I’ve been using Picasa for managing/editing my pictures for a little while now. It’s a great program and it’s free…hard to beat. Anyways, I just saw recently that there’s a new beta version (a beta?…from Google?….no!) and the cool new feature here is the link to a new online album, similar to Flickr but with 250MB of storage. I’m still monkeying around with it but it seems pretty cool. The nice thing about Flickr is that you can embed a single image into your post. So far I’ve only seen how to embed a link to a whole Picasa album (below) but hopefully they’ll keep working on it.
I’ve been home for three weeks now and I’m finding it difficult to believe that I was ever gone. Life envelops so quickly and things seem just the same as when I left, just more hectic because I was gone for so long and didn’t pay much attention to my home life. It reminds me of my time on the ship, when I would leave for 6 month stints and come home to find that in some ways everything had changed, and in some ways nothing had changed. Either way it felt like I had never left and that the trip was all just a dream. And so it is with this trip, except that while many of my memories from the 6 month deployments were ones that I didn’t really care to keep, the majority of my memories from this trip are ones that I would love to keep fresh for years to come. So, I suppose this will be my last post about the trip. I have been meaning to write a few different ones, but I think I’ll just consolidate it into one and call it a day. You’ll find my trip recounted by the numbers below, followed by a description of what went into the making of my posts, and then some final thoughts on the trip. Thanks for reading.
0: Tickets, Wipeouts, Break Downs (Amazed by all three)
1: Continent, Canadian Territory, Flat Tire, Uncontrolled Road Departure, Dead Video Camera
2: Nations, Canadian Provinces, Confirmed Dragonfly Kills
3: Time zones, Bike Services (8k, 12k and 16k miles)
5: Motorcycle Tires Used
5.5: Annual Inches of Rainfall received on the North Slope of Alaska (I think I got about 4.5 inches of that while I was there)
6: International Border Crossings
8: Nights of Camping
9: States Traversed
11: Nights in Houses of Friends and Family
17: Days the new back tire I got in Washington lasted
17.5: Hours on the road for my longest day of riding (Deadhorse to Fairbanks, stops for food, gas, overheating bikes, and busted Motocompies included)
20: Nights in Hotels/Cabins (5 of those were in Big Bear…a lot of the others were from the rainy days in the middle of the trip).
25: Number of Posts on my website, including this one.
31: Lowest temperature encountered (the wind-chill temp as I was pulling into Deadhorse, AK)
40: Days the trip lasted.
55.8: Best MPG
70.2: Degrees North, the latitude of Deadhorse. (San Diego is at 32 degrees North)
106: Highest temperature encountered (actually, I think I saw higher temps but didn’t see any readouts anywhere to confirm it.)
200: Speed in MPH of a Perigrine Falcon, the fastest animal on the planet (I learned this up in Big Bear at the zoo. Crazy, eh?)
285: Longest stretch driven on one tank of gas
996: Miles…Fairbanks to Deadhorse and back.
1298: Size of the bike‘s engine in cubic centimeters.
2187: Number of photos and short videos taken with my camera.
4201: Miles between Deadhorse and San Diego, as the crow flies.
6330: Number of miles my new back tire lasted me after I got it new in Washington.
10,984: Total Miles Traveled
1.4 Million: Approximate number of bugs smashed on the front of my bike and person.
Ok, so something my brother has been asking me to do is to describe what went into the making of my posts. I kept meaning to write about this on the trip but didn’t really find the time because I was usually busy with writing about the day’s events and couldn’t fit both topics in. Now I have the time, though, so here goes:
-Throughout the day I would take pictures and videos of things that caught my eye or sections of road that I thought might be fun to record.
-I would find a place to stay and figure out what my internet situation was going to be (WIFI, cell phone, none). This would drive what I would be able to upload. So, assuming I had WIFI, I would proceed thusly:
-I would set up the computer in my tent or hotel room, charge up camera/phone/gps batteries, and download my pictures into Picasa.
-After looking through all the pictures I would pick out the ones I wanted to upload to Flickr and would use the Flickr Uploader to do so.
-While my pictures were uploading I would start looking at the video from the day, video from the bike and video from my camera. Sections that looked interesting got earmarked for editing in Windows Movie Maker where I could cut and combine them into maneagable bits, adding in fades and transitions where appropriate. Once this was done I would start the upload into Youtube, a very time consuming task depending on the type of internet connection I had and the length of the video.
