Vintage 1996 Ride Report - SoCal to Alaska (with pictures)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by rickj, Dec 9, 2018.

  1. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    I think my goal of riding to Alaska by motorcycle was fermented way back in the mid-70s. I had been riding since my high school days and remember the commercials by the Japanese motorcycle companies as they were entering the US market. They showed riders out on the open road heading to great destinations (possibly Alaska - can't recall), which was really enticing to me as a young man.

    Combine those commercials with the TV show Then Came Bronson and I was hooked on motorcycle touring. I continued to ride after high school and made frequent short multi-day rides (Grand Canyon, etc.), but a family and job made it hard to realize my dream of an extended ride. A real ride. My long anticipated ride to Alaska.

    Fast forward to 1996 and it was time. My career as an engineer for a large IT company afforded me plenty of vacation time and my kids, whom I had been caring for after the divorce, were now living with my ex-wife. It was time.

    My ride at that time was a 1990 Yamaha FJ1200. A great sport-touring bike and certainly less than ideal for riding the Alcan, but it would have to do.

    June 28 Pic 1.jpg

    My friend and work colleague Tom was in for the ride with his Suzuki Intruder 1400. Another friend of ours, Walt, would join us for the first few days. We began planning 6 or more months in advance and chose June 28th as our departure date with 3 weeks of vacation time. The plan was to ride the Alcan as far as the arctic circle on the Dalton highway, then ride down to Anchorage from where we'd ship the bikes back.

    This ride report was in part inspired by another 1996 ride report by Dave (@djroszina), which I really enjoyed reading. During my trip I had maintained a journal in which I had faithfully entered my comments each evening after the day's ride. A few years back, I also created a Streets & Trips route of the trip based on my journal, which I'll use to show the daily route. I've also scanned in a few pictures, but I can't find the ones from the very end of the trip. These might be interesting to those that have made trips north.

    I've made 2 other trips to Alaska since that initial trip in 1996. One in 2015 after which I did a ride report, and one this past summer. The 2015 and 2018 trips were epic, but neither had the emotion, excitement and anticipation of my first trip. It will always be my favorite ride.

    My plan is to post the actual daily comments from my journal along with the day's route and scanned pictures where I have them. I may post a few comments, but my intention is not to create a "regular" ride report based on my memories of a ride some 22 years ago. Rather, I'll use my unaltered journal notes, which are raw and authentic.

    I hope you find it enjoyable...
    #1
  2. BillUA

    BillUA Las Vegas, NV

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    In! Looking forward to this.
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  3. jeepman63

    jeepman63 daplumber

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    waiting for more, im in...
    was up there myself in 2015, just to the circle tho.
    #3
  4. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    THE EQUIPMENT

    I thought I'd mention the type of equipment that we were using.

    I was anticipating plenty of rain, so my main storage bags for camping gear and such were Sea-to-Summit dry bags that I had been using for kayaking. My throw-over style saddlebags were Chase Harper bags that had a main storage area, a sizable secondary pocket, a small attachable bag in front, and rain covers. My tank bag was a Marcee, but it apparently didn't have a rain cover as I was using a small blue tarp over it at times! This setup proved to be great, and I could quickly mount the dry bags across the back with 2 cinch straps.

    I had a Motoport Cordura jacket and pants, which were pretty waterproof. I believe that I had sprayed them with Scotch Guard as well. My boots were waterproof and I recall them being Italian. My gloves were standard variety warm-weather leather gloves, and I had some of those 3-fingered over-gloves to put on when it rained hard. Helmet was a Shoei, but I can't remember the model. RF100 or 200 comes to mind.

    Tom and I had one of the early HJC of bike-to-bike communications which I recall was using the same radio frequency as some wireless phones. They worked great, but I remember hearing people talking on their phones many times! I also remember that they had an input channel as Tom had brought a bunch of CD's to listen to, but I don't think he ever did.

    Tom and I didn't collaborate on clothing gear and his clothing and bags weren't really waterproof, which was a problem during the trip. He ended up putting a waterproof blue tarp around the bags on his bike to keep the rain out.

    We're so fortunate to have such great gear these days!
    #4
  5. Snowclem

    Snowclem Adventurer

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    I'm in.
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  6. djroszina

    djroszina Long timer

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    I am in with both feet, thanks for taking myself and others along... Sport Tourers, the original AK adventure bikes! Lol F2612700-D0AF-4DF5-AED3-ECA8E3BB9555.jpeg

    Alaska 1996
    #6
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  7. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    Yeah, I was actually looking around for a BMW K100 with full faring and saddlebags at the time I bought my FJ1200, circa 1992. Tom and I actually bought our bikes from the same dealership in San Diego at the same time! He really liked the cruiser style bikes and even put straight pipes on the Intruder! Years later, he actually bought a K75 but he didn't care for it as it had a lot of quirks. I continued with sport-touring bikes with a Honda ST1300 and an FJR1300. I bought the GSA for the 2015 Alaska trip intending on keeping the FJR, but the ADV bug got me!
    #7
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  8. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    JOURNAL NOTES, FRIDAY 6/28/1996

    Start: 24,357
    End: 24,XXX [Edit: I didn't record the ending miles that day.]

