Calgary to Alaska with my Son as Passenger

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Geckotb, Sep 9, 2019.

  1. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Day 14 - July 21:

    Relaxing in Anchorage

    For our rest day in Anchorage we lucked out with beautiful weather again. Hoping it would be clear enough for Yuji to see Denali, we walked to the top of the JC Penny parkade downtown. According to Google, this is one of the best places to see Denali from Anchorage. Unfortunately, even though the skies were clear there was still too much haze from forest fires.

    Then we rented bicycles and rode along the coastal bike trail to Worontzoff Point, where Yuji found one of his favorite signs from the trip:
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    Still no luck with seeing Denali from there, but the ride itself was beautiful. We saw some cranes wading on the shore and skipped rocks for a while.
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    After returning the bikes we took a free shuttle to the zoo. It was small zoo but fun; the animals were really active so we could see lots. I kept getting lost walking around but Yuji is the map-master so we eventually found everything.
    The tigers were busy prowling around so we spent lots of time with them.
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    To celebrate our last day on the Alaska mainland before getting on the ferry the next day we splurged on king crab legs for dinner.
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    Of course, no rest day is complete without looking at every souvenir shop we could find…
    #21
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  2. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

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    Day 15 - July 22:

    Anchorage to Whittier, and onto the ferry

    We didn’t need to board the ferry until the evening so we slept in and went back to Worontzoff Point to skip rocks and chill for a few hours.

    Had a good lunch at Sami’s Diner, then re-organized our bags for what we would need with us on the ferry and what we could leave with the bike on deck.

    No rain while riding today so we could enjoy the stunning scenery of ocean-side glaciers and mountains on the way to Whittier.
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    I was a bit nervous about the tunnel but it turned out to be no big deal at all. All the other riders we met boarding the ferry agreed the warnings were overblown; just ride straight for a few minutes and ignore the dripping water, and you’re done. They had just finished letting the cars go through on our side when we arrived so we were sent straight in with no wait. Some riders who came later that evening said they had to wait almost an hour to be let through!

    We were still hours early for boarding, so we walked around Whittier and had the freshest fish and chips ever for dinner.

    We were told to be in the boarding line early, but they ended up boarding Juneau-bound bikes very last so I stood in that parking lot for a looooong time chatting with the other riders. At least they let us carry our bags up to our room so Yuji could relax there and explore the ship. At first, our room seemed like a closet until we got used to it.

    This wait was the only time during the entire trip when mosquitoes bugged me a little. Friends who had been there and trip reports all said to bring tons of bug spray and head nets, but we didn’t use them a single time.

    I certainly learned a lesson about tying down my bike: When I was tying down the bike on deck I put one tie-down strap from the bars to the ground, but that strap pressed on a corner of my fairing and pushed it the wrong way in. I took it off and tied it lower so no further damage, but I’ll have to try popping out that piece of fairing at home and hope it goes back together properly. At least it didn’t crack.
    #22
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  3. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Day 16 - July 23:

    Riding the ferry

    I was super tired and starting to come down with a cold so was happy for the chance to sleep in late. It didn’t help that I forgot to bring any camping pillows so couldn’t get comfortable and had a really bad sleep. In the morning I learned you can rent bedding on board, so we did that for our second night.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find the food on board was decent and not too expensive.

    The main excitement for the day was seeing a whale breach near the ship! Otherwise, we spent the day playing games and doing puzzles, and watched a free movie in the ship’s theater.

    We stopped in the small port of Yukatat, which gave us a chance to walk around for a while.

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    There was an abandoned train on display from the ‘Salmon Railway’, which was a short railway used solely to take salmon from the coast to a cannery a few miles inland. I'm sure there was a good reason for not building the cannery closer to the shore so as to not need the railway in the first place...

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    #23
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  4. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

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    Day 17 - July 24:

    Ferry to Juneau (Or, “And now it all goes to hell”)

    As we neared Juneau, we saw a beautiful glacier flowing into the ocean.
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    Our ferry route had us transfer ships at Juneau, where we would board a different ship to Prince Rupert, BC. We arrived in Juneau at noon, the next ferry didn’t leave until 4am the next morning, so I booked us a room in the cheapest hotel I could find, just so we could have a place to leave our bags and Yuji would be able to watch TV and get a few hours’ sleep. I have the patience (or lack of firing neurons) to sit in a coffee shop and stare at the wall for 10 hours, but I don’t think it’d be fair to ask a kid to do that so a hotel made sense.

