Forty-six days, two countries, seven states, three provinces, and about 10,000 miles. That is certainly one way to look at what was probably the greatest motorcycle adventure of my life, but as with many things in life, numbers don't tell the whole story. San Francisco to Prudhoe Bay and back is where we went, but that doesn't do the trip justice either. The people you meet, the places you go, and the feeling one gets from accomplishing such an adventure are the real rewards that a person receives from a trip of this nature.
It's 9:00 AM on July 15,1996 in San Francisco and the group is set to go. The motorcycles are loaded up with all imaginable items: lawn chairs, beer coolers, axes, shotguns, tents, sleeping bags, and fishing poles just to name some of the gear we have decided to bring with us. Despite our pre-ride shakedowns we are all experiencing some teething problems and with all the last minute details it is hard to believe that we will be living off these bikes for the next two months.
We are four out of a group of eight bikes and nine people that are undertaking this journey. To my knowledge Prudhoe Bay is the northern most road accessible point in North America and it is our goal for the group. Some people plan to head back to San Francisco after that leg while some plan to head east. We are all veteran riders, most of us capable of riding 1,000 miles or more in a day. For myself, my brother Matt, and Ray it will complete the whole West coast of the continent of North America (From Cabo San Lucas to Prudhoe Bay) which we have ridden in the past year. The group will meet in Bellingham, Washington where we will board the Alaska Ferry on the 19th.
The four of us plan to ride the back roads all the way up to Washington, and have planned to stop two or three times. We ride up the coast in typical mid-summer drizzle. California Hwy. 1 is probably one of the greatest motorcycle roads on earth. The Hwy. hugs the coast from just north of San Diego to Leggit an hour or so south of Eureka, offering spectacular views, challenging turns, and good pavement. We travel north on Hwy. 1 until just after the town of Rockport where we take a small dirt road known as Usal road. Usal road is the dirt access road to a beautiful and isolated part of the California coast appropriately known as the "Lost Coast". The road is very rutted, and is marked by a "Closed in Winter" sign that tells me that our 7001b bikes will get their first real off-road test here. As I look apprehensively at my overloaded bike and the rutted road ahead and think to myself "better to find out now rather than later if it's going to hold up" and Ray says, "I told you this was going to be a Dual-Sport ride". Despite the numerous junctions in the road we all end up in the same spot and continue on the dirt to the town of Honeydew. This section of the Mattole river valley is rural N.Califomia at it's best. We continue down the valley towards Femdale, the sun is shining, and the road is surrounded by lush, fertile farmland. As we slowly start our climb from the coast to the fog our first incident happens. Two small deer dart across the road and cannot jump over the fence on the other side. I fly by on the brakes and wonder what will happen next. The deer motions back towards the road and Matt brakes hard to slow down, too hard for Greg, who was following close behind him. Greg's crashbar explodes Matt's hardbag but no one goes down. It takes an hour of metal manipulation and duct tape surgery, but soon the bag is in place and we are ready to go. In an hour or so we are enjoying the company of our friends Bill and Leslie and the comforts of their home.
We awake the next morning to a full day of "Twisties". Hwy. 299 to Hwy. 96, and up 96 to Happy Camp along the Klamath river canyon. From Happy Camp we head northwest on the O'Brien road to Oregon. Here we cross back into California on Hwy. 199 until we head north on Hwy. 101. We travel at speeds that allow you to cover ground and require full concentration, but we still manage to stop at a few spectacular views along the way. Soon it's getting dark and we make camp at Honeyman State campground in S. Oregon. Despite the $16 fee, it's a nice spot and we enjoy making camp for the first time. The sound of rain on the tent wakes us up and a day of rain and RV caravans awaits us. The multiple RV long Caravans specialize in uncourteous driving and it takes us the whole day of hareball passes to travel up the coast to Astoria. Here we make a stop at Greg's Grandmother's house for a quick visit. We travel along the Columbia river to Portland where we stay at Greg's parent's house which has the luxury of a heated garage which allows us to dry our drenched gear.
The next morning we set off to Bellingham in heavy rain. I count less than 20 minutes before my combination of Aerostich and rainsuit begins to leak. We are like a four bike freight train flying up Interstate 5 at 80mph all the way to Bellingham. Here we stay at my Grandmother Eleanor's home. She has decided to feed and house all nine of us for our day in Bellingham and she is a woman not to be refused. Soon we are all at the Ferry loading dock eagerly awaiting our adventure. There are some other bikes on the ferry, mostly touring bikes: Harleys and Gold Wings, but no one is attempting a trip like we are. As we load our bikes on the ferry (Bring your own tie downs), we feel the collective excitement of all the passengers on the Ferry. Some people are coming to Alaska to work, others to camp out, and some to live. Everyone is happy to be going despite the wet weather. There are lots of interesting people and we are soon engaged in all sorts of interesting conversations. There are people hitchhiking some hiking, riding bicycles, floating kayaks. There are families, single people, groups of friends and tour groups. There are a lot of foreigners of the ferry, I would say at least 2/3 of the total passengers. And these people, despite their multicolored outfits, are friendly and seemed well prepared for the trip ahead. Our ferry schedule was an odd one. Three days in Ketchikan, two in Petersburg, two and a half in Sitka. Then ferry to Haines where we would take three days to ride the 700 or so miles to Valdez where we would take our final ferry. Valdez, through the Price William Sound (re: Exxon disaster) to Seward. We always seemed to get on and off the ferry at odd times and that was a hassle, but we had a great time. The "inside passage" route the ferry travels is beautiful with thousands of forested islands and narrows along the way. The trip to Ketchikan takes 36 hours and we are practically bouncing off the walls when we get there. Ketchikan is a pretty small place by California standards, but quite large for Alaska. Best mode of transportation here is a float plane followed closely by a boat. Not much in the way of roads either, so the bikes are of limited use here. We camp at the Ward Lake campground, the fishing is great, on the first night Greg catches a large salmon and we have fresh fish every night in Ketchikan. There are a few cool local bars; the Potlatch, the Sourdough, and the Arctic Bar are the standouts. One thing we did miss was the ferry to Prince of Wales Island. This island is one of the largest in Alaska and supposedly has lots of roads and remote fishing.
Soon we are on the ferry again, this time to Petersburg which makes Ketchikan look big. The sun is out and after three days of rain our spirits rise. We camp 22 miles outside of town at Ohmer Creek. This place is representative of the whole Southeast Alaska region which is made up primarily of the Tongass National Forest. The predominate forest terrain is known as "muskeg" and it features a bog like soil that stunts the growth of trees and promotes a low forest canopy of lush ferns and moss. While quite beautiful, the "muskeg" is almost impassable in many places, making cross country vehicle traveling very dangerous. Luckily there are some dirt roads on this Island, in fact there is a National Forest recreational road called The Three Lakes Loop that goes by three isolated lakes in the "muskeg". The largest of these three connected lakes, Crane Lake, has two Forest Service boats for public use and the board path through the "muskeg" to the lakes is beautiful and impressive. The water is very warm, and we find a rope swing and put it to good use. After the climb out from the lake we are soon headed down the road when we spot The LeConte Glacier overlook We ride up the overgrown single-track to the lookout where we surprise a group of picnicking locals. We ask them if it is always this nice here, and they say that "it's only this nice a couple days a year" we smile and return back to camp and prepare to catch the Ferry in the morning.
