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One Way to the Mainland

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by 907ADV, Aug 29, 2019.

  1. 907ADV

    907ADV n00b

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2018
    Oddometer:
    8
    Location:
    Alaska
    There as moments in life in which you know are a gateway to bigger and greater things.
    The stars align perfectly, you have time, money and a purpose to undertake a life goal. Last week I was presented with an opportunity of a lifetime: to take my first long, solo motorcycle trip from Anchorage, AK to Portland, OR.

    I felt it was important to define goals and objective for this trip prior to departing. I planned to use this journey as an opportunity to learn more about solo travel and traveling by motorcycle in anticipation of more extended journeys after this trip. One of the most important questions I sought to find answers for was how long is too long in the saddle? Also, how would I respond to unexpected situations and problems along the way? Finally, I wanted to test the feasibility of camping off a motorcycle, something I haven’t really tried. It’s one thing to read anecdotes and opinions of fellow riders but quite another to test your limits on your own which was the premise of my journey.


    Day 1: Anchorage to Wasilla, AK—45 Miles

    I picked up the bike I rented from Motoquest, a one-way transport deal, on 08 August 2019. It was a 2017 Honda Africa Twin, bright red, white and black. I immediately took notice that this was a high mileage rental bike, nearly 34,000 miles. Would this thing even make it to Portland? My plan was to ride the bike home and pack it up for a noon-departure the next day. I thought this sounded better than trying to pack everything onto a bike in a parking lot. The ride home was uneventful but I certainly noticed the strong, rally-truck sounding engine of the big Honda which became enticing to crack open frequently. Surprisingly, nervousness and concerns for the unknown began to plant seeds in my mind for the days to come. What if this thing takes a crap in the middle of nowhere? What if I have an “off” out there alone? I tried my best to ignore these thoughts and got to work packing.

    Day 2: Wasilla, AK to Beaver Creek, YT—446 Miles

    Day two was an adventurous day to say the least. I made really good time to Glennallen for the first gas stop. At about the 250-mile mark, I noticed a significant fork seal leak from my left front fork. I broke out the Seal Saver on the side of the road and did my best to dislodge any dirt trapped within the seals. After mild success, I continued on but noticed the leak persisted. Now I was stuck trying to decide if I wanted to divert to get this looked at or just keep going. I concluded that I should make it to Tok and assess my options within cell phone coverage.

    Upon arriving in Tok, I met a guy on a KTM 790 taking a break at a gas station. This guy had ridden from New York to Tuk then to Tok with plans to go to Ushuaia. How inspiring! This guy’s journey is what I was hoping to accomplish sooner than later. Anyway, his bike had blown every suspension seal, front and rear and was seriously leaking suspension oil. After seeing his bike, and learning he had ridden a long way like that, I decided mine was not that bad and I pressed onward toward the Canadian border. The border crossing was uneventful and I made it to camp right at Dusk.
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    Day 3: Beaver Creek, YT to Johnson’s Crossing, YT—322 miles

    Nothing is as refreshing as waking up to a 40°F morning in a tent. I rose with the sun and was off by 0730. Still experiencing fork issues, I jabbed the front brake a few times at a speed of about 45 mph in an attempt to reset the seals if they became displaced somehow. Turns out, that worked! Or at least something did, regardless, no more leaky seals!

    Entering the Yukon from Alaska reminds me of the feeling I had when I first moved to the 49thState. It’s a feeling of insignificance and connectedness to the landscape at the same time. These places make you feel so small and I missed that feeling.

    As I continued to the day’s destination, most areas were beautiful but much of the road was very straight in course and frankly, boring motorcycling. As the stretch after Haines Junction seemed to continue with laser beam-like straightness, I became seriously concerned with the remaining 2000 miles to go. It was this which drove my decision to change my course from the planned ALCAN route to the venerable Cassiar Highway.
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    Day 4: Johnson’s Crossing to Bell II, BC-- 483 Miles

    It was a beautiful night last night. I woke up once and worked my way out of my tent into total darkness. It felt spooky out there until I looked up and could see the entire band of the Milky-Way like I have never seen it before. Yet another thing to make a person feel small. Here I am alone in the Yukon staring into the abyss of deep space, though there is a sense of peace and calm. I wish more people could experience what I felt that night! That sense of peace was relieving because I was feeling a slight anxiousness about the short notice plan change.

    Only weeks before my time here, three homicides had occurred in this area and the suspects remained at large. Though uncommon for Canada, the feeling of being vulnerable to such a random act of violence came naturally to this solo traveler. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened and why these people were killed?

