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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by donnh, Aug 2, 2021.
Welcome to AK!
Excellent! You'll love that ride to Homer! IF you stay in Anchorage again, something on the south side of town is probably a better bet. Or up in Eagle River. North Anchorage is pretty hit or miss. We stayed at that Land's End hotel in Homer a couple of times. Neat place. Right at the very end of the spit.
We've stayed at the Driftwood Inn in Homer a couple of times. Always been pleased with it. It's a little quirky but a nice place. Not on the spit and off of the Sterling Highway so a bit quieter. Two Sister's Bakery is a fun stop as well.
I second Lands End. Nice rooms on the water and great food. If an extra day, the the boat ride to Soldovia. Nice day trip.
The story continues....
They say it's the challenges in an adventure ride you remember. I believe that's true, more on that later. Ok, let's get caught up a little. I might do this is more than one post.
From Beaver Creek YT we crossed into Alaska with no problems at all except for the weather. We were getting used to the cold temps in the 40s and off and on rain but that didn't make it much fun. We decided to ride to Anchorage to take advantage of generally better weather in the south and spend some time on the Kenai Peninsula before riding north. Checking online we found almost all the hotels were full so we somewhat randomly picked a place called Aptel Studio Hotel in .... Mountain View. Dang, should have noticed the comments here before booking. Nice hotel but ultimately sketchy neighborhood. Even worse, the hotel didn't have a restaurant or a bar. After a 400+ mile day in cold and rain the smell of beer at our destination is what keeps me going the last few miles.
Before taking off my gear I went in search of beer. Stopped at a gas station - no. Stopped at a grocery store - no. Finally learned you can only buy alcohol in a liquor store. I found one nearby that was well armored against robberies and looked through their limited selection for the highest potency IPA they had. Out at the bike one of the "locals" was admiring my BMW so we struck up a conversation. I felt like a moron, probably because I was tired and thirsty, he was super nice and truly interested in the motorcycle and our travels.
While I was gone Deby walked a few blocks to the only food place - a Subway. We spent the rest of the night on fine dining and planning the next part of our trip. Interesting side note: We lived here 39 years ago when I came up for a summer job in Anchorage. At that time we bunked with some friends who now live in CA so we messaged them and asked for the address of the old house so we could do a drive by. It was only a few blocks away from our hotel! Ha, and it was a sketchy neighborhood back then but we were the sketchy ones! Here is a pic of the house now - love it.
Ok, enough of that. On with the ride.
The next day was clear but cool as we headed south. We were amazed how much Anchorage has changed in 40 years, now there are actual 4 lane freeways full of cars. Soon enough we were south of town along the Turnagain Arm which thankfully was as beautiful as ever. Suddenly memories of our previous trips in the early 80s came back. I remembered the Bird House Tavern on the way to Girdwood. We were some of the low life bums who made it a stop on our way to camp on "The Spit". Here is a picture I took back in the day.
The following is from an online article I found HERE.
Prankster-turned-bar-owner Dick Delak took over the place in 1968 (he died in a plane crash in 1993) and made the tavern into a must-do for pipeliners, hippies, skiers, tourists and anybody who wanted a unique Alaska experience.
The Bird House went up in smoke in 1996; faulty wiring, the fire inspectors said. It's a wonder it took that long. Its walls were covered -- literally covered, inches thick in some places -- with business cards and women's panties. The tilted wooden floor was always thick with sawdust or peanut shells, and people were packed elbow to elbow in the tiny one-room establishment.
Oh well, more salty Alaska history gone. I don't remember if Deby had some panties on those walls and she's not admitting to anything.
Next stop the Portage glacier. We took the short cutoff road and rode down to the viewing area and, um.. I mean, what? Where did it go???
Evidently now you need to pay to take a boat out to see it around the corner. Not what I remembered. I dug around in my online archives and found this picture from 1982.
The same spot. You can see the glacier back to the right and it was calving huge icebergs that filled the lake. A truly awesome sight.
Continuing on we detoured to the other side of the Turnagin Arm to visit Hope where we camped on the beach like bums almost 40 years ago. Again, now it looked more developed but perhaps because it was far enough off the highway still had some of that old Alaska charm. We stopped for a nice lunch before continuing south.
Next stop Homer, wondering how much that place has changed. Oh boy, we didn't expect what we saw. Seriously, none of that was there 40 years ago. We did find one landmark that we remembered.
Just had to go in for old time sake.
