Monday, July 30, 2012

Top of the World and Chicken

These extended 24 hour daylight hours and getting nearly no sleep were putting a serious dent on my trip progress so I regretfully said good bye to Robert who remained by the river to enjoy the Klondike campsite at a leisurely pace for another day. One day when I’ll afford to retire I might go back to spend more time in those pristine lands.

Taylor highway or Top of the World highway as it’s aptly named, starts off in Canada as a nicely graded gravel road with some paved sections, riding the top of the mountains to one of the most scenic US  Border crossings I have seen so far. And although if recall correctly the altitude on GPS was never over 6000 ft (~2000 m) it definitely has the feel  and views worthy of it’s name.

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In the US side, road turned in packed clay. The area seems to still have active gold panning going on. The river water color gives away it’s mineral rich content.

The clay turns to slippery mud when mixed with rain, not deep but enough to keep things interesting on street Tourances inflated at 43 PSI on my loaded GS.

Here I met a rider from California on a R1200 R who had the misfortune of testing the road’s condition by pushing harder than I did. He was OK with just a bent handlebar and unfortunately a seriously bruised hand. The truth is that he was tired and same was true also for myself. It took me serious effort to stay upright for the remaining miles until Chicken due to fatigue accumulated from being on the road for the past two weeks of 5 – 6 hundred mile days and lately without much sleep. We both camped in Chicken for the night.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Going to Dawson City

The Alcan highway makes it’s way through hundreds of miles of pristine forest and mountains offering breathtaking views.

If you are picky on the gas there are all kinds available, as long as it’s 87 octane.

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One must pay attention to the road, construction areas do appear from time to time. This place particularly is where Alaska highway was closed for four days due to land slide that wiped the road.

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Bears usually mind their own business (Click on images to play)


Watson Lake is an interesting stop, the Signpost Forest has road signs from all over the world.

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On our way to Whitehorse we met Otto riding his Gold Wing with a huge Texas flag.

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After all three of us camped in Whitehorse Otto took off early, while me and Robert had breakfast in town.

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We didn't notice the sign and, no, we weren't trying to rob the bank.

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We took the Klondike highway (named after the river which it follows) all the way to Dawson City. This is one of the most deserted roads I have been on, I encountered more bears than cars, I even saw Grizzly with cubs up close but did not have camera ready. The picture below is at one of the very few places once can get gas and a snack on this road. The Tenere here was a Texas lady’s motorcycle accompanied by her husband on a GSA.

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The modern Marlboro man

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When entering Dawson we noticed large mounds of tailings telling the story of once rich ore soil. The town itself has an aura of Wild West old times, unlike any I have seen. (Click below to play the video) Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

To my utter surprise due to the Summer solstice event happening this night, there were no more accommodations available in town, including camping. After checking our options I decided to cross by ferry to hopefully find camp spots in next campground. This made for a very scenic view while we were patiently awaiting the captain to skillfully negotiate the furious river current. Click the pictures below to play video.

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After we crossed river found one of the most scenic campsites I had in the entire trip as shown in this video.

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We stayed up all night by the fire sipping Jack Daniels and telling stories, it never got dark at all.

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A fox came by and didn’t want to leave.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Alcan – Alaska Highway

On a cloudy morning I made it to the start of world’s famous Alaska highway waiting my turn after many Winnebago's and RV’s to pass the traffic circle. Being alone I was content to just take a picture of it and film it with my helmet camera. But as luck had it, I saw approaching a man and woman and I happily handed my camera when she agreed to take pictures of me. Notice her comments on visiting Dawson City on the summer solstice day.

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Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug After few more pictures I took off, rain clouds getting thicker. It wouldn't be long before it would start raining again but I was so used to it by now I didn't really give it any more thoughts putting my rain gear on.

The scenery started to subtly change from endless plains to more entertaining hills and forested areas. Rain alternated with sunshine often. As I was riding along, music playing in my helmet from the MP3 player, I approached a motorcycle that was moving constantly but steadily at 65 mph and  I started wondering how can he maintain such disciplined speed given the open road ahead of us., Mind you, the speed limits are set rather low to 90 Km/hr and sometimes 100  if I recall, but they seemed more of a suggestion  because everyone was travelling at 70  or more mile per hour. I had settled in at 70 – 75 mph as I found this was a perfect cruising speed for me that also yielded economical gas mileage. This guy was riding at exact maximum speed limit permitted as marked and this intrigued me. As I approached the motorcycle I was able to read “Alaska or Bust!” on a large plate hanging on his rear luggage rack. A huge smile could  be seen from a bearded face under the open helmet as I passed by, waving and smiling myself. The 600 CC Honda Shadow license plate read “Kentucky”. My heart jumped with joy at the realization that I was indeed not crazy for taking this trip alone, that there were others.

