The latest edition of our Planet Ramble has been posted. Today we ride from Glennallen, and Eagle River Alaska and end up at the airport for our flight home to Vermont. On the way, we pass some amazing glaciers, take the time to smell the flowers, ride great twisty roads and have a special guest send us off.
You can find the latest by clicking HERE or cutting and pasting the link below:
Ride2ADV is pleased to announce that we have been published in the September/October issue of RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel magazine. This article tells the story of our travels through the island nation of Iceland. A place of diverse and exciting landscapes. Within a day’s ride, you can see ocean, mountains, glaciers, volcanos and icebergs. Off road sections provide amazing riding with differing surfaces of gravel, sand and lava.
Digital copies are available now, with print copies available at newsstands nationwide starting next week. If you’d like to purchase a digital copy now, click here.
We hope you enjoy the article and pictures. Several depict Kim’s riding prowess.
Mike and Kim
New Hampshire’s winter snows make for fine skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling, but not exceptionally good motorcycling. With autumn over and the real winter rapidly settling in, our motorcycling would be relegated to our anxious dreams awaiting the spring. It is always a funny feeling knowing that our thoughts would be similar in nature to those of the hibernating wild animals tucked away in their dens awaiting the new growth fresh berries with the coming thaw of spring. Each year, to both of us spring couldn’t come too soon.
But this year would be different. We were traveling to a place where at this time of year it would be warm and there would be no snow except very high in the mountains. It was time for me to bone up on my Spanish because this winter we were going to ride to the Fin del Mundo, or translated into English, to the “end of the earth”.
We were flying from Boston, Massachusetts into Santiago, Chile where the following day we’d hop a short flight to Pucon, Chile to start our riding adventure. Our route would ultimately take us from Pucon, Chile a ski resort with its own volcano to Ushuaia, Argentina at the very tip of South America. In fact, it’s the furthest south you can get on any land mass on the planet. Antarctica is composed entirely of ice, so it does not count.
So as the days of November increased, instead of padding around in small circles worrying that the NH snow would soon blanket the roads and trails ending riding for another season, we were actually quite spry, gathering all our riding gear and stashing it in our luggage for the flight to Chile. No sitting about for us this year, we were ready to ride!
So when the appointed day came in mid November, we boarded our flight in Boston and after a quick stop in Dallas for a bowl of some rather spicy chile and nachos, we once again boarded another plane, our destination once again Chile, this time the country, not the kind you eat. The flight was crowded, loud and the lavatory on the aircraft overflowed, but other than that, the flight was uneventful. Upon landing, we cleared customs and grabbed a cab to our hotel which was quite nice.
It was warm and sunny outside so we decided that since we only had an overnight in Santiago, we’d better make the best of it and we went for a walk to take in the sights and grab a quick lunch. It immediately became clear that Santiago was an alive and bustling city. Traffic moved chaotically, people walked on the sidewalks and went about their business, while others sat at the sidewalk cafe’s enjoying lunch, espresso or just good conversation.
But as we walked around, we found that we weren’t apparently all that far from home. As we rounded a corner, we came to none other than a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. Complete with a sign in Spanish that read “Energiza tu vida!” or Energize your life! Jeez, I didn’t know that Dunkin’ Donuts did that. I wonder what different stuff they put in the donuts in South America? We continued walking around for a couple of hours, bought dinner and returned to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s flight to Pucon where our journey to the end of the earth would start in earnest.
When we awoke the following morning the weather was excellent and after breakfast we headed to the airport for our hour long flight to Pucon. That flight was indeed uneventful and we arrived rested and ready to go. We were picked up by a van for the brief ride from the airport to our hotel. Immediately we began to see signs for the ski resort there as well as Pucon’s own volcano. Ultimately, we were dropped at another hotel at the edge of town with an excellent view of Pucon’s own volcano, Villarica. It is indeed a majestic peak, with smoke slowly but consistently puffing from its crest. Villarica is in fact an active volcano and a fairly active one at that. With all that molten roiling fury below, you can just imagine the strength and power that an eruption would unleash. It would be a disaster as the town of Pucon sits almost directly below the towering dragon that is Pucon.
