22 June 2012

A Fond Farewell to the Interior

We left Seward and headed back north, through Anchorage and Palmer, to Gakona where we spent the night. We stopped in Anchorage at the REI to see if we could replace the neck gaiter I lost in Talkeetna (sad!). In the store, an employee recognized my jacket as motorcycle gear and asked if I needed help. It turns out he is on the ADV Rider forum all the time, and was really happy to hear that we were taking time to really see Alaska, rather than just ride up, ride the Dalton Highway, and ride right home. He said at is what the majority of riders do. Although I understand that one does what one has time and money to do, I feel sad to hear that. We really loved interior Alaska, so we explored for a couple more days before leaving.

We stopped in Palmer at The Musk Ox Farm. It is a not-for-profit farm promoting the use of Quiviut fiber and Native Alaskan talent. The fiber is the warmest in the world and freakishly expensive. It is actually a hair, rather than a fur/wool fiber, so it is actually wearable by anyone and will not cause allergic reactions. Did I mention it is freakishly expensive? It runs $75-85 for a TINY skein. They were raffling off a blanket (at $10 per raffle ticket) which was worth $10,000.00. That is not a typo! I just reread to make sure. Anyway, the animals are fun and we thought about bringing one home because they eat dandelions, and we grow them really well.

We camped that night in Gakona at the Historic Gakona Roadhouse. It said they had camping, so we stopped and asked. The owner of the roadhouse, restaurant, and bar (who is a transplant from Wyoming named Greg and an all around nice guy) said we could just put our tent up wherever we liked. He didn't charge us anything at all, and we had a beautiful spot on the river right behind the bar. It had rained all day (I know, you're really surprised at this point) so we headed into the bar and joined two employees and a couple of grizzled locals for the evening. We found out the Kings had won the Stanley Cup, and we enjoyed the company of everyone. Although we were just gol-danged tourists, old Smoky, one of the locals, bought us drinks!

It rained the whole next day of riding, so we stopped short in Tok and got a hotel room behind Fast Eddie's restaurant. When we pulled into Fast Eddie's, there were two BMW GS bikes. Josh went to talk to the guy on the 1200 and e guy on the F650GS came over to talk to me. His name is Dave Coe, and he is blogging about his trip also. Check him out at http://daversadventuretravels.blogspot.com. He was in Whitehorse, on tour with some musicians, and decided to extend his trip. We spent a couple of hours standing outside (the rain had finally stopped for a bit!) talking about our bikes and the modifications we had each made, and we also discovered that he used to work with a singer we like (IAN, PAY ATTENTION TO THIS!) named Corb Lund. We had a good time chatting, and headed our separate ways. Us to our hotel room to dry out, and Dave, along with about another dozen guys who came and went on GSs, heading north to Fairbanks and the Dalton Highway.

The next day saw us leaving interior Alaska to head back into Yukon Territory and B.C. I was really sad to leave,but couldn't think about it much as the Al-Can Highway was a disaster through that section, and no surprise, it was raining! We met the one, crabby Canadian at the border, and quickly moved on to Kluane Lake. By the time we got there, it had stopped raining (happy dance!) and the sun was shining (fall over in a dead faint). We camped at Cottonwood Campground and it was super lovely. The lake is beautiful, and we had a great time. They even had a nine hole hand made golf course with tough holes!

When we moved on the next day, we turned off the Al-Can at Haines Junction and headed south to Haines where we would be catching the ferry. That was our coldest day of riding as we drove over a mountain pass. We got snowed on. Just a little, but still! Come on! It was the MIDDLE OF JUNE! On the backside of the pass, we dropped from 3200 ft of elevation to about 1200 ft in a matter of a couple of miles where we warmed up, and re-entered the U.S. and south eastern Alaska.

We had a very stern border official who questioned Josh and then headed to me.

BORDER GUARD: Do you have any firearms or weapons?

ME: No

BORDER GUARD: Do you have any citrus?

ME: No

BORDER GUARD: Do you have any plants?

ME: No

BORDER GUARD: Do you have a runny nose?

ME: (laughing) YES!

BORDER GUARD: Have a nice trip!

And on to Haines we rode.


18 June 2012

Bear--Part Two!

