Alaska Ride

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by R-dubb, May 5, 2002.

  1. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

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    Just in case any of the Adv Riders pals are thinking about going up to the Great White North this summer, I though I'd post a few pics from my outing last June. Won't do a full ride report. Quick and short of it is that two buddies and myself rode from SF to Denali via the Cassiar Hwy-BC, to the Alcan through Yukon. North to Fairbanks. Took the Denali Hwy to the Park looped down through Anchorage and Kenia to Haines. Took the ferry to Bellingham and returned home. 7000 miles; three weeks including five long days on the ferry. Would do it all again in a minute if time allowed. I would skip the ferry and do Top of the World through Dawson City next time.

    Lot's of high speed dirt highways and wide open roads. The Alcan through the Yukon has perfect visibility and begs you to do 115 mph all day. The frost heaves and blind crests punctuate the ride with the opportunity to slow just long enough give the engine a break. I won't go into all of my 1150GS handling woes here, but it sure pays to have the setup right for this sort of riding.

    A great trip! My friends rode a V-max and an R1100s. Who says road bikes can't do dirt? Aside from the ass pounding, the V-max was amazingly capable. Benoit is a good rider and treats the bike like a tank. The 'S was more comfortable than you would expect, but had to be very careful through bumps.

    Here are a few pics. For more see: R-dubb's Alaska pics

    Attached Files:

    #1
  2. fish

    fish Banned

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    Great photoessay!

    http://www.pbase.com/image/194631
    nice bloody salute!

    http://www.pbase.com/image/194635
    a little buggy?

    http://www.pbase.com/image/194638
    striking.

    http://www.pbase.com/image/194650
    my brothers and sisters!

    http://www.pbase.com/image/194656
    yeah baby...a backwards rolling dirtshot.

    http://www.pbase.com/image/194672
    great fox

    http://www.pbase.com/image/194704
    :):

    Really great adventure. Thanks for posting.

    What's kinda cool about pbase, is that you can just "edit gallery" and put captions on the pics without having to click on them individually. Then you've got a combo ride report and photo gallery. Just a thought.
    #2
  3. kiwiDakar

    kiwiDakar Adventurer

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    Great photo's. If would like to do the same riding then come down under to New Zealand. We have all BMW new bikes for hire.
    #3
  4. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

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    Sorry about the lack of commentary.

    My photo editing skills kinda suck. You see what happened is I clipped a bunch of shots into my post using the IMG tool. Wrote captions giving a general chronology of the trip, damn thing won't post. So I had to cut the verbiage and resort back to the attachment of a single image.

    OK, so now I need to do the captions in Pbase. Will do... I'll also post a map of the route.

    Later,

    R-dubb
    #4
  5. Marc

    Marc Just sayin...

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    Rick,

    You know, if you'd of asked me for a list of bikes that would do well on a trip to Alaska, a V-Max would have been down near Yamaha R-1 and Ducati 998R! Well, you and your friends have proven me wrong.

    The pictures were amazing. I'm suprised you didn't run into Mr. COB while up there - I believe he was up there about the same time. Anyways, thanks for the great post. I'm looking forward to your ride report.

    Marc
    #5
  6. Gravel Seeker

    Gravel Seeker Old, growing older.

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    Great stuff !
    A picture is worth a thousand words, and that sure was a lot of pictures :smile6
    Add some coments !
    #6
  7. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

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    Thanks RB,

    I will definately do that. Pbase is a fab service. BTW I've added captions to my photos.
    R-dubb's Alaska Pics
    #7
  8. CarlEmil

    CarlEmil Adventurer

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    Great photo's. I am planning a trip from NY that will take me on the Cassier HWY and then I'll take the Top of the World HWY to Dawson city.
    After viewing the harbors I think I'll plan that in to my trip.

    Once again, thanks and pictures are worth more than a thousand words.

    Questions: How long had you planned this trip?
    Was this trip everything you thought it was going to be?
    Would you do it again?

    Enjoy and ride safe.
    #8
  9. fish

    fish Banned

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    The captions help a lot! Who needs a written trip report, if you document the photos? Well done.
    #9
  10. fish

    fish Banned

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    Emphasis on "reports AND pics" There are few more efficient ways to do that than to associate the report with the photos in a gallery. :thwak
    #10
  11. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

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    Carl,

    The trip report IS coming! Wrote the prep section last night will post soon.

    I did do a lot of planning. Since we only had three weeks it was important to pin down the schedule pretty hard. We stayed on plan with respect to mileage, but did not id exact stops ahead of time. We knew where the possible camps were located and targeted where to lay over at lunch time.

    Started planning in February for June. Ferry reservations and Denali Park reservations are critical a few months ahead of time for an exact day. I paid for one night of Denali camping prior to and one a day later than the target visit, so we would be covered.

    The ferry schedule really dictated everything else.

    Yes, the trip was a great success, well worth the commitment. I heard lots of horrors about storms and weather issues from other riders. We were lucky, well prepared and had no problems other than those of our own making...

    I would love to do it again.

