Archive | August 2016

Day 24: A Rain Out

A trip to Homer had been in the cards for today, but a nearly constant rain on this side of the Peninsula kept us at or near our hotel today. After yesterday’s soaking we were content to stay dry if we could, and used the time to take care of various chores at a leisurely pace.

We both purchased new rain jackets today given the poor performance of our Harley-Davidson outerwear yesterday. I’m not sure why the HD jackets lost their repellency, but during yesterday’s outing they just absorbed water and passed it through. Deciding that money was an object, I found a thin rubberized jacket at a sporting goods store across the highway from our hotel and Mark opted for Frog Toggs. We may never need the new purchases the rest of his adventure, but if the rain gets heavy again between here and home we’ll be ready.  We can now double-layer rain gear if the going gets abysmally wet.

Late this afternoon, I learned from our EZ Limit Guide Service that our halibut charter gets underway at 0600 tomorrow. That’s pretty damn early. And the boat leaves from Anchor Point, about an hour and a half south of here toward Homer. Consequently, reveille for us will be at 4 a.m. or a little earlier followed by an early morning motorcycle ride through moose country. (Just an aside:  I saw a sign today that reported the traffic deaths of 239 moose on the Kenai Peninsula this year.  That’s a lot of crumpled fenders.)  We picked up something at a nearby grocery for breakfast in the morning since the hotel breakfast won’t be available that early.

DSCF7493The rain today finally stopped about 4:30 this afternoon and patches of blue began to appear in the south. I took that opportunity to locate and buy a quart of AMSOil for the bikes (both were about 1/2 quart low) and we gassed up for tomorrow’s ride. DSCF7500A short walk along the Kenai River behind our hotel this evening, where a few folks were having a little luck catching some Silvers, and then back to write this clearly inadaquet blog post and  turn in early turn for a short night.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s halibut adventure and something a lot more interesting to write about tomorrow night.


Day 23: Wetting a Line on the Kustatan

Fishing for Silver Salmon (aka Coho) in Alaska had been a planned highlight for this trip before I ever plotted the first route on my GPS more than eight months ago. I didn’t know for sure where I was going (other than Alaska) or what else I might do along the way, but I was definitely going fishing.   After today, that planned highlight is a very real, very successful, very gratifying highlight, though today’s fishing adventure on the Kustatan River was not without its trials.

First, the proof of its success:


There was one more nice Silver in the boat making us only one fish short of our six-fish limit, but we only had four hands for the picture.

DSCF7489Before I go any further, I have to give a heartfelt THANKS to our guide for the day, Greg Brush, owner of EZ Limit Guide Service in Soldotna.  Those silver beauties in our hands would be happily spawning right now without Greg’s intimate knowledge of the river, vast experience catching salmon for the past 28 years, and just plain damn hard work and tremendously positive attitude trying to make sure we went home with salmon.  If you ever think about a fishing trip on the Kenai Peninsula, you couldn’t do better than to start a conversation with Greg and secure a reservation for one of his well-planned guide trips.

DSCF7478For the past week, rain has plagued the Kenai Peninsula.  Now, the Peninsula is well known for its rain, but recent days have brought an extraordinary deluge, including to the Soldotna area and the location of our fishing adventure across Cooke Inlet.  This morning when Greg picked us up at 5:30 (a thoughtful courtesy he rendered because he knew we were riding motorcycles) and delivered us to the Alaska West Airways float plane base, it was raining.  It was raining when we signed in for the flight. DSCF7485 It was raining when the 6:30 flight in a 1950s vintage de Havilland Otter upgraded to more than 900 hp took off and landed 20 minutes later.  And it was raining as Greg steered our small boat with a 25 hp motor down a slough to the Kustatan River.  It rained nearly all the time we fished, from 7:30 until noon when we left fishing behind and returned for our scheduled return plane ride across Cooke Inlet.

And the incessant rain caused myriad problems.  Normally on these trips, Greg positions his charges on a gravel bar or sand bar and directs their angling from those dry points in the river.  But the constant rains caused the river to rise several feet overnight, covering all the sand bars and requiring adjusting to either fishing from a boat or from the shore or a combination of the two.  Moreover, the fast running, mocha-colored water was silty, reducing visibility for the fish to only a few inches and making food (i.e. bait) difficult to locate.

