Another Rookie Went to Alaska

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by 72 Yamaha RD350, Jan 3, 2020.

  1. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Coming up tomorrow: Detailed Alaska trip report with maps, weather, mileage, and just a few pictures.
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  2. B10Dave

    B10Dave Long timer

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    Love your writing style. Story contents lend themselves nicely to that style. Fellow Luddite here as well. Paper maps and no helmet distractions ever. Quite happy with my own company for hours at a time. Looking forward for the rest of the story.
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  3. YellerDog

    YellerDog Adventurer

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    Great story, keep it coming!
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  4. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    To those who have complimented my writing, thank you. One of the reasons I've waited this long to publish a RR is because of the quality and style of many of the RR's published on ADVRider. It's amazing how in the pre-internet generation we never really knew how many quality writers there were out there. In that era, one had to be a professional journalist or writer to have any audience whatsoever. Sure, there is a lot of poor writing published on the internet but some of the stuff that's good is really good. And some of the writing styles are uniquely good.

    I questioned for a long time what style to use for this RR and, in the end, decided to be the square, career engineer, dad of four adult children that I am. Sometimes I will be funny, sometimes I'll be detailed, other times I'll be mundane. I can imitate others to a degree but it's best to just be me and let the chips fall where they may.

    If you have written a RR on ADVRider since 2016, there's a good chance I've read it. I've even read a fair number published before 2016. It's fair to say that all of them have influenced me and my ideas about riding one way or another. Not to blow smoke up your ass, but give yourself a pat on the back. It's not easy putting a RR together and it's even more difficult to do one in real time.

    I elected to publish little about my trip in real-time - just enough to keep my wife and kids informed via my FB page. But I did create notes every night to refer back to and I created a powerpoint that I presented to interested co-workers. The maps and photo progression are derived from the powerpoint presentation.

    Now, let's get back to the show.
    #44
  5. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Unlike many inmates on ADVRider who ride to Alaska or other distant destinations, it is important to me to understand why. Why do I want to do this.

    Why would someone 54 years old ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle three thousand miles to Alaska. It was a question that had been on my mind as I departed. I’ve never undertaken such an ambitious adventure. It certainly won’t be easy. As I explain it to those who ask, it is a 1,500 mile track across the territory of over 400 Wal-mart stores spread across Canada followed by 1,500 miles of not a single Wal-mart. A dear friend who is not adventurous in the least said that alone would be reason enough for him. Our feelings toward Wal-mart aside, I can identify a few thoughts that motivate me to head out on the Yellowhead Highway and the Alcan.

    A lot of Americans who travel fall under the spell of the American West. I certainly have and still do. The American West is a broad expanse of red and brown earth tones under a clear blue, cloudless sky. Few places are as beautiful. I moved to Arizona earlier in life and while living there, traveled extensively across the entire Southwest and into the Rockies and Sierras. California, Utah, Colorado, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, The Black Hills - I’ve been all those places. They’re great and I look forward to returning again some day. But this is a time to go somewhere new, somewhere I’ll likely never return and certainly not using the same mode of transportation.

    I came across “The Milepost”, the book detailing the Alaska Highway route, at our local library when I was a kid and spent some time reading it. Twenty years or so ago I fell in love with the Iditarod Race and read every book about it. Perhaps it was Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion Show” live from Alaska in the 1996 that convinced me that Alaska was too rough for me… and if not for me, certainly for my wife and four kids. I had settled into life as my father did.

    So… I’m at that age. No - not mid-life crisis. My wife could produce a list of my mid-life crises as long as a CVS receipt. I’m talking post mid-life crisis. The age when my high school classmates are beginning to pass away from “natural causes”, you know, cancers, strokes, other diseases and the occasional suicide to beat death to the punch. I started riding a motorcycle again in 2016 because I knew I wouldn’t be physically able some day in the future. It didn’t occur to me then - that day might be a lot closer than I realized. Academically speaking… I’m ok with death. We all sort of have to be once we get to a certain age. Fortunately I am not beset by existential angst. I just know that now is the time.

