Saturday, August 9, 2008

Reflections on a Great Ride

Last summer, on the way back from our ride to the West, I decided to ride to Alaska this year. I didn't know when; didn't know with whom; didn't know what bike--all I knew was that I was going to ride to Alaska.

A year later, the ride is now done. Sad in a way; one of my dreams realized, but right now, no specific riding dreams in the front of my brain. Guess one will drift that way soon. But now, I have no significant rides to do. After Alaska, what else is there to do? Smaller rides, for sure.

This installment is to capture some of the highlights and lowlights of the trip. To try to summarize six weeks in the life of a sixty-year old guy on the road. It will ramble a bit, but it helps me to focus on the important parts of the trip.

First, the bike. The RT is a fantastic piece of machinery for a long ride. It's a bit heavy, and it's a bit too tall for me, but once rolling, it is the best sport touring bike made. It used no oil at all. It got about 48 mpg for the trip, with a best of 53 and a worst of 43. It handles really well and stops on a dime. The ABS brakes give a sense of comfort, knowing that a panic stop will not have to end in trouble. It has very good power and speed; my highest speed was 113 mph somewhere on the Alaskan Highway. Felt solid as a rock and could have easily done more but for running up on Gary and needing to slow down. The bike was perfect!

The gear. The camping stuff worked perfectly. Tent had no leaks and was easy to put up, tear down, and put away. Down sleeping bag was comfortable and easy to pack. The Seattle bag held the camping equipment well and kept it dry. The undies, polyester for easy maintenance on the road worked well and was comfortable. All those things worked as well as anyone could hope. Kenwood radio worked perfectly. It was my first trip using it, and I'm very pleased that it worked just as it should have.

However, the GPS broke and the Sirius radio broke. While getting the tire installed in Seattle, I inadvertently left the GPS turned on for a couple of hours. When I got on the bike, I discovered that the screen was jumping left to right quickly, making all the controls inoperable. It was working, tracking speed, time, etc, but the maps would not display correcly and no routing was possible. One of the earlier GPSs I had owned had done the same thing several years ago and was replaced by warranty (contacted Garmin after getting home, and they are replacing this one under warranty). The Sirius radio itself is good. However, the power lead made intermittent contact with the radio, and the antennae lead broke along the way. So, I had no music from California to home. Will need to replace radio or leads.

Favorite things in no particular order: catching fish in Prince William Sound, the scenery along the way, BIG trees, snow-covered mountains, walking on glaciers, train ride, tour of Elmendorf AFB, Glacier National Park, Icefields Parkway,

Animals seen: moose (real and fake), whales, seals, porpoises, eagles, brown bear, black bear, bison, caribou, elk, puffins, sea lions, beaver, ground squirrel, red fox, and others that I can't recall right now. We saw a good representation of all the critters we wanted to see.

Lowlights--not many. Running out of gas on Gary's bike on the Parks Highway. Whle I knew we'd be okay, it's not a good feeling being that far away from help and needing some help. Flat tire on Alaska Highway. While it turned out to be a minor inconvenience and expense, it could have been bad if the plug had not held. Had the plug not worked, we may have missed the ferry and that would have been a significant disaster, not to mention delays and expenses to get a new tire in the middle of nowhere. GPS and radio breaking. Neither were essential, but each made the ride better. Cold weather in Anchorage. They were experiencing the coolest summer in several years, and it made the stay therejust a little less than perfect. That's about all of the downers for the trip.

Thank yous to many people who helped make the trip great for me. First, Carl and Mae, my next-door neighbors. Since I live alone, and would be gone for 6 weeks, some real things had to be taken care of. My wonderful neighbor, Mae, graciously agreed to get my mail and look through it to check for bills needing paying. Most are paid electronically, but sometimes one comes in needing a check written (happened this time), so I signed a couple of checks and she agreed to pay them for me. She also made deposits for any checks that came in. And she looked inside to make sure the house was okay and that the plants got water when needed. Thank you, Mae. Our hosts in Anchorage. I can't say enough thanks to them. They made me feel at home and looked after our every need. Great food, arranging for tours, arranging for fishing, procuring extra housing for us. I feel now that I have friends in Anchorage due to their great hospitality. Gary, for putting up with me for 6 weeks. I know I'm sometimes difficult, but he somehow seemed to accept my moods without a real problem. I appreciate his friendship very much. My readers, for giving me feedback that they were enjoying the blog. While it's written mostly for me to remember where I was and what was going on, it's written to share my life with family and friends. Thank you for your encouragement. Thanks to the guys who shared their experiences last year and the year before. That helped in planning and knowing what to expect. And, most importantly, I thank God for giving me the ability to do the things I do and for keeping me safe and healthy. Nothing is possible without His help.

The total mileage was 12,256 miles for the trip from and back to Gary's was 12,256 plus or minus a few miles. Total mileage, from my doorstep was 12,523 miles. Front tire had a couple of thousand miles on it before leaving; still has a couple thousand miles left on it. Had it not been for the flat, I believe the rear tire would have made it home. But the rear now has only 4,400 miles on it, so it's good for a while.

Some statistics from the ride:
-12,523 miles
-259.2 gallons of gasoline
-47.8 miles per gallon
-$4.56 per gallon average
-17 nites in motels
-15 nites in RV
-6 nites camping
-4 nites on ferry
-Approximate cost of trip: $5,000

Have cleaned up the bike. Took all the plastic off it, cleaned all the body panels, front and underside. Cleaned the engine and all underneath the plastic. Changed the alternator belt (preventive maintenance), cleaned the wheels. Replaced bad Hyperlight (warranty item). Re-gapped valves, changed oil and filter, and re-assembled. Bike looks like new except for the scuffs on the side cases.

What's next? I don't know. Have scheduled a few days for a short ride to West Virginia. The roads there are fantastic, so I may go there before cold weather sets in. And maybe a trip next spring to the southwest. Would like to see that part of the nation sometime. Beyond that, I don't know where I may show up.

For whomever is reading this blog, THANKS! Post a comment if so moved; I enjoy reading what you have to say probably more than you enjoy reading mine.

Until next time....

HOME



Day 42, August 4, 2008-288 miles. Home sweet home! We got up, had the continental breakfast, and headed south on I-77, through the mountains of West Virginia. I like this ride; long, sweeping curves ridden at speed. A pretty easy ride, although it was foggy in places and fairly cool. But I knew a few hours away was my home, so the coolness was no problem.

We had about 150 miles to Gary's house, where I needed to stop to pick up some things his wife had brought back for me in her suitcase. Mostly presents for Skyler, my grandson, and a few trinkets for other family members.

Got to Gary's and picked up the few things she had stowed away. Took a few pics to celebrate over 12,000 miles and six weeks of travel safely. Then on the road to Clayton.

The ride from Gary's to home was good. It had heated up, but 90 degrees didn't feel hot compared to the heat we endured in Utah. Stopped at Stemeys BBQ in Greensboro, maybe my favorite restaurant anywere. Got some BBQ and peach cobbler and rode the last 100 miles to home.

Had one close call on I-85/40 east of Greensboro. I was riding in the second lane from the inside, in moderate traffic. A lady and her family was in the inside lane in front of me. She was going a little slower than me, so I came up beside her right rear bumper. Suddenly, without looking or signaling or looking, she moved into my lane! She missed my front wheel by inches and even though I blew my horn (and it's not a wimpy horn at all) and swerved and hit the brakes, and she didn't hit me. But it was the closest call of the entire ride. I made gestures and yelled at her when I got around her about a mile down the road, but she NEVER SAW ME AT ALL! Not at all, even when I was in front of her. She's going to hurt someone or herself and family if she doesn't pay more attention to what she's doing! I pity her.

The rest of the ride was uneventful.

Got home and got off the bike. Felt like kissing the sidewalk, very happy to be home. Looked at the front door, and saw a sign taped to it. It said: "Welcome Home. Missed you! And it had a big yellow ribbon taped to it. I have the very best neighbors in the world, Carl and Mae, who made the sign to make me feel so good. I'll say more about them in the next installment, but there are no better neighbors anywhere than Carl and Mae.

So, six weeks later, over 12.5K miles later, I'm back. Home Sweet Home!

Mid-Ohio Superbike Races




Days 40 and 41, August 2-3, 2008-404 miles. Two relatively easy days with little riding. Our motel, in Mt. Vernon, OH, will be our base for the races. We got into town Friday evening and had an easy night walking downtown for dinner and then fairly early to bed.

