This has been one "wicked awesome" trip. Daydreams of motorcycles and Alaska go way back, but certainly Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance brought the two together. During the summer of 2003 I put over 10,000 miles on my car on a meandering trip from Phoenix to Boston and back. As soon as I got back to Phoenix, I knew what the summer of 2004 had in store for me. The wheels started turning in February of 2004, when I took a motorcycle riding course at RideSmart in Phoenix. One week later I had a helmet and gloves and my license; two weeks later I had my sweet ride:
The bike had no capacity for storage; any locking luggage system would have cost nearly as much as the bike itself, so I decided to build my own bags. I bought some aluminum and steel at a metal supply company, and rented a welder from Home Depot. I was finally ready to go on June 20th:
I left later than planned, so I had to hurry to get to Yosemite on time. Here's day one in northern Arizona:
Day 2 I made it to Death Valley; it was so hot that I couldn't even sleep in my tent. I decided to sleep on a picnic table so I could feel the faint 98-degree breeze:
The lowest point in North America:
After Death Valley, I made my way to Yosemite. From there I got to San Francisco. In San Fran, my speedometer and odometer broke. Luckily, while riding across the desert of Arizona I had calculated the conversion factor from RPM to speed for each gear. From San Francisco on I figured out my speed this way.
In San Francisco, I ate some good seafood at the Tadich, saw a bobcat in Half Moon Bay, explored the city, and saw the SFSO play Mahler 2. One night I camped for free in the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate Recreational Area. I had to hike 3 miles to my camp site, but I had beautiful views all to myself.
From San Francisco I headed up the coast along the amazingly fun Route 1. I dragged my pegs for hours and hours of turns. It was by far the most fun riding of the trip. In northern California I stayed in a pretty scary motel. After this dump, I didn't stay in a motel until I was in Juneau, nearly a month later.
Have you ever thought, "Somewhere there's a town that needs HCI" (Mike Jones). Me neither. But I found that town anyways: Yachats, Oregon. All those nice red banners:
Anyways, I made it to Seattle and hung out with Bill for just under a week. After lots of frisbee and a few good movies, I left Bill to head to Alaska. The first night in Canada I stayed at Porteau Cove, a provincial park 15 km south of Squamish, British Columbia. That night it poured, and my motorcycle got soaked. The next morning, I packed up my stuff and threw it on the bike. Unfortunately, the bike wouldn't start. The sound of my cranking but not firing motorcycle drew the attention of some great campers from Calgary. Gord and Glen were so nice that they drove into Squamish and picked up so me stuff for me at the auto parts store. Unfortunately, the problem didn't get solved right away, so I had to hitch into town twice over the course of 2 days to get everything straightened out. My first days in Canada and my bike wasn't working, but the people were so nice that I didn't mind it. People were extremely friendly, and it was easy to get rides when I was hitch-hiking. When I finally got my bike running in the afternoon, Glen and Gord and Colleen and Diane invited me to their site for a great meal.
The next day I left, and a few days later I got to Dawson, the official start of the Alaska Highway.
Canada was beautiful, and there was lots of wildlife along the roads. A moose:
However, it was always cloudy. It wasn't until my 8th day in Canada that I saw blue skies. I was so thrilled I stopped to take a picture:
Later down the road I saw a buffalo. I stopped my motorcycle, and then I realized there wasn't just one buffalo. Soon there were half a dozen, then a dozen; they just kept on coming as they crossed the road all around me! Overall I counted over 40 buffalo.
Once I finally made it to the Yukon I came across the most spectacular park in the world: the signpost forest. People from all over the world bring signs they have either made or stolen to Watson Lake and attach them to one of about a thousand telephone poles in the signpost forest.
Here's one picture from the signpost forest:
If you want to see some more pictures of the signpost forest, click here.
Finally, on my 10th day in Canada, I made it to Alaska:
It was a little smoky because of the forest fires:
My main destination in Alaska was Denali National Park. The backpacking there was awesome: no trails, just a whole lot of wilderness. The only way into the park is to take a bus along the one road into the park. The bus driver dropped me off in ice cream gulch. Once I finally bushwacked my way from the road into the gulch, I ran into a caribou:
The park really is gorgeous. There are streams everywhere, and they take a LONG TIME to cross. The water is cold, silty, and usually moving very quickly.
I didn't find many human footprints, but I did find these prints. I
left my Nalgene bottle in the picture for scale:
Hiking over Divide Mountain I found a little pond:
Coming down from the backside of Divide Mountain I had to bushwhack for a few hours to get to the gravel bars on the West Fork of the Toklat River. Following a dried stream bed is a decent strategy for bushwhacking:
Day 3 of backpacking I took a day hike to one of the glaciers that feeds the West Fork of the Toklat:
The view from my tent was excellent. If the clouds weren't there, I would have been able to see Denali. Too bad the clouds were always there.
