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Old 05-02-2013, 12:05 PM   #1
skierd OP
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Location: Fairbanks, AK
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When it's Springtime in Alaska...

...It's forty below.




Spring comes slowly in the North, this year more so than many others. We've been running temperatures 20 degrees below normal in the interior for weeks. Normally the rivers have just about all broken up and started flowing, but this year some of the major rivers the ice has actually gotten thicker over the last couple weeks. Flying home from Anchorage to Fairbanks last week, flying over the Alaska Range's wild, untamed, unexplored ice capped peaks and snow filled valleys, most without a single footprint or sled track to mar the surface, my thoughts turned to the ride I had been planning for almost two months...

For many people up here, spring doesn't just signal a return to sunshine and mosquitoes, but a return of that other, more friendlier, money-spending pest: tourists. Like many others I have a second job in the summer, and weather be damned that season starts on May 15th, so I took a week of vacation starting April 29 with the intent in exploring my adopted home state on my new-to-me '98 Honda Nighthawk 750. Poor girl only had 6500 miles on it when I bought it, so my goal is to double its mileage this summer. Even though its been sitting on 2 years before I got it, a fresh battery and good gas got her running great (it's a honda after all).



Added new Pirelli Sport Demons to replace the ORIGINAL OE tires from 1998, a center stand (new from Honda, only $120), and new front brake pads, cleaned the chain, strapped some bags to the bag, and said to her "Well, you're an 'adventure' bike now! Get used to it, no more hiding in the corner for you, I'm gonna stretch your legs and let those carb's open up. Don't listen to the WR, you'll be treated well!" All packed up Friday night, except the bivy would be replaced with a tent before I left. I had no plans of camping, but its a long way to anything once you leave town so I wanted to have some shelter just in case...

And so we, that is the Honda and I, headed off into the cold, frozen spring air Saturday morning looking for... wait, what was I doing this for again?

Parks Highway overlook, just outside of Fairbanks, looking out over the Tanana Valley, heading south...
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"We wish your trail a long one" - Darlene "Sid" Dowd ~ Never run out of traction, ideas, and real estate at the same time.
2008 Yamaha WR250X
Eastern TAT 8/2009 ~MD-Key West-Oklahoma 4/2011~Maryland to Alaska 3/2012
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:08 PM   #2
JaxObsessed
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In!
Hi Dave
Glad to see you kept the Wr... Saw your FM thread and thought, he'll regret that.
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:14 PM   #3
skierd OP
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I think I have finally decided to never sell it. I took it for a ride before I left for this trip, and when I got back my girlfriend said "I love the sound of that bike." Reminds her of when we met, and how she would always know when I was at the house because she could hear the exhaust. Loud pipes are good for something after all!
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"We wish your trail a long one" - Darlene "Sid" Dowd ~ Never run out of traction, ideas, and real estate at the same time.
2008 Yamaha WR250X
Eastern TAT 8/2009 ~MD-Key West-Oklahoma 4/2011~Maryland to Alaska 3/2012
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:45 PM   #4
skierd OP
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SO it wasn't -40, only about +25F when I left Fairbanks.

Looking out over the valley






The Parks Highway connects Fairbanks and Anchorage through the heart of the Alaska Range. If you're lucky and the skies are clear, you can usually see Denali, the tallest mountain in North America for most of the 360 mile ride. Today wasn't that clear once I got in the range, but the views as I got closer to Nenana and Healy were still amazing...

I stopped for gas in Nenana, and also to thaw my hands. I was wearing full leathers and my heated jacket was cranked as high as it could go, but without heated grips and no wind protection my hands were frozen and aching after about 30 minutes on the road, Nenana is 60 miles south.





Still about 30 miles away... one of the nicest things about Alaska is how clear the air is outside of the cities. No people = no air pollution.




Heading in to Denali National Park. The tourist traps are still closed, many of the buildings are still snowed in, most of the generators are not working yet, and nothing is open. The first cruise ships start showing up in less than two weeks, hope they brought their winter coats!







Frozen selfie, loving my new Icon helmet.


I really like this next picture, gives a great visual of the massive scale of the landscape up here.



