Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins (Part 1)
Alaska has been called the Great Land. Well we’re here to tell you that it’s not. It’s not nearly enough of a superlative name for Alaska. After visiting and riding though only a very small portion of Alaska’s 586,412 square miles (or 663,267 square miles if you include the water inside its borders), Alaska truly is the Spectacular, Gigantic Land of Grandeur. Alaska is one of those places that defies easy description; even with pictures. Passing on the beauty and the overall majesty of Alaska is nearly impossible. Add to that a side trip into the Canadian Yukon and you have a nearly indescribable adventure. But we will try to give you but an idea of what you can expect if you choose to journey to this wonderful place.
Naturally, planning for a trip such as a ride through Alaska and the Canadian Yukon requires a fair bit of planning. Kim was riding her Suzuki DR650 which I prepped extensively for the trip. Installed were panniers, top box, windshield and numerous protective bits and bobs to ensure that a drop here or there wouldn’t end the adventure early. Once ready to go, we shipped the bike to an agent in Anchorage where we picked it up to begin our adventure.
I am riding a KTM 640 Adventure, a bike designed for a trip such as this. Originally designed for the Dakar Rally, it was made for off-road and needed little for this adventure other than the equipment to carry “stuff”. I was lucky enough to find a used one in the Anchorage area through the community at ADVRider and all that I needed to do was to have the panniers installed at a local motorcycle shop in Anchorage.
Bikes prepped and ready to go, we arrived in Anchorage on an overcast and rainy day. Our enthusiasm however was far from diminished. We grabbed a taxi from the airport and headed to the agent to off-load our gear and let Kim start the setup of her bike while I continued to the motorcycle shop to pick up my bike.
While in the taxi, I noticed that Anchorage is just like any other medium sized city. It has office buildings, chain restaurants, lots of people running about doing what they do and lots of traffic. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. After about a half hour, I was able to pick up my KTM 640A and be on my way to the agent’s to meet up with Kim, load up my bike and head to the hotel to drop off our gear, grab a dinner somewhere and get a good nights rest so we could be ready for a fresh start the following morning.
We were pretty tired from packing for our adventure, getting to the airport, taking our flight, picking up the bags and picking up the bikes and unloading the gear into the bikes. By the time we had finished, it was around 8 PM Alaska time. We wanted to head to the hotel, grab a bite to eat and head back to the hotel to get a good nights rest. By the time we got to a restaurant and finished dinner it was 11 PM. Then it dawned on us. It was still light outside and if it hadn’t been rainy, it would have been downright bright! At 11 PM! Lesson 1, the sun doesn’t set until really late in the summer in Alaska; later as you go further north. That is a pretty cool phenomenon, one that I could definitely live with in the summer, but it’s just the reverse in the winter, so…
When we awoke, it was raining heavily, but we were determined to get out of Anchorage an into some of the less populated Alaska. Our destination for the day was generally north towards Talkeetna and a small lodge there. It did take about an hour to get out of Anchorage in the traffic and rain, but once on the Parks Highway, the riding got better and so did the scenery. Traffic congestion gave way to smaller roads and mountains. Ahhh…. that’s more like it!
After a full day’s riding, we made it into Talkeetna for a quick night’s rest and we were back out on the road early for a quick breakfast where we learned our second Alaskan lesson. Everything is big in Alaska. Everything. The mountains, the distances between locations and… the portions of food! Unbelievable is the only word. Ordering our “Half Standard” breakfast at a Talkeetna roadhouse resulted in each of us receiving two completely overflowing plates complete with eggs, bacon, two slices of Texas toast and a coffee roll. Can you say gut buster?
Totally overflowing with food, we set out again in a northerly direction towards Cantwell. Much of this riding was still on pavement but the scenery really began to pop. On the schedule for the day was a viewing of Mt. McKinley if the weather would cooperate. We stopped for lunch at the McKinley View Lodge where we would have seen Mt. McKinley if the weather were cooperating. It did not, so we did not. Oh well.
However, this stop did lead us to the opportunity to “Shrink The Planet” once again and we were quite thankful for that. Our bikes had New Hampshire license plates on them and that often is an opportunity for conversation. We were approached by a couple and we struck up a conversation about adventure riding and where we were from and where we were going. We talked a bit about them and also, one of their friends. They said they had a friend who was a rider who would be very interested in what we were doing and asked if they could share our email address with him. Of course we said yes, and this chance meeting would lead to a “Shrinking of the Planet” that has continued to this day, not only in Alaska, but across this country from Tennessee to Colorado. We’ll tell you more about that in Part 2.