Friday, January 27, 2012

9.3.11 Day 74 The Road to Haines

9.3.11 Day 74 The Road to Haines

When I turned over to turn off my alarm, my neck brought instant pain. The wind yesterday really beat me up. I stood in the shower for what must have been half an hour and just let the scalding hot water hit my sore body.

Back on the road, I made my way to Haines Junction. Stopping at a small grocery store, I ended up chatting with a group that was about to go kayaking down a small river in the park. The young kids were running around my bike and asking me all sorts of questions. One asked his father for some money for candy inside. Remembering I still had a handful of Canadian change, I pulled it out and gave it to the young girl and told her I’m giving you this to buy some fruit or some crackers. I don’t want to see you coming out of there with candy, or Im going to eat it.
Her father laughed and thanked me and told the young girl to scurry along. We talked for half an hour while they waited for the rest of their group to show up. I asked them about the road to Haines since some of them had just come from that direction. Rainy, cold and extremely foggy in the higher elevations but not bad. One of the wives said it can be unpredictable sometimes and if I found myself in a storm, there was a small shelter near the peak where I could hide out for a while.

They asked if I wanted to come kayaking and fishing with them, but I didn’t want to intrude on their family outing. I was ready to get to Haines and relax for a few days while waiting for the ferry to arrive. I threw the rain covers on the bags and went on my way again.

This area is absolutely gorgeous even with the grim and grey weather. The clouds were getting lower and the temperature dropping quickly. Occasionally, there would be a clearing in the clouds and I would get an magnificent view of snowcapped peaks with large blue glaciers on the sides. Clouds were moving quickly slamming into the face of the peaks and rolling off the peaks. As I neared the highest point, I was literally riding in the clouds. I felt absolutely exhausted after yesterday but being in this scenery was incredible. Visibility in the clouds were low and I didn’t dare stop in case there was someone behind me. After the clouds cleared, I came across a small clearing on the side of the road where a large pack of bicyclists were resting. These guys are nuts! I stared at them as I rode by and they all stared at me. A few gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up so I stood on the pegs and gave them one back. Haha. I love these moments. Pure respect for one another’s craziness.

I kept riding through some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen thus far and approx 30 miles before the border, I stopped at the side of the road for a quick rest. The clouds moved away just long enough for me to see that I was in front of a peak with a glacier down the side. Awesome. I took a few pictures then a car pulled up and ruined my moment with nature. Two old ladies got out and chatted me up for a while. They offered to share their picnic lunch with me, I declined. I wasn’t too hungry and I left them alone to enjoy their lunch with the glorious background.

At the border crossing back into Alaska, I talked with one of the guards for quite a while. After the formalities, I parked the bike and we sat together for a while and chatted. Apparently this wasn’t a high traffic crossing. I asked about places to camp and what there was to do in Haines. He says there isn’t a whole lot to do in Haines except for fishing and sight seeing tours to Skagway and the fort. This weekend was a party weekend of sorts, it was the Mardi Gras of Haines this weekend. Unless I really felt like partying and dealing with all sorts of drunkards, I was told to stay out of the bars. After a while, I decided to get back on the road and find some lunch.

On the road in, I spotted a couple of places to camp, one was called Mosquito Lake. Eh, I’ll skip that. There is a section that passed by the largest nesting area for eagles. I stopped for a while to see if I could spot some. It didn’t take long to see and hear them. You can literally hear those massive wings flapping. It was ridiculous, like something out of National Geographic. I sat for a while watching them glide over the river, occasionally flapping those massive wings to stay in the air. My stomach eventually told me it was time to leave. My fuel light came on as I approached the first gas station back stateside. I grabbed a snack after fueling and started plugging campsites into the GPS. I had passed by a free camping spot next to the river but it was literally just a clearing next to the road. Not wanting to be so close to the road and without a toilet or a place for a fire, I passed on it.

Once in town, I found the small ferry terminal and walked around the docks for a while. I cruised around town just checking things out. I was going to be here for a few days so I wanted to check out places to eat and somewhere to resupply. Seeing a sign for campgrounds, I followed the road until I saw a free campsite by the side of the road. Unfortunately, it was only for hikers and bicyclists. The road continued but turned into deep mud and I had to turn around. The state park further on was unreachable unless you have a 4x4 vehicle. Oh well.

