July 9 - August 5, 2007
A trip worth telling about! The afternoon of July 9, I left Holland (Michigan, N42 47.206 W86 06.890 ) with a few friends to ride our motorcycles to Deadhorse on the north slope of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay (N70 11.926 W148 27.565). It ended up being an awesome journey of 11,845 miles (or 19,189 kilometers) which we covered in 28 days. That is a long way...
To put this distance in perspective:
A (not so) brief ride report:
Day 1/July 9: We (Left to right: Blane- a good friend and my BMW Motorcycles of Grand Rapids dealer, Loren, Matt, Mark, myself, and my cousin Nick from Hermanus/South Africa) left our home at 3pm to spend the evening at our cottage, Pinotage, near Mears, 75 miles north of Holland). For dinner: Beer, wine, South African Boerewors, some single malt, and lots of anticipation.
Day 2/July 10: Ludington to Fargo, SD. Our journey took us 35 miles north to Ludington where we took the SS Badger to Manitowoc (WI). The Badger assures a smooth beginning to our trip with a hearty breakfast. Traveling at a steady 17mph (according to the Zumo), we were joined by many other bikers, including a couple of guys from Belgium who flew their bikes to Boston and were heading to the BMW International Rally in West Bend, Wisconsin. I'd love to go to the Rally another year... From Manitowoc we continued along Route 29 to Bob's Java Hut in Minneapolis, a biker friendly place if there is one. At Bob's we greeted Matt and Mark who turned south to engage in official business. After spending some time on I-94, we slept in Fargo (SD). A solid 600 mile day that introduces Nick to American interstate traffic and its 18-wheelers.
Day 3/July 11: Fargo to Great Falls (MT). Today was a long day in 105 degree heat, the first of many to come. We ran west on I-94 and then onto Montana HWY 200 to Great Falls. Tired and hot, we got a hotel right on the Missouri River and had a great meal at "The Breaks Ale House and Grill." All in all, good wine, great food, and a very hot 753 miles!
Day 4/July 12: Great Falls to Radium Hot Springs (BC, Canada). Following RT89 north we had breakfast at Buck's in Choteau, were briefly misled by my Zumo, and finally got to Glacier National Park's St. Mary Visitor Center and the beginning of the "Going-to-the-sun" Road. What an amazing road, cutting across the Rockies. We saw Dall sheep and of course impressive scenery. At Roosville we crossed into Canada in 117 F degree heat. That is HOT shouted out loud! Even the border patrol officer felt sorry for us as we whisked into Canada. Following RT93 north we came upon a Harley Davidson that crashed. As we slowed down a Honda Civic overtook us and nearly ran into the downed bike which had crossed lanes. We arrived in Radium Hot Springs too tired and hot to seek out a camp ground or the hot springs. Today, a scenic 432 miles.
Day 5/July 13: Ice fields Parkway: Radium Hot Springs to Dawson Creek via Lake Louise, Jasper, and Grande Prairie. We continued along RT93 to breakfast in Lake Louise, crossing the Kootenay National Park and the Rockies in brisk 45 degree temps. Leaving Radium Hot Springs at 6:30 am, we encountered little traffic and surprisingly no wildlife. In Banff National Park and Jasper National Park we saw some impressive views of retreating glaciers, ice fields, and glacier lakes, but also the back view of many RVs. In Grande Prairie we quickly hydrated ourselves since the 105 degree heat continued. We then pushed on to Dawson Creek, "Mile 0" of the Alaska Highway, only to run into road construction. We camped for the first time on the trip, initially unable to find our camp site (from the Milepost). To our surprise and obvious dismay, the campground has become an RV park only. The manager must have seen how tired and hot we were and not only gave us permission to camp amidst the RVs, but also sold as a few cold ones. Single malt for dessert. 598 HOT miles.