I know I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but I thought I would share this story. I am currently sitting in a bed and breakfast in Sitka waiting for the hot tub to be available. Now, we are pretty well budget travelers (24 nights of camping on this trip so far), but after our first night here, we chose to not camp anymore on this island.

We got here and actually found THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CAMPSITE EVER! Sitka is in a rainforest and we had a campsite in the rainforest, right on the edge of a bay. It was misting lightly when we set up camp,but by the time we went to find the artesian well to get water, it was raining. And I mean raining.

Eventually we found shelter to make dinner under and we enjoyed a great salmon dinner. Fresh, right out of the water, king salmon for $8.99/lb. Eat your heart out. Oh wait, we did! We packed everything up, put everything into the bear locker, and headed off to bed.

(We do not, and have not, kept any food, toiletries, or other scented items on the bikes or in our tent. It all goes into our "bear box" or into the dishes bag and these items are either put into a bear locker at night, or if one is not available, we hang it all in a tree far from our campsite.)

The next morning, when Josh came back from the bathroom, he said both bikes had been knocked over by the bear. We knew he was around and had actually seen him the evening before. We also knew, after talking to the forest service camp host, that he was very young, curious, and easy to chase away. We didn't feel like we would be threatened at all, but apparently he wanted to play with the motorcycles. No damage was done to Josh's bike,but he scratched and dented my pannier that previously had no scratches or dents. We are not sure it will be water tight anymore either. And, there are more scratches on my helmet.

So, because the bikes are all we have got for the many miles left until we get home, we chose to move into town and out of bear territory. There is no camping in town, and though we could have tried the other end of town, it was still pretty risky. The bear population here is about 1.2 bears per square mile. That is a lot of bears!

I think the hot tub is free, so I'm running off now! More to come later!

The Glacier State

This state has a LOT of glaciers! So many, it is truly amazing. Most of them are much smaller than they were even a hundred years ago, but they are impressive nevertheless. Once we left Talkeetna, we spent the next four nights camping at the base of glaciers.

The first day we drove through Anchorage and turned off onto the Portage Glacier Highway. The entire drive south of Anchorage was amazingly beautiful! Turnagain Arm, mountain range after mountain range, and bald eagles made the drive seem almost unreal. There is an area called the Ghost Forest where there are stands of long dead spruce trees standing in marsh land. In 1964, the Good Friday Earthquake made the ground sink 6-10 feet, flooding it with salt water from the inlet and killing off the vegetation. New vegetation has come back which tolerates the salt water, but the old spruce trees remain, tall and bleached white--ghosts of what used to be.

We turned off the main highway and headed toward Portage glacier, deciding to camp at one of two campgrounds. The choices were a campground in the middle of black bear territory, or a campground named for the 110 mph winds that are often encountered there.

Okay, here's a quiz. Who knows Louise? Which one did she choose? Possible death or dismemberment by a bear, or really strong winds?

That's right, folks! She chose the bears!

I really hate wind, and true to our campground's name, that was the night we discovered fresh bear scat near our campsite. I slept like a baby though--there was no wind! We hiked out a little that night and found ourselves at the base of a little glacier we didn't even know was there. Our campsite was settled nicely right between two of them. It was chilly.

The next day we continued south to Seward, along with a large number of RVs. We rode a number of mountain passes heading directly into some of the strongest winds we had yet encountered. We got into Seward and asked at the visitors center if the super strong winds were normal. No. Of course not. It is usually breezy, as are most coastal towns, but what we rode in against was highly unusual. On the plus side, it did not rain that day!

We camped at the base of Exit Glacier and spent the next couple of days hiking to the glacier, hiking out to Tonsina Point, exploring the town and the Sealife Center (disappointing if you grew up with the Monterrey Bay Aquarium as that which you judge all others by) and taking a 7 1/2 hour ship tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Now that was amazing! We saw huge numbers of humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and every kind of sea bird Alaska has to offer, including two kinds of Puffins! We also saw a number of glaciers and got up close to a tidewater glacier that very kindly calved for us. The ship's crew pulled in some glacier ice and made Glacieritas for those who were interested! Yum!