-Generally, while my pictures and videos were uploading I would open up the GPS recordings from the day. My GPS files are full of standard NMEA sentences, such as this:
Not sure what all that means but those files would then be uploaded to www.GPSvisualizer.com so that they could be displayed graphically. The problem here was that the maximum file size I could upload was 3MB and the files were often closer to 5MB. That’s why I would upload them in pieces and you would have to view them in three or more parts. Once they were uploaded and displayed on top of a Google Map I would have to go in and edit the code so that the page could be uploaded to my webserver and displayed with an address beginning with www.carotidbattery.com instead of the gpsvisualizer.com prefix…(they only store the files for a short period of time). This process always took a ton of time, too. Their server wasn’t the fastest and transferring big files over slow connections is always, well, slow.
So, at this point I have pictures, video and GPS logs uploaded…what’s next? Oh yeah, I guess I have to write something about the day to tie all of the visual elements together. I would usually reach this point at about midnight, if I was lucky and the interweb ether was transferring my bits and bites quickly, but oftentimes it would be later and I wouldn’t finish until close to 1 (if I finished at all). Many times I would have to stop and finish the next morning (as I am currently considering doing with this post as it is now almost 12:30am…No! I must finish). So, that’s kindof how it would all come together and hopefully you can get an idea of why the whole thing was so time consuming. I really wanted to respond to comments and answer questions, but it was an “either/or” decision between comments and posts…posts won.
Ok…I’m sure that last section wasn’t all that interesting to many of you so I’ll cut the technical stuff off there and start up with some closing thoughts. I’m going to keep this short because it could easily go on and on and on and….
If you ever get a chance to take a large roadtrip like this, do it. If you’re scared of motorcycles, don’t be…ride one at least once. If you don’t like Canadians (like some of my posters), start liking them…they’re nice. If you haven’t been to Alaska, go. If you haven’t seen the Grand Canyon in person, do it. If you used to enjoy photography but haven’t done it in a while, get out your camera and take it with you in the car tomorrow. If you can’t drive thousands of miles, drive a hundred and see where it takes you. I truly believe that I am a changed person because of this trip and I hope and wish that same type of experience for all of you. God has made an amazing world and it’s worth exploring. There’s more than just buildings and houses out there and I think I had started to forget that. I mean, just look at that map up there….Look how big this continent is. Crazy! Alright, I suppose That’s all I have to say. Thank you so much for following along on this trip. It was an incredible experience for me and you all were such an important part of that. Thanks again, and happy travels to you all.
(By the way, the website won’t be going away. I plan on keeping it up and posting new bits of randomness on it at times…and, who knows, maybe there will be another trip to take you all on…we’ll stay in touch.)
I just spent a long time on this post and then, through a technological foible, all was lost and I am back at square one. Were this a different post I might be tempted to ditch it and hold off until the next time but I really want to cover the last few days of the trip, for a few reasons: 1. I saw and experienced so many cool things, and 2. I feel like I can’t move on to other posts until I knock this one out. So, I proceed to the knocking out of said post.
As I traveled south from Canada I noticed many marked changes: less hours of light, less bugs, more intense sunlight, more humidity, less trees, more sand, more vibrant colors, and more cars, just to name a few. Having less sunlight means traveling in the dark at times and, while I’m not a big fan of riding at night, sometimes it’s necessary. I arrived in Page at night with only the city lights and broad lightning strikes in the distance to illuminate the landscape and didn’t get much of an appreciation for the desert surrounding the city, nor Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam at the city’s edge. When I woke up on the morning of July 25th I was startled by the amount of color, the bright reds, pinks, oranges, corals and every mixture in between. I had a very standard complimentary Continental breakfast while enjoying the very non-standard view through the window, loaded up my bike and hit the road like so many other mornings before. I road back over the bridge to get a good daytime view and was amazed at how much I had missed in the night. Lake Powell is beautiful and would make for a great weekend vacation spot. I turned back around on US-89 South and made my way towards the Grand Canyon, some 130 miles to the southwest, as the motorcycle flies.