Now it's crawling with tourists. Back in the day it was just us Spit Rats camping on the "beach" we were a motley crew of cannery workers and hippies exploring the last frontier. I found another pic from the day, Deby walking in the door with our friend Connie.
This was our campsite then.
Not many tents these days, just RVs and condos. Weird..
We booked a room for the night at this place and had a great meal at the Kannery Restaurant. Like most places it was crowded and they were short staffed. We waited almost an hour for a table and about as long for our food. They finally locked the doors about halfway through our meal because they said they ran out of food. We dealt with some sort of Covid weirdness everyday of the trip.
For some reason I took this picture of the table in our hotel room. It seemed like every ingredient for an ADV ride was on display.
Helmets, hydration pack, coffee, beer, technology and a rock for Deby (a recurring theme for anyone who has followed our blog).
The next day we needed to start north if we were going to make the Haul Road before our tires were all the way worn down. The morning was cool and damp as we headed out, we decided to ride a few miles before detouring to the city of Kenai for a hearty breakfast and break from the cold.
I had one more place I wanted to visit - Whittier. Only because when we lived there you cold only get there by train. Now, they alternate traffic in the train tunnel between eastbound, westbound and the train schedule. Motorcycles ride between the rails through the 2.5 mile long tunnel. How cool does that sound?
We caught a little glimpse of one of the glaciers near the tunnel entrance.
Here is the tunnel entrance, interesting thing, motorcycles go last so we had to wait for all the cars and trucks to go and we brought up the rear.
We rode through and of course, we weren't bumping along on the railroad ties. Dang, I always wanted to do that. Oh wait, I used to as a kid on my dirt bike but that's another story... This tunnel had nice concrete between and on each side of the rails, ho hum.
We reached Whittier and rode into town in the rain. Looked the old abandoned high rise building and a new condo structure and turned around to catch the return run through the tunnel. I don't care, it was fun.
So now I have to make a confession. I always wanted to visit the Alyeska Lodge when we lived there but they would have none of our type of long hair bums. This time I said screw it, let's spend the money and stay a night. It ended up not being the most expensive place we stayed but wasn't that great either. Bla, bla, bla, could have been a resort anywhere full of whiney patrons. And to make matters worse the bar was closed! How could that be? Staffing issues. They sold wine at the gift shop but there were signs everywhere that no alcohol consumption was allowed in public places. WTF? Didn't care, we bought a bottle of wine and talked the restaurant wait staff out of two plastic cups and we sat outside in some comfy chairs for our evening drink. We felt out of place, we were and we didn't care.
Ok, I'll break here. Things got real as we headed north shooting for Deadhorse.
Thanks for following,
Donn and Deby
North in the rain...
There we were loading the bikes parked in front of the swanky Alyeska Lodge under a downpour. The well healed travelers scurried onto their tour buses with sideways glances at the two crazy people on filthy motorcycles adjusting their "luggage" and cinching their jackets. I shouldn't judge, a warm tour bus sounded pretty good to me at that moment. Rain or shine we were on a mission - NORTH!
Our panniers were lighter because we were wearing almost all our clothes. Deby and I both learned that one of those puffy type jackets layered between a heated liner and our Klim jackets was the way to go as it filled in all the air pockets and kept the cool from circulating. Off we went.
The account of this day will be short, it was too cold and wet for pictures and there wasn't really anything to see anyhow. We did stop at Denali National Park, another place with fond memories of backpacking 40 years ago. Not so great this time. We started to wait in line at the visitor center to show our National Parks pass when we found out the actual visitors center was closed due to Covid. So why were we in line? I did get a good picture of the mountain.
Deby posted the picture on her Instagram account (debyharvey). The response to the beautiful picture was gushing with lots of likes. I must admit it's a phenomenal photo for just using an iPhone.
The next day I told her we had to fess-up so she posted this picture.
Yea, that was the only view of the mountain we saw the whole trip. Nothing but rain and clouds.... We left the park disappointed but ok because we've seen Denali in all it's glory and actually hiked and camped at the base. This trip was about the ride and we had miles to go.
We hoped to get to Fairbanks but literally every hotel in Fairbanks is full, has been full and will continue to be full. We spent an inordinate amount of time online trying to find a hotel room but none could be found. This would haunt us on our way south again.
The best we could come up with was a booking at a place called The Fireweed Roadhouse just south of Nenana. When we arrived my spirits dropped, it looked abandoned. This wouldn't be the first time Booking.com booked a room at a closed establishment. I was hoping this wasn't another time.