Our last night in Seward saw the bear attack on the bikes. We weren't too bothered by it, and quite honestly, one can't purchase souvenirs like that! A large adventure tour group of about a dozen or so people, out of Anchorage, had camped at the campground that night. Judging by the amount of food left all over the communal eating area the next morning by this group, I am pretty sure I know why the bear came around. I am also guessing he showed up the next night too. That's okay though, we were off on our next segment of Alaska and what would be the last couple of days in Interior Alaska.


13 June 2012

Side Notes 4

Mosquitos: We've heard the stories and the jokes. You know, Alaska's unofficial state bird--the mosquito. Take a head net, or a full body net. Sculptures of enormous mosquitos at visitors centers and in front of tourist stores. We chose not to camp at Wonder Lake Campground in Denali due to the horrific swarms. However, we have gotten quite lucky. Because of the late winter/spring here in AK (and also in Canada) the Mosquitos have been totally manageable. Four weeks in and we've only had to use the Deet about 3 times. We've still got a couple of weeks left to go, but we will be keeping our fingers crossed for that same luck.

Female Riders: I was chatting with someone today, and I said something like, "In four weeks of riding, I haven't seen another female rider." I've seen a couple of women riding pillion with other men, but not one single woman riding her own bike. I even thought there was a man riding up with a woman in a sidecar today, but it turned out to be a man in the sidecar too. Now, I know that with all my gear on, and my hair pulled back and tucked into my jacket, it's probably tough to tell I'm a woman. But really, there have been no other women. Part of the reason I have written this blog was to let women know how great trips like this are. I hope I can see more chicks on bikes soon!

Moose Poo Update: We tried it! We grabbed a handful of moose poo and tossed it in the campfire. Well, I did. Josh just looked stemlike I was crazy. But hey, what if we found a great fire material? As it turned out, it took a minute to catch, then burned hot and died into a glowing coal. I think it would make the perfect burn material for making, as Josh and Ian call them, Hobo Dinners or perfectly roasted marshmallows. But...I don't really want to cook my dinner or dessert over flaming poo, so I've given up the moose poo fire fuel idea. I know you were dying to know.

Skijoring: Have you heard of this? You put on cross country skis and attach yourself to a mushing dog by a long bungee and they go like hell. I can't wait to get a mushing dog!!!

12 June 2012


I sleep really soundly, unless there is a strange noise that doesn't belong--like a skunk in the dining room eating the cat food, a raccoon in the kitchen eating the cat food, or a bear in the parking lot eating my motorcycle. Yup, it happened at around 3:00, the morning of June 11 in Seward, and though I heard the bear pounding on things and walking around, I didn't know he decided my helmet was a play toy.

When Josh woke up half an hour later (I was still awake thanks to the adrenaline rushing through my system) and said he was going to the bathroom, I said, "Take the bear spray!" he replied that he wasn't going that far. Oh right, that whole, "I'm a boy, I pee where I want" thing. The next morning, Josh was out of the tent and heading to the cooking area. I emerged from the tent a few minutes later to Josh walking back and telling me a bear had gotten to the bikes.


He said they were fine, but I should go look. My bike was on it's center stand (this is a good thing. Had it been on it's side stand he would have knocked it over) and he moved the back end of the 500lb bike over several inches. The bear chewed one of Josh's grips, and then decided it didn't taste very good. (This is, of course, all assumption as I did not actually talk to the bear about these things!)


The bear tried my seat and apparently came to the same conclusion.


He also played with my mirrors, smashing them both into positions they should never be!

And the helmet. I think he thought it was a toy. He scratched the shit out of the left side, pulled the center padding out, (which is easily put back in but now has a greasy bear nose print) and chewed on the back padding. Thankfully, the chewing at the back missed the wires for the Sena headset, and other than a few scratches it came out relatively unharmed.

I guess I have two things to say: 1. Better the bikes and helmet than us! 2. That is as close to a bear as we need to come.


09 June 2012

Side Notes 3

Stickers: I have quite a collection of stickers started on all my luggage on the bike. I figure if I ever sell the bike, the luggage is so banged up, it might actually look better this way, so I am indulging. I have seen a few other motorbikes on the trip with stickers. It is typically just one or two, artfully placed. In contrast, my panniers and tail case look like a 13 year old girl's notebook. Whatever, it's how I like it!

