Alaska Trip: Epilogue

Be ready for a novel….lots of text coming up.  Go grab a cup of coffee before starting this entry.  I’ll break up all the text with some more trip pictures since people just love photos.

Lessons learned on this adventure, some just a refresher, in no particular order:

I learned what the heck Poutine is after seeing it on many menus in Canada.  It’s french fries with gravy; sometimes even with cheese thrown in.  And maybe some other things, like bacon and such.  Yes I tried it…personally not a fan although I do like gravy on my mashed potatoes.  Here’s a picture because if you don’t know, it will drive you nuts on this adventure until you spend the money and order it:

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Stop when you are fatigued, no matter what anybody else wants to do. If they desire to keep riding, let them.  Either make arrangements for meeting up with them again in the future or just separate.  Fatigue can kill you.  It almost did me.  Sometimes you just need to take a nap when you are already worn out for the day:

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For an extended length journey like this, pick the right riding partner if you do not want to go solo.  Many people’s personalities are very different in person than online.  There were some major issues that were not covered in the ride report and I have decided not to air dirty laundry.  I won’t do another trip like this with people I don’t know pretty well before hand.

When traveling with others, set the parameters of safety.  I was in no condition to make decisions after the bad accident I had.  Find a traveling partner that you know will make the appropriate choices when they are needed.  It’s okay to be the leader, but in certain circumstances, you want to be with somebody that will step forward and at least try to look out for what’s best for you.  In an injury accident, your mind won’t allow you to make the right decision; make sure your riding partner can.  Discuss with somebody else the expectation that they will look out for you, and vice-versa.  What’s the use of riding with somebody that will not or can not step up when it is needed to protect the people that they are with?

Many of us travel with emergency devices like the InReach SE or SPOT.  Make sure anybody riding with you knows where you keep it and how to activate and use it in case of need.  The decision on whether it should stay on bike or your body is a personal choice.  Mine was on the bike…had it been on me, I would have been hurt worse more likely because I would have landed on it.   But if I was solo, I may have decided to find a way to carry it on me anyways in case I couldn’t crawl back to the bike in an accident.

Sawyer brand products are the bomb.  Get the Permethrin to spray your gear and clothing; keeps the skeeters, flies, and ticks away from you.  The insect spray with 20% Picaridin protected us from every bug on the trip.  Both are safe to humans; read the instructions on the bottle.  Not one mosquito bite the entire time in Alaska!  And…pesky bugs seem to be missing in large areas of Canada that we went through.  One campsite, none of us could recall hearing any mosquitoes or bugs at all!

We planned nearly every night’s stop by the seat of our pants.  And it worked out just fine.  Campgrounds are plentiful up north; in Alaska especially, people just pulled off wherever they wanted on the public land and camped (practice safe camping; bears are everywhere up there).  Motels mostly had available rooms if you stopped before it got too late but be prepared for the price shock.  Sometimes motels were full…we simply kept riding until we found empty rooms when that happened.

Break time.  Make sure you take a moment to chat with others; tons of good information to be shared at stops:

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Make sure you find your inner child every once in a while.  Makes the adventure all the better:

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If you like to travel solo, do it.  On this trip, you will meet plenty of other riders at gas, food, and photo opportunity stops.  And at your last stop for the night.  Even if you are shy and not the talkative type, you will have plenty of people starting conversations with you.  It’s easy to find somebody to ride along with for a while should you desire some company.  Even though the areas are very remote, there are plenty of other motorcyclists out there.

Carry a small pad of paper on your person (Rite in the Rain products handles the rain and humidity), and a pen like the Fisher Space Pen that writes in any conditions.  So many people you will meet and things you will do and you won’t remember the names and places when you get home.  Google Maps helps to track down stops…but not names.

Even in the summer months, it gets cold up there.  As in sometimes down into the thirties or colder in Fahrenheit; especially in the mornings.  Bring your heated gear.  And if you mail it home while up there because you haven’t needed it, Murphy (he has his own law) will smite you and make the very next morning the worst weather riding day you’ll ever ride in anywhere (it happened to others I talked to).  The heated gear keeps you warm even when the cold rain will slowly be lowering your body temperature.  Remember, hypothermia kills.

If taking the Alaska Ferry system, bring straps; just in case.  Our ferry didn’t provide them and there was no traditional tie-off places so we improvised with the straps we carried.