The ferry ride to Sitka is the most spectacular of the trip. The sunshine is brilliant and this section of the "inside passage" is particularly majestic with giant snow-capped mountains looming above the forested isles. We meet a woman from SF named Liz who is traveling alone. She is quite interesting and soon she is adopted by the group. As the pilot expertly guides the ship through the Sitka Narrows we are treated to a spectacular sunset. We arrive at Sitka at almost 11 P.M. and the campground is locked and there is no obvious free (i.e. roadside) camping. we decide to wake the campground host up (not recommended) and he begrudgingly lets us in. Sitka is a picturesque town on Baranoff Island that has an old Russian Fort in it's center. It has small tourist section and a college, but is basically a fishing town. After talking to the locals we are told of two cool off-road bike trails in the surrounding area. One, Harbor Mountain road leads up to the top of Harbor Mountain which has an incredible view of the town and the adjacent countryside. The road is a twisty and narrow fire road with several switchbacks that are big fun for us. As we enjoy a couple of rum and cokes in the sunshine, we are joined by two women and their dog. They are nurses at the local hospital and ask us if we have seen any bears, we hadn't and they said that their dog might freak out if there is one, They have huge pepper spray guns in holsters which are called "Bear Magnums" and are only available in Alaska. Maybe that's why they decided to have a drink with us, and we all enjoy the moment for awhile. The way down is very tricky on our street biased tires (most of us are on Metzler Enduro 4's or Avon Gripsters) and we make in one piece, but Ray crashes hard during a coast race down the mountain later in the day, but only sustains minor damage (bars, bag bracket). The other off road adventure is at the other end of town and is the road to Blue Lake.
Blue Lake is the reservoir for the town of Sitka and the only way to get to the shore is a steep 4 wheel drive trail. Not an ideal BMW trail but we all make it and climb the cliff for the breathtaking view. The ride out is lots of fun too, but what is happening by the bay is the best of all. The Silver or " Pink" salmon have begun to run and soon the whole bay is thick with fish. Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, I don't know, but they were there jumping in the air and thrashing about as they prepare for their journey upstream to spawn. All good things must come to an end and so must our stay in Sitka.
We board the ferry to Haines early in the morning and arrive late at night. By this time we have had our share of Ferries and want to start riding, but at almost midnight we get off the ferry and find occupied signs at all the campgrounds. After a frustrating hour of trying to find a decent campsite, we settle for a large shoulder on the road and set up camp. Well, some of us do, Greg simply rolls himself up in his tarp, while the rest of us prepare for the cold night ahead. I awaken to the sound of a semi-truck and I soon manage to wake everyone up by riding my bike in circles around their tents and soon we're off. We cross into Canada with very little hassle at the border, and soon we are in the Yukon Territory headed north at almost triple digit speeds. We are on a road known as the Haines junction road which ends up in.... Haines junction. Here we gas up and get beer (Hi-test! eh) and travel on the Alaska highway for the first time. The Alaska highway is almost always under construction at some point during the summer because they can only work on it during this short period of time, so traveling on a motorcycle through the muck and the delay's can be quite an adventure. The road building technique of laying gravel several inches thick and then pouring hundreds of gallons of water on it creates a motorcyclists nightmare, and you have to treat it like a sand wash: hold on and gas it! We travel at speed between construction spots and make good time despite the conditions. Soon the eerie Kluane Lake appears and the road gets twisty for a bit but soon opens up again. We have planned to stop at Snag Junction campground for the night, but Ray and Matt motor by the turnoff. The rest of us stop and make camp amid the luxuries of a Canadian campground. Dry wood, good tent sites and rain shelters are the standards at Canadian campgrounds, which put US campgrounds to shame. It starts to rain, but only for a second. I make a high speed recon run into town and find Matt and Ray comfortably set at the Beaver Creek Lodge. I grab more beer and head back to camp.
We all regroup for breakfast in Beaver Creek preparing for the inevitable US border shakedown that never comes. To our amazement we are all waved across, and so we continue on the Alaska highway to Tok. Tok is a small town located at a major road junction. It's claim to fame is that it is the home to "Mukluk Land", the Disneyland of the north. Despite the excitement of Tok we head south towards our last ferry rendezvous in Valdez. The road south from Tok is called the Tok Cut Off and offers a spectacular view of the Wrangell mountains. This road also has some incredible "frost heaves" which are abrupt depressions in the road that occur during the freeze-thaw periods of the Spring and Fall. These are not quite "Vados" of Baja fame, but at the speeds we are traveling and with the loads we our carrying, the heaves completely bottom the suspension. Of course we could slow down, but that would not be much fun.
We stop at the Gakona Lodge to regroup. Ray and I are in the lead and we soon discover what a special place this is. The Lodge is an authentic lodge/roadhouse that was established in 1901 and has an authentic Alaskan feel. The roadhouse is a special thing in Alaska. There is a network of them all about 100 miles apart (The maximum distance one could travel in a day, at the time) that were designed to provide food and lodging and essential supplies to the early travelers and miners. I would highly recommend the roadhouses to all travelers out to see the "Real" Alaska . Ray plans to get a room here and after a few beers in the Trapper's Den Bar, Mike, Chris, Tim, and I head north to Sourdough campground to make camp. The rest of the group stays at the lodge and then is joined by a group of young Archeological students on a nearby dig and they keep the bar open till I quote " You boyz Are done Drinking.". Which also happens to be the closing time for bars in Alaska, 5:00 A.M.. When I show up the next morning to the stories of the previous night, I vowed not to miss a roadhouse again. In their intoxicated state the main group would be hours behind, so we decided to push on to Valdez. The rain begins and starts pounding down, there is over 100 miles to go, so I decide to go for it. In the pouring rain, the BMW shines and I leave the others far behind. I pass the Worthington Glacier and am forced to stop and gaze upon the blue colored ice for a moment before I jump back on the bike and head into Valdez.
Valdez is a touristy little town that has a sleazy reputation. It is here where the massive Alaska pipeline, the big money in this state, pumps it's black crude oil into ships which is the backbone of Alaska's economy and the source of the famous dividend check that all Alaskan's receive each year (Over $1100 last year) just for being there. Apparently it was quite a crazy town during the construction of the Pipeline project during the 70's. I find a local tavern, take off my rain gear and sit down to a pint and wait for the others to show up. While I gassed up outside of town the gas attendant told me that the cheapest decent place to stay in town was the Valdez Man-Camp. It was $36 per person. I figured that it was just for one night how bad could it be? Well, how does a 4-story quadruple-wide on stilts with communal showers and bathrooms sound? These beauties were brought in to house pipeline workers in the 70's and they still did. They were actually coed, but there weren't many women there I noticed. They weren't as bad as they sound, the room was clean, but if I wasn't soaked and it wasn't still raining I would have slept outside. As it was we cleaned up, and went into town to see what the local scene had to offer. We ended up in the bar I had found earlier where there was now a live band. We all have a memorable night of Partying in Valdez. We meet a couple of attractive Swiss backpackers and have a most enjoyable time trading Alaska stories. I return to the Man-Camp at around 4:00 AM in time for a two hour rest before our 6:00 AM ferry.
