Last posting before being Alaska bound

Since deciding to do this ride a few years ago, there have been many ups and downs in life that have both changed the departure date as well as has made this ride so much more personal to me.  In about thirteen hours, I will climb on the Vstrom and ride towards the Arctic Circle.

There are no illusions regarding this ride…it is not for the faint of heart.  Not only have I heard, “You are going to do WHAT?” from many non-riders, but I also have heard the same statement from those that have ridden motorcycles for decades.  Not happy using my bike for simple transport to a bar or around the block to get a little wind once a summer, I have always been the wanderer…the seeker…the person that wants to know what is beyond the hill over there.
Unfortunately so many people just do not understand the need to do this activity; but then again, I do not understand spending your weekends taking one of your kids to a sporting event that they are being forced to participate just so you have time to sit in the stands and gossip with your neighbors. To each, their own.
A few people I just need to thank…just in case for some reason a bear gets me on the way and I do not make it back home.
Brian.  He helped me this past fall get the Vstrom road ready.  And when I freaked out this morning realizing I might have to cancel the trip due to my rear suspension failing, he spent hours taking the bike apart, fixing it, double checking it, and all without a complaint or fuss.  Today was one of his days off and I put him way behind spending the day the way he originally had designed.  Thanks Brian.
Mitch.  He helped me the year before get the Harley Ultra ready to do this ride.  Although once the work was completed I nearly immediately came across the Vstrom and bought it with the intent of riding it to Alaska instead, I learned a lot about bikes in general from Mitch.  Thanks Mitch; I appreciate the fact you froze out there in the garage with me just making sure that things were done properly.
My mom.  Yep.  Good ol’ mom.  We had talked for around a decade that we would go do an Alaska cruise together since that had been her favorite vacation spot.  Mom passed away almost two years ago, in September.  She finally lost a fight with cancer.  She had a good run…a couple decades of fights but she just got tired and decided to go out on her own terms and not from being saved a few more days by medical treatment.  When the time was nearing the end, she made me promise I’d go to Alaska without her.  Looks like I’m finally going, mom.  Don’t worry, you are going with me.
Lastly, Bonnie.  Bonnie’s my wife.  The two of us have had an incredible rough journey since the day we met back in 2000…and fifteen years later, we still face the good and bad times together.  I drove her nuts every day since my mom passed away with the need to go to Alaska.  Bonnie said “go”.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  Simply “go”.
I don’t talk about my family very much in this blog…I think because it has become something personal to me outside of my daily living activities such as family and work.   She knows this can be a dangerous journey but she also understands the epic adventure that awaits.   I see so many spouses out there that do not support their other half; I hear the BS that people talk about their partners.  Things have changed a lot in just the past six weeks; all from ridding my life of the toxicity of others.  Cleanse your soul, discover the world.  Love you Bonnie…thanks for being my best friend.
So…to get back on track…everything is done for the trip.  Everything.  Bike is aimed at the garage door waiting for sometime between 4 and 5AM to come around in which the gateway opens and the adventure begins.
Mileage currently shows 42,350.  As of right now, no suspension oil leaks, proper air in the tires, and I’ll top off with gas outside the neighborhood.
If you want to follow the journey, keep an eye on that annoying map thing at the top of this blog.  It will go live when I get going tomorrow morning.  I would love to keep a very detailed journal going online of this trip as I have done in the past with other motorcycle vacations…but this one is a little different.  I’ll throw up some random pictures and words as I go…maybe….but my focus will be on looking at the scenery, watching out for moose in the road, and the enjoyment of meeting new people along the way.  When I return, I’ll be a lot more detailed about the adventure.
If you are tracking me and you see me ride by, make sure to wave.
Enjoy your day.

Four more days

With under five days on the countdown clock showing, preps for the journey to the Arctic Circle are close to being finished.

Miscellaneous needs like testing gear has been completed  and after repacking the bike a dozen more times, I’ve been able to find a new home for everything that needs to go along for the journey.  Unlike a simple overnight or weekend motorcycle trip where if you forget something you are simply inconvenienced a short time until you return back home, this trip is going to be much longer.  Forgotten items to be packed will require purchasing the items as I can while on the road, a very unneeded expense especially with things costing so much more up north.