    R-dubb
    #11
  12. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

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    Part One - Preparation

    For me, riding to Alaska was sort of like deciding what to study in college. It wasn’t anything that I’ve always wanted to do. It just came to me. I had been reading about the early polar explorers and admired their determination and the blindness of their ambition. My quest for exploration and mild adventure was simple by comparison. I had been a dutiful father for the past nine years and wished to recapture a just small taste of freedom.

    I sold most of the motorcycles seven years ago when we moved into a house with a one-car garage. There hadn’t been much time to ride them all anyway and the evaporating gas and corroding batteries were a testament to the futility of ongoing maintenance. I’d kept Anne’s V-65 Guzzi since she liked it and I didn’t want to give up the sport altogether. In any case, the notion of riding north occurred to me one day while tooling about on the Guzzi, and it took me about two weeks after that to sell that beloved piece of Italian junk and order myself a brand, spankin’ new GS. My old R90/6 was by far the best all round traveler that I had ever owned and it had served, along with three or four others, for 15 plus years of off and on touring in most every state except one. So my choice of rides was obvious. The GS was the only option and Alaska was as clear as my destination. That was in October. From that time until the trip in June, I put on over 8000 miles just tooling around the Bay, sorted out with whom I would travel and how much crap to load on the beast.

    Benoit and Eduardo both have kids in the same school as mine. Their wives must have been sympathetic to the same parenting induced sedation with which dads seem to be altogether afflicted. So we formed a quick bond and agreed we would plan the outing together. (It’s funny that J.B., the only single guy we invited, fell in love shortly before the trip and bailed out in favor of a romantic, sailing interlope on a desert isle.) The most important aspect of our plan turned out to be time. We could negotiate three weeks maximum time away from home. Jobs were a consideration, but mostly it was time away from home. There is only so far one can push and expect a positive result. Luckily the support was nearly unconditioned. The requirement was a daily phone call, with no more than three abstentions. Not bad!

    From the outset the goals of the trip were clear. 1) Make a trip into the heart of Alaska and back in three weeks; 2) Camp as much as possible to maximize the wilderness experience; 3) Stay dry, healthy and safe. All three of these requirements demanded some attention to detail. Too much stuff would be a drag, missing an important item might cause a breakdown and unravel the program.

    The planning was a pleasant evening diversion on the Internet, which quickly turned into an unrivaled spending spree to acquire every possible moto modification and outback convenience available. The bike gear required a fair amount of research since AdvRider didn’t exist and I’d been out of Beemer circles for a number of years. The list of bike stuff included: Jesse bags, a slightly more quiet Givi wind screen, an Aerostich one-piece suit, Ohlins, lowered pegs, tank panniers, Throttlemiester, a heated, silicon gel seat implant, radar detector, gel battery to withstand falls, Helen’s two-wheel duffel and various other bike gadgets, some of which were ultimately left at home. We took Motorola radios with ear pieces, but ultimately found them to be unworkable with short range and too much wind noise to use while riding. The most important stuff turned out to be rain gear. Going from dry gear to rain gear fast and with minimum effort is the key to staying comfortable. Many times I’ve ridden into a storm, hoping it would clear only to get real wet before making a time consuming stop. If all you need to do is cover the tank bag and put on over-gloves, it’s painless.

    Benoit and Eduardo readied their steeds. Eduardo traded his K75 and bought a new R1100S cause he thinks the pipes look sexy. He put mucho dinero into gadgets and bought a high-viz, yellow Darian and a way too cool, black leather Beemer Man Suit that was to keep him shuffling gear around on a daily basis. His rig was a bit off the mark from my perspective, but it suited him fine and he had no trouble holding up. Benoit has full affection for his V-max and has been riding them for years. He insists the V-boosted engine adds some spectacular gas sucking abilities to the power curve. If only he could hold on to the damn thing long enough to achieve lift off nirvana. Handling leaves a bit to be desired at sonic speeds, on rough roads with a non-aerodynamic load. In the dirt however, that baby rocks! A light front end and oversize tires gave the V-max superior dirt road stability, turns not included. He put a gravel screen over the radiator and mounted some stiff shocks. Packing the V-max was a matter of strapping on enough gas to get at least 150 miles between tanks and hooking a modest pack and a funnel to the rear seat. No gadgets required…

    The route was easy. There are only a few roads in Alaska and only a couple of ways to get there. I read Tom Bowman’s Alaska Sojourn and liked his recommendation of the Cassiar and Denali Highways. Microsoft Streets and Trips did the heavy work. The main consideration was balancing the mileage with the desire to look around along the way. Leaving time in the places that have the most to offer. We made a few mistakes, but the plan worked well. I looked for forested zones on the maps that would offer camping opportunities without identifying a specific stop. There would be a target camp, a longer reach, and a fall back. This meant we could rider further if the day went well or stop early if need be. For the most part, the discipline of reaching Denali Park for our reserved nights and getting to the ferry on time kept us focused on making the target miles each day along the way.

    The route ended up being about 6500 miles. The ferry from Haines to Bellingham would consume four long days and we planned to stay three days at Wonder Lake in Denali. (It takes six hours each way to ride the camper bus all the way into the park!) Of our three weeks that left only fourteen days of riding time. Counting one day for contingency the average daily mileage needed to be 500. To save some distance there were a few side trips, arms and legs that could be cut off along the way.