Wiped out would the quaint town in which we now ate gigantic steaks and drank local beverages like Pisco Sours. Gone would be the vendors that sold their hand made wares and the restaurants that serviced all the visitors. There’d only be empty streets to show for all that man had accomplished in that area for years to come. But for now, we were content to watch the sun go down on Villarica and enjoy the increasingly bright and magnificent glow that was now emanating from its face and sides. So as the sun went down, it was time for some Chilean beef. We ordered steak and a platter arrived which could feed an army. One thing that Chilean and Argentine people do not do is skimp on the beef and when our beef arrived for inspection prior to being cooked, it looked as though 3/4th of a cow had been brought to the table for early dinner. In any event, we ended up scarfing down a gigantic meal for dinner and we were ultimately chauffeured back to the hotel for a bright and early start of the journey on the following morning.
We’ll tell you about the beginning of the real journey in the next part.
Seward’s spectacular ocean beauty and sea life had left us slack jawed with amazement. It seemed that each time we went to a new location in Alaska, there was another gorgeous scene ready to unfold directly in front of us. But this day, there was another reason for our slack jaws and now droopy pouts. Today, we were to head back to Anchorage to end our Alaskan and Canadian Yukon adventure.
We had seen so much and met so many wonderful people, that we were indeed quite sad to be beginning the end of our journey. So with really heavy hearts and quite furrowed brows, we packed the bikes and headed northwest towards Anchorage. I can honestly say that the pace was purposely slow and the bike to bike communications between Kim and I were at an all time low; each of us lost in our thoughts and remembrances of the journey we had just experienced.
As we made our way to Anchorage, we took a meandering route to extend our time a bit more. The roads slowly and quietly hissed under our tires, interrupted only by the crunch of gravel and slight wobble of handlebars as we made our way over several sections of road under construction. Each time I was almost immediately returned to the hundreds of miles of gravel we had just covered. Soaring mountains capped with snow, glaciers creaking, groaning and calving new icebergs into a churning sea, wild animals roaming free and unafraid of man, soaring birds and amazing scenery could have conspired to effortlessly lift me from the bike and forever transform me from an itinerant observer to a permanent part of the landscape. I’d just become another part of what is the amazing natural life force that is Alaska. And if it had, I would have welcomed it.
But Alaska did not reach out and grab either Kim or me and we rolled into Anchorage late in the evening, very tired and each upset that our adventure was over. We’d get up leisurely in the morning, grab breakfast and ride over to the shipping agent. There we would unload our gear from the bikes and pack it in our suitcases for the plane ride home. We’d grab a cab back to the hotel and the following afternoon, catch a flight back to Boston and then drive home to NH. The agent would then crate the bikes up and send them home to NH.
The following morning dawned with decent weather and we walked to the Golden Corral near the hotel for breakfast. Believe it or not, Kim loves Golden Corral. Really! She had a hearty breakfast and I enjoyed seeing her enjoy it so that brightened the morning a bit. Well I thought to myself, that’s going to be the highlight of the day.
We walked back to the hotel and jumped on the bikes for the ride over to the shipping agent. We offloaded the bikes and took a few moments to take stock of our situation. Our two little trusty steeds had indeed done an excellent job and performed admirably. Kim’s Suzuki DR650 and my KTM 640A never missed a beat in over 2,400 miles of pavement and gravel riding. To be precise, they covered 2,430.1 miles with over 900 (almost 1,000) of that being on gravel. They hauled a pretty heavy load including the riders, their riding gear, survival equipment and camping equipment.
Not once did they sputter, stall or break down. They carried us through torrential rains, deep mud, asteroid sized gravel and did not so much as cough. The were filthy, covered in dust, mud, and the Denali and Dempster Highway’s calcium chloride. If you are not familiar with it, calcium chloride, is sprayed on dirt roads as a dust preventative. It is slippery as snot when wet and almost impossible to remove once dried. In fact, years later, there’s still traces of it on Kim’s DR’s exhaust.
