Archive | July 2013

Great Alaska Adventure: It’s Always Somethin’

This is my second blog effort tonight.  Earlier I wrote the most incredible post I’ve written on this entire trip.  Witty.  Erudite.  Insightful.  And then I accidentally deleted it.  Gone to the cyber netherworld.  So, what you’re about to read will be warmed over claptrap.  Please have pity on this old motorcycle rider and his elderly inability to multi-task.

Nothing really bad happened today.  Except for deleting my first digital scribblings.  It rained briefly on a half dozen occasions, but at least the rain waited until the temperatures dropped from the low 60s to the upper 40s.  And the turtle pie I had my heart set on at mid-morning was too chewy to chew.  And the hotel we checked into had a broken hot tub.  And no WiFi after the latest electrical storm wiped out their router.  So I’m sitting in a really nice restaurant with my best friend after finishing my nicely done chicken fiesta with twice baked potato and crisp steamed vegetables that DOES have WiFi and rewriting the blog I originally wrote at the hotel and then painfully deleted while I was trying to order dinner.

This is view from the front our hotel. The one without a hot tub. Or WiFi.

We woke to temperatures in the mid-40s at Burns Lake but by the time we finally saddled up and headed of town at 9 a.m. it had warmed dramatically to about 50.  Today’s ride took us through country I haven’t seen in several weeks:  Substantial farms with fields full of freshly cut spring hay scattered in big round bales and cattle strolling through various pastures.  At the same time, the ride took us by several lakes (e.g. Frazier Lake) that offered scenic views to break up the farmland.  Until about an hour from our destination, we saw no snow capped mountains such as the ones we’d been seeing for the past three weeks.  But McBride, where we are this evening, is nestled at the foot of some beautiful mountains as the attached picture attests.  It was worth the half dozen times we were rained on this afternoon as the temperatures dropped back into the 40s to see the view we have from our hotel.

Colette at the OK Cafe. She felt bad about the turtle pie after we tried and failed to eat it.

Our mid-morning pie break provided one of those serendipitous discoveries that frequently happen when you take mid-morning pie breaks.  Approaching Vanderhoof, BC, I saw a sign that read:  “Heritage Museum and Cafe Open.”  Did they know I was coming?  Museum and Pie?  So we pulled into the parking lot and checked it out.  Sure enough the OK Cafe was open and it did serve pie.  And the OK Cafe and Hotel was in a re-located and restored building that was part of a dozen building complex at the Vanderhoof Heritage Center.  We went into the cafe and met Collette who was the manager/cook/baker/waitress/cashier and who had come to Vanderhoof as a child and became the only female crane operator at a large lumber yard in town.  Interesting lady.  She recommended the turtle pie which one of her trainees had baked yesterday.  Turned out her trainee needed more training.  The caramel layer had to be cut into bite-size pieces with a sharp knife and about 200 foot pounds of pressure.  We opted instead for a very nice coconut cream.  

The Royal Bank of Canada and the OK Cafe and Hotel were two of several restored buildings at the heritage site.

Following pie and coffee we toured some of the other buildings (jail, home of a master carpenter, Royal Bank of Canada) that, like the OK Cafe and Hotel, had been relocated in the 1970s by an active local historical society.   Vanderhoof was named after a young Minnesotan who wanted a town named after him so in 1914 he bought the land, platted it, named it and started the town.  He only stayed five years but his namesake town will have a centennial celebration next year.

After Vanderhoof, we headed to Prince George where I picked up a repair patch to iron on to Marilyn’s damaged rain pants.  Did I mention that our hotel doesn’t have an iron?  Also located a quart of AMSOil and topped off the bikes to get them to Billings and a full oil change.

Leaving Prince George, we headed back toward the mountains and rain, but the surface on the Yellowhead Highway is good and we sped along at the speed limit or somewhere near there.  Our hotel may not have all the amenities (in fact it may not have any of them) but the young couple trying their best to manage it were kind enough to steer me to the Giggling Grizzly Pub and Grill where I’m writing this and, hopefully, will publish it in the next few minutes if I don’t do something stupid again.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we should see some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve seen since we left Alaska as we go to Jasper then turn south on the Icefield Parkway to Banff/Canmore.


Great Alaska Adventure: Off the Cassiar and on the Yellowhead

I distinctly remember booking only non-rain days for this trip.  I need to talk to my travel agent when we get back.

Somewhere in the clouds rain waits to fall on me.

I packed the bikes in a light rain this morning and thought, “This isn’t going to be too bad. It’ll probably clear soon.”  Well, the rain stopped after the first 50 miles headed south on the Cassiar Highway from Bell 2 Lodge, but the clouds lingered over and on the ubiquitous mountains for most of the rest of the day.  And, just as we started the day in rain, the final 50 miles also included rain, the heaviest of the day.  It wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t ride in it, but it did make for some dicey curves and some tense moments when big trucks passed us and our vision was obscured for the several seconds it took the road splash to dissipate.  The other 230 or so miles today wasn’t too bad–mid-50s and occasional showers–and I enjoyed watching the wind-driven clouds curl around the mountains and rise and fall down their rocky and forested slopes.