Later in the day, while having lunch in a small gas station restaurant, a gentleman riding a BMW R1200RT from Indiana had given me his well worn out Alaska Milepost large paper map along with welcome advice on places to see and routes to take once in Alaska, having just experienced it all recently in his trip from which he was returning home.This was the beginning of many interesting travelers I was going to meet along my route from here and all the way up to Alaska and back. The fact is, everyone going to or coming from Alaska travels pretty much on same routes and sooner or later you meet everyone.

The goal was to make it to Toad River, a rustic mountain lodge in the Rockies. The further I rode the better the road and scenery became. Mountains, rivers and alpine lakes were replacing the flatlands becoming now the backdrop of this epic road trip and I could not stop from admiring the scenery and enjoying the twists of the road. Evening found me close to the planned place to stop, after negotiating an exciting set of mountain twisties and passing through some more great scenery, however temperatures were hovering below 50 F, even below 40 in certain spots. Finally I arrived at Toad River Lodge finding what appeared to me a deserted settlement. There was not a soul around the gas station and in the lodge office. Of course it was past midnight although there was still plenty of light which messed up my already delayed sleep instincts. Since I could not get gas I tried to at least book a room as I wasn’t quite up to camping in the bitter cold night and I haven't seen any tents nearby either. An Indian woman came out accompanied by a barking dog in response to my yelling around to see if anyone was there. She asked me what do I want and why am I making all the noise. I explained that I need gas or a room to stay for the night. She said that gas pump will only be open in the morning and to just go pick a room that’s not already taken (hint: check door and make sure no one’s belongings were inside) and I shall pay in the morning. This video was taken around 1 AM, notice how scary the place is :) Apparently the name Toad river came from someone misspelling “Towed” which was frequent occurrence for travelers here in the past, due to bad road conditions. The misspelled word stuck and remained the actual place name, it wouldn't’ be the last one I would encounter in these northern territories.

As I had not had any food since morning and no perspective of finding anything at this hour here, I used one of my few emergency dry packs of food preparing it on my little stove. While I was eating two women showed up in a little beat up car; they both looked as if they had few drinks more and were very happy to have conversations. While this was unfolding another motorcycle approached followed closely by a Winnebago. To my surprise it was none other than the Kentucky rider I passed earlier in the day. With a 2.9 gallon tank running fumes he wasn't going anywhere further at this time I reckoned. Turns out the car was driven by a local who followed him out of courtesy in case he would completely run out of gas, then took off shortly thereafter. he was also thoroughly frozen by the temperatures I had just passed through, and without a heated vest. Since I had already occupied the last room, I agreed to allow the man to sleep on the floor on his air mattress. That would likely never happened back in New York but out here there is a totally different attitude everyone has toward each other, especially when help is needed, and it’s contagious. Robert (his name) proved later to also be a very persuasive old man in his late 60’s and demonstrated an amazing ability to strike up instant sympathy with first time acquaintances, it must be something to do with the Southern charm, I guess. To my mind, also these place’s solitude and lack of population seems to make everyone a lot more friendly and easy to approach than people normally are in urban areas of the  US East coast.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Weather being sunny, road in good condition and the motorcycle running perfect, eventually I made my way to the border with Canada sometime in the afternoon. The border crossing went on smooth and  after answering questions and showing the passport I was allowed into Canada; in less than five minutes. I stopped at the Canada welcome center and asked where I can exchange some money or use an ATM. The girl working in the office with no other visitors at the time advised me to use a bank in the next town, Estevan. Just as I was cherishing the beautiful sunny skies, I started approaching a deep gray area of clouds and wind really started picking up speed. Shortly I realized I must stop and perform my now well exercised roadside dancing to get into my rain gear if I didn't want to get drenched in the next five minutes. It was as if I had been purposefully prompted by the nature to take notice of entering Saskatchewan’s prairies where road would stretch on for many, many hundreds of miles of windy, infinite grasslands as far as horizons stretched. This was to become the leitmotif of the days to come while I started slowly to make my way North West across this vast country.