Except for the riding gear I’ll be wearing, the actual clothing that will be worn for the entire trip and the morning toiletries, the hand tools stored under the motorcycle seat, and the sleeping pad I forgot to put in the picture, this is what everything looks like laid out on the ground:

All of the above fits (plus the previously mentioned things not photographed), all have been made to fit into these:
And everything fits onto the bike like this:
The idea for this trip came about many years ago when I started mentally putting together a bucket list of motorcycle rides I wanted to experience.  Since beginning riding motorcycles in my teens, each passing decade has allowed me to travel further on two wheels.  Logging hundreds of thousands of miles, each passing year has allowed me to journey to new destinations where I have met many good people and seen the wonders of the world with my own eyes.
My mom used to talk about Alaska from the cruise she took there decades with her own mother; I fondly remember mom talking about the wonders that she saw and we had always joked around about going up there together.  Her cancer fights kept this from occurring; her time finally ended without the two of us making our dreams come true.  At her passing nearly two years ago, my ride to Alaska became my focus.
Last year I came within weeks of going when I had to back out for personal reasons.  The past year has been tough; the promises made to my mom played loudly each day in my mind and my concern came around to the fact that although I had simply postponed my trip for one more year, something else would occur that would prevent my once again leaving the driveway for the last frontier.
Now at about four days out from experiencing a journey that very few people will ever get to experience, I find the anticipation building.  Time seems to have begun to really slow down.  Since returning from my brother’s wedding last weekend way down south, each passing day seems to taking a near eternity to transpire.  A little nervous, but definitely excited.  I see so much that can go wrong on this trip.
Over the winter, I have chatted on ADV with many others that had made plans to ride to Alaska.  Two of those people have already left…and faced calamities of their own.  One ran off the road on the way back to Fairbanks from Prudhoe Bay, the furthest north somebody can ride.  He found himself mostly unhurt but with a totaled bike.  His journey home continued once he purchased a new motorcycle to ride on.  The other person was seriously hurt just a couple of days after leaving his home…the pins and plates holding his leg together a life-long reminder to a journey that the road gremlins very prematurely ended.
The satellite tracker has been tested and is fully charged.  Ready to activate very early this Friday morning, it will allow anybody interested to follow along.  If you have been reading this blog, you have been driven crazy each time you come here by the pop-up requiring you to click past to view the actual blog.  This window is caused by the tracking software on this blog…and something that should disappear on Friday if everything works correctly.
The first day of riding scheduled for Friday requires me to leave the house sold and head around 800 miles to get to the first night’s rest in South Dakota.  Looking at the weather forecast, looks like thunderstorms and plenty of rain starting on that day and a few days afterwards.  A great way to start the trip in my mind; let’s get the bad weather out of the way up front so I hopefully have great days up north where the scenery actually becomes mind blowing.
I’m hoping to meet up with a riding friend in South Dakota on the following day and another one in Montana the following evening.  My plans are to meet a few motorcycle forum friends on this journey and to arrive at Dust2Dawson close to the start of the event to have the biggest chance to put some faces with names.  From there, the ride goes where it goes…without a deadline of places to be, things will get played according to weather and desire.
Blog entries here will be short over the trip.  This takes a lot of time and the focus for me is to enjoy this trip as much as possible.  I do plan lots of video and still-photography along the way; some of the imagery may get shared here during the course of the journey but plan for much more to appear after my return home.  I do plan to create a great remembrance video over the next several months; something that gets me excited during the winter months when the snow is piled deep outside.
So maybe one more entry before departure.  Maybe not.  See you out on the road.

Under two weeks

The current ticker shows departure at less than two weeks!

Counting down, counting down...

Latest trip projects include scrubbing the new tires and bug proofing the gear.  Let me explain.

When new tires are made during their casting, the manufacturer cakes them with a slippery substance with what is affectionately known as “mold release”.  No, this doesn’t release that harmful to the health fungus that grows underneath your leaky kitchen sink.  Instead, rubber mold release allows the tire to release itself from the casting.

Some tire designs use very little mold release…these newly installed Mitas Dakar E07 dual sport tires comes with tons of it.  Running one’s hand over their rubber, you can actually feel the chemical residue.  It makes the tire very slippery which can make it very hard to control on wet roads.  The easiest way to remove the residue is to ride one’s motorcycle on a gravel road which effectively removes any retained chemical.