The Skeena River crossing marks the southern end of the Cassiar Highway.

The Cassiar Highway today, was even better than yesterday (despite the rain) because, while the scenery stayed the same (rivers, lakes, mountains) the road was better.  I think it may be because we had left the land of permafrost-enforced chip seal behind and entered the land of asphalt.  Far fewer road breaks, better surface, perfect for riding at a quick pace when the rain is falling on someone else’s parade.  I’m looking forward to trying it again soon.

I had hoped to take in a couple of sights along the way, but between being bundled in four layers of clothes and the reduced speed of the ride, there wasn’t time for museums or visitors centers today.  We had a fortuitous find in New Hazelton, BC, when we stopped for gas and lunch.  I spotted a gas station through my rain-spattered faceshield and pulled in.  As I fed the bikes their ration of petrol and looked up and down Main Street for a place to eat, I didn’t see much that looked promising and several joints looked like they were closed or should have been.  Then I spotted a small log cabin next to where I was pumping gas and small letters on two small signs spelled out “Rob’s”  “Open”.  Leaving the bikes standing by the pumps, I walked over and stuck my head in the door.  To my surprise, the inside was a nicely appointed restaurant with a very busy waitress and a dining room about half filled.  When the answer to my request for WiFi was “Sure we do” I told the quick-footed waitress I’d be right back.

Better than pie? Could be.

The lunch special included a hot, deliciously creamy leek soup and chicken ceasar wrap.  While I warmed my insides with the soup, I posted yesterday’s blog and caught up on some e-mail.  But wait, there’s more.  The writing on the “Special Board” also included “Sex in a Pan” for the dessert offering.  Marilyn couldn’t resist so we ordered one.  Six layers of puddings, crusts, chocolate cream, strawberries and whipped topping.  We moaned our way through a very big slice.  We were ready for a nap and not the road, but we had miles to go and the weather at any given moment was always iffy.  Lunch was a nice diversion. Next time you’re in New Hazelton, try Rob’s.

We didn’t do much after we got to Burn’s Lake.  Marilyn has burned a hole in the leg of two different rain suits and I tried to find something to patch it with.  No real luck, but I made a temporary fix (I hope) with a piece of material I cut from a set of  (cheap) rain overboots I had bought for Hanna and some Gorilla tape to hold it in place.  I think it may be sorely tested tomorrow and will let you know if my McGiver-like repair worked.  It’s possible we’ll start tomorrow in the rain with temperatures flirting with the 30s.  This trip has made me a FIRM BELIEVER in heated gear.

Tomorrow we stay on the Yellowhead Highway to the North Country Lodge in McBride, BC.  Fortunately it’s a short day (270 miles) and I may have time to stop in Prince George to pick up what I want to repair Marilyn’s pants.  The place we’re staying in tonight is no jewel, but it does have FREE WiFi so I’m going to post this now.  Everyone stay safe.


Great Alaska Adventure: Beautiful BC

If you went to the blog first thing this morning (Wednesday), you didn’t find a post and probably wondered why not.  I’m not sure when this will get posted but probably by noon Wednesday British Columbia time  (3 p.m. Orange Park time)  I’ll post it first chance I get when I find a WiFi connection.

Two of the chalets (neither one ours) at the Bell 2 Lodge

We’re staying tonight (Tuesday) at a pretty nice lodge/resort on the Cassiar Highway in British Columbia.  It’s primarily a winter ski resort for people who like to helicopter to mountain tops and ski down.  The resort has its own helicopters and about 40 chalets for skiers, plus saunas, massage rooms, hot tub, exercise room, dining room, bar, game room and resident dog wearing a sign that says “Please don’t feed me.”  What they don’t have is free WiFi for guests.  They wanted an extra $20 for a WiFi connection and I didn’t think my blog was worth that much.  I can look out the window to check the weather.  I don’t really care what’s on CNN even though I check it several times daily.  And I don’t use Facebook much anyway.  

So, even though I’m writing the blog tonight, it won’t get posted until tomorrow.  For those of you whose lives now revolve around my blog, I think maybe you should get a new life.  For those of you who tune in just to see if I have put the bike in a ditch yet, the answer is still no.  And for those who are following the blog to see what disastrous affects it’s having on my marriage, it looks like I’m still going to have buy another anniversary present in November.

While I’m thinking about it, the blog will also be out of commission from about July 17 to July 20 or 21 when we visit our friend Linda in Wyoming whose ranch has neither cell phone service nor internet connection of any kind.  It does have indoor plumbing but I think it freezes in the winter.  It’s like living all the way back in the 20th century.  I’ll continue to write while I’m at the ranch, but like tonight’s post, nothing will be posted until we rejoin the 21st century.