The Colorado Plateau is home to the most National Parks in the nation and each one is beautiful and majestic in its own right, but the Grand Canyon is truly the brightest diamond in a big bag o’ beauties. In some ways it was a fitting end to my travels, being the vastest and most majestic sight my motorcycle put me in front of throughout the entire six-week journey. The sheer size of it is overwhelming, but couple that with the beauty of the river, rocks, plateaus, etc., and it becomes a spectacular creation which no human should miss in their brief stay on this planet. Amazing. I started on the east side of the South Rim which turned out to be not nearly as crowded as the western side, which is near the visitor’s center, and slowly worked my way west. The great (and somewhat frightening) thing about the Grand Canyon is that they don’t try to restrict your enjoyment of it. The signs say “Your safety is your own responsibility. Don’t underestimate the Canyon.” Translation: “If ya get hurt it’s yer own fault cuz we already done told you to be careful.” I didn’t underestimate the Canyon. I climbed around on some of the rocks and made my way out to a small formation for some pictures, but didn’t get too crazy. I would love to make a return trip to hike down into the canyon, possibly across to the North Rim. The age and color of the rock the Colorado River has cut its way through over the years varies greatly throughout the park and yields a dynamic display of multi-hued formations. The rock the river is currently working on is extremely old and hard and has given up only the bare minimum that time has required of it, making for a very steep inner canyon. They call it the “Canyon within the Canyon” and it would dwarf many of the world’s other canyon’s on its own, apart from the expansive soft rock sections towering above it. It was difficult to wrapmy mind around how large the Canyon was while seeing it in person, so let me throw out some numbers to help myself and maybe you, too: The average distance between the North and South Rims is 10 miles…15 miles at it’s widest. The average depth is 4000 feet over its 277 mile length (nearly 6 times the length of Rhode Island and longer than California is wide), and is over 6000 feet at its deepest section…over three and a half times the height of the tallest building in the world. Don’t underestimate the Canyon…
I spent about three hours at the Canyon, taking in the sights and wondering at the largeness of everything, before the lateness of the day required my departure. I knew that I was leaving my last real destination of the trip and it was difficult. From then on out it was only going to be driving and I would be home before I knew it…the trip was coming to an end. I got on the bike and turned south towards the Prescott, AZ, area to spend the night with some friends. The driving at this point in the journey was all long, flat, open roads requiring little technical skill and constant pressure on the throttle…an activity which can tire the right forearm when done for hours at a time. Thankfully, I had purchased a cruise control-like accessory for the bike before I had left on the trip and it came in rather handy throughout this stretch of my travels. I dodged thunderstorms on my way down to I-40 and enjoyed the smell of the recent rain on the thick pine needle bed which coated the forest floor. The road teased me all day, alternately turning towards and away from the large storms in the distance. I didn’t get much in the way of rain until I came close to Prescott at which point the skies grew incredibly dark and the rain and lightning came down fast and furious. It wasn’t too bad, though, and I pulled up to the house with a pair of wet jeans as the day’s only casualty. It was great to see familiar faces and I was again spoiled by good food, a good internet connection, and, most importantly, great conversation.
I planned on getting on the road at about 9 the next morning but didn’t leave until close to 11…now a familiar routine. The waffles were worth it, though, and I hit the road with a full stomach, a rare occurrence throughout the previous month and a half of riding. I jumped on US-89 South which turned out to be an incredibly enjoyable section of road full of sharp turns and well-maintained roads, something I’ve learned to not take for granted after seeing every version of “poorly maintained” possible. Video below…all sorts of fun. My time on the 89 came to an end, as did the enjoyable, comfortable riding, and I spent the rest of the day riding west in stifling heat and oppressive humidity. This truly was the most miserable riding weather I had encountered in the 39 days I had been away from home. If it’s cold, you put on more clothes. If it’s hot, you put on the mesh jacket and take off the waterproof pants. If it’s raining, you make sure you’re wearing the waterproof pants and anything other than the mesh jacket. If it’s hot and muggy, you…suffer. No fun. I think the low point came as I descended down the hill into the Coachella valley…man, it was nasty. I pulled up to my parents’ house in Escondido wanting to get off of the bike and jump straight into the swimming pool.
It was great to see my parents. They were such a help and encouragement to me on this trip and it was really fun to see how they had been following me on the map, circling the different places I had been. My dad grilled some steaks and my mom made some veggies and salad…so good. The pool erased the day’s discomfort within seconds (video below) and the comfortable bed in my old bedroom was extremely welcome. My dad made pancakes and bacon the next morning and I got on the road for the final time. I was only 30 miles from my house, which I could have easily done the night before, but the evening with my parents was a true highlight of the trip…and for some silly reason I wanted to stick to my original arrival date of July 27. I was surrounded by more cars than I was used to, traveling south on the 4-plus lanes of I-15 towards San Diego, and although the streets were all familiar to me I still felt like I was in the middle of my trip. I think I felt that way until I pulled into my driveway, got off of my bike and saw the cat lounging at the door. Home. What a weird feeling…it took a while to set in. I think it still is.
A few more posts to come…thanks again for all of your comments. I’m glad you all have been enjoying this as much as I have. I hope you will each have, or have had, the opportunity to experience this continent in a way similar to this trip. It’s so incredibly worth it. Ok, all for now. GPS files here, here, here, here, and here. More pictures on Flickr.
The trip is done. It’s been 40 days and 10894 miles since I left my house back on June 17th and it feels strange to be home again…back to the piles of unopened mail and countless unread emails. Back to the pile of yardwork waste that I had left in the driveway when I took off. Back to the cat, who was oh-so-happy to see me and now won’t leave my room. Back home. Thank you very much to all of you for your thoughts, prayers, emails, comments, open homes, etc. I plan on writing a post later on today about my last few days in Arizona and here in California, as well as a seperate wrap-up post to collect my thoughts and memories before they leak out of my head. It’s good to be home.