Saturday morning, we got up, had the Deluxe Continental breakfast, and got on the bikes for Lexington, OH, to watch the motorcycle races at the Mid-Ohio track. The ride to the track, about 25 miles, was very easy.

Got to the track, bought tickets, and went inside the gates for the day. First stop is usually the vendors, to see if there are any bargains to be had. I was looking for some new summer gloves to replace some that had worn out. In particular, I was looking for the Held man from North Carolina. Held is famous for its gloves, so I wanted to check them out first. However, he did not show up at the event this year. So, I didn't buy anything.

The races were not especially good. I like races that are somewhat close, with some passing in the front. However, the leaders jumped out and ran away with the first race. The second race was marred by 3 red flags--when the track is unsafe, they stop the race until the problem has been corrected. Then a re-start from the starting point gets them going again. In that race, the flow of the race was marred by the frequent stops, and my man, Miguel Duhumel, fell twice, so it was not very good.

After the races ended, we rode back to Mt. Vernon and the motel. Actually, we went to our usual Saturday night place, Jake's, for dinner first. I got lasagne, which was very good; Gary got chicken, which he said was old and no good. Then back to the motel.

Sunday morning, we got up and packed the bikes again, now pretty good at doing it. We then rode back to Lexington and Mid-Ohio.

The Sunday races were better, more competitive, except for the Superbike races. The usual duo of Maladin and Spies ran away from everyone and made it a boring race. But at least the other 3 were good.

When the races were over, we got on the bikes and got out to the highway pretty fast. Gary is very aggressive when leaving a parking lot, so it is usually a fast ride to the road. Today was no different. If the traffic was stopped, he just finds a place to move forward and keeps moving towards the front. In spite of the fact that we were in the very back of the track, we were out to the highway in probably 5 minutes, while I'm sure some were there for an hour or more.

We rode south, towards West Virginia. Traffic was not too heavy, and it was not too hot, so the ride was pretty pleasant most of the way.

We rode to Berkley, WVa for the night. A good day.

Tomorrow--HOME!!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Nevada to Ohio; a Blur




Days 37, 38, and 39, July 30-Aug 1, 2008-686, 629, and 711 miles respectfully. Not much to write about these three days except heat and riding. As I write this on August 2, they are mostly a blur of roads, small towns, and scenery. And HEAT.

We left Ely, NV and headed east, still on Hwy 50. Our goal was somewhere on the east side of Denver, CO. The main thing I remember is how hot it was riding across Utah. The scenery was beautiful, with rock formations of varying colors of yellow, red, orange, beige, and other colors. The scenery was stunning in some places. But the heat was the dominant sensory factor. I have a thermometer mounted on the mirror of the bike. It reads high when the sun strikes it and it reads high when it senses heat from the engine. Most of the time in Utah it never got below 110 degrees, with 114 being more of an average, probably. At one point we rode through a cut in the rocks and the heat we experienced was almost stifling. The thermometer jumped to 118 degrees! It felt like the heat you feel when opening an oven at home! My gear covers almost all of my body surfaces except for a small area at the top of my neck. The heat striking that small patch of skin felt like pointing a hair dryer on your face! It was actually much cooler to ride with the face shield down, not allowing any of the heat to reach my face.

We endured the heat; there was really no choice but to ride if we were going to get to Ohio by Friday night. So, we did it.

Found a cheap hotel and quit for the day.

The next morning we got up early and were on the road by 7:30am. We had decided to get on US 36 and try it, based on the advice of a friend who had recommended it. And, it was a good choice. A mostly 2 lane road, with a very good road surface, and 65 mph speed limit. The very occasional "towns" were very small, usually crossroad villages, contained a store or two, a post office, and maybe another small business, and a few houses. Not where I'd like to live! But the road itself was great. Scenery was mostly huge fields of varying crops-millet, wheat, or corn as far as you can see. HUGE!

We rode to Cameron, MO for the night.

On August 1, we got up early again, and were on the road about 7:30am. Still on Hwy 36, but headed to the Interstate roads to make the best time we could manage. As in the previous 3 days, all we did was ride. Luckily, the day started with moderate fog and heavy overcast skies. Mercifully, the overcast skies stayed with us all day, and the heat was not bad at all. We needed that after the heat of the earlier days.

Nothing outstanding to report on the day. I guess the only thing is the scenery changed gradually from farming to rolling hills to the scenery getting green, indicating more moisture for things to grow better without irrigation.

At about 8pm, we rolled into Mt. Vernon, OH, our destination for the night and our camp for the race, which is actually in Lexington, some 25 miles to the north. Not a bad day of riding since the temperatures were much more moderate.

So, we made it, 2,600 miles from California to Ohio in 4 days and survived. Not easy, but doable.

No pics to post; we didn't take time to stop for pics any of the 3 days. Sorry....

Tomorrow-Superbike racing at Mid-Ohio!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Across California and Nevada

Day 36, July 29, 2008-601 miles. A long day of nothing but riding.

We got up before 7am, got our riding stuff on, had a Continental Breakfast at the hotel, and started out. Before leaving town, I stopped at a local car wash and sprayed the bike. I got most of the nasty crud under the engine and transmission off the bike. One inch thick cakes of mud, gravel, and calcium chloride came off the bottom of the motor. Most of the rest was just road grime. Not clean, at all, but not nearly as gross, and the corrosive stuff was now gone. Gary did his the night before, so both bikes look better.

We headed south on Hwy 1 just a few miles and then turned east on Hwy 20. It is a road that cuts across California, with lots of twisties and elevation changes. Fun. Except lots of places were under construction, and lanes were closed in several places. So, the progress was extremely slow. We probably lost over an hour due to construction delays and slow traffic. Although vehicles holding back other vehicles are required by law to use pull-outs, several drivers weren't courteous or following the law.

We had decided to try US 50 instead of I-80. US 50 is labeled as "The Loneliest Road in America". We wanted to see how desolate it is.

So, we got on US 50, and after a couple of towns, found that it is a very lonely road. In about 300 miles, there are 3 or 4 small towns or communities, and nothing else but rocks and sagebrush. Desolate to the 10th degree!

The road, itself is great. Smooth, good lanes, and sight distances measured in double digit miles, speed limit of 70, it was great to ride on. The road would go up into a mountain range, wind up and through the mountains, and then down the other side, and then have maybe 20 miles of broad, flat valley. Repeat this procedure maybe 5 times, and you have a flavor of what the road is like. Gas was available in 2 places along the way. Not a good place to run out of gas or have a breakdown.

And it was HOT! The thermometer on my mirror was at 118 degrees when we started. The air temperature was not that hot, but it was probably near 100 degrees.

When we neared Ely, a small gambling town near the Utah border, the temperature plunged to 66 degrees, much cooler. Not cold, but quite a change from the beginning to the end.

A good day, overall, with lots of riding.

Oh, and to clarify, we're going to Lexington OH for the AMA Superbike races this weekend. Only 2,600 miles from Ft. Bragg, CA to Lexington OH. With 600 miles done, only 2,000 miles to go in the next 3 days. Lots of riding...

Tomorrow-ride all day.

California







Day 35, July 28, 2008-263miles. What trees! Basically, we did very little but go to groves of trees to see the amazing trees. I won't try to say much about them, except that they are magnificent!

We saw the Big Tree, and the Giant trees, in different parks. We saw trees so huge that you can't imagine their size. Even a tree with a bathroom in it! WOW!

We did a loop off of Hwy 101 to Ferndale to get on the Hidden Coast Road. It was a narrow, two lane road that went over several mountains and by the ocean over about 35 miles or so. The road surface was pretty poor, with lots of patches and a number of areas with gravel, but it reminded me more of the roads in the Italian Alps than any roads I've been on since our tour there 3 years ago. Up and down, curves, hairpin turns uphill and downhill. Great riding; the most fun of all the roads so far. We even got on a bridge over a river that was wooden and had the areas where the wheels travel raised above the middle, making for a stressful passage over the river. A sudden gust of wind make it even more trying, but I managed to keep it on the raised path. FUN!

We finally got on Hwy 1 to cross from Hwy 101 back to the coast, some 35 miles or so away. At Leggett, we found another tree through which you could ride, so we did that tree as well. So neat. Again, this tree seemed to be quite healthy in spite of the huge hole through it. Amazing!

Hwy 1 was also a lot of fun, with a very good road surface but hundreds of turns and elevation changes. Most turns were not especially challenging, but some were 10-15 mph turns that we did at about 25 or so. Fun! Maybe the best road of all so far?? I liked both the Hidden Coast Road and Hwy 1 to the coast.