Back in town, I spotted a small food trailer and decided to stop for lunch. It was literally a small trailer where they served tacos, nachos and things of that nature. I ordered nachos as usual and sat down at the bench and had nachos in the rain. I didn’t care. I was already so used to being wet and cold. After eating, I asked about campgrounds again and was told Chilkoot lake was a popular spot.

I went that direction and saw why it was so popular. Linking the ocean and Chilkoot lake was a shallow river with gorgeous bluish green water. At first, I didn’t notice anything special about it, but after looking closely, I realized there was something jumping out of the water. I pulled over and walked to the bank. Holy crap, that’s salmon. A whole lot of salmon. I’d never imagined I would be seeing this with my own eyes. I couldn’t help but sit there for a while and watch one of nature’s marvels. Then a ranger pulled up and told me I couldn’t park there and to move on. Fair enough.

At the campground, I rode around for a while and picked out a spot with plenty of rain cover. I paid the $20 for two nights and parked the bike. It was still raining so I didn’t want to break out the tent just yet. I was hoping for a quick break in the rain to pull everything out of the dry bags. Instead, I decided to walk down to the lake.

Chilkoot lake turned out to be a highlight of my trip. It was absolutely indescribable to just sit on a rock and watch the salmon jumping clear out of the water. Flocks of birds would fly by occasionally disrupting the otherwise complete silence save the noise of the salmon flopping back into the lake. After a while, a couple people showed up carrying fishing poles. I watched a few people fish for a while. Then I heard someone say, “The bears are here.”

Nobody seemed to be too worried, they just put away their fishing gear and walked a little bit further down. Then 3 grizzlies come walking up the river. A mother and two cubs. They slowly amble towards us stopping occasionally to catch a fish as it jumped out of the water. I watched them for a while and they didn’t seem to care about anything but eating a whole lot of fish. They fed in the area for about an hour then started back down towards the ocean. Well, Im happy now. I just saw grizzlies bears catching salmon out of the air, in Alaska.

I hung out at the lake for the rest of the day just talking to random people and reading. It was in the mid 30s that night. Cold enough to suck, but warm enough not to snow.

9.2.11 Day 73 Ferried by the wind.

9.2.11 Day 73 Ferried by the wind.

When the alarm rang, I didn’t even want to reach outside of the sleeping bag to turn it off. It was cold. I got up, threw on more layers and went outside to start a fire. Packing went pretty slow this morning, the fire proved to be a distraction. Eventually I got back on the road and went towards the border.

I tried to enjoy what I thought were my last few moments in Alaska. Near the border, I stopped at a gas station for one last fill up of “cheap” American fuel and started talking to a few other travelers. I asked about the Cassiar and what it was like for fuel. Most everyone told me my range wouldn’t be enough. Riding back down the Alcan didn’t seem to interest me too much. Been there done that and Im looking for a different way. A couple suggested the ferry from Haines down to Bellingham, Washington. Not having thought of it before, I asked a few other people what they thought. Most seemed to say that it was an experience in itself. Dolphins, whales and seals were often seen on the way down. At this point, I still hadn’t seen much wildlife except for a few caribou here and there so I decided to take the ferry as it would probably be my only chance to see dolphins or whales in the wild. I made a call to the ferry company and booked a ticket for me and Jess to Bellingham. The ferry ride would take several days but put me in Seattle the same day I was planning to be there. Done.

This gave me a few extra days to reach Haines, AK so I could now take it really easy and ride as slow as I wanted. At the border crossing, the usual questions were thrown at me and as I explained my journey to the attractive border guard, she looked at me inquisitively when I told her I was headed to Haines for the ferry. “Isn’t that cheating?” she says. I guess in a way it is. I hated her for asking me that.

I cruised towards Lake Kluane where I was planning on camping. As I neared Pine Valley and the lake, the wind picked up tremendously. This was the worst wind I had ever felt since Ive left. Worse than the flat lands of North Dakota. The wind direction seemed to be completely random. One second, I was leaning to the left, then to the right the next. Sometimes my speed slowed by several miles an hour and my head was jerked back by the headwind. Occasionally I would come across an RV alleviating the wind for just a second if it was coming from the right direction but it would be blowing me across the road again as instantly as it stopped. It was absolutely exhausting. The unpredictability kept my mind racing and my body flinching at every gust. I knew I wasn’t going to last long like this. My eyes were weary and my neck muscles were already sore. I just hoped to reach the lake and find some shelter from the wind.