    I-15 to 395 to Kramer Junction.

    Start of the trip from my house. Delay waiting for Tom to load his bike. Finally left around 4:00 PM. “I feel like Jed Clampett” Tom stated regarding all the gear loaded on his seat and fender behind him. Pleasant but boring ride on the freeways! Turning into 395 not much better except for the occasional red light. Dinner @ Kramer intersection. Camped off the road Red Mountain next to an abandoned mine. (Could hear bats inside the mine.)


    June 28.JPG

    June 28 Pic 2.jpg

    I remember that Walt and I were both frustrated as we arrived at Tom's place early and he hadn't even loaded his bike yet! I don't think we had a definite destination for the day, but I was anxious to get out of Southern California. We did have a route that we were following and we had plenty of maps, an Atlas book, and notes from our research.

    June 29 Pic 1.jpg
    Red Mountain is essentially a ghost town off highway 395 about 32 miles southwest of Trona. It has many old mines scattered about, as well as some current mining operations. You can see Tom's Intruder 1400 in the background and Walt standing in front of his 1982 Suzuki GS650GZ.
    #8
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  9. black 8

    black 8 coddiwompling motographer

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    I'm definitely in... :lurk
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  10. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    JOURNAL NOTES, SATURDAY 6/29/1996

    Start: 24,XXX
    End: 24,933

    395 North to 89 to South Lake Tahoe.

    Early ride after listening to Walt snore all night! Breakfast at Kramer Junction. Scenery changing from desert to mountains as we climbed gradually up 395 toward Mammoth. Snow on peaks still. Stopped at visitor center across from Mt. Whitney. Stopped for lunch at Lee Vining then back to Tioga Pass. Went into the pass for approximately 10 miles to entrance to park. Saw a bald eagle at Tioga Lake. Back to Lee Vining where Walt went back. Great to hit curves on 89 heading toward Tahoe. Stopped at South Lake Tahoe in motel for the night.

    June 29.JPG


    June 29 Pic 2.jpg
    June 29 Pic 3.jpg

    Looks like I carried everything but the kitchen sink on that trip!

    I've ridden Tioga Pass (Highway 120) many times since the trip in 1996. However, this was apparently the first time I had ventured to this area. I do recall being very eager to get out of the desert and wanted to find some scenery and maybe even a few curves. The ride up 395 is somewhat boring until you reach the Big Pine area at which point the topography changes dramatically compared to the desert conditions along 395. Between Lee Vining and South Lake Tahoe the scenery changes incrementally as you advance northward.

    This dream of a big ride to Alaska was really happening!
    #10
  11. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    JOURNAL NOTES, SUNDAY 6/30/1996

    Start: 24,933
    End: 25,279

    South Lake Tahoe North on 89 to Sierraville. East on 49 to 395. North on 395 Susanville. North on 139 to Klamath Falls, Oregon.

    Highlights
    Beautiful scenery @ Lake Tahoe. The lake is huge and seems like the area offers all variety of outdoor sports. Nice forest camping areas all around. Bicycle trails (paved) in forest. Little towns dot the lake’s coast. Too many people.

    Running late so we only stopped a few times. Took high desert on 395 North then 139 @ Susanville. Had planned on 89 scenic route, but 139 looked faster. Secondary road, but good shape. Very scenic first 100-125 miles then straight!

    Pulled into Klamath Falls and had dinner @ Sizzler then down to road to KOA. Nice grassy area, but campground was in the middle of town!


    June 30.JPG

    Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures in my album dated 6/30/1996. This was the first time that I had been to Lake Tahoe and, while I appreciated its beauty, I was obviously perturbed by "too many people" in the "little towns" on the west side of the lake. I was a Sunday after all, in the middle of summer!

    It's interesting how we were doing fairly short days in terms of mileage. For our 2015 trip to Alaska we did 800+ mile days to get as far as Canada before slowing it down

    I promise things will get more interesting as we head into Canada.
    #11
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  12. Future Rider

    Future Rider n00b

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    Rick? You Maldos has that same snoring gift.
    Found that out the first long ride he and I took together. I even tried sleeping with my helmet on. No luck....
    I finally fell a sleep when he woke up at 5:00 like a kid on Christmas morning. I believe he went out to pack his bike so I got some PEACE but by 7:00 am he was banging on everything he could to get me to wake up.
    1st. Stop CVS for eat plugs ‍♂️
    #12
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  13. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    JOURNAL NOTES, MONDAY 7/01/1996

    Start: 25,279
    End: 25,656

    North on 97 through Bend, Redman, and finally Yakima, Washington.