Some blue sky and snowy peaks in BC.

OK.  So, today we spent nearly all day going south on BC 37 (The Cassiar Highway).  It’s an alternative route to the eastern portion of the Alaska Highway if you’re coming up from Washington State or through Montana.  As I expected, I liked the road, when I could see it through the rain/drizzle/fog/clouds.  We weren’t wet all the time and the first two hours were perfect.  But after our morning break at a jade shop where we spent money that may have been better spent on a WiFi connection we suited up and rode the rest of the day in rain suits and heated gear through sporadic light rain and drizzle.  

I had hoped for rain-free views like this one all day.

But those periods when the clouds parted or at least lifted and dried up a little were beautiful.  Canadian rockies all around us, some peaks sending the last of their melting snow cascading down their steep sides in hundreds of serpentine streams and higher peaks holding tightly to their snow at the top and saving it as a base for next year’s powder.   As we rode south for 300 miles the trees got bigger and the mountainsides more verdant as gradual temperature increases during the spring and summer mean more growth for the forests.

This strikes fear in Marilyn’s heart.

The first 250 miles of the Cassiar Highway was unmarked.  No white lines, no yellow lines.  Several wooden surface bridges and a couple of metal grated ones.  The road was just a narrow chip-seal surface, in pretty good shape most of the time, though there was some re-construction and repair evident. One two-mile section was completely torn up and it’s mini-boulder surface gave Marilyn good practice for her three-mile trip down Linda’s Wyoming ranch trail.  (The first time I took a bike–my 2003 Road King–down that trail, parts literally fell off.)  There was little traffic on the Cassiar and, to my dismay, almost no wildlife though we did see signs warning about moose.  The lack of wildlife was probably a good thing since in many parts of the northern half, the brush grew right to the edge of the road, offering a perfect hiding place from which an angry moose could pounce on a daydreaming motorcyclist.  I don’t want to meet a moose on the road, but I would have liked to see one grazing in a pond.  

Pristine BC wilderness.

I prefer the Cassiar route to the one we took going to Alaska, but part of the reason for that route was to ride all of the original Alaska Highway.  That has now been checked off, so when I go back to Alaska there’s a pretty good chance I’ll go on the Cassiar Highway to it’s terminus at about the mid-point on the Alaska Highway.  The Cassiar Highway is much more isolated than the Alaska Highway and much less commercialized.  Dozens of small lakes and a couple large ones also added to the scenic ride.  Today’s road has only been hard surface, I was told, since the mid 1990s, but the Alaska Highway has been carrying truckers and tourists for 60 years and they seem to have brought a lot of dust and debris.  The Alaska Highway is beautiful, but the country through which the Cassiar Highway meanders is is more pristine and isolated and the road itself is better suited for an exciting motorcycle ride with its roller-coaster hills and the occasional switchback. 

Tomorrow we’ll finish the final 160 miles of the 460-mile Cassiar before heading east on one of Canada’s major east-west trans-Canada roads.  Hopefully the lodging arrangements for tomorrow in Burns Lake include complimentary WiFi.


Great Alaska Adventure: Final Backtrack Day

Today’s ride looked vaguely familiar.  Deja Vu?  Only backwards.

Whitehorse to Watson Lake was a lot like Watson Lake to Whitehorse, but we did mix it up a little bit and I noticed some things today that I didn’t see the first time by, a little more than two weeks ago.

One of things that stood out today was that this was the only ride I can remember in the past three weeks that didn’t have serious road construction.  One bridge repair at the very end of today’s ride and the very beginning of the first trip through, but other than that there was no fresh chip seal and the road was in pretty good shape most of the way.  I wonder why I didn’t notice that the first time.

Beauty is everywhere we look in the Yukon.

The scenery was, of course, the same and looked, for most of the day, like the picture to the right.  Beautiful, but after some of the truly striking scenery we’ve ridden through, I think I’m becoming inured to just plain beautiful.  Show me something that knocks my socks off.  Show me raging rivers.  Show me 15,000 foot peaks.  Show me a moose in the middle of the road. If the weather cooperates tomorrow and the next day, I think my socks will become part of the chip seal.  I’m looking forward to actually riding in the mountains along some up and down twisties and I think the Cassiar Highway will accommodate.  Unfortunately the weather may be a little damp tomorrow and that could slow the ride down considerably.

When I checked the weather for today’s ride it said “Whitehorse 20% chance of rain” and “Watson Lake 20% chance of rain,” so I felt pretty good.  But of course the weather forecast didn’t say anything about the 275 miles in between.  If it had, it would have said “In between 100% chance of rain.”    We didn’t have a lot of rain today, but we did ride in light to moderate rain for about 40 miles.

