Thursday, July 17, 2008

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.

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