We all arrive late, but in time for the ferry. This is actually the only ferry ride that goes into the open ocean on our trip. There is a mechanical loading dock that spins you and then lowers you in. This is quite challenging with a serious hangover and we all had our moments on the loader. We all are so tired that we pass out in a collective heap for the first couple hours, but soon we are awakened by the forest service interpreter who tells us we are entering an ice field and we should check it out. She is a nice lady who can sympathize with our condition because she is feeling the way we are. On deck we are greeted with not only a very spectacular glacier and ice field, but Liz is here. By chance she is also on the ferry and we smile and all exchange hugs. After lunch I meet a young couple from San Francisco who are on their honeymoon. The girl bears an uncanny resemblance to my last girlfriend, and I cannot help but to talk with her. Her husband wanders around the ship while we have a nice conversation till I have to go. Matt and Greg are well into a bottle of the Captain when we line up for the loader as the boat lands in Seward.
We land in Seward relieved that we will not be riding on any more ferries. This little tourist town is nestled between glacier covered mountains and is a major cruise ship stop as well. We say good-bye to Liz and tell her that we are headed to Talkeetna, a town that an old friend of Greg's raises sled dogs in and the site of a bluegrass festival that upcoming weekend. She says she might see us there and we take off to rejoin the group in town. Matt promptly passes a stopped RV on the right followed by myself and Greg who passes me as well. His little flat track maneuver caught the sharp eye of a young Seward police officer driving an unmarked car who promptly moves in for the kill. Matt and Greg, in their Captain induced state, simply ride forward as the car motions me aside with Greg stopping and Matt continuing on at much more rapid pace as he becomes aware of the cop behind us. The young lanky 6'3" 20 year old with a shaved head aggressively moves toward us and asks for our license and registration, He tells us that he didn't like the way we passed all that stopped traffic like we were "something special". Greg swaggers back realizing that he reeks of alcohol and agrees with the officer and says that what he did back there was real "ugly". The officer says that if we have no warrants and if our bikes aren't stolen he'll let us go. A few minutes later he walks back and hands us our licenses and says, "Nice bikes, you guys can go now". Greg looks at me through his orange Peter Fondaesq glasses and grins, I grin back and we sit down and join the others, who missed the entire incident, for some incredible Halibut and chips.
After lunch we head north at a sedate pace. Matt is still lurking ahead, not knowing the result of our encounter with the local police. We soon find him and he insists that he had done nothing wrong, but just felt he'd hang out outside of town for awhile anyway. Ray has an appointment at the Anchorage BMW shop for Saturday morning and Tim's girlfriend, Kathy, is flying in later that same day, so we continue north past the Kenai Peninsula junction and camp at the small town of Hope. Hope is actually quite a nice place, sitting on the edge of the Cook Inlet with a view of the bright lights of Anchorage in the distance. All the campsites are full, so it's another group "free" camping night and we find a suitable spot for the group a couple miles up a nearby fireroad. After a very cold night, we rise early and head north in small groups. When you have a group this big. it's better to stagger in 2's & 3's, and so we plan to regroup in Anchorage.
Anchorage is so spread out it doesn't seem like a major city. Everything seems to be built like a blockhouse, and you see all ubiquitous corporate franchise signs that tell you that you're back in civilization, but something about it just didn't work for me. The BMW shop is pretty good to us after Ray spends $500 and they let Matt use their shop to change a leaky fork seal. The rest of us plan to do minor service in Fairbanks shop, and the Anchorage shop warns us about, " Crazy George". As we leave Anchorage headed north to Talkeetna, we realize that the bluegrass festival in Talkeetna is the Lollapalooza of Alaska. Streams of cars filled with 16-21 year olds going up for a massive party along with small groups of bikers and Volkswagen vans jammed with people. This of course both disturbed and intrigued us, but we were going to find out soon enough as Greg and I quickly attain cruising speed and furiously pass cars all the way to Talkeetna.
Talkeetna one of those towns that I felt comfortable in at first glance. A small row of businesses on each side of a dirt street, a few groups of houses at either end, a small airport (most towns in Alaska have one) and the river on the far end of town. We inquire at the local bar about Greg's friends and we are told they are at their summer home in Homer (on the Kenai, which we bypassed to see them here). As we sit down for a drink, Greg and I meet a group of women who work for BP and claim they can help us the get access to the Beaufort Sea (Which is restricted to private vehicles). After a few drinks the whole group moves up the street to a local cafe where we are joined by more people. Soon, Ray and Matt show to this mini-festival we are having on the streets of Talkeetna, some of the people are playing guitar and singing, and Ray immediately picks up a guitar and starts playing, leading the group on several songs from his Arlo Guthrie-Dylan-Dead repertoire. Soon we are caught in a singing, dancing, drinking vortex that lasts for two days. Some of the others actually make it to the festival outside of town, but I had such a good time there I never felt the need to leave. We made a lot of friends, some of whom we are still in contact with today. Talkeetna as it turns out is the base camp for climbers of Mt. McKinley (Denali) and lots of other adventures in Alaska as well. We fit right in amongst the unique populace. And of course Liz appears, she came up to check out the Bluegrass Festival and hang out with us, and soon Chris is able to convince her that she wants to ride with him on the P/D luggage rack north. We also meet some people who run a plane service and offer to get us a discount on a plane ride over Denali. We, of course, take them up on this and we are treated to an incredible death defying flight around Denali that almost made me lose my cookies. The Fairview Inn, the Talkeetna Roadhouse, and Talkeetna Air Taxi are definitely places to check out in Talkeetna.
