Alaska – Pt 2

Day 9 – 240 miles

Deadhorse gets approximately 7” of rain a year, which is less than Phoenix, AZ. Because I must have been a Rain God in a previous life, 1/3rd of their annual rainfall fell the night we were there. The room we had was simple and basic, but also warm and dry. I listened to the rain pour off the roof and onto the gravel berm outside our window. The next morning, we got up early because we had paid a bit extra to take the Official Tour that not only tells you all about oil production on the North Slope, but it also allows you access to the Arctic Ocean. Doug and I had been quite surprised to find out while were in Fairbanks that tno one is allowed access to the ocean unless they first register for a permit or submit their personal information for inclusion in a tour (such as the one we were to take) at least 24 hours in advance. Who knew?

The tour was ok. It started out in a room where they showed us pictures and diagrams of the oil fields. I was essentially a great long self-promotional piece about the oil companies that are doing the drilling in the Arctic and how they’re not really damaging anything and they’ll put everything back the way they found it when they’re done. Whatever. I want to see the ocean.

A dozen or so of us got onto an old school bus and it trundled down the gravel roads, passed oil machinery and not much else. Eventually it pulled to a stop and we got out. It was cold and windy – not a good combination. Doug and I took pictures of each other and we watched a few hardy (stupid?) people join the Polar Bear club by completely submersing themselves in the 34 degree water. Not for me.
Although I did laugh when one woman, who had loudly told others that she wasn’t about to go into the water, made of show of bending down to touch the ocean, but then lost her balance and fell into the water anyway. The driver gave her a towel for the ride back to the hotel.

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On the tour bus

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The Arctic Ocean

After the tour was over we returned to our cozy ATCO room, packed up our gear and bought some sandwiches to have later at the lodge in Wiseman. We made arrangements to stay there again, despite not having the cash required by the owners. They were kind enough to take us on our word that we’d mail them a money order from Fairbanks, which we did as soon as we got there. We packed up the bikes under mostly cloudy skies, with rain visible in the not-so-distant distance. It looked like a cold ride out of town. The tour guide had said that it was 42 degrees, but with the breeze factored in there was a wind chill of 21. Brrrrr.

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Heading home

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Photo by another traveler

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After crossing the Brooks Range

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We ended up seeing this couple multiple times

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See? There they are again!

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Ominous clouds

The wind was a constant source of distraction, blowing in fairly steady from the same direction, but always cold. I also knew that a good headwind would seriously cut down our fuel mileage and cause fatigue that much sooner. About 100 miles out of town it started to rain. Ahhh – heated grips are a godsend! I had hoped that as we headed inland (and south) that it would warm up slightly, even if the wind didn’t diminish. However I was dismayed to find that while wind did drop slightly, so did the temperatures. It began to snow. Doug and I found ourselves struggling along at freezing temperatures on a wet muddy road and snow-covered visors, with no where to go but forward. The snow tortured us for 40 miles while we slogged through the mud and potholes that appeared out of nowhere. Semis blew past us, the drivers sitting comfortably in their heated rigs. Once again, I questioned my sanity. I began to wonder if my heated grips were working any more, as I couldn’t feel my fingers very well. The inside of my visor was fogged, but I couldn’t open it because then my glasses would get covered. I was constantly wiping snow off my visor just so I could see Doug’s taillight. Sigh. What else would one expect in the Arctic in August than snow?

During a brief stop at the side of the road I suggested to Doug that we ask at the next pump house if we could stand around in a warm room for a bit, just to thaw out. There are pump houses along the pipeline at fairly regular intervals (I’m guessing about every 60 miles or so?), but it didn’t take us long to find out that these are highly secured places, and I think that only upon threat of imminent death would they let you inside. Our death was apparently not imminent and we were sent away. At least the nice man offered us the hope of refuge at the DOT station on the other side of the pass.

We got back on our bikes and slogged southward. The snow was beginning to stick to the ground and the elevation level on the nearby hills showed that the snowline was descending. Never daunted, the construction crew was still hard at work at Atigun Pass and we crawled over it again at 10 mph. I had the promise of warmer weather on the other side of the pass in my head, so we kept going through the snow and rain. As we crested the Pass Doug pulled over and motioned to his bike – it was overheating badly. Mine was running hot as well but I assumed that it was from the slow uphill climb that we were doing. It turned out that we had traveled through so much mud that it had clogged the radiator fins and they were no longer effective. We stopped by a mountain stream and poured water over the radiators of both bikes until enough was cleared off to get us safely back to the Lodge. Later, upon our return to Wiseman, Doug also discovered that his radiator fan switch was broken, one of the reasons his bike overheated so much more than mine. We hoped that we could fix it tomorrow when we got back in to Fairbanks.