    Why Alaska? I’ve been to nearly all of the lower forty-eight. I’ve read virtually all of Jack London’s work and Robert Service’s poems. [I am still chilled by the storyline of “Sea Wolf” decades after reading it.] And then there’s Johnny Horton’s 1958 hit song, “North to Alaska”.

    Where the river is windin’
    Big nuggets they’re findin’
    North! To Alaska!
    Go North!
    The Rush is on!
    North! To Alaska!
    Go North!
    The Rush is on!

    That song has always resonated with me. It is easy to be seduced by the romance of the Yukon.

    So with all that as foundation, riding a motorcycle to Alaska or any great distance solo is an entirely selfish endeavor. But as I rode along mile after mile for 3,000 miles across North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory, I thought of those who have passed on and did not get a chance to live their dream: my good friend Jeff Brown who’s life was tragically cut short in 1980 by a drunk driver, my riding mentor Mel Jordan who passed away suddenly before he had a chance to fully enjoy retirement, and Avon classmates Pam, Matt, Tracey, Heidi, and Fred. [I’m sure there are others.] I can’t ride a motorcycle to Alaska for those individuals - but I carried my memories of them with me: Pam’s spunkiness, Matt’s quietness, Tracey’s kindness, and Heidi’s fun nature. I didn’t know them especially well, and certainly not later in life. Regardless, I feel a bond to them from Avon forty years ago. Memories of them, no matter how far in the past, made it less a solo ride.

    My fifth grade class picture. Jeff is upper right in the #12 Packers jersey (marked by the "x"). I'm two rows behind.
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    We rode home together on the same seat of the bus that fateful day. He told me he was going to ride his bike when he got home. I always wondered what happened to Goad. This was before MADD and the public outcry against DWI/DUI.
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    #45
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  6. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Alright, now is the time to explain that Mormon thing.

    We are invulnerable and immortal when we are teenagers. That is - until death strikes close to home. And when it does it fucks us up because kids are not equipped to handle death. We are like that kid in the movie "Jeremiah Johnson" who never speaks again after seeing most of his family slaughtered by Crows. That's no exaggeration. I saw six children of a family go through unimaginable dysfunction and trauma after their three year old sibling drowned in a swimming pool. I got off easy by comparison.

    I turned to God through two United Methodist churches in my community and they provided great experiences until I sensed dissonance there. I was too young to appreciate that dissonance and dissent can be virtues. An attractive brunette with more authoritative beliefs came to work at the strawberry farm. Whether I was a drawn to her beauty or her church of Donny & Marie Osmond is up for debate but we became a couple and that's how she ended up riding on the back of my RD350 and how I married Mormon and lived Mormon for twenty years until one day I didn't.

    Obviously there is far more to the story but you're here for an Alaska ride report, not a philosophical dissertation on "The Psychological Trade-offs of Salvation by Grace versus Authoritarian Orthodoxy".
    #46
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  7. Long Trail

    Long Trail ADV Willing

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    I just enjoyed readIng these first 3 pages and agree that you have great writing skills. I’ve enjoyed your story so far and will happily follow your RR through it’s conclusion. I don’t post often since I fit into the profile of the quiet type who like to sit in the back and observe rather than calling attention to myself, so I probably won’t comment much if even at all, but keep up the great story telling, looking forward to the rest.
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  8. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I have the following portion of Thoreau’s Walden on my whiteboard at work. It is yellowed with age as I typed it decades ago. I occasionally re-read it to provide me with philosophical guidance I live by. It was the last thing I read when I walked out of my office before embarking on my ride to Alaska.

    “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

    I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.

    If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.“


    I rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle 3,000 miles to Alaska because it was a dream, a romance, a selfish act propelled by memories of others, and a philosophy about living.
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  9. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I forgot to mention previously that I did take along a SPOT tracker as a concession to my wife's peace of mind. Rick's office mate kept track of us on a map outside his office so that our riding and non-riding co-workers could live vicariously through us.

