getting “Hyderized” at the Glacier Inn bar – I’ve seen the pictures and read the stories in other threads. But I didn’t. The reason? It’s not something one (me, at any rate) does alone in an empty bar. I can see it when the room is packed or the joint is jumpin’ or if there are friends with you. But none of that was true. And in that regard, some of the other places that I visited on this trip are “empty” of activities that might otherwise have happened. That is a drawback of taking a solo trip (even if you meet people and make friends as easily as I think I do). Dawson City is another place – it was basically empty when I was there. So I would love to return to Hyder when there are more people there.

    Fish Creek bear viewing area – this is an extremely well designed and built ‘enclosure for humans’ that you enter as soon as you get out of your vehicle and which allows you to look down upon bears catching fish in the creek. It was too bad that the fish weren’t running while I was there. It would have been fascinating to watch.
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    Salmon Glacier – the road beyond Fish Creek takes you some 10-15 miles to see the Salmon Glacier. However, the road is gravel, it was raining, and snow was reported on the road. I knew I would see many glaciers on this trip so even though I was disappointed, I did not attempt it. Dilbert and Leah did ride up the next day, and although the road was not too bad (I probably could have made it), the clouds and fog obscured any view they might have had. Had the weather been different, I would certainly have attempted it. From other pictures that I have seen, the glacier is magnificent. I would have spent an extra day to do that and perhaps even attempt to hike to the toe of the glacier. Another thing to do on some future return trip.
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    The Bus – perhaps the best fish I had on my entire trip. Diana is the lady in charge. Her husband and son are fishermen who provide the fresh seafood. What they catch is what is on the menu that day. I had halibut. The kitchen is indeed a bus – what looks like an old school bus, but not yellow. You can eat on tables under a canopy out front, or there is a room behind with 4 large bench tables. There were 8 women from Stewart who had driven over for dinner when I was there. One of them asked where I was from and said they came over because it was the best seafood in the area.
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  8. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Day 7 - More photos of and around Hyder.

    Looking back toward the border from the T. The Glacier Inn is on the right. Its walls indeed are papered in money.
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    Looking back over the new causeway from the harbor. The Glacier Inn is just to the left of the speed sign. The border is about in the lower right corner. Fish Creek and Salmon Glacier are up the valley ahead.
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    The Sealaska Motel. My bike is in font of my room door.
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    "Bus Rules"
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  9. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Along the road to Fish Creek
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  10. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Day 8 - Leaving Hyder

    On the way out of Hyder I had to take a few more shots of the Bear Glacier.
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  11. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Day 8 – up the Cassier Highway

    Bumper sticker seen today: Earth First – we’ll log the other planets later

    I tagged along with Dilbert and Leah this morning all the way to Deese Lake. On the way we saw our first moose, although in a swamp quite a ways off the road. But it counted as wildlife! When they stopped for lunch I pressed on alone because I had not yet contacted Jon at Yukon Honda in Whitehorse about getting my tire changed. And there was no cell coverage. I wanted to get somewhere I could call.

    OK, the Cassier is a great road to ride. The mountain ridges were beautiful, even though much of the way had forest right down to the roadway, so there were not many sweeping vistas. But the ride is a delight. The sun was at my back for the entire ride, just as planned, making the sky and land colors vibrant. Even the wind was mostly from the south, so I was riding with it at my back most of the way. Bright blue sky. Lots of white fluffy clouds. It was the way I wanted it - I was so happy I had waited in Hyder.

    Views along the Cassier

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    And I was so alone. I only passed 3 cars on the whole day’s ride. And there must have been fewer than a dozen in the other direction (not counting the few settlements the road passes through).

    Then I came across this
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    I never did discover exactly what had happened. Was it a fire? But why are most of the trunks still standing? Did only the branches burn off and the trunks remain? I would encounter similar stands up in Alaska, but not as dense.
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  12. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    I stopped at Jade City. If you like Jade jewelry, or just jade rocks, do stop and take a look.
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    When I reached the junction with the Alaska Highway there was still no cell service, though there was wifi at the gas station there, so I sent Jon an email. Then which way to go? Again, the plan was east 8 miles to Watson Lake and spend the night. But it was so early - probably 5pm, but the sun was so high it felt like early afternoon. I understood why people will just keep riding – the day goes on forever. Then the gentleman mentioned the truck stop at Rancheria, and a motel that was there. It was only 100 km away, the perfect distance (and I wouldn’t have to go backwards), so off I went. This would not be the only time I rode on.

    Heading west on the Alaska Highway for the first time
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    What a nice place Rancheria was. Small, spartan, but clean and cozy. It had a small back porch with a beautiful view of the lake and mountains hidden behind. The restaurant served till 9 so I unpacked and showered. Then had good food with pineapple upside down cake for dessert!