As evening came I found myself in a small campground on the outskirts of Regina. There was nothing fancy about it but I noticed it being full with pickups towing camper homes. I learned that evening having conversation with some folks that the town is booming with newly extended potash mining industry or some such mineral and plenty of new jobs are being taken by Canadians coming from out of province but there is no more available housing to accommodate them so they all stayed in campgrounds except for the fortunate lucky ones who grabbed the few remaining apartments for rent. My thoughts went back to USA and the current economy where many people are still suffering in a poor job market and I found it odd this area being so close geographically yet things being so different if this was indeed the reality.

Crossing this huge landscape of nothing but green pastures and blue sky dotted with occasional rains gave me a whole new meaning to the word meditation. As miles ticked by slowly but scenery stayed pretty much the same I stopped looking at the odometer and mentally marked my trip progress only counting the gas tank fill ups knowing my GS1200 BMW’s range was 200 miles before reserve. This is a bit more than standard due to a modification I made to pull out the plastic overfill neck which allows for better tank filling, it’s holding close to 6 gallons now. I also had with me one gallon jerry can securely mounted in place of right passenger foot peg, as emergency reserve.

Although sun was shining and sky was clear, the wind and temperatures made for a chilly ride and soon I saw necessary to use the Gerbing electric jacked I had packed to stay comfortable. Since I had just a pair of summer gloves, I stopped in Saskatoon and purchased a pair of Goretex lined cold weather gloves from the local Harley Davidson dealer. They were having a huge demo ride and sale and the lot was full of Harleys and people dressed in typical cruiser fashion. One person stroke a conversation asking me if I had any more places to strap additional luggage on my bike, and I concurred that my motorcycle had probably never been so loaded with gear.

Passing through Edmonton of which I have been advised to avoid for the night, I needed to make a quick decision as night was falling and populated places with hotels or camp sites are few and far in between in these parts. I followed a sign indicating “Alberta Beach” which was also marked to supposedly have a hotel, so I went searching for it. I arrived on the shore of a large lake surrounded by forests but no hotel or camping was to be found, the area appeared as a local’s weekend destination waterfront resort. Eventually I discovered a restaurant bar which had also the sign of hotel, quickly entered and booked a room before (as I knew by now all too well that this is not the US East Coast where businesses run 24X7) the establishment was going to close it’s doors and keep only the bar open. The room was less than what I had expected but it had to do being the only available option. To top it all off, all rooms were located just above the bar where a large crowd had gathered for a good time and karaoke was blasting and continued to do so all night. This time I had the earplugs handy and amazingly I succeeded to fall asleep while the room and my bed were literally shaking with the screaming madness going on downstairs.

After several long tiring days, I decided to make next day a shorter one and only reach Dawson Creek, where Alaska highway begins, about 350 miles or so. I wanted a nice hotel room, with good bed and a proper shower. Just when entering Dawson Creek I immediately noticed and stopped at a brand new Holiday Inn Express, being a member received a great upgrade for same price to a suite which included fridge and had almost twice the usual room’s living area. The two girls at reception could not have been more helpful and nice. One of them was from Australia working the summer there. I made myself comfortable and the first thing was to check Internet access, which worked OK, but too slow to upload most of the large videos which I had collected from my GoPro Hero helmet camera.  Anyway, there wasn’t anything spectacular captured until now as the interesting part of the journey was just beginning to start tomorrow so I uploaded only a handful of small ones for my folks at home. I had dinner at a somewhat upscale restaurant with good food, after past few days of gas station sandwiches and fast food. The restaurant did not have too many clients. In fact the whole street block had few hotels and a  casino but I did not see a large affluence of people. I must be used too much with the hustle of the populated area where I live. Out here, everything moves at a different pace, and it seems better.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Burning some miles

As I looked at the map with my trip destination, I decided to head for the fastest route that would get me in Alaska and have more time to spend there. It wasn't going to be most scenic and certainly had a lot of interstate riding but I saw no other way to cover the distance. So I headed North West through Pennsylvania then Ohio and Indiana and by night time I was in Illinois. I had previously ridden through Chicago metro area and found myself in traffic jams for hours not to mention the numerous tolls which are as much a nuisance to stop for as they are to pay. I could not understand how can the roads be worse when more tolls are actually being paid while in other parts of the country the reverse it true. This time, I inserted Peoria as  via point in my GPS which although adding some ~100 miles to the overall trip, veered me nicely away from the big city through backcountry cornfields and pretty small towns. I prefer more miles than more hours in traffic anyway. When night approached I was passing through some beautiful country side when I spotted a sign  for a state park and campground. It was all I needed, and at first gas station I asked the attendant and got directed some 15 miles through cornfields and passing some pretty electric windmills to a lake where the campground was. Being already late, there was no one attending the small office and the honor system was in use instead. So I picked a campsite, filled an envelope with the information and the money required and placed it in the container. I started unpacking when a gentleman who was walking by stopped to admire the motorcycle and we started talking. This was going to be an often occurrence in my trip whenever stopped there was almost invariably  someone that was interested to know where was I coming from, where was I going, how do I manage to be doing this trip alone and  also talk about the bike. My weakness for morning coffee was satisfied by carrying a pound of fresh ground real Turkish coffee and a MSR pocket rocket stove and GSi Soloist cooking set.