(I didn't get a good look at Denali until I was on the road out of the park. However, it was spectacular. Imagine one 20,000 foot mountain amongst a bunch of 14,000 footers. It's amazing). The next day, I woke up to see a surprise testing out my bear-resistant food container:
The container held up to its billing. This golden grizzly eventually gave up and went along its way. Luckily, my tent was not along its way.
After Denali, I headed to the coast along the Kenai Peninsula. I went on an awesome glacier day cruise of Prince William Sound. When the cruise returned to Whittier, population 280, it was raining hard. My motorcycle, despite the fact that I had put a tarp over it, would not start. I pushed my motorcycle to the only dry spot in Whittier: the "train station."
I pulled the plugs to dry out the cylinders, and two nice guys at Epic Charters plugged in a battery charger on their porch for me. They also fed me some great-tasting ceviche.
The only problem was that I didn't get my bike running until 1:45 AM. That doesn't normally sound like a problem, but Whittier isn't a normal town. Whittier is only connected to the rest of Alaska by a tunnel. The tunnel is a train tunnel, and as a result it is only open to cars on a limited schedule. The last chance to get out of Whittier is at 11PM; if you miss that opportunity, you're there until 6 the next morning. So, I was stuck in a rainy Whittier for 4 dark, cold hours. I didn't want my bike to get cold and stop working again, so I would "sleep" for 45 minutes, and then wake up to run the bike for 15 minutes to get it up to temp. Let's just say it was a long night. At 5:45 I woke up and started up the bike. When the tunnel opened at 6 AM, I was there waiting. I rode all the way to Seward, where I was going to try to get on a ferry to the inner passage, where I could see the southeast portion of Alaska. Luckily I got on the ferry (they cram in motorcycles anywhere they can), but unfortunately the rain and cold killed my motorcycle while I ate lunch in downtown Seward. Pushing my bike half a mile in the rain to the ferry terminal was not the greatest fun. As I waited for the ferry to begin loading I met some nice motorcyclists from all across the country. I pushed my motorcycle onto the boat, and the ferry departed for Valdez:
After stops in Valdez and Yakutat, the ferry arrived in Juneau. The ride from Seward to Juneau took just about 48 hours; we got to Juneau at 2 in the morning. Two of my motorcycle friends, Bill and Mo, hung around with me until I got my bike jump-started and off the boat. In Juneau I rode around for a while until I finally found the Motel 8. Unfortunately, it was booked solid, as was every other motel and hotel in the town, so I just rode my motorcycle around all night until Donna's opened up at 6 for breakfast. I ate and then rode around until noon, when I checked into a motel. I proceeded to set up shop under my tarp in the parking lot and work on my bike for the rest of the afternoon:
My bike got me back to the ferry terminal in Juneau, but it quit in the parking lot and my friends Bill, Mo, and Bill helped me push the bike onto the ferry. This 4-day ferry trip made lots of stops at little towns among the islands of coastal Alaska. The ferry had a solarium where people who were too cheap (or poor) to rent rooms slept. The lawn chairs were relatively comfortable, and the solarium roof had heaters that made sleeping at night quite comfortable:
Here's my bike tied down below deck:
Myself, Bill, Jan, Bill, and Mo at the ferry terminal in Bellingham, Washington:
Bill and Mo (in bandannas) were from Tennessee; Jan and Bill (in leathers) were originally from Alaska but now live in Florida.
From Bellingham I went to Seattle to hang out with Bill and get a new tire on my bike. The next day, my bike overheated in traffic outside of Seattle:
Why would a water-cooled bike overheat? After some electrical troubleshooting, I figured out my voltage regulator was not giving any power to my fan. Solution: use some extra wire to connect the fan directly to the battery. To have a battery switch, I cut the positive wire to the fan. When I wanted the fan on, I twisted together the ends of the cut wire. When I wanted the fan off, I untwisted the wires.
That was not the only electrical problem. My ignition switch was not working well. It finally stopped functioning in North Dakota.
I had troubleshot this problem under the tarp in Juneau, so I knew exactly how to fix it. Troubleshooting this problem also taught me how to hotwire my bike in less than 1 minute. Thanks to Nicolls for teaching me about electronics!
Final condition of the bike. Note the "fan switch" (currently in the "off" position) and the broken (and dislodged) speedometer/odometer:
The Arizona stable, reunited in Foxborough:
The saddlebags held up very well the entire trip (better than the motorcycle itself!)
I hope you enjoyed the pictures and poorly written, incredibly brief narration. It's hard to decide which of the 334 pictures and many, many stories from the 50-day, ~8,000-mile trip should have made this page! I didn't even mention reading books by twilight at 12:15 AM in Whitehorse, or seeing 6 bald eagles in half a mile, or the worst cheeseburger ever, or the bank in Yakutat, or the totem poles, or the aleutian tern, or the bakery in Harvey, North Dakota... OK, you get the point.
If you have a chance to go, do it. If you want another story of motorcycling to Alaska, check out Bill and Mo's page. They give me a shout-out on days 30 and 34!