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    #49
  10. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    We left on a warm and humid Friday afternoon at 2pm on June 14th, 2019. First stop was to top off the tank in Rothway MN to avoid a quick shower and say hello to the big Prairie Chicken. The Road King averaged 42 mpg for the highway speeds into an easy west wind.

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  11. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    This is Rick in his 'Stich. His '19 AT is in the background.
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    At this stop we met a woman & her husband who were driving their 2006 Scion Xb from Newfoundland and down to Boston back to their home in Alaska. I owned the same make/model vehicle for nearly ten years. It was perfectly reliable but I'd require new struts and better seats before embarking on that long of a journey with it.

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  12. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    We stopped in Fargo because I had forgotten to get my Canadian insurance ID card from my insurance company. I had them fax it to the Kinko's in Fargo where I picked it up. If you are headed into Canada - don't forget to request your Canadian insurance ID card from your insurance company two weeks in advance.

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  13. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Day 0 - Home to Jamestown ND
    Friday, June 14 - 350 miles – 86F; overnight thunderstorm

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    First and, spoiler, only night camping. Parkhurst campground is a county property north of Jamestown on the bluff above Pipestem lake. A half dozen or so RVs were present but widely spread out. Latrines, old and new, were clean. We put $12 in the unattended drop box. This is a scenic location. My understanding is that it was formerly a private campground (KOA?) that went bankrupt. Regardless, 10/10 would camp there again.

    I woke up to pee at 2:30 am and saw lightning in the west. The thunderstorm ran from about 3:30-4:30 am. I did not think to pull the tarp in so my sleeping bag got wet. No matter how much camping experience I have, I still make mistakes. We hit the laundromat in Jamestown to dry out the sleeping bag.

    Like many towns in the West, Jamestown has a tenuous hold on the land. Jamestown College, a private Presbyterian affiliated school founded in 1883, and I-94 are its primary anchors. (The college changed its name to the University of Jamestown in 2013.) This Polar King across the laundromat had seen better days but still lent an endearing feel to the town.

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  14. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Remember what I said earlier about museums? We didn't get to do as many as I had hoped, but we did enough. I'm sure Rick questioned my sanity on some of them, but others he enjoyed.

    This day was notable because I dropped Elvis (the name of my Road King) for the first time. I was backing into a parking space that was sloped more than I thought. I did not cover the front brake and we started rolling quickly. No big deal. It's the first of a few drops.

    Day 1 – Jamestown ND
    National Buffalo Museum

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    #54
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  15. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Day 1 – Jamestown ND to Estevan SK
    Saturday, June 15th - 288 miles – 65F Scattered Rain

    We hit heavy rain at Carrington ND. A mature woman on a late model Harley pulled up next to me while I was filling up to ask how it was behind us. She had just ridden 100 miles through some rough weather the direction we were heading. In the rain I missed the right hand turn on US52 out in the middle of nowhere, but that got us out of the rain. We had lunch in McCluskey ND at the Union Bar & Grill and were given the full "outsider" treatment. There were people in that cafe who didn't take their eyes off us for one second the entire time we were there.

    The navigational error not only got us out of the rain and into a Twilight Zone diner, it put us on a path to US83 and a crossing of scenic Lake Audubon. Miles later US83 readily connected us to US52 in Minot.

    Rick and I work for a publicly traded company that will remain nameless. At our facility we design, manufacture, and test things that go through the air, beyond the air, and even a few things that go many miles deep into the earth. We stopped at this shallow hole in the ground because my product line happens to have a lot of things down there. I considered pulling up to the call box and asking them how things were going today but thought better of it. On our way back we saw the field security team in their Humvee. I was surprised that one launch complex is literally 100 yards from a remote residence. I suspect those homeowners are among the safest on the planet.