The next day I set off with the goal of covering as many miles as possible towards the North Dakota Canada border. But before that I needed breakfast which turned in to another opportunity to meet and chat with the locals and learn a little about the place by meeting one person who actually helped create it.

The ride was sprinkled literally with  rain showers in Wisconsin and Minnesota. My new Motoport two piece rain suit proved to be perfect keeping me dry through some serious downpours. I had also a pair of Aerostitch triple digit glove rain covers to protect my hands. These were also fine except for the Velcro fastener across the back of the hand which was coming out of the loops before I had a chance to fasten them, and refused to stay in place when I was putting them on over the leather gloves. So I left these hanging as some dorky tails in the wind and still got protected from the rain. I was wishing I had brought the pair of BMW Goretex gloves I had left at home, and realized my mistake of being focused on more unimportant stuff while I was packing everything at home. Much later in the trip after purchasing a pair of cold/rain weather gloves I would actually discover the BMW Goretex gloves I thought had forgotten were in fact in my luggage very well hidden :)

I was trying real hard to log more miles but weather had other plans for me that day. After several good hours of riding in the pouring cold rain dodging legions of trucks on the interstate, I finally had enough and stopped for food and to warm up in a restaurant in Madison, WI. I ordered a huge meal, soup, hamburger and ice cream dessert then wolfed everything down quickly. The pretty waitress said smiling “you were really hungry, can I bring you something else!?”

By evening rain had stopped as I had passed it, and I made it into Minnesota where after several U turns eventually found again a state campground with a nice idyllic setting in a forested area by Albert Lea Lake. I ended up setting camp in the dark using my head lantern. A mild wind played all night in the trees that amplified the sound of every breeze.Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug In the morning before departing, my neighbor came to say hello and share few thoughts on Alaska as he had been there few years ago. My GoPro helmet cam again received its share of attention.

I pressed on, my mind set to cross Minnesota and get further. By evening I was travelling through farm land in North Dakota heading towards the border. But it was getting dark and I still had a good distance so I started again looking for camp sites. Since I had left Interstate 74 and riding through rural areas, there were no camping sites. As dusk settled I found a motel which had no open office. I entered the building and only found a group of young guys and girls having a good time at the bar who looked at me as if I had just fallen from the moon but they had no idea where the manager was or how I could get a room. After walking through the dark corridors and finding only locked doors I gave up trying to locate someone that can let me reserve a room for the night and headed back on the road. It was already dark by now and I started feeling the fatigue of the long day. I kept riding as there was no place to stop for the night, closest town Minot was still at least an hour away. Having had incidents at night with animals in the road I began being quite nervous and tense which only made the fatigue worse. The bike headlight was blazing a hallucinogenic path through the empty darkness of the road over the vast prairie. I then had few close calls where I almost started falling asleep and made great effort to not succumb to the velvet blanket that was getting harder and harder to fight.  By 1 AM I finally made it in Minot and accepted the largely overpriced rate the clerk offered me in the “only suite left available” in first hotel I found. I sent the “I am OK stopping here for the night” text to my brother and crashed into a deep sleep.

I woke up late and left hotel near noon time, but I had recharged my batteries and I was refreshed. On the road again, I stopped for a gas station where I also had a small pizza for lunch then continued my journey.

Monday, July 16, 2012

First day on the road

Having  lost already Saturday and Sunday fiddling with luggage that didn't want to stay in place and be secure enough,  Monday I finally manage to break loose from the inertia, gear up and leave but not before I forget several essential items that made me unload unpack and reload bags for the  hundredth time that day. The feeling of leaving was overwhelming and everything seemed to have conjured to make me as paranoid as possible that something will eventually go wrong and that I actually need more time to prepare! I guess experienced and often travelers get over this much faster/easier or maybe they never have these worries. But for myself being conditioned to spending most of the time in a predictable  “safe and comfortable” environment yet really crave the travel adventure, it it’s a paradox that it takes a conscious effort to really break free. So now with the early start missed I of course had to deal with the the best of what NYC area traffic had to offer. Once out of the city area and onto the interstate, after entering Pennsylvania  I made the first stop for fuel and a snack. I discovered some weak spots in my luggage arrangement, remedied them using few of the multiple  tie straps I had brought. It’s interesting how one’s imagination is quickly stimulated once they realize must solve issues ad hoc using limited resources.