It was strawberry-rhubarb and I couldn’t wait.

When we stopped in Teslin for gas and pie (see picture to left) I decided to check out another local museum, this one dedicated to George Johnston, who was a Tlingit entrepreneur who captured much of his First Nation in the 1920s on film and who brought the first automobile to the area in 1928, despite the fact that there were no roads.  He had it shipped from Whitehorse to Teslin via the Yukon and Teslin rivers and used frozen 60-mile Lake Teslin as his primary road.  He also built a five mile road through the wilderness (which later became part of the Alaska Highway) so he could sell rides to people in his village as a taxi cab.  The museum, like others I’ve visited this trip, helped flesh in my skeletal understanding of one part of the First Nation and what life was like in the Yukon during and just after the gold rush at the end of the 19th century.  I was asked how I find places like this.  It’s usually just a matter of slowing down a little (literally) and seeing what small towns have to offer.  If you stumble on enough gems in your travels, you’ll have a wealth of memories.  

Today’s museum showed a positive outcome of the confluence of First Nation and Anglo-European cultures.  Johnston accepted the changes, knowingly recorded them on his Kodak, and profited from them as well.  Sometimes, such as when the confluence reeked of alcohol or land grabs, the results have not been good.  But it’s all part of history.

Going to bed early tonight because we’re going to try to an early start tomorrow on the 310+ mile day through mountains on a secondary road.  Expect it to be beautiful, but tiring.

I haven’t written about Marilyn lately.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll do that.  She’s hanging in there and enjoying most of the trip.  Her ribs are still sore from the fall four weeks ago but continues to improve.  A Harley rider from Boston we met in Whitehorse who listened to our story of the Great Alaska Adventure called her courageous.  She is.


Great Alaska Adventure: Whitehorse History

Scheduled non-riding days on the Great Alaska Adventure mean an opportunity to take in local sights, take care of the bikes and housekeeping chores and just relax.  That pretty much describes our day in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, as we slept in about an hour, went through e-mails from home and spent about six hours downtown exploring some of Whitehorse’s and Yukon’s past.  I also took time to talk with one of the folks who run the river rafting expedition I mentioned yesterday.  Laundry is getting done now and so is the blog.  It’s been a good day.

Cute little thing. Nice trolley, too.

Although Whitehorse isn’t very big and the Ramada-Klondike is close enough that we could have walked the 10 blocks to town center, we opted for a short ride on a restored 1926 trolley that chugs and bumps along a three-mile, back-and-forth route.  We rode from one end of the line to the other, ending up at the S.S. Klondike National Historical Site run by Parks Canada.  

Last of its breed. (The ship, that is.)

The S.S. Klondike is a 1929 stern-wheel paddle steamer that plied the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City taking supplies to miners and returning loaded with bags of ore and many dejected miners.  We talked with a parks staffer, watched a short movie about steam boats on the Yukon and then spent an hour touring the old ship.  At one point in the early 20th century, as many as 250 steam boats sailed the Yukon River and other nearby rivers.  The S.S. Klondike is the last of all those vessels.

Big wheels keep on turnin’.

My hat’s off to Parks Canada for doing an excellent job preserving this leviathan of the northern rivers and for using it to tell the story of Yukon’s past, beginning with the gold rush of 1898 in Dawson City that saw tens of thousands of klondike prospectors strike out in dangerous and forbidding conditions to make their fortune.  A few struck it rich, but many of the lucky few went bust nearly as quickly.  Their presence and the presence of thousands of others who followed them to provide the services they needed ultimately built what few towns there are in the Yukon.

View of the Yukon River from the deck of the S. S. Klondike.

The S.S. Klondike was one of the largest of the fleet of sailing ships built and launched in Whitehorse, which was the railhead for the narrow-guage line that ran north out of Skagway.  The stern-wheeler carried a crew of 23 and up to 75 first- and second-class passengers and up to 300 tons of cargo during the four to five months a year the river wasn’t frozen over.   Looking at the cargo holds, the passenger and crews quarters and the engineering spaces offered a glimpse almost 100 years into the past.  It was a good way to spend part of day.

I dropped by the office of the outfitters who operate the rafting expedition to learn more about what excited me yesterday.  “Office” may be a little grandiose.  It was actually a one-room cabin in downtown Whitehorse, but it suits their needs since they’re out on the rivers most of the time.  I picked up some literature, saw some pictures of previous trips and learned about the 11-day trip, which may not be quite as demanding as I first thought (as long as I’m willing to get wet when it’s in the 30s, sleep on the ground for two weeks, and tread carefully in grizzly country).  Nothing I learned today dissuaded me from seriously considering this adventure in 2014 or 2015 as part of another trip to Alaska.  If two weeks in the most beautiful, most rugged and most isolated country in North America sounds appealing, talk to me.  Seriously.