    So, we confirmed with the ferry terminal staff what time we could check in for the ferry we expected to board that night, and rode into Juneau. After dropping off the bags in our hotel, we walked around town. 2 Princess Cruise Lines ships were docked in town, so the streets and shops were packed with people.

    And, here’s where the trip went sideways::flush

    As we sat having dinner, I got an unexpected phone call from the ferry terminal. They said the ferry union had gone on strike and we wouldn’t be able to get on our ship, and buh-bye. Woah! What are my options? They’re just leaving hundreds of people stranded in a landlocked town? They couldn’t offer any suggestions or help, just said we would be refunded the fare for the remaining portion of our trip.:becca

    I actually thought this was a prank call so checked the internet, but it was true. According to the news, the last time they went on strike it lasted for 3 weeks, so no way we were waiting around for that. I needed to get back to work in about a week.

    So, crisis mode. No point in panicking, just figure out how to get out of Juneau with a kid and motorcycle. Asking some locals and checking the internet showed that Alaska Air Cargo might be an option so they were my first call. I called and they were able to fly my bike to either Anchorage or Seattle the next afternoon. Obviously, I chose Seattle as it would be a 2 day drive instead of 2 weeks. And, we were also able to get flights for ourselves on a flight to Seattle a couple hours after the bike left. I was told that I would have to prep my bike to get it on the plane – drain the fuel, etc. – so to show up at the cargo terminal first thing in the morning to start the process.

    Yuji went over the maps and figured out a course that would get us home from Seattle and still preserve as much of our original course as possible through Jasper, one of the places he was most excited about.

    Feeling like the crisis was handled, we went to bed.

    Of course, because I wasn’t expecting to spend the whole night in Juneau I had cheaped out on our room, which turned out to be directly above the stage for the live band in the bar below us. I had only a few hours’ sleep that night.
    #24
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  5. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

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    Day 18 - July 25:

    Out of Juneau?

    Tired but hopeful, I was up early to drive out to the airport and start getting the bike ready to fly. I left Yuji sleeping in the room since I figured I would be riding around for a while getting things like a siphon and gas can, so no need for him to get up early and be dragged back and forth across Juneau.

    When I went into the cargo office, The Alaska Air staff looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted to fly a bike on a plane? And the booking agent said it was okay? A bike is hazmat and has to be prepped, and that takes time, and then you need paperwork, and on and on…

    I know, I’m ready to do whatever to get the bike ready. Their main problem was the hazmat paperwork. I looked at the paperwork but didn’t know what any of the symbols on the special forms were meant, and the staff wouldn’t help because they didn’t want to assume the liability.

    But, they suggested there was one company in Juneau that deals with hazmat so I could call them for help. When I called, it turned out there was only one human being in the city who is certified to fill out the paperwork, and she was out of town that week! :beccaStarting to get a little cranky…

    Next suggestion was a little bush plane company that flies bikes up north; they might be able to fly me to a road that actually goes somewhere. I rode over there, but they normally only take dirt bikes into the bush, and my bike was too big to load onto their plane. :beccaEven crankier…

    The only other suggestion Alaska Air had was Alaska Marine Lines, a barge company that ships vehicles in freight containers. I called them and they could get my bike on the next barge, which would get the bike to Seattle in 2 weeks. Out of other options, I took this.

    Then another call to Alaska Air to see about getting flights all the way to Calgary instead of just Seattle. There were a couple seats available that evening, but - of course - only in first class. I didn’t even want to imagine my credit card bill when I got home after all this…

    So, back to the hotel to pick up Yuji and get reorganized for flying.

    In one of the bright spots of the day, when we were riding to the barge wharf Yuji noticed some bald eagles standing on the ground by the coast. Weird, eagles don’t usually hang out on the ground… So, we pulled over and there was a small crowd of people already there. We counted about a dozen bald eagles and 6 golden eagles! I’d never seen a golden eagle in the wild before. Massive birds! They were all wading in a stream, eating salmon who were trying to swim from the ocean upstream to spawn, but were stranded by low tide.
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    Salmon eyes must be super tasty, because there were a ton of otherwise-untouched dead salmon with no eyes floating around. Yuji loved this, running around watching eagles rip the guts and eyes out of salmon. We had plenty of time to kill before our flight, so spent about an hour watching the grisly nature show.