    Stay tuned for Part Two – Getting There, coming soon.

    Attached Files:

    #12
  13. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

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    Part Two – Getting There

    The trip was scheduled to coincide with the end of the school year. We were ready; a little too ready. We had run a “Shake Down Trip” over Memorial Day. Packed the bikes, as if for the long haul, and went out for a two day, 1000 mile romp in the Trinity Alps. For anyone planning a long trip, a trial run is pretty important in terms of having the right stuff and getting it stowed. Hopefully, you don’t want to make any big changes right before the real deal. New stuff tends to cause problems. The shake down went really well. Riding a little too fast, the newly formed trio had a blast. We agreed to slow things down and concentrate on success, working out stuff like how to regroup if we get separated and who to call for instructions if one gets really lost.

    By the middle of June the time was ripe. Kiss the wife and kids good bye and get things going. We decided to beeline to the Canadian border rather than tool around the back roads on the way. Left early and spent the first night at Crater Lake.

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    I’d never been there before and found it spectacular. That first night turned out to be the coldest on the trip. Altitude and clear skies took the temperature down to below freezing. Going north the days would get longer by about 30 minutes every day. The night cool down time gets shorter and temperatures generally warmer every day.

    The next day we headed up US 97 and rendezvoused with my brother-in-law and his buddy in Antelope. They rode a GS/PD and Cagiva Grand Canyon. Both were suitably jealous of the trip. We rode back roads up through Fossil and then back to US 97, which was to be the northern route for the next two days. As a group of five we attracted a little too much local attention. Pretty soon we had the Washington Troopers out to pay us a visit. No tickets, but they tailed us through town, pulled over Paul and David and generally made it clear that we should get the hell out. Just by luck, after being separated we ended up at the same lame state park in Wenatchee. So much for bigger groups.

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    After being put out of Washington, BC turned out to be rough sledding. Speed dropped down to 70 and 80 k/hr though tourist zones on 97 from the border north to Kamloops. Not a good route. Canadian drivers are really sloooow. The western bypass (97C) around Kamloops is a good bet and got us off two lane and onto a totally deserted and scenic divided highway. Much better. After a long, slow day we were treated to the first of many fine Provincial Parks for camping, Lac La Hache north of 100 Mile House. By this time the northern-ness of our setting was beginning to show. Flat, iron colored lakes with stubby pines. This characteristic landscape would dominate all the way to Alaska.

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    By day four we realized that the roads did not have much topography anywhere, and that they weren’t going to. We also found the R.C. Mounties were everywhere, damn good shooters too. They had my radar detector firing off every ten or twenty miles. That day, I think we counted 15 patrols just in the morning, many totally unmarked. Low speed limit, not much traffic, so the odds were really pretty bad. Sure enough a pair of lovely Canadian lasses who could’t have been more kind pulls the three of us. A warning, and advise that they were running training patrols. We would see many more throughout the day. Another long, straight, slow day heading north on 97. Beautiful green pastures alternating with miles of northern pine. We made it to Prince George by mid afternoon and turned west on the Yellowhead. The road became just slightly more interesting. A few hills, and at one point a breathtaking view of a huge snowcapped range far in the distance as the road turned toward the north. We rode late and stopped at Seeley Lake P.P. at around dusk. A storm was approaching. It rained steady all night and was still gently coming down when we packed it up in the morning.

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    A fine time for wet weather, day five was to be the Cassiar Hwy. Less than an hour up the road we reached the entrance. The terrain was getting rougher and we definitely needed a real motorcycle ride. The grey day turned our to be a blessing. The Cassiar is mostly chip seal for the southern half, and dirt, gravel and everything in between in the north. It turned out to a blast. The right of way is generally wide and has decent visibility. It all about varying surfaces and transitions. The road carries a lot of speed and is very well engineered. Every season brings another layer of chip seal, so the road bed is elevated very high with tremendous, steep shoulders, and then there are trucks which in my opinion pose little threat since the road is wide. Our luck was that the wet surface kept dust to a minimum and still allowed for good grip. The Cassiar is wilderness. Benoit’s spare tanks were definitely required as gas was hard to find.

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    The bikes ran perfectly. From surface to surface we ran speeds of 70-90 mph. The bumps were brutal but seemed not to be having bad effects on the equipment. There were definitely moments. Construction was well marked, but popped up everywhere. Dig-out areas due to frost would cause miles at a time to be scraped up and re-laid with loosely compacted rock. In the wet this meant ruts. It was never too much to handle, but had the rain really come down hard, we certainly would be marooned. Tracking through ditches and puddles gave me a real fast course in managing a 600lb dirt bike. The Cassiar is, without a doubt, the most monumental dirt highway north of Mexico.