With the lake finally in view, it looked completely different from what I saw just a few days before. There was no exact mirror image on the calm waters, instead it was whitecaps similar to cresting waves on a beach. For a second, I didn’t recognize that it was a body of water. I pulled into the first campground I saw but it was closed. I squeezed my bike around the chains and rode around the site looking for a suitable shelter from the wind. Finding what I thought would be a good site, I pulled out the tent and as soon as I unrolled it, the wind picked up almost tearing it from my grip. I threw it on the ground as fast as I could and laid my other bags on it to keep it from blowing away. I staked the corners down and took my bags off the tent and went to pitch it. As soon as I lifted the center up, the stakes pulled out and Im holding onto what is essentially my home by the small hook in the center meant to support the poles. With the tent flapping furiously in the wind perpendicular to the earth, I grabbed a handful of it with my left hand and basically jumped on top of it like a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his comrades. Okay, this isn’t going to work. Not tonight. I dreaded having to pay $100 for a hotel room but I don’t think I have a choice right now. Carefully, I packed everything back up and got back on the road. Half an hour later, I came across a gas station with a hotel in the back. Destruction Bay I believe. As I filled up, I heard a voice say, “Holy shit, you are insane!”

I turned to see a man standing next to his RV with hair flying about and his windbreaker flapping in the breeze. I tried to smile and said, “Yeah, Im done. Totally exhausted right now.” His RV was swaying in the wind and the sign post with gas prices was swaying and creaking on old hinges and chains.

Inside, I begrudgingly paid the $110 for a room and parked the bike in the back. I laid down on the wooden deck in front of my room and rubbed my eyes. Another traveler walked up besides me and says, “You look like you could use a drink.”

I opened my eyes to 2 gallons of Canadian Whiskey. He cracked one jug open and handed it to me. “Drink up.”

I drank a mouthful and said thanks. I asked what the weather would be like for the next few days and he says, “Just like this. It will be like this for a few days, then the snow will start.”

Great. Ive been fairly lucky with the weather thus far so I figured a couple of crap days out of 100+ is a pretty good ratio. I went inside to shower then climbed into bed and drifted off.

9.1.11 Day 72 All the way North.

9.1.11 Day 72 All the way North.

Plans for the day.

1. Pick up laundry

2. Pack

3. Check out of motel

4. Knock out a couple hundred miles.

1. Laundromat was closed.

I guess that kind of kills the rest of them. Okay, change 2 to “How do I get my clothes back?”
After a visit to the front desk, I went back to the room and packed what I could and hung out waiting for the Laundromat to open. I was kicked out of the hotel at 11 so I went across the street to the Laundromat and waited outside. A local woman asked what I was doing sitting outside by myself and I told her what was going on with the Laundromat. She says the owner also works at the Tesoro across the street and that I should go there and speak with her. So I started making my way to the petrol stations that were side by side, then I heard, “Tesoro! Tesoro!” It was the lady I just talked to. Confused, I pointed at one of the gas stations. They were both Tesoros. “Tesoro! Tesoro!” She walked away leaving me more confused. Whatever, I returned to the bench in front of the Laundromat and waited. It wasn’t long before a girl strolled up and opened up. I gave her a minute to get things going, retrieved my stuff then unpacked to repack and went on my not so merry way.

The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. Not too many miles though. I got to Tok and started thinking about a campground that Dan had told me about. Looked it up and it was just down the street. It was a little early to be stopping already, but I like to support motorcycle friendly places. When I pulled into Thompson Eagle Claw resort I saw a sign advertising teepees and ambulances. Am I in the right place? A woman walks out of the house off to the side and introduces herself as Vanessa, the owner of Eagle Claw. She tells me Im the only one here and I could take the hostel cabin for $10 and basically have the cabin to myself. Done. I rode to the back, past the teepee and other cabin then stopped at my cabin across from the ambulance. Okay, I’m curious, I gotta check it out. Yup, it’s a bed in an ambulance. It has a heater and actually looks like it would be comfortable as long as you didn’t get up too fast and slam your head against the roof. I’ll stick to the cabin.

After unloading, Vanessa comes back out and tells me theres a steam house and free firewood. We chat for a bit and I give her Dan from Adventure Cyclework’s card so hopefully they can refer customers to each other. She goes to start the steam house and I start a fire and set the tent next to it to hopefully dry it out a bit. I lay down on the bench next to the fire and just relax for a while. At one point, I just busted out laughing because I’m thinking, “What the hell am I doing in Alaska on a sport bike?”