The weather cleared up 40 miles before Wiseman and we had an almost enjoyable ride back to the Lodge, although a hot shower had never felt so good! We decided that the DOT station was not necessary and we kept on going until we reached Wiseman. And conveniently, the ham and cheese sandwiches we had purchased in Deadhorse to eat cold, grilled up nicely with the butter I had stuck in my pocket from the morning’s bagel. That, in addition with hot instant soup and hot chocolate made for a most appreciated meal. Yum!

Day 10 – 260 miles

The next morning was bright and sunny, like nothing had happened the day before. We got fueled up in Coldfoot and then made a quick trip down a fairly smooth and fast haul road. We had taken pictures on the way north, so now it was just a quick jog back in to Fairbanks, where we hoped to get Doug’s switch fixed and new tires on our bikes.

We took a celebratory break at the end of the Dalton Highway, snapped some pictures and had a snack. Then we finished the trip in to Fairbanks of the now-wonderful Elliot Highway. This road was full of full little twisties and dips and really kept me on my toes – and leaned over, the way a bike should be!

Upon our return to the B&B we found that our reserved room wasn’t even on the property, but at another location. I was perturbed and said that I had specifically requested a room here, in this building, as this is where our gear was. The owner then tried to put us in a much more expensive room, but we weren’t having any of that. He finally relented (and I could see that it pained him to do so) and gave us the more expensive room at the originally agreed-upon rate. Bah! I’ve never been so disappointed at a B&B then I was here.

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Scenery

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Hot Spot Cafe near the Arctic Circle

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Calcium chloride really sticks to things

Day 11 – 280 miles

We had purchased tires at the local Kawasaki dealership before the trip to the Arctic but weren’t sure if we would need them replaced immediately after the trip to Deadhorse or if we could make it to another town and have it done there. One look at my rear tire said that we should do it now. We took the new tires back to the dealership and while they did the change that morning for us, it seemed to take them an exceptionally long time, not to mention their outrageous prices (it seems that everything in Fairbanks is outrageously expensive). They did indeed have the switch that Doug needed, but they were asking $100 for it. Doug decided that we could rig something up ourselves and wait until he could find a more reasonably priced part later. Needless to say, we got a late start out of Fairbanks and decided not to head south to Denali but instead to head towards home and have a small cushion of time (which we needed, it turned out)

We did take advantage of our “extra time” by exploring some off-road sights that had piqued our interest earlier in the trip. We stopped to check out North Pole, Alaska, complete with a candy cane in front of the Visitor’s Center. We also made short forays down dirt tracks to see where they led, but they generally dead-ended at a river and we had to go back to the main road. While I had wanted to make it across the Yukon border before we stopped for the night it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. Instead we camped along the side of the road at a rest stop, about 20 miles from the border. It was a pleasant spot and fairly quiet. We had met up with another motorcyclists who shared our spot, but it was late by the time we stopped, so there wasn’t much conversation. It did remain light for quite some time, however, which was a little unnerving. Perhaps we could have made it to the Yukon after all?

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Heading for the bike shop to have new tires mounted

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North Pole, Alaska

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Massive mukluk!

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Riding on the “old” Alaska Highway

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We picked up another motorcyclist for the night

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Camping near the side of the road

Day 12 – 330 miles

The morning was beautiful. We had no problems crossing back into the Yukon and stopped at Beaver Creek for a hot breakfast. We called ahead to Whitehorse and made reservations for the evening. The ride was very pleasant, with wide open skies and views that just didn’t stop. We had a brown bear cross the road directly in front of us – unfortunately, the picture from the disposable camera didn’t turn out very well.