In to Denali NP itself and the weather started to turn shittier. At Healy I stopped to put on my rain gear to help block the wind and try to stay somewhat warmer, but it was still a losing battle with heat retention. Cantwell is a solid 60 miles from Healy, I'd want to get gas there and stop to eat so hopefully I could stay warm long enough to make it. Why am I doing this again?
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"We wish your trail a long one" - Darlene "Sid" Dowd ~ Never run out of traction, ideas, and real estate at the same time.
2008 Yamaha WR250X
Eastern TAT 8/2009 ~MD-Key West-Oklahoma 4/2011~Maryland to Alaska 3/2012
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:56 PM   #5
skierd OP
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Hello Sun, please come back!



The highway follows the Nenana River through the park, crossing it several times while running along its banks. Unfortunately it started snowing, heavily at times, as I went through the park.



Except for a few spots of blowing snow, the road itself was mercifully clear or only covered for a few short stretches.



Parked on the banks of the Nenana









Fortunately the skies cleared outside of the park and while the temperatures barely improved as I entered the Mat-Su Valley at least the snow stopped. Unfortuantely, the snow in the park was a premonition of things to come...

Gas stop in Cantwell


Also ate a great burger at the restaurant. It's the first food stop since I left Nenana 100 miles behind me, and its the last food stop before I get to the Anchorage suburbs some 120+ miles south. It took almost 20 minutes to stop shivering when I got there and get my core temp back up. This ride stopped being fun hours ago... why am I doing this again?

In other, more hopeful, news, the Honda is running like a champ. I got a solid 50mpg out of it on this leg of the ride, giving me at least a 200 mile range. I know I can make easily to the next open gas station, even if I have to go all the way to Anchorage to get to an open station. The riding position is so completely different than the WR, my back is cramping from the cold and fighting the wind the somewhat more leaned over riding position, my knees hurt from being bent and the cold and fighting the wind, and yet overall I'm more comfortable cruising on this bike at 55-60mph. Like it was made for this type of riding or something... go figure. Desperately needs a wind screen over 65mph however as the wind blast tries to peel me off the bike, especially with a head wind. Mercifully the wind is mostly on my back today...

Why am I doing this again? Oh... right...

View from the gas station


A little further down the road.







Looking south, where I'm headed.


Suns still up high, even though its already after 8pm. After another hour the sun started setting and getting blocked by the mountains. Another hour after than it was more or less dark out and I was still an hour from Wasilla, the first town I knew had hotels that would be open year round. By the time I got to Wasilla my body was shutting down from the cold. I almost fell putting the bike on its stand when I got the only open hotel, and it took a LONG hot shower and cranking the heater in the room most of the night to finally stop shivering and get warm again. Hopefully tomorrow would be warmer... it has to be warmer... why am I doing this again?
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"We wish your trail a long one" - Darlene "Sid" Dowd ~ Never run out of traction, ideas, and real estate at the same time.
2008 Yamaha WR250X
Eastern TAT 8/2009 ~MD-Key West-Oklahoma 4/2011~Maryland to Alaska 3/2012

skierd screwed with this post 05-02-2013 at 01:07 PM
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Old 05-02-2013, 02:08 PM   #6
skierd OP
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After absorbing as much heat as I could from the hotel room, I checked out and headed south to Anchorage on a bright sunny 40 degree day and was absolutely loving the sunshine. Stopped at my favorite restaurant...





And got my favorite breakfast, Nuevo Huevos!



Fresh salsa and guac, wild rice, beans, tortilla, and of course two runny eggs on top, hold the sour cream. It lasted about 2 minutes as I more or less inhaled it. :laugh1: Totally worth the ride to eat there...

Today's plan was to make it to Anchor Point, the westernmost place you can reach by road in North America, and Homer, the end of the road. One of the nice things about Alaska is how simple the road system is, as there's only three highways leaving Anchorage... the Parks I came in on, the Glenn Highway that heads east to Glennallen, and the Seward/Sterling Highway that heads south to the Kenai Peninsula. South and east I go along the bay to Girdwood...







There were a bunch of turn outs along the highway so people could stop, and more so slow moving vehicles could get out of the way as its illegal to have more than 5 cars stacked up behind you. Wish that was enforced everywhere... In any event the riding was too good and flowing to stop so I just kept going soaking up the scenery. The wind that started at my back turn in to a head wind when the road reached the end of the bay and turned back along the opposite shore until it rose up in to the mountains and went over Turnagain Pass...