    Minuteman Missile Launch Complex #10
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    #55
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  16. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Being the one with the cruise control equipped bike, it's my responsibility to keep Rick and I from getting speeding tickets. I typically drive & ride 1-3 mph over the speed limit, but as we leave launch complex 10 I crank back on the throttle and we're cruising at 75 mph. A few miles later we approach a ND State Trooper parked on the right side of the road. He flipped on the rollers but remained stationary. We got the message and dialed it back to legal speeds.

    At the border we met three bikes from the Twin Cities Victory MC also headed to Alaska. We rode with them to Estevan for the night and again the next day to Edmonton. As shown in the pictures below are Matt & Maria, Mark, and Shellie. Ron is not shown because he was busted at the border crossing for import taxes on cigarette cartons. All three bikes were Victory Cross Country Tour models.

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    #56
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  17. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Day 2 – Estevan SK to Edmonton AB
    Sunday, June 16 - 602 miles – 64F Overcast

    Day 1 was shorter than planned so Day 2 required more miles. I had an appointment at the Edmonton HD dealer for a 5,000 mile service on Monday (day 3). The RK only has a bit over 4,000 miles on it but the next dealer isn't until Fairbanks.

    We departed Estevan at 9am with a temperature of 50F. Rick had an unfortunate incident that affected the rest of his trip; as he was avoiding a car in the hotel parking lot first thing in the morning, the DCT equipped AT did not engage quickly enough and he fell over at no speed but not before trying to hold up the 600 pound bike. The Victory riders rushed to his aid but he had damaged a pectoral muscle. This physical infirmity made the rest of the trip difficult for him.

    I can't say there was anything memorable in these 600 miles. I was tailgunner on the five bike parade and as we pulled into Regina a road construction zone and extra long stoplight separated me from the group. Knowing our next city was Saskatoon, I proceeded toward there. An hour later when I entered the freeway after a fill-up, the four bikes magically joined up behind me before putting me in the tailgunner position again.

    Mark had been the lead navigator out of Estevan and is an accomplished Iron Butt rider. Matt took the lead as we entered Saskatoon and I saw the mid-city exit for 16 (Yellowhead Hwy) pass by as his GPS led us on a 45 minute wandering path through the west side of the city. After a stop for fuel and putting Mark back in charge of navigation, we rejoined the Yellowhead headed to Edmonton. The Victory riders had rooms booked at the same hotel in Edmonton as us where we arrived at 8pm.

    We all stayed at the Super8 Sherwood Park in Edmonton. It was clearly something else previously as you won't find another Super8 like it anywhere.

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    #57
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  18. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Day 3 – Edmonton AB to Montney AB

    The HD dealer got me in as soon as they opened. While they were doing the service a fellow HD rider offered to take Rick & I to the nearby Cabela's to pick up a few things.

    Vintage bike collection at HD dealer.
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    This is Bryan, the local Christian Motorcycle Association president, and his friend Laura. Say what you will about the pirate crowd, there's some damned fine generous people riding Harleys.
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    #58
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  19. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Day 3 – Edmonton AB to Montney AB
    Monday, June 17 - 437 miles – 77F Overcast

    The service at Edmonton HD was completed in about 2 hours. We jumped back on the Yellowhead to head west before turning north toward Grande Prairie. As we left Grande Prairie we were hit by an incredibly strong thunderstorm that lasted ten minutes. The first milestone of the trip was a photo stop at the start of the AlCan. We encountered a minor construction delay prior to Fort St.John. There is a beautiful photo worthy landscape over the Peace River at Taylor that we skipped due to the day slipping away from us.


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  20. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Day 3 – Edmonton AB to Montney AB

    Our destination was The Shepherd Inn. We pulled in about 9:30pm having just dodged a few deer on the AlCan. All because it is daylight doesn't mean it is safe to ride past 8pm. Accomodations were very good as was breakfast in the cafe the next morning.

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    Mike and his wife, Cathy, from Homer pulled their RV into the parking lot to spend the night. Mike came out to chat and we had a wonderful time. This was Mike & Cathy's 18th trip over the AlCan after moving to Alaska in the 80's. Mike gave us a list of things to stop and see on our ride.

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    #60
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