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    We were very tired and hungry after about two hundred miles of this and happened upon a wonderfully nutty Austrian family who were running the Bear Paw Lodge. There had been no one for miles in the most remote section of the road and the weather was definitely improving. Out of nowhere Benoit nearly ran down a little old guy on small four runner who was bobbing his way up the shoulder. We passed and turned in at sign around the next bend. He was the proprietor and eventually followed us in. He spoke no English and seemed totally unperturbed about the incident. The small wooden lodge was looking closed, no cars and only family members about. A young Austrian woman said she had no food for a menu but offered to make us eggs. We were escorted into an elegant tall room lined with trophies. Grizzlies, elk, black bear, eagles and more. I asked what was cooking on a wood fire outside the back and was told that they were boiling the head of the latest bear downed in the woods beyond. With our dust encrusted faces caked from a long day in the dirt, we were served the most memorable meal of the trip. A brilliant cheese omelet and freshly baked bread. I don’t really remember much about where we stayed that night, just that we made onto the Alaska Highway and found a suitable park. Benoit burned the dinner and we slept.

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    Things had definitely changed. There were no more towns, only road houses with a little food and sometimes gas. Who lives there? The highway and nature are all that exist for many miles in each direction. The scenery was broad and open with occasional mountain views. We came to appreciate that the essence of riding in the north is visibility and road surface. There are no turns to speak of. The road just barrels forward with clear purpose. We rode fast, very fast. After learning all about pavement breaks on the Cassiar the wide vistas and rolling crests along the Alcan just begged for speed. On the Yellowhead in BC we had learned that the best defense against radar patrols was to use the eyes for miles into the distance. The traffic is so light that with none in sight there is no danger. From the top of a crest an open view means get on the gas hard and go until the blindness of the next crest says slowdown hard and crawl to the top. This format allowed us to safely travel at speeds of 120mph alternating to sometimes very slow. The same logic used to evade patrols applies equally to sighting animals or surface dangers. The woods along the Alcan are cleared about 100yds back so that animals can be seen. You can also see the pavement breaks and slow as the bump factor is calculated. The road to Whitehorse was mostly blurred.

    The Yukon is a simple place that has its own manners and Canadian custom, but really just stands along the way to Alaska. Whitehorse is a crazy little town where people drive on whatever side of the street they want to, and everyone is passing through. We stayed in a hotel for the first time and had wonderful salmon for dinner in what looked like the best restaurant in town.

    Then there was more of the same Yukon style riding. I had heard that construction zones on the Alcan could be treacherous. So far there was only the omnipresent frost heave with any where from 3 feet to 300 feet of cut out pavement usually filled with rock. That morning we hit the big times. A section of road was being rebuilt near Haines Junction. Again we were lucky there was no rain. The dirt was hard enough to be no problem at all, then we were confronted with about two miles of newly placed gravel well over a foot deep, very wet and very soft. Tracking through ruts we bobbed and weaved our way along. At one point I must have been going a little too fast and let up the gas due to catching the side of deep rut and went into a full blown slap. Fortunately, with the Jesse bags touching down, I caught the center and came out of it. Even a simple injury might have knocked me out seven days in and less than a few hours from the Alaska border.

    #13
  14. Baldy

    Baldy Founder of ADV Administrator

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    Great report! It's bringing back all kinds of memories. Loved that family at the Bear Paw; we spent two days there riding the backroads looking for moose and bear.

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    #14
  15. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

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    Part Three – In and Around Alaska

    The trip thus far had been nearly perfect. The northern roads had become spectacular. Although the terrain was really not yet arctic, it was certainly barren. Traffic was more sparse than we had imagined. It was strange how a line of vehicles would be passed and then nothing for a half an hour. Not many bikes either. We saw a few long caravans of Gold Wings and then a lone Harley or two. Not very many. We played leap frog with a guy who had come from Maryland on his new hog. We stopped for a while, and he would catch-up. This happened a couple of times. He was doing half again as many miles per day and never exceeded about 70mph. We were fast; he was steady. When I nearly dumped a while back; he was watching in amazement that bike stood-up. We also passed a couple of KLR’s and hadn’t stopped to hear their story.

    I thought Eduardo was going to kill the Frenchman. Eduardo had misread the curve and could not see an oncoming car when he set-up to go around a short line of campers that I had already passed. Obviously surprised, he must have tucked back. Benoit was following. Annoyed by what he saw, he kicked in the V-boost and stuffed Eduardo. That was it; when we stopped a while later to let Eduardo catch-up he was mad enough to cause some serious harm. I don’t think they ever really made-up after the incident. There was a change in our exuberance. As we approached Alaska, things were becoming more serious. To the southeast the tallest mountain range in Canada loomed with its spectacular snow capped peaks. The day had clearly not been our best as group, and we would politely struggle with this conflict for the rest of the trip.

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    Across the border the road was different too. The Canadian section was wide and powerful. Perfect markings flagged each depression. Alaska was potholed, poorly marked and not constructed to carry the same force. Radar was back too, and we were definitely ready to slow down. This was a good thing. The landscape was opening to more frequent vistas. A couple of hours into the state; we were stunned by the shear size of the Alaska Range more than a day away looming in the distance. The weather was a bit dreary, no rain. Other than the anticipation of arriving within the vast mountains ahead, the change in tempo, a lower quality experience, combined with our mutual detachment made for a rather disappointing arrival. The day droned on, absorbed by scenery and not much else, my back was beginning to ache badly.