Why are all these trucks here?





Snowmachines, of course!


Still plenty of snow... btw thats NOT a snow pile from plowing, if you climb on top it continues unbroken except for sled tracks across the valley.






Looking back...






The road splits about 40 miles from the pass, one branch continues on 45miles to Seward, the other continues 160 miles to Homer. Homer's where I'm headed, didn't stop for pictures on the down ride as I wanted to get there. It was cold again, staying in the mid to low 30's all the way down the peninsula once I got up in the pass, so once again I was freezing.

When I did stop to warm up... Mooses!



Once again, with the sun setting and all the warmth in the world fading fast, I slid in to Homer a shivering, freezing mess, too cold to appreciate the beauty.





See the spit, sticking out into the bay? That's it, that's all, end of the road, that's as far as you can go...




And with that, corner #3 of North America and the US is checked off. Now I just have to get back to Maine and eastern Canada... hopefully it'll be warmer when I do that ride...
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"We wish your trail a long one" - Darlene "Sid" Dowd ~ Never run out of traction, ideas, and real estate at the same time.
2008 Yamaha WR250X
Eastern TAT 8/2009 ~MD-Key West-Oklahoma 4/2011~Maryland to Alaska 3/2012
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Old 05-02-2013, 03:15 PM   #7
skierd OP
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While thawing out in my room, I made a call to my girlfriend in Fairbanks.

"Babe... have you seen the weather? It's snowing up here, at least a couple inches."

So I hopped on Accuweather, and sure enough, the entire interior of Alaska was getting accumulating snowfall. Anchorage and the Kenai were supposed to get a storm the next day and throughout the next week, so instead of hanging out all day like I wanted to, I burned back to Anchorage to avoid getting trapped by weather for what looked like at least a week.

Leaving the Driftwood Inn in Homer...


The view was ok...






First stop of the morning was the Blue Bus Cafe in Anchor Point, where I had one of the best burgers I've ever had. Real easy to find, its the big blue building with a blue school bus as one of the walls. Bright and sunny again, but again the sun was without much warmth so I shivered up the highway once again.

One of the things that really struck me about the Kenai Peninsula was how much it reminded me of home, particularly the eastern shore of Maryland and tidewater Virginia. Maybe it was the salt water in the air and salt water marshes, maybe is the plain and simple surroundings, the working class fishing villages, maybe it was just a ghost of a memory from the last time I took a pointless ride across a frozen landscape on the edge of an continent... but it really felt like home. Soldotna could have been Easton, Homer any of the numerous little fishing towns that line the Atlantic coast...

Pretty soon the coastal bluffs gave way to the mountains again.








I don't know why, but 65 on this bike feels so much faster and frantic, yet far more composed, than 65 on the WR. Has to be the riding position I guess? Or maybe just a winter without riding? Pulls a helluva lot harder though, and on a straighter stretch of road I pulled upwards of 110mph before the wind blast and thoughts of moose brought me back to sane speeds.

Back at the crossroads leading to Seward, this time I went to Seward as it was only 45mins out of the way.


But first I just had to sit for a minute and soak it all in...







Freezing, but feeling the ride finally






The ride over to Seward was just as beautiful, but most of the best views were in avalanche zones so I kept riding. Seward itself was unremarkable...




At least this bar was having fun


Overall it reinforced the eastern coast fishing town vibe I've been getting from the peninsula. Everything felt gray and dirty, everything downtown was closed except for a coffee shop without food and a crappy greek restuarant. I chose coffee and clif bars from my pack, and set off back to Anchorage.

The ride back was glorious. Turnagain pass in the fading day's light was even more spectacular, and the road along the coast came alive with magic. I made it to Girdwood a mere 10 miles into reserve, after covering about 190 miles from the last gas stop, so at least the bike has touring legs. After a quick bite it was time to head back to Anchorage...