    Despite initial apprehension, I set out early after a coffee and cinnamon roll on another 41°F morning. This stretch to the Hwy 37 junction was stunning. Finally, some twists and mountains to ride through! I reached the 37 junction by 1130 and set my course due south. As I entered British Columbia for the first time, the Cassiar highway appeared beneath my front wheel and sprawled as a narrow, thin and twisty band of road far into the distance. Within the first hour I spotted two bears so I made sure to stay at a reasonable speed as they seemed to all want to stand on the road. I quickly realized the most I should be worried about here was a flat tire or hitting a bear, not murderers lurking about in the forest. With this epiphany, I began to enjoy the route and was happy I chose to turn south where I did instead of Fort Nelson.

    I arrived at Bell II and set up camp. Just as I was about the crawl into my tent that evening, I met a guy who was riding the same route from Anchorage to Prince George and another guy who had ridden from Brazil and was headed to Miami. I am finding that in certain areas, like Bell II, you meet a lot of people with similar interests due to the type of activity that area attracts.
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    Day 5: Bell II, BC to Prince George, BC—463 Miles

    I woke up as the sun rose this morning and got to witness the world before anybody else there did. I reveled in the freedom I was feeling and knew that this trip would only lead to more trips in the future, hopefully with my wife. Additionally, I realized I was really enjoying this camping off a motorcycle thing! The challenge of carrying everything you need but nothing more and camping for a purpose was much more enjoyable than car camping on a long weekend.

    I set out riding to join Highway 16 to Prince George for the evening. I bypassed the stop to Hyder, AK for another time, though it was a difficult choice. The ride along the rest of Highway 37 reminded me of Girdwood, Alaska with its big mossy trees and lush vegetation near the coast. The rest of the ride was fairly unremarkable as compared to Western BC. However, I was amazed at how the landscapes changed from dense green mountains to sprawling plains and farmland the further east I went. I pulled into my stop for the night at about 1800 and began to crave some dirt roads.

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    Day 6: Prince George, BC to Vernon, BC---423 Miles

    The ride into Southern BC was a refreshing dose of excitement. I took the Cariboo Highway 97 South out of Prince George and quickly found my way into some deep valleys with twisty roads. The farther South I went, the warmer it got, reaching nearly 86°F, a big change from 41°F in the Yukon. I eventually made my way into the Okanogan Valley which made me feel like I was in Arizona or somewhere in the Southwest United States. I had no idea Canada had so many diverse landscapes. Though I was grateful for the picturesque landscapes making my ride seem shorter, I was certainly ready to get off the bike after another 9 hours in the saddle.
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    Day 7: Vernon, BC to Oroville, WA---158 Miles

    Have you ever had one of those mornings where you can tell the day isn’t your day? I nearly dropped the bike before I even started while trying to tie a dry bag to the rear rack. After that, I noticed my Garmin In-Reach had nearly dead batteries because it failed to charge despite being plugged in the evening before. Next, I took a wrong turn to get out of town and ended up having to turn around a couple of times which compounded my frustrations. Eventually, I got out of town headed in the right direction.

    About 70 miles into the ride, I began to notice the bike was handling differently. I wondered if I had blown the rear suspension because it felt as if I were feeling every bump in the road and was slowly losing control feeling in the handlebars. I decided to pull off into a campground overlooking Lake Okanogan and “POP” the rear tire came off the bead. Fortunately, I was only doing about 25 mph and was glad I decided to slow down. I thought, ok, no big deal, I have a spare tube, I’ll change that and be on my way. In about an hour, I had the tire repaired, the bike stood back up and was on my way (no center stand). About 20 miles later, again the same sensation that something was wrong and “POP”. It happened again! I threw the bike over again (no center stand) and removed the tire fearing I previously pinched the tube. Meanwhile, an extremely courteous gentleman called Ian stopped to help. He pulled his SUV alongside me and offered shade and help finding the hole in the tubes. During that time multiple people stopped to offer any help they could provide on this 90°F day. Soon enough, I was back on the road.

    Considering my options and time of day (about 1500 now), I headed back to Penticton where there was cell phone service and somewhere to change out my patched tube for a new one. About 10 miles later, “POP”, and the tire was dead again. At this point I knew something was amiss. There was no way I could pinch the tube that many times while being so meticulously careful not to. I turned my flashers on and pulled off, dead in the water where I was. In the short span of about 10 minutes, 3 other riders had stopped to help which I respectfully declined. The 4thhad a fully enclosed trailer and told me I should load my bike into it and we’ll get back to town. I could not believe the hospitality and camaraderie there was within the riding community in this area! I would have had to try to avoid help to not get it in this area which was a relieving feeling. I’m not so sure that would be the case in the town I am from. Upon loading the bike into Aaron’s trailer, he gave me a ride back to town.

    Due to having an American cell phone provider in Canada, I didn’t have data available to look up places to take the crippled Africa Twin. I was able to obtain the numbers of 4 local motorcycle shops in town via text. Unfortunately, none of the dealers had any 18” tubes in stock. Really??? On my last call, I found a small shop called Moto Motion that did have both tubes, tires and was open. I asked the owner if I could bring my bike there to which they agreed.