The sign was big enough so it was hard to miss.
Didn't we just spend the previous night at one of the most expensive resorts in Alaska? The gods were laughing at us now.
When we arrived there was no car in front, the door was locked and the lights were off. Great. I pressed the buzzer, nothing. It was raining and we were cold, wet, tired and at a low point for the trip. I finally tried calling the number on the Booking app and someone answered. A woman in a gruff smokers voice told us "ride around back". Arrg, I was expecting the worst as she opened the back door to show us down the skinny hall towards a small room. We seemed to be the only ones there. Hmmm, "can I get a beer?" "We don't sell beer here, you have to go down the road 5 miles to the next lodge and they have off sales." Do you have food? "Well, our fridge is broke and we don't have much." I asked if I should pick anything up but she said she was ok.
Ok, before taking off my wet gear I empty a pannier and ride south to the Clear View lodge. They're closed due to staff shortages. Dang, and it starts raining harder. I pull our Google Maps, there is a campground a few miles further south with a camp store... off I go. Nice place, pleasant woman but no beer. Geesh, I'm starting to wonder if I have a drinking problem... just one I promise.
Back to Google - 10 miles back north, past the FireWeed and 15 more miles into Nenana where there is a grocery store. Arrg, I zip up and suck up the miles. Yes they were open so I secured a 6 pack of the most potent IPA I could find from the liquor store and went in the main store where I bought a prepackaged Cesar salad mix to go with dinner and a couple of bananas for breakfast.
Finally, back at the FireWeed.
Armed with beer and salad mix I wandered into the bar/restaurant where Deby was conversing with our hostess, Robin. There was hope, it was warm and cozy and our first impression of Robin morphed with the realization that she was a true Alaska sourdough, crusty on the outside and warm on the inside. Soon she had us well fed and we spent the evening at the bar BS'ing with Robin and the local contractor/construction workers who were her regular clients. Those guys were working at the nearby Air Force Base - wait, they corrected themselves with a laugh... it's now the Space Force Base. Same mission, new name.
Somewhere along the way I checked the weather on my phone.
Looked like we were in for some more cool riding as we continued north.
This time it was Deby's turn to find a hotel room further north. Not easy... fortunately she came across Coldfoot Camp in the town of Coldfoot of all places. That would be our destination. It didn't look like much but cost $210 for one night, ha.
We skipped Robin's breakfast offer and rode to Fairbanks to get some miles in before eating. Robin recommended this place.
Dang, what's wrong with that picture? Oh great, now I learn that the new iPhone12s have moving parts in the camera and vibrating on a handlebar for 3,000 miles ruins them. I'm using a Quadlock system with built in charger which I like but evidently it transfers too much vibration to the phone. Bummer. Good thing I have my trusty Nikon CoolPix.
We made it to the start of the Dalton as the rain let up and there were a few sun breaks. A good sign?
Of course there were a few slick sections testing our worn TKC70s.
But mostly it was smooth going, we finally started following the pipeline that would be our constant companion for the next few days.
I picked up an extra 2 gallon jug in Fairbanks just in case... We never had to use it even though we cruised into a few fuel stops with our gas lights glowing at 190 miles.
We stopped at the visitor center at Yukon Crossing and the nice lady that runs it took our picture. We don't get many with the both of us together.
We stopped and hiked around a place called Finger Rock. Two guesses why it's called that.
Next... The Arctic Circle!
Ok, this was an accomplishment and any further north would be gravy. The sun was shining and we were happy. We made it and so did the bikes. Third try for the F800 was turning out to be the charm after all.
We continued north to Coldfoot, happy and looking forward to a celebratory beer (we hoped).
So, this is probably in other ride reports but I didn't know what to expect, this is it. First impressions?
I found out that these were the trailers used for pipeline workers in the 70's. When they finished the pipeline an entrepreneur bought them and moved them across the street to make a hotel of sort for travelers and workers.
Nice rooms, they only had rooms with two single beds - mancamp style at it best. We didn't care.
Helicopter landing pad out the door that was busy shuttling hunters.
Overall not bad but expensive. Dinner was cafeteria style and with food and a couple of beers was over $100. I was getting numb to some of the prices. Breakfast was over $50.
We actually had a relatively good nights sleep until a tour bus arrived at midnight and somebody from that group checked in next door. Clearly they didn't realize how thin the walls were as they were celebrating being north of the Arctic Circle in a mile high sort of way. Huh, maybe that's a thing :)
One more push north.
We woke up and checked the weather.