Nonetheless, these two trusty machines carried on without complaint. The least we could do was give them a quick wash before boxing them up for the long journey home. So we did. The cleansing process helped ameliorate some of my dour mood and washed away some of my angst. The physical contact with the machine and the slow rubbing, scrubbing and rinsing that was necessary to remove only the top layers of grime was like a balm to my raw feelings of having to leave; and in some way, I got the feeling that the bikes felt better too.
Rinsed and ready for crating, we rode the bikes back to the agents and got a taxi to the hotel. There we sat in the room wondering what to do with ourselves until the following afternoon. It was not more than twenty minutes when the phone rang. It was Tracy, the gent who sought us out in Dawson City and whose acquaintance we had made only as a result of a conversation we had with a couple we met in front of Mt. McKinley.
Tracy lived in Eagle River. a town just outside of Anchorage. He knew we were headed out of town the following day, but wondered if we would like to go for a ride with him and his wife MaryLee today. Damn! We had just dropped the bikes off at the shipping agents and they were probably already well on their way to being crated I told him. I think Tracy could hear the despair in my voice because he immediately said, “That’s not a problem, my brother Chuck has plenty of bikes and he can lend you both one!”
Well I don’t smile with my teeth showing much, but in this case Kim immediately knew something was up and asked what was making me smile so much. I told her and almost immediately her expression matched mine. Two Cheshire Cat grins coming right up! We immediately jumped into the rental car and drove to Tracy’s house. We got the nickel tour and headed over to his brother Chuck’s house. He had a fine collection of bikes. Chuck said, “Choose one.” Yikes! It was difficult to choose, but ultimately, I chose his R100RS PD and Kim chose his R/65GS. They were great machines.
Before we knew it we were off and riding as a group. We rode through beautiful mountain scenery and some awesome horse country in the Matanuska Valley. Then we headed over to Hatchers Pass where we took a brief ride into the pass but were forced to turn back due to poor road conditions. We then headed over to a most unusual Alaskan farm. What’s unusual about an Alaskan farm you may ask? Well how about if the farm grows musk oxen? They are indeed unusual creatures. Raised for their fur which is very warm, they are quite large, sound like tigers when they vocalize and can be quite aggressive when provoked. They were very interesting animals.
We spent an excellent day just wandering around Alaska and before we knew it, it was time to return the bikes to Chuck. Little did we know it, but he had one more surprise waiting for us. When he arrived he showed us his beautiful Ural sidecar rig and literally insisted that we take it for a ride. Who were we to argue? So we jumped on with me as the “driver” and Kim as the passenger. It was a blast for me. As for Kim, I don’t think she was as amused as I was. I had never piloted a sidecar rig and with changes in power, the bike changed direction somewhat. So as we made our way down the road, we also made away across the road. While I had the huge grin, Kim had the worried, I hope I survive fake smile on. But she is a trooper and came through with flying colors (and uninjured I might add).
More quickly that we could imagine, the riding day was over and we had to say goodbye to Tracy, MaryLee and Chuck. They had made our last full day in Alaska a wonderful day instead of a downer. We still cherish our friendship with Tracy and MaryLee to this day and even went on another trip with them which you’ll hear about in another article. After many goodbyes, we got into the rental and drove back to the hotel to catch some sleep and get ready for the next day’s flight.
When the following morning dawned, we had reconciled ourselves to the fact that we were leaving Alaska. We grabbed breakfast and Kim was once again in her glory at the Golden Corral. Tracy and MaryLee knew that I was a pilot and mentioned that there was a seaplane base and an aircraft museum next to the airport that we could visit if we wanted to kill some time before our flight home. So off we went and we watched seaplanes taking off and landing for a while. While I have several “ratings”, I do not have a seaplane rating and watching them only increased my desire to get one. Watching the bird get up on the sponsons and then break contact with the water was exciting as was watching them glide easily and smoothly onto the water’s surface, some more smoothly than others.