Pit Toilets: I know, everyone likes a good pit toilet, right? Well, here's the deal. Most of them have signs to close toilet lid and door when one is finished. Most people seem incapable of doing these things, yet are totally grossed out by the toilets. Okay, no one really wants to touch one, but they work on a very simple venting system that will draw fresh air in, across all the refuse, and fit up into the building if the seat is left up. Well, that smells nice! Thanks. If it is closed, the turbines on the top of the vent tube can work properly and vent it to the outside, keeping it reasonable inside. The other thing is the door. How hard is it to close the door, and latch the outside if one is provided? Oh right it's not! And quite frankly, I hate walking up to ones with open doors, wondering if there will be a swarm of mosquitos, a raccoon, or in this area a GRIZZLY, waiting inside for me. So please, for all our sakes, CLOSE THE LID AND THE DOOR!

Poo: Keeping on my Mom's favorite thing (uh, no, not really), let's talk about poo. It has become quite important to us and our survival while out in the wilderness. Being able to determine what poo belongs to what critter (and whether it is fresh or not) helps us keep an eye out. The wolf and grizzly bear are the least of the worries. Apparently you treat the former as a bad dog, and just talk to the grizzly. Even if the grizzly's charge turns into an attack, they just want to play with you. The black bears are the ones to watch out for, as they want to kill you. So, when a guy driving by us the other night mentioned he saw a new bear sign that day that hadn't been there before (and I thought, "oh, a bear must have been spotted and a ranger put up a sign," Josh asked what kind of sign and we were told poo. Right. Glad I kept my mouth shut! We saw it later, and not only was it fresh, but it was about 50 yards from our campsite. We were extra cautious that night. We've also kept an eye on moose poo, cuz they are super protective of their new babies right now and will trample you to death. That doesn't sound fun to me. Tonight we are going to experiment with moose poo as fire pellets.

Mileage: As of leaving Talkeetna on Thursday, June 7, we have put more than 5000 miles on for this trip. Pretty sure that is more motorcycle miles than I have done in my whole motorcycling life. The roads tend to have little traffic, with the majority of it being big trucks and locals. However, the further south we got, we ran into more and more tour/cruise company buses, and a hugely increasing number of RVs. For the most part, people are good drivers up here, with the locals wanting to drive faster than everyone else, and the RVs driving slower. I will say that each time we have been annoyed with someone driving a car, it has had Texas plates. And there are a few RV drivers who think they own the road and will pull out in front of us on a highway, forcing us not to slam on the breaks, but decrease our speed very quickly. That is getting old pretty quickly. We aren't in the southern portion very long though, so we'll see what the next few days bring.


Our friend Robin Appleton lives in Talkeetna in the summer. We work together in Denver, and when she is done with her contract, she loads up her two dogs, Bailey and Chuey, and spends six consecutive days driving up to Talkeetna. She spends her summer months in an awesome log home that she designed and built, and she welcomed us for a couple of nights to rest, relax, shower, do laundry and check out the sights of Talkeetna.

Bailey, in the chair, and Chuey! They've got tough lives!

We arrived in the afternoon of June 5, just as Venus was making a pass between us and the sun. The Talkeetna rangers were in the park with the solar glasses to watch it happen on one's own, and a simple contraption that allows several people to see it at once. The occurrence will not happen again in our lifetime, and to be honest, we thought we had already missed it. Josh was especially excited to see it happen, and then run off to the brewery!

That night we headed to the bar with a number of locals, and a large number of climbers just down off the mountain. Talkeetna is the jumping off point for most climbs on Denali, with climbers regularly being flown up to land on a glacier and hike their way to base camp. They spend a couple days getting acclimated, and then about three weeks making the ascent, descent, and flight home. When they are done, they seem to be ready for a beer. In fact, most seem so ready for a beer, that they head straight for the bar when they get off the plane. Yup, the bar is alive with the scent of unwashed mountain climbers. It hits you full on when you walk in, and the really scary thing is that about ten minutes later, you realize you have become accustomed to the smell.

The next day, planned bike maintenance day, it rained. Shocker! We read, watched a movie, and played with the dogs. In the afternoon, it finally stopped so Josh went out and did oil changes. Robin got home and we eventually all headed out to her friend Chip's house, where two bands from Seattle had come up to play for his party that evening. That night was locals only, except me and Josh, and we had a great time talking with lots of new people.