    After getting the tire off the AT, the owner Rob showed me that the inner sidewall of the tire was shredded and causing all the subsequent flats. What a relief! I was beginning to feel like I was the problem causing all the flats. In less than 30 mins, Rob the new tire and tube was mounted, balanced and installed. I highly recommend his shop off Highway 97 in Penticton if you need help!

    I finally made my way to the border, crossed with no issues and set up camp in Oroville right at dusk. Despite the long day, I was amazed at how great the people where who helped me in a time of need and how absolutely stunning the scenery was around me. I couldn’t have had problems in a better place than there. Whew… what a day.
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    Day 8: Oroville, WA to Stevenson, WA---468 Miles

    Finally in Washington, I had my sights set on doing some dirt. I planned to hit a couple easier sections of fire roads on the BDR on my way south. It was great to get off the pavement and ride a motorcycle how they are meant to be ridden, in the wild, off the asphalt. Northern Washington is beautiful and remote which provides some amazing riding. I made stops in the towns of Conconully, Winthrop and Twisp. I carved the twisty-est roads I could spot on a map but eventually caught the Interstate South to make up some time. With the thermometer topped at a balmy 100°F, I was feeling a little cooked and ready to get off the bike.

    As I droned down the interstate, I couldn’t believe how many biomes I had traversed in Washington alone. Mountains, desert and plains in one day. I think I could live here and I think my wife could too. To end the day, I ran into highway 14 westbound to Stevenson, following the Columbia River Gorge. The river valley itself is spectacular and couldn’t have been a better ending to an awesome day as I rode towards the sunset.
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    Day 9: Stevenson, WA to Portland, OR—150 Miles

    These last two days of the journey were originally planned to be spares in case something kept me from arriving on time. Ultimately, despite the problems I did run into, I arrived on time which meant I had time to explore! I decided to take the first section of the BDR northward to the Ice Caves and explore that area. I hit the trails out of Carson and began a steeper than expected accent up into the mountains which revealed stunning vistas of Mt Adams and Mt St Helens. I climbed up through dense forests on narrow fire-roads, only meeting a couple of enduros and two 4x4’s. This was my kind of riding and I was grateful for the time back in the forests.

    A map of the BDR or a forest service map is definitely a necessity, as there are literally a million ways you can turn out there and only one of them is the route you are looking for. I didn’t have a GPS to navigate off, but a good map served me just fine. Following the magenta line gets a little mundane anyway.

    I circumnavigated a full 100-mile loop back to Stevenson, mostly utilizing dirt roads. The one stretch of pavement I took was through Old Man’s Pass. This was an incredibly fun switch-backing road which didn’t allow speeds in excess of 40 mph due to a 180° turn every couple hundred yards. This went on for at least 5 miles and I had a blast leaning the bike over, trail-braking and exiting on a seemingly perfect line like I was in a one-man moto GP race (at 40mph).
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    What I learned:

    For me, this trip was over but it felt as though something bigger was just beginning. Traveling by motorcycle was addicting and my wife and I keep finding excuses to ride more. Its challenging, dirty, uncomfortable and humbling yet fun at the same time. Nothing else in the world exposes you to the elements, the environments and the exceptional people like this does and I know we will only go farther from here. With that said, here are some of the many lessons I learned on this trip:


    1. Defining purpose and goals of trip beforehand is very beneficial.


    2. 400+ miles in a day is pushing it, even as a solo traveler on good roads. 250-300 max is the limit. Rest days should be mixed in every 5 days or so on a bike.


    3. The people of British Columbia and many within the riding community are the finest group of people you could hope to meet. Everybody looks out for one another. I haven’t found anything quite like it in any other community. Thank you to all who helped me.


    4. Solo riding has its benefits, like setting your own pace, stopping for one bladder and focusing on one’s own ride. When my wife is with, I often try to ride extra defensively for her. I use my bike to prevent someone from turning in front of her or intentionally slow traffic to give her a wider gap. Not necessary, as she is a very proficient rider, but I’d rather something happen to me than her. While I’d prefer to have her with me on rides, it can divide my attention at times. However, the companionship and ability to share experiences with another person outweigh any inconvenience of watching out for her.


    5. Something will go wrong. Plan for it, but don’t over plan.


    6. Along the same lines, don’t spend years planning the trip. It only takes a week. You need less gear than you think.


    7. I was nervous to leave into the wilderness alone but I overcame those apprehensions and realized smart risks lead to rewards. Unexpected challenges will come up but you'll get through them.


    8. Find your limits and remember them. This applies to the motorcycle, your skills, patience, time riding and cognitive awareness.


    9. The best adventures await where you least expect to find them. For me, the most memorable part was breaking down. I usually don’t like asking for help but this time I needed it and was forced to accept it. I learned that you must be willing to let others help you, you can’t control everything.


    10. We have an obligation to help others in need and pay it forward.
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