The weather today was good, but variable. The morning was cool and misty/foggy. Shortly, it warmed up and most of the day was good with only a shirt under the bumblebee. After we got on Hwy 1, however, it got COLD as we got closer to the coast. It was misty/foggy and the temperature when we stopped for the night was 55 degrees!

We stayed in a Travelodge in Fort Bragg, California. Weird to have a Ft. Bragg on both sides of the continent, but it's true. The one in California, however, is a coastal resort town rather than a military installation. Neat!

Tomorrow—south to San Francisco or east towards Lexington, OH? Stay tuned to find out....

Monday, July 28, 2008

California and Big Trees






Day 34, July 27, 2008-252 miles. Not many miles today, but boy what trees!

We got up, walked for the day, and got on the road before 9am. We stopped at Florence to get gas and to get a bite of breakfast at Fred Myers. The gas was cheap ($397) and the sweet roll was good along with the coffee.

However, I spoiled the morning by dropping the bike at the gas pumps, scarring the left sidecase to match the scarred right one. Damn!! I had left the helmet on top of the gas pump and reached over to pick it up. My mistake was forgetting that I had raised the kickstand before realizing the helmet was still on the gas pump. It just tipped over, making me mad and embarrassing myself in front of strangers. Gary had already rode off to go inside the store, so he didn't know it had fallen.

The gas station attendant and I picked it up. I got on it and rode off. Mad at myself.

We had breakfast and headed south. The morning was beautiful; not cold, and bright sunlight. Beautiful!! The road was also very good; it rode mostly right along the water's edge, on cliffs high above the surf. The sparkling sunlight, coupled with the blue skies and blue-green water, made the scenery stunning.

After noon, we crossed into California. Actually, we stopped for pics on the border first. Then south on Hwy 101 to Crescent City. There, we had a snack for lunch and got directions to the BIG TREES. The park ranger advised us to ride a 11 mile dirt road through a grove of the giants.

We rode to the road, and I can't begin to describe the trees we saw. Redwoods reaching to the sky. A small one is 6 feet in diameter. There were trees probably 15 feet in diameter. The trunks, with deep, grooved bark, reached sky-high before any branches were growing. Awesome trees! We took pics, but I know the pics will not show the majesty of the trees. And ferns growing everywhere. Big ferns, brilliant green with moss covering most everything else. And quiet. Almost silent. Beautiful!

When we emerged from the grove of trees, we headed south towards Klamath, where we had been told there was a redwood tree through a car could pass. We both wanted to see a tree so big you can drive a car through it.

We stopped in a bar and asked for directions to the big tree. Turns out it was only about a mile away, so we sped on to the tree. A toll of $2 per car was required, so it was paid and we rode about ¼ mile down and up an asphalt driveway to the tree. Magnificent! Just as advertised, it was huge, and a hole had been cut large enough to drive a car through it. Amazingly, the tree is still alive, and appears to be healthy. I don't know how it manages to be healthy with a 7.5 foot slice cut through it. We took pics of ourselves and several cars and motorcycles.

By now, it was getting late, so we started thinking about dinner and a place to stay. The people at the bar had told us about a place, the Steelhead Lodge at the end of the road several miles away. So, we went in quest for the Steelhead Lodge.

Exactly as told, we found it, went inside and inquired about lodging and dinner. The dinner was very good; we ordered a small rib plate, and they brought out two slabs! Way too much food! With salad, rolls, baked potato, and ice cream, we left stuffed. But it was good.

In the end, we stayed at the lodge as well. The room was fairly spartan, but did have a TV and kitchenette. Used mostly by fishermen searching for Salmon, it was adequate.

Tomorrow—more California and big trees.

Oregon




Day 33, July 26, 2008-346 miles. Not a bad day! We got up, had a bite of breakfast, and hit the road. We had decided via coin toss to ride north and west to ride across the bridge over the Columbia River on Hwy 101. To do that, we followed the Columbia west and then north. A nice ride, parts being fairly curvy and up and down. Part was boring (Interstate parts).

About 3 hours after leaving the motel, we came to the bridge. Up until almost the bridge, the weather was pleasant; almost warm and some sun mixed with clouds. Approaching the bridge, the weather worsened rapidly, with cold and mist as we rode across the big bridge. All in all, I was disappointed. It was not as big nor high as I had understood it to be. Not to be unfair, the Columbia is a very big, wide river at that point. I didn't measure it, but I would imagine it was at least 2 miles across, with one part probably 200 feet above the water. Not a small bridge by any standard, but not what I expected.

After crossing it northbound, we turned around on the north shore and rode across it again so we could be on Hwy 101, the road we wanted to ride south on.

Hwy 101 was initially disappointing, as well. The first hour or so, we went through town after town, all with slow traffic and lots of congestion. Not a fun ride. Also, I had thought it would ride right along the ocean, but we had not caught a glimpse of the Pacific after riding almost 2 hours.

Then, I caught a glimpse of the Pacific, and my attitude improved. The road got closer to the water, and, as we rode south, we saw the water more and more often. The weather still was not nice; very cool (had to stop and don our liners) and mist from time to time. Not wet, but just messy and very cool.

We stopped for pics several times, trying to capture the beauty of the ocean and rocky shore. We went into one small town on the beach to get pics and get a flavor of the Oregon Beaches. It was neat, but so different from NC beaches. Huge boulders jutting up into the air from the waters. Dark sand. Cold water. Not nearly as nice as our beaches; I'll leave their beaches to them and keep ours!

Late afternoon we decided to start looking for a place to camp. The first campground we stopped in, we found a site, started unpacking, when two young girls drove up and informed us that they had reserved the site for the night. While there was no “Reserved” sign on the site, I believe they were telling the truth, so we left and rode further south.

Finally, we found a site at one of the campgrounds just north of Florence, OR. Set up camp quickly and went into town for dinner. Found a local place, the Firehouse Restaurant, where the food was great. Then back to camp and bed.

A good and interesting day.

Tomorrow—South to California

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Off the Ferry and Into the Woods



Day 32, July 25, 2008-331 miles. Off the boat--at last! While it was good at first, and never was bad, it got old. Maybe a cruise with someone special to keep you warm at night, or maybe with more on-board things to do it might have been less boring. But I did get bored looking at mountain after mountain.

The ship docked on-time at 7am AK time. The instant we hit the ground, the time changed to Pacific time, so in reality, we docked at 8am. Having been up since 5:00, drinking coffee and eating a big breakfast, I was ready to get into the hold and get the bike untied and pack the bike. It felt good taking the hold-down straps off the bike and getting it ready to go.

The bikes worked their way out of the hold as they were able. Since space was tight, and since they were in two columns, and since they had to be backed out of the space, it was not bad getting them freed. Everyone got off the boat with no mishap.

We had arranged for all the bikes to gather at the top of the parking area for some pics and goodbyes. Somehow we had bonded pretty well for folks who were strangers just 5 days ago. I guess the tales of adventures and the instant understanding of events helps people to "feel" what the other is describing. In any event, we had become friends in a few days.

The pics were taken, goodbyes were extended along with good wishes for safe rides, and we were off for the third leg of our adventure.

We had pre-arranged for Juan and Dick, two who were riding Vstrom 1000s and lived in the Seattle area to guide us to Ride West BMW. Dick has been considering a BMW GS Adventure bike and he wanted to ride one. So, we left as a group, got gas (cheap at $4.35 for regular), and started our journey south to Seattle.

They knew a road that ran parallel to the water, through some mountains and connected to I-5, the main artery for folks traveling north or south through the far west. The road was fun; lots of curves and elevation changes. Challenging enough to keep us awake and alert.

When we broke out of the mountainous area, the land became flat as a pancake. The topography changed much faster than in NC. Shortly we connected with I-5. South on I-5 about 60 miles, and to the dealer just a short distance from the interstate.

I went to the service desk, talked with Eric, who remembered my dilemma and had gotten the tire ordered, and went back outside to remove the wheel from the bike. It came off eaaily (BMW rear wheels on their R bikes are simple to remove. 5 lugs like a car, and it's off!)

Eric had agreed to work me in and in about 45 minutes, the new rubber was mounted and balanced, and I was ready to re-install the wheel and get on the road. No problems reinstalling the wheel, so we were ready to go about an hour after arrival. Not bad at all.