We weren’t the only group fishing the Kustatan today, and other experienced guides agreed with Greg’s assessment that fishing conditions for spawning Silvers was as bad as anything they had seen this year.  All the guides tried assiduously to fine tune their attack plans to put anxious clients on elusive fish, but few were as successful as Greg.

Success didn’t come easily or quickly or last very long.  We fished nearly an hour and a half with no success.  Greg assessed the situation, watching the water, other anglers, and the fish that roiled the surface from time to time.  His patience (and ours) paid off.  The five Silvers we caught were all landed in about a one-hour period before we once again went fishless.  Mark finally landed the first fish; 15 minutes later we had numbers two and three hooked at the same time; I caught my biggest fish and best fighter 10 minutes later; and Mark finished the day with our biggest catch at about 10 pounds nearly an hour after he caught his first one.

As a neophyte salmon angler, I entered today’s fishy fray with several misconceptions that colored my expectations.  I thought the salmon we would catch would be in the 20-25 pound range, but discovered that they usually return to their natal streams to spawn (and die) as three-year olds in the 7-11 pound range.  I also assumed we would be more isolated than we were today during the fly out, but, as noted earlier, we saw more than a half dozen other guides with troupes of 4-6 followers seeking the same elusive prize we sought.

IMG_7292Let me return to the rain, the bane of my fishing day.  Not only did it complicate fishing and make securing a three-fish limit difficult for all and impossible for some, it demonstrated in no uncertain terms that motorcycle rain gear was not suitable for foul-weather fishing.  After 2-3 hours of standing in a blowing rain watching lifeless lines, my Harley-Davidson rain jacket became saturated and lost much of its water-repellent properties.  The falling water just soaked through the sodden jacket to my outer shirt, to my inner shirt and, finally, to my skin.  And the temperature hovered between a chilly 55 and a cool 60 all morning.

Despite the great time I had going after the salmon, I was ready to fly back to Soldotna, return to the hotel, strip off my soggy shirts and soak in the spa.  The rain pants were less of a problem because water-proof hip waders were provided, so the only protection I needed was between the top of my pants and the top of the waders, and the rain pants worked well enough to prevent the thick rubber waders from funneling cold rain down my legs and drenching my new and very warm wool socks.

In two days, we’ll try our luck again with the underwater denizens of Alaska, as we put to sea to hunt for halibut.  I think the weather is supposed to be better.  Despite today’s conditions, I had an amazing day.  If catching halibut is as much fun, I may start planning a return Alaska engagement.

Day 22: Touring the Kenai Peninsula


Click on any picture for a larger view

Alaskans and non-Alaskans refer to the Kenai Peninsula as Alaska’s playground, but they also refer to it as Alaska’s rainforest because of the inordinately large number of rainy days. We’ve been on the Peninsula for three days and it’s rained each of those days, though only one was hard rain.  Today produced another low-cloud, misty rain that waxed and waned, with the occasional spot of blue sky poking through, only to be covered by fast moving clouds that played whack-a-mole with the blue spots.


I fully expected rain would fall or at least float in the air while we were here since that was my experience three years ago.  There’s nothing to do but suit up in rain gear and hit the road, so that’s what we did.

Had we made a direct dash to our destination in Soldotna, we would have had only a two-hour, 95-mile ride.  But two hours and 95 miles rarely add up to adventure.

DSCF7472I decided to return to some of the places I saw three years ago, heading first to the hamlet of Hope, where I hoped to meet again with Bill Miller, an elderly, nearly blind gentleman who had given us a fascinating tour of the local museum and filled us with tales of life in Hope and with stories of the great earthquake of 1964.  DSCF7466Unfortunately, I learned from Diane, the woman staffing the Hope & Sunrise Historical Museum today, that Bill died two years ago, a sad loss for the community and for those like me just passing through who learn so much about a community from passionate residents who love it. Diane, who also clearly loves the community, walked us through the small but well-stocked and well-interpreted museum, explaining in some detail about the early mining years of Hope and nearby communities. DSCF7463The discovery of gold in Hope, for example, preceded the famous Alaska Klondike Gold Rush and attracted several thousand miners in 1896.  She answered all our questions patiently and thoroughly, and we left the museum and toured the museum grounds with a much better understanding of this little place called Hope.

