Alaska, land of hard men and big deeds. It looms large in my imagination, images fueled by writers like Jack London, Belmore Browne, Robert Service, and David Roberts. And captured in pictures like this.
Alaska offers up suffering. Usually I want none of that.
My buddy Steve Esola has a plan. He's to be in Anchorage on bidness and can take three days off for riding while he's there. He wouldn't mind an accomplice. That might work. Even if we suffer, the time is short.
Plans are made, bikes rented, tickets purchased.
The plan is mildly crazy (or maybe really crazy, depending on whether your are a hard man or softy). We ride to Chicken, touch our toes in Dawson City for the Solstice, ride back to Tangle River and cross the Denali Highway, and get to the airport to fly home. Piece of cake.
Alaska has a heat wave just for us.
Anchorage from the Marriott window.
We cadge breakfast from the executive lounge and book it to Alaska M/C Adventures, where the hardware awaits us.
Steve loading up.
I'll ride the GS first, tomorrow the Tiger.
It takes about an hour to escape Anchorage, maybe just a bit less. We're heading up the Glenn Highway and stop to pee. Good thing I have an old guy bladder or there might not be any pictures.
I think the river is the Matanuska.
On to Glennallen. Steve is hongry and wants food, but he blinks and we miss all the places to eat. We turn around when a kindly young lady with a flag in her hand tells us that the nearest food is behind us. Oh.
Here's Mount Drum in the Wrangell Range, just northeast of Glennallen on the way to Tok. The River is the Copper.
On the way to Tok we are passed like we are standing still by a guy on a Yamaha Tenere. This is reasonably surprising as we have held a pace of about 85-95 most of the way. In Tok at the Standard station, our paths cross again. He's from Morelia, Mexico and has to be at the border by Wednesday. He's headed to Whitehorse this evening. See, hard men, big deeds.
We turn up on the Top of the World Highway at Tetlin Junction.
Here's a picture of the road. No service bars, of course. What'll we do?
A picture of my well traveled 'stich, with me in it.
Steve and I debate why these trees are dead. Turns out, they aren't. These are Black Spruce and they're supposed to be that way.
Chicken in Chicken. Everything in Alaska is big.
Chicken will be home for day 1.
Two of the bikes I'm most interested in. I'm curious to see how they compare. Plus the ride of course!
Chicken, seems I remember a kindly rider springing for some Alaskan Amber...I'm in, gotta have the rest of the story.
Reporting in from Dallas, on the way back east.
Chicken. Apparently there's still gold in them thar hills.
The bar is the place to be in Chicken, at least so said the nice Harley guy in Tok. (As an aside, in the lower 48, I rarely get a word from a H-D rider, even if I initiate the conversation. In AK, no issues, at least until you get back to Anchorage opolis, then it becomes similar to the rest of the country). He was right.
In the bar we meet a couple three nice young kids here to strike it rich. At least, that's the plan. I assume they provide the muscle for placer mining and some older, wiser, and richer folk provide the grubstake. Each of the girls and boys we met were working for shares of future riches. its like a Las Vegas thing, but with crappier hotel rooms and more mosquitoes. The cynical me says these kids grow richer in experience. But as for the money? Not so much.
We also meet up with inmate jdrocks. His story is here:
See, hard men, big deeds. I felt so soft and wimpy I bought his beer. It was well returned with great stories, and some intel on the road ahead. He pointed out that there was a wrecked V-Strom along the way. A cautionary tale, for sure.
When it is always day, I don't know what you call the start of the day, but we awoke to rain. That's more like it. I have to wear the 'stich to the outhouse because I don't want to be clammy all day, part of the day will do nicely.
100 plus miles to Dawson in slime and 100 back plus 300 or so more back down to Tangle River. We are not undaunted. We are daunted already.
We launch. The road out a Chicken is soft and slimey. The greasiest parts are somewhat easy to identify because the soil is darker, but this works only until the partial whiteout sets in, making even the shoulder a bit hard to pick out. Remember, at least one of us is a wimp. I'm sure other real adventurers will chime in to tell how I'm overstating conditions.
In any case, we get to what appears to us to be the top of the world and it looks like this.
We enter Canada, and the nice young agent points out it's only 65 more miles to Dawson City. And it gets easier. He's not the first one to tell us this. Well, it's easier, but it's not any closer. We snap a picture of the YT sign and the barren terrain.
Then we collect a passport stamp and beat rubber back to Chicken, now seemingly named just for us.
This photo is meant to show the virginal HD and the well used rentals. Not a great picture but you get the idea. The couple on the HD were sanguine about the upcoming trial, and they didn't have to come back today, either.
Note Steve's nice clean feet.
BTW. The lower Chicken lacks a cool bar, but pays you back with flush toilets inside. Local knowledge.