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    At the wharf, the Alaska Marines staff were extra helpful. Apparently, they’d been getting lots of calls from other people who’d also been screwed over by the ferry union, looking to ship their vehicles out of Juneau. I had to strap my bike onto a metal pallet, which would go into a freight container when the barge arrived in a few days. Even though I was supposed to strap it down myself since I’m shipping at my own risk, the barge guys helped me figure out the best way to make it stable, and lifted the pallet up on the forklift and gave it a good shake to make sure it wouldn’t slide around when sailing.
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    I was pretty bummed to see my bike get wheeled away into the warehouse. It was a quiet taxi ride to the airport.


    Yuji loved the flight. He was the only kid in first class (shocking, right?) so he got tons of attention and all the snacks and treats from the stewardess. “Dad, this is awesome! We should always go first class from now on!” Right, better get a good job when you grow up, kiddo.

    We eventually walked into our house in Calgary around 1am. Less than 12 hours earlier we were on a bike in Juneau, and now we’re home with no bike. Totally surreal, felt a weird sort of culture shock after living out of saddlebags and gas station diners for a couple weeks, then being back home with no sense of closure for what was an amazing trip until it very suddenly wasn't. Even as exhausted as I was after that ridiculously long and stressful couple of days it took quite a while to get to sleep.
    #25
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  6. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2018
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    Day 19 - July 26:

    Back at home

    I woke up at noon, and took my other bike for a ride just to feel the throttle and maybe pretend I was still on my trip.

    Hopefully I’ll feel like the trip is complete when I get my bike back from Seattle. Unfortunately, Yuji will be at summer camp when it’s time to pick up the bike so he won’t be able to go with me and finish the trip together. I don’t think it’ll be the same without him. He was a really great partner for the whole trip and made it way more fun than if I did it solo.

    I read more news about the ferry strike and learned how it could have worked out so much worse for us. We got off the ferry at Juneau at noon. At 2pm they called the strike and pulled over all ferries at the nearest port, regardless of where it was. Some travelers got stuck in tiny towns with no hotels or groceries or airports. At least we had options in Juneau, unlike hundreds of other travelers. The Alaska government let people stay on the unmanned parked ships where it was necessary.

    I read that the hardest impacted were the locals in small towns who depended on the ferry to get to the doctor, buy groceries, etc. Seaplanes and whale-watching boats started chipping in to keep these towns going. So yeah, it was an expensive pain in the ass for us, but could have been way worse.
    #26
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  7. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2018
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    Day 20 - August 8:

    Calgary to Seattle

    After 2 weeks, I got a call from Alaska Marine Lines that my bike was ready for pickup in Seattle. I flew down one evening after work and stayed in a hotel near SeaTac. I was worried about getting through US Customs with a one-way ticket, but it was no problem after telling the guard the ferry story.

    The hotel had a free shuttle from the airport, so that was convenient. At the hotel, I asked the front desk guy how long it would take for a taxi to get me from the hotel to the wharf by 7am, presuming a local would know the general layout of the city. He said it would take an hour and a half. Hmmm… Doesn’t look that far on the map.

    I was told the hotel had a town car service for taking guests around town and he would double-check with them how long they thought it would take, then call me in my room. As soon as I got to my room I checked Google maps to see what they said about traffic that early. According to Google, it should take 12 to 20 minutes. I never heard back from the hotel guy so I booked a taxi for a 6:30 pickup and went to sleep.
    #27
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  8. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Day 21 - August 9:

    Seattle to Kelowna

    At 5:10am, the same hotel guy from the night before called and woke me up because my town car was waiting outside! Huzzawhat? I admit I was not terribly polite to this guy who had never called me back the night before and just assumed I would be up and ready at 5am with no confirmation either way.

    At 6:30 my taxi showed up and took all of 15 minutes to get me to the wharf. I would have been really pissed if I’d listened to the hotel guy and ended up sitting in the dark on a sidewalk by the wharf for over an hour until the shipping office opened!

    At the office, there was a fair bit of confusion about which receiving yard my bike was in...
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    But I finally found it! And it was in one piece, exactly the way I left in Juneau! After unstrapping it from the pallet and loading my bags, I was off! I brought smaller saddle bags this time, since it was just me for a 2-day ride.

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    The taxi driver gave me awesome advice for getting through and north out of Seattle in rush hour traffic, so that part was pretty painless. I really liked the tunnelway – very cool! I was so happy to be back on the bike I didn’t even mind the rain that started as soon as I left Seattle.