Three years ago when I drove through Hope it seemed nearly deserted, but today its muddy, rutted streets were packed with cars and people, and the RV camp was filled with trailers and RVs of various types.  When I inquired about the crowds at one campsite, the outdoorsy bearded gentlemen there informed me that (a) the salmon were running strong in the creeks and rivers and (b) there was a 100-mile mountain bike race going on.  It turns out we hit Hope on one of its busiest days of the year.


DSCF7458We dismounted at the Discovery Cafe in Hope for hot coffee to counter the cold rain, and I think I learned why they give it that moniker.  I discovered PIE.  Lots of PIE.  Choices.  Choices. Choices.  But I had never had Plum Pie made with fresh plums, so I snagged a big piece.  Outstanding!

Another place I wanted to take Mark was the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center in the Chugach National Forest at Portage Glacier.  The wind was howling and the horizontal rain coming out of the misty clouds obscured any view of the retreating glacier and even of the lake the glacier has left behind.  So we spent an hour or more reading the exhibits and watching a professionally produced movie about the glacier, Prince William Sound and the people who live there.  DSCF7473As an added bonus, we got to meet and greet Smoky Bear who, we learned, is having his (or her) 75th birthday this week.  We muscled our way to the front of the line past waiting children to get our picture taken with the furry celebrity.

Whether we were in Hope or at Portage Glacier (so named because of the relatively short 12-mile portage across the glacier between Prince William Sound and Cooke Inlet), the impact of the 1964 earthquake,  at 9.2 on the Richter Scale the largest ever recorded in North America, was palpable.  Many of the buildings in Hope, for example, had to be relocated because the land shifted downward eight feet and high tides continuously flooded the hapless buildings.  In Seward, one-fourth of the town was destroyed.  And on the small island of Chenega, the tsunami that followed the quake wiped out an entire native village.

We finally headed for Soldotna with only a small amount of rain along the way.  Located on the western side of the Peninsula, Soldotna will be our base for the next three days as we try our luck with the salmon and the halibut.  Rain is in the forecast, but it usually is on the Kenai Peninsula.

Day 21: Seward–Half Way Point

I scheduled Alaska Redux for 42 days from Maggie Valley to Maggie Valley; today marks the half-way point of this year’s adventure.  Three weeks ago Mark and I rolled down the hill at Raven Ridge and hit the road with great expectations.  It’s been an incredible three weeks.  I’ve logged nearly 6,000 miles on some great roads, some good roads and some hot and dusty roads.  I’ve seen bears, bison, moose, antelope, big horn sheep and mountain goats.  I’ve been flight seeing with Dave.  I’ve seen Denali on a clear day.  I’ve hiked the  woods and took time to stop and smell the mushrooms (there weren’t any roses). I’ve seen beautiful mountains and wide open spaces.  And I’m only halfway done. Can there be this many more high points still to come?

DSCF7419.jpgToday was another planned non-riding day, this time in the ocean-side town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula.  Next to the town rises a 3,000 foot mountain where each Fourth of July they stage a brutal race up the mountain and down.   This crazy tradition has been going on for more than 100 years and gains popularity each year.  More than 800 runners are selected to take part in this insanity, with the winner covering the ground (which has an average slope of 34 degrees!) in a little over 41 minutes. Serious injuries are common each year as runners race pell-mell and hell-bent-for-leather sliding down rocky slopes and sluicing along muddy trails.  I had no intention of running this trail, but I had planned to hike it.   Unfortunately, the cloud cover and mist on the mountains was so bad that a trip to the top would have been rewarded with no view of Resurrection Bay or the mountains on the far side.  So we opted for less strenuous visits to the Sea Life Center in town and Exit Glacier outside of town.

DSCF7413.jpgOwned by the state of Alaska and dedicated to studying and conserving the incredible abundance of sea creatures (feathered, finned and furred) that call the Gulf of Alaska home,  it’s an aquarium, but it’s much more than that.  It’s a research center, a teaching facility and a hospital and rehabilitation center for sick, injured and endangered species.  DSCF7420We spent two hours slowly touring the facility, watching seals and sea otters cavort in their pools, learning about dozens of species of fish (including the Coho or Silver Salmon we hope to catch Sunday and the halibut we expect to land Tuesday), and enjoying the antics of a variety of colorful and raucous sea birds.  DSCF7439.jpgThe knowledgeable volunteer interpreters detailed the creatures’ lives and explained the importance of maintaining a healthy, sustainable fisheries and conservation program.  Our two hours were well spent.