While waiting, the general manager came up to talk, and he wanted to show us some rides on a map. We went back inside and in about 15 minutes, we were amazed at all of the options we had--they have great roads out here (far west)! Too many for us to take advantage of many of them. Too bad!

So, we said goodbyes to Dick and Juan and got on I-5 for a while. We had decided to ride south and east to Mt. Ranier, just to see if we could ride on it. I had been there with friends and my ex-wife 19 years ago, so I wondered if I could remember much of it. As it turned out, I could remember some pieces, but not much.

The ride itself was great. Lots of turns and elevation changes; some places fairly challenging. We rode into the Mt. Ranier National Park at one of the accesses, renewed our annual passes to parks, and rode as far as the pavement went, to Sunrise Lodge. The ride to the Lodge was good, and even more challenging than the other roads. FUN! The RT has such good, abundant power, and terrific brakes--it's fun to ride it hard on challenging roads. These roads had lots of abrupt rises and falls in the pavement, working the bike's suspension pretty hard. Glad to have on-the-go ability to change the suspension for different road conditions. The RT is a great touring bike! I'm happy with my decision to buy it on July 30 of last year.

Because it was now getting later in the afternoon, and Gary was beginning to get low on gas, we did not do the loop to Paradise Point. Maybe another time later...

We rode south towards Carson, on the banks of the mighty Columbia River. The roads from the park to Carson were awesome. The first roads were average roads cutting through the countryside, but soon they turned into a roller-coaster ribbon of asphalt that went for about 80 miles. I can't describe them adequately, but picture a narrow road through a huge forest of Fir trees right up to the edge of the road (felt like riding through a tunnel much of the time) and winding left and right, up and down, for miles on-end. Throw in some hairpin turns, and it was a blast! The RT's suspension was tested to my limits. Leaned more than I had ever leaned on the RT, and it never failed me! Thank goodness!!

Finally, we arrived in Carson at about 8:30, found a room in the Econo-Lodge, unpacked the bikes, walked a few blocks for our exercise and dinner, and called it a night. Slept well!

Tomorrow--??? I don't know where we're going, but I believe it will be fun!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ferry Ride

Days 28-31, July 21-24, 2008-1,500 miles via ferry. I'm going to cheat today by combining all of the days on the ferry. We got on the ferry in Haines, AK about 7:30pm on Monday, July 21 and will get off the ferry in Bellingham, WA on Friday, July 25 at 7:00am.

When planning the trip, I had lots of mixed feelings about whether to ride all the way back or whether to take the ferry back to the lower 48 states. I had talked to people who did it, and most said they felt it was a good experience.

From a financial viewpoint (which always must be considered), riding was probably a little cheaper. The ferry, with bike cost over $800. But the price of gas in Canada, the wear and tear on the bike and rider, and the lodging costs incurred made the ferry only a little more expensive than riding. So, the deciding factor was to do it for the experience of a multi-day ferry ride.

It was a good decision. The flat tire reinforces that I made the right decision; no worries about the plug not holding. Only have about another 100 miles of riding from Bellingham to Seattle and the nearest BMW dealership. And a tire is waiting there.

The ferry, the Columbia, is a big ship. It will hold 499 passengers and hundreds of vehicles of all sizes and descriptions. It's big. Looks like a luxury liner at first glance. But it's pretty spartan once inside. It has nice viewing areas in the front of the boat, two dining areas (snack bar and restaurant), a bar, a movie theater, cabins (2 twin beds or 2 sets of bunk beds) (some of which have bathrooms), and a solarium on the top-rear of the boat. Limited Internet service is available--in order to connect, I have to get up early before other computer-users are up. And the connection is very slow. It's too slow to post pictures, but I'll post pictures when I get a faster connection on the mainland.

The solarium has been our home on the voyage. It's an area with glass panels on top and the sides and open to the rear of the boat. Infrared strips provide needed heat to keep it from being cold. Behind the solarium is a small deck area in which tents are pitched.

Initially our plan was to get on-board, secure the bikes, and run upstairs to get a lounge chair and pitch the tents. The plan partly worked! We secured the bikes in the hold, ran upstairs and found that the wind was blowing a gale. We grabbed a chair each and vacillated over whether or not to pitch the tents. In the end, we decided that pitching the tents was probably a bad idea because of the winds.

Just to explain, the tents are held in place via duct tape to the deck of the boat. We were afraid that the duct tape would not hold and we'd lose the tents and contents to the straits of Alaska. In retrospect, the tape held for those who were brave enough to try it, so our decision can be challenged.

But the deck chair was not bad at all. It folds flat, making into a bed. I laid my bumblebee down for the mattress, then my summer sleeping bag on top of the bumblebee, and my other sleeping bag to sleep in. More comfortable than I thought, and almost equal to my cot. Not too bad!

Gary choose to use his air mattress instead of the chair, so his sleeping accommodations have suited him well.

We've seen several whales, a Gray Whale and a Killer Whale. And we've seen tens of thousand mountains on either side of the waters. The route, the "Inside Passage" is part of the Alaskan Highway System. It's the same route used by the luxury liners, so we're seeing what those passengers see. The waters are blue-green and crystal clear. Beautiful waters. But, truth be told, I've seen enough mountains and pretty water to hold me for a while. They get pretty boring when seen day after day.

There's a naturalist on-board from the National Parks Service, who does presentations from time to time. They have covered bears, whales, and navigaion. Interesting presentations.

The bikes are on the main deck. I'd call it the hold, but they refer it to the "Car Deck" when making announcements on the boat's speaker system. We have access to the bikes when the boat is in dock or every 6 hours, whichever comes first. Otherwise, the hold is not available to the passengers.

The boat's movement is almost imperceptible. There's a constant vibration from the propulsion system that's a bit annoying when I pay attention to it. Otherwise, you can't tell we're moving at all. No up and down motions. The only motion felt is when the Captain changes course left or right. And that is pretty slight.

The ferry serves several towns along the way, so we dock from time to time to let people and vehicles on and off. So, we have new neighbors occasionally. The boat was in port two times long enough for passengers to disembark and go into town. I chose to go into town only once in Ketchican (yesterday).

Probably the best part of the cruise has been meeting fellow riders and talking about the bikes and adventures. We've made new friends from the Seattle area, Moab, Las Vegas (Kurt), Anchorage, and other areas. One of them is a native of Brazil, and I've enjoyed listening to him and his banter about bikes. The one from Moab does tours of Utah and Colorado; I might look him up sometime to arrange a tour. Getting to know them a little and enjoying the chatter back and forth has been a great surprise.

All in all, the ferry ride has been good. As I write this, we're on the last full day of the ride, and have no ports to visit. So, it will be an opportunity to have a final bull session tonight before disembarking tomorrow morning. I'm pleased with my decision to do the ferry.

Tomorrow--disembarking and riding to Seattle for tire and the unknown...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Arrival at the Ferry




Day 28, July 21, 2008-340 miles. Ok, I'll cut to the chase quickly—the plug in the tire held to Haines and the ferry!

The day started early; we were worried that the plug would fail, perhaps stranding us along the way. Sometimes they hold for a little while and then slip our or leak, stranding the rider. So, we had valid concerns over whether or not we'd make it to the ferry. And a flat tire in Alaska or the Yukon Territory is no small deal. First, there are few places at all along the way. Second, there are no motorcycle facilities outside of Anchorage or Fairbanks. So, a huge bill is incurred when a bike fails along the way. We learned of one rider on the Haul Road who had a flat that cost him $1,000 in towing and tire replacement charges, plus several days delay. And if we missed the ferry, I had no plan on what to do since it runs once a week, and a big penalty is charged for cancellation. So, needless to say, I was concerned.

When I went outside to check the tire, I was relieved to see that the tire pressure was where I had left it the day before. The plug made it from repair to Beaver Creek. But would it hold up for another 340 or so miles to Haines? Still concerned....

We started riding south, and I led the way. At first I rode a little slower than usual, about the speed limit, but after a few miles, sped up to more of our normal riding speed.

Repairs were along the way here, too. So when I saw one, I'd slow down to make sure I didn't hit any obviously sharp rocks.

At Destruction Bay, the wind picked up, and big repairs were underway at one place. We had to wait at one place for a pilot car to lead us through the 7 kilometers of repairs we had to pass. But it did not slow us much.

We stopped at Haines Junction for gas and a quick snack. Then south on the Haines Road to Haines. This road was in great condition, with almost no repairs to deal with. Some of the road was actually SMOOTH! But it was pretty windy, with the gusts blowing us from side to side in our lanes.