We ran in to some construction on the way to Whitehorse and without the rains that we had previously the dust was thick! There are land yachts (RVs) everywhere and they choked us with the dust they caused. Stones were kicked up that cracked the plexiglas guard I had over my headlight and another one hit me squarely in the shin. Doug’s bike overheated again as we trudged through an exceptionally long and arduous section of construction. We had to do something about this or his bike would be toast when we got to the warmer climes of southern BC. We arrived in Whitehorse and immediately went to the Kawasaki dealership that doesn’t stock anything. It was no surprise that they didn’t have a radiator fan switch, but the guy confirmed what Doug and I had been thinking: bypass the thermo switch and put in a manual switch. We thanked him and walked across the street to Canadian Tire (“Not just tires!”) and located a switch, wire, some connectors and other fun electrical stuff. We hauled our purchases to the bikes, found our hotel and headed for dinner. Got to have priorities.

After dinner we went down to the warm, dry and well-lit underground parking area that our bikes were in and after a short bit of confusion we spliced in some wire, zip tied a switch to Doug’s handlebar and voila! We had a manual fan switch!

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Bear crossing!

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Flying along the Alcan

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Morning vista

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Heading east

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Views

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Kluane Lake

Day 13 – 274 miles

Once we left Whitehorse behind the scenery again picked up pace and there was a lot to look at. We made a specific stop at Walker’s to have some more of their tasty homemade food. We didn’t get a very early start, and with a few more off-road exploring trips we didn’t get as far as we had thought.

Watson Lake, while you may not know the name, is famous for it’s Signpost Forest. I took a couple of pictures, but theywill never do the place justice. There are over 50,000 signs posted here – I was quite surprised at the magnitude of this place! I also wished that I had brought something to add to it.

At Junction 37 we went straight where as we had previously come up from the south. For the return home we were going to follow the Alaska Highway almost to it’s beginning (we ended up skirting Dawson Creek). We weren’t sure how far the places were on the map from where we were, so we stopped at the first motel we saw, which was at Iron Creek. I’m not even sure if we were in the Yukon or BC, as I didn’t see any signs. I think it was the Yukon… It turned out to be a good stop, with fresh food, a warm room and a TV. We had to laugh at the sign taped to the top of the TV: “Do Not Change the Channel. There Is Only One Channel”. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the owner could control which One Channel it was from the main building. We were at his mercy for our electronic entertainment.

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Signpost Forest in Watson Lake

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Signpost Forest in Watson Lake

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Exploring the “old” Alaska Highway

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Iron Creek Lodge

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Our room at the Lodge

Day 14 – 325 miles

Today was a surprise. No, not that it happened, but the terrain that we rode through. I had no idea what to expect from this corner of BC, but was pleasantly surprised to find mountain passes, rivers, steep hills and windy roads. We saw a variety of wildlife, including Stone’s sheep (they looked more like goats to me), caribou, two black bear and numerous deer. The weather looked promising, but the promise was never kept. It was cold for most of the trip (ok, ALL of the trip) through Muncho Pass and it rained on us periodically. The roads were in mostly great shape, with some tricky downhill gravel corners just to spice things up a bit. We stopped just before Summit Lake for some homemade cinnamon buns (Moose Buns, they called them) and to warm up a bit more.

After coming over the Pass and working our way down to Fort Nelson, I felt an odd sensation from my bike. At first I thought that it was the engine not pulling smoothly, but then I wondered about the chain. No sooner did I wonder about it than it came off the sprocket. I was lucky that’s all it did. I knew that the chain was on its last legs, but I honestly thought that it would get me back to Seattle. Nope, not now. We tightened it as much as we could, but the sprockets were worn and the chain was still sagging. Far from nowhere, we did all we could do: limped it slowly down the mountains to Fort Nelson. We were fortunate to find a shop that, while not officially “open”, was still willing to work on the bike. They didn’t have any parts (there seems to be a theme here), but the mechanic was willing to remove a link from the chain so that we could at least get to Fort St John the next day. It was really too late to make the journey to Fort St John that night, and there is nothing between the two towns except for a couple of hundred kilometers of empty road. We found a cheap motel and made an early evening of it.