DSCF7447.jpgThen we headed to Exit Glacier at the eastern edge of the 1,100 square mile Harding Icefield, which spawns more than 40 other glaciers reaching out in all directions.  Exit Glacier is the only glacier accessible by car or motorcycle, and tens of thousands of tourists visit it each year.  The starting point for a visit to Exit Glacier is a National Park Service interpretive center, followed by a 1 1/2 mile hike up to the nearest point or the receding ice mass.  No one is allowed on the glacier without special permission and appropriate climbing and safety equipment.

DSCF7455.jpgLuckily, as we started up the trail, we found a young ranger about to take a group of six tourists up the trail, teaching along the way about glaciers in general and this one in particular.  I asked if it was a private tour and she said, “No.  Join us.”  So we did.  Good decision.  Ranger Stephanie helped everyone better understand the process of studying glaciers, pointing out, for example, that scientists measure the chronological recession of the glacier by studying the growth of lichens, weeds and grasses, willow and alder and finally cedar trees in the areas the glacier has left behind.  As a result, they’re able to document the loss of ice over the past 100+ years as the glacier shrinks and the tongue or face continues to march backwards up the mountain.  In recent years, photographic evidence shows where the glacier was but is no longer.

DSCF7449.jpgRanger Stephanie kept up a good pace as we walked up the mountain, and I joked about her running the Mount Marathon race to stay in shape for her job.  The diminutive ranger then surprised me by saying she had run the race not once but nine times, including a respectable 1 hour and 13 minute finish this year.  She’s only been with the NPS for a year, but she fell in love with Exit Glacier 24 years ago when as a six-year old she visited her grandmother in Seward.  When she finished college in the lower 48, she moved to Seward.  Her passion for the outdoors and for all that Alaska has to offer, especially its glaciers, was clear. As we parted, she drove home to the band that followed her up the hill that we all have a responsibility to understand and perhaps to halt the deleterious impact of man-made climate change.

The trip to the glacier was good; the trip to the glacier with Ranger Stephanie was special.

Tomorrow, rain or shine rain, we go to Soldotna to prepare for some long-anticipated fishing.

Day 20: Wet Day

I knew eventually our relatively good weather-related luck would run out.  Sure, we’ve had hot days, cold days, and damp days.  But today was the first WET day, from start to finish.  Frog strangler wet. Soaked to the skin wet.  Cats and dogs wet.  Drown a fish wet.  Noah wet.  Wet.

DSCF7397.jpgA cold misty drizzle fell on us as we loaded our bikes in Talkeetna and sagely covered our exposed packs.  Not only did the day demand heated jackets and rain gear, it also brought the long johns out of storage.  A glance at the weather forecast and weather radar strongly intimated our day would get soggier as it wore on.

Mark has been plagued with leaky rain pants on the few days where we had rain and one early effort to repair them failed.  So, 15 miles after we left Talkeetna, we stopped at a hardware store so he could buy some Gorilla tape to attempt the same fix I put on my hydrologically challenged rain pants.  With tape hastily added to some of the seams, we squished back onto our seats and went splashing down the road.

DSCF7395From Talkeetna to Anchorage, rain was light and episodic but getting heavier as we motored south.  The real challenge, though, came when we passed through Anchorage and headed east along Turnagin Arm (an extension of Cooke Inlet).  There the deluge began in earnest and the harder the rain fell, the harder the wind blew into our faces, making seeing and steering  problematic.   Gusts of 40 mph or better forced the rain into any still-dry portals inside our rain suits, and the location of the seams on our suits could be traced by the dark stains on our increasingly damp shirts and pants. By the time we reached the end of Turnagin Arm, we were ready for hot coffee and a hot sandwich fortuitously  available at  a small shopping center.

As we stood dripping unceremoniously on the covered sidewalk, passersby repeated all the standard but not-very-funny cliches about riding motorcycles in the rain.  Fortified with the soon-to-be-realized promise of hot coffee and food,  we took their well-intended jibes in stride.  At this chance stop, we encountered the German woman we breakfasted with two days ago in Talkeetna and for 15 minutes we renewed our brief intercontinental acquaintance before parting ways again.  Coincidences like that happen with amazing regularity on road trips.  Weird.

DSCF7400.jpgModerate to heavy rain pelted us as we finished the final 90 miles to Seward.   Checking early into our motel (a step up from our previous pitiful lodging), we removed wet  gear, changed into dry clothes and began the job of trying to dry pants, shirts, gloves and rain gear.