I’m sitting in my (last-of-the-trip) hotel room here in Page, AZ, looking at pictures from the last few days and listening to the news in the background. I haven’t followed things quite as closely as I normally do over the last month and a half and it’s interesting to catch up on things…there’s much to catch up on. And, much has happened in the last few days here, but I’m mostly going to let the pictures tell the story so that I can get out of here. I’m heading to the Grand Canyon today and I’d like to leave myself as much time there as possible.
I left West Yellowstone on the 22nd, drove back through the park and down into the Grand Tetons. I think the most impressive thing about the Grand Tetons is how they stand out in stark contrast to everything else around them. They’re part of a range, but they tower over the other mountains and certainly over the vast plains below them. The lakes at their base are clear and blue and I’m told that on a calm day (which the 22nd wasn’t) they perfectly reflect the peaks above them. I drove out of the park, through the rest of Wyoming, into Idaho and finally down into Utah. The temperature rose as I traveled south, reaching 97 in Jackson, WY, and 101 in Afton, WY…not fun when you’re on a bike. It’s not too bad when you’re moving, but sitting at stoplights (like I had to in Jackson) makes for a hot bike and a hot body…a different kindof hot than I normally have, that is. Parts of this drive went through canyons but most of it was through open prairie and the contrast was very interesting. The little towns that spring up out of nowhere often have much more character than their “Population 100” sign would indicate…and they’d better if they’re going to make me slow down to 35mph whilst transiting through their character-laden streets.
I spent a few great days with my Aunt and Uncle and Grandma and Grandpa in Spanish Fork, UT, enjoying the chance to be with family and to relax a bit. It was hot the whole time (106 in Provo) but I didn’t mind all that much. It would have been a different story had I been camping. I left yesterday morning and began the drive down I-15 towards southern Utah. Again, the temperature rose as I drove south and I found myself stopping for water and shade much earlier than I would stop for food or gas. One of the highlites of the entire trip came on yesterday’s travels as I got to spend some time in Zion National Park. This was yet another place that I’ve been to on this voyage where I immediately knew that I would need to make a return trip in order to adequately appreciate it in its entirety. Beautiful. Much of it is comprised of old, solidified sand dunes looking something like hardened cake batter which has been just been poured into a bowl.
I drove out of the park through its mile-long tunnel and off through the colorful deserts on my way to Arizona. Thunderstorms with giant rain clouds and bright lightning strikes were everywhere but somehow I seemed to avoid them on this leg of the trip. I got rained on several times earlier in the day and while I would have been frustrated by the rain about a week ago, I welcomed it in the midst of the 106 degree weather. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. Much like how driving the 35 minutes to my parent’s house used to seem like a “long” drive before I took off on this trip and spent 10-12 hours a day on the road. Speaking of being on the road, I need to get out of here. I hope you enjoy the pictures…they don’t quite do reality justice, but it was fun to try. Two more days…
(Oh, also…you may see some random “spam” comments left on my posts. I try to delete them as soon as I see them, but please ignore them if you catch them before I do. They’re generally pretty bad…nothing I’d like my mom to have to read. I’m guessing it’s from an automated system, but if it’s from a person and that person is reading this, then I can confidently tell you that none of us are interested in your naughty wares which you peddle. Go peddle elsewheres. Thank you.)
I’m in West Yellowstone, MT, getting ready to head south…on the homestretch of this little voyage. These last few days have been some of the best of the trip and it’s hard to pack up and get back on the road. The next few will be really good as well, though, so I certainly can’t complain. Anyways, let me tell you how I got here and then try, and I do mean try, to describe my day in Yellowstone yesterday.
I got my bike back from the shop in Edmonton at around 3:30 and jumped on the road towards Calgary. By the way, if you ride a bike and are in Edmonton, stop at Alberta Cycle Motorsports. They were incredible, going far beyond what they needed to do for a tire installation/service. They washed my bike and made it look nearly new…free of charge. Mike, the owner, powerwashed a ton of mud out of the radiator and personally scrubbed down the bike. I had forgotten that the windshield was actually transparent back when I had left San Diego. I road from Edmonton to Calgary as fast as I (legally) could, ate dinner, gassed up, and got back on the road. By the way, Calgary isn’t the best place for Mexican food. Hmmm…imagine that. The sun started going down and before I knew it, it was dark and I actually had to use my lights. The sunset over the farms was beautiful and I enjoyed watching the migratory birds flying south. I couldn’t help thinking that I was on my own little southern migration, although I wasn’t flying…yet. The sky dimmed and the bugs came out…in force. Turning on my high beams was a frightening experience as it would suddenly illuminate the multitude of creatures rushing towards their doom on the front of my bike, helmet, boots, pants, jacket, etc. It was so bad that I had to pull over and spend nearly ten minutes cleaning up…not as a convenience but more out of necessity. I crossed the border pretty late and was greeted by the Montana welcome sign and the welcome 75mph sign. That’s when I began flying. I pulled into Great Falls, MT, at about 2am and got a few hours of much needed sleep.