The three days in Talkeetna were very memorable, but we had a schedule to keep. We barely were able to crawl out of Talkeetna on Tuesday the Sixth and now the rain was upon us. Ray is able to find a helmet for Liz in a nearby snowmobile shop and we headed off north to Denali National Park. The rain is constant but not heavy and soon we are at Denali. Like most national parks Denali is not very motorcycle friendly. There are no off road trails to ride on, and public vehicle access is restricted after 12 miles of the 80 mile road to the parks center. These facts combined with the rainy weather leads the group to decide to push on and head north. We ride to the historic railroad town of Nanana, which doesn't amount to much, and I experience the worst pancakes and coffee in my life at a local cafe. We leave early in the morning and plan to regroup at Circle Hot Springs. The whole group gets spread out and I just make it to Fairbanks in time to duck out of a huge thundershower and have lunch with Tim and Kathy. The rain lessons as we finish lunch and we set out for Circle Hot Springs. From Fairbanks it's about 128 miles to Circle Hot Springs, the first 30 or so are paved and then it's all dirt. The Steese Highway heads out of Fairbanks and goes all the way to Circle on the Yukon river. It's another Alaska style fire road that is in pretty good shape with only a few stutter-bump sections. The GS handles these roads well, and I am able to negotiate the scenic highway at full speed. Tim and Kathy fall back as the road climbs and bends its way above the Birch river. I don't see but one other car for the 100 miles to Central, and you can't help but get the feeling that you are truly in the middle of nowhere. At Central you make a right turn and travel eight miles on Circle Hot Springs road to the hot springs. Unfortunately the hot springs are developed, with the 137 degree springs being fed into an outdoor Olympic sized pool, but this allowed the group to sit in lawn chairs drinking cold beer, with the water up to our necks!. There are small cabins for rent surrounding the main lodge for $75 and also places to pitch tents. Mike, Chris and Liz have not shown up yet and we assume they stayed in Fairbanks because of the rain storm. We awake to brilliant sunshine, and Ray wants to make the run to Prudhoe now. We have heard horror stories of the infamous Dalton Highway in the rain and he feels we should just go for it. Prudhoe was the goal for Matt, Ray, Greg and I, but the rest of the group would be satisfied with the Arctic Circle, so we left the rest of the group and pushed on. After riding the 100 or so miles to Fox, Ray, Matt and I gas up here and leave Fox at 1:30 PM with Greg an hour behind after his extra 68 mile trip to Circle City and back. The first section of road north is the Elliot Highway which turns to dirt a few miles out of Fox and we follow it north for 73 miles where the Dalton begins. Here we encounter more of the Arctic road building technique of laying thick gravel, pouring hundreds of gallons of water on it, and letting the semi's pack it down. I have an encounter with a water truck that leaves me pissed off and covered with mud and when I pull over at the Yukon river Matt and Ray can't help but laugh at me. Suddenly the offending truck roars into view and not needing gas with my 10 gallon tank, I tear off in front of it. What happens next goes down as one of the greatest motorcycle experiences in my life. The road is fairly dry and open the bike tracks perfectly on the wide sweeping turns and roller coaster straightaways. The feeling of a drifting 7001b dirtbike is like no other and the speeds increase well into the triple digit area as we make a brief photo stop at the Arctic Circle, before continuing onward to Prudhoe. There is only one stop on the Dalton Highway and that's at mile 175 and is known as Coldfoot station. Here we discover a dinner buffet that is being prepared for a Princess tour bus that we passed awhile back We help ourselves to first pick and after an hour of grazing at the buffet Greg pulls up. I am able to make the last 234 miles to Prudhoe in one sitting, while the others are filling anti-freeze jugs with extra gas I blaze ahead. The Dalton out of Coldfoot is spectacular. The road approaches the Brooks Range and the terrain changes from rolling plains to mountains. The Arctic mountains aren't heavily forested but they are quite distinctive and beautiful. The highway climbs the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass ( elev 4750ft) where a herd of Dahl sheep are ambling across the road. After a swift descent there is tundra on either side of the road for as far as the eye can see and the pipeline Which though it parallels the Dalton, is not always visible) becomes visible. I pull into Prudhoe at around 10:30 P.M. the temperature seems to be about freezing and I soon begin to realize that Deadhorse( the town at Prudhoe Bay) is just bunch of metal pole buildings and trailers on stilts. This truly seems to be one of the more miserable places I have ever been. As I search for a bar or a cafe, I soon learn that there are none. Deadhorse is a dry town, and that's the way Arco and BP want to keep it. To my surprise I am flagged down by a young man whom I had passed several times in my recon of the town. He says that if I'm looking for my friends they're at the Arctic Caribou. I stammer back that I'm first one of our group and that my friends are behind me. He informs me that there are two BMWs at the hotel. To my amazement when I arrive at the hotel (another corrugated metal building on stilts) there are Mike and Chris' bikes. I have not seen them since two days before and the last place I expected to see them was Prudhoe Bay In fact they had previously said that they would be happy with just going to the Arctic Circle, so seeing them in Prudhoe Bay was a big surprise. They had taken two days to ride up, camping at the Yukon River the first night and then riding up from there to Deadhorse. Liz was still riding on the "rack" (Chris's bike has the Paris-Dakar solo seat so Liz has had to sit on the luggage rack for almost 600 miles of dirt road) and despite this she is in high spirits. I commend her on being such a good passenger and for sticking it out this far. The reality of this town is not so good, no alcohol, no camping, hotels are $100 a night and the only food is the cafeteria style food available in one of Deadhorse's two hotels. I knew coming up that it wasn't going to be Club Med, but it was even worse than I expected. Oh well, the point was to travel till the road ends and that we have done. In about an hour and a half the others pull up. Matt, Greg and Ray are also surprised at Mike and Chris for making it this far and soon we are all asleep with plans to leave first thing in the morning.
We awake to the sight of rain clouds and Mike and Chris are the first to leave. 'I leave alone, a little afternoon, and about 60 miles south of Prudhoe the rain starts. The road conditions deteriorate rapidly and the gravel surface soon becomes quite slippery and I am forced to reduce speeds to about 60 mph. When I reach Atigun Pass the rain has turned to snow and the visibility is down to about 25 yards. I manage to slowly creep down the other side as the snow turns into rain and the road improves a little. I am beginning to realize why this road has such a bad reputation, but I continue to follow the slippery surface requiem of keeping the bike upright and not braking or accelerating hard. As I crest one of the many rolling hills a little north of Wiseman I notice a large brown object ahead. Despite the wet conditions I manage to slowly bring the bike to a halt and suddenly realize that brown blur in front of me is in fact a large Grizzly Bear. The bear slowly turns towards me and my heart begins to beat very rapidly as I quickly go through my options. The overloaded bike would be very difficult to turn around quickly on this muddy surface and the bear could probably close the distance before I could complete the turn. The next major option would be to accelerate at the bear and a try to ride around it and finally the last option is to just sit and wait for the bear to make the next move. During this nanosecond while I weigh my options the Bear rears up on it's hind legs in classic Grizzly fashion and growls at me, my hearts races to near redline and I turn the bars to the steering lock in a vain attempt to turn the bike around should the grizzly charge me. I begin to tense up in this 15 second showdown when the bear drops down to four legs and races off the road and disappears. I slowly let the clutch out and count my blessings as I ride the last 20 miles into Coldfoot station.