At one point, it got really cold, when we were going through a mountain pass. My thermometer read 43 degrees, and with a light rain and the wind, it went from cool to cold really fast. I was glad to have a heated jacket and heated grips. I just wished I had donned my heated socks. My feet were not happy!

After a while, the road went downhill to lower heights, and the thermometer went to higher temperatures and happier feet. The town of Haines was a welcome sight!

The first order of business was to find the ferry landing and learn the check-in process.

It was easy to find, and check-in was simple. Show them the itinerary printed from their website and a picture ID, and they issued tickets to Gary and me. The second order of business was to find some food for lunch and some supplies for the 3-day ferry ride.

We rode back into town and found a restaurant that served food and beer. We had not had a real meal since Sunday morning, so we needed some solid food. I was hungry! The cheeseburger and fries was good with a cool beer!

Then we rode back to the ferry and waited for its arrival, some 2 hours later. We made it and were ready to board.

Finally, the ferry came into sight—a big ship looking like a luxury liner. It is huge compared with ther ferries we're accustomed to in North Carolina.

After a while of loading many cars and big trucks, they let the motorcycles board. Getting into the hold was easy; tying the bikes down was pandemonium. We had a lot to do and not much time in which to do it.

The bikes were parked in two rows, with tie-down points on the outsides of the bikes. So, to secure them, they had to be tied together in addition to the tie-down on the outside. Then, we had to carry our gear up 5 stories to where we were staying. All in about 20 minutes! Too much to do in too little time.

We had planned to set up tents on the Solarium Deck, as many folks do. We got on the Solarium Deck, found deck chaise lounge chairs, and decided not to set up the tents because it was blowing a gale and we were afraid we'd lose the tents and their contents! I was able to get almost everything I needed from the bike to the deck, so it turned out okay although harried.

With a tentative decision not to erect our tents, we got our chairs situated. The Solarium is a neat place. Fitted with glass windows on top and both sides, it is protected from the weather pretty well. It is also fitted with infrared heating elements on the ceiling, providing much needed heat in cool weather as we were experiencing. They were very welcome.

We got a bite of dinner (bowl of chili), and went back to the Solarium. Gary inflated his air mattress, and I fixed my bed (the lounge chair). I used the Bumblebee and summer sleeping bag for a mattress and got out my sleeping bag. And laid down. And fell asleep, listening to the wind, the ship noises and Gary's snoring.

At around 11:30, as the ferry neared Juneau, it's first stop, I got up so I could go back into the hold and finish getting what I was not able to bring up earlier. Access to the hold is limited when the ship is moving; available only when it is at dock or every 6 hours, whichever is sooner. Not a bad thing, but it is a little inconvenient sometimes.

Got back to the Solarium and fell asleep and slept pretty good.

Tomorrow—cruising....

Flat Tire!

Day 27, July 20, 2008-434 miles. Today's ride was from Anchorage to Beaver Creek, YT. We got up, had a leisurely morning visiting with Gary's family, with a goal to be on the road to Beaver Creek about noon. Before leaving, we decided that we needed to go by the base to personally thank the captain for his hospitality. Our host arranged to get us in with him so we could see him.

We left our base at about 12:15pm, rode across town to Elmendorf AFB, and parked the bikes in a public area. Our host thenloaded us in his truck and we entered the base and went to his building. In a few minutes, our captain appeared with his wife and smallest child, and we let him know how much we appreciate all he did to take us fishing. He admitted that the trip was maybe his best trip ever, so we felt good that he enjoyed it too.

Then we got back on our bikes after thanking our host, and hit the road to Tok, AK.

The ride to Tok was uneventful. We went by Matanuska Glacier again, huge and white on our right. Awesume!

At Tok, we got gas and headed sougheast towards Beaver Creek on the Alaskan Highway.

The Alcan Highway is always under repairs in the summertime. Frost heaves create havoc with the road, with elevation drops of several feet. The road would suddenly drop and perhaps 30-40 feet ahead would rise to the level before the drop. These “heaves” are fun on the bike. Feels like a roller-coaster ride. Not quite steep enough to get air; sometimes they felt like they would launch us towards space!

There are places where they're working on the road. A “Broken Pavement” sign warned us that the road conditions were changing severely ahead. The repair sections were in varying states of repair, with most being dirt or dirt and gravel for several hundred feet to perhaps ½ mile in length.

Gary is a very experienced, good rider, on pavement and dirt. His bike is also built for roads of varying consistency. So, he enjoys some dirt and gravel along the way. I'm NOT!

My earlier bike, the Vstrom, is made for road conditions similar to Garu's GS, so it handles dirt and gravel well. My RT is built for touring (on paved roads), and I'm not as experienced as Gary, so those sections are much more challenging for me. I can do them, but with less confidence than he has. On top of all this, it had rained just prior to our arrival to this area, so add mud to the mix of dirt and gravel.

I did very well, all things considered. There was one stretch where I almost lost the front end on deeper gravel. The bike saved me from falling; I can claim no credit. But I stayed upright. Another two patches had lots of mud in a watery consistency. I think the bike slid s little, but, again, no mishaps.

After each repair situation, I'd pour on the gas to catch up with Gary, who had ridden at close-to-normal speeds while I worked my way through them.

After one patch, I noticed that the bike felt different; squirrely in the rear. I played with it just a bit and decided that something was not right. So, I called Gary and told him to stop at the first safe place. A couple of hundred yards up the road, we stopped.

I got off the bike, kicked the rear tire, and it was flat! 9 pounds of air when tested. We put the bike up on the centerstand and rotated the rear, looking for a nail or screw. Nothing! So, I got out the pump, hooked it up and let it run. After about 5 minutes, I disconnected it and could hear air escaping the tire. There was a hole in the center of the tire; no nail or screw. I don't know what I hit, but nothing was in the tire but a clean hole.

I travel with a plug kit and the pump. Today they paid off. The plug kit, a cheapo from Wallyworld, had successfully plugged several tires over the year. So, with a clean hole and the kit, I felt pretty confident that I could plug it successfully. So, I plugged it, finished inflating the tire, and we got on the bike to continue to Beaver Creek, some 40 or so miles away.

Another GS rider from Las Vegas had been following us through the repairs sections and he stopped when we stopped. Kurt, who works for a BMW shop, helped us get it all done. Kurt, thank you for your support!

We rode successfully to the US border just north of Beaver Creek. The crossing was slow; there was one vehicle with a gun issue, and a truck with some other issue. So, we were delayed getting through the border. Our crossing was uneventful, for which I am thankful.

We rode to Beaver Creek for the motel, found it and checked in. Very small room, twin beds, small shower, no TV or phone. But it was very welcome at 11:30pm.

We did a short walk, went into the bar for a dinner of beer, potato chips, and a beef jerky. Then the welcome bed.

So, an adventurous day which ended well. But will the plug last to the ferry some 340 miles away, and if it does, what next?

Tomorrow, ride to the ferry at Haines.

Fishing!




Day 26, July 19, 2008-0 miles. Wow, what a DAY! One of my dreams of Alaska included going Halibut fishing. At one point in the trip, Iwas not sure it would happen, but our gracious host arranged for a day on the waters in the Prince William Sound.

The day started early, at 5am. We got up, got dressed, had a cup of coffee, and headed south to Whittier. The trip included going through the famed 2-mile tunnel, carved for trains, and used as one-way traffic for cars and bikes. We were lucky and the tunnel was open for car traffic to go into Whitter as we arrived at the tunnel and paid the $12 fee.

The weather on the mainland side of the tunnel was dark and dreary, looking like rain at any moment. However, when we got to the Whittier side of the tunnel, the sun was out bright and the wind was blowing a gale. And cold.

First, I worried that I did not have enough clothes for the trip; I borrowed a rain jacket from Gary's brother, so I put it on and it blocked the wind. Underneath, I had 3 layers; a sweatshirt, a fishing shirt, and a long undershirt. So, I was properly layered.

We found our captain, one of the men who works for our host, another man who works for him, a friend of theirs, and Gary and me with out host. 6 in all. We boarded the boat and started off into the sound.

The boat was a beautiful 28' aluminum boat, equipped with a full cabin (including refrigerator, stove, sink, toilet, table, and berth space for several folks. Our captain said he and his family use it for camping on the water. His family numbers 6 people!

It also had an inflated skiff on top of the cabin for emergencies. Two 150 hp Honda outboards powered the boat. It truly is a very classy boat that is equipped with redundant equipment (one large Garmin GPS with radar) and 2 other GPSs, along with other crucial equipment.

