June 6, 2012
Tok – Anchorage, AK: 355 miles
Regardless of how exhausted I was, I didn’t get much sleep. I was excited to be in Alaska trying to decide where to go and what to see until I had to make it to my ferry in Haines departing June 14th. However, I was grossly worried my chain was going to break and ruin my adventure in the meantime. My thoughts were loudly distracted with echoing snores and pelting rain on the tin roof. There was no chance for sleep what-so-ever.
I wanted to head towards Denali, then down to Anchorage, before heading back up to Tok to get down to Haines. My chain seemed so dead however, I felt there was no way I should try to make it over the Denali Highway, another 90 miles of rough gravel road. I wondered if the chain would even make it to Anchorage.
Fairbanks was a closer option, but from what I had heard, Anchorage was more likely to have the parts I would need for a vintage Japanese motorcycle. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to wait a week to have a new chain shipped in.
In the morning one of my fellow bunkmates was sweet to make coffee and toasted blueberry bagels with peanut butter. We huddled under the black spruce canopy trying to stay out of the rain. We surrounded the round picnic table with a propane camp stove as a centerpiece and bagels suspended above like a chandelier. We passed around a bottle of RainEx (unfortunately not Moonshine) and treated our visors in preparation for what looked like was going to be a very wet day.
I took the bike out to pavement to put it on the centerstand to check the oil and chain. I topped off the oil but the chain didn’t look good. It was even worse than yesterday. It had a lot of slack in some area that would cause it to drag on the swing arm and tension in others that made it feel like it was ready to snap. There was no way I could adjust it anymore.
I took the bike back to the bunkhouse and had the guys look at it. They were shocked I had made it this far with it looking that bad. They told me to get to Anchorage as soon as possible and to take it easy riding on the way.
I used my Droid to get on ADV, wondering if I should seek help. Providentially, I had a message waiting.
Friendly Contact for your Alaskan Trip...
Hi, Gary and Deb in Anchorage, Alaska, here - our friend Mike from Indiana sent us a PM message that you were headed to Alaska from Virginia on a neat vintage bike - how very cool! We met Mike last year on one of our trips - very nice guy.
Deb and I are ADV riders and please consider us a friendly contact in Alaska - for fun or any problems - but, hopefully it will all be fun.
Do you have a rough idea of when you will be getting to Alaska? We'll watch for you. And can you advise what Alaskan destinations you are planning? Okay, enough for now - we'll wait until we hear from you.
We’re retired, so feel free to contact/call anytime – especially if you have any problems. From about Whitehorse on and anywhere in Alaska, we can get to you location within a day and a half – please consider us a friendly contact and a resource.
Enjoy your trip and best,
Gary & Deb
The sigh that left my body exhaling the air from my lungs was the sweetest relief of reassurance I could have possibly felt. I called Gary immediately and spoke with him about my chain. He said if I wanted to ride the Denali Highway, “Go for it!” They’d be there to rescue me. He also said he’d go ahead and call the Yamaha dealership in Anchorage to see if they had my chain, and if not, he’d go ahead and order it for me. I couldn’t of asked for better support during the most crucial time of my trip.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to enjoy riding the Denali Highway constantly worrying about my chain breaking at any moment. Plus I could only assume I would not have any cell service there to even call Gary and Deb to the rescue. Therefore, I made the decision to ride to Anchorage immediately.
It rained miserable all day. It wasn’t that cold, maybe in the 50’s, but by the end of the day being partially wet in the arms and feet and crotch of course, I was shivering violently. I wasn’t in the greatest mood and it was torturously slow getting to Anchorage.
I stopped every 50 miles to get out of the rain and warm up with a coffee after refueling. I think I consumed more coffee that day than I have my entire life. I’m surprised I didn’t have a seizure.
It was a bit depressing riding in the rain through Alaska and no blue sky or sunshine. I could see the base of snow covered peaks surrounding the road mostly socked in. What a tease. I knew they were there, looming behind the clouds with their massive greatness.
