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Old 06-18-2007, 07:40 PM   #1
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Stretch and RocDoc's Most, Most Excellent Alaskan Adventure

I know there are quite a few Alaska Ride Reports out there, but to a couple southerners, two weeks riding Alaska is a pretty big deal, so kindly bear with us.

Neither of us could get enough time off to ride our own bikes, so the plan was to fly in to Anchorage on June 1 and rent a couple 650 V-Stroms from Alaska Rider Tours. This took a tad more prep work than we first thought, as we would have to build and buy electrical pigtails for our Gerbing jackets and to have accessory power through a standard 12-volt light socket. Done.

Then we would have to pare our gear down to a pile that would fit on two bikes, sight unseen.




Done. Bleh.

Nicole from Alaska Rider picked us up at the airport and took us to the shop to pick up our bikes. We requested a stop along the way...



Rarin' to go.

At the suggestion of AKphotog, Tractor Rider, and others, we had supper at The Moose's Tooth. One huge pizza and four five-glass beer samplers later, we were ready to explode...


We still had to collect food and other items for the next few days on the road, and some stuff you can't fly with - like lighters, sterno, white gas...

That gave us the opportunity to walk to Wal-Mart and walk some of that beer and pizza off.

We got back to AK Rider after a while and set up camp behind their place. They allow free camping for motorcyclists and even provide access to a bathroom and shower.



While we were still setting up camp, a few ADVriders dropped by to visit.


This is Corbin, JaquelineL (our own 'Hoon on the Loose in Alaska') and AKDuc.
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Old 06-18-2007, 07:58 PM   #2
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Old 06-18-2007, 07:59 PM   #3
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June 2.


We got up fairly early and broke camp, eager to head north to the Dalton Highway. We went next door to the HD dealer and ran into none other than Tractor Rider...


He thinks he's fooling folks by standing on that curb.


RocDoc and Tractor Rider

TR was great about telling us what roads to take and spots to eat and camp along the way. Thanks, Bro!

RocDoc and I motored north out of Anchorage, heading to Palmer where we would take the Parks Highway to Denali Park and Fairbanks.

We stopped on the side of the road to take some photos, and this fellow on a GS pulls up to make sure we're okay (great folks, Alaska's riders). He offered to take some photos of us and we chatted for a minute. I asked him if he was on ADVrider, and he turned out to be our own Fugawi!

I still can't get over the fact that with less than 24 hours in Alaska, four of the first five riders we met were regulars on ADVrider! And I had previously posted back and forth with a couple of them on the Alaska Regional Forum while we were planning the trip months earlier. Alaska's ADV folks are simply awesome.



Fugawi was out on a fact-finding mission, to see if Hatcher Pass was open yet, and asked if we wanted to tag along. Hellz, yeah!

He led us on a short ride through the twisties on Fairview Loop, and then dropped by The Abbey. Friar Mike wasn't at home, but we still got our photo taken in front of his shop...


After lunch, Fugawi led us out to Hatcher Pass... which The Man said was closed.


Ignoring the sign, we wove through the gates and rode up there anyhow. This time, however, the sign was correct. It was socked in pretty tight with this cold slippery stuff...



Southerners playing in the snow. I hadn't seen any in three years.

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Old 06-18-2007, 08:12 PM   #4
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Coming back down to Wasilla, we bid Fugawi a big thank-you and goodbye, and we continued north on the Parks Highway. In just a few miles we happened upon the other end of Hatcher Pass at Willow...

So we know what both ends look like, and a mile or so of the east end. ADVriders on The Great White North regional forum report that the pass was still closed as of yesterday (June 17).


Included for us Triumph ADV fans. Near Talkeetna.


I guess Alaska has 'necks also.


This is south of Cantwell on the Parks Highway, looking north. Denali and the Denali Range should be visible, but rain and fog had moved in. Can't complain, though, as this was only one of two half-days that we got rained on. The weather was otherwise perfect.