The next morning I woke up, checked out of my hotel, and hit the road towards Helena, MT. The ride was very nice, and different from the rest of the trip…fields, mountains, plateaus, and sun…lots of it. It was in the 90’s which made me laugh…a week and a half before I had been riding in freezing conditions and now I was sweating in the unhindered sun of the Big Sky Country. I road to West Yellowstone, through the Gallatin Canyon, and arrived in the late afternoon. Since then, I have been spoiled rotten. My friends here live in a gigantic house. It’s not extravagant, but it’s beautiful and has an incredible view of Hebgen Lake to the south and Yellowstone National Park to the East. It’s a house that none of us would ever be able to afford had it been built in California My bed is incredible, the food they’ve given me has been exceptional, and it’s been so nice to spend the time with them..just a very welcoming family. They took me to breakfast yesterday and then out to Quake Lake, which was formed by a massive earthquake some fifty years ago. The quake caused an incredible landslide that dammed the river below creating a lake where forest used to be. It’s strange to see the trees sticking out of the water, but the whole area is beautiful. Breakfast was great, although the restaurant didn’t allow a mix of bacon and sausage…it was one or the other. I almost felt ashamed for asking.
Yellowstone is a massive, beautiful, and naturally impressive part of this country and if you’ve never been here then you need to plan a trip soon. Old Faithful is great but is such a small part of the park. The geysers, rivers, waterfalls, canyons, elk, deer, bison, meadows, mountains, lakes, and forests can’t be captured in pictures (although I took 202 of them before my battery died), nor can they adequately be described in words…and I only saw a small portion of the park yesterday You just need to come here, and plan on spending at least 2 or 3 days, minimum. We were lucky enough to visit on a day when Beehive Geyser blew and that was extremely impressive…powerful and loud. The colors in the water, trees, rocks, and grass were more than my little camera could take in, and the herds of bison and elk are much more massive than can be appreciated in two dimensions. Come to this park! I’m about to plan a return trip myself.
Ok, I need to get on the road, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to post later today from Utah. Video of some of my drive to Yellowstone is below, as well as a few pictures. More on Flickr…but less than can show you what I’ve seen here. My words don’t do the park or this family justice. The trip continues to be great…this country fascinates me.
I’m in Edmonton right now…Wasn’t really planning on stopping in Edmonton, but on my way from Grand Prairie yesterday I stopped and took a quick gander at my rear tire and saw some metal wires starting to poke through. Not the safest for long trips (or any trips for that matter), so I decided to make a quick stop here to get that taken care of as well as a routine service before I push on towards Yellowstone. So, that tire lasted me all of 17 days and 6300 miles…ouch. I imagine Alaska’s gravel roads can’t have helped all that much.
I’m sitting in the dealership right now using their computer so I can’t do anything too fancy, and honestly, there hasn’t been all that much to write about in the last few days (that’s why I’m using a picture from the previous day). Alberta is a fine enough place, but after seeing what I’ve seen further north it’s hard to get excited about the hay bails and long, straight highways. There’s an actual nighttime here, though, and that’s a plus. Also, the mosquitoes have left me alone and that’s another huge bonus. I can’t begin to describe how many mosquitoes I have smashed on the front of my bike. Lovely. There are gigantic hordes of them in Alaska, especially further north, and they swarm to the heat of the bike as soon as you stop. Two interesting/funny things from yesterday: I saw a reindeer farm. After being so happy to see a couple on my drive, stopping and taking pictures, and acting like a total tourist, I then see a whole field of them right on the highway…nice. Second, Alberta posts these funny signs that show an outline of someone holding binoculars and the statement “Watchable Wildlife” printed above. I don’t know why but that made me chuckle. I wonder which ones are more watchable…the caribou or the reindeer? Maybe they have competitions. Anyways…
I should be in the States tonight and then visiting friends and family in Yellowstone and then Utah. This is Brian, signing off from the land of “eh’s” and “aboots”. Beautiful country…nice folks. Come to Canada if you never have before. More later.
[UPDATE: Microsoft killed on10.net but they moved the content to Channel 9…the above “check it out here” link has been updated.]