    I took the I-5 to 530 and up the North Cascades highway. The North Cascades was amazing! I liked it at least as much as the Going to the Sun Road. Twisty roads and beautiful scenery add up to all kinds of goodness.

    To balance out the karmic poop of the ferry fiasco, a bit of good luck: It stopped raining as soon as I got into the park, and this was a Friday so not much traffic, so I was able to open up the throttle and enjoy the twisties. The riding was so good, and I was enjoying pushing the bike a bit faster than normal through the corners since I didn't have a passenger, that I totally forgot to take any pictures until I was out of the park!

    I made a brief stop in New Halem to check out the park visitor center, then stopped again in Winthrop on the other side of the park for lunch. Winthrop was a fun surprise that Yuji would have loved: an Old West-themed town with wooden sidewalks; looked like a movie set.

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    Leaving the North Cascades Park, I was surprised by the very abrupt change in terrain from the mountains and forests to Okanagan Valley scrub desert. After Winthrop, more rain as far as the Canadian border, but it was still a nice ride.

    At the border, I had to go through the whole ferry story again when the guard asked why I flew in and was driving out. We shared a laugh at my expense; his laugh was probably more genuine than mine. So glad to ride back into Canada! Getting closer to home.

    It got hotter the further north I rode, hitting over 30C in Kelowna. As luck would have it, I hit Kelowna right during afternoon rush hour, so that totally sucked sitting in riding gear in the heat, barely moving. Jacket vents don’t help if no air is moving through them. I thought I was going to pass out by the time I got to my hotel.

    I basked in the air conditioning in my room for a while to let my body temperature get back down to normal, then grabbed dinner and went to a movie.

    I noticed that the bike was pulling a bit to the left, so I repacked my saddle bags to better even out the weight for the next day.
    #28
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  9. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2018
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    Day 22 - August 10:

    Kelowna to Calgary

    I drive through this area a lot, having grown up around the Okanagan and visit regularly, and boot into the Banff/Canmore area a few times a week year-round, so didn't bother taking any pictures this day.

    I woke up at 5am for no reason, way before my alarm and couldn’t get back to sleep, even though I was starting to feel the lack of sleep from the last couple days. So, I decided to just get up and hit the road early and get ahead of traffic, and hopefully beat the rain that was forecasted for the entire day.

    It was barely drizzling when I loaded up the bike and looked clear to the east, but I put on my rain gear anyway. Turned out to be a good decision. Right after Vernon, the worst rain storm I’ve ever ridden in hit hard! It came down so fast the water couldn’t drain off the road; water was washing up over the toes of my boots. I thought I could tough it out until a car passed me and his wave went over my head and soaked my helmet so I was completely blind for several seconds. Luckily, the road was straight there, so I just hung on and rode it out blind until I could see enough to pull over safely. Things you don’t even think about in a car, right?

    After this, the rain stopped completely only a few km later. I stopped for breakfast in Sicamous and sat with some other riders and had a nice time, exchanging stories and routes.

    Even after balancing the saddle bags, the bike was still pulling to the left. I’d have to look at this when I got home.

    There was lots of traffic on the highway after Revelstoke, but I was able to make good time. Just before I got to the Banff park gates, the lack of sleep suddenly really hit me and I had to pull over and clear my head. While I was sitting there, I had another good chat with a guy who’d been riding all through Canada and the US the last couple of months.

    After I started feeling more alert I pressed on home from there. The last 20km into Calgary was a bit drizzly, but I was happy that most of the forecasted rain didn’t appear. I was anticipating a miserable 600km, but except for the bit in Vernon it was actually a really pleasant day on the bike.

    My ass and wrist were sore by the time I rolled into the garage and I was tired, but happy to be home. And, I felt completely more settled and like the trip was finished than when we had flown home a couple weeks earlier.
    #29
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  10. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

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    Final trip notes:

    Even with the problem with the ferry, the trip overall was amazing. Looking back now, except for the extra expense, I don’t even mind the ferry mess, as it’s all part of the adventure and added to the story. I think it was even good for Yuji to see that adventures don’t always pan out perfectly in spite of all the planning, but how you deal with setbacks is what counts. If we hadn’t landed in Juneau and were really stuck somewhere with no airport or options to get home, we would have sucked it up and made the best of things.
    The strike lasted for 2 weeks, so I'm glad we left Juneau when we did.