We then walked over to the museum and learned a bit about Alaskan aviation history and how much a role aviation plays in Alaska. Not only did they have historic displays, they also had static displays of various aircraft from fully restored and flying to in need of restoration and in pieces. It was all very interesting and a great way to spend the morning and early afternoon.
But before we knew it it was time to head to the international airport for the flight home. We had spent the morning with small aircraft which do the day to day job of ferrying everyday Alaskans and their goods from point to point. These aircraft are literally the lifeblood to many remote Alaskan communities. It was similar to our small bikes on our journey. They had carried us and our gear from point to point and provided us with the marvelous opportunity to observe some of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. We hope that someday we will be able to once again journey to Alaska and the Canadian Yukon and like Alaska’s small aircraft travel all over Alaska on our little motorcycles that can.
Wild animals, humans and motorcycles thoroughly mixed and mingled, it was time to make our way towards Seward. On our way out of the wildlife park we came upon a rather wheezy looking caribou. With his head hanging low in an apparent weakened display of age and surrender, his impressive rack still was over the top of my head. I stopped my bike beside him to take a picture and to give him the “oh you poor old boy” condolences when suddenly his head popped up. He stiffened, snorted angrily and took a quick step towards me as to say “get lost or I’ll trample you into little pieces of Alaskan tundra.” I was really started, nearly dropped my camera and almost fell off my bike. OK then. Note to self, old Alaskan caribou can still kick butt. Give them a wide berth because they can be quite cranky. Got it. Oh, and luckily for me, Kim was behind me a fair bit and she saw nothing. My dented male ego was to remain somewhat intact.
With that, we (actually I) expedited our exit from the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge and set course for our next stop, Seward. We were quite psyched to be headed there because it is a seaport town and we had planned to go on a full day marine mammal/bird/glacier boat tour while we were there. Continuing south and traveling along Turnagin Arm we were greeted with more ocean views and twisty roads. The weather was good and in no time we made it to Seward and our hotel for the next couple of days.
By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture. Then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.
Now the hotel was not much to write home about, but it did offer some surprises. As we entered the hotel’s lobby, we were immediately surrounded. Surrounded? Yes, as in surrounded by wild animals. Completing our entrance through the one person revolving door we were immediately confronted by two bears, a musk ox and caribou! In the hotel lobby! This just after my run-in with the cranky old caribou. Further in, we found moose, arctic fox, mink and pheasant. Ge’ez, didn’t we just leave the conservation center?
Well what really happened is that all these animals were indeed in the hotel lobby but they were stuffed. Perhaps they had been cranky with someone else and then they paid the price? Oh well, it was just strange seeing all these animals in a hotel lobby, it wasn’t like we were in a hunting lodge. We quickly “headed” to our room to drop off our gear. We opened the door there and found… no stuffed animals.
We put our gear in the room and decided to walk around the town a bit and get some dinner. We found some murals painted on the sides of buildings which had been painted by the locals. They showed topics such as the settling of Seward and some were about native Alaskan culture. They were pretty cool so we snapped a few pictures for memories. Then we did the tourist thing for a while, checked out a few shops in town and finally settled in for the evening, because we had a full day boat tour with an early start in the morning.
The following morning dawned bright and mostly sunny with fairly calm seas. It was going to be a good day for a boat tour. Actually, the boat was more of a ship. It was a 95 foot vessel with twin 3600 horsepower engines. She could make well over 26 knots with a full capacity. This was no little boat. By the way, I know the vessel facts for reasons I’ll tell you about later.