Mark’s early morning repair work failed to stem the unidirectional flow from outside to inside his rain pants, so he has more work to do in the next couple of days.  My biggest issue was the seams in the arms of my rain jacket, which seem to have lost their waterproofing characteristics, soaking not only the sleeves on my shirt, but the sleeves on my heated jacked as well.  I think I’m just going to cover the outside seams with Gorilla tape and see how that works.  Eventually I may replace my rain suit with Gorilla tape.

Despite the day’s difficulties, I thought as I rode along in the rain and the fog and the mist and the wind that I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for another day in an office or at a desk or even in sedentary retirement.  This is the stuff adventures are made of, and I’ll cherish the wet days as much as the dry as I tell mostly-true stories about my two-wheel travels.

IMG_9201.jpgThe day ended on a positive note in Seward when I returned to Chinook’s Restaurant where Marilyn and I dined three years ago the first Alaska Adventure.  This time I had the halibut with which she became gastronomically enamored.  The fare was way over my food budget, but way worth every penny dollar.  The halibut was absolutely delicious, perfectly seasoned and chased with a cold glass of Chuli Stout from the Denali Brewing company I learned to enjoy last night in Talkeetna.  IMG_9200.jpgAdd a view of the moored boats in the harbor in Resurrection Bay with mountains across the water sporadically emerging through the moving mist, and it was a good end to a wet day.

Our plans, never fully set in stone, may change over the next several days as the forecast calls for rain on the Kenai Peninsula all week.  Hiking up a mountain tomorrow, for example, may be replaced with a drier exploration of the Alaska Sea Life Center, an aquarium owned and operated by the state.  And fishing trips planned for Sunday and Tuesday may be reconfigured to accommodate the weather.  But the Adventure will continue, wet or dry, and I look forward to what comes next.


Day 19: A Peaceful Day in Talkeetna

DSCF7338Non-riding days on Adventures should, ideally, include something unique. Flight seeing, for example, or, in today’s case, hiking through the woods enjoying the profound stillness there. After weeks on a motorcycle, sometimes it’s good to listen to the soundlessness that silently fills the forests and to look around at the small things that grow there.

DSCF7382Before we began our hike, though, we started with a full breakfast at the Roadhouse where seating is family style. That means you’re going to be breaking bread (or cinnamon rolls) with strangers who join you at your table. While the breakfast fare was good, the breakfast company was even better. We met a young woman from Germany, a couple from Palm Coast, Florida, and a family from Texas, all of whom had stories to tell of their Alaska visit and who listened patiently to our stories and who even seemed interested in the blog. We heard about fly fishing and saw pictures of big salmon, we heard about hopes for a flight-seeing adventure to Denali, and we learned about plans for a family rafting trip minus a pregnant wife who would have to wait patiently on shore. Meeting new people, even when no lasting bonds are formed, is always one of the true joys of these adventures.

A National Park Ranger Station across from our hotel is literally the starting point for anyone who wants to scale Denali. Climbers have to check in there, register, and go through a thorough safety briefing. (The climbing season is over now, but more than 1,100 hopeful climbers registered and more than 600 actually gained the summit in 2016.) We had a much shorter hike in mind, however, and the helpful Ranger directed us to nearby Talkeetna Lakes Park, which has several hiking trails. The 1,200-acre park boasts four small lakes and about eight miles of trails that wind up and down through the hills and around the lakes. Perfect for a couple of elderly gentleman hikers out for a stroll.

With our backpacks full of cameras, granola bars, water, and beef jerky we walked five miles around two of the lakes and past the other two. Slowly working our way around the  picturesque ponds, and only occasionally encountering other day hikers, we took time to absorb the quiet, to study the small things that hide in a forest, and to enjoy the soothing peace that comes with a walk in the woods. I found myself especially interested in the small things that grew on the forest floor, adding color and diversity to the overwhelming forest greenness and spent my photographic time focusing on the hidden, the obscure, and the often missed mini-treats that flavor the forest.

As we walked along the trail, we would sometimes stop and listen to–nothing.  No planes, cars, motorcycles, not even any birds.  The woods were still and peaceful and wonderful.

DSCF7364The only wildlife I saw besides an easily spooked squirrel, were some ducks on the second lake and a Golden eagle that seemed to be harassing the ducks, though when we saw him fly off his talons were empty.  So we watched the ducks dive and resurface, spread their wings as if to fly and then sit down in the water again.  Their antics were a pleasant diversion.

