Joined: Jan 2004
Location: Copper Canyon, Texas
Alaska '08 -Bloodshot, Saddlesore, & BROKE!
I had been thinking about a trip to Alaska for years and had read every trip report I could find. I had put it off for about 3-4 years for various reasons: money, job, and multiple fractures - the usual reasons. I decided this year had to be the one since my age (and urge) were becoming bigger issues. Another old Blister, Bill A., “the Weathered One”, decided to join me.
For me, planning is as much fun as going. My sweet wife has said on a number of occasions during our 37 years of marital bliss, “Fun is relative!” Being an old Marine helicopter pilot , I did extensive map recons to include copying the Milepost Book maps, reducing them by 80% and laminating them to fit in my Aerostitch map pockets attached to my tank bag. They worked perfectly! I also bought the Alaska Gazateer and copied some of those maps. I got the latest government tourist information from Alaska, Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territory, and British Columbia; made checklists from all the trip reports I could find; programmed the GPS; tuned the XM; mounted the V-1; and stowed Captain Morgan below decks…..
The 6 weeks of overtime that I had banked up at work, along with holidays, were enough for the trip. (I was secretly hoping they would deny the time off at work so I could resign and not have any time limit: Unfortunately, I’m still here!) I had a very ambitious plan of hitting Yellowknife, Inuvik, and Deadhorse and pre-positioned 2 sets of tires for each bike. It was either that or PAY BIGTIME for them up there. I estimated being able to safely get 4,000 miles out of the TKC-80s. Bill and I also wisely built in a “Domestic Harmony” weekend for the wives to fly to Anchorage in the middle of the trip. We set the departure date for late May with several changes for personal schedules and weather (tornadoes in Denver will cause pigs to fly!), focusing on the inland attractions so I could do the coastal sights with my wife.
I packed and repacked the bike several times, making new straps, moving the CG lower, and culling out all but the bare necessities. (A guy named “Pack Rat” probably has a longer necessary list than normal ADV Riders! Now, those two words clash!). Don’t even bring up the subject of tools – even JVB doesn’t carry as much hardware as I do: At least I restricted it to one motorcycle Model this time, although I had to make an adapter for Bill’s ‘07 GSA rear wheel to balance it on the Parnes rig. I added some basic survival gear in case I was stranded in the boonies and changed my spare parts list a number of times.
The bike was prepped and had new F/D bearings and seals at 25,000 miles. (See thread “Final Drive from Hell”: I will not dwell on that issue in this report).
We carried camping gear, and since I was a grunt before I was a pilot, I love an air mattress which is heavier (while smaller) than just a Thermarest. We also had to contend with weather from 103 degrees to less than 30 degrees, allowing me to use both the ‘Stitch Roadcrafter and Mesh set which I packed for such occasions.
Bill and I did a “shake down cruise” to Big Bend with Doug (See Doug’s excellent trip report “Big Bend with two Old Blisters”) to sort out Bill’s new camping gear and play with mileage estimates. With mine holding 7.9 Gal. and his at 8.7 Gal. I figured the .8 wasn’t worth my taking my 3.3 Gal. aux. tank. However, from now on, I will always take my aux. fuel tank, because I was often alone on long runs.
We met at northwest of Dallas/Fort Worth on the big departure day to begin the highly anticipated trip. We stopped at Wichita Falls for breakfast and after I missed the turnoff, I cut thru a parking lot and jumped the curb (glad I got that out of my system early in the trip!) to return to the restaurant. Then we stopped at the new rest area (with WiFi) 40 miles east of Amarillo on Hwy 287. It was about 100 degrees and Bill’s bike refused to start – you guessed it – EWS - (Enjoy Walking Some, End With Silence, Every Wire Sucks, Engineered With Scrap,…or…Exercise Wilderness Survival!) failure.
We both love these bikes, but the engineer(s) who put this left-over car ignition switch on a GS should have to push one from Berlin to Antwerp! I told Bill that I would buy a new one when, and only when I had the procedure for disabling that feature. After 2 hours of talking to his dealer, his insurance agent, and several towing companies, Bill was forced to wait for the wrecker to take him and the bike back to DFW. It was Friday before a 3-day weekend which meant no service until Tuesday. And since he really didn’t want to do Yellowknife or Inuvik, I decided to do Yellowknife and meet him in Whitehorse later.
Leaving him there to wait for the wrecker, I launched NW and got to Lamar, CO the day after the tornadoes hit Boulder. I figured that staying about 100 miles east of the Front Range would keep me out of the weather for awhile. That’s what I get for thinking! I rode in 3 days of rain with wind from the west (= sore neck!), stayed at Billings, and finally saw sunlight as it was setting at Edmonton, later spending the night at Whitecourt.
After slow-rolling the bike at zero airspeed, I left Whitecourt and decided to go all the way to Fort Providence that night. At this point, I was now trying to convert the metric fuel consumption by using the American Standard formula “1 Gallon per flush equals 3.8 liters per flush”.
As I went into Northwest Territory I stopped at the 60th Parallel Visitors Center (where you can get the Order of Arctic Adventurers, North of 60 Degreee Chapter Certificate) and the Twin Falls Gorge Park.
As I passed the MacKenzie Highway turnoff, I saw the sign saying that the Liard Highway was closed. A construction crew worker on the ferry advised me that although it would open soon, to be careful since it has been closed all winter. He said the only traffic are the work crews for the road and fires so “if you go down, you’ll be on your own until late when the crews come out, and the sun goes down really late!” Hmm, had to think on that a while…..
The Providence River
The Providence River Ferry
I got an early start toward Yellowknife and slalomed through the buffalo (bison) patties in the road almost all the way to the village of Rae-Edzo where I stopped to refuel. This area has a huge bison preserve: I saw more than 7 herds on the road. In addition, there is LOTS of construction (deep gravel) the rest of the way to Yellowknife. I purchased a Yellowknife T-Shirt that says “Ragged Ass Road.” It was an indoctrination of what was to be on the Dalton.
Yellowknife is a neat town where the ice road starts north in the winter.
The Rock & Pilot's Memorial
Yes that is ICE on the water!
As I ran south on Hwy 3 back to Fort Providence and the Providence River ferry, I mused (careful thought = worry) on the construction worker’s comments about the Laird Highway over to Fort Nelson. I decided that this early in the trip, I should be conservative and go south to Peace River, stay at High Level, and then cut thru Hwy 49 at Rycroft to Dawson Creek where I would pick up the Alaska Highway. It would cost me another day at least, but I had the TKC-80s at Tok - knowing that the new gravel on the Liard Highway would not be fun on Tourances with half the tread. (OK - I'm a WUS!)
"Yes Dear - I'll be back soon, folks!" 5 more weeks of riding, repairing, exploring, (while burning precious fossil fuel) to report! OR my week relaxing in Rycroft.....
"Packrat" IBA# 11205, AARP, ATP, CFI, A&P, USMC
Rigor Mortis will be the first indication that I've grown up!!
Yungas Rd.-Bolivia, Alaska '08 - Labrador '10 -