The issue I had yesterday was that the county I live in has been aggressively spending taxpayer dollars to gravel every road they can find.  Of course, this makes those living on these streets very happy and makes them much easier to plow the snow in the winter months here.  I spent nearly ninety minutes searching the county for a road of rock…nearly impossible to find nowadays.  In fact, when I finally found a road, the county has signs up that the road will be paved next week.  Future gravel road scrubbing of new tires will become even harder to make happen.  I may have to just stop by a country business parking lot and use their area in the future.

Riding on gravel is a experience if you’ve never been on two wheels.  Hard packed gravel is easy to ride on…especially when the tire tracks from countless prior vehicles have made easy to navigate pathways.  When the road has been recently graveled but not compacted down, then it’s like running through a lane of marbles.  Yesterday’s journey was among white dusted marbles it would seem.  The gravel section was no more than a quarter-mile long, so at the ends I simply donuted and went back the way I just came.  Each successive pass was easier as I got used to the rock underneath the tires.  Mission accomplished.  Tires on the riding part of the tread do not feel very slick any longer.

Get a good look...gravel roads are slowly disappearing...
Today’s project was spraying permethrin on all clothing and gear that would be going north with me in a couple of weeks.  This chemical keeps the bugs away and kills the ticks and stuff within one minute of their getting onto the clothing.  A camper’s dream, this stuff is toxic when wet and sprayed on and requires safety gear such as protective glasses, gloves, and a filter mask.  Once it dries though, it’s very safe, lasts a long time, and is even good for six or more washes of the clothing in the washing machine.  And it’s odorless when dried, so the raccoon and bears should not be inclined to check out my tent any more than usual.
Works wonders to kill the bugs dead.

The tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothing, boots, riding gear and anything else made of fabric that will be worn or used in the woods or outdoors got the treatment today.  Do some research on this…you’ll never go into the woods again without it.

So, the preps of doing the “small stuff” continues.  There is plenty to do before heading to Alaska but everything is easily manageable at this time.  The days continue to fly by…


Last two new product installs before departure

Any day that you wake up and the sun is shining, the morning temperature is in the middle sixties, and you can jump on the motorcycle and ride without tons of traffic…well, that’s almost the definition of a perfect day to be alive.    Topping it off with some new tires and a helping of a new throttle lock now in place…well, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The Mitas E07 Dakar tires finally found a place out of my garage and onto the Vstrom today, compliments of the labors of Brian, another good riding friend of mine.  Some of you may remember that name…he’s the one responsible for this customized look to my bike last fall:

Remembering the days…

Fortunately, today’s work was much easier…a simple two tire swap out from the previously ridden 95% highway tires…Michelin Pilot Road 4…to the new Dakars that are designed as a 50-50 tires…50% asphalt, 50% dirt.  It’s 4,000 miles of highway before I see dirt up north though.

Anyways, here’s one picture of Faith (the name of my bike) wearing one of her new shoes:

The Dakar’s are very, very beefy tires.  Weighing around twice as much as the Michelin’s that they replaced, there’s no mistaking the motorcycle for anything but a true dual sport bike now.  Unlike some adventure riders that have bikes like this to show off to their friends, this one’s actually going to be doing one heck of a journey in just eighteen days.

My immediate feedback on the Mitas are mixed.  They don’t produce the road noise I have heard so much about previously, but they fall very quickly.  It feels like riding on a balance beam…the slightest lean of the bike and the machine wants to keep going over.  It is a weird feeling, especially doing donuts in the round dead end at Brian’s home.  It will be very, very easy to lean this bike quickly through tight curves, that’s for sure.  Looking forward to seeing how it feels in the rain though, which I expect I will have plenty of opportunity to experience soon enough.

The tires are very slick new though.  Both Brian and I commented on that as we handled the tires during their wheel installations…a process previously described when work on my ex-Ultra was detailed on this blog a couple of years ago.  Changing lanes over a solid white, the bike got a little loose.  Definitely will need to get it to a gravel road and scrub the tires in to remove the “new tire feeling”.

The last new accessory to go on the bike is an ATLAS Throttle Lock.  This is a device that holds your throttle in a temporarily locked position while you ride, which helps reduce hand fatigue on long jaunts.  There are dozens of different types of throttle locks; each has their positives and negatives.  The ATLAS replaces a N.E.P. lock that drove me nuts.  The N.E.P. was easy to engage with the right thumb while riding, but took two hands to disengage.  Causing more than one butt-puckering event, it was time to find a different solution.