I really liked this. It reminded me of the kitschiness of Route 66 in the bygone days. The Igloo Hotel was built in '75 or so, of wood-frame with plywood and spray-on foam forming the exterior. But it wasn't structurally sound and couldn't pass inspection, so it was never completed or opened. Damned shame.



We stayed the night at the Backwoods Lodge in Cantwell (nice Mom-and-Pop place).
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Old 06-18-2007, 08:24 PM   #5
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June 3.

We stayed the night at the Backwoods Lodge in Cantwell (nice Mom-and-Pop place).

The rain had stopped a few hours earlier and was beginning to clear. We headed north to the entrance of Denali National Park, just 27 miles away.

We parked the bikes and hopped the tour bus. I took scads of photos of Denali National Park, but I won't bore you with a photo of each and every snow-covered mountain. We never did see Denali (Mt. McKinley). It was socked in with low clouds every day we were within sight of it. I once read that Denali is only visible one day out of seventeen. So if you've seen it, you're one-up on us.






A local resident. Dall sheep on Marmot Rock.


Grizzly bears way down there, near Polychrome Pass. These are still wild bears, not the pathetic cookie-begging ones at Yellowstone.


Back on the road.


I couldn't pass this one by. Near Ester, south of Fairbanks.


Camped for the night at an RV park in Fairbanks. The lake in the background is a floatplane airport. I had a pretty good time watching them come in and out the next morning.
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Old 06-18-2007, 08:38 PM   #6
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Old 06-18-2007, 09:09 PM   #7
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June 4.

We left town kind of late, tracking down a replacement helmet shield, but by some miracle we found the only AGV shield in all Fairbanks. On to the Dalton!


This is just north of Fairbanks on the Elliot Highway. I love old trucks. This is a snow train formerly run by Alaska Freight Lines. The tires are about eight feet tall and each trailer is powered by a driveshaft from the one in front. All-wheel-drive. And a lot of wheels it is.


The southern end of the Dalton Highway. Ahead of us are 414 miles of dirt and gravel (about a hundred miles of that is paved now, but loose gravel on the surface keeps your speed down and your attention on the road. Fill your tank at Fox (a suburb 10 miles north of Fairbanks, 75 miles south of the Dalton) because there ain't no fuel for 250 miles. We each carried a filled 2-1/2 gallon can, just to be sure.




The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the only reason this road even exists. Oil was discovered on Alaska's North Slope in the 1960's, but with the Arctic Ocean iced over for 8 or 9 months out of the year, it was impossible to move the oil out.

The only other viable option was to pipe the oil from the oil fields around Prudhoe Bay to an ice-free port in the south. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline was constructed 1974 - 1977, flowing southward from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, 799 miles away.

The pipe diameter is 48 inches and heavily insulated to hold in the heat required to make crude oil flow well (145˚F, 62.7˚C). Twelve pumping stations are situated along the route to maintain the heat and pressure.


The pipe itself is free to move on its supports, allowing for expansion and contraction, and earthquake movement.

As sunlight heats the legs of the supports, there is the danger of the legs melting the permafrost below. The pipeline would then sink into the slush.
These heat exchangers sap the heat away from the legs and disperses it into the air...





The Yukon River, Mile 56.




There is a restaurant / rest stop just across the Yukon, but during a road construction delay, we had been told by a DOT worker to eat at the HotSpot, just a few miles past the Yukon. We weren't disappointed. I have big hands, and look at the size of this monster...

I ate every bite, and Doritos and three Cokes. Yummmaay! They have cool T-shirts for sale too.


Finger Mountain, Mile 98. Have you ever visited a place that just felt ancient and pre-historic? I got that feeling here, and hard. It was very windy here (most of the time, I understand) and overcast. In all my travels, I had never visited anywhere that felt this primeval and old. I absolutely loved it here, while at the same time, felt a bit wary of it, as if I were in the wrong time, and if I walked too far from the road, I would remain in 20,000 B.C.