I rendezvous with Mike Chris and Liz in Coldfoot. They are traveling at a slower pace but still are having to deal with the continually worsening road conditions. They finish lunch and decide to continue south while I wait for the next riders. The checkpoint system is really a good idea on this type of trip, especially when the group separates into smaller groups and it is easy to lose track of people. I wait about four hours and begin to worry. I really did not know what time Matt, Greg and Ray left Deadhorse but they should be here soon. Around 6 O'clock Ray arrives. He confirms the poor road conditions but says that Matt and Greg should not be far behind. Soon several hours go by and I start to worry. Unless both of them are involved in an accident than at least one of them should show up here. There are no wrong turns to make and they are both well prepared, but enough time has passed so I assume it's either a crash or a flat and they are having trouble repairing either. Around midnight they finally show up and my worst fears are confirmed. Matt has crashed at high speed about 80 miles out of Prudhoe. Apparently his bike hit a rock in the road and the rear end was kicked sideways at around 65 mph and his saddlebag grounded out which pitched him over the bars, a classic highside. After awhile Greg noticed that Matt was not behind him and went back in time to see Matt picking up his bike. Matt's bike cartwheeled resulting in major dam. The-headlight bucket/gauge holder was destroyed and the front forks and frame bent. The other saddlebag was damaged and the rear subframe was hideously twisted. Matt hit his head hard ripping the visor off his helmet, and scuffing it significantly. Matt also suffered a deep cut on his hand and another on his elbow despite his protective gear. The bike despite it's damage is rideable( not for everyone) and he manages to make it into Coldfoot in a state of shock. The EMT there suggests an airlift to Fairbanks, but Matt say's that he won't leave his bike here, and besides he has already ridden over 200 miles in this condition so what's another 200. We spend the night is Coldfoot to allow Matt to rest up and we are off early the next morning.
The rain was steady all night and the road surface reflects it. As we start down the Dalton the extremely muddy road surface makes for slow traveling. It takes all my concentration just to keep the bike upright and traveling in the right direction. Despite all of this, I still run into trouble. About 20 miles south of Coldfoot I approach an unusually smooth looking section of road and to my horror the smooth looking road is in fact a large section of soupy mud. It's too late to try and change my approach and I enter into the section at over 50 mph. The result is that I am suddenly thrown sideways and am headed off the road and into the tundra. I desperately try to throw the bike the other way but I am already down with my bike halfway in the ditch, but luckily not in the soft tundra. Since I had just filled up my 10 gallon fuel tank, my bike is incredibly heavy, and the soupy mud makes it almost impossible for me to get the bike upright. So I unload my gear and try to wrestle the bike back onto the road and it starts to rain harder which compounds my misery. Luckily, the GS is a good motorcycle to crash, in that the crash bars protect the engine and because of the opposed head design I am able to flip the bike onto the other side, and drag it until it's pointing uphill. At this point I am able to push the overloaded beast onto the road and reload the bike. While I am pondering my situation Ray approaches and as he tries to slow down in the mud, he almost crashes. After seeing that I am okay he positions himself before the mud section in order to warn the others. By the time Matt and Greg show up I am still a little shaken, but ready to go. The next almost 200 miles are some of the most difficult motorcycle miles I have ever encountered. In fact if the road conditions were this bad on the way up, our trip would have been much different. I am confident that we would have pushed on and made our goal, but it would have been sheer misery. We regr6up in the town of Fox a few miles north Fairbanks and decide to stay in town for a few days. Matt goes to the Hospital to get his wounds cleaned, while the rest of the group gets rooms in a hotel in order to dry off and prepare for the rest of the trip.
Fairbanks is an interesting town for a lot of reasons. I believe it's the second largest town in Alaska and it was during WW II when Fairbanks was a major transfer point for, lend-lease supplies going to the Soviet Union that Fairbanks grew into a major town. Fairbanks is home to the University of Alaska and has some college town feel to it. There also in a very unique BMW shop known as End of the Trail BMW. The sole owner/proprietor, George, would rather let you work on your own bike and just sell you the parts and will even give you the space to do so! George was invaluable in helping Matt repair his bike enough to continue with the trip. I would caution those that actually go to the shop to be prepared to be flexible, it's not Burger King. You can't have it your way, it's George's way or the Highway! Fairbanks has it's share of interesting places. For accommodations I would recommend the North Woods Lodge where one can either pitch their tent or rent a small room, or sleep in a hostel type shared room. There are a few interesting bars, but the Howling Dog in Fox is where the locals go to party. In Fairbanks our group splits up. Mike and Chris have to head back to SF on the Alaska Highway. Tim, our ride leader, had mechanical problems and did not make it to the Arctic Circle. Paul and Tara made it to the Arctic Circle despite the rain and a flat tire. Liz leaves to go Halibut fishing in Homer and Tara has to fly back to SF and so now we are down to six bikes and six riders. Our time in Fairbanks coincides with the Alaska State Fair and it provides a welcome break from the trip for our three day stay in Fairbanks. At the fair we meet Kristoff and Sylvia. They are an interesting couple from Switzerland who are fellow motorcycle adventurers and have ridden their well broken in R80GS all the way from Florida. They had been to the West Coast before and Ray remembers meeting them in the Bay Area some 10 years prior. We are headed the same direction and plan to meet along the way.
On August 13 we leave Fairbanks. Greg and I are in front and the others plan to be one day behind. By this time the condition of our motorcycles has become an issue. Both Greg and I have completely blown our suspension. Both front fork seals and the rear shock have begun to seep fluid. I put a new rear tire on in Fairbanks, but Greg continues to run his old rear, and carries my old tire as a spare. We both changed our oil and air filters and the bikes continue to feel at home at our 80mph cruising speed. Greg and I fly down the Richardson Highway back to Tok, where we gas up and get head to up the dirt Taylor Highway towards Chicken, Alaska on our way to Dawson City. The rain has stopped and the weather turns clear and cold as night approaches and we start up the Taylor. This road is in fair condition despite the rain and is a piece of cake compared to the Dalton. We keep riding all the way to Chicken where we hope to find the Saloon still open, but as we arrive in this three shack town the Saloon door is slammed shut and a gruff, Alaskan looking man tells us that "There ain't nothing warm in there anyhow" but that we can pitch our tents out back and directs us to a stack of firewood that we can bum. We thank him and he leaves and we have a cold night despite the wood. The next morning we awake to the beginnings of the RV caravans that pass through Chicken. We quickly break camp and get a cup of coffee at the Chicken cafe and do our best to put a smile on the face of the haggard looking woman working there, who is trying watch her two children and wait on the half dozen people in the cafe. We leave Chicken and head north to Eagle, Alaska on the Yukon river. This is an extra 120 mile dirt road round trip but Eagle is an historic town and Greg wants to go, so we do. While Greg and I are stopped on the side of the road discussing safety issues, Kristoff and Sylvia pull up. We ride together into Eagle and have lunch on the banks of the Yukon. The city is quite small but as with many Yukon river towns has huge cliff s looming on either side of the river and is quite impressive looking. It starts to rain so we head back the narrow, twisty dirt road and ride toward Dawson City via the Top of the World Highway. After being waved through one of the smallest border crossings I have ever seen by a cheerful Canadian woman, we are soon on the Top of The World Highway. Once you see this road it is obvious why they named it. It is a wide, gravely, partially paved road that snakes along the top of a ridge with rolling green valleys beneath it on either side. I had to stop and soak in some of this scenery and as Greg and I sitting off the road, Ray approaches in the distance. We then speed off at high speed through the sharp turns with no guardrails all the way to Dawson City. At Dawson City we cross the Yukon liver on a free 24hr government river ferry that resembles a landing craft in both appearance and operation. Once in Dawson City we see the small city furiously preparing for the 100 yr Anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush with a three day festival called "Discovery Days". The Prime Minister of Canada is supposed to make an appearance so while the town prepares for the festival, we make camp at the Yukon river campground on the other side of the river.