Burrrr, but no rain in the forecast for the day. We had a decision to make. It looked like we could make it to Deadhorse with dry weather but the the next three days for forecast rain, rain and more rain. So if we rode up to Prudhoe Bay and spent the night it would be back south on the Dalton in the rain. I could tell from riding north and from all the advice I heard here and other places, stay off the Dalton if it's raining. We decided to leave early ride to the top of Atigun Pass and return to Cooldfoot for breakfast before riding to Fairbanks. It would be a long day but fun.
Wow, we are glad we did. I should have more pictures but managed a few with my thick gloves and a few stops. The Brooks Range is phenomenal and there was just enough new snow to make them look extra special.
It was below freezing when we reached the top of the 4,739 foot pass but the road was mostly ok.
Some snow from the day before here and there.
We got off and took a few pictures but never unplugged our electric liners.
We chatted in our helmet radios.... about how fantastic it was and debated continuing north. We almost did....
Finally I made the call, let's turn around and call the trip a success. And it was by every measure in my book.
So, I'm going to stop here. The rest of the day was a challenge and the hardest part of the trip so far so I'll save it for the next post.
Thanks for following,
Donn and Deby
Great photos and reporting! I like seeing the old photos too. Brings me back to when we lived in Alaska. We left in 2013 though. I'm interested in hearing about your thoughts on riding to Prudhoe Bay. In five years of living there, I never made it up there. Always wanted to. I'm curious if it's more of a do it to say you did it type of thing or if it's actually a worthwhile ride with scenery and wildlife etc? I told my wife that next year is my year. I'm riding to Alaska. Gonna shoot for six weeks. Mid June to the end of July. Anyways, keep the ride report coming please! Looks like a blast!
So, yes I would recommend it. Even with the clouds the scenery was fantastic and more interesting than I expected. If it's clear you would have views of Denali along the way and could take time to explore the park. I was really impressed with the Brooks Range, it's north of the tree line so you get the whole feeling for the exposed mountain range. I'm told that usually there are more animals but since it is hunting season they are all in hiding. I can only speak to the section up to the top of the pass but I imagine the other side is just as wonderful. By the time you get that far you might as well go the whole distance. Earlier in the season would be better, we would have except for the border thing. Oh I didn't mention that quite a bit of the Dalton is paved, at least 50 miles north and south of Coldfoot. We didn't expect that. The rest of the road really wasn't that bad. Heck, we saw a guy on a Harley coming back from Deadhorse. He said he did the whole thing in the rain and snow but he looked pretty wiped out, covered in mud and said it wasn't the smartest thing he ever did. Still, hats off to him.
Was the guy on the Harley named George from Ohio?
Darn didn’t get his name just a brief conversation at the gas pump in Coldfoot. It looked like an Ultra and he was wearing an Aerostitch suit. He seemed in a hurry just gas and go.
It looks like a great trip you are having and I'm very much enjoying your ride report and following along. It looks like you stayed in Tok last night and are now headed for the border. I'm curious where you got your covid test for crossing back into Canada. Did you get it back in Anchorage before you left? And then hung out in Tok 'til you got the results?
Awesome Reporting! Brings back memories of my trip 4 years ago. Took a month all of July from Phoenix to Dead Horse.The last 40 miles or so to Dead horse were tough because there were so many sharp rocks like the ones you find on the rail roads. Between Atigan Pass and Dead horse is where I first saw my first and only heard of Muskox. How are the mosquitos? They were terrible in July. With school back I don't know if you can stay there, I rented a room in the dorms at Univ of Faibanks. Stay safe!!
Congrats on a successful trip! Thanks for taking us along with you. Looking forward to more posts.
Great ride report! The snow is cool. How fun coming back after so long being away, seeing the differences etc. Keep the pics coming
We detoured to Wasilla for a test and when we got to Tok found out they setup a test station there the day before. The border crossing was easy today.
Quick iPhone update for tonight. Made it to Whitehorse and our reservation at the Canada’s Best Hotel got messed up and we couldn’t get a room. After one look at the place I wasn’t that disappointed. Still…every single hotel in town is totally booked. Geesh, we ended up a few miles north of town at the Casa Loma Motel and bar.
Tomorrow new tires at the Honda shop then to Watsons Lake. I searched online and made a bunch of calls and everything is booked solid. I can’t figure what is up with this. We might have to use out tent after all…
Try the Air Force Lodge in Watson Lake : (867) 536-6789
They’re full. Thanks.