I fully expected a herd of Mammoths to come charging from around the rocks...





Moving on...

The road is paved from about this point all the way to Coldfoot, but piles of loose gravel had been recently placed in low spots and chuckholes. I just about dumped it in a pile of loose stones, so we slowed down to a crawl when we encountered gravel, and moved pretty slowly over the rest of the area just to be sure. No ambulances out here to carry a foolish rider to the friendly neighborhood ER. Nor is there a friendly neighborhood ER. If you dump your bike out here, the best you can hope for is to be picked up by a passing trucker, or if you're too FUBAR to be moved, they might have a VHF radio or satellite phone to call in a helicopter.

But it's a lot easier and much less painful (and much less expensive) to simply slow down and ride carefully.


The Arctic Circle, mile 115. This is the southern-most point at which the sun never rises or sets during the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun remains at an even distance above the horizon, merely circling around the four Points of the Compass.

Also, areas above the Arctic Circle remain totally dark for the couple weeks before and after the Winter Solstice. And even for the rest of the winter months, the days hold precious little daylight (only a couple hours a day).

I thought it would be cold up here, but temps remained in the 60's. Warm enough, it turned out, to hatch a blue zillion mosquitos. When the shutter snapped for this photo, it was one of the few times we stopped moving and shooing bugs away here.


I couldn't resist. Mile 132.


Getting darker, but never completely. About Mile 150.


Coldfoot! Mile 175. Much needed beer, food, and sleep.
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Old 06-18-2007, 09:51 PM   #8
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June 5.

We spent a short while kicking around Coldfoot, an interesting place, to be sure.


The restaurant / bar / Post Office / fuel depot.


Not my photo


Not my photo


The motel.

Everything here at the truck stop is a prefabricated building, trucked in on the Dalton Highway, also called The Haul Road...






This is Simon, from Great Britain. He had bought that KLR brand new in Anchorage four days before, and was already on his way SOUTH from Deadhorse. He has a few more months off from work, and is headed for Argentina. He must be somewhere in Mexico by now. The folks around Coldfoot were calling him The Mad Brit. A Studly Adventurer, no doubt.

-----------------------

Edit- Simon made it to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina. He posted this photo on New Year's Eve 2007...



Congratulations, Bro! Badass!

Moving on...



Sukakpak Mountain, Mile 204.


The southern base of Atigun Pass, Mile 242.


From Atigun Pass itself, looking north. Elevation is 4700 feet as it crosses the Brooks Range (also the Continental Divide: On the north side of the pass, water drains to the Arctic Ocean, and on the southern side to the Pacific).





This is Scott. He was heading south from Deadhorse, after having ridden up there from Sacramento. At this point, he was still north of Atigun Pass. We thought we were really something until we met Scott, pumping his bicycle over the ground on which we were "roughing it" on ADV bikes.


About Mile 260 to about Mile 280, THE worst section of the whole trip. The stones halfway-set in the road are the size of baseballs, and the whole surface of the road was washboarded for over twenty miles. We slowed to fifteen miles per hour, and it still beat the stuffing out of us. It was at this point that we both were VERY glad that we were not subjecting our own bikes to this abuse. My bike blew a fork seal, the only mechanical trouble of the whole trip.

"Did you blow a seal?"

"No, that's just ice cream on my chin."

(rimshot)




We finally got clear of the bad section, and made pretty good time (40-50 MPH) for the next few hours.



Somebody back East is saying "Why don't he write?"

Caribou, probably. Maybe hit by a truck. Most of the rigs have huge grille guards, reminiscent of the Mad Max movies.

The road really improved at around Mile 300. It was bone-dry, hard-packed clay, and no loose gravel. We were able to hit 50-60 MPH for about an hour.


After a 20-mile stretch of pretty good pavement, the road turned back into dirt and gravel just past Pump Station 2 (about Mile 360).

The Arctic Tundra was thawing out, with water standing a couple inches deep as far as the eye could see...