    Early departure then stop at Suzuki dealer to pick up tank bag for Tom’s camera. (Breakfast at Denny’s where we left our Atlas.) Very warm ride and road very straight. Initially very scenic road through forested area. Lots of timber (logging) trucks. Lunch @ Redman just past Bend about middle of state. Tom having trouble shifting. Called Suzuki dealer for info, etc.

    Very windy and tiring as we crossed the Oregon plains. Quaint little farming communities. Stop @ Washington border overlooking the Columbia river. (Now I understand the wind – very famous windsurfing area!) Crossed into Washington and scenery turned foresty again and winds diminished. Bought some fireworks (bear defense!) at Indian reservation then found the KOA and settled in for the evening. Late arrival and pretty tired…

    (Bugs so thick like snow falling!)


    July 1.JPG

    July 1 Pic 3.jpg

    July 1 Pic 2.jpg

    I do remember the strong and steady winds coming out of the west for much of that day as we crossed the flat lands, and the sore neck I developed that lasted the rest of the trip! I also recall a couple of guys on Harleys that passed us cruising along at about 90 mph. We hung with them before backing off a bit. When we stopped for gas right before crossing the Columbia river I went over and struck up a conversation with them and mentioned that they had been cruising pretty fast. One guy mentioned that they wanted to get out of the winds and were pushing the bikes as fast as they could go!

    Being from the dry climate in SoCal I had never seen bugs so thick that it looked like snow in the headlight beam. When we'd stop for gas I would pick up a fresh wet rag that I kept in the left side pocket of the tank bag to clean the bugs off my visor! One thing I did not like with the FJ1200 was that the stock windshield directed noise, turbulence (and bugs) directly at my visor. I had tried various after-market windshields available at that time, but I was never really able to solve that problem.

    We were finally in Washington - one state away from Canada!
    #13
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  14. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    JOURNAL NOTES, TUESDAY 7/02/1996

    Start: 25,656
    End: 26,003

    From Yakima North on 97 to Ellenburg. West on I-90 to 283 North. North on 283 to 17 North. 17 North to 155. 155 North across Grand Coulee to Omak. 97 North into Canada. 3A to Princeton.

    Hot and humid! I was amazed the terrain resembles northern Arizona! The area around the Columbia river approaching the Grand Coulee dam looked very much like Blythe and the Colorado river. Very nice cliffs and scenery as we approached Grand Coulee dam. Heading north on 97 we finally left the desert behind and hit a few trees (and curves). Very windy and a bit stormy. Weather to the west a concern. Got rained on a bit. Very muggy and uncomfortable.

    Crossing into BC was like going to motorcyclists’ heaven. Beautiful lush mountain, rivers, snow peaks. Pulled into Princeton and got a motel room.


    July 2.JPG

    July 2 Pic 1.jpg

    July 2 Pic 3.jpg

    July 2 Pic 2.jpg

    We were finally getting up to some beautiful scenery and the twisty roads that I had been longing for! The ride was getting interesting now. Tom enjoyed visiting dams, so prior to starting the climb up into the higher elevations we had stopped and spent a fair amount of time at the Grand Coulee dam. It certainly was impressive, but I remember being anxious to be back on the road and to keep heading north. Up until this point I had felt that the ride was a bit tedious, but I knew that better and more fun roads were ahead.

    We hit our first rains on that day, but didn't realize how much bad weather was awaiting us as we made our way north. (Tom's leather jacket and chaps, along with this generic duffle bags would soon be problematic.) I recall the enthusiasm I felt as we crossed into British Columbia.

    That day was the beginning of my love for British Columbia that continues to this day. I've crossed BC several times since this first trip to Alaska and always look forward to riding through and experiencing the splendor of BC.
    #14
  15. vt700guy

    vt700guy Been here awhile

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    Great report so far. I love these reports from "the old days".
    #15
  16. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    Thanks! Having ridden back in the old days is what gives us old guys an appreciation for today's modern bikes.

    MY FJ1200 was one of my most favorites bikes, and I wish I still had it - carburetors and all. When Marilyn and I started dating back in 2001, and after we married, we used to ride the FJ quite a bit on local day-rides. However, it was less than ideal for 2-up touring so I decided to move to a bike that would be more comfortable for her. The BMW LT1200 was at the top of the list until I actually sat on one and couldn't reach the ground with my 30-inch inseam. I settled for a Honda ST1300, which fit the bill, but I really didn't like it that much and eventually moved to an FJR1300 when Marilyn phased out of riding.