The ATLAS was a Kickstarter project which after reading up on it, I quickly participated with a purchase donation of the product that was still being developed.  You can read about the Kickstarter project HERE if you wish.  Developed by a RTW (round the world) motorcyclist that envisioned a throttle lock that actually worked properly, I received one of the first production release pieces when the developer heard I was going to Alaska and wanted to ensure that I brought this along for some hard core usage in a short amount of time.

I’ve exchanged some feedback with David (owner/creator) already on this device.  Fresh out of the box, the switch is hard to use…but after sitting in the recliner and activating/deactivating it probably around 30-40 times, it is much easier to engage and disengage now.  It’s a quality piece of hardware.  And I mean HIGH quality.  It exudes American made quality; not that import junk you find at the dollar store or even at most motorcycle gear shops.  The knurled button simply pushes in to catch the throttle and lock it…and you push down on the button from the top to release it.  If I could make one change to the product, I’d create a little lip with knurling on it to catch it just a shade easier with the thumb during the disengaging sequence.  It’s not required…but it would definitely add just a touch more to it.

This comes with pages of instructions and drawings, making it easy to install.  Also comes with the needed allen wrench too!  And a few other pieces.  And you know it’s good kit when the package comes with a sticker  as well for your toolbox collection!

Installation on the Vstrom was not hard, but it was not a simple “plug and play” type of install either.  As David previously warned, some bikes would require some very quick and easy modifications to get this to seat properly.  My bike was one of these bikes.  A small hacksaw blade allowed us to cut out some throttle grip material to get this to seat perfectly; a small slice with a razor knife allowed the fitment not to have any impedance.  I can see that most motorcycles would not have the problems that the Vstrom did.  After all, the Vstrom is a wonderous piece of machinery.  Not wonderful…wonderous.  Many of us owners wonder what was going through the minds of the designers when they created this motorcycle.  But with a little patience and test fitting the ATLAS installed in about fifteen minutes.  I didn’t see any way that the device could install easier.  Just take the needed time to install it correctly and it will work produce worthwhile results.

ATLAS installed on a ’07 DL650A

I rode forty-some miles with it today, engaging and disengaging it many times.  It holds well, is intuitive on the placement of the switch, and most importantly, it release the lock on the throttle very easily.  No more needing two hands on the right side of the bike; this releases the hold very quickly and without hardly any effort.  A nice refreshing change over the N.E.P. and many other devices.   Only time will tell how good this is…and I plan to put it through the ringer really soon.  If this device doesn’t still work as it should by the time I get back from Alaska, I’ll create an update post about it.  Right now, I don’t see anything that would create any issues for the long haul.

So far, on a scale of five, I’d give it a 4.5.  I’m dinging a shade for missing the lip to release the lock a shade easier but that is my own preference and I can see where somebody else could care less about it.  I rarely give more than a 4 in rating for any product; this is quality kit and I’m going to recommend this every time somebody asks about a throttle lock solution going forward.

You can learn more about the ATLAS by clicking HERE.

18 days…13 hours.  The anticipation is starting to ratchet up here.


Shakedown Ride & 21 Days

Yesterday mid-morning I returned home from a leisure overnight adventure in which some curvy roads around the southern part of the state near the old Jefferson Proving Grounds were explored.  The Vstrom found no unexploded ordinance but a couple tanks of gas were easily expended throughout the journey.  The purpose of the ride was known in the touring world as a “shakedown ride”, in which a bike is loaded up exactly the same as it will be done for a long journey and all of the gear is utilized in a real life scenario closer to home in case of problems.

It is unbelievable how much gear this bike will carry.  Of course, with a top case, two side panniers, two crash bar bags, and a tank bag, lot of things find hiding place easy enough.  Anything that didn’t fit in any of these listed areas went into the 70 liter dry bag that strapped to the rear seat.  Everything in this bag were the contents that needed to find their way into a tent in a dry condition…clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, and some electronics.  Backing the bike out onto the sidewalk in preparation to leave, it looked almost impossible that everything I would need for an extended journey to Alaska was on the bike ready to go.

Looks like just taking the 70 liter bag for a ride!

The bike has a ton of stuff packed away.  I’ll throw everything onto the floor in the next week or so and get a picture; it is just amazing how much stuff is actually going with me.