Day 6/July 14: The Alaska Highway: Dawson Creek to Liard Hot Springs. We follow RT 97, the Alaska Highway, via Fort Nelson and Muncho Lake (where we discovered we are on dry First Nations' land) to Liard Hot Springs. We see moose and caribou along the way. Warnings of bison and "loose gravel" are common. Last night we asked where the mosquitoes were and now we discovered they were all at Liard HS. Millions of them and not even DEET deterred them. They even attacked my daughters' bunny that accompanied me on the ride. The springs were free and refreshing, and quite hot. Not even the light rain could not keep the mosquitoes from mercilessly attacking us. I nearly drop my bike in our camp ground when the soft shoulder of the site gives way and my front wheel slides out. The guys rescue me as my bike rests on the Hepco-Becker engine guards and a Jesse pannier. Today we did 472 miles and we all show signs of long days in excessive heat.
Day 7/July 15: The Alaska Highway: Liard Hot Springs to Whitehorse (YT). My wedding anniversary. Michelle is a great partner since I missed not only this anniversary, but also her birthday while on the trip. On the way we breakfast and visit the Sign Post Forest at Watson Lake. We show signs of fatigue and possibly dehydration. In Whitehorse we stay in a biker friendly hotel that smells of Germany: The River View Hotel. They provided free underground parking for the bikes and we could do our first laundry. We ate at "The Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ" restaurant. Good food and obviously popular if one looks at the line of people waiting to be seated. Today I got a sense that the Yukon is "Larger than life," as their motto states. A muggy, sometimes rainy, and hot 402 miles.
Day 8/July 16: The Klondike Loop: Whitehorse to Dawson City, with a great breakfast at Braeburn Lodge. We follow RT2 North and it seems as if we are the only ones on the road. I smell something burning...can it be Nick's bike?? It turns out we all thought there was something wrong with someone else's bike, but then we passed folks putting asphalt into potholes. We eat breakfast at the Braeburn Lodge were the cook and owner tells me that I cannot have the Braeburn omelet because it takes too much space on the griddle and my friends will have to wait a long time for their meal. We let him decide for us what we should eat. Granted, it was a great meal with THICK slices of home made bread. Before Dawson City we get our first serious "road maintenance" section which meant we all arrive coated in dust and mud. The Downtown Hotel is really biker friendly hotel and the owner and fellow GS rider, Dick Van Nostrand, came out into the street to welcome us. He showed us where we could spray off the bikes and we enjoyed local brew in the bar. We eat a great meal at Klondike Kate's restaurant. Nick and I mail back stuff we decided we will not need and the souvenirs we've bought thus far. A sometimes muddy 332 miles.
Day 9/July 17: Top of the World Highway: Dawson City to Fairbanks via Chicken and Tok. We saw signs of the Klondike gold rush and people still panning for gold. Crossing into the US at the Poker Creek Border Crossing was a breeze, even if it was a chilly one. Suddenly the heat of a few days ago felt ancient history. The Top of the World Highway is beautiful and of course, gravel. It convinced Nick, however, that he can attempt the Dalton/Haul Road. At the Jack Wade dredge we meet a couple from Switzerland that is traveling around the world, each year doing a different leg. Their Toyota Landcruiser is a great vehicle. We later passed them on the Dalton, but due to expected difficulties finding parts for their vehicle, they decided to go as far as the Brookes Range. We stop at Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway. There, the "national bird" of Alaska and Canada attacks Nick. In Fairbanks, we camp at a great campsite: River's Edge Resort, our home for the next three nights. It is close to a Fred Mayer that we frequent often the next days. Today brought 391 miles in three season weather.
Day 10-11/July 18-19: The Dalton Highway: Fairbanks--Prudhoe Bay--Fairbanks. This is why I did the trip! My cousin Nick and I ride the famous "Haul Road." Blane joins us to the Yukon Crossing and ruins his back tire, which he had to replace on the return trip. Riding up took us 15 hours. Sometimes it was real scary as 2-3 inches of water got dumped by water trucks on calcium chloride enriched gravel roads. The locals call this slippery mix "snot". The first experience came almost immediately as we passed the Yukon River and I was thinking: "If the road is like this the whole way, there is no way I can do the remaining 300 miles!" Luckily all road maintenance has an ending and before long we were back on gravel and later chip seal with some serious pot holes. Never escaping "loose gravel," it feels as if the bikes move quite a bit beneath us. Standing up and moving slightly faster helped greatly.