We all make do with how much time we have for traveling, but the three weeks I did it in was barely enough time.  Get as much time as possible accumulated for this trip.  It’s a long ride up there and back so you might as well spend as much time there as you can when you get past the Alaskan border.

I met many people that have nearly unlimited funds and time to travel on two wheels for very long periods of time and are having the time of their lives.  I’m jealous of those that are able to do this.  Anybody looking to hire a unemployed forty-something year old sarcastic guy who will be glad to travel and write ride reports for large sums of money?  Props to those that can travel like this.

Break time.  When you see this as you come up to a bridge, just remember the bike still goes overall straight even if it wants to wander around on the steel grates, so relax (even on that long, long bridge in Teslin):

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Make sure you make a snow angel when given the opportunity:

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Plan for a day here and there for rest.  That means you are staying in the same town or vicinity, mostly off the bike.  You need rest time to prevent trip fatigue and keep your expert skills working for you. This is a very grueling adventure, both mentally and physically.

Take lots of photos.  It helps with timelines, places, and easy enough to delete if you don’t want the photo later.  Don’t be afraid to do u-turns to go get that photo you realized you missed…you’ll wish you had when you get back home.  Unless you have serious photo storage problems, don’t delete anything until you get home and look at them on a bigger screen.  I was going to delete a few photos until I spotted moose and bear in the backgrounds playing peek-a-boo.

Went with LA Police Gear Operator Pants for this adventure.  $20 each, worth much more.  Very comfortable under my Latitude riding pants both on and off the bike.  Even in the heat, I wasn’t soaked in sweat.  Very comfortable with twelve hour riding days in all weather conditions under my Latitude Misano pants.  Spend the money for some merino wool socks too…one of the best changes to your riding gear you will ever make.  Feet stay cool at 95 degrees and warm in 30 degrees…and it’s the same pair of socks.  And you can go days in between washings as they won’t stink.

After months and months of research and planning, one day I just stopped trying to figure everything out in advance.  I had a route, some places I’d like to see, and ideas of where to lay my head at night.  I felt like I was over-planning and losing some of the mystery that an adventure should have.  So I programmed the GPS with a basic route and played the rest by ear and sight on the trip.  And it worked out pretty well this way.

Along with the above, I kept a overview list of nightly stop areas.  That way I knew where I should be on the overall path on any one day in case of injuries or breakdowns and I’d have to do some skipping stops to catch up to maintain my overall timeline.  With limited amount of days, it gives you the ability to come home when you need to be back home.

Don’t worry about toilets in Canada.  They are everywhere along many of the main scenic riding highways.

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But, in Alaska, many had “Closed for the Season” signs on the locked doors.  Budget cuts.  The ones that were open usually needed serious cleaning both inside and out.  Make sure you bring toilet paper on this trip, just in case.  At a stop, it’s worth more than gold when somebody else doesn’t realize there isn’t any in there.

Find a way to leave earlier in the morning.  At 6 AM, there isn’t anybody on the roads, you have them all to yourself (with the wildlife).  If you leave early, you can stop earlier later in the day…easier to find available motel rooms and gives you plenty of time to meet new people or excitedly discuss that bear that almost attacked you when your riding partner just happened to have been over the next hill and not seen it.

By the way, bears are either skittish and run away, or they don’t give a damn about you unless you get way too close; they just act like you aren’t there.  This was probably the biggest surprise to me.  They want nothing to do with you unless you put them into a situation where they feel threatened or they believe that you are hiding a cheeseburger in your pocket.

You can ride anything to do this journey.  Seriously.  Just depends how much aggravation you want to have depending on your bike selection.  In the mud and bad road conditions, you’ll want something you are able to physically manhandle through mud when needed.  And you can use street tires…but you’ll have a much easier and better trip if you find a tire with a little more aggressive tread.  People sometimes make fun of my “little” DL650.  I am 200 pounds and was fully loaded with a lot of gear.  Yet my bike still had uphill passing power plus even more to give when going up ascents of thousands of feet on mountain passes.  Just know how to handle the bike you have in all riding conditions before going north.

I had originally planned to take a Harley Ultra Classic.  I’m glad I didn’t.  Every cruiser I saw up there with expensive chrome was heavily damaged from the mud, thick gravel, many drops, and is going to require a lot of fixing when they return home.  And, we saw many Harley’s..smashed up, on the back of flat bed trailers.  And on the Dalton, figure $500 + $5 a mile for a tow.  A tow down from Deadhorse back to Fairbanks will run you about $2500.  Once you get your chrome queen home, you’ll never get all the calcium chloride off your bike.  I have washed the Vstrom 5 times…and it’s harder than cement.  It will stay on the bike forever.