Thursday morning dawned full of sunshine. We had a fantastic breakfast at the Roadhouse, walked the river, and then Robin took us up to the lodge to see the view. It was AMAZING! The lodge itself was quite beautiful also, and I would recommend anyone wanting to stay in Talkeetna to stay there. At least early in the season as I expect it is insanely crowded during high season.

We left that afternoon, thanking Robin for her hospitality. It was such a nice stop. It was nice to have a bed, and nice to be able to do laundry, but it was really great being able to meet locals and see what they do when the tourists aren't looking!


07 June 2012

Beautiful Denali National Park

We took tons of pictures in Denali Natl. Park, but all of them on the real cameras. They will all be posted at the end of the trip!

Seventy percent of park visitors never get to see Denali. The tallest peak in North America is usually so socked in with clouds that it can't be viewed from the park. Well, we registered for our campsite at the entrance and about three miles into the park, the clouds parted and there it was--beautiful Mount Denali.

That was the start of three great days in the park. We camped at Savage River Campground and the first day hiked all around the eastern part of the park. We also went to the dog kennels to play with the dogs and watch the demonstration. Muddy is a beautiful dog from the River litter who is retiring. I love him. I could really go around this state and collect retiring mushing dogs!

We visited the 49th State Brewery on the way to the park and were told we had to go to the Denali Salmon Bake. So, in a raging downpour (cuz it's not a day of riding for us if it doesn't rain...) we rode out to the town for a late dinner. It was fantastic! If you visit the park, go have dinner there and have the Cedar Plank Salmon. Yum!

We took one of the shuttles into the park looking for wildlife and learning about the park. With few exceptions, individuals are not allowed to drive more than 15 miles into the park. One has to pay to take a shuttle which seems to be a little controversial among visitors. Quite honestly, after driving through other national parks, I am happy to sit back and let someone else do the driving, while I get to look around. But more than that, I am so happy to not drive behind a huge line of vehicles driven by tourists who stomp on the brakes in the middle of the road when they see a mule deer half a mile in the distance. It cuts way down on idiots on the road. I suppose it raises the number of idiots on the bus, but we had great people on our bus who were having a great time looking for critters.

We had the driver drop us off at another spot to hike and we spent the rest of the afternoon hiking out and finding a glacier we didn't know we would see and spying on arctic ground squirrels.

The park is not to be missed. It is gorgeous! The changing scenery, every time you come around a turn, something new comes into view. I could have stayed there for weeks, except by that time the mosquitoes would probably have been numerous to eat me alive. So, as all good things must, it came to an end. The next day as we drove out of the park we saw a big moose on the side of the road. We dropped a couple of postcards at the post office and were on our way to Talkeetna for three days!


The Dalton Highway!

The Dalton Highway began as a dirt road, closed to the public, and open only to people working on the pipeline. It's sole purpose was to provide a way to get people and supplies to any part of the pipeline at anytime. It was simply known as the "haul road" then. Eventually they began paving parts of it, and later it was open to the public. This road, about 422 miles long and beginning 80 miles outside of Fairbanks, has become the Mecca for dual sport motorcycle riders touring North America.

The start of the Dalton Highway

Our original plan had been to take four days to ride up and back. The miles aren't super long, but large portions of the road are dirt/gravel, and the speed limit is 50mph the whole way along. At the end of the road is a town (and I use that term very lightly) called Deadhorse. That is as far as one can go unaccompanied by oil company security. For about $50, a shuttle will take a group of people to Prudhoe Bay to see the Arctic Ocean and dip their toes in. The shuttle is very strict about where they can and cannot go, as even the oil workers are not allowed onto the tundra. They may only use the road along the pipeline and the roads that go from the highway to the pipeline.

About a week in to the trip, we started discussing whether we wanted to drive the road at all. We finally decided we wanted to get to the Arctic Circle, about 120 miles north on the road. There is a campground there, and we thought we would ride there, take the pics we wanted, camp and ride back. We thought we would use the extra two days to spend a little more time in Fairbanks and add a day to Denali National Park.

The weather was great the day we rode up the highway. We were quite thankful for that, since we seem to have been hitting rain, at least a little, every single day since Lake Louise. Once getting used to the dirt road, it wasn't too bad. In fact, when it turned back to pavement for a few miles, it was so potholed and full of frost heaves, we were wishing we could have the dirt and gravel back! Josh sometimes calls back to me problems in the road, "pothole on left" or "rough road on right." Rough road? I guess you could call it that. Nature was basically trying to take back the road, or it was just falling off the side. I guess one could refer to it as rough.

We stopped at Yukon Crossing, about 56 miles into the highway, and were talked into going 60 miles past the Arctic Circle to the town of Coldfoot, and then camping five miles further on at Marion Creek Campground. It wound up being a fantastic ride with amazing views of mountain range after mountain range.

Standing at the Arctic Circle: We had to shed layers up there as it was the warmest day of the trip thus far!

The next morning, we stopped back in Coldfoot to gas up and get a cup of coffee. We met two motorbikes who had camped there on the way back down. One was on a 1200GS, and one was on a KLR. They had gone all the way up and said the last 35-50 miles was brutally cold. It seemed to be a sign that we made the right decision. I was glad for that because that morning, I stood there in our campsite thinking maybe we should go the rest of the way. It just sort of called to me. But, even now, I think we made the right decision and spending the extra days doing and seeing other things was great.

The END of the Dalton Highway!

Our return trip was a little more rough than the day before. Weather did not cooperate, and we got rained on. A lot. And we all know what happens when rain mixes with a dirt highway. MUD! We got a little dirty, and I got some experience riding in mud! There was a little calcium chloride left on the road from the previous storm, but they hadn't laid down more. This chemical does two things: The chemical holds the dirt road together when it rains, (which is a pretty important feature) and makes it incredible slippery. (which sucks) If you're on a motorbike, it makes the dirt stick to your chain and sprockets. My bike was making horrible clunking sounds and we had to stop a couple times to try and clean it and re-tension the chain. It also seems to have taken out Josh's horn. (But it was a Stebel horn and seeing as how they don't seem to be particularly reliable, who knows what the real cause was.)

For us it meant the road was a little slippy,but not too bad, and the mud that got on the bikes held together really well and was difficult to clean off. We slowed our speed a bit and kept on moving, pulling over and letting working vehicles which wanted to go faster than us pass. The rules of the road are pretty simple up there. The trucks own the road so pull over or stop to let them go by, knowing they may throw rocks as far as 30 feet that will crack your windshield. Don't wander off the road and go out to the pipeline. If you want pics with it, there are plenty of places where you can drive up to it or under it to take them. Take two full size mounted spare tires. Getting a flat out there is likely and the road is narrow. You don't want to have to be fixing a flat for more than the few minutes it takes to take a wheel off and put another one on--see what I said above about rocks thrown from trucks. Also, there are really no services other than Colfoot and Wiseman (which are 20 miles apart) once you leave Yukon Crossing.

Before leaving on this trip, I read everything I could about this road. Info from the state and pipeline, people's blogs about riding, and tour brochures. We realize we got really lucky and our planning worked for us. We had a great experience and an awesome ride. We met nice people--chatted with people in the cafe and the visitor's centers-- saw some beautiful scenery and learned a bit about the history of the pipeline.

I highly recommend this trip to anyone on a dual sport motorbike. On the other side of that, I would NEVER want to make that trip in a car, much less an RV. The road is rough on four or more wheeled vehicles. Plan well and give yourself some bumper days on each side of the trip for inclement weather. I can see how it is a dangerous road when it is raining heavily. Try for dry days and you'll have a blast like we did!




After we left Tok, we headed for Fairbanks. We were there for one night before heading up the haul road, now known as the Dalton Highway. When we were done riding that highway--it is an up-and-back road--we stayed Chena Hot Springs for a night, and then stayed the next night in the same place we did the very first night we had been in Fairbanks.

This whole part of the trip marks some very special points of the trips. Part of that was riding the Dalton Highway, which I will tell you all about in a separate post. Another special part of this is where Josh and I stayed the first and third nights in Fairbanks. Before leaving on the trip, Josh and I went to couchsurfing.org and checked several of the cities we would be staying to see if the was anybody around to host a couple of couch surfers. If you don't know about couch surfing, look it up. It is a great community of travelers/hosts, kind of along the lines of exchange programs. It offers travelers a place to stay, while being able to meet new people, and even join in the local doings. Josh and I listed our house as having an empty sofa, and in the past we have had someone from Vienna, and someone from Philadelphia stay with us.

This time, we were looking for someone in Fairbanks we could stay with. We found Melissa and Tom Kurkowski. About eight years ago, they moved from Wisconsin to Fairbanks for Tom to do his master's degree work at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. They fell in love with the area and stayed! (By the way, this seems to be a popular idea.) We really enjoyed our first night with Tom and Melissa and their two rescue Alaskan Huskies, Elka and Wader. Melissa made us a fantastic dinner of halibut with potatoes and asparagus, and as we were finishing eating outside, their neighbor Brandon came over and had dessert with us. We sat outside for a while longer (because of the long daylight, it is SO hard to tell what time it is!) and finally all turned in. They invited us to stay with them again when we returned, and we said we would love to.

Melissa, Tom, Wader, and Elka!

Our last night in Fairbanks, we drove in from the Hot Springs, spent half an hour at the BMW dealership trying to get my new speedometer/ABS sensor, and then met Melissa downtown for First Friday Fairbanks. We ran around historic downtown, ducking into art galleries and out of the rain. We had little snacks and saw a lot of local Alaska art. I really enjoyed seeing the art and talking with a few of the artists who all seem to be transplants from the lower 48. We ended the tour at the community history museum where they had an entire room dedicated to the state sport of dog mushing. I am totally hooked by the way. I'll be looking for an Alaskan Husky rescue when we get home!

We picked up Tom and had dinner at Silver Gulch brewery, tasting a range of their brews, and went back to give the dogs some love and crash for the night. The next morning, Melissa and I walked the dogs, coming across a number of runners doing the Two Way Torture Run. Doesn't that sound like something you want to sign up for? Actually, my cousin Seth probably would. Tom made fantastic whole wheat and Alaska blueberry pancakes, and we finally said we needed to be moving on. We would have loved to stay with them for a much longer time. They were such fun people, and we are so grateful for the chance to stay with them and get to know them.

The night before our last night in Fairbanks, after we came down off the Dalton, we stayed one night at the Chena Hot Springs, correctly assuming our battered joints could use a soak. The campground wasn't anything great, but we put up the tent, had some dinner and made our way to the soaking pools. They have a natural stone pool which is huge and super hot outside. It is also ONLY for grownups. Bonus! Watching the moose come down out of the hills to feed while we were soaking was awesome!

The next morning we were able to use all the water we needed to clean the mud off our poor motorcycles, and get all the moving parts moving properly again. Then we had a chance to go to the dog kennels and visit with the 80 or so dogs they currently have. I was,of course, in love with most of them. In fact, I really wanted to take Skip, a retired and adoptable dog, home with me. No really, I WANT HIM!!! The girl who was there feeding them was great, giving us a lot of historical info on the dogs and the sport, as well as relating hilarious stories about tourists who just dont know how to deal with dogs!

We had a late lunch in the restaurant there. The night before, while in the soaking pool, I overheard a group of women talking about how great the food was. We ordered smoked salmon burgers (yum!) and clam chowder (double yum!). Earlier that morning, while spending close to three hours cleaning off the bikes, we smelled breakfast cooking. We missed breakfast time, but the menu looked really great.

By the end of that visit, we started thinking about returning in the winter (yes, it is open all year round) and staying for a few days to soak and take in the Aurora Borealis. We would fly for that trip....


Side Notes Part 2

Socks: Socks are not smart wool unless they are Smart Wool. I brought four pairs of socks which will seem excessive to most motorcycle tourers, and lacking by most other people's standards. When temps are really low, I double up on them. Wool keeps body parts warm even when it is wet, breathes when temps are warm, and has anti-bacterial properties. All of this naturally, and inherently better than synthetic fibers. For the life of wool, it is blended with synthetics that help keep those properties and keep it from shrinking insanely. Three pairs I brought are Smart Wool socks and one pair is made by Wigwam. The two days I rode through pouring rain and my boots proved to be not waterproof, my feet were kept warm by the Smart Wool socks. The Wigwams failed to keep them as warm. Lesson learned.