The weather was perfect, however, and we made good progress as we navigated the hurdles the Haul Road threw at us. There were extensive wild fires in the past years and purple fireweed form the backdrop to blackened dead trees. These plants are the first to settle burnt areas and initiates the rehabilitation process for the land. Impressive mountains such as Koyukuk Mountain greeted as we left Coldfoot.
The road, of course, follows the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), which runs 800 miles from Deadhorse on the North Slope to Valdez. It is one of the most remote roads in the US. Going over the Atigun Pass and through the Brooks Range was beautiful, but I can see the road turning into a beast when it rains. The arctic tundra was beautiful, with millions of mosquitoes welcoming us when we stopped and flowers along the road side. The musk oxen eluded us and so remained the only animal I wanted to see on this trip but did not. In my imagination I kept seeing mammoth roaming the gentle rolling landscape. We passed through a massive thunderstorm that became so dark my Zumo thought it was night, switching to night mode in an area that has near perpetual daylight this time of year. I lift my hat to the folks at Garmin, though. This GPS bounced up the Haul Road and back and still works flawlessly.
Just as we passed Pump Station #2, we encountered 30 miles of gravel and stone road maintenance. A fellow biker on a Harley at Coldfoot warned us that this was the coming. He described it as "hell." The road became a river of loose stones, bigger than the "marbles" they call "gravel," and definitely more difficult to navigate. Yet the GSs did great! Still, reaching Deadhorse was a relief. Saluting Prudhoe Bay, Nick drops his bike twice within 50 yards, both at standstill and with no damage to the bike. Samaritans in big Ford F250s show up to help him out. At the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, actually a dormitory style hostel catering for oilfield workers, we heard of a Harley Davidson that came down yesterday in that 30 mile section, apparently costing the owner $2200 for a flat bed truck to haul it to Fairbanks. We also heard of a Suzuki V-Strom that ran right through a caribou, almost in sight of Deadhorse, a few days earlier... Nick describe Deadhorse as a "sci-fi city," with major security and cubicle like compounds everywhere. It was 40F on my Kisan thermometer with rain coming in sideways off the Arctic Ocean. The wind was blowing to hard I was scared it would blow our bikes off their center stands. We has a quick shower, ate well at the 24 hour cafeteria, and slept before our heads reached the pillows.
The next morning, with the rain and cold continuing, and a tour to the oil fields only possible late that afternoon, we decided to start the return journey. By the time we reached the Brooks Range the rain and wind is gone and we ride in sunlight. Since we discovered that going slightly faster helps with the back tire movement and the feeling that the front end will give way, the return trip is uneventful and we make it to Fairbanks in 13 hours. Leading, I hit a few potholes in the chip seal section so hard that my handle bars, which I discovered were not fastened tight enough, would bend down. I first noticed this when Nick would disappear in my rearview mirror. I would stop and force them back into place. Covered in mud we reached our campground to tell Blane and Loren about our trip. Here we heard that Blane got a flat tire returning from the Yukon and it took him most of the day to get back.
Riding up, I made Coldfoot-Prudhoe Bay (248 miles) on one tank. A mistake I made was storing the extra fuel (in a cheap Fred Meyer gas can) in my Jesse pannier. The can leaked and the gasoline started eroding the inside coating of my pannier. Back in Fairbanks, I used carpet cleaner to get rid of the smell.
Camping next to us was Fred from Florida, who rode a well-farkled BMW 1150GSA. He attempted the Haul Road the next day, but we saw him again that evening when his rear brake caliper came loose. It wiped out most of his spokes... Luckily for him this happened at slow speed in a construction zone and he was not hurt. The construction folks placed his bike on a truck and took him back to Fairbanks and to George Rahn at Trail's End BMW.