The three-hour walk through the woods did me good, stretching my tight muscles and massaging my soul.  An adventure doesn’t always have to be experienced with double-yellow line passes and speeds in excess of the recommended limits suggested by Law Enforcement Officers.

Following our perambulation and for the remainder of the day we took in what the burg of Talkeetna had to offer, which, frankly, isn’t a great deal.  Its historic main street, with some buildings dating back nearly a century, is a brief four-blocks long, and most of the buildings there are now occupied by gift stores, restaurants, and guide services.  It is, in short, a tourist town that can be seen in an hour or two by the travelers riding on the Alaska Railroad that stops at a small depot who disembark for a quick shopping spree to buy a stuffed moose and a coloring book for the grandkids and t-shirts for themselves.  The residents, largely artists, ancient hippies, young hippies and gentle misfits, tolerate tourists like us.

DSCF7387  DSCF7393

The town once had a brewery, but it was so successful it moved out of town about five miles to a bigger location. As guests in the town, the least we could do was support the local industries so we opted for a beverage-enhanced dinner at the Denali Brewing Company restaurant. We each selected three locally brewed beers for a taste test. All were good, but my favorite was a Scotch Ale while Mark gave a thumbs up to a porter, which we then ordered with dinner from Cassie who was serving us.

DSCF7392Tomorrow we pack up, say goodbye to the one-star hotel with its pitiful wifi connection that has been our home for two days, and motor south through the projected rain showers to Steward and more adventures.

Day 18: The Tall One


For centuries before whites arrived in Alaska, Natives referred to the 20,310′ mountain in the middle of the state as deenaalee, which in Athabaskan means “The Tall One.”  Since the early part of the 20th century, Americans referred to the big mountain as Mt. McKinley, even though President McKinley never saw the mountain and didn’t seem to care much about it.  While it may still officially be called Mt. McKinley, to most folks it is simply:  Denali.  But there is nothing simple about it.

It is Grand. Gorgeous. Huge. Awesome. Magnificent. Incredible. Massive. Powerful. Impressive.  Inspiring.  It is many things.  But it is not simple.

DSCF7318Obviously, Denali was the high point of today’s ride, even though I had bumble berry pie and met the oldest road construction flagman in Alaska.

We left Fairbanks this morning under cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-50s but no rain falling and none on the weather radar on the road we were going to ride.  Not many miles out of Fairbanks, we climbed a ridge and rode slowly along with distant mountain views often on either side plus a brief look at Skinny Dicks Halfway Inn as we sped by. It was like flight-seeing from a motorcycle.

IMG_0471Two hours of easy riding brought us to Rose’s Cafe in Healy, where three years ago I ate my first bumble berry pie.  Today I ordered this delight once again and savored a mixture of fruit that probably included raspberries, blueberries, maybe strawberries and even an occasional cherry.  Bumble berry pie describes pie made with whatever leftover fruit is available.  It was as good this time as it was three years ago.

DSCF7305Although I hadn’t planned a trip into Denali National Park, today’s ride was only 270 miles, which shouldn’t take more than five or six hours, so we headed into the park to check out the visitors’ center.  We looked around, watched an 18-minute, nicely done video synopsis of the park, and looked around a little longer at various professionally-designed interpretive displays.  At the end of two hours, I suggested we extend our unplanned visit, so we visited the park book store and then rode 15 miles to the end of the Park road open to the public.  Little did we know, though we should have guessed, that this road, like all others in Alaska, would be under construction.  For 12 miles of its 15 mile length.  The ride into and out of the Park took twice as long as anticipated.

DSCF7311Most of the construction work is being done at night so we negotiated a mostly bumpy, rutted, cobbley, dusty, muddy road with no road closures or flagmen.  But it was worth the added accumulation of grime and crud on our embarrassingly dirty Harley-Davidsons because we spotted three caribou in the brush and I was able to get a shot of one.   DSCF7321A brief sprinkle chased us into our rain gear on the way in, but at the end of the road was a nice view of a river tributary flowing down a valley as well as several nice views of the mountains in various states of cloud cover.  In short, this was the kind of three-hour detour that makes adventures adventursome.