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    As we approached Tok, Benoit signaled that he needed gas. We stopped and assessed the distance. He decided that we could make it without taking the time to transfer the reserve tanks. As we arrived in Tok the V-max had run dry, and he pushed the last 50 yards into the station. A quick fill and we pressed on towards our plotted destination at the Gerstle River. It was June 23rd. This was to be our northern most night. The river was a vast empty beach of flowing cement. The glacial flows are thick with gray sediment at this time of year. Over the flat expanse, the river course meanders a hundred different ways. At least a mile wide, we crossed a bridge and pulled into an informal camp that was completely deserted. It was ugly, filthy and gray. The campsites were broken and over grown; all in stark contrast the sharp well attended Provincial Parks. As we dismounted, an attack followed. Mosquitoes descended en mass and totally consumed our presence.

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    As the evening progressed, Eduardo consumed more than his usual allowance of Jack and beer. Later, without notice, he stumbled towards the bikes and rode away towards the river. After some time had passed, Benoit and I assumed that he had fallen in the sand and would require assistance. We rode to find our drunken mate swimming in the cement. All of a sudden, with midnight closing in, the beauty of our truly strange environment became apparent. The glow of the mountains beyond and the oozing gray water produced an awe-inspiring sight. (Not to mention Eduardo’s white behind bobbing around in the river.) We goofed around on the bikes and went to bed late. It never got dark that night.

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    I don’t think I totally appreciated the specialness of this place until I got home and saw the photos.

    Day Eight was a big one. Up and over Isabel Pass, and across the Denali Hwy to the park. At Delta Junction we turned south on the Richardson and headed towards the pass a hundred or so miles ahead. The road was flat and empty. Benoit decided to test his V-boost once again. He opened it up and was moving really when gas started squirting out from within. We pulled over and after a hour or so and a lot of mechanical exploration we determined that clogged jets had caused on overflow condition and need to be cleared. Running out of gas combined with Benoit’s “top speed run” sucked major debris through the filter and into the carbs. Every car that came by the deserted highway offered to do anything required to help us out. That seems to be the Alaska way. I fixed the jets, put the beast back together, and we moved on. The V-max was crippled. The carbs badly out of sync, and jets still not functioning well, the bike was using huge amounts of gas and producing little power. With no town close there was no choice but to proceed with caution. The V-max would have to go through the dirt to Denali in its present state.

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    At the top of Isabel Pass we came to a clear water stream (non-glacial) full of spawning sockeye salmon, a truly awesome site. We were in Alaska now, by-golly; this is definitely what we came for. Thousands of them were crowding the river just like you would imagine. Lunch and down the other side, time was getting short due to the V-boost breakdown.

    The afternoon was consumed traveling west on the most amazing dirt and gravel road running along the southern base of the Alaska Range. The Denali Hwy is the original route to Mt. McKinley. It is now very lightly traveled being still unpaved. We traversed up and over many series of mountains and crossed green tundra meadows on a clear and perfect day. The spirit was definitely back! Benoit made the best of things and lagged behind. Eduardo and I had a fantastic romp. Conditions on the road were perfect. Small rocks, up and over, slip and slide, long gravel straights, this road has it all. And, most of all, the scenery, both near and far, is the most amazing I’ve ever seen. I totally recommend this road to even the most novice of riders attempting Alaska. It is the very best.

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    We waited for Benoit at the bottom of the road in Cantwell. The plan was to find a new fuel filter and do the best job we could to re-sync the carbs without gauges. We found a generic filter and a nice camp in which to do the work. I used wire to calibrate the four pistons and got the settings close enough to work well for the rest of the trip. It was now raining steady and beginning to look like the next morning’s long awaited camper bus trip into Denali would be a bust.

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    The bus trip to Wonder Lake at the base of the big mountain took six hours. Rained steady the whole way, and we could not see more than a few hundred yards. Nonetheless, the splendor of the largest National Park, wildlife sanctuary in the nation was totally apparent. The grizzlies were out. Families of bears, big bears, big blond bears, grazed in the lush green tundra. Moose, fox, antelope and caribou were sighted along the trip. The school bus traveling slowly along the dirt trail was a pleasant change from moto travel.

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    Arriving at Wonder Lake, we hiked our gear a mile, or so, up to the lake side haven. It was immediately clear that we were not going to like being at this place. The mountain could not be found through the thick soup. The rain was still falling, and huge, thick, mosquitoes were in full, continuous attack mode. Like none that I will ever experience again, I pray. The bugs were bad at the Gerstle River, but nothing even close to this. All we could think of doing was to hide in the tents until the weather broke, a breeze came up, or the bus came to take us back. There was no way we could be active under these conditions. We intended to stay there for two nights and explore the sights on foot. That was not to be the case. We swatted bugs, inside the tents, all night long, and got the first bus out in the morning. Too bad, I’m sure Wonder Lake is a beautiful place. The rainy ride back seemed very long.