We also stopped by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History for a couple hours.  It’s clearly the best private museum focused

First Nations influence is everywhere in the Yukon.

on the Yukon.  From an impressive taxidermy collection (every local museum in Canada, it seems, has an abundance of dead animals) to Sam McGee’s original cabin, to First Nation’s artifacts, to a very thorough exhibition of mining and mining equipment and a well-done narrative of the history of the Gold Rush and other mining booms, this museum and its expansive indoor and outdoor spaces presented a detailed look at the Yukon Territory.  We only spent two hours there but could easily have spent a full day meandering through their still-growing collection.  They even had a special exhibit on dog sled races that certainly  enlightened a mushing neophyte like myself.  It’s hard not to go through this kind of museum and gain an appreciation for the people who chose to face incredible hardships as they sought their fortunes or just tried to carve a living in the wilderness.

Officer Moose of the RCMP.

A short stroll took us through city center to peruse the mercantile emporiums and eclectic eateries, then we hopped back aboard the still-chugging trolley for the short ride to our edge of town.

Tomorrow we’re on the road again to Watson Lake.  It will be our final backtracking route before heading south through British Columbia on the Cassiar Highway.

Great Alaska Adventure: Backtracking

Today’s ride from Buckshot Betty’s in Beaver Creek to the Klondike Inn in Whitehorse, YT, reminded me that second chances often yield rewarding results.  On the way to Alaska we passed but did not stop at several potential sites that looked interesting.  Today we stopped at one with edifying returns.  More on this great “find” later in the blog.

Last night we decided six days of travel without cleaning the bikes was enough and spent more than an hour relieving the Harleys of thick grime, mud, bugs dust and assorted crap that accumulates on a ride like this one.  Now, they weren’t pristine by any stretch, but they looked a lot better after 60 minutes of suds and rinse and the worst of the dirt and detritus were gone.  That clean condition lasted about two hours into today’s ride when we drove through the first of two long construction stretches marked with less-than-helpful “Extremely dusty conditions likely” signs.  Oh yeah.  They were extremely dusty.  The two sections combined probably went for about 10 miles and every time a car or a truck or especially an RV passed, a dust cloud enveloped bikes and riders, befouling our clean machines and making seeing more than three feet next to impossible for three or four seconds.  Then we would bump along at a safe 25 miles an hour until a recreational behemoth would roar by again on its way to warp speed.  I haven’t decided if I’ll spend any of my down time tomorrow in Whitehorse trying to reclaim shiny paint and sparkling chrome.  Even if I do, the next day and the next construction zone would tarnish my resplendent ride.  It’s a dusty dilemma. 

Kluane Mountain Range

The highway war zone was only a small part of the scenery, and a long part of the ride had towering white-frosted peaks on one side of the road and the cerulean waters of beautiful glacier-fed Kluane Lake on the other.  And no wilderness palette would be complete without a rainbow of color provided by millions of wildflowers taking advantage of a short growing season to all grow at once.  I stopped several times for photo ops but I’m a miserable failure trying to digitally ensnare what nature wrought all around us.  I’ll included a couple of the shots I took, though, so you can see some of the sensual beauty we had to endure on our ride south on the Alaska Highway.

View out of my office window today.

Now to return to my comments in the first paragraph.  On the way through Haines Junction, YT, two weeks ago, I noticed a sign for a “Visitor and Cultural Center” but sped by without giving it much thought.  Today after lunching on a tasty spanakopita (Greek spinach/feta pie made with phyllo) while Marilyn devoured a pureed vegetable soup with roasted yam chunks at a wonderful bakery/cafe, I decided to stop at the “visitor center” to see what local information I could learn.  It would only take a few minutes and then we’d be back to business on the road.  Two hours after we entered the Kluane National Park and Preserve Visitor Center and Da Ku Cultural Center for the Southern Tuchone First Nations, Marilyn had to drag me out, reminding me that we had to go to Whitehorse.

Color me happy.

The facility is brand new and serves a dual purpose of explaining the park and presenting artistic and cultural works of some of Canada’s native people.  Gorgeous facility, great exhibits and a tremendously knowledgeable and helpful staff of curators and Parks Canada ranger/interpreters.  I knew I was in or near a national park but had no idea of the extent of the park and all that it offered.  In addition to learning more about the history of the First Nations, including being removed from their land in a similar way to the treatment of Native Americans in the United States, I also discovered much about the geography encompassed by Kluane National Park and three adjacent provincial and national parks that together form the largest protected geographic area in the world (almost 38,000 square miles or the size of Indiana).  Kluane NP contains Canada’s highest mountain (Mt. Logan) at 19,500+ feet, which makes it second only to Denali in North America in height, but it’s number in total mass.  It also contains part of the largest non-arctic ice field in the world and that ice field, including nearly 2000 glaciers, covers 80% of the park.