I’m sitting in a laundromat at a campground in Toad River, BC. It’s in the middle of nowhere but somehow they have an internet station, which just so happens to be in their laundromat, and I’m going to plug their interweb cable into Motocompy and give it a whirl. No Wifi, no cell phone…I find a way!
So in eleven days I will be home, so the title of this post could come from that…but it doesn’t. I road from Whitehorse, YT, to Toad River, BC, today and had not a single drop of rain…not one! That hasn’t happened for eleven days. Eleven days! It was so nice to see and feel the sun. I had clouds for good portions of the ride, but the clouds didn’t rain on my parade…um, sorry for that. What did rain on my parade slightly was some good ol’ fashioned Whitehorse thievery. I walked out to my bike this morning and found it coverless. They didn’t take anything else…my tent, sleeping bag, camelback…not even the bag for the cover. Just the cover. Stinky.
The ride from Whitehorse to Fireside was pretty uninteresting. I think I’m a bit jaded and desensitized to beauty at this point. I’ve seen so much in the last month, and driving down roads that I had already been on during this trip just wasn’t too exciting. But, no rain and no mud/gravel/potholes…I was happy. I did cross over “Brook’s Brook” and “George’s Gorge”…thought those were a bit funny. I also drove through Watson Lake, which is a town of some smart folks. They figured out that if you don’t have any natural tourist attraction, you should just make one, especially if it’s one that you don’t have to maintain. They have what’s called a “Sign Post Forest” and it’s a place where people from around the globe have stopped to tack up their own, unique signs. Fascinating.
I stopped for gas and a bite to eat in Fireside, BC, and started back out on the road. These last 110 miles have been some amazing ones. I’m back in the mountains, which I really dig, and the wildlife I saw today was much more than the rest of the trip combined. Bears, buffalo, wild horses (who’s gonna ride them?), moose (one just ran through the campsite next to mine), deer (or dear…whichever you prefer), and even a roadkill porcupine. I road by Muncho Lake, which aside from having a great name, is one of the largest natural lakes in North America and sits right at the beginning of The Rockies, which span 1,850 miles through Canada and the U.S. down into New Mexico. Maybe I’ll see the bottom of them some time later on in this trip.
Ok, one quick funny story before I call it quits. As I was arriving here in Toad River, I saw a camping area and decided to pull off into it. I applied the brakes, whilst entering the gravel drive…you see what’s coming. Both tires locked up and started skidding and I was heading towards a short drop-off into a grassy area below. The bike started to tip and I was sure it was going over. I came down the short slope, up a bank, and somehow came to a stop in the grass…no harm done. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t dumped the bike. Crazy. Picture of my 9.8 landing below. (The German judge docked me for the bugs on the windshield). Speaking of bugs on the windshield…none of my bike video came out too clear through the mess of mosquito guts, so only video from my camera…of my awesome riding skillz. GPS here…here…and HERE!!!! More pictures on Flickr. Out.
It’s about 9:20am on the 16th and I should be on the road. I’m in Whitehorse, Yukon, and apparently Whitehorsian alarm clocks function differently than others I’ve used in the past. I set it for 7 so that I could wake up and do some laundry before I left (believe me, I really needed to do laundry) and now it looks like I won’t be out of here until about 11. Maybe that’s alright, though, because the sleep felt great.I’ve ridden through my fair share of rain, and consequently mud, the last few days. I’ve also seen some amazing things and met some great people. I started the 14th near Wrangell-St. Elias and, after having an amazing breakfast sandwich made by the cabin host, Patty, I went back to my cabin to get my things ready to go. As I was shutting down motocompy to take him to the bike, I unplugged the mouse and touched the screen and…nothing. Checked a few things and…nothing. Called my brother, Jon, and talked through the problem and…nothing. So, Motocompy is now a bit crippled. I have the mouse plugged in at all times and in order to perform most functions I need to pull over and click around a bit. Oh well, maybe that’s for the best. After wrestling with that for a bit I jumped on the bike and headed towards the park.
Wrangell is, according to some Alaskans, the most beautiful section of Alaska. It is, according to me, much less busy and touristy than Denali and that’s a plus. Sadly, I will never be able to really comment on its relative beauty as I only made it about a mile into the park. I road over the Copper River, got a little ways in and found myself riding in soft mounds of dirt. Hard gravel is OK…soft dirt isn’t. I decided to turn around and leave and got stuck in the process. I couldn’t get off the bike or it would have tipped over (I didn’t have enough room to put the side stand down) so I had to wait for some other folks to come and help give me a push. Riding next to Wrangell was amazing though and I got some great views of the snow-capped mountains which dominate that landscape. The not so fun part of this ride was the construction. I think I ended up waiting for about an hour at various sites. On a scale of “1” to “Awesome”, I give Alaska’s roads a “Rather Poor”. I made it through and found myself in Tok, AK. (Someone told me that Tok got it’s name from the Army Corps of Engineers during WWII. It used to be called Tokyo Junction…they didn’t like that so much so they took the “oyo” off.). I had dinner with a couple of other bikers in Tok, Jim and Jan. They’re up from Colorado, touring around Alaska. Good dinner, great conversation.