The steam house was really nice after the past few days. I kept thinking about how much that 600 mile day on the Alcan sucked. I really don’t want to do that again. Walking back to my cabin, I saw that someone else has shown up on a GS. I talker to Raven for a minute while she unloaded. She had just landed a job with MotoQuest and was riding one of their bikes down to Arizona for them. Seems like a pretty sweet gig. Get paid to ride around the world with a bunch of people who share your passion?

I spent the rest of the night just reading and staring at the stars. Its supposed to be 32 degrees tonight or else I would just sleep on the bench. At this moment, I felt alone. My back against the hard wood of the bench and one side of my body warmed by my fire, I couldn’t help but think of the comforts waiting for me at home. For years, Ive been dreaming of an adventure such as this and here I am, in Alaska, with nothing to do but tend to a fire. I stared at the Milky Way for hours thinking what had led me here. Everyone asks, why not fly or drive to the places I wanted to go. Without my motorcycle, traveling only meant destinations. Being in the wind, the rain, the beating sun and dust, dirt and grime in my teeth is the journey. The loneliness soon departed and a Cheshire cat grin spread across my cheeks. Ive gone as far north as I planned and now it would be easy for a while. All the way north, only way to go now is south. I took one last look at the billions of shining dots in the sky then went to the cabin and crawled into the warmth and consolation of my sleeping bag.

8.31.11 Day 71 Triumphant

8.31.11 Day 71 Triumphant

Another early start today. Riding the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks and back "should" be about 9 hours and about 400 miles. When we got into town, Clint decided to get some breakfast and I went straight to Adventure Cycleworks to drop off some gear and rent a 1 gallon gas can. Dan from Adventure Cycleworks turned out to be a pretty cool guy. He was what I pictured an Alaskan lumberjack would look like. Red flannel and big beard. We talked for a good while and I got some information about the road. He says the road to Arctic Circle isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. The Alcan is worse in some spots, its just slick if it rains. I also found out that the smell at Liard Springs was from the high brush cranberries. Apparently they reek but as soon as the frost hits them, they turn extremely sweet and make good jam.

Adventure Cycles

I met Clint in the McDonalds in town and found out from some locals that a rider on a transcontinental ride was killed just the day before. A truck making a left turn didn’t see him and hit him head on. Number one killer for motorcycles.

There was a SUV from germany completely outfitted for trans con travel. Looked cool, but its got to be an expensive way to travel. Comfy though.

We didn’t get on the road until 10:30 and made on last stop in Fox to top off and fill up my spare can. The Elliot Highway out of Fox was a nice road. Great scenery and smooth pavement. I hope the Dalton isn’t as bad as people say. Around 70 miles on the Elliot, we came to the junction for the Dalton. I was going to be cutting it close to make the gas station at Coldfoot. I was getting good mileage, but at this rate, I would be arriving on fumes. There is supposed to be gas at Yukon River, but I was warned not to rely on it.

The first part of the Dalton was all dirt and calcium chloride. There were some deep parts that were hard to ride on, but when it became hard packed, I could easily cruise at 50-60 but had to be careful to spot the deep parts far ahead to get on the brakes early. I had to slow down to almost 30mph for the corners as there were piles of gravel built up from the trucks. The tracks from the trucks were a challenge to navigate through too. The front tire would just follow the tracks, luckily, all the trucks stayed on the road and so did I.

Start of the Elliot Highway

Most of the Dalton was hard pack, then some parts were deep dirt, then some parts were pristine blacktop. But not much blacktop. We got to the Yukon River and there was gas, so I filled up. Guess I wont be needing the spare can. There were a lot of tour buses though and I had to wait a long time before I could pay for gas. I guess the tours are really popular. There is also a close up view point of the pipeline here, but it was filled with buses and we needed to keep moving.

The Dalton begins.

Usually corners on a sportbike are fun, not so much here.

Crossing the Yukon River

Yukon River

Oil pipeline

Gassing up.

A few hours later, we were getting close to the Arctic Circle. There was a long section of really deep and dusty gravel which isn’t a big deal, until a semi truck comes barreling at you. The cloud of dust and rocks they kick up is enormous. All you can do is slow down, pull to the right as far as you can and tuck in behind the windshield. Chunks of rock just bounce off the windshield and my helmet and Im hoping they don’t crack the headlight.

Just 20 miles before the Arctic Circle, we see a large rain cloud moving in. Just got to keep moving, we are almost there.