Dawson City is most famous of the Yukon gold rush towns and it is hard to believe that at the turn of the last century over 30,000 people lived there. The area surrounding the town is full of interesting gold dredges and ghost towns reminiscent of the long since passed mining boom. There is a large mountain behind the town known as the Midnight Dome and the lookout on top of the mountain provides a spectacular view of the river junction and the town below. The dome is also a favorite local spot to watch the sunset and hangout so there are always interesting people to meet there. Later in the day Matt, Tim, and Paul show up with a surprise guest. An old .friend, Brian Jack happened to be in Chicken when they passed through. Brian rides a highly modified and unique R80GS and when Matt saw the bike sitting outside the Chicken cafe he instantly knew whose it was. I won't get into the odds of seeing another motorcyclist in Chicken, let alone one that you know, so it makes for quite a memorable moment when Brian appears. The festival is in full swing and Friday and Saturday are epic nights of partying, which along with riding are this groups strong points. I almost get thrown in jail for drinking in public, Bonz and Greg end up passed out on the ground, and for the record we did what the locals call, "Doing the Dawson". We wake up on Sunday morning to a sky full of rain clouds and intense hangovers as we slowly break camp and prepare to head south.
The Klondike Highway south from Dawson is quite a good road. It is a paved two-lane highway that allows us to reach our standard cruising speed. A little south of Dawson city is the Dempster Highway which leads to Inuvik One day earlier Ray rides the 500 mile round trip to the Arctic Circle and back becoming the only ride member to cross the Arctic Circle twice. There is an interesting roadside exhibit on the Six Finger rapids, the most dangerous on the Yukon river, which I stop briefly at before continuing south on the Klondike towards Whitehorse, which is the Yukon's largest city. On the outskirts of town disaster strikes my bike. The charging light comes on and I notice that I have a nail in my new rear tire that is slowly leaking air. Suddenly my head is filled with worry, but it is dark now and I can deal with the problems in the morning.
One of the problems of traveling with a large group of people(now 7 with the addition of Brian) is where to stay. People always have different preferences based on different needs, so with our group half usually stayed above the bar and the other half either camped out or laid low outside of .town. I spent time equally with both contingents and on this particular evening I was definitely above the bar- Whitehorse is known as a party town so there were live bands at several bars downtown and we passed from one to another. I meet an interesting girl named Andrea. She is part native and is stunningly beautiful with dark skin and near waist length jet black hair. We exchange smiles and small talk and enjoy the evening together. I tell her about our trip and that it's my birthday and that my bike has just broken down. She invites me on a tour of the town, which I cannot refuse. I wake the next morning to pouting rain and my ailing motorcycle. My charging rotor has failed on the bike and I cannot get one locally, but possibly in Montana. The solution is to disconnect all my lights and switch batteries at night with Greg. I plug my tire and soon we our off down the road. We roar down the Alaska Highway, crossing the Continental Divide several times and going through several long sections of road construction before reaching the Cassiar Highway. At the turnoff we regroup and choose Deese Lake as our destination. Ray, Brian and I tear off and have a three way dice down this incredibly scenic Highway with seemingly hundreds of I lakes on either side of it. The last section of road into Deese Lake is under construction and is quite rough. When we pull into Deese Lake I shut my bike off while we wait for the others and soon realize the limit I can travel on my battery. The battery is too low to electric start, but I am still able to bump start the bike(with a little help from Brian) and it will run long enough to find a room at a local hotel. To our luck we find a hotel that is under construction and we are able to negotiate lodgings at a very reasonable price. I also luck out when I mention my problem of my non-charging battery. The owner, an older English-Canadian fellow and his wife, have a complete tool collection and in it is a amp battery charger. Soon my bike is on the charger and we walk to the local bar for a quick beer before making it an early night.
The morning is gray and drizzling as we put on rain-gear and depart. The road conditions are very poor with lots of wet gravel. I almost run out of gas trying to travel the whole Cassiar in two tanks, crawling into the Bell on fumes. My bikes starts running poorly as we approach the Mezidan junction, where the road junctions towards Stewart B.C. and Hyder, Alaska. I opt to continue on towards the main road, while the others head toward Stewart. Apparently I missed a great road and the sight of bears fishing in the river at this remote US-Canada border town that has no customs check. This cut-off is not to be missed if one gets a chance to travel on the Cassiar. Like in life, traveling is something that you want as few regrets about as possible, so when in doubt about anything I say: Go for it!
Paul and Tim finally show at the Cassiar/ Hwy 16 junction, where I have been anxiously awaiting them. I felt the need to start nursing my bike after thousands of miles of abuse and several thousand to go home and I start thinking of possibly heading home early with Paul and Tim. They plan to head south towards Vancouver and then go straight down 1-5 all the way home. The thought of 1-5 after this trip of backroads loomed against the state of my ailing motorcycle. Matt, Greg, Brian, and Ray haven't appeared but it's getting late and I can only travel by day so we decide to take off. We head down Hwy 16 east to we get to the town of Bums Lake. Dark is approaching and there is supposedly a campground in town, so we stop at the local gas station and I ask If I can charge my battery for a little while. The baseball cap wearing teenager was listening to Metallica and working on his car when I pulled up. As soon as I had told him I was from San Francisco and coming back from Alaska he gave me run of the garage. Soon my battery was charging and I was entertaining "Russ" and his friends with stories about California and the trip. The kids are quite impressed with our trip and soon vow to provide us with anything we want while we our in Bums Lake. They direct us to the free campground in the center of town and take off to gather supplies for us. Paul and Tim head to the campground to set up camp and I wait for the others at the station with Russ. He tells me of dreams of leaving this little town and going to Vancouver, but adds that realistically hell just stay here in Burns Lake where he knows everyone. Eventually the others show up. Ray wants to head into Prince George and enjoy some nightlife and get a hotel room. Brian follows Ray into the city while Matt, Greg and I go to visit with Tim and Paul before making our decision. When we arrive at camp Bonz has a roaring fire going and while we warm ourselves, the "Kids" start arriving. They arrive in a fleet of beater cars and have come beating gifts. Beer, food, and other goodies for the weary, partying strangers. We assure them that people in California don't think they live in igloo's and tell them that it actually isn't sunny all the time in California, especially in San Francisco. They are relived to hear all this and after a while the dozen or so kids that have been surrounding our fire abruptly get up and say a collective good-bye then jump in their cars and take off with a spree of doughnuts and burnouts.