The Dalton Highway ("The Haul Road"):
Day 12/July 20: We definitely needed a recovery day and stayed one day longer in Fairbanks than planned. This gave us a chance to visit the University of Alaska (Fairbanks), Museum. It was informative and saw a BIG grizzly.
After cleaning my bike, I notice that the "Brake failure" light remained on. Blane tried to troubleshoot it and we decided it might be related to the handlebars bending down and air bubbles entering the brake lines. We headed to George Rahn to see if he could help, which he kindly agreed to do. He was gracious as we interrupted his work and he searched for a tooklBMWNA sent him. To open the brake fluid contained on a 12GS requires a special tool which George did not have. Also, I was not in the mood for a brake bleed that would take a few hours. We left his interesting shop, where old and new stand side by side, hoping that the problem would resolve itself.
To make a long story short, I discovered that the battery was dying, probably the victim of the 30-something night we had in Prudhoe Bay. Somehow there was enough voltage in the battery to start the bike, but not enough to get the Servo-assist system on the GS going. I therefore had minimal brakes until the battery was adequately charged, at which point the brakes returned to life. The next days, however, I would do many miles without brakes... I finally replaced the battery in Salt Lake City.
Day 13/July 21: The Parks Highway: Fairbanks to Talkeetna, via an exciting flight seeing trip over Denali. After deciding that my bike is sort of OK to continue and since George did not have the tools to help us out, we turned south to visit Denali. The good about camping is that you hear things. And so we heard about Ray Atkins, a guide that flies out of Cantwell, AK. His plane was older than any of us and our bikes were more powerful, but Ray educated us with his local knowledge as he showed us Denali and Mt. McKinley. Denali itself was awe inspiring and I was glad I saw her from a plane and not on foot, but two images remain with me.
First, the hundreds (and probably thousands) of pink salmon that was running up the rivers to spawn. Even from a few hundred feet up we could clearly see them swimming to their birth ground. More impressive however, was the many glaciers who have dried up and are now "highways" of rock, gravel, and mud, with some ice .
We left Denali in sunshine, but reached Talkeetna in rain. Today we did 274 miles.
Day 14/July 22: The Sterling Highway: Talkeetna via Anchorage and on to Homer. We finally ran into the "monsoon" we have read online and in guide books that can be non-stop in late July and August. Today it rained all the way, which as most bikes would know, is not as bad as it sounds. From Talkeetna we stopped in Anchorage. Being Sunday, we missed the traffic and visited the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. It is a museum worth visiting and we learnt many interesting things, especially how the Inuit hunt whales.
From there we ran south to Homer, where despite the rain we could see the beauty of the mountains across the Kachemak Bay. 334 rainy miles.
Day 15:/July 23: Seward Highway: Homer to Seward. This morning we said good-bye to Blane as he started his solo ride back home. We continued on to Seward, never leaving the rain behind. Seward is located at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula. We found lodging at a great B&B: LeBarn Appetit, on the Exit Glacier Road. Having settled in, we visited the Exit Glacier and then had the best smoked salmon chowder in a sourdough bowl I've ever had (even if it was my first!). 168 wet miles following the Kenai Peninsula.
Day 16/July 24: Seward to Palmer. The rain persists. We visit the Kenai Fjords National Park with Kenai Fjord Tours. There is a storm blowing in and the seas are high. Many folks got a 6-hour dose of seasickness. Luckily Nick, Loren and I remained fine as the boat avoided "bergibits"--chunks of floating ice. Highlights include seeing the Holgate Glacier calving to a thunderous noise and an instant tsunami. The Holgate Glacier is part of the Harding Icefield, a massive area of ice and snow that covers much of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Also, we see puffins, sea otters, whales real up-close, sea lions, and many different sea birds. The folks of Kenai Fjord Tours know their business and the geology and history of the area. I recommend them highly.