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Near Laird Hot Springs

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Near Laird Hot Springs

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Muncho Pass

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Muncho Pass

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Critters

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Fort Nelson

Day 15 – 238 miles

We got up especially early so as to make it in to Fort St John at a reasonable time, which we did do. The ride from Fort Nelson to Fort St John isn’t anything to write home about and it took about four hours. It’s mostly flat open land. The morning had thick fog that lasted for quite some time, although we still managed to see a nice sunrise. That didn’t last long, however, as it then rained for the next three hours until we pulled into Fort St John. We had three motorcycle shop phone numbers from the guys in Fort Nelson, but when we called them, none of them carried the parts we needed. One of them suggested the Kawasaki dealership, but they didn’t have the parts we needed either. However, the owner was more helpful and called to his supplier in Edmonton and arranged to have the parts I needed put on a bus for delivery at 8 am the next day (that’s Saturday delivery!). I agreed and we went off to find a motel for the night. We got the last room at the Bluebell, took nice hot showers and then promptly fell asleep for three hours. We got up long enough to dine at the local Pizza Hut, channel surf and then fall asleep again.

Day 16 – 283 miles

We dropped the bike off at 9am and then went to find breakfast. The service was done by 11am and we had the bikes loaded and on the road by 11:30. The sun was coming out in Fort St John and we thought that we might be in for a pleasant ride for our trip down past Prince George and hopefully Spences Bridge. It wasn’t to be. We started out by backtracking slightly up #97 so that we could take the Hudson’s Hope loop south, thereby skipping Dawson Creek. I had also heard that this was a more interesting road, and I’m guessing that it is. There were lots of deer happily munching grass on either side of the road, and we saw a moose, coyote and another black bear. The road follows the Peace River and there are lots of farms in the area that made for some very nice scenery. The road is winding and climbs up and down rolling hills. I even managed to drag the end of my tool tube I had mounted to the skid plate of my bike on one of the corners.

Then it struck: the Flat Gremlins attacked Doug’s bike. We were about 20 miles from the nearest town and there was a light rain. What to do? Neither of us had actually fixed a flat tire before (and these have tubes so there’s a bit more work involved than your standard tire plug kit) so we were a little hesitant. After a short debate at the side of the road Doug decided that he’d try and fix it. It was a narrow stretch of road, but we pulled the bikes over to the widest spot that we could find and started looking for something to jack the bike up on to. Luckily for us the railroad workers were not tidy and had left a number of steel plates scattered around the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the road.

Once the bike was up we took the rear wheel off and consulted the magazine Doug had randomly purchased in Prudhoe Bay that had an article on “How to fix a flat tire”. That article was a godsend! With the tools that we had packed we soon had the tube out of the rim and found the nasty hole. We suspect that the tube had been pinched, as we couldn’t find any evidence of anything going through the (almost new) rubber itself. Doug then pulled out his trusty bicycle repair patch kit and fixed the hole.

We must have made quite a sight, sitting by the side of the road with all of our gear scattered around us. Only one person stopped to offer help, so either we looked like we knew what we were doing or people just don’t care. It took us about 2 ½ hours to get back on the road, but that also included the time we stood around looking at the tire saying “What should we do?” as well as the actual bumbling through the magazine article and repacking the bikes when we were all done. Not too bad, if I say so myself.

Once we were back on the road it was much later than we had hoped for. Our goal had been to stop about 3 hours south of Prince George, but it looked like we were going to hit Prince George instead. We decided to stay near Moxie’s again (yum!) and get another early start in the morning. Doug had to catch a ferry to Victoria and had to be at work the next day so we had very little time left to spare.

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Unloading the bikes

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Makeshift jack to hold up the bike

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Reading up on “How to Fix a Flat”

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An excellent example of a patched tube

Day 17 – 580 miles

Morning cruelly arrived at 4:15 am and we were on the road by 5am. The day started out cool, but quickly heated up once we hit Cache Creek. We were in a race to get Doug to the ferries, so there wasn’t much stopping. Gas stops about every 3-4 hours and one break at Cache Creek for drinks and munchies. We parted ways at Sumas, where I crossed the border back in to the States (not even a question as to where I had been – how disappointing!) and Doug hoofed it to the next ferry home.

Approximately 5,600 miles had rolled over on my odometer when I pulled into my driveway at the end of the day – and I had one sore butt! But it was a great trip, and I am so glad that we were able to complete it with so few mishaps.

Return to Part 1

One comment

  1. John Moyer says:

    I don’t even have the desire to take the motorcycle trip to Alaska, but I just knew that it would be an excellent write-up with great photos, so I read the whole thing (both parts) anyway. I can see that it was an interesting trip, but there are many others I hope to do before I take on this one.

Tell me what you think! I want to know!