Not having planned any of my days I was interested to see how I was going to find campgrounds and decide places to stay for the night. This proved to be of no concern as campground sites abound along the US interstates and soon I was able to pick my first place to stop in a beautiful Pennsylvania campground called Gaslight. The place is privately owned by a nice couple of elderly folks who were very accommodating, and it had all the amenities to make one’s stay enjoyable. I took few pictures and video clip below.

That night I begun my experience camping in my tent under rain. The various sounds rain makes on the tent’s rain fly kept me awake for most of the time. Since I was right under a large tree, the branches retained water and splashed it onto my tent with every breeze of wind. I had ear plugs but they were safely packed in my bike’s trunk which was covered with the motorcycle cover. I couldn’t drag myself out in the rain to retrieve them and resigned to listening to the cacophony of sounds while rain was doing it’s thing.

Preparing for the trip

I spent a lot of time on ADVrider and many other forums reading every story I could find about other’s experience with their trip routes, equipment and gear they used. This was also to be my first real camping trip and after reading several books on the topic of motorcycle camping I was inundated by all kinds of advice, I realized there was not going to be any trial runs (which were advised by all publications I read on the topic) As most of my free time was spent preparing the motorcycle and gear I needed, I realized I was severely lacking the time to try how it all works before the big trip. I finally decided on purchasing the tent and camping gear solely based on other’s reviews. Fortunately, in spite of my lack of experience, thanks to the reviews and information sharing from multiple sites, I did not encounter difficulties using these and they proved to be of good quality. Below is a video of my pre departure day while I was very much still trying to figure out all the packing and securing luggage to the motorcycle.


Why this trip happened

I have always been fascinated by long distance motorcycle travel. Going as far as possible, getting that feeling of being well beyond familiar places, being blown away by natural beauty of places and amazed by interacting with new people. The only way I can experience the feeling of being really a part of the world I am traveling through, for me is  doing it on a motorcycle. Many years ago, the first motorcycle I owned was a 50 CC two stroke which would have had a hard time today being classified as anything else other than a kid’s bike. But it was a proper motorcycle, with four gears and same amount of horsepower, brakes, a light that pulsated and raised or dimmed intensity with engine RPM, and even a horn. It’s name was Mobra. I had miraculously been able to buy it from a co worker who had slowly become much more preoccupied with drinking parties than riding it. So, after declaring my interest in two wheel motorized vehicles, many hours of discussions and sales pitches being administered to me every day at the work place by friends and acquaintances of this friend, not having any motorcycling experience I decided one evening after work to pass by his house and have him demonstrate the machine’s perfect running condition and extraordinary performance. Since I didn't know how to ride, after a few laps in the dark  around the large apartment buildings complex – me being first time on a motorcycle as well as a passenger – my dorky colleague friend managed to thoroughly impress me avoiding the huge steel trash cans by mere inches while we gloriously navigated the maze of junk in a cloud of two stroke smoke offering all building inhabitants the delightful chainsaw like high pitched engine noise at the late evening hour. I was sold and brought it home shortly thereafter, and after many trial and error learning exercises in an adjacent park I finally managed to stay upright, shift, accelerate, brake and steer it enough to survive. It did break down a lot which I discovered as soon as I received my driving license and attempted to cover any distance outside my neighborhood’s nearest streets. I had to take it apart almost weekly and figure out how to get it running again, but that only created the bond between us making me more confident to push the envelope further. After a year I was taking trips of approximately 100 miles from my place to the mountains or even to the Black Sea. Many hours were spent doing roadside maintenance and frequently needed repairs, they gave me the fondest of memories of places and people I met in those occasions and the taste for adventure and new roads exploration. Fast forward today, many years motorcycles and life events later, I now own a 2007 BMW R1200GS. I have taken many motorcycle journeys in US, Canada, Mexico and Europe, but never one of almost 12,000 miles alone and with just a month of free time. Travelling to Alaska on my own motorcycle has always intrigued me and the more I thought about it, the more I needed to do it. After a lot of reading of other's stories and viewing pictures of their trip, finally I had decided to make it all happen.The map below  was drawn using  the GPS tracks recorded, it is the route I followed in this trip.

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