We rode for a little over 2 hours at about 30mph before we stopped to fish. It was a spot where he knew from experience that fish were likely present. The anchor was dropped, and the rods handed out.

Wow, the fishing equipment is heavy duty. The short, stout rods were equipped with big Penn reels holding 100 # braided line. The terminal tackle included a 5 # ball of lead to pull the bait to the bottom, some 200 feet beneath the boat. Crystal clear water was beautiful! No wind and the water was almost as slick as glass. And it had warmed to a very comfortable temperature. Perfect conditions!

We dropped the bait into the water, and about 3 minutes later could feel the weight hit the bottom. Jigging was the technique, pulling the weight about 3 feet off the bottom, and then raising and lowering the rod to attract the fish to the bait.

In about 2 minutes, I felt a definite tug on the rod, and it pulled back! Fish On!! as people had told me, it was work bringing it to the surface. Probably 5 minutes to reel it in—a Halibut bigger than I had ever seen live before. I don't know how big it was because as soon as it was gaffed and pulled into the boat, it went into the fish hold. But it was a big flat fish as far as I'm concerned. Catching the first one, and a Halibut put me into blue heaven. I loved it!

Within a couple of minutes, others had a fish on, and the battle ensued, with us winning most of the time. I caught a toltal of 6 fish, one of which was tossed back in for it's smaller size. The limit was 12 Halibut (2 per person), so I got more of my share. But I probably fished more than the others. The captain and his co-worker, and our host did not actively fish, with them helping manage the fish caught and bait and picture taking chores.

I had a ball! Gary is not an avid fisherman, but he enjoyed this trip.

When we made our limit of Halibut, the captain asked if we wanted to catch some other fish. Dumb question as far as I was concerned!

So, we took off to another location maybe 15 miles away to look for Ling Cod. And we found them!! The technique here was drift fishing, with the boat drifting by the tide and us jigging with lighter tackle. Actually two kinds of rigs were used; silver plugs were used and big leaded plugs were used.

We found that the big leaded plugs caught Ling Cod and the lighter tackle caught Black Sea Bass. The Ling Cod are big, ugly fish. They are voracious feeders and have a huge head and 18 big teeth. We were warned not to put any body parts into their mouth or we might lose it. Big and ugly. The size limit was a minimum of 35”, so all we caught (11) were between 36 and 42 inches in length. We thought we had our limit of 12, but learned at the dock that we miscounted and shorted ourselves by one.

The Black Sea Bass were not small fish. They probably averaged 2 feet in length and probably weighed 10 pounds each. We caught what we thought was our limit of 12, only to learn later that the limit was 5 instead of 2. Oh well, we had a ton of fish already.

When we left this area, our captain asked if we wanted any Silver Salmon, so of course we said yes. They were closer to our dock, so we rode for about 2 hours back towards the dock before he stopped to rig for the salmon. We fished once, but caught nothing. So, we headed back to the dock.

The ride back was fairly long and more violent than the ride out. Big sprays of water and bangs of wave on aluminum hull made it loud.Several of us (me and our host), tired from the day's activities, took a nap along the way. But we got back to the dock, unloaded the fish and gear. Our hosts then cleaned the fish. Actually, they filleted the fish and put them into gallon ziplock bags. 40 bags of fillets!! They filled one of the huge Igloo coolers, leaving no room for ice! A nice problem indeed.

The hosts then cleaned the boat, filled it with gas (100 gallons, which was very economical for what we did!) and we loaded up and went back to our base.

Topping off a perfect day, on the ride back to our base, it was raining, and the sun was shining. Looking over our left shoulders, a perfect rainbow was sighted. Perfect in that it was complete—it ranged from one side of Turnagain Arm to the other side mountains, and also that it was brilliant in colors and had a mirror image just outside the main image. We took a few pics that did not show the brilliance or completeness of the rainbow.

A great day! One of my life dreams realized, thanks to our wonderful friend in Anchorage. I'll forever be grateful for their hospitality.

Tomorrow-beginning ride to the ferry.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Denali National Park


Day 24, July 17, 2007-22 miles on bike; 132 miles on bus. Today was a mixture of good and boring.

We got up, got dressed, had the continental breakfast offered by the motel, and went to the park to check in for the bus ride. All of the check-in procedure worked just like clockwork.

The bus ride was one of several offered by the park. It was a 9 hour (total), 66 mile ride into the park on a bus like a school bus.

We were fortunate that the bus was less than half full, leaving each of us window seats. We had been advised that the left side of the bus was the best, so we could possibly see Mt. McKinley. Of course, it was very cloudy, so seeing the big mountain would be impossible today. It's viewable only a small percentage of the time, so our trip was like most folks'.

The ride started, and we rode and rode and rode. Part of the ride was on pavement, but about 80% was on dirt and gravel. Bumpy! Noisy! Lots of gear whine and engine moise. And DUST!

Over the course of the day, we saw 3 Grizzly bear, Arctic Ground Squirrel, Red Foxes, Dall Sheep, Moose, Snowshoe Hare, Beaver, and other small animals. I liked the bear best since I didn't see them the last time I was there.

It rained some; lightly scattered during the day. It was pretty cool and overcast, with some variable winds.

A good day with very little riding on the bikes.

Tomorrow-back to the base.

Run to North Pole




Day 23, July 16, 2008-555 miles. Today was a long, but a good one. We got up, ate a quick breakfast of cereal, and Gary, his wife, and I set out on the bikes. Our final destination was Healy, but a trip to Fairbanks, Hwy 2 North, and North Pole was a part of the itinerary.

The ride north on the Parks Highway was fairly uneventful until we switched bikes just north of Wasillia. Gary wanted to ride the RT with his wife to help him decide if an RT was in his future. So, we traded bikes and I rode his GS.

For a while, the ride was fairly easy, the Parks Highway is mostly 65mph with passing lanes from time to time, so, we were able to make good time.

After an hour or so, we could see evidence of light rain on the road. As we moved further north, the road became wetter, and then a light mist started showing up on our face guards and windshields. The mist got heavier as we moved north.

The GS is a very good bike, but it has much less protection from the weather than the RT. The RT has an extensive fairing and a big windshield, which work pretty well to keep rain and wind away from the rider. It is one reason why the RT is so easy to ride long distances. However, the GS has a much smaller windshield and almost no fairing, making the rider more exposed to the weather.

Consequently, the light mist became light rain, and I was slowly getting cold and damp. I was wearing my heavier gloves, but my hands were getting pretty cold and increasingly damp, even though I had the grip heaters on.

The other issue was fuel. We had passed a gas station quite a while back, not stopping for gas because we had plenty. And we thought there would be another station in another 20-30 miles.

We were wrong! His gas light came on, and the miles to empty display came on. As we rode further north, the miles counted down lower and lower. At about 30 miles left, I slowed down, trying to stretch the fuel as far as possible, running along at 50-55 mph. That and a tail wind helped. Looking at the GPS, it was 60 miles to Cantwell, and the guage showed 40 miles left.

I milked the fuel as sparingly as possible, and when the guage showed 0 miles left, and the engine was still running. Cantwell was 7 miles away.

About 3 miles further, the engine sputtered and died. I was out of gas and we were 4 miles from the nearest gas station!! Damn!

It was blowing a gale, the rain had stopped, but it was cold. After a couple minutes deciding what to do, Gary went for gas on the RT and his wife and I waited by the bike as he sped north into Cantwell for fuel.

Luckily, the RT has a larger fuel tank and gets slightly better fuel mileage than the GS, so there was no concern as to whether or not he would make it to Cantwell.

In a short while, here comes Gary and the RT, a bright-red fuel container strapped to the pillion seat. A welcome sight!

We got the fuel into the GS, loaded up, and rode into town to fill up both bikes. I had about 1.5 gallons left in the RT.

Cold, damp, and hungry, we decided to look for some warm place with good grub next. A few miles up the road, we came upon two restaurants and picked the McKinley Grill. Although slow, the food was good, and the heat was welcome.

Tanks and tummys full, we continued north past the entrance to Denali National Park and on to Healy and the Motel Nord Haven, our final destination for the day.

After checking in and carrying some of our unneeded gear to the room, we got on the bikes again and headed to Fairbanks, some 110 miles north on Hwy 3.

The ride was good. As we went north, the temperature rose higher and higher. I got warm and then hot, sweating under the layers I had donned just a short while earlier. We stopped along the way for some caffine after a short while and I took off the heated jacket liner.