It was like walking on a wet sponge, with ice-cold water squishing up around your boots.

I pity anything living out here when the water warms enough to hatch the mosquitos.

Despite the thawing tundra, it was getting much colder as we neared the Arctic ocean. I would see exactly why the following morning. It had been at least 75 where I found the caribou skeleton, but at this point the temperature had dropped over 30 degrees (we had a thermometer zip-tied to one of our bikes). It was now 45, and would be 42 and windy by the time we arrived at Deadhorse.


Caribou. The same species as reindeer, but not domesticated.

The road dis-improved itself for the last 50 miles to Deadhorse. It was again washboarded with large, round, loose stones.


We made it!


Not my photo.

Deadhorse is the name of the town at the end of the Dalton Highway, the farthest north a citizen can drive in the USA. Prudhoe Bay is the name of the oil town (and the nearby bay of the Arctic Ocean). There is a security checkpoint just north of Deadhorse, and only oil company employees with proper credentials can enter Prudhoe Bay. We were able to do so by submitting to a background check and giving them 24 hours notice (we had called that morning in Coldfoot), and would go on the bus tour of Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean the next morning.


This is Hermàn, from Florida, originally from Coḷmbia, so he talks with a cool-ass accent. He met us on the road where I had found the caribou skeleton. He stopped to chat for a minute, taking a short break on his ride ALL THE WAY FROM FAIRBANKS! What we had done in two days, he did in a single day, riding a KTM 950 Adventure. He was up on the pegs most of the time and flying. He got back on the road from our break just a couple minutes before we did, and beat us to Deadhorse by over an hour. He spent the night there (like we did) and rode all the way back to Fairbanks, over 500 miles, the next day. Tough.


The cafeteria at the Arctic Caribou Inn.


Not my photo, but curiously enough, it was taken from our table.

While we were eating, a few oil men passed by our table, noticing we were wearing motorcycle gear.

"I guess those are your bikes out front?"

"Yeah. They're not on fire, are they?"

He laughed. "Nah. You rode up here from Fairbanks? On the Haul Road? You guys are nuts."

We spent the next few minutes talking about bikes in general and the conditions we experienced on the Dalton Highway. The oil men working the rigs on Alaska's North Slope are some tough dudes, and it made me proud to have done something in Alaska that they respected.



Not much to Deadhorse, architecturally. Every building is a heavily-insulated prefabricated building set on short stilts (to keep the permafrost frozen). Everything is either brought in on barges by way of the Arctic Ocean, or on trucks by way of the Haul Road when the ocean's still frozen...



There are no weight limits on the Haul Road, and widths are limited only by the bridges. Especially heavy rigs use a 'pusher truck' to help keep the load moving up steep hills. At Coldfoot, there was a photo of a huge prefabricated module being hauled up to Prudhoe Bay in the ice and snow that was so heavy (and traction was so poor), it required twelve pusher trucks.






This photo was taken at 2:30 am. No sunset on the Arctic Ocean this time of year.
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Old 06-18-2007, 10:20 PM   #9
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Thumb Great ride guys!

Looks like fun....
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Old 06-18-2007, 10:41 PM   #10
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I love these Alaska ride reports!
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Old 06-18-2007, 10:56 PM   #11
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June 6.

Got up early in order to go on the oil field tour at 8:00 am.

In case you're wanting to go on the tour sometime, please know that you have to call the Arctic Caribou Inn (877-659-2368) 24 hours in advance and submit your information for a background check. The oil fields and associated apparatus are kept under tight security, and they don't just let tourists wander around. The tour is done from a big van, with tourists kept on board at all times, except for a brief supervised stop at the Arctic Ocean.


Drilling rig. These things are portable. Once they've drilled as far as they want, they cap it, move the drilling rig to a new site, install a well head on the new well, and start drilling a new one. The green sheds shelter the pump gear on top of the separate well heads.


Giant wheels and axles used to move drilling equipment on the open tundra.