It’s a beautiful thing.

As a result of this “brief” stop at the visitor center I may have added another item to my bucket list.  A helpful ranger told me that a river that begins near Haines Junction (Alsek River) goes through Kluane National Park, a British Columbia provincial park, and a U.S. National Park in Alaska before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.  And you can ride that river in a raft for two weeks though canyons with class 5-6 rapids, camp in prime grizzly bear country, and visit several massive glaciers.  Sounds good to me.  Just need to add a couple weeks to my next journey north.  Marilyn said she’d pass on that adventure

Retirement is good.

There was so much to see and learn in the National Park side of the visitor center that I didn’t get a chance to look long at the art and cultural side of the building.  But I’ll be back.

Made it to Whitehorse in good order (with filthy bikes again) and will take tomorrow off to see more of Yukon Territory’s capital city.

Great Alaska Adventure: Leaving Alaska

The Alaska portion of the Great Alaska Adventure is over ten days after it began.  We  now begin  the journey home with   memories sufficient to bore our friends and family for years to come.  “Did I tell you about the time I went to Alaska and saw . . . .”   That opening phrase will be like a starter’s pistol, sending listeners speeding away from the Great Alaska Adventurers like snowshoe hares running from golden eagles.

Leaving Alaska

For those of you following the blog, I appreciate the opportunity every night to record scenes that will no doubt grow in grandeur over time and adventures that will become more perilous with every telling as the years pass.  But, believe me, it has been a Great Adventure for these two old motorcycle riders and will be enough adventure to last one of them a lifetime.  The other, of course, still craves more adventures and will return, I think, to the wild north seeking more exciting exploits and new riding opportunities.  

This is a very small part of the Tetlin National Wildlife Reserve.

Today, as has been the case for most of the last three weeks, we rode in and beside mountains most of the short, 110 mile ride.  We took advantage of the short ride to stop at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center for an hour or so to survey the expansive countryside and learn more about the people, animals and land of Alaska.  Tetlin is one of 15 NWR in Alaska and, while not the biggest, is certainly an important one to millions of migrating birds and land animals such as caribou.  It’s part of a major flyway that birds from six different continents use to move from one part of the globe to another, including tens of thousands of trumpeter swans that were nearly killed off by hunters 70-80 years ago.  

Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. (Note purple drink cup still on Marilyn’s bike.)

The goal of the NWR is to study and protect crucial habitat buffeted by human and natural forces.  The exhibits were good (amazing what you can do with adequate amounts of money) and the information was current.  One of the problems faced by the Tetlin NWR is the same faced by all the others:  climate change.  Average recorded temperatures at Tetlin have increased more than six degrees Fahrenheit since 1950 and that change is having a deleterious impact on a large number of species, including one species of bird whose numbers have been reduced by 90% in recent years.

I didn’t start writing this tonight to get off on global warming, but it seems like everywhere I ride–especially out west–I see its impact.

Marilyn and I enjoyed our last few hours in Alaska, cruising slowly down the highway looking at the distant mountains, nearby lakes, ponds and rivers, and millions of spruce, cottonwood, and birch trees.  

About 10 miles from the border with Canada, we were given a rude reminder of the dangers of riding in Alaska as we came on an unexpected 4 inch frost heave at about 45 miles an hour.  It rattled me and stood me up on the bike, but as I watched my rearview mirror I saw Marilyn bounce completely off her seat, despite the nanosecond warning I gave her over the CB. But a firm grip (inspired by a fear of flying) on the handlebars kept her and the Deluxe operating as a single forward-moving traveling unit.  She told me later that her purple drinking cup (the one that sent me on the best ride of the Alaska Adventure) ended up in her lap but she managed to recover it and return it to its chrome home on her handlebars.  We had just had a bathroom break or we would have had to stop and change our trousers.  We slowed a little after the close encounter of the frost-heave kind.

Back in Canada

We also got a taste again of what is in store for us the next few days as we navigate east and south on the Canadian portion of the Alaska Highway.  Almost immediately after leaving the land of Red, White and Blue and entering Maple Leaf country the road turned to crap, some of it caused by the ravages of winter and some it caused by construction crews’ efforts to repair those ravages.  For one five mile stretch we were led by a pilot car at about 10 miles an hour through a stretch where the road had been removed.  We could see efforts to replace the missing road but it was little comfort as we bounced along on a rutted, muddy, one-lane track and watched the occasional earthmover move earth with no apparent engineering plan.  We finally cleared the worst of it and returned to the normally crappy road.  Oh well, at 40 mph there’s a greater opportunity to initiate moose-avoidance procedures should the need arise.

