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chrome bandit 09-27-2011 08:30 PM

Seattle-Deadhorse-Homer-Inside Passage Twenty Eleven
The plan was simple enough: pack up the bikes and scoot up to Deadhorse, TV camera crew in tow, cash in on the Alaska reality show boom, and retire to a place where a soft Pacific breeze tickles our toes and twisties encrust the hills. We thought of names like "Alaska State Bikers", "Biking Alaska", and "Deadliest Bikers". Hm, we need to work on the titles a bit. But surely the 49th state has enough juice left for one more compelling TV series that we could squeeze some advertising dollars interested in a targeted audience full of self-important snark and frugality…?

Well, at least the dream lives on. Truth be told, we're a just couple of guys who got three weeks off from work so we could stick our feet in the Beaufort Sea. It will likely be the most north I would ever stand on this planet, unless I get shipwrecked when attempting a circum-navigational route through the Northwest Passage, but that's for our sequel series.
Brady and Craig

Let's cut over to gear pix and commentary...
The full spread
Close-up and personal

Here is the overall strategy...
  • Packed enough clothes for 4 days, and to handle a temperature range of mid-30s to 90s.
  • Electronics: Netbook with Windows 7, Kindle to store copies of documentation, Windows Phone 7
  • Photography:
    • Canon 50D with 17-40L zoom, 70-200 zoom, 1.4x extender, polarizer, extra batteries & storage cards.
    • GoPro HD with assorted attachments
  • GPS: Garmin nuvi 550 (waterproof and has AK maps)
  • Lodging: I hate sleeping on the ground...
    • Warbonnet Blackbird hammock with Big Mama tarp & Yeti UQ
    • If I am grounded...REI HD2, Exped SynMat 7
    • I need a pillow...Thermarest squishy pillow
    • Marmot sleeping bag with Sea-to-Summit silk-cotton liner
  • Kitchen: plan to cook in and eat out about 50-50
    • Alcohol stove for water boiling, fueled by HEET
    • MSR pot set
    • GobSpark™ Armageddon FireSteel (I just love the way that sounds)
    • Becker BK2 knife (this thing is a beast, batons through wood, and you can slice-n-dice tomatoes)
  • Tools
    • Basic toolkit with hex, torx, wrenchs, etc. Can take either wheel off if needed.
    • BestRest cyclepump, patch kit
    • Safety wire (it's better than duct tape, particularly after my last repair episode)
    • Tool tube holding some of this goodies is tucked under the rear rack
    • Victorinox MUT
  • Assorted odds and ends
    • Aerostich Darien suit
    • Just two pairs of shoes: riding boots and Keens
    • Camelback pak with water
    • Blindfold for sleeping
    • Bike cover
    • 2 gallon fuel can - above placement is just a prop, planned to add the real on the road
Loaded up and ready to go

Let's ride.

chrome bandit 09-27-2011 08:32 PM

"The silent cartographer"
We wired up a SPOT to a Spotwalla page, which will save the trip route for eternity or until their server funding goes away, which ever comes first.

Here's our total route for the trip…

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  • Green banners are when I punched 'OK', typically at the start and end of each day.
  • Smaller orange dots are when we had 'follow' on, which fired off a beacon signal every 10 minutes. We discovered that battery life would only last a couple of days when we had this on, so we used it sporadically.
TIP: Spotwalla pages are free, and do not have a termination period associated with them, unlike the pages which come with the SPOT service, which disappear after 30 days. I gave out link to the Spotwalla page to friends and colleagues for remote monitoring during the trip, and family received the more immediate real time notifications - adults got an email, teenagers received a text. (sign of the times!)