In addition to the gear I wanted to check out, I have been experimenting with proper video camera placement on the Vstrom.  This bike vibrates like my old Harley in certain places; those places seem to be in the best places to actually mount a camera.  Some of the past test video has come across pretty shaky.  The rear side panniers are actually a very stable location to mount a camera with a suction cup mount.  These types of mounts make me very nervous; trusting $400 in equipment to the holding power of a curved piece of rubber that is forced down into a flattened shape.  Besides running a custom electrical solution (it actually ties into my battery tender cabling), a removable lanyard consisting of a double ended hangman’s noose provides the security that if the mount gives away, the camera will dangle down versus being shattered on the ground.  Tested at 70 miles per hour, the camera held out for the two days of riding just fine without a single problem.

Video camera hard to see from this angle...easily noticeable from the rear.

One of the test videos can be seen HERE on VIMEO.  The perspective isn’t too bad and the vibrations are greatly reduced allowing for clearer imagery.  Many of the file sharing sites like Vimeo lowers the quality of the videos quite a bit; on the big screen TV at home, the video plays very smooth and is crystal clear.  The plan is to record many of the interesting places on the Alaska journey and to make a reminiscence video when I return.  That may take months to put together; a great project for a few months when I return home.

Anyways, I extended an offer to a friend named Allan to tag along with me, which he immediately accepted and made his necessary arrangements to take time off of work with almost no notice. As I’m now unemployed, the decision was pretty easy to get approved.  Allan also rides a Vstrom, same year and engine size as mine.  That’s great in case I have a breakdown; I can just steal parts of the parts bike that ended up following me around for a day and a half.

The meetup on Wednesday morning was done just west of Morristown in about 45 degree weather.  A quick stop into the Bluebird Diner for many cups of coffee and some biscuits and gravy with a solid fried egg on the top provided plenty of nourishment for this wanderer for the day.

Again, the ride meandered around east then south, then west then back to the east before proceeding to the night’s campsite at one of Indiana’s best kept secrets.  Quakertown State Recreation Area.  Connected to Brookville Reservoir, it hosts a very large campground that seems to be always be completely or nearly deserted every time I have visited it.  Wednesday evening was no exception.  Of the 50 or so campsites, only two others were occupied…by people on RVs.  Allan and my tents were the only fabric put up for the night in the entire campground.

We had 98% of the campground to ourselves but we ended up putting our tents less than five feet from each other.  The issue was that our phone weather radar apps showed rain for the night and we both jostled to get on the highest slope we could find in the park…just in case.  Nothing is worse than waking up and trying to clear camp in puddles or lots of mud.  So our desire to not be in any flooded area made us both immediate neighbors for the night.

 

After cooking up some dinner, a couple of hours were spent at a campfire and BS’ing into the hours of night.  Nothing beats sitting by a roaring campfire talking with a good friend.  We stayed sheltered under a large maple tree protecting us from the rain, which came down a lot stronger after we had found our way into our tents.

Thursday morning found temperatures again in the mid forties.  The night was actually pleasant…having good camping gear helps keep you comfortable and the lower temperatures did not affect either of us.  The camping trip did allow me to identify some things I need to make changes to when I had to the Last Frontier in three weeks though.

The shakedown ride was a success as I will make some modifications to the planned gear over the next week.  Looks like I’ll put my Mitas Dakar tires on this weekend; install a new throttle lock; manage another oil change; and do a tightened bolt check.  It is just days away.  The time has flown by very, very quickly over the past year.  I still feel like departure day will be here in what feels like just a couple of days.

I plan to put some entries onto this blog during the trip north but I realized that I desire to concentrate more on enjoying the trip for myself then trying to keep a running online journal going.  So I’ll update on the blog from time to time, but not to the extent I originally planned on doing.  In the evenings, when having a chance to stare into a blazing fire or to sit in the tent trying to blog without any type of Internet service, I think I’ll spend the time by the warmth of the flames.  I do plan to take scrupulous notes of things, takes lots of video and still photography as I go, and write volumes when I get back home.  It’s just for the main content, everybody will have to wait for me to write it up while sitting in my recliner in front of the television.  The trip tracker will be live though and there will be random pictures and words posted to the blog during the trip though.  We’ll just consider them teasers for what is to come a little later.

Oh, a congratulations goes out to my brother Scott and his girlfriend of quite some time April who made the surprise announcement that they have decided to marry.  Their engagement period will actually be very short as their wedding is slated for the end of the month.  This couple is perfect for each other; they work very well as a Yin-Yang and meld perfectly.  I look forward to seeing you both really soon at the wedding.

Enjoy your day.