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    That afternoon, Day Eleven, took us down the mountains to Anchorage, three or four hours away. Around the back side of McKinley, we got one-half a view towards the top of the awesome peak. Anchorage is sort of like a little mid-western, oil town squeezed between the great white north, and the seafaring, rugged, coast of Alaska. We got there early enough to spend the late afternoon and evening wandering about. The weather had cleared and was actually hot. Found a great local bar, ate oysters and bought presents for the wife and kids. The hotels are lousy, very expensive, and hard to get a room. After all, their tourist season only lasts for two months.

    #15
  16. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2001
    Oddometer:
    5,307
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Baldy,
    I don't remember seeing Tony or Dorris there. They must not have been around... Cool place. Did you stay there for hunting? I'm just not sure about downing grizzlies. Seems like not a real good idea.

    cheers,

    R-dubb
    #16
  17. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

    Joined:
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    R-dubb's Alaska Photos

    Part Four - The Coast

    The following day took us south to Kenai. It was warm and we had heard about a fire burning on the north end of the peninsula. The other issue seemed to be traffic; throughout the rest of Alaska, except around Anchorage, we had been totally free. Now there were people around. I think it was Friday, and about the only reason I can think of to live in Anchorage is to get out of town on the weekends. Not good for us. Also there is not much slab highway in Alaska, but they sure don’t like lane splitting… Slow going, and then there were lane closures and backups due to the fire. Smoke was thick and it was getting pretty unpleasant. The smoke also obscured what would have been fantastic views across Cook Inlet to the mountains beyond. It took about four hours to go 150 miles to Sewart.

    Sewart is a very nice fishing village. Fairly touristy, but not bad. We had a look around, ate fish and then rode south of town to explore a back road along Resurrection Bay. As we stopped to check out a view, Eduardo spotted an eagle nest right along the road in a not too tall, slender pine. We could see the eaglet, which was looking almost ready to fall out. This was the first of probably a hundred of eagle sightings over the next days. A very picturesque place, but the weather was once again overcast. On the way out of Sewart we went to see the Exit Glacier. The blue ice extends nearly down to the road, which is no more than a few hundred feet above sea level. In Alaska it does not take a very high mountain to produce glacial conditions. We had seen many from a distance all around Alaska. This is the only one up close. In the park, a pair of guys rode up on their KLR’s. We quickly figured out that they were the same guys we had seen on the Alcan in Yukon. While we were screwing around in the rain at Denali, they had ridden the Dalton all the way to Prudhoe Bay. They came from Ontario and were doing the ride in about five weeks. At their slower speeds those guys were spending much more time in the saddle than we did. They were older, and not in as good of shape; on KLR’s…go figure. Strange thing, we did not see more than two or three long distance beemers on the whole trip.

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    We rode back out the way we came in; there aren’t very many route choices anywhere in Alaska. The road to Homer branched halfway back. Heading west through the center of Kenai was long and not all that interesting unless your heavy into salmon fishing. The season was in full swing. The road passed along the Kenai River a wide, shallow, fast flowing river for twenty miles or so. Hundreds, if not thousands of fishermen in waders, asses to elbows, in the river were fighting for a chance to bag a big catch. We watched as a Harley flew towards us oblivious to a moose less than ten feet from his lane around the bend. I don’t think he ever saw it. There were too many people around in these parts, after coming from the North.

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    Things cleared a bit once we got past the fishing spots. The west coast of Kenai is beautiful, small inlets, beaches, and a few villages. Our favorite stop was Ninilchick, which had a row of broken shops and cabins hanging out over a rock sea wall. The landscape was green and gorgeous. You could tell that it rains there almost constantly. Homer is situated at the opening to Kachemak Bay. The bay is a long, shallow inlet four or five miles across and twenty or so miles long. The town sits up away from the water and a narrow, sand and rock spit extends more than half way across the mouth of the Bay. The bay, due to its shallowness, is known to have the most halibut of any bay in Alaska. The fish are huge. They can weigh over a thousand pounds and come up from the bottom like a dead weight when hooked. The spit is home to bars, charter vessels and open sand beaches. We camped on the beach, right in the middle of the action. Hundreds of campers, anything goes, trucks stuck everywhere. It was indeed a strange and beautiful place.

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    Homer kind of felt like the end of the trip. We were not tired at this point really. The riding since Denali had not been very demanding. The camping routine was settled. We ate well, slept well and really didn’t put out much effort making camp since packing was now a no-brainer. Despite the routine, the long ride ahead to get up the Glenn Hwy to the Alcan, back through a portion of the Yukon, the way we came in, and down to Haines was sounding like a chore. Getting back up through the middle of Kenai and Anchorage was a chore. Traffic, fishermen, long straight road, it was the same old stuff. We rode the distance, had lunch in Anchorage, and headed north again. As the road split towards Palmer and followed the Matanuska River out of Cooks inlet, things once again felt remote and normal. Palmer is the only agricultural valley in Alaska and sports abnormally large produce specimens due to the long days of constant light.