"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go." - Dr. Seuss
This trip has been in my head for 2 years, riding the gentle swell of equipment ramp up and rising through maps, trip reports from other travelers, before cascading into a plan. Here's how I planned the details…
  • Organization - every restaurant recommendation, place to stay, route detail, bike shop, tips from other ride reports - was copied in OneNote, which comes with Microsoft Office. My OneNote notebooks were then stored in SkyDrive, where they could be accessed by phone, browser, and other locations. Brady used the OneNote web app to read on his Android phone, I used a Windows Phone, and they could also used on an iPhone. I also saved a PDF edition to my Kindle, along with scans of insurance, passport, drivers license, etc.
  • Route planning - used a combination of AAA maps and Streets and Trips to calculate mileage and places to camp. The AAA maps turned out to be excellent workhorses throughout the trip.
  • GPS - Carried a Garmin nuvi 500 with a Migsel mount, both of which turned out to be minor disappointments.
    • The Garmin froze on me at one point, and I pressed down a little too hard to get a link and cracked the screen. Eventually it stopped working altogether and I rode half the trip without a GPS. Although under warranty, Garmin would only replace with refurb'd unit under cost, as it wasn't their issue. Grr.
    • The Migsel is wonderful design except the mounting screw - it's an embedded hex which is difficult to get to behind the GS dashboard with my big hands. It rattled loose on the Dalton, and I spent 10 minutes hunting down the washer and screw among the road rocks. I eventually swapped the screw with an external head, which is easier to access and tighten down with Loctite.
Here's the Excel spreadsheet - AKA 'the plan of record' - I used for daily planning, including mileage and camping stops. Anyone is welcome to grab a copy of this, just view the spreadsheet in full sized mode, and use the controls to save to your machine.

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We varied from the POR a little bit, particularly in the high mileage days where we just didn't feel like riding that long. We ended up skipping the Watson Lake and Richardson Highway segments, so no pix or videos later in the ride report.

Here's a gratuitous shot of my top carry - most of the stuff I carried in my top bag and was regularly futzing with.

chrome bandit 09-27-2011 08:51 PM

"Welcome to the big leagues"
Nestled here in our own little corner of the country, nicely insulated by mountains from the microwave heat across the middle of the country, I've always eyed the province of BC as a polite unassuming neighbor down the street, home to world class skiing and the occasional street riot (no need to shut down internet access for those crowds, just cut off their beer supply).

And then we rode. And rode. And rode. Three long days south to north. British Columbia is not only big, it's beauty fully merits public declaration on a license plate. It's geographic diversity ranges across rain forests, mountains, ocean, almost desert, rivers, and 20 square meter islands, and is home to some of the most remote landscape on the North American continent.
Rest stop along the Fraser River
Start of the Cassiar Highway
Northbound Cassiar Highway

<b>Video:</b>helmet cam footage from Stewart to the main junction...includes Bear Glacier and a bear crossing @ the 3 minute mark. If you look super closely, there is actually a bear earlier in the footage, but most people think it's just a rock. It really is a bear. Swear.

<object width="601" height="398"><param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" /><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><param name="movie" value="; m&amp;show_title=0&amp;show_byline=0&amp;show_port rait=0&amp;color=00adef&amp;fullscreen=1&amp;autop lay=0&amp;loop=0" /><embed src="; m&amp;show_title=0&amp;show_byline=0&amp;show_port rait=0&amp;color=00adef&amp;fullscreen=1&amp;autop lay=0&amp;loop=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" width="601" height="398"></embed></object><p><a href="">Glacier Highway BC via motorcycle</a>.</p>
Looking northbound on the Cassiar

soph9 09-28-2011 05:20 AM

Love reading about other RR to that we have done the trip I totally relate to everything you saw etc. More please! :D

chrome bandit 09-28-2011 07:16 AM

tiger envy
Thanks Leslie! (I think you're Leslie...? Apologies if I messed that up.) We ran into you at UAF after admiring your Tigers, bemoaning the parking situation with the upper/lower dorms. You'll see that situation crop up in a future post. We were just returning from Deadhorse as you guys were heading up. I think. Starting to blur together now.

Sounds like you had a great trip, I enjoyed following along. Thanks for watching this one!

chrome bandit 09-28-2011 07:20 AM

"We'll keep the lights on for you"

A well-spent day brings happy sleep. -- Leonardo da Vinci
A little montage of places we stayed...