It is 3pm and we leave Seward to start our return trip. We sleep in Palmer, northeast of Anchorage. Trip meter: 168 miles.
Day 17/July 25: Glenn Highway: Palmer via Tok to Haines Junction. We leave Palmer early and saw a beautiful sunrise near Glennallen. There we have a great breakfast made by a cook who is a musician and helping out a friend. He has traveled much and find small town Alaska a challenge... We get back on the Alaska Highway and camp in Haines Junction. For the first time the mosquitoes listen to DEET. 566 miles.
Day 18/July 26: Stewart-Cassiar Highway: Haines Junction to Dease Lake. Loren thought hard but wisely decided his RT was not built for the Cassiar. We wave him farewell at the RT37 junction and turn south. At the Junction, which was out of gas, we hear that the road was closed due to numerous washouts. The first repair section, or maybe it was just road maintenance, is half a mile from the turn-off. Besides the obligatory "snot" section, we also encountered rocks the size of tennis balls with nothing on top. Scary!!!!! Both Nick and I thought we are going to drop our bikes, but we reach the next section of chip seal giving each other a "thumbs-up."
The Cassiar is seen as a minor road. No lines on the chip seal just wide enough so that two vehicles can pass each other. There are few areas cleared next to the road, allowing animals to surprise you as they walk into the road.
Beyond Jade City we encounter our first grizzly. We passed him 30 yards to our right. We stopped a 100 yards down the road and watched the bear continue its path crossing the road behind us. The bear paused and gave us a curious look but before Nick or I could think of a photograph it disappears in the forest. We decide to hotel it since we enter Dease Lake as rain pours down. Today a tiring 551 miles.
Day 19/July 27: Yellowhead Highway: Dease Lake to Prince George. Filling up the bikes at the gas station, we hear that there are more washouts to come. Wanting to get through the first ones before construction crews started their day, we leave Dease Lake early. The plan is to meet up with Loren in Prince George. We pass the washouts without much trouble and witness new chip seal being laid down. I am grateful that we are riding safely since my "brake failure" light is now a constant companion. Today we saw nine black bears. Amongst them were two sets of moms with two cubs each, one pair climbing a tree as we passed them a few yards away.
One young bear entered the road 50 yards ahead of me as I was doing about 55mph. I decided I cannot stop, having little brakes to begin with, and stopping would probably land me very close to the bear. So I kept going, slowing somewhat if I needed to speed up to avoid a hit (a hint from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation training I regularly undergo). The bear kept walking into the road and I kept going. My adrenaline was pumping, but I was thinking: What would people say if I run into a bear? We "greeted" each other with about 3 yards to spare and Nick and I reminisced at our first stop after this encounter.
The Cassiar is beautiful and well worth the trip. Less RVs than anywhere else on this whole trip and more wildlife, including a huge (and seemingly unafraid of motor vehicles) herd of mountain goat. We met up with Loren later than planned after someone in a Honda Civic nearly runs over Nick. We contemplate that event eating great Indian food. A long but eventful 603 miles.
Day 20/July 28: Prince George to Tonasket, WA. We continue on RT97 South to pass scenic Lake Okanagan. In Peachland I pick up a few bottles of the local wine (highly recommended) and we enter the US at the Osoyoos Border Crossing. We have dinner at the Tonasket Saloon. Good food, a loud live band, and the family celebration of a 21st. 503 miles.
Day 21/July 29: Tonasket to Butte (MT). Greeted Loren this morning. We had a great breakfast in Omak, where we took RT155 through the Colville Indian Reservation to the Grand Coulee Dam. From there we followed RT2 to Spokane, and finally ran on RT90 to Butte. Passing through Missoula we witnessed the beginning of a wildfire that was still burning a week later. Montana had many wildfires though and the air quality was poor. The overcast look was smoke induced. Encountering constant 105F heat made this a shorter day than anticipated. We were hot and tired: 482 miles.