Midnight Sun: We left the restaurant in Denali around midnight and rode back to the campsite being able to see the road, no problem. Last night, here is Talkeetna, we left to go to the bar at midnight, and it was still light out enough when we came home at two to easily see our way. We have naturally changed our schedules as we've gotten used to this. We sleep in a little longer, eat lunch around three and dinner around nine or ten. The way it has affected us mostly is that it feels more like vacation somehow. Apparently, up here, the veggies feel that way and though they have such a short season, they grow the largest veggies here due to the never ending growing time during the day.

Rain: It has rained on us, in some way, every day since Lake Louise. It also rained on us the second day we were riding through Wyoming and just getting into southern Idaho, and the next day into Montana. I don't care much for the rain as many of my friends know. Josh says it would seem silly to think we would ride for six weeks and not encounter the rain. I tell him he doesn't remember California very well. I think it is silly that we have ridden for 21 days and seen rain at some point of the day for 18 of them. our day off to do motorcycle maintenance in Talkeetna--it has rained all day.

Post Offices: In Canada, they have cute baby moose and caribou on their stamps. We bought stamps in Denali National Park, in the good old U. S. of A., and they had Hawaiian shirts on them with the word "Aloha" written across the bottom. Really!?!

Luxury: I brought one item of true luxury with me, not sure if it would get much use--my red Cashmere turtleneck sweater. I am sooooo glad I did! That one little item feels so nice and is such a vibrant color. It can immediately make me smile putting it on, and it jazzes up the zip-off cargo hiking pants and hiking boots I have with me to wear off the bike if we go out.


02 June 2012

Top of the World Highway to Alaska!

We finally made it! Not that the whole trip hasn't been a complete adventure, but Alaska was the reason we were doing it all. This morning we left our gorgeous campsite on the Yukon River, across from Dawson City, and rode what is known as the Top of the World Highway. It was a gravel road to the border, and then hard packed dirt from the border to Chicken, AK. (way back when, the residents wanted to name it Ptarmigan, but no one knew how to spell it. Not a joke.)

The gravel road was challenging, and surprisingly enough, really dusty! My bike and I are FILTHY! When we got to the border,we were the only ones for miles crossing. It is the northernmost U.S. border, and it has a population of 2. We waited for a while at the red light, until the border agent came out and very sternly said we had to go one at a time. Josh went first and got the interrogation, (we have communication systems so we were able to listen in on each other's conversation) and then I went next. The border agent was all smiles for me and asking about the trip and weather, and wishing me good weather along the way. Sometimes it pays to be a girl on a motorbike.

We continued riding on a fantastic dirt road into Chicken. There wasn't much to see, but we saw it and had lunch before riding on to Tok. Of course, it rained on us. Doesn't seem to be a day of riding if it doesn't rain on us.

At the visitor's center in Tok, we ran into a guy who was riding a Goldwing around B.C. and Alaska. He told us about a motorcycle campground nearby and then rode off. We walked over to The Burnt Paw where they have mushing equipment and husky puppies that you can play with. Only once we got there, there was a sign up saying all puppies had found happy homes--more puppies next week. OH COME ON! I have been looking forward to playing with sled dog puppies since I discovered this place in October. Total letdown!

We walked back across the street, and as we were getting ready to pullout, another rider on a BMW F800GS pulled up. We chatted and Ovi from Vermont said he would follow us to the campground. What a find this place was! It is called Thompson's Eagle's Claw Motorcycle Campground, and the woman who created it and owns it is great! There were tent sites, a small bunk house, a cabin, a walled tent (we took that one), a tee-pee, and--get this--an ambulance! Seriously. She had an old ambulance she turned into a cabin like sleeping area. Ovi took that.

There was a kitchen area, and after everyone had eaten--Ovi, Josh, myself, Jay from Estes Park, and Don from Vancouver--it was discovered that Ovi's back tire was bad. Well, there was a shop on site, and all the guys went to fix the tire. They said it would take thirty minutes, so I counted on it taking two hours and headed for the sauna! Heavenly!

It was a great night and we all slept really well. We said goodbye the next morning, exchanging contact info, and headed for Fairbanks.