Well hello there



...and start exploring my options to get back to Fairbanks. IF I could get back to Fairbanks...
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"We wish your trail a long one" - Darlene "Sid" Dowd ~ Never run out of traction, ideas, and real estate at the same time.
2008 Yamaha WR250X
Eastern TAT 8/2009 ~MD-Key West-Oklahoma 4/2011~Maryland to Alaska 3/2012
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Old 05-02-2013, 03:50 PM   #8
skierd OP
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The weather forecast for the interior was getting worse each time I looked at it. The Parks hwy was supposed to have gotten 4-10" of snow since I went through three days ago, and the highway was in poor shape. There was a weather window on Wednesday, or so I hoped, of clear skies all the way except in Fairbanks and the Parks where it would be lightly snowing and in the 20's. Thursday's forecast was calling for 4-8" of snow starting late afternoon and continuing through the weekend. If I was going to ride home, I needed to go on Wednesday or find a place to store my bike and fly home.

I woke to grey skies and misty drizzle in the morning, but not enough to keep me from riding around and hitting some local bike shops. First order of business was protecting my hands. Ended up at AK Cycles, and they had a set of Kolpin ATV handguards that would work. They even loaned me the tools to install...



That's also where I bought a pair of snowmachine gloves made by MotoFist and tossed the worn out olympia gloves I had used for the last 4 years. They're thinner yet warmer, and give a much better feel of the controls, plus are more windproof. Add in the wind blocking from the guards and my hands were set. Stopped in at REI and found a set of heavyweight thermals on clearance, so my core was set. All I needed now was the weather to clear up enough for the highway to get clear. Went back to my hotel and more or less loafed all day, talking to a friend in Anchorage with a garage about storage.

Woke up in the morning and checked Alaska's 511 system that shows road conditions, and here's what the roads looked like:

The parks hwy almost to Fairbanks


the steese highway in fairbanks


the nenana bridge, which was snow covered at 7am but by now was mostly slush


So... I pussed out and bought a plane ticket. Did take a ride up to Eagle River after buying a duffel bag so I could fly back with my bike's bags all checked in one piece of luggage.




To make me feel even better about cutting out and leaving early, the plane I flew on was Disney themed, with Tinkerbell on the outside.


And so, a not so fitting end. My Honda is currently in a garage in Anchorage, waiting for me to come back for it whenever it decides to warm up. Why? Because I believed the weather forecast and my friends and girlfriend in Fairbanks that the highways were in shit condition and the weather was going to turn to shit.

And of course, much to my surprise, the sun was shining bright in Fairbanks and there was barely any new snow to be seen when my plane landed. Cold? Yes, its cold as fuck right now, about 27 degrees today, but the forecasted 4-8" of snow has been reduced to 1-2"... tomorrow night. Maybe. Fuck the weather service. And fuck this never-ending winter. At least I'll have to fly down and get my bike in a couple weeks, so I'll get another longish ride in but damn, this is a sucky bag of suck.
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"We wish your trail a long one" - Darlene "Sid" Dowd ~ Never run out of traction, ideas, and real estate at the same time.
2008 Yamaha WR250X
Eastern TAT 8/2009 ~MD-Key West-Oklahoma 4/2011~Maryland to Alaska 3/2012
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Old 05-02-2013, 04:13 PM   #9
06yz125
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Great read...thanks for sharing. Things don't always go as planned. Glad you got to ride though.
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Old 05-02-2013, 05:00 PM   #10
RedRockRider
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Great ride report. I lived in Anchorage 25 years ago. Remember many drives (in the cage) along Turnagain Arm down to Seward and Homer. Awesome scenery. Also remember waiting and waiting for some very long Spring times. Hang in there, man. Also, your older bike looks very cool. As you say, keep it forever.
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Old 05-02-2013, 06:54 PM   #11
zekester63
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Great report and pics! Thanks for taking us along!
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Old 05-03-2013, 12:38 AM   #12
jmcg
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Amazing scenery!

Thanks,

JM.
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Old 05-03-2013, 07:15 AM   #13
reedg01
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Thanks Dave. I will pass along to the LPL crew if they haven't already seen it.
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Old 05-04-2013, 03:36 AM   #14
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Great report Dave, glad to hear you are doing so well and found somebody to keep you warm.

Greetings from back home!

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Old 05-04-2013, 05:16 AM   #15
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Thanks Dave. I will pass along to the LPL crew if they haven't already seen it.
Following Happily!
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