The cold awakes us early and we break camp and get back on the road. We arrive in Prince George, a sprawling semi-depressed river town of over 30,000 people and try and find Ray and Brian. Soon we are downtown at a biker bar/strip joint/hotel/restaurant where low and behold we find our missing friends. We enter in time to see the tail end of the breakfast show. One odd thing about pubs like this in Canada. It seems like there isn't as much strip-joint stigma here as in the US. It is quite common to see both men and women of many different ages eating and drinking in these establishments. In fact there was an elderly couple eating breakfast while the morning show was happening right in front of them! I can say my Grandmother would never eat breakfast with a stripper in front of her. It seems Brian and Ray found this place the night before and soon we were entertaining the bar with tales of our trip. Unfortunately the local lads weren't too fond of strangers talking to the girls, but luckily we were able to defuse the situation nicely. A note of caution for the traveling motorcyclist: try to be aware of the local dynamics when you enter small towns. You might be there for one or two days, but these people live there and that should be factored into your decision making process.
After a night on the town where luckily no one gets killed by the hard drinking locals we head east towards Jasper. The weather is dark, damp and cold as we begin to enter the Rocky Mountains on the way to Jasper. In Jasper we again cross paths with Canadian P.M. Jacques Chriten. Ray actually shook his hand in Dawson City and now he is here in Jasper. The RCMP have blocked the road into town for security reasons and the local campgrounds are full so we decide after a late lunch to head south to Lake Louise on the Ice Fields Parkway. The scenery on this section of road is as spectacular as any on the trip. The snow covered craggy mountain peaks on either side of the road lead into to huge fields of ice. We stop at the ice fields visitor center where the tourists are taken out in huge tracked vehicle to view the fields. Here we become separated and I am forced to follow Ray in the dark all the way into Lake Louise. We had planned to camp before the Lake but when we got split up I did not want to be left in the dark and not be able to start my bike. We arrive in Lake Louise Campground to find it full. Ray books himself into the last room in the Hostel and Matt, Greg, Brian and I are forced to fend for ourselves. We ride all over the Lake and Park area before being forced out of necessity into setting up camp after midnight in the bare dirt parking lot known as the Lake Louise overflow campground. We spend probably the coldest night of the trip on the rocky lot and wake early and prepare for the day. We breakfast after riding past the Lake. Lake Louise is truly as lovely and breathtaking as everyone says it is. After breakfast Brian heads east before heading south into Montana, so we say our good-byes and head south towards Banff. The sun is out and the Rocky Mountain peaks surrounding Banff are spectacular as we arrive in this storied international resort town, We soon occupy deck of a downtown restaurant and enjoy cold beer amid the heat. Our bikes gather their own crowd of admirers and some of the local motorcyclists come by for a visit. Banff has an incredible old hotel in the center of town and on the hill above the town are public hot springs. We spend a few hours in Banff before making the decision to head south and try and find some of the natural, undeveloped springs that are plentiful in this region. We follow Hwy 93 south and pass by Radium Hot Springs and Fairmont Hot Springs. These are developed "Hot Spring Resorts" that are quite nice, but popular and expensive. We craved for the natural experience and were determined to find it. A quick discussion with a local gas station attendant( always a key source for local info) and we have our choice of sites. We choose White Swan Lake which is about 25 clicks(km) from the main road. On this road there are some incredible natural hot springs, the kind we wanted the whole trip, about half way to the lake. We meet some locals at the springs that tell us that these are okay but that the "Hotties" are the Springs near Premier Lake another 30km down the road. After enjoying the springs we set up camp at White Swan Lake. we awake in the morning to a spectacularly beautiful lake with a high peak above it known as Packrat Point, The site is so beautiful we have a hard time leaving it and begrudgingly decide to leave the lake and head south towards the US. I would like to mention that this area around Banff is one that deserves a special trip of its own and we surely have missed a lot in our "Blitzkreig" tour of the area. Our plan now is to travel east off Hwy 93 back into Alberta and go through Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and head into the Montana on the east side of Glacier National Park in order to travel west on the famous "Going to the Sun" road through the Park. Once again we wind the big twins up to cruising velocity and the three of us ( Ray left ahead of us) cross the Rocky Mountains on Hwy 3. 1 am stunned at the contrast of crossing the mountains, which we have spent so much time in, and entering the Great Plains. I look as far as I can see and all I see are rolling grass plains to the horizon. I look back at the mountains we are leaving and wonder how impressive this sight must have been to the settlers or the first people who saw the seemingly endless plains end in the majesty of these mountains. But I have always been a mountain person and am skeptical of the flatlands. We resupply the coolers with beer in Pincher Creek and travel south towards the mountains. We arrive in Waterton Park to familiar summer tune of full campgrounds. Nothing is more upsetting than a full campground when its late at night and you want to make camp. Fortunately for us there are two nearby private campgrounds, and one of them, Waterton River Park, has hot showers and is along a small creek. We find a choice spot and barbecue steaks and enjoy the warm weather. In the morning we have a greatly needed shower and head off for the US border crossing at Chief Mountain. The thought of entering the US brings mixed feeling to us. It signifies that our adventure in coming to an end, but also that we reached all our goals to this point. I am worrying about the poor condition of my bike, but the bottom line is: If you twist the throttle and point it down the road, it goes just fine(provided the battery is charged). We approach the seasonal Chief Mountain crossing and the grizzled Border guard asks us to shut off our motors. I begin to mentally prepare for the full US customs harassment, when he smiles and waves us through after we tell him that we are all US citizens. When I go to bump start my bike to save power, he growls that I Should have bought a Harley', I smile and tell him that he's right and think about the horror of riding a Harley on the sloppy Prudhoe Bay road.
We leave the Chief Mountain border crossing and head south. We are all psyched for Montana. The thought of no speed limits has been dancing through our heads since it was announced, and now we are actually there to enjoy this newfound freedom. However it is a very short and twisty run to the park entrance and soon we are "Going to the Sun" on one of the most spectacular roads one will ever travel. Despite the tourists, park police, and the view we still manage a brisk pace up and over this small road that is perched precariously on the edge of the mountains. The road descends down to the shores of Lake MacDonald where we take a couple of closed road detours until we find an isolated spot on the lake to enjoy a snack and a swim.
We then depart on south Hwy 2 through the town of Bigfork before taking Hwy 83 south to Hwy 200 and then into Missoula. The weather is almost unbearably hot and we have been traveling well in excess of 100 mph, passing several State Troopers without incident. A word on Montana, apparently the speed limit is entirely at the officers discretion, so don't think you can speed recklessly anywhere at anytime. The fatal accident rate has apparently shot up since the removal of speed limits, and from what I hear there will soon be a speed limit in Montana, However we are at the throttle stop during our time in Montana and enjoy it immensely. We stop briefly to contemplate our next move in Missoula, a nice looking college town that has a BMW shop, but decide to push Our next major destination is Sun Valley, Idaho where some very good friends live. I visited there the previous summer and I'm looking forward to some rest, recreation, and their battery charger. Ray has been in front of us since White Swan Lake. It seems that no one rides enough for Ray, so he left a few hours in front of us, and we have not seen him since, but expect to see him in Sun Valley. Night comes on quickly and soon we are forced to stop because of my lack of lights. We grab a hotel in Hamilton, Montana about 40 miles north of the Idaho border. Cable TV and a hot tub are very decadent pleasures, but we feel that we deserve them at this point, and Greg waits around the comer while Matt and I get the room.