    I gave the old FJ1200 to my son years ago to keep the bike in the family, as I hated the idea of just selling it to a stranger. He had previously owned a Honda CBR600, but couldn't afford it and had given it back to the bank. I hoped that we would enjoy many rides together and possibly even do a father-son ride to Alaska some day. We did go on one ride together after which he sold the bike for $1800! In retrospect I wish I had just given him the money and kept the bike.
    #16
  17. vt700guy

    vt700guy Been here awhile

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    Sorry to hear that your son didn't take to riding. I have the same hopes that my son will enjoy riding with me when he is older. My dad rides as well so we have (and continue to have) had many rides together. Did he just sale the bike without telling you?
    #17
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  18. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    Yeah, he advertised it and had a buyer before he told me he was selling it. As I recall, he wasn't using the bike that much and had it chained to a light post or pillar at the apartment complex he was living at. Someone tried to steal it unsuccessfully but did some damage in the process. Too bad he never got the motorcycle bug like me.

    I hope you are able to ride with your son when he is older, and definitely enjoy riding with your father!
    #18
  19. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    JOURNAL NOTES, WEDNESDAY 7/03/1996

    Start: 26,003
    End: 26,189

    From Princeton took 5 North to Kamloops then 97 North to Cache Creek.

    Supposed to be our day off but we decided to forge forward as we were both in pretty good shape. Stop @ Kamloops to have Tom’s rear tire looked at. The people @ motorcycle shop were helpful.

    Scenery very pleasant and we didn’t hit any rain. A bit windy all day as storms all around, so very lucky. Camped out @ Cache Creek on the river. Mosquitos very thick and are ¾”!!



    July 3.JPG

    July 3 Pic 3.jpg


    July 3 Pic 2.jpg

    I don't actually remember much about this day, but I do remember the 2850 lb. jade rock! I looked it up on the Internet and it's still at a store called the Cariboo Jade & Gift Shoppe in Cache Creek. I think I was looking to buy my girlfriend at the time some jade jewelry. (More on that girlfriend toward the end of the report.) I do remember the "peculiar" encounter that we had on our 2015 Alaska trip. We were riding north on highway 99 from Vancouver and realized that we didn't have any Canadian money and decided to stop by Cache Creek to exchange some money.

    Extracted from 2015 Alaska Trip Ride Report:

    "A “PECULIAR” INCIDENT

    We were making great time and, as we were approaching the junction to the Cariboo Highway (Highway 97), we realized that we didn’t have any Canadian money! Since we were also getting low on gas and could use some lunch, we decided to go a few mile south on the Cariboo Highway to Cache Creek. Stopping at a Chevron gas station with a built-in A&W Express, we filled up and then parked the bikes to go in and get something for lunch.

    As I walked out I noticed a nice looking late-nineties Honda Valkyrie parked next to my GSA and an older chopped up Harley next to it. The owner of the Valk was sitting on a short wall by our bikes, and the Harley owner was fiddling with his bike. I looked at the Valkyrie guy and commented "Nice looking bike! " He didn’t acknowledge my statement and just stared at my bike for a few moments after which he finally looked up at me and uttered “Your bike is peculiar looking." Really? Had he just said that? A few moments passed and he further offered up “I don’t see that your bike has anything in common with my bike”.

    I contemplated my response. Was he looking for an argument? Did he have an issue with German bikes, or had he actually never seen an adventure bike? Was he aware that the “peculiar” design of my bike would allow me to go off-road, adjust my suspension on the fly, cruise in absolute comfort, and generally outperform his bike in every category?

    I enjoy a lively intellectual debate, especially about motorcycles, and contemplated enlightening him about our hobby and motorcycles in general. How do you respond to a guy that can’t see anything in common with two motorcycles sitting at a gas station on the Cariboo Highway in British Columbia? I decided that this simpleton wasn’t worth engaging, and opted to ignore his statements as I loaded some snacks I had purchased in to my tank bag. The Harley guy, who had meticulously positioned his Skeletor scarf over his face and was letting everyone know he was going to make a grand exit as he let us all hear his bikes straight pipes. Classy. The Valk guy mounted his bike and they (thankfully) wandered off in the opposite direction as our route. I waved them a friendly adieu. (Some details slightly enhanced for humor…)"



    Perhaps a bit strange to hijack my 1996 ride report with verbiage from the 2015 ride report, but it was a pretty funny encounter.

    I do remember that we did score a really nice campsite right along the river. I remember us being worried about bears as we had (foolishly) bought some food and drinks to enjoy that night at our campsite.
    #19
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  20. slobinski

    slobinski easily amused

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    Thank you for this! I'm enjoying your pictures and commentary, having ridden through BC on many of the same roads, headed north. :clap My first trip to Alaska was in 2011; it's fun to recognize the terrain in your photos.
    #20
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