An Arctic fox. Sorry for the crappy photo. It was taken from inside a moving van during the oil field tour.

We had been planning on doing the Polar Bear Plunge in the Arctic ocean - those crazy bastards that swim in ice-covered lakes just for the fun of it. I had NOT been looking forward to it, but knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I had resolved that I was going through with it...


But I was spared...



Thank God.

I picked up a few sticks of driftwood for souvenirs. Our guide was anxiously scouting the horizon for polar bears, who are even badder than a ticked-off grizzly. RocDoc and I each had .44 magnum revolvers with VERY hot loads, but we knew better than to try to get them through British Petroleum's security checkpoint. But no bears this morning.

Not a lot to see in Prudhoe Bay, if you've seen Deadhorse. The same non-architecture, but a lot more pipes, naturally.

From the ocean, the van returned to the Actic Caribou Inn, and we stocked up on beef jerkey, Snickers bars, and drinks, added a few layers, and headed back south on the Haul Road.


The gas station at Deadhorse. Credit card only.

With the exception of the first 50 miles out of town, the road had miraculously improved in the 24 hours since we had encountered the bad section. DOT crews had been working when we passed it the day before, and they have caught up with the bad section and had graded over 1/2 of it nice and smooth. The downside is that they spread water over the road before they grade it, so it becomes very slippery when your rent-a-bike has street tires. But we just slowed down and dealt with it.

We still made pretty good time, though, arriving at Coldfoot at about 7 pm.

Scott the bicyclist was there, camping out behind the hotel. He had made pretty good time himself, especially considering he was creating his horsepower himself.

Truckers saw us coming and asked if we were the ones who hit a herd of caribou. Not us, thankfully. The truckers said it was a small group on bikes like ours, and they heard that one of them had hit a caribou up on the North Slope, where we had just been.

It turns out to have been one of these fellows:
Click Here: http://albums.noblequest.org/main.ph...3618&g2_page=3

One of them hit the caribou, practically cutting it in half, but the bike never went down, and the rider was not hurt. Miraculous. They had been riding from Argentina to Deadhorse, having been on the road for 28 days, and they hit a deer 50 miles short of their final destination. But they finished the ride and made it safely to Deadhorse.

I listened to a pack of wolves howling and carrying on that evening. I never did see them, but they howled and bayed up in the hills above Coldfoot for ten or fifteen minutes. Then as if someone had snapped their fingers... they were quiet.
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Old 06-19-2007, 12:14 AM   #12
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June 7.

The day started very windy. It was windy enough to make it a pain in the butt to pack. We knew riding would be a booger if the wind was blowing crossways to our path.

It would be.

A late start became even later when we had completely packed, eaten, refueled, and were pulling away from the camp, when my bike started losing power and then died. It restarted a time or two, then quickly died.

I knew that the bike would run if it wanted to, and repeated starting attempts would do noting but drain the battery. Then I smelled it. A faint whiff of diesel smoke, with no trucks upwind.

Dammit.

I have carried a BP gas card for years, and what color are their regular unleaded gasoline nozzles? Green.

And what color did the diesel nozzle on Coldfoot's multi-fuel pump turn out to be? You see where I'm going with this?

Can I even read the labels on a gas pump? Obviously not.

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Fortunately, I carry a pretty good provision of tools, including a siphon hose. But it was at the very bottom of my saddlebags (at least I remembered which side), so I had to unpack everything to get to it. Don't forget it's windy, so sand and grit are blowing into all my stuff sitting on the bare dirt.

I found an empty gas can and an empty five-gallon bucket, and siphoned 4.7 gallons of diesel out of my bike (after getting a mouthful and faceful, of course). I put the containers in the waste fuel shed (not polluting Alaska by merely dumping it out), and went inside to wash up and brush my fangs.