    Heading east up the Glenn Hwy was a great ride, the only twisty section of asphalt we’d ridden since leaving Washington! It is a fairly tight road which winds along the river about a hundred and fifty miles to a low pass west of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Not far above Palmer, there was a massive glacier field in the not to far distance, across the river. The sight of ice literally pouring off the tops of mountains and flowing towards water is awesome beyond imagination. As we got up and over the pass, the sky was getting dark and it became obvious that we were headed into a large storm. A while back we had passed a lone KLR and after thirty miles or so straight into the storm we stopped to suit up for a big rain. It was late in the day, and we felt darkness, from the storm looming. As we waited, in no hurry to meet our fate, the KLR approached. This time the rider was an eighty-year-old man from Louisville, KY. He had been traveling alone since Spring and was ready for that storm in a way that we could only imagine. He rode through more slowly than us, but thirty miles later in the midst of the big rain he pulled up for gas and looked fine. I hope I can do that at eighty. He went to Valdez that night. To get there would mean a high pass over the mountains and a hundred and fifty miles in what was certainly to be very bad weather. We decided to skip Valdez and head north.

    Our camp was on a small lake, up and around Mts Wrangle and Stanford another hundred miles north. There was nothing there but a site which hosted RV’s. We were the only campers. A lady lived on the ranch, which had a generator, a four-runner, an empty barn, a lettuce patch, the lake, and lots of mosquitoes. We were far north, at higher elevation, and it is still puzzling how or why she lived there. Life in that beautiful place must be very hard and very lonely. She didn’t talk much.

    The next to last day of riding was tedious for the first half of the day. We were backtracking along the Alcan to Haines Junction. The Tetlin Preserve was somehow more impressive than when we arrived. The vastness of Alaska was now more appreciated for sure. I really did not want to yet leave which certainly was not possible. When we passed the junction with the Taylor (Top of the World Hwy.), we talked about heading north to Dawson City. It would have been foolish. A rushed ride up and around would add four hundred miles, more perhaps. If any thing happened, we would miss our ferry, and it wasn’t worth the chance. Next time, I will ride to Inuvik.

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    The road to Haines takes you up and over a high pass. Just inside B.C. we came across a large grizzly, up close and personal, grazing beside the road. The bears like the cleared bits along roads since the sun brings out berries and grass more so than under trees. At first the bear started to move away, we turned off the engines and stayed. He forgot about us and resumed his meal. After ten minutes we started the motors. The startled bear rose on his hind legs, gave us the evil eye, and we took-off. We stopped to fish a clear water stream. There was time to kill. No trout to be seen and it started to rain. Being on the bike is much better than being off in cold rain, so we headed up the pass. It did get cold and foggy. This was the only storm of the trip that lasted very long and seriously impacted conditions. I was happy, in that I expected much worse all along. I was fulfilled with a full dose of bad weather.

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    Into Alaska at Haines the weather cleared slightly, and we were greeted by stunning mountains dropping to the inlet. The Chilkoot Inlet is home to the world’s largest bald eagle population. They were everywhere. We were early for the ferry, which was not to leave until next evening. So there would be a day to chill with nothing to do. We never used the extra day picked up at Denali.

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    #17
  18. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

    Joined:
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    5,307
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    San Francisco
    R-dubb's Alaska Photos

    The Conclusion

    Its easy to get restless on the road. Even a single day with nothing to do is a challenge to deal with, at least for me. Haines is set right up against the rugged mountains that had caused us storm problems the day before. Picturesque, small and boring as hell. One or two bad bars, an OK restaurant, a primitive RV park that accepted motorcycles, and nothing to do for thirty hours. Fishing was the only really satisfying activity we managed. A river heads up towards the mountains from the back of town. It is broad and swift flowing stream with rolling rapids and presumably lots of fish. With the salmon season in full swing there were numerous anglers set up with heavy spinners and salmon rigs. We had our portable trout rods; so we caught trout. Eduardo landed the only big one, which was a decent prize.

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    The ferry was scheduled for that evening, so we were all rather bored when we got on the boat. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system connects a line of coastal communities that are not accessible by road. The ships are basic, practical and reasonably priced. Our route from Haines to Bellingham, WA departs weekly through the summer months. We booked a four-person berth for the four nights we would spend on board. Many folks sleep in tents on deck or in the lounges, but having the small berth was worth it. The deck is windy and cold, and of course, there is no privacy. The bikes stow below. Lash down straps are only needed if the seas are expected to be unusually rough. We left our bikes freestanding. The services on the ship were basic and adequate. Decent food, a small bar and nightly movies. I mostly sat on deck reading or staring off at the shore line. It was cold and gray for the entire voyage.

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    The ship boarded at 10:00 PM, which meant the most scenic leg from Haines to Juneau would be after dark. The route through the inside passage was to be very indirect with mostly four hour stops at each port. The ports were Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell, and Ketchikan. The afternoon Sitka stop provided a Russian history lesson and showed us that nice normal families can live well in such a disconnected setting. The Inside Passage is very scenic with logged slopes high mountain vistas. The ship is never more than a mile or so from shore, usually on both sides. There were occasional whale sightings that brought everyone on board to attention.