Even with a three-hour detour, I still expected to be in Talkeetna, our day’s destination,  by 4 p.m. or 5 at the latest.  But then I hadn’t factored in the likelihood we would come upon road construction again or that the road constructors were having problems of their own that resulted in long delays and lines of cars 2 miles long behind the pilot car.  But, of course, that’s what we encountered as we slogged down Alaska Highway 3, the Parks Highway.

DSCF7327One dusty delay did give me a chance to meet the self-declared “oldest flagman in Alaska” who hails from the metropolis of Chicken, Alaska (pop. 35).  Although he didn’t give us his name, he did inform us he had come out of retirement to work this summer for $43 an hour, roughly $4,000 a week holding a stop sign at a dusty road-construction site.  The money, he declared, would be used on a trip south to buy new teeth, which, as he showed us, were badly needed to bring his dental needs to a suitable utilitarian state.  The discussion of his dentition deficiency came about when I offered him a piece of beef jerky and he had to decline because he couldn’t chew it.  It’s amazing what you learn when you stop on a motorcycle at the front of the line at a road construction waypoint.

Tomorrow we’ll see what Talkeetna has to offer.

Day 17: Sight Seeing. And What Sights!

DSCF7287When I was outlining this Adventure more than six months ago, friends in Orange Park, Ruth and Steve, connected me with their friends from Fairbanks, Dave and Vicki, thinking it might be nice to have someone local who could help me find something exciting to do on my non-riding day rest day.  Dave and Vicki said we should let them know when we were coming and today they couldn’t have been more helpful or better hosts.  Mark and I will always remember their kindness and their willingness to host us for a day.  Guys, if you’re reading this, THANKS!!

After an obligatory visit to the local Harley-Davidson dealer to purchase another overpriced t-shirt to hang in our respective closets, Mark and I met up with Dave about mid-morning on his clean 2002 Ultra Classic. He began today’s adventure by leading us about 60 miles northeast of town to Chena Hot Springs Resort.  I thought the Hot Springs would essentially be hot water coming out of the ground and filling a pool.  I grossly underestimated this tourist hot spot.

More than just hot water, Chena Hot Springs is a year-round resort with lodges, cabins, stables, its own geothermal power source, incredible gardens, a restaurant that serves food grown on the premises and an ice sculpture exhibit (which we didn’t have time to see).  And of course it does have pools of hot water where guests can relax year round.  In the winter time, it has programs based on the incredible light show of the aurora borealis that draw visitors from around the world to enjoy this natural spectacle.

(Click on any picture for a slide show.)

Taking advantage of almost continuous daylight during the summer, the resort boasts a kaleidoscopic floral explosion, with flowers blooming everywhere on the grounds, in baskets, even in old trucks and rusting road machinery.  I can only post a few of the pictures I took, and they don’t do justice to the real thing but I offer them as poor but colorful imitations.

DSCF7226For the past two weeks, Fairbanks has been harassed with nearly daily rain that has pushed local rivers to near flood stage and saturated the ground everywhere.  We found evidence of that on the ride to and from Chena Hot Springs Resort when at one point we discovered the road covered with water flowing from one side to the other.  It was about 8” deep, so we slowly motored through it, nevertheless soaking our feet in the process.  Adventures are not meant for the faint of heart or the dry of socks.

DSCF7249Dave retired from the Air Force some years back, and since then has maintained his interest in airplanes and flying, especially his own planes.  He generously offered to take us on a flight seeing tour of the area in one of his planes, a Cessna 180, so we could get a different perspective on the area.  DSCF7238After a pre-flight safety briefing, we took off from the grassy runway behind his house in North Pole, Alaska, and he began to point out various rivers, natural and manmade landmarks, and the distant mountain ranges.  We headed further away from Fairbanks, and it was abundantly clear that central Alaska flattens out and is covered with trees, water and grasses that, as it turns out, is perfect habitat for moose.  So we went moose hunting.

Maintaining a careful distance from the moose so as not to spook them (harassing moose from a plane is illegal in Alaska), we started spotting them in the grass, in the woods, and in the water.  Dave, with much more practice at this than us, was almost always the first to spot an out-of-place brown lump that turned out to be a moose, and before the flight finished an hour later we had seen nearly two dozen moose, including eight or ten bulls with full antlers.  Very cool!  I did the best I could to snap pictures at 120 miles an hour through a window in a cramped space and present the following as my animal offering for the day. (Click on any picture for a slide show.)