The trip on to Fairbanks was better, but when we got into town, the temperatures were in the 80s vs mid-50s we had been experiencing. Quite a change.

Once in Fairbanks, we rode a few miles on Hwy 2 North, towards the famed Haul Road. I had wanted to do this ride, but chickened out when I decided to take the RT. Maybe some other time...

Next, we rode to North Pole, AK. Smallish town with candy-cane light poles. Took a few pics in front of the post office, and that was all we did there.

Gary has a friend he's played golf with who lives in Fairbanks. So, he called him to say hello, and they decided a beer was in order. So, we rode back towards Anchorage to the edge of town to meet his friend at a prearranged spot.

We met his friend, on a Suzuki 1000 sport bike and followed him to the Howling Dog Saloon in the middle of nowhere. It was an old, famous place that none of us had ever heard of. However, across the street was the Silver Gulch Saloon, a new microbrewery. So, we chose the microbrewery instead. Had a beer and light dinner and hit the road back to Healy and the motel.

Got back to the motel about 11:30pm, just before sunset! Imagine sunset after 11:30pm. Anyway, that was the day.

Tomorrow-bus trip into Denali National Park.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day Trip to Talkeetna




Day 22, July 15, 2008-245 miles (note the change in the number of days on the road; somehow I lost about a week in my counting, so it's actually day 22 today. Disregard the numbering on the other days!)

Today was an easy one. We got up early so that the women could get to the train station to ride the train to Talkeetna, about 120 miles up the Parks Highway. Gary's brother's PC proved to be worrisome to repair, so it was not ready for riding. I know he was the most disappointed, but all of us wanted his machine to be ready for riding this week. Something in the electrical system is not right; it runs fine, but after about 30 minutes of riding, the battery goes dead. Either the alternator is not putting out or the voltage regulator is not working properly. It goes to the shop tomorrow. I wanted it to be otherwise, but it couldn't be helped.

So, he carried Gary's wife, his brother's ex-wife, his mother, and his brother's mother-in-law to the train station and drove his car on to Talkeetna. Gary and I left on our bikes a little later since we knew the ride on bikes would be faster than the train.

The ride to Talkeetna was uneventful; we stopped for bathroom stops and snacks, and pulled into the train station just behind the train's arrival. Good timing!

After getting together, we backtracked to the road into Talkeetna to the Talkeetna Lodge, a pretty and fancy lodge overlooking the village and mountain ranges behind it. Lunch at the lodge was good, but the clouds were hanging low, so we could see none of the big mountain except perhaps the very base of it.

After lunch, we rode into town and parked. Then walked around in the tourist shops buying trinkets for the folks left home. Had some ice cream while watching the people walk by.

Talkeetna is a neat place. Mostly a tourist trap of sorts, it also serves as the staging area for flightseeing trips to Mt. McKinley and surrounding mountains. It also serves as the staging point for climbers going to climb the big mountain. We didn't see any of them today....

After a while, we ran out of things to do and see, and it was time for the ladies to head towards the train, so we all left the village to go back to our base.

It was a good day down memory lane, revisiting a place that was special to my sister and me when we visited Talkeetna 4 years ago. Wish she could have been along this time, too.

Tomorrow—north to Healy, the North Pole, and Fairbanks and then back to Healy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Matanuska Glacier and Independence Gold Mine




Day 16, July 14, 2008-0 miles. A very good day today. We went to Matanuska Glacier, about 95 miles north east of Anchorage. It is a real live glacier about 15 miles long and approximately 3 miles wide at the terminus.

Going to the glacier, we turned off the main road onto a steep dirt road down to the entrance. A fee is charged for each person, which is collected only after signing a 1.5 page waiver of injuries from being on site. Then the gate is opened and we drove to the parking lot near the glacier. The glacier was in front of us, glistening white behind black dirt mounds. We walked towards the glacier, about a ¼ mile walk down the path.

About 2/3 of the way down the path, I noticed that the “black dirt” was actually glacial debris, dirt and rock being heaved up by the glacier. It was becoming a bit slick as there was more ice than debris to walk on.

A few more yards down the path, it became ice with just small flecks of dirt and debris to reduce the slippage under our feet. One could get hurt! Easily!!

We spotted a picnic table on the ice and gingerly walked to the table to take a few pics and look around. We could see lots of people walking about on the glacier, but I have to believe that they were wearing crampons or something on their boots or shoes to keep from sliding. We were wearing tennis shoes, and they were plenty slippery.

Fortunately, we slowly and carefully walked back to the base of the glacier and then to the waiting car. A neat experience for Gary, his wife, and me.

Then we went to the Independence Gold Mine between the main road and Willow Creek. It is a partly-restored gold mine, the second-largest to operate in Alaska during the 1930s and 1940s. We got there too late for a guided tour, but spent an hour or so looking at the restored buildings and displays. It was a neat thing to see and I enjoyed seeing the heavy machinery used in the mining process.

Finally, we rode across Hatcher Pass, a 30-mile dirt road through the wilderness of the Talkeetna Mountains. It was a great ride, climbing to it's summit at about 3,900 feet. It wound along the edge of the mountains, green and velvety looking in the distance. A small branch, then creek, then river wound its way in the valley between the mountains.

There were scores of beaver ponds and lodges along the way, and at one, we spotted a beaver swimming across his pond with a live limb from a tree that he was taking to store for food in the winter. Never seen a live beaver before, so this was a great treat!

Then the ride over to Willow Creek, then through Wasillia, then back to our base. The weather was perfect; temperatures had moderated and were very pleasant. A mix of sun and clouds sprinkled acorss the skies. A great day indeed!

Tomorrow—day trip to Talkeetna.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Elmendorf Air Force Base Tour




Day 14, July 12, 2008-0 miles. Didn't ride or do anything notable yesterday, so there's no post for July 11.

Today, we finished the preparation to get Gary's brother's bike ready to ride. The new spark plugs, coupled with a fully charged battery seemed to be the trick to getting it running properly. What we don't know is whether or not the battery will stay charged. When we tested it with the engine running, at times the alternator was charging the battery; at times the battery was discharging. We're wondering if the voltage regulator is faulty, causing the battery to discharge even though the alternator is functioning properly. In addition, we discovered that the tires were not holding air. Since the bike hasn't been ridden in 6 years, the tires, while having good tread, have hardened and may have developed small cracks letting the air escape. He installed some Slime, a tire sealant to see if they could be used for a few days until new tires could be purchased and installed. A test ride is planned for tomorrow.

The highlight for the day was a tour of Elmendorf Air Force Base, arranged by our hosts. We packed into the family van and rode across town to the base. The guard at the gate did his job by checking the credentials of the mother-in-law who was authorized to enter and drive inside the base. We rode around many military buildings with names I don't remember and arrived at the building where he worked.

He greeted us outside and, while walking to the entrance to the building, introduced us to the man who had provided the Salmon and Halibut we had eaten (absolutely delicious!) and the other man who had loaned the travel trailer in which Gary, his wife, and I have been staying. We all thanked them profusely for their hospitality. All seemed to be genuinely nice guys.

We entered the building and went to his office. I'm not too much on military rankings, but, after some explanation of the chain of command, I think he is the number 3 ranking officer here; it was evident that he had the respect of the personnel who work for him.

He showed us a computer simulation of some of what they do in his squadron; it has to do with a major effort to guard the skies of Alaska, Canada, and the United States from unidentified aircraft. He talked of the interceptions made over the years, and I was amazed at the number and variety of times our airspace has been violated. IT IS A VERY IMPORTANT TASK, AND ONE THEY TAKE VERY SERIOUSLY! One wall of the large room was lined with plaques containing red stars; each star represented an interception made.

Then he guided us to the Operations Room, which had been prepared for our tour by de-classification of any sensitive information. We were allowed to take pictures of anything in the room. What I can describe is the room reminded me of video shots of NASA during launches. Rows and rows of computers and monitors, some with as many as 4 screens per person, all watching and tracking aircraft. They receive data from the FAA and other military information to know who is who (in the skies), and they visually track the objects to determine that they are where they are supposed to be by comparing their locations to flight plans filed. It takes a lot of skill, knowledge, and experience to know what they are doing. But I'm convinced that they are very good at their jobs.

We also got our pictures taken with the huge stuffed Polar Bear in the room. It was taken during a hunt by an Air Force officer during a hunt in 1966, and had been moved from location to location around the base over the years. Reportedly, as big as it is, they had to remove 18 inches from it's torso so it would fit in normal rooms. It is huge, with claws probably 1.5 inches long. Very impressive! I'd hate to be stranded on the ice and see one of them interested in me! I'd be just an appetizer for one!