I distracted my misery temporarily at Posty’s Sinona Creek Trading Post in Chistochina. There was some beautiful native beaded jewelry there I treated myself to. It was one of those random hole-in-the-wall places with authentic genuine crafts, not the stupid tourist crap from China overflowing most places that all looks the same.
I sat for a while there warming up with coffee until the lady there finally asked where I was from. When I told her, “Virginia” her eyes got big and she said, “That’s amazing you came all this way!” I said, “Nope, just crazy.” I wanted to feel amazing and incredible, but I couldn’t help but think I was out of my fucking mind. What is amazing, is how much the weather can influence your attitude.
Coming into Anchorage seemed like it would have been a gorgeous ride. It was still raining and got colder as the road got narrow and windy following a stream through the foothills of the mountains. I tried to enjoy it but all I could think of was getting to Gary and Deb’s home and to be somewhere warm and dry.
I made it to the city during rush hour and had to pull over several times to check my Droid for directions. I finally made my way to their neighborhood and learned that any road that’s not a main road in Alaska is guaranteed not to be paved and scattered with pot holes.
I made my way slowly down the gravel drive checking mailboxes for their address. As I passed one house I saw a couple in the yard look my way and wave at me as I passed. Excited I assumed it was Gary and Deb and immediately attempted to pull a u-turn on the narrow gravel road. I made it about ¾ of the way until my front tire hit the edge of the drive and slipped down into the ditch pulling the bike and me to the ground horizontally. Humility struck.
The nice folks ran over to help get the bike vertical again. I said I couldn’t believe I had made it all the way to the driveway before finally dumping the bike. The man seemed a bit confused and asked where I was going. I quickly realized this was not Gary and Deb.
I was even more mortified at this moment. I told them I was looking for Gary and Deb’s place and was relieved to see the acknowledgement on their faces. They said they knew them and bikers were often coming and going from their place. It was just a few more houses down on the right and I gratefully continued leaving my awkward situation behind.
As I pulled into Gary and Deb’s official driveway, the amount of comical laughter building up inside me couldn’t be kept from them. Their garage door was open and they welcomed me with the warmest hospitality. All I could do was laugh and tell them I had just dropped the bike a minute ago on their road in front of their neighbors.
They laughed when I explained who the kind folks were that pointed me in their direction post dumping the bike. Seemed like a nice community in Anchorage. I was actually thankful for the experience to break me of my negative attitude from the majority of the day. Laughter from humility can grow such endearment.
Gary and Deb met me with the warmest welcome. Deb had me immediately get out of my soaking wet gear and take a hot shower while she ran a load of my ghastly laundry and Gary inspected the Radian.
(Was cool to see the bike naked....and so dirty)
Hot water had never felt so good in my life. My fingers and toes I felt were permanently pruned purple but gradually returned to their normal state. I realized I hadn’t had a shower or done laundry since Lake Louise 8 days ago. One can only imagine how much I smelled.
Gary mentioned he had called the Yamaha dealership and amazingly they had my chain in stock. However, they did not have the sprockets. Those would take a week to get shipped in. We were both concerned the sprockets were imperative to replace but I knew there was no way I could wait for them.
Gary suggested we take the Radian over to his mechanic to have a quick look at the bike and tell us if the sprockets needed to be replaced at the same time as the chain.
After thawing out and drying out I followed Gary and Deb to their friend’s place and expert bike mechanic. He reminded me of Bee. He worked out of his garage and was obviously the noble expert Gary made him out to be. But he didn’t advertise and was one of those people you were only fortunate to meet by word of mouth.
I rolled the Radian into his garage with scattered bike parts and projects displayed everywhere. He was on crutches but didn’t struggle getting around his garage and tools. He said the sprockets looked ok and it should be fine to just replace the chain. Oh thank God.
We went back home and I was comforted knowing I would be able to have the chain fixed tomorrow. Gary and Deb made some delicious BBQ chicken sandwiches with salad and broccoli mix that I thankfully devoured. It was so fulfilling I was humbled with gratitude. I was so comforted being in their home surrounded by their support that no words or actions can express enough appreciation. They were my Alaskan family I will always treasure.