We’re back at Buckshot Betty’s for the night.  Today’s pie for me was pizza pie, and pretty good, too, for the Yukon wilderness.  At dinner we learned more about “Buckshot Betty” and how she got this name, which had something to do with a cinnamon roll and a bear.  Her exploits have been chronicled by Whitehorse singer/songwriter Barbara Chamberlin in “The Ballad of Buckshot Betty.”  Her real name is Carmen and she’s a character.  Would love to knock back some Jack with this lady.

Tomorrow we head for Whitehorse, YT, and will spend an extra day there sight seeing and recharging our batteries.

Great Alaska Adventure: A Great Scenic Byway

Happy Fourth of July! (Though by the time anyone reads this it will be July 5.)  This is the second time Marilyn and I spent Independence Day riding in mountains out west, the previous time being four years ago when we had a snowball fight on the Fourth of July in Glacier National Park on Going to the Sun Highway.  That was before Marilyn had taken up riding and was enjoying the sights from the passenger seat behind me.

Marilyn readies for the foul-weather gauntlet.

Anchorage’s send-off this morning was fitting, given the weather conditions we had on the Kenai Peninsula for five days. A light rain and 50 degree temperatures as I packed the bikes meant a chilly start to the ride, but I took heart from the website which assured me that as we rode east toward Tok near the Canadian border the weather would improve and that the recently elusive blue skies were even possible.  But for the first 50 miles or so we rode in the drizzle and dodged the occasional errant moose who thought crossing a six-lane road was a good idea.  Not even a close call for us, but we were reminded later in the day talking to other bikers that three road brothers died in Alaska in the last week in collisions with ungainly ungulates.  You’ve got to be careful out here.

Once we left the Anchorage environs and turned east, the Glenn Highway quickly began to live up to its National Scenic Byway designation.  Once again we were surrounded on all sides by mountains, and several of today’s massifs topped 13,000 feet and were completely covered in snow (when they weren’t covered in clouds).  Absolutely gorgeous riding, especially after the rain stopped.  The temperatures stayed in the 50s most of the day, but as long as it was dry and the clouds were lifting I was a happy biker.

Hard to see, but that’s the Mantanuska Glacier behind me.

Today’s ride not only included majestic views of the Chugach Range, the Talkeetna Range, the Wrangall Range and the Alaska Range (depending on which direction you were looking) but also commanding looks at two immense glaciers, the Mantanuska Glacier first, followed by the Nelchina Glacier as we headed east.  Both, of course, are receding but they are still huge and very impressive.  One of my next trips to Alaska is going to find me ON a glacier, not just looking at them from a distance.  (I thought going to Alaska on a motorcycle would make my bucket list smaller.  The list has actually grown several fold since I discovered what I was missing in Alaska.  I’ve got so much to do.)

Back to the Glenn Highway.  This road is made for motorcycles (except for the pesky moose).  You can ride at a leisurely pace and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in America, or you can open the the throttle, lean into sweepers, rock and roll on the twisties and get the adrenaline coursing through an aging body.  Either way, it’s a ride you’ll remember.  Today’s ride was a little more 330 miles and 300 of that was on the Glenn Highway and the Tok Cutoff extension.  The latter half had some flatter parts as we neared the Tok terminus but even that was interesting as we rode through a narrow green canyon of towering spruce trees. 

Eureka Lodge has been hosting guests since 1936.

We stopped for lunch (well, OK, I stopped for pie and Marilyn stopped for lunch) at the Eureka Resort/Lodge, which has the distinction of being the oldest roadhouse on the Glenn Highway.  Initially built as a very small cabin (preserved on the site), it’s gone through several iterations in the 1940s, 1960s and 1970s.  One of the buildings burned and the others were outpaced by the popularity of the place.  The current ediface, while not fancy, is solid and serves good home-made banana cream pie, along with about eight other varieties I didn’t have time to try.  Some years back, I’m guessing the 1960s, they sold coffee for $.25 a cup and they still do.  It’s a great stop on a great road.

Original Eureka Lodge roadhouse.

When I was looking at the original cabin, which I believe is in the original location, I turned around and saw why the first owners set up shop there.  What a view of the Nelchina Glacier!  And it had to have been much better 75 years ago.  Hiking, snowmobiling and flying trips to the glacier are still hugely popular, as are the homemade pies.

What a view of the Nelchina Glacier from the front door of the roadhouse.

Even though we’re at Tok and still in Alaska and we won’t cross into Canada until about noon tomorrow, today really seemed like my last day in Alaska.  As the miles to today’s destination grew smaller, my speed declined as well.  I wanted to stretch my final Alaska ride (of this trip) as long as I could.  So I relaxed my grip on the throttle, let it fall to an embarrassing 10 mph below the speed limit and just enjoyed the final run as the sky changed from cloudy to blue and the temperatures warmed to the low 60s.  I knew Alaska had good weather somewhere.

Tomorrow we have a short ride back to Buckshot Betty’s and then nine more days touring the wilds of the Yukon and the mountains of British Columbia, before diving back into the USA at a Montana border crossing.