Im watching the rain clouds move in closer and closer and hoping they don’t hit us when I see the pull off for the Arctic Circle. Yes! We pull up and take our pictures. As we were finishing up, a couple of outfitted Mitsubishi Pajeros pull up. It was a Chinese family that had the trucks shipped from China and they were doing a tour of the US. I talked to the family for a while and the girl in her 20s wanted a picture of Clint and I. Apparently they were impressed that we rode the motorcycles up here. We took a few pictures with them, then the dad decided he wanted a picture too. In Mandarin he said, “I want a picture too, but I want to ride one of the bikes.” I thought he was joking, so I didn’t warn Clint. Then he walks up to the KLR and tried to climb on. Haha, uh, Clint, by the way, this guy wants to sit on your bike. It took him a few tries to get his leg over the seat but he finally does and Im worried he’s going to fall over the whole time. We move the bikes out of the way and let them take their pictures. Then me and Clint walk behind the sign and tag it. Normally, I wouldn’t deface anything like this, but hey, Im in the Arctic Circle on a bike, just this once.

Arctic Circle


Zen at the Arctic Circle as promised to Owen from Toronto.

The Pajeros at the circle

We hang out a little bit longer then I needed to start heading back. The rain is starting to move in. Clint decides he wants to keep going north. Maybe to Coldfoot, maybe to Prudhoe. I say good bye and good luck, then climb aboard. I noticed I had left the key on after I moved the bike and now the battery is dead. Crap. Im in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, my battery is dead and its starting to rain. Great. Clint and another tourist from Georgia give me a push start. It doesn’t start at first so we try again. It fires up, I wave goodbye and Im on the way south. As soon as I pull out of the pulloff, it starts pouring rain. Huge droplets pummeling me and covering my visor. I cant see a thing but this is no place to stop in the middle of the road. Just gotta keep moving and hope a truck doesn’t come up behind me and run me over.

It pours and pours for half and hour through all the nasty gravel parts. Then when I hit good blacktop, it clears up. Great, why cant it rain on the good part of the road? At least it stopped raining for now. I keep moving along but the roads are wet and getting treacherous. The dry pack is now muddy and slick. Then it dries out and I can move at a good pace again. I get to the Yukon River, gas up, grab a snack then keep moving. Not far past that, it started to rain again. It wouldn’t stop until I get to the end of the Dalton and onto the Elliot. The deep dirt parts are now muddy and extremely slick. Its hard to see through the rain and mud on the visor and the bike just wandered wherever the tracks led me. Think about the front brakes and they would lock. The bars just moved around the whole time following tire tracks. The rear tire would slip on the uphill sections when I gave it throttle and the brakes would lock on the downhills. I used the rear brake only and Im pretty sure it was locked up on every downhill slope. This is a little ridiculous for a sport bike. I need some tread blocks on these tires. At one point in the rain, I came up on a Subaru going 20 mph on a downhill section. I tried to slow down but couldn’t so I ended up just passing him. The look on his face was priceless as a fully loaded sport bike passed him going downhill through the mud in the rain. Come on guy, your in a Subaru.

One of many semi trucks that go up and down the Dalton.

One second you see this, then the next, there's a semi truck halfway in your lane.

I rode through the rain for a few hours and came to the end of the Dalton, it finally ended. I rode the last part of the blacktop in beautiful sunny skies and got to the Elliot. Rode the bike down the gully to the Dalton Highway sign and took a picture. Then it took a few attempts to get the bike out as some people watched and probably laughed, but it was worth it.

I cruised through the rest of the way down the Elliot then went back to Adventure Cycleworks to pick up my gear and drop off the gas can. I hung out with Dan for a while and just talked about riding and Alaska. It was starting to get dark so went back into town and searched for a hotel. I thought about camping, but rode by a place that had a Laundromat next door and a restaurant. I figured I could get a couple things knocked out so I forked over the $90 for the crappy room. Walked over to the Laundromat and dropped off some clothes and walked to the closest restaurant. It was a Mexican place that had a strip club attached to it. This should be good. As usual, I got some nachos and they were actually not terrible. Not good, but not bad, for Alaska. I decided to congratulate myself by having a beer. By the time I left, I was stuffed and hated the walk back to the room. After another hot shower, I hit the sack. Another long day finished.

Damn right. How many sportbikes have been here?

Dan spent an hour pressure washing Jess.

Maybe I should have taken some of the kit off.