For the right bike to take, my advice is to buy a eight year old Vstrom or F800GS in decent shape for three grand, put a grand into it for a better rear shock, a skid plate, 60/40 tires, and sell it when you get back home without losing much money.

This trip requires skills.  If you are a novice rider, practice back home how to ride on dirt, gravel, mud and in pouring rain first.  I have been riding for three decades plus…but saw lots of novices that should not have been up there doing this trip yet.  Yes, you can ride nothing but asphalt up there and miss out on the best roads of the adventure.  But you still have to ride through construction zones, and they are a mess.

Just a reminder that even veterans wreck.  I did. And so have quite a few others here that have been riding even longer than I.  It’s a whole different world up there. Get cocky and you’ll pay the price.

Bring Canadian cash along with US dollars.  Your hometown bank can set you up with both before you leave.  And even though your bank tells you that your card will work in Canada, make sure you contact the fraud department’s 800 number and let them know you are traveling out of country to verify everything is set up correctly before leaving (my banks said I was good to go, but later when calling the fraud department, they both said nothing was actually on my account info).  Bring several credit/debit cards because every one of them will eventually have some problem at some location so ensure backup funding sources are with you.

If you got this far, you deserve more pictures.  Rob sent me some cool weather photos that he encountered after leaving in Tok and heading back home.

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Yes, that’s a funnel cloud.

Sometimes camping just isn’t much fun:

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And if you ride on a motorcycle, you are going to ride into lots of these eventually (look down and up):

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By doing this trip, it is going to be very hard to find anything in the future that will compare for future motorcycle rides in North America.  I think one needs to plan rides that won’t try to outdo or compare…but will provide different perspectives that Alaska doesn’t offer.  Like Utah or Arizona for the deserts.  Colorado for more ride-able mountain passes.  Tennessee for more overall curves.  Maine for the countryside. Things like that.  I don’t think the trip to Alaska will ever be outdone…but I bet there’s many options out there to provide just as great of a journey if we think outside the box.

The ride to Alaska changes you…at least a little.  I feel more…I don’t know…peaceful.  Having done many long distance adventures to other places in my riding resume, two days after getting home you usually feel the way you always did from those journeys.  Not this trip; everybody I have talked to that has done it also reports feeling different afterwards.  Let’s get philosophical a little.  I think the expansiveness and remoteness of the world up there goes to show you that you are a speck of dust in the overall scheme of how the universe works.  Sitting on the Top of the World or Denali Highways and hearing NOTHING at all but wind and only seeing indescribable beauty all around you makes you realize that the stresses and problems you have are so minimal compared to overall life itself.  And in a way, it makes your soul feel a type of freedom you may have never experienced before.  Hard to explain; you’ll know what I’m saying if you get the opportunity to do this ride yourself.  Just remember that when you get up there…to STOP.  LOOK.  It’s worth the hour or whatever to just sit there and look at this piece of the world for some time.  No photo you ever see of Alaska will ever compare with your ingraining the image into your mind forever.

Lastly.  Figure out a way to do this adventure.  Nothing else will ever compare.  Like the birth of a child or your wedding day, this is one of those things in your life that will be grand and never forgotten.  Stop going to Starbucks and bank that five bucks a day.  Sell that stuff in your garage you haven’t touched in a year.  Mow yards on the side.  Whatever it takes to get funds together.  I saved for this trip and the needed bike/gear for over three years; all while still living life and doing other vacations with my family and on the motorcycle in the lower 48.  I’ll never be rich…but I’ve now experienced an adventure that many of those that are financially well off will never experience because they haven’t discovered the big picture in life and are too focused on just making more money every day they exist.  Talk to your boss at work and give them a coverage plan for your being gone a few weeks.  Life is too short.  Figure out a way to go to Alaska.

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And when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.  My expensive pannier got smashed in the accident, so I had a little fun with it when I got home.  I’ve taken the bike out twice since getting back home and after dressing up my crushed pannier…and both times somebody noticed the pannier and made comments about the adventure and it gave me a big smile:

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And it’s still waterproof.

Hope some of this rambling helps somebody else on their future adventure.

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