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    The view off my back porch
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    What a nice day and a nice ride. I curled up in bed with my eBook mystery novel, then played a few puzzles, then fell asleep, even with the sunlight shining so brightly outside.
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  13. lakota

    lakota Geeser Supporter

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    Great report and pictures. :clap Looking forward to future installments.
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  14. Cyclenaut

    Cyclenaut Been here awhile

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    Great photos !
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  15. Phone Guy

    Phone Guy Oddometer: 23,626

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    I rode my RT to Alaska a couple years ago and there was loose gravel and no pavement in Hyder after crossing the boarder. Thanks for the great pictures, good reminders.

    Now the BAD! Please don't tell anyone else about Jacks in Redding! (Just kidding) It's hard enough getting a seat there already. I work about two blocks from there.
    #15
  16. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Day 9 (Jun 9) – to Whitehorse, YT

    This was a short day so there are not many pictures.

    Since I had not talked to Jon, I wanted to get to Whitehorse as early as possible, with the hope that he could take the bike in the afternoon. So I got up at 6am to find that it was below 5 degrees Celsius outside. I had bought a cheap thermometer and sensor to put on the bike, and figured when in Canada, go metric. The readings probably were not too accurate, but when compared to Ol’Badger’s and to bank thermometers, it seemed to be high! So 5C was barely over 40F! I was happy to have my Gerbings.

    The road to Teslin was good, but not particularly interesting. It was better afterwards – more mountains to go with the vast tracts of trees.

    Jon was ready for me at Yukon Honda, and I had a new TKC-80 on the front tire by 1pm. While I was there I met Sean who lives in Dawson. He gave me some information about the Klondike Highway north to Dawson, particularly the 22 Km construction plans. So now I have to decide. The original plan says south to Skagway/Haines. Weather there says rain and more rain. Road to Dawson is clear, and the big construction will start later in the week so I could miss it by going now. There is some rain up in the mountains north of Dawson, but moving eastward. What to do?

    I check into the Stratford Motel recommended by inmate holckster. Good place; bike right out in front. Easy walking distance to places to eat. I clean up and do laundry in their machines downstairs. Then walk to find dinner. Three huge buses are unloading tours at the largest hotel in town. Tourists abound. Klondike Ribs and Salmon had a line snaking out the door and into the sidewalk. I did not want to be around them. TripAdvisor liked Burt Toast Café so tried them. Had Bonanza Brown beer and good food, when it came. They are understaffed for serving a full house. I will make sure I eat dinner much earlier when back in Whitehorse on the way home.

    Ol’Badger is not here, so there is no one for me to talk to about the other people. There are two U.S. families joining the local Canadians next to me. Brothers and sisters and children and grandparents, some meeting for the first time. And the other table near me is discussing travel expense fraud! So not what is on my mind. But what *is* on my mind? I have not had any “important thoughts” for days – while riding or in the evening. No personal insights; no letters to right or crusades to mount; no memories of things past and what I learned or how I wish I could change them. Don’t know whether I am tired or just empty. But not unhappy.

    However, one thing that I do know. My face does not match the 40 year old’s eyes that are looking out of it. I encounter “old people” who address me as a contemporary! I still feel strange about that.
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  17. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Bridges

    I like bridges. And dams. And road construction even. In a twice previous life I was a civil engineer and designed and built some of that stuff. Long time ago. But still the interest remains. So there will be pictures.

    On the way to Whitehorse I stopped and spent some time looking at the Nisutlin River bridge.
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    Lots of bridges up here have metal grating decks, and the bike wanders a bit when riding across. If I recall correctly, this was one - the longest I've ever ridden.

    A little farther down the road I encountered the Yukon River for the first time.
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    Here is one with a longitudinal wooden deck. They can get slippery when wet.
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    #17
  18. 1200gsceej

    1200gsceej wanabee overachiever

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    Chipseal

    I also got introduced to chipseal. As said in many posts in these forums, it can really wear down your tires quickly.
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    And to road construction (the other season besides winter).
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    It turns out that when many of the roads need to be repaired, they are actually just torn up and plowed under. A grader will just rip up the old chipseal surface, then turn it over and back into the dirt underneath where it gets mixed into the roadbed. Next it gets watered and packed down, then fresh gravel is dumped and spread out on top. That is left for traffic to ride on, with warning signs posted saying: Pavement Break, and, Caution, Loose Gravel Ahead until it is time to ‘seal’ it with oil (days, weeks, …). If you are lucky enough to encounter the tearing-up stage, then there is generally a Follow-Me car that takes you across whatever state the one passable lane is in – freshly graded dirt, hardpack, fresh gravel. And it could be dry, or just wet down by the water truck to keep down the dust. I’m not sure which is worse – the dust or slippery wet hardpack.
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  19. MacG

    MacG Been here awhile Supporter

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    Great pics and report, Thanks! :beer
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  20. just jeff

    just jeff Long timer

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    Hi 1200gsceej,

    Great ride report! It is inspiring me to head that same direction next year. The trees have indeed been burned in a forest fire. Northern fires often leave the trunks standing like that. That stand looks to have been burned about a year before from the bark falling away but without significant undergrowth having started yet.
    Best Regards....just jeff
    #20