When the inside tour was over, we drove to an area where they have a number of aircraft on display. I'm not an airplane buff, so I can't tell which planes were present, but they all were full-size and impressive. A very well-done display of aircraft. Nearby was an enclosure with two live eagles that had been rescued by area residents. They are nursed back to health and released to nature if they are able to make it independently.

Then we all got back in the van and drove by the airfield and a ski slope used by the military, then back to our base.

It was a good day that included seeing things I'd never have been able to see without our wonderful hosts making it happen. Gary has a great family.

Tomorrow—test ride??

Friday, July 11, 2008

Run to Homer




Day 17, July 10, 2008-470 miles. Today we rode to Homer, the southwest coastal city at the end of Highway 1. It was a good ride, but I haven't been sleeping well and had to fight drowsiness all day.

The ride down Turnagain Arm is always a good ride. The mountains against the road on the left and Turnagain Arm's waters on the right side with huge mountains streaked with snow is a beautiful sight. It is a unique place, and one that I love to look at.

It was supposed to be a warmer day than yesterday, but it stayed cloudy most of the day and about half way there, we stopped for some warm liquid and a cookie to wake and warm us. I decided to don my heated jacket to help with the coolness.

It did it's job and soon I was a bit too warm. So, over a period of a half hour or so, I kept adjusting the thermostat lower and lower to reduce the heat. The heated grips helped my chilled hands. After a while I was toasty warm and sleepy. I just couldn't get rid of the sleepiness.

Along the way, we saw a number of eagles and one moose cow and two calves by the road. However, we didn't see much else in the way of wildlife.

We did the loop around Homer. On the bottom road, we turned left onto the famous Homer Spit. I had pictured a spit of sand and rocks andnot much more. However, much to my surprise and dismay, it had a paved road, and was commercialized very heavily. We saw more people on the spit than anywhere else in Homer. Quite a sight, watching people tussle over parking spaces.

The spit varies in width from maybe 150 feet to perhaps 1,000 feet. It is about 3.4 miles long, a finger of land going out into Cook Inlet. The wind was blowing from the ocean to the spit, and it was very cold. It was not somewhere to hang around and lollygag.

We went into the Salty Dawg Saloon, perhaps to have a beer, but it was packed. We decided to go to the Happy Face restaurant for a late lunch and a beer. I got a steak sandwich, and they served a ribeye steak between two pieces of bread. It was very good!

When we left the restaurant, we watched some men cleaning Halibut caught earlier in the day. It was quite an operation, watching them jive talking to each other and slicing the fish with great skill. The fillets were anywhere from 15 to 25 inches in length, and some were as wide as probably 15 inches. A single fish would feed many families. I enjoyed watching the cleaning operation and seeing the big flukes.

Then back towards the parked bikes. We walked down to the water so we could say we had touched the waters of Cook Inlet. Cold, but not as cold as I expected. Neat!

Then back towards our base. The ride home was fairly routine, except the drowsiness set in again several times as we rode. We saw 2 more moose, both females, along the way. No other wildlife would show up for us to watch.

We got home about 9:20pm, still plenty light outside. Tired puppies again.

Tomorrow ???

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Maintenance Day



Day 16, July 9, 2008-15 miles. Well, today we spent a good part of the day taking it easy and doing maintenance on the bikes. Oil and filter changes for Gary and me; putting his brother's Honda Pacific Coast (PC) back together and trying it out.

We went to the BMW dealer to buy oil filters. They had them in stock, but at a premium; about 50% higher than they are in my part of the world. I guess transportation costs add up. We then went by Wal-Mart to get oil (Mobil 1) and a holster for my telephone . I lost mine somewhere along the way and needed to replace it to keep from scratching the screen so badly.

Got back to our base and promptly changed oil and filters. No problem; they are relatively easy to service. Gary's bike's oil level had been showing as overfull since the last oil change at the BMW dealership nearest his home. He said his normally used some oil, but the oil was above the sight glass all the way.

When he drained his, I could tell by looking at the waste oil container that he had a lot more waste oil than I d id. I was about ½ quart low after a little more than 5K miles, so it drained about 3.75 quarts into the waste oil container. We measured his after it drained out, and it had at least 5.2 quarts when drained. Since they hold 4.2 quarts on a change, it had at least 1.0 quart more than it should, and, since it usually uses more than a quart in an oil change, it must have been filled at least 2.0 quarts overfull. No wonder why his fuel mileage was always about 10% lower than mine. Last year, his got about the same fuel mileage as mine gets. So, the mystery of low fuel mileage is solved. There doesn't seem to be any ill effects from being overfilled.

His brother, who had not ridden his PC in several years, has been getting his bike ready to ride for a few days. New battery. New tags and insurance. Oil and filter change. We all had worked on his a couple of days ago to get the carburetors de-gunked and ready to go. So, today's work was to get it put back together and take a test ride.

It took a couple of hours, but all the pieces went back together pretty well with only a few bolts left over. Seems that bikes with a lot of plastic like my RT and his PC usually end up with extra bolts when they are put back together. Not a problem. We just save the extra bolts for the next time they are dismantled.

Got all of the bikes ready to ride and took off. Unfortunately, the PC didn't run right, so the ride was cut short. We turned around and returned to our base to try to diagnose the problem.

After a while of working on it, the symptom was discovered; a very weak spark in the front cylinder of the 800cc motor. Not sure why the spark was weak, but it was running on one cylinder! More work is necessary to find the cause (plugs, wires, or coil are suspect items). Probably not tomorrow, but soon.

Tomorrow--exploring the area.

Train/Cruise



Day 15, July 8, 2008-0 miles. Today was a good, but long day. It started at 4:55am when Gary's brother knocked on the door to wake us up for today's adventure. Even though it was before 5am, it was already quite light outside. Guess I'll never get used to the amount of light in these northern latitudes.

We got up, got dressed quickly and was on the road to Anchorage by 5:35am. Stopped by a McDonalds to get a biscuit for those who were hungry (as usual, that group included me). We drove to downtown Anchorage and to the train station to secure boarding passes.

The train station was a bit of a zoo; people everywhere, waiting to get on the train to Seward. After a bit of a wait, we boarded the train about 6:30am. There were 6 of us; Gary and wife, brother and his ex-wife, his mother, and me. Our seats were all together, so we could talk as we rode the rails.

The train got underway at 7:00am sharp, just as trains are supposed to do.

We headed south through Anchorage, through residential neighborhoods (Including one with a landing strip and planes in back yards) and business districts down to the Turnagain Arm. The train tracks parallel the Seward Highway, sometimes nearer the water and sometimes nearer the mountains. A pretty ride, especially nice since all you have to do is look and watch.

We saw a lot of pretty things; icebergs, glaciers, ponds, mountains, snow, and some wildlife, including some Dall Sheep that I missed with the camera. Oh well—not quick enough.

The train arrived in Seward and we disembarked to a bus to take us the 3 blocks to the cruise line office. We got to the office and got our boarding passes and waited to board the boat. I say boat, but it's a big ship, holding several hundred people.

We got underway on time and went out into Resurrection Bay. The cruise included a buffet, and we had prime rib, salmon, rice pilaf, salad, and dessert. We pretty well stuffed our bellies on good food.

The cruise followed the shores of Resurrection Bay, out to the mouth of the sea, and back down the other side back to the dock. It lasted about 5 hours.

Along the way, we saw lots of wildlife, including: bald eagles, puffins, sea lions, otters, porpoises, sea birds, and whales. Yes, whales! I had wanted to see one since we didn't get to see one with my sister, so seeing 2 or 3 was a huge bonus. Neat to see them blowing at the surface!

The weather cooperated very well. We were afraid we'd be cold, so we all wore warm clothes. The skies were gray all day, and it sprinkled several times, but when it sprinkled, we were all inside, so it made no difference. And the temperatures, while in the 50s all day, were not bad at all.

When we docked, we had to rush back to the bus to get back to the train. Get boarding passes validated and get back on the train for Anchorage. The 4.5 hour ride back was pretty uneventful; we were tired and napped a bit riding back.

Got back to the train station at 10:30pm, tired puppies all of us. Then the ride back to the house south of Anchorage.

A great day! Good company, good sights, good time for all.

Tomorrow—bike maintenance. Change oil and filter and help Gary's brother get his bike ready to ride.