I haven’t wanted to cover the same roads on my way back as on the way up, so I turned north towards Chicken, AK, and Dawson, YT. Plus, my girlfriend was named after a teacher who moved to Chicken in the twenties to teach the local children, so I was somewhat obligated to go there. The ride up was strange but beautiful. Forest fires had devastated much of that area and the vast areas of burnt forests made for an interesting view. Oh, and the fires are still going. I road through an area that was burning. No fire crews, no traffic adjustments, just signs that said “Slow Down” and “Limited Visibility”.
I pulled into Chicken late that night and what an experience that ended up being. I parked in front of the row of three shops they had and found a group of guys standing outside of the saloon. I found out quickly that they were all bikers who had ended up there on the same night and were standing around talking and drinking some beer. I had a great time talking with them all, sharing stories and finding out who they were and where they were from. Chicken is strange…no other way to put it. The public restrooms have a sign above the door that reads “Chicken Poop”, and the Saloon has a tradition of collecting articles of women’s nickers, placing them in a small canon packed with black powder, blowing them up and then pinning the remains to the ceiling inside. Video below to prove it. Strange. I woke up early, took a quick tour of the area, which included a view of the old schoolhouse and the “massive” post office. My mission in Chicken complete (and then some), I headed east on the dirt/gravel “Top of the World Highway”. Rain quickly turned the road to mud and I found it slow going for the first hour or so. This section of road took me across the border (where someone backed into me…nothing serious), and lends some amazing views of mountains, canyons, forests, and…gravel roads. I made it through, though, and found myself at the banks of the Yukon, waiting for the ferry to take me into Dawson. The ferry was a fun experience and I probably would have spent a bit of time in Dawson had it not been raining. It was raining, however, and I pushed on for Whitehorse, some 330 miles to the south. It rained pretty hard on the trip down, until I made it to Carmacks where the sun took over and I was a very happy man, riding on well-paved roads in the sun.
I pulled into Whitehorse last night, had some dinner, thought about working on my post, and decided to go to bed instead. My load of laundry should be done soon, so I should get moving. I’ll try to post something later today, but no promises…I’m in Canada, eh. My cell phone costs a bit. Lots more pictures of Flickr. GPS upload is again being amazingly slow, so none this time. Hopefully more later on.
"Aieeeeeee! Motocompy es muerto!" That was my thought as I pushed the power button and received a SYSTEM DISK ERROR. I’ve had problems with the computer before, but system disk stuff usually means death. The story ends up well, but let me first tell you how I came to this point. Two words: Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway, also known as Alaska State Route 11, is a road that leads from just north of Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, takes you through some of the most beautiful terrain you’ll ever see, and will never feel the soft touch of my motorcycle’s tires again. I can’t remember three more challenging and rewarding days than the three that took me up and back on the Dalton Highway. I’ll shall now try to summarize those days and the events that transpired therein.
I left Eielson AFB on the morning of the 9th and drove northwest up AK-2 to the point where it meets up with the Dalton Highway, some 80 miles north of Fairbanks. The whole time I was wondering what I was going to be met with. I had heard and read so much about this road that it had almost reach mythical proportions for me. I finally got there and the gravel greeted me cheerily as if to say, "Don’t worry, you’ve ridden on gravel before, this won’t be a problem for you…(sinister laugh under breath)". Indeed, I had ridden on gravel before and I felt fairly confident in my abilities to navigate said road surface. The Dalton Highway broke me, and my bike, and my computer, and nearly my spirit. I can’t count how many times I was certain I was going to crash/drop the bike/get a flat, etc. I pulled into Coldfoot, AK, that afternoon desiring only two things: time away from my bike and a beer. I found both. The next day was even more difficult and beautiful. I already told you all about the flat tire, but I didn’t tell you about the rain or the mud, or the crazy potholes, or the dramatic temperature drop to below freezing as I road across the barren tundra leading up to the coast. The ride was certainly difficult but was also beautiful and even fun, at times. I would be frustrated and tired, concentrating on the road and nothing else, when suddenly I was met with something that didn’t seem to fit in with my exasperation: a rainbow, fireweed (which is a purple flower that comes up in areas where there’s been a fire), a powerful river like the Yukon, or an amazing mountain in the distance. It was as though God was giving me signs to help me break through my current frustration and appreciate everything around me. I crossed the Arctic Circle on the 9th and pass through the Brooks Range on the 10th. Atigun Pass divides the vast coastal tundra plains and the inland boreal forest, and is both beautiful and eerie in its color and shape.