Alas, I was only able to use the hammock for three nights, all of which I included above. The remainder of the outdoor nights were groundlevel in the tent. Just one and a half thumbs up for the Exped Synmat 7 mattress - plenty of cushion atop gravel and rocks, and a tinge too narrow when sleeping backside, my elbows would be on the ground instead of the mattress. And I'm not that wide. Really.

With the trip taking place in July, we were treated to a couple of weeks of a 24-hr-a-day light skies, which required a blindfold to get to sleep. Although the sun would dip below the horizon at 'night', we didn't need a flashlight to move around at, say, 1am. Not many stars to look at as well.

soph9 09-28-2011 07:56 AM

Just took a quick look at your BLOG...won't ruin the pics you are going to post I think but while we were in Haines waiting for the ferry to Valdez we saw what you saw on the Chilkoot river:D I remember your bikes being very clean at the University....:wink: And yes, I am Leslie, Cheryl never posts. I will be following along!

chrome bandit 09-28-2011 08:44 PM

"The juice, the precious juice"
Fact of life for anyone on a motorcycle road trip: you're stopping at gas stations two-three times a day to fuel up machine and body. Range on the 1200gs is about 210 miles, depending on speed and conditions. Brady was able to squeeze out a full 240 miles between Coldfoot and Deadhorse on his F650. I pushed the range limits of my tank a few times...
Odometer reading in Stewart BC
Gas station at Stewart BC: great view, great general store

And then I made an oopsie: I didn't top off my tank at the Cassiar/ALCAN junction, thinking I would fill up at Swift River, completely forgetting my notes that the stop had been converted to a maintenance center and had no public services. We discussed U-turning back to top off, and decided to go a conservative 50mph hoping I could land in Teslin on fumes. I made it to 9 miles out before running out of gas. While Brady scooted ahead for juice and container, I grabbed a few shots.
ALCAN Highway
Blue skies and an empty tank
Sky and pavement lane through the forest

cardoctor1 09-29-2011 03:34 AM

great report

chrome bandit 09-29-2011 07:55 PM

"Thar's gold in them thar hills"
The Klondike Highway out of Whitehorse weaved through dusty construction and short turns. We camped in Twin Lakes campground despite the bear warning...
And then we noticed everyone else in camp was staying in an RV
Nice view over the lake, and we were bear-free for the evening
Five Finger Rapids...the gold rush prospectors came up the Yukon through here

<strong>Video:</strong> short snip of the Klondike leading up to Dawson City...
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chrome bandit 09-30-2011 06:39 AM

"I'm on top of the world..."
We landed in Dawson City amid overcast skies, and established camp at Gold Creek RV Park, which is the only campground downtown. A little pricey for a 15x15ft plot of gravel, such is the way for most everything far north in the Yukon, and we needed to catch up on showers, laundry, and connections back home.
The spell of the Yukon with a fresh coat of paint
Dawson City Hotel. We were there about a week after D2D

At this point in the trip, we had been fairly lucky with the weather - mostly dry skies with just a few hours of rain on day 2, and we were hearing from riders coming from the north that they were zipping through steady downpours. As the clouds darkened over Dawson, a steady drizzle kicked in and would continue off and on through the next day. While we were prepared for rain conditions, let's be blunt...camping in the rain dampens the spirit and makes your tent smell. And we were hoping for great conditions for the Top of the World Highway.

Alas, it was not meant to be as you'll see in the video, which tracks through Dawson to the ferry and up to the border crossing at Poker Creek.

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Top of the World Highway
The most northern highway crossing into the US
Poker Creek border crossing

Road conditions were slippery on the US side and along the descent into Chicken - we saw not one but TWO RVs half off the road, right wheels in the gutter, left wheels in the air. The area had received significant rain in prior weeks, and the road had just reopened due to flooding. We lunched in Chicken under a torrential downpour, browsed the "I got laid in Chicken" t-shirts, and then the skies turned blue along the way to Tok and into Delta Junction where we were greeted by the Alaskan Air Force...
Alaska Air Force in formation
Official terminus of the ALCAN Highway

soph9 09-30-2011 06:51 AM

your RR looks so familiar....keep it coming!:lol3:clap

Macadam Drifter 09-30-2011 07:01 AM

Very nice:clap

I like your videos.