    Yuji has a wall map in his room that he uses to mark his travels with a sharpie. When I looked at it, I really got a sense of the scale of how far we rode. There’s a big cluster of sharpie lines on highways through Alberta, BC and Montana, and then one looooong line up to Alaska! We rode just over 5700km in 3 weeks.

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    The day after I got back, I saw the bike was filthy! Even though I’d cleaned and adjusted it a couple times during the trip, the chain was a fuzzy black caterpillar. There was a thick coating of black tar on the mufflers and header brackets. Crusty bugs and dust everywhere. So, I spent a few hours cleaning (had to carefully scrape the tar since it wouldn’t spray off), doing an oil change and new air filter, and adjusting the chain. Checked the rear wheel alignment and realized I must have made a mistake during one of the chain adjustments since it was slightly misalignedt; that would account for why the bike was pulling to the left.

    The CBF ended up being perfect for the trip, with plenty of power for 2-up touring and lots of gear. Happily, we didn’t need any of the spare parts, but I’m glad I bought them for the peace of mind. With all the rain we had, I was very happy I got the new Road 5 tires. They were awesome in the rain, never felt a wobble or slip except on the metal bridges. I used to be nervous riding in the rain, but I've definitely gotten over that now, mostly from all the hours and hours of wet riding; the new tires also made a difference for sure.

    The Yukon was our favorite part of the trip. Yuji’s favorite town we visited was Fort Nelson; mine was Whitehorse.

    I had the digital version of the Milepost but didn’t use it much as I thought we would. Instead, we used a map from the AMA, and Yuji refolded it every morning to have that day’s route centered on the tank bag.

    I think Yuji got tired of hearing from other riders we met how lucky he was to be on that trip and that he should remember it forever. For my part, I thought it was an amazing father and son trip and we’re already planning a long ride for next year.
    #30
  11. Creek-side

    Creek-side Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Puget Sound
    Thanks for sharing! I hope to do the same thing with my boys in a few years when they're Yuji's age. And you two have some great memories for the rest of your lives.
    #31
  12. boristhebold

    boristhebold Been here awhile

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    Wow, what a different ending to a trip. It seems such a shame that Yuji couldn't come along and finish the journey he started but he'll have no doubt had a ball at camp.
    Great report, really enjoyed reading it.
    #32
  13. chris4652009

    chris4652009 Adventurer

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    UK
    So much love for this, I've got very fond memories of riding pillion with my father.
    #33
  14. szurszewski

    szurszewski Long timer

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    Olympia, WA
    Thanks for sharing your trip! I lived in Alaska from '96-'07, but my wife and I moved back south just before our son was born, and he's never been; your ride report has me thinking maybe next year would be a good time to take a little ride up there with him (he'll turn 11 this fall). He spent all of 2nd grade and part of 3rd grade on a sidecar trip with us, but he's not yet done a long a trip as pillion and I think maybe it's time. Oh - you can tell Yuji that Jeremiah, my son, probably also got really tired of hearing how cool it was/how lucky he was to be on a long motorcycle trip too. ;)

    My wife and I have been up and down the Alcan many times and all over western Canada and agree with you guys - Whitehorse and Fort Nelson were two of our favorite places as well; too bad you didn't get to spend a day or two just hanging out in Whitehorse. Now that I think about it, we almost always stayed there long enough to catch a movie - same with Ft. Nelson...so maybe that was part of the draw (as the places we lived in AK did not have movie theaters).

    I'm sorry Yuji didn't get to see Jasper - it's a great park. Everyone down here in the US talks about Glacier, but I think Jasper is better... :hide
    If you plan another trip north/west to see Jasper sometime let me know - maybe we could meet up somewhere - I know Jeremiah would dig having someone else his age on a moto trip for once.

    Oh - almost forgot - I stayed, I'm certain, in that same hotel room in Juneau a couple of nights when I was living in Sitka years ago. I was splitting the room with my girlfriend and a friend, and each night after the band finally quit the friend started snoring LOUDER than the band. My girlfriend bought a squirt gun after the first night...

    cheers!
    josh
    #34
  15. Geckotb

    Geckotb Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Canada
    Thanks for the feedback, Josh! I agree about Jasper, it's amazing. I can't wait for Yuji to get up there, hopefully this fall before it snows.
    What part of the US are you in? We're planning to do a tour of the BC and the western US next summer, as far south as California. It's always fun to ride with other families so it'd be cool to meet up at some point on the trip.

    Cheers,

    Tony
    #35