Then I pushed the bike back to the pumps and refilled with high-octane (being oh, so careful to actually read the labels on the pump this time). It took quite a few attempts to get the bike running, and I was hoping I hadn't fouled the plugs out to the point of no return. But it finally did fire, idling erratically on only one cylinder for a minute or two before all the diesel was flushed out of its system. Then the other cylinder picked up and I let it warm up.

Whew!

Now all we had to do was pack up and ride in that blasted crosswind back to Fairbanks, 260 dirt-filled miles away.

But it wasn't even to be that easy.


Yep. Rain and wind. Joy.

But looking back, it just wouldn't have been right to have ridden the entire Haul Road with perfect weather.

It was pretty slow going, with our Avon Distanzia street tires. I have these tires on my Tiger, and believe me, whoever named these things 'dual-sport tires' was high.

I didn't take a lot of photos this day. It was pretty tedious riding, so when we stopped for a break, I simply relaxed.

We happened across Scott the bicyclist a couple miles north of Finger Mountain. He wasn't enjoying himself either. I offered to tow him up the hill to the pulloff at Finger Mountain, but he decided to ride it himself and then stop there for the day. That was the last time we saw him, as we continued south, stopping for the night in Fairbanks.


Made it back to Mile 0!
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Old 06-19-2007, 01:05 AM   #13
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June 8.

Finally saw a moose...

On the Richardson Highway between Fairbanks and Valdez, our next destination.
This was to be the first of three we would see. The second was crossing the road just in front of me, as we were coming around a blind curve. Fortunately, that moose didn't want to be in the road, and we weren't speeding.


The Alaska Range. Looking south from near Delta Junction.


Worthington Glacier, just north of Thompson Pass, on the way to Valdez.


It was getting cold up here in the pass, and the road surface was giving off a strange reflection. I was worried that the fog was freezing on the road, so we rode pretty slowly over the pass. We arrived at Valdez, just 30 miles away, without incident.

This last photo was taken a couple days later, hence the different light.
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Old 06-19-2007, 01:26 AM   #14
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June 9-10.

We spent this day just kicking around Valdez, seeing the sights and relaxing after our jaunt up and down the Dalton Highway and the remaining distance of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Fairbanks to Valdez.

The old town of Valdez is no more, having been wiped off the face of the earth by a tsunami just after the Good Friday, 1964 earthquake that leveled part of Anchorage. The same tsunami also destroyed most of Seward just a few minutes later.

The following day, we went out with a sea-kayaking charter to paddle around the Columbia Glacier ice field.


Sea lions on the boat ride out to the glacier.


Our destination.


My first iceberg (okay, technically not a berg due to its small size, but who really cares?)


Sea otters.






We both agreed that we could have spent a lot more time here than we were allowed. But that's the tourist business - leave 'em hungry for more.


We brought a small chunk of glacial ice back with us...



As the bottle got lower and lower, I enjoyed contemplating exactly how old that ice was. The Harding Ice Field is the starting point for the many glaciers radiating outward from it. It takes a matter of years for snow to turn into glacial ice, after which it is buried by more and more snow. Glaciers move very slowly, so if this ice originated miles away at the center of the ice field and migrated down until it calved into the ocean here, it could have been very old indeed. Many thousands of years, perhaps.

Makes me glad we keep good bourbon.

At the end of the evening, as I was mulling over the history of our chunk-o-glacier, I realized I could not let our timeless, noble piece of the Columbia glacier melt away in a motel sink, dripping ingloriously into a sewer.

So I carried it the two blocks to Valdez Harbor and slipped it back into the sea.
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Stretch67 screwed with this post 07-04-2007 at 01:13 PM
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Old 06-19-2007, 03:06 AM   #15
ClearwaterBMW
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Location: Clearwater, FL USA
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FANTASTIC
what a great thread
i never tire of hearing about and seeing these alaskan adventures

well done
thanks for taking us along on your journey
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'11 R1200 GS Adventure with a DMC M72DX Sidecar
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Live life like you mean it... but take your family and friends (and DOGS) along for the "ride"
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