Hmmm…Ok, I’m starting to get long winded with this. Let me try to speed things up a bit. Sooooo, I road to Coldfoot on the first day. Highlites from this ride: Yukon River, Arctic Circle (there was a sign posted here about a wolf nearby that had attacked a woman…I found out later that the same wolf had tried to run down a guy on a motorcycle), and fireweed. The next day I woke up early, after trying to sleep through the lack of darkness, the presence of rain, and the intermittent yelping from the Mush Team Huskies in the woods nearby. Fifty miles north of Coldfoot is where I got my flat, but just after that is when I got to Atigun Pass and then started descending towards the coast. The crazy thing about this road is that there will be brief spots of decent asphalt or hard packed/sealed gravel…just enough to lull you into thinking that the worst is behind you and then, wham! potholes a’plenty. On more than one occasion I would hit potholes large enough to nearly shake the handlebars out of my hands. Highlites of the second day: Atigun Pass, beautiful blue skies with lush green tundra beneath (it reminded me of the Windows XP default desktop picture with the clouds and rolling hills…just way cooler and not so digital). I stayed at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel there in Deadhorse…a first rate establishment, sortof. Deadhorse exists only to support the oilfields up there and there are no actual residents, just temporary workers. I stayed where they stay. The Arctic Ocean was cold, (imagine that?) but it was fun to get in and join the Arctic Polar Bear club.
I met another couple of bikers that day, Andy and Scott, from Ontario, Canada. They were on sport bikes, also not very suited for the dirt/gravel/mud road, and we decided to all ride back together the next day and to ride all the way back to Fairbanks, skipping the overnight in Coldfoot. We were all ready to be done with the Dalton. Scott and Andy were great guys and were just starting an Iron Butt challenge to drive from Deadhorse, AK, to Key West, FL. We began our ride the next day at about 10:45 and quickly put a good amount of miles behind us. Then the rain set in. A few equations here: If "Rain + dirt and gravel = mud" and "mud + motorcycle without dirt bike tires = instability" then "brian + mud = unhappily unstable". Check me on that…my algebraic rules might be a bit off, but you get the point. Scott and I nearly went down on a number of occasions. I was right behind him and every time I saw his back tire fishtail I would brace myself because I knew I was next. Apart from the mud, the roads were in much better condition than they were the day before. The road crews are constantly wetting and grading the roads (fun if you get behind the wetting truck…see above equations) and things were much smoother for our trip back. We pulled back into Fairbanks at about 4am and promptly went to sleep. The 24-hour sunlight helps for making long rides like that but it seemed to hit us all at once. The day wasn’t all easy, though. Scott’s bike kept overheating because his radiator was packed with mud. Andy got a flat. Motocompy got beaten to a pulp and stopped working. I had to take him completely apart at Coldfoot and when I did I found numerous loose or missing screws, and a disconnected hard drive. I pulled out the keyboard later on and found two of the keys had been shaken off. All in all, the damage done by Dalton to myself or the other folks on bikes that I came into contact with on my trip up amounted to: 2 flat tires, a cracked crank case, and some cracked handle bars (from when one guy went down. He was OK, just got caught in some mud). That’s all in a three day period… We woke up after our long ride, ate breakfast and took our bikes to a car wash to pressure wash all the mud off of the radiators, exhaust systems, lights…everything. That took a fair amount of time but when we were done we said our goodbyes and parted ways, Andy and Scott were heading for Whitehorse in Canada and I pointed my newly cleaned bike towards Denali. It was a good ride down there (I mean, heck, the entire road was paved) and the park was beautiful, I couldn’t actually see Mt. McKinley from the 75 mile viewpoint because of the weather, but I did see some beautiful landscape and a moose. I spent the night in Cantwell Junction and am heading out onto the Denali highway shortly…yet another gravel road, but this one should be a bit shorter and better maintained.
Ok, so I could write or talk about this experience for much longer, but my guess is that it’s much more interesting to me since it’s so fresh and vivid in my mind’s eye and that my lame description isn’t going to quite do it justice. Anyways, here’s some pictures from those few days (more on my Flickr page) as well as a video from our passage of Atigun. Most of my other videos would make you sick from all the shaking and bouncing around. Plus, there was usually mud, dust or rain stuck to my windshield…or the camera was shaken off of its mount. Not the best conditions for movie production. One more video from the Arctic coast. Notice the weird layer of clouds that comes down to just above the horizon.
GPS track of me exiting the Brooks Range and heading into Deadhorse, AK is here.