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    Wrangle is an outpost that we came to at 5:00 AM on the 4th of July. They were fixed up for a three block long parade. The town was eerie and empty. One got the sense that even during normal hours the broken storefronts were mostly abandoned. Logging supplies seemed to be the only commercial outlet. Ketchikan was very different. Being the southern most Alaska city, it is an important link to the south. Fish canneries appear to have been the traditional business. At mid day the ship docked a couple of miles from the downtown harbor, which was reserved for the many cruise liners that made Ketchikan a regular stop. The walk to town showed us the real Ketchikan that cruise passengers would never witness. There were large housing blocks for workers that were both grim and very urban. The Native American population was poor and appeared to have all the social issues you might expect. Drugs and alcohol were obvious. It looks like canning is mostly gone. Now there are frozen fish warehouses and lumbering. The downtown harbor was bustling with tourist activity and encompassed about ten square blocks. There was a third world quality to the contrasting economics of the tourists vs. the home-boys.

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    The boat ride was generally pretty grim. We did not like being passengers stuck for three days with bad weather and little to do. I thought I would enjoy the rest after a long ride. The truth is I would much rather have gone back home the way we came. It could easily have been done in a similar amount of time. Sure, we would have missed the onboard history lessons about rich native cultures that still dominate remote villages. Eduardo was most affected. I could tell he just want to be back with the family, and the boat was a torturously slow delay. There were other bikers on board. A father and son on decked-out Harleys came up from Sacramento. And then there was a couple of old guys on Gold Wings. They had started as group of eight. Their peers either turned back or crashed along the way. Apparently, weather was much worse than ours on the way up.

    Finally, the ship arrived. With little adieu, we disembarked and headed for I-5 at about 10:00 AM. Benoit and I decided to go down to Portland and visit my sister Martha and he husband Paul. (He had ridden with us in Washinton on the way up.) Eduardo wanted to go. He rode the 1000+ miles home in18 hours straight through. The Portland visit was real fine and so was home.

    OK, Here’s the wrap-up. I would do this trip again anytime the opportunity arises. No regrets, well worth the time. It will always provide many positive memories. I think three is the perfect size group for long trips. The preparation was more careful than it needed to be. Taking less is definitely better as long as you are sure to be warm and dry, no matter what. I would have preferred to take the loop north to Dawson City; we should have done that. I am told the road is amazing, and DC has a cool, adventure-oriented culture. The GS was perfect. Other than Ohlins with the wrong front spring, all of my equipment was right and nothing broke. The weak spring resulted in nagging pogo over dips and a rear end waggle at very high speed. My bike was also the kitchen so the rear Givi box was pretty heavy. I kept a little ice chest and some fresh foods going almost constantly, a luxury that helps the diet greatly. We only had one burger stop the whole way, and that was not by choice. We lost about ten pounds each and were in good shape by the return.

    The R1100s and the V-max were better on the road than I though they would be. Eduardo made really fast time an gravel and had to slow for rocks and ruts more than me. The V-max was similar in that regard. More stable in ruts. Bumps were hard on Benoit. With a very short travel in back, his shocks had to be rock hard to take the pounding. He says his ass was sore for a month following the trip. We had no injuries, no falls and didn’t get lost from each other. And we are all still good friends, sort of. I think Eduardo and Benoit may still have a few minor issues.

    I am currently planning a longer trip down the Andes from Ecuador to Tierra del Fuego. That will hopefully be in a couple of years. In the mean time, I’m just hanging in California, riding as much dirt and rough asphalt as I can find. I’m also hoping to do Baja within a year or so. The Dempster Hwy to Inuvik may just have to wait awhile…

    Attached Files:

    #18
  19. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

    Joined:
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    RB,

    I will do that. The report has lots of typos and grammatical problems anyway. So I'll give it the once over and try the photo inserts. May take a couple more days to get that done....

    Is there a way to pick-up jpeg's off my hard drive and insert with the img command, or do they have to be on Pbase first?

    Writing this crap is tedious, but it does help the old memory restore a few foggy recollections.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    R-dubb
    #19
  20. R-dubb

    R-dubb Dubbious Adventurer

    Joined:
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    5,307
    Location:
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    It's hard to get to the bottom of exactly what happen. Since I was leading, I did not see either Eduardo's aborted pass or Benoit's blow-by. The two of them, of course, disagree on the nuances of just how all of this came down. It is clear that Eduardo was freaked to find a car coming at him. So, when Benoit decided to charge ahead, Eduardo was already pissed at his own mistake and somewhat frightened. Benoit, for his part, was not willing to cut Eduardo slack. He had felt for some time that Eduardo was not certain enough about oncoming clearance to make clean passes. So he thought Eduardo's situation was intolerable and did not want to follow him.

    There is certainly a lot of ego involved in these matters. You know, the French can do no wrong. What ever you get, you had coming. And, of course, Colombians are crazed and totally erratic with the machismo to back it up....

    After a day or so of mediation, they came back together without further agression. But, there was always an edge. Benoit's antics and carrying on became tiresome. Eduardo's snub, hurt feelings. You got the picture. I hope they will both join me for future trips. We are good friends. I'm the steady one. I just keep things rolling and make sure we all know what's going on. Only time will tell.

    Cheers,

    R-dubb

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    #20