We launch back toward Tok and on to Delta Junction. The rain stops, the sun warms the sky, we wallow in our wimpdom. Better part of valor and all that, you know old chap.
No piccies until we hit the Richardson Highway south of Delta. We are munching miles at this point. Just a tic or three over an hour Tok to Delta(111 miles). No pee breaks at breakneck speed.
South on Richardson and the Alaska Range pokes you in the eye.
Mounts Hayes, Hess, and Deborah from the highway.
Wish I could do them justice.
Here's the pipeline in the distance.
It's the thin silver line.
the weather turns again and we dodge into and out of some hard rain. This little lake is just after the turn off onto the Denali highway. It's about 2200 feet in elevation and there's still ice in it.
I think this is Mt. Wrangell (about 14,000'), just a bit south and east of the east end of the Denali Highway in the far distance. Might be Blackburn (nearly 17K).
Twenty miles up the Denali Highway we stop at Tangle River Inn. A wimpy adventure day, but an adventure none the less.
Here's a view out of our cabin door at 4AM. I had to pee and got stunned a bit by the view, again.
Here's the inn at our departure time, about 830AM.
A guy had rolled in on a big GS at about seven PM the night before, planning a traverse of the Denali that evening. Since it's never dark, you are only limited by your fatigue as to how far you ride.
You might wonder why we left at such a civilized hour. Our experience has been that the outfitters don't open for food until 730AM. I suppose otherwise they'd have to stay open all night, since fishermen and such would leave at godawful hours and expect to be fed. Hard men camp, screw that restaurant crap. As you have read, I'm no hard man.
For me, the Triumph is a better road bike, faster, smoother. The Beemer is a better dirt bike, a little more nimble, torquey.
The ergos on the Beemer are nicer. Better bags, better handlebar bend, nice controls (I like the info scroller on the bar instead of a button on the dash). Easier to see the heated grip switches in sunlight, more comfy seat.
I liked standing better on the Triumph. Could be that the footpeg rubbers were removed on that bike and not on the Beemer.
If I was choosing, maybe it would just be on price, or on which seller I preferred to deal with.
Both get the job done nicely.
We left in sunshine and traveled the last few hundred yards of pavement and hit the dirt for Cantwell, 100 miles or so away.
This dirt road is probably what the Canada side of the Top of the World highway is like. It's wide, nicely graded, very few corners and spectacular scenery. Oh, and no traffic, either.
Our first pause for a look at a different angle of Deborah, Hess, and Hayes.
Miles roll by at a rapid rate and soon we're at the crossing of the Susitna River.
It's easy to hold about sixty on this road. Only the dust is a bit of a challenge. Here's a dust trail left from a big duallie hauling a quad trailer.
He was rolling about 50. His fillings must be much better seated than mine. I'll take two wheels anytime for that kind of running.
Another great view of the Deborah group.
A little camera like mine can't duplicate the view, you had to be there.
I recall a story of a climb of Deborah by David Roberts back in the sixties. He and his partner did it as a two person team spending a long time on the mountain. To save money they decided they would forego the flight out and hike back to the road (probably the Richardson Highway, I forget). To do this they had to cross one of the big rivers and got hung up for days waiting for the water to subside, running out of food. Eyeballing the distances from the Denali, I'm stunned anyone would try, though in the day, it was the only alternative. If you're going to be brash, best be young.
We had high hopes to see Denali.
It is right there, the guidebook says so. An excuse to come back. Probably many times.
At the end of the Denali Highway at Cantwell, we gas up and the party is basically over. There's a lot more traffic on the Parks Highway (though its relative, it's about as busy as Highway 20 over Rainy Pass in Washington on a weekday). We get about five more miles of dirt riding at 3 mph through road construction outside Willow, eat lunch in Sarah's hometown, and hit Anchorage about five.
We're on an airplane home by eight.
I snapped this little peak somewhere on the inside passage.
All you need is some climbing gear, a little sailboat, and some time. Alaska isn't the only big and empty place for chasing grand schemes.
You know how to live, Dan.
Was the slick part just mud, or do they use that calcium topping stuff?
Cool pictures and report, thanks for posting it.
Practically, it wasn't that bad, just slow going. If we weren't on a time crunch, we'd have hit Dawson and mingled for a while, rolled back to Chicken or Tok, and finished the ride in an additional day. Who knows, we mighta seen Denali with a day's delay.
Such is life.
I got more stories, we'll have to get together.
Great photos and story, Dan.
Looks like you guys had a great time. Thanks for sharing the photos and story.
I went up there last year for a week exploring mining roads off the Denali Hwy, riding out to McCarthy and the Kennicott Mine, out to Valdez and more. There is so much to explore up there.
Up on Hatcher Pass
Comparison GS versus Tiger
Thanks for sharing Dan
Uptown Chicken in '07. My van, soft man :lol3
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