So, today’s adventure included a trip to Chena Hot Springs, a bath for our bikes, flight seeing and airborne moose hunting (we were airborne, not the moose).  Oh but there’s more.  Dave and Vicki insisted on feeding us wholesome Alaska cuisine so we dined tonight at their house on moose steaks, fresh salmon and Alaska beer.  DSCF7291Oh, and one final note.  After we finished dinner and said goodbye to Vicki, the three of us chased down the best pie in the area which happens to be at the Hilltop Restaurant, about 30 miles north of Fairbanks.  I opted for Dutch Apple.  A 60 mile ride for pie at 8 p.m. is all part of the adventure.

This was a tremendous day in this year’s Alaska Adventure thanks to old friends Ruth and Steve and new friends Dave and Vicki.  THANKS AGAIN!

Day 16: The End of the Alaska Highway


(Note:  If you went to yesterday’s blog post early yesterday, it’s been revised.  Please check out the revisions.)

(Note 2:  Don’t forget to click on the photographs to enlarge them.)

Although I frequently note that Alaska Redux would take us to Fairbanks and that we’ve been riding the Alaska Highway for the past five days, the Alaska Highway officially ends not at Fairbanks but at Mile Post 1422 at Delta Junction, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks.  The stretch of road from Delta Junction to Fairbanks, decades before the Alaska Highway was built, was the northern end of the 368-mile Richardson Highway that connected Valdez and Fairbanks.

With that caveat out of the way, we reached both Fairbanks and the end of the Alaska Highway at Delta Junction today, important milestones in this year’s adventure.  I had warned Mark the Alaska Highway could be hard on motorcycles but he was determined to ride the entire route.  I was right about it being hard on motorcycles, though the only apparent damage this year was to my bike when a stone thrown by a passing RV cracked my Lexan windshield.  Mark’s bike is just filthy but will shine again with a little elbow grease and soap and water.

DSCF7175Today’s 13-mile stretch of road construction was relatively uneventful compared to yesterday’s 30+ mile public works project.  The wait for the pilot truck was only 10 minutes and the pilot in the truck maintained a steady 45-mph pace much of the time on a relatively smooth surface.  I decided that since I couldn’t beat the flaggers, I’d join them and went over to the dark side, forcing giant RVs to grovel in the gravel before me and the always-powerful STOP sign.

DSCF7187An abundance of ungulates marked today’s ride, as we were moosed on five separate occasions when five cows and five calves wandered down the sides of the roads and sometimes down the center of the road.  One cow was calfless, but another had apparently dropped twins last spring and the two young ones dutifully followed mom wherever she went.  DSCF7184

Fortunately for us, she was content to hang around for awhile to have her picture taken with her offspring.  The other cows and calves quickly disappeared into the nearby trees and bushes.  I’m still waiting for a big bull with a record-setting rack to show up for a photo shoot.

DSCF7181  DSCF7183

DSCF7194.jpgAt the visitor’s center at the end of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction I asked the helpful attendant if a decent eatery existed nearby going north to Fairbanks.  She recommended Rika’s Roadhouse, noting they had good sandwiches, soup, pie . . . .  ‘Nuff said.  We headed up the road in a light rain to Rika’s Roadhouse. This was yet another serendipitous find adventures are made of.  Rika’s Roadhouse, it turns out, is part of a state park and historic site on the Tanana River that has been there more than 100 years.  DSCF7200.jpgThe building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places, and a dozen more buildings on the grounds constitute the historic site, including a cafe with the well-hidden name of The Smiling Moose, which served excellent soups, strong hot coffee and gratifying blueberry pie.  (I say well-hidden because we didn’t learn the name of the cafe until after we left.)  DSCF7190After lunch and to help my pie settle, I strolled the grounds, eager to learn a little more about this piece of preserved Alaska history.  The Tanana River Crossing with its ferry had been important during the gold rush days in the early years of the 20th century and was a station for both road crews and the military after gold fever subsided.  The Roadhouse provided rooms and dining opportunities for travelers, miners and workers and went through several hands before being bought by Swedish-born Rika Wallen in 1923, who operated it until the mid-1940s.  While I didn’t linger long, it was a productive stop both in terms of pie and history, two of my favorite things.  I left Rika’s in an increasing rain that grew worse as we neared Fairbanks and that made riding difficult the last 10-15 miles.

Tomorrow, the sun will come out and we’ll see Fairbanks and the surrounding area.  Should be an interesting day.

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