Alaska Solo Trip Blog Part 1
For anyone who cares to read or is considering the same route for next year -- here's my running blog of the solo 17-day Alaska trip I just completed. The trip was awesome, and the Versys held up great! I'll post gear reviews as well. Would have posted this in general discussion, but I apparently don't have permission. And looks like I'll have to post in several parts, so I will do installments.
Seattle to Alaska Solo Ride, August-September 2011
Here is the day-to-day summary account of my solo Alaska motorcycle trip, culled from notes written during the trip, with some post-trip reflections added in at the end. The bike I rode was my red 2008 Versys.
Day 1: Cache Creek
Yesterday was such a stunning ride! Even before I started, I had to learn so much about the bike just to disassemble the fairing and fix the GPS (the wires connecting to it were tangled and wouldn’t reach). So now I have more peace of mind that the unshielded wires that were in there won't short out, because I shielded and waterproofed them. Sadly, it meant that I only got on the road around 4:30 PM, and had to do quite a few of my 300 miles in the dark to get to my first stop, Cache Creek. The plan is to basically go directly north to hit the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek.
This trip has already been very beautiful. The territory going through the northern Cascades is amazing—lots of twists and turns through stunning mountain scenery. Plus, there's a lot of history in this area from the 1800s, when many people had to work hard to build the railway and the highway. There were 7 tunnels, including the China Bridge tunnel, which is one of the longest on the continent. It's amazing to me that this highway is Canada's lifeline, because it's basically a two-lane road. They have a different idea of development than we do in the US..... I was a bit afraid to ride in the dark because of wildlife—there were signs about bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. But the wildlife count is at one as of now—a single deer in the brush by the side of the road.
I have become a believer in GPS, by the way. It's really handy – very good to have a more accurate speedometer, because the one on the Versys is off by 8-9 mph. And the GPS tells you speed limits. Plus it's nice to not have to think about navigating at all..... Off to Dawson City!
Days 2 and 3: Whisker Lake, Pink Mountain
What a challenging two days! Yesterday started well, but then things went south quickly when it started raining. I had thought the rain might go away quickly, but instead it turned from a few scattered droplets to a heavy downpour. It turns out the expensive rain pants I bought (Olympia brand) don't work very well—they have a design flaw that lets water in at the crotch, which is quite miserable. I am second-guessing the decision not to bring my rainsuit. But on the other hand, my boots and jacket held up pretty well.
I made a brief stop in Prince George, where their summer festival was being rained out—it was quite sad, seeing people whose summer is so short anyhow, having their one summer event destroyed. Prince George is the last decent-sized city I’ll see until I make it all the way up to the Yukon Territory, to Whitehorse (assuming I get there).
I had intended to go all the way to Dawson Creek on day 2, but with the rain getting heavier, I was lucky to find a campsite with a tarp that I could put both my tent and my bike under. I ended up with a lot of wet stuff, but at least the lake and campsite (Whisker Lake) were a pretty place to have breakfast—very quiet, and nice to eat my gluten-free oatmeal with only waterfowl gliding on the glassy lake for company. (I’ve just been put on a new gluten-free, dairy-free diet by my doctors, and that’s another aspect of the challenge of this trip—to try to maintain that diet on a trip through complete wilderness and very few food options. So I’m essentially carrying two weeks’ worth of dehydrated food that I can cook at my campsites—the Harmony House Backpacking Kit, with 70+ meals for under $50, along with a few spices to add some variety, is pure gold! And some gluten-free oatmeal, not to mention Kind Bars, are also part of the arsenal.)
Today was challenging for different reasons—namely, a lot of construction and gravel and mud patches on the road. Not only do I feel as though I've had crash course in how to ride a fully-loaded bike on gravel and mud, but the rough road is eating up my tires quickly, and I’m afraid that a flat may happen at some point. Still, there were a lot of pretty places along the way—first, as the road went up through a mountain pass in the Canadian Rockies, and then cruising along on the high plain on the other side, and now through the rolling hills of the southern Alaska highway. I made a brief stop in Dawson Creek to try to find a rainsuit as extra insurance after my rain pants turned out so crappy, and I did get one—at twice the price of the one I’d decided against bringing and is now sitting in my closet in Seattle. Also in Dawson Creek, a Subway salad turned out to be my lifesaver, and of course, the shop was run by Indians…
The terrain up here is starting to feel wilder—big distances, and very few people along the way. I was doing well until the end of the day, when I had a pretty dramatic near-death experience—I hit an unsigned, unmarked rough gravel patch coming around a curve at high speed and almost went down. The bike was all over the place, and to top it off, a speeding logging truck coming in the opposite direction threw up so much dust that I couldn’t see anything, either. I really thought my trip was going to come to a bad end, and I only survived by remembering the golden advice—stay off the brakes, modulate the throttle, and stay calm. I feel really lucky that I was able to get the bike back under control and not have it turn into disaster.
I was shaken up, though, so I stopped at the next place I came to and shelled out for a motel room—Pink Mountain, which turns out to be a motor lodge for truckers and people working at this gravel mine in the middle of nowhere. It's a strange place—very basic amenities, and not particularly friendly people. It feels like a desolate frontier far removed from civilization. The best thing to be said about it was that there was a vaguely Juneau-like dog at the gas station, taking a peaceful nap. As a guy who sounded like an Eastern European immigrant told me as he smoked a cigarette on the porch, “You have Fort Nelson—after is wilderness. You better be ready.” Good advice, indeed.
I'll be very glad to get out of here tomorrow. [As it turns out, Pink Mountain was both the crappiest and most expensive place I stayed during the whole trip.] I'm rethinking going all the way to Inuvik (in the Canadian Arctic), though—I want to slow down and really enjoy the journey. So I'm leaning towards going to southern Alaska this week, and then coming back down the Cassiar highway and making it to the Queen Charlotte Islands next week. We'll see.....