That Bear Glacier sure is getting small. Pic below shows it's size in 2004.

chrome bandit 09-30-2011 09:29 PM

"School's out for summer"
The University of Alaska in Fairbanks serves as the unofficial staging & recovery center for riders heading to and fro Deadhorse and the Arctic Circle. School is out for summer, and the college rents out dorm rooms at inexpensive rates cheaper than a motel or B&B. Rooms come with access to free shower and laundry, and you mingle with the summer students. (more details <a href="">here</a> if interested) The dorm availability is likely common knowledge around ADV, but I ran into half a dozen riders along the trip who had no idea about this, and were grateful for the phone number.
UAF single room: 24hr-a-day light, no vu
Staging area at the UAF dorm
More bikes in the UAF parking lot

While futzing around and chatting in the parking lot, we hooked up with 3 solo riders to form a caravan for the ride up to Deadhorse…
• James - a long distance rider from London touring the western hemisphere on a 1200GSA
• Rich - retired Air Force mechanic from Oklahoma on a Concourse
• Jun - retired Mazda mechanic from San Francisco on a Kawasaki

Connecting with other riders was a real highlight of the trip, not only for the camaraderie, there's also safety in numbers and all that. We're were well aware that the Dalton could be hazardous, depending on conditions, and that a number of accidents had occurred already this season.

All of us were checking the weather regularly, rain was consistent in all forecasts, causing a little fret. Then we heard from a returning rider that road conditions were in good shape, so we put our game faces on, packed up, made hotel reservations in Deadhorse, and headed north.
James @ UAF: "Do you have any rooms available...?"

chrome bandit 10-01-2011 10:59 AM

"To infinity and beyond!"
Good news for you ride report fans, we took the 'smell the roses' approach up and down the Dalton, which meant overnight stays at Coldfoot in each direction. No up-and-back 500 mile days for us, we preferred to dawdle and be eaten by carnivorous mosquitos along the side of the road while we paused for photos and breaks. We timed our trip to perfectly align with the skeeter mating season so we could join their block party.


"Hey, bartender! Bloody Mary, O-positive. " -- A Bug's Life
And they loved my O-positive blood. Two thumbs up for the bug hat net from Outdoors Research. No issues, of course, while bike was in motion, the fun would start about 20 seconds after a stop, and the swarm would descend.

Back to more practical matters: the ride experience on the Dalton has direct relationship with the weather. During our four days up and back, the weather pattern was typically sunny mornings with afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains. Conditions were manageable, and we kept it slow in the slick wet stuff, of which there was plenty.

Here's a quick 3 minute video showing highlights on the way up...

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And among all the videos I created along the trip, this one was probably my second most favorite, as I was able to share footage with James and show off different perspectives. My own self top rated comes with the southbound journey, which you'll see in a couple of posts ahead.
Smooth riding on the hardened calcium chloride roadtop
Great burgers at Hot Spot
Rest stop on the Dalton
Finger Mountain rest stop
Craig at the Arctic Circle
Brady at the Arctic Circle
Alaska pipeline beside the Dalton
Marion Creek campground outside Coldfoot

A few roadie insights along the way up...

  • My 1200GS needed an extra 1.5 gallons to make the 250-ish miles between Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Brady made it on a single tank on his F650.
  • Road conditions during the construction segments tended to have the worst surfaces...slippery, deep muddy gunk or gravel, and typically surrounded by trunks bigger than us.
  • My GPS mount rattled off just past Atigun Pass, as the bikes were bouncing off large gravel stones and giving everyone a good vibration shake down. This was the beginning of the end for the GPS on this trip.
  • Coldfoot has an awesome all-you-can-eat buffet, as well as bar. It's also the last stop for any alcohol going north, as it's not allowed at all in Deadhorse. Handy to know if the skies are wet and you're not looking forward to camping & eating in the rain.
  • After hearing so many horror stories about road conditions and hearing various injury reports, we were surprised to see spanking new blacktop pavement around the Coldfoot area, it's like an oasis for the tires, and soon disappears without rhyme or reason

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