Early on the morning of August 24, I am outside in cold morning air doing my battery switch routine. A constant loss BMW is not a good thing, and I want my lights, heated grips, but at least it's holding together. Hwy 93 south runs from Canada all the south to past Interstate 80. The section of Hwy 93 we are on is one of the best. We cross the 7,300 ft Chief Joseph Pass into Idaho with smiles of our faces as the road tightens and we are back in full concentration mode as we travel down the 93 to the town of Salmon. This is a small classic American small town and we have lunch in a cafe before tiding the last almost 200 miles into Ketchum (Sun Valley). We follow the 93 south until the town of Challis where we turn onto Hwy 75. Here the road parallels the Salmon river and before you get to Stanley. Be sure to stop in at the hot springs along side the river where you can jump right from the hot pools into the ice cold Yankee fork of the Salmon and give yourself a jolt. We pass right through Stanley and continue south on 75 into the Sawtooth Mountains. We are now in the Sawtooth Mtns National Recreation area and the distinctive mountains ridges indeed look like the sawtooth ridges of a saw. We stop to visit the Beaver Creek lodge, where an elderly Swiss woman an and her daughter have run the lodge for many years, and this is a very unique place to stop for a beer. We head over the Galena Summit and down the hill into Ketchum. In fact there is no town of Sun Valley. Sun Valley is the name of the resort a mile outside of town and the town is named Ketchum. Anyhow this is an exclusive place to live and the sprinkling of million dollar houses and golf courses that spring out of nowhere in this small, narrow valley give one the indication of what a wealthy town this actually is. In my previous trip to Idaho I had spied out the local haunts, and so we are well prepared to investigate the scene upon are arrival. Soon we are enjoying tall Hefeweizens on the back desk of Lefty's Bar and Grill. This is the local skier hangout and in the summer is the place where the locals tend to go. The other interesting local bar is called Grumpy's and features a built in laundry mat. Anyhow we hang in Lefty's for a few minutes and soon we have met the local gang and after a few beers plan to get together later for more festivities. I call my friend John, and he is excited to hear from me. Apparently Ray has already called and we head down the road about 1 0 miles to the town of Haliey. This was once a pretty run down town, but since the arrival of actor Bruce Willis and his wife, Demi Moore, they have bought up and fixed up some of the major businesses in town, giving Hailey a spruced up image. My friends are an interesting case. He's an artist and she's a photographer. They have lived in Paris, New York, San Francisco, and now Hailey? It doesn't seem to matter much because they are so absorbed into their work and their pets that they rarely do anything outside their routines anyhow. John and I are both avid Mtn Bikers and the Sun Valley area offers incredible single-track trails, some which are open to motorcycles. I have gone almost two months without serious cardiovascular exercise and despite the elevation ( 6,500ft) am ready to go. It's the end of the rental season and we are all able to rent very high-end Mtn Bikes and head for the trail. We choose the popular Addams Gulch ride and plan to drag the group up the backside known as "Heart Attack Ridge". Just as we approach the climb we are hit with an incredible hail storm-n that forces us to go scrambling back to the car. In ten minutes the storm-n has passed and we are covered with sunlight and we make the climb and enjoy an epic downhill back to Ketchum. Ray is anxious to get back and I want to stay for one more day of riding and make the I day blast back to San Francisco. Ray, Matt, and Greg ride back up the 75 to Stanley and head west on Hwy 21. 1 missed another section of twisty road but John, Dawn, and their dog, Monday, and I make the trip north to do the incredible Fisher Creek Mtn bike loop which is a world renowned 17 mile loop with banked single track and incredible vistas. I let my battery charge for two days and prepare to leave the next morning. I load my bike up and wonder if I can tide the 800 miles back in one charge of the battery. Since Greg has left, I have no battery to switch and I am on my own completely. I figure I can reach Reno in one shot, but how much more? I leave Hailey at around 8:00 A.M.. and motor down the 75 till it merges with the 93. Here Hwy 93 goes south crossing the Snake river at Twin Falls. Here is the site of Evil Knevil's failed attempt at jumping the canyon. I think I had the "play set" when I was a kid. Seeing the canyon in person makes me finally understand what kind of nut Knevil actually was! The trip south on the 93 to 1-80 is flat and boring. I thought I said to never take the main roads, well I did, so do as I say not as I do. I cross into Nevada at the town of Jackpot and continue south on the desolate Hwy 93, keeping the throttle almost pegged. The temperature is around 110', and I am totally overheating in my Aerostich, which I stubbornly refuse to take off , and despite the heat, the bike just keeps on going. The PI D now seems to be leaking from every orifice. Fork oil, engine oil, transmission oil, shock oil, they all seem to be coming out! I try to tie rags around the fork lowers, and one around the rear shock to try and stem the tide, but it doesn't help very much. I approach Reno in a weary state, barely crawling into town on both reserves after another of my senseless mileage experiments almost leaves me stranded. I pull into the local Chevron and lumber off into the air conditioned oasis. I quickly strip off my suit and get some much needed water. I'm just beginning to return to non-mal when the door opens and the door swings open and three young girls walk in. They smile at me and comment that they like my motorcycle and that I should come to the "Burning Man" with them. I had known that the "Burning Man", a psycho-active gathering in the Black Rock desert, was occurring this coming weekend and since it was Thursday these girls were off to make an early start. I thought about the psycho-active mayhem of "Burning Man" on my travel weary body and motorcycle and regrettably decline their offer. I mount up, hopefully for the last time, and head back to 1-80 and home. The bike is flying along when I notice that my clock has stopped moving. After the charging system failed I was able to unplug all the drains off the battery except the clock, and now it has stopped. The bike begins to cut out and I coast off the road at the next chance and head to the gas station. They have no charger but the next station 1 0 miles down does. I get a bump start and soon I am crawling down the road hoping I can make it to the next stop. Miraculously, I make it to the next stop at a gas station with a garage in Dutch Flat and soon negotiate a $7 charging fee. I figure that it will take at least two hours for the battery to charge. It was after 3 now and it was sure to be dark when I arrive in San Francisco. I spend ten of my last $20 on lunch at a lodge across the highway. Two hours later I stick the battery in, despite the fact that it has taken very little charge, and I'm off. Soon I am racing through Sacramento and am confronted with the familiar tactics of banzi California drivers as I head into San Francisco. Something about coming home across the Bridge at night. I have done it many times after returning from trips and yet I find it special each time. The lights of the city, the crisp ocean air, yeah I love this town and I'm back.
Returning home after a trip is hard. My bags were packed for weeks. I knew that I could set up camp in the dark in less than 10 minutes. I knew that I was capable of riding thousands of miles and making it home. I also realized that I was capable racking up thousands of dollars in bills, and yes, I guess it was time to be back. Well I'm not getting rich these days so the next Big Adventure is postponed in favor of a series of smaller adventures that I hope to be able to share with you at various points. In the meantime I will always have Alaska on my mind and the memories of what an incredible adventure that trip was.
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