Day 22/July 30: Butte to Salt Lake City. We follow RT15 South. I finally decided that my "brake failure" problem is due to low voltage in my battery and decide to replace it in Salk Lake City. The dealership, however, is closed on Mondays and I'll have to catch them tomorrow. Arriving at our hotel in 105 degree heat (without the heat index, of course) was a God send. We swim, cool down, and wait for early evening to visit Temple Square. The buildings remain impressive, especially the acoustics in the Tabernacle. 419 VERY hot miles.
Day 23/July 31: Salt Lake City to Hurricane, UT. We visit Accolade Motorsports, the BMW (and KTM/Triumph/MV Agusta) dealership in Salt Lake. They graciously help me immediately and with a new battery my "brake failure" disappears. Feeling safe for the first time since Fairbanks Nick and I continue on to Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park. In Kolob Canyon we see the signs of major thunderstorm activity. We dodge the storms today, but it will get us tomorrow. 290 miles.
Day 24/August 1: Following RT389 and RT89 to Jacobs Lake, we turn onto RT67 and visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. With less people the North Rim is more fun to visit. They have a fire alarm however and our shopping is cut short. Returning to Hurricane, we see the purple horizon of a thunderstorm over Colorado City. I tell Nick I think waiting out the storm is appropriate. He motions continue. Within minutes we are in a massive electrical storm. I see a lightning bolt hit the rocky outcrop ahead of us. By now we are in a convoy of trucks and cars. The next minute a bolt hits the telephone pole to the left of us. The bolt and the bang is one. We are scared stiff but continue safely to our hotel in Hurricane. 300 scenic miles and one MASSIVE electrical storm.
Day 25/August 2: Hurricane to Moab, UT. We follow RT89 north through Zion NP to Bryce Canyon National Park. We experienced Zion in bright sunlight washed clean after the previous night's storms, which now followed us to Bryce. Still we are struck silent by the hoodoos of Bryce. Waiting out one storm--yes we do learn from our mistakes--we continue on to Moab. There we enjoy a steak and a bottle of wine at Bucks Grill House in Moab--a great evening capping a very scenic day. 387 miles.
Day 26: Moab to Boulder. We explore some of the arches of Arches National Park and I nearly drop my bike when my foot slip after the obligatory bike picture with an arch as backdrop. Nick and a plastic post save me from embarrassment. It's almost 11am and we leave Moab to follow RT70 East to RT131 North over Kremmling and Granby to the Trail Ridge road in the Rocky Mountain National Park. We dodge heavy road construction on Trail Ridge Road by entering the park 5:30pm on a Friday. We see big herds of elk near the Alpine visitor center as the sun sets over the park. Also, we are passed by a red Lotus, whose owner came up to us at the next scenic lookout and asked about our bikes! 474 miles, most of them on twisty back roads.
Day 27: Boulder to Lincoln (NE) following RT76 to RT 80. We are ready to be done with this trip. Too many miles in too few days in too hot weather has gotten to us, I suppose. And then I miss my girls... We wanted to get close to Omaha or Des Moines, but the endless corn fields and the heat got to us today. We only reach Lincoln before we call it a day. A mere 493 miles ;-)
Day 28: Lincoln to Holland, RT 80 to RT94 to RT196. We leave Lincoln early and run the last 661 miles to my home in Holland without any problems. Not even Chicago's obligatory traffic problems got to us as we stayed in the passing lane... We arrive as my girls literally jump up and down. I'm too tired to respond appropriately. It's been a lot of miles.I remind myself that entrances and exits are never easy for families to negotiate...
Knowing for a few years that I want to do this trip, I prepared my 2005 R1200GS accordingly since I bought it November 2004. Next time, however, I will listen to my "gut" and replace the battery before I leave on a major ride. All of these items made the ride easier:
I am grateful for this safe journey. Here are some thought I will take to my next long ride: