The trip to Alaska was 10 years in the making.
Had been looking for a sidecar rig that offered trip options without limits. Had experimented with a Ural Patrol. Liked the rig and had a great ride on it through New England and up Mt Washington. It was great on back roads but when we had to get on the Garden State Parkway I had concerns about its ability to operate in high speed traffic.
Found Claude Stanley and by chance and he had one of his rigs in the shop. Spent the afternoon with him talking about bikes and trips while looking at his rig. Decided to go ahead and have him built me one.
Did a number of shake down trips ( Daytona Bike Week, Dallas, TX for a wedding ) without any problems. Decided Prudhoe Bay, AK was the next test before taking the bike on an extended trip out of the country.
Also decided to test my camping gear on this trip. Had been collecting and testing gear that would fit compactly on the rig and provide for a comfortable outdoor living experience. Especially interested in preparing and eating good food. Bought a small Engels refrigerator that fits beautifully in the back of the chair and uses only a few amps during the evening so that the battery was not drained in the morning. Also bought a solar panel to power the fridge when I was in camp for extended periods so that I could power the fridge or recharge the bike battery. Worked great.
Rode cross country on super slab heading to San Diego, CA. Did some fine tuning of the camping gear at the REI store there. REI has become my favorite store. Go into the store with gear that I used to come cross country, explain to the clerk why I didn't think a piece of gear was quite right. With a smile on his face he supplied an exchange or refund for all the items I questioned. Why shop anywhere else?
Picked up my partner Bill at the airport and we head up Rt 1. Spectacular. Beautiful beach towns, people out biking, running, playing volleyball, flowers, views of the Pacific, twisting roads, great food.
Among the places we camped was Richardson Grove in northern CA. Trees are gigantic soul rechargers for me. To camp under a couple thousand year old Redwood was like being hot wired to the sun.
Then on to Olympic National Park in WA. Great camping in old growth forest with our own private beach by the river. Great hiking along the river and up Wagon Wheel Trail.. Not prepared for the snow at the top of Wagon Wheel, we were hiking in sandals, so came back down the mountain.
On to Mt Rainer. Great switch backs up the mountain dancing between rain clouds, shafts of sunlight and snow flurries. Beautiful old lodge at Paradise and, amazingly, the clouds parted and we got a view of the summit of the mountain.
Had the bike serviced in Seattle at Ride West. They did a great job on the bike and changed the tires. I had ripped one of my BMW boots so they replaced them, no charge. Nice!
Had to go to the original REI store in Seattle, just because. Got a new rain jacket for hiking. Great store. Caught the Alaska Maritime Ferry in Bellingham, WA. We had purposefully not reserved a cabin so we could camp on one of the upper decks. Met up with a group of guys from Germany who were also planning on riding up to Prudhoe Bay. Walter, the oldest brother, an American citizen and baker in Sacramento, CA had bought and serviced enough used BMW bike's so his German brothers and friends could all fly into CA and ride together to Alaska. Great bunch of guys.
Off the ferry at Haines Junction and our first sighting of Grizzly bear yearlings. We had gotten used to seeing countless bald eagles, perched, soaring, fishing while on the ferry. On to Fairbanks with roadside Moose. We quickly learned that the weather report can say whatever it wants but it's going to rain.
The Dalton Highway started off wet. Our first stop for construction showed us how bad mosquitoes can be if we stopped moving. When it was our turn to go we headed down a hill with a right hand turn, except the bike just slid straight down. Released the brakes, let the tires reattach and we made it around the turn. Lesson learned, the wet calcium carbonate road really is as slippery as everyone says it is.
The Dalton Highway exceeded all our expectations for grandeur, solitude, wildlife, food ( great apple pie at the rest stop just north of the Yukon River ) and expensive accommodations ( $200.00 for a sleeping cubicle). We dodged road rocks and ruts, moved as far to the side of the road as possible for passing trucks to avoid rocks coming off their tires, raced storm clouds, twisted through the Brooks Range.
I lost count of how many rainbows we saw.
The tundra landscape was new for me.
Coming north the landscape was continually reducing, trees getting smaller and fewer. Then the mountains became hills and then it was just flat with a mat of plants about 12" tall. Really cool to walk out on the tundra because it is so soft.
Wanted to stop and fix a hot lunch but we had heard too many stories of grizzlies smelling food from miles away so we pushed on to Prudhoe..
The only way to experience the Arctic Ocean in Prudhoe is to take one of the tours. The oil companies are concerned about security and grizzly bears. There was a giant grizzly right by the stop for the short walk to the ocean.
We scrambled out of the van, waded in the water ( no waves, not even a ripple, bizarre ) and then got back in the van.
The ride back down the Dalton was even more beautiful than the ride up. I was confident of the rig and so spent more time looking around. The herds of Caribou and Musk Ox were great. Of course there were more rainbows.
Camped at a place in Fairbanks that had a power wash so we could get the calcium carbonate off the bike then west to Mt Denali National Park. Great private camp site. We used the time to absorb everything we had already experienced. Back on the road south with stops to look at the mountain. The clouds parted and we were able to see the summit.
South to the Kenai peninsula and riding on the twisting road along the fiord. Then the tunnel at Whittier and a ferry ride to Valdez. Northeast now towards Canada with a stop at a roadside place for gas advertising homemade pie. Great pie. Perfect crust that crumbles with the touch of a fork and mixed berry filling that was just sweet enough and just sour enough.
Continued northeast to Jasper, Alberta for a ride down the Ice Fields Parkway. Great camping below the Columbia Glacier.
Continue south to Watson Lake and then Glacier National Park and the Road to the Sun.
This was where motorcycle touring began for Bill and me 20 years ago. It was great to be back. I've learned more about the land, plants, people, myself while riding a motorcycle than I ever learned in undergraduate or graduate school.
Dropped Bill off at the Helena, MT airport so that he could get home and back to work. Then continued on through the canyons of eastern MT. The Grassland of North Dakota was a pleasant surprise. The real treat was Teddy Roosevelt National Park. He came to this place after he had lost his mother and wife on the same day. Wise man, I think this spot could cure anything that ails you. The road twists through the buttes and badlands with small heads of buffalo resting by the side of the road. The air is clean and sweet with the smell of grass. At the campground that night the camp host was joking that the five cars that passed by on the neighboring dirt road around 5:00 pm constituted rush hour. He said he never went east of the Mississippi anymore, too crowded.
I wanted to avoid the crowds and the heat of the east so headed north into Canada and around the great lakes. Crossed back into the States at Niagara and headed home. But not before one final night in the woods at The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania and a quick stop at Claude Stanley's to show him how well the rig faired.
Bill and I are ready and the bike is ready for Central and South America.
Marty & Bill