Great Alaska Adventure: Leaving the Kenai Peninsula

First, my apologies for last night’s post.  After about 10 hours of sleep, I woke this morning feeling about 95% better.  I still don’t know what brought me down yesterday, but it was a real butt-kicker.  Hated to give up even a single day on the Kenai to the quirks of human frailty.  Oh well, I didn’t miss anything that I can’t do when I come back.

The five days we were on the peninsula, the weather was at least consistent:  Overcast, chilly temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and the occasional light rain.  Today, at least, we avoided any rain, but stayed suited up the entire day just in case.  I’m not complaining about the weather, even if sometimes I wished it was sunnier and warmer.  I think Marilyn and I got a pretty good taste of what summer is like in the south-central part of the state, and the weather didn’t keep us from doing any of the things we had planned to do.

The clouds, the mountains, the trees: The Kenai

After the obligatory stop to pick up a Harley-Davidson T-shirt to prove to any doubters that I actually was in Alaska, our ride today backtracked along the Sterling Highway that we took to Soldotna.  The Sterling Highway is a beautiful ride along several lakes and the Kenai River.  And as always, the ever-present mountains kept us company all day as we rode through valleys carved by various rivers.  I knew Alaska had mountains–lots of mountains.  But until I rode in the state, I didn’t fully realize how mountainous it is.  From the time we entered Alaska on the Alaska Highway we have never been out of sight of mountains, though at times they might have been 30 or 40 miles distant.  I expect tomorrow’s final ride in Alaska to be more of the same.  I hope. 

The Trail River below Summit Lake along the Seward Highway.

Because most of the roads follow river valleys, the slopes on the roads are fairly gentle and the twists and turns are not terribly challenging on a motorcycle.  But the views.  The views are spectacular, mile after mile, crag after crag.  Rocky slopes, snow-covered slopes, forested slopes, grassy slopes.  I’m not sure I would ever tire of it.  If Alaska only had summers all year long I might move here.  But I’ve heard too many stories in my short time here about winter months with temperatures below -20, dipping to the mind-numbing -60 and -70 below zero on really cold days.  Ah, but the summers.  The summers. 

Since we had decided not to go through the Whittier tunnel this trip and we had already explored Hope with the help of octogenarian Bill Miller, about the only other main stopping point on the road back to Anchorage was Girdwood, home of the Aleyeska Resort and the Crow Creek gold mine.  I thought the gold mine would be an interesting diversion, but when we ran out of pavement three miles before the mine site, we turned around.  Road construction gives us all the gravel we need, thank you very much.

Marilyn thinks: “And I’m staying at the Anchorage Microtel????”

After stopping for lunch in Girdwood at the Silvertip Grill, a biker bar with a friendly owner and a less than friendly pit bull pooping on the patio, and filling up on a cheese-covered three-egg reindeer sausage-mushroom-tomato omelet,  we headed for Alaska’s biggest ski resort: The Aleyeska.  After doing 30-second tours of dozens of little towns where the newest building was the 1970s era post office, I was disconcerted to discover a four-star resort 30 miles from Anchorage.  A ski area I expected.  (Snow + mountains = ski area).  But not an over-the-top resort at home in Aspen or Vail.  

Marilyn’s new friend at the Alyeska Resort.

We took a few minutes to wander around the grounds and the building, amazed at the semi-rugged opulence found in the Alaskan wilderness.  We decided if we hadn’t spent all our retirement money and our children’s inheritance on this two-month Great Alaska Adventure, we could have flown here for a week and stayed in the cheap suites.  But Marilyn doesn’t ski and won’t ride the tram and my old bones would probably snap the first time I renewed a sport I gave up 30 years ago, so a week at the Alyeska is not in the cards for these old motorcycle riders.

Riding toward Anchorage along Turnagain Arm that separates the Kenai Peninsula from the Alaska mainland was exhilarating because of the views, but a little melancholic because I knew our time there had been too short.  A month on the Kenai might be enough time to be satiated with it’s phenomenal forests, glassy glaciers and abundant animals.  Maybe.  But it might take two.  Or three.   The five-day taste of the Kenai has obviously whetted my appetite for a much larger feast.

Tomorrow, we ride east on the Glenn Highway to Tok, our last stop in Alaska before a ten-day jaunt through the Yukon and British Columbia.  


Great Alaska Adventure: Not so good

My view of Homer.

Woke up this morning feeling crummy.  Got worse.  Rode to Homer.  Marilyn shopped.  I reclined on a bench trying not to throw up.  Succeeded.  Came back to Soldotna early and slept 3 hours.  Still don’t feel much better.  Hope whatever it is passes by tomorrow.  Sorry for the crappy blog.  Alaska is still wonderful.  

Tomorrow back to Anchorage.

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