To ensure we got good seating, we arrived early and plopped ourselves down in the cabin by the windows. I was sitting there reading my Kindle which at the time was a fairly new device. The Captain of the ship walked by and asked if I was in fact reading a Kindle and I replied that I was. We chatted about it and I let him look at it. It turned out that he wrote software in his spare time, and the e-ink technology was a hot topic so he wanted to see how it looked on the screen. We chatted a bit more about Alaska and the motorcycle ride we were on which he thought was pretty cool. Ultimately, he said he had to get back to work and we thought we wouldn’t see him again. We were wrong.
The boat departed on time and we headed out to sea. Almost immediately we saw sea otters lolling about in the harbor, some lying on their backs sunning themselves while others rolled lazily like tops to help aerate their fur to aid in insulation. They were as cute as you hear about and can imagine. Clear of the harbor, the Captain laid on the power and 45 minutes later we arrived at two islands, one of which was a Steller Sea Lion rookery. We laid up appropriately close and we could see the females with their cubs sunning themselves while the very large bull males made themselves know with loud vocalizations. Every once in a while, there would be a bit of a dust up between the sea lions over space, but all in all, they seemed quite happy to lie in the sun and take an occasional dip in the water. We watched for a half hour or so and it was time to move on.
Thirty minutes later, we arrived at two more islands, the Beehive Islands which were appropriately named because of their shape and one other thing. The were bird rookeries for many species birds and they flew and swooped all around the islands making them seem like beehives inhabited by bees. As we got closer to the islands, it became apparent that the islands were crammed with birds. It looked like every tiny ledge, crevice and crack had a nesting bird or its partner sitting or standing on it. The walls to the island were quite sheer, so they’d stand or sit on very narrow precipices to be used as nesting areas. There was very little free space by the time the birds had found all the spots they wanted to use. It was quite amazing.
We watched the birds wheel and soar in the air around and above the island. Had there been air traffic control, it would have been a controller’s worst nightmare! But they all seemed to be able to navigate and fly without crashing into each other. We humans aren’t so lucky.
After about thirty minutes of watching the birds act like bees it was time to find some whales and check out some glaciers. Both of which we found and saw in abundance. We’ll tell you about them and the little secret in Part 10.
We hated to admit it, but it was in fact time to leave McCarthy. Time had passed so quickly, I was really somewhat upset to be leaving such a beautiful place. Kim as ever, was taking all in stride and had already packed our gear in plastic bags and was patiently awaiting the van to pick us up and drop us off at the foot bridge so we could walk the last quarter mile or so to our bikes to re-pack our gear. I truly was going to miss the Root glacier and the amazing sights and story of incredible perseverance of all those who had toiled at the Kennicott mine. But I knew there was more to come for us in Valdez and Seward, perhaps even better, and those thoughts buoyed my spirit as we prepared to leave this absolutely amazing place.
Sooner than we knew it, we were back at the foot bridge carrying all our gear back to our bikes to commence our re-packing activities and hit the road for the day and to head for Valdez. After about half an hour, we were ready to move on and we headed back out on the 60 miles of gravel back towards the pavement from whence we had come. It was a faster an easier ride than the previous one since we had already ridden the route but still an enjoyable and exciting jaunt.
By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.
As we approached the pavement, the weather started to deteriorate and we began to experience the first rain of the day. Rain had become one of our friends during this trip and it was no big deal as we motored on happily and the temperature continued to drop. Further into the ride towards Valdez, we started to climb which helped the temperatures to drop even more. The wind began to pick up significantly and the temperature began to plummet. Snowflakes started to fly as they were ripped from the not too distant clouds just above us. They roiled above us and we could see them being swept up the side of the mountains but being halted at the summit by some other competing wind. The sun began to fade and the weather was truly beginning to get nasty.
I radioed to Kim over the communicators to stop so we could add some layers and check our maps for location and distance to Valdez. We stopped to check our map and found that we were almost right in front of the Worthington glacier. It rolled down the side of the mountain in extending two icy fingers in a “V” for victory having made its way across and over the top of the mountain ending right next to the road we were on. It was impressive! It had made it across the mountain where the clouds had been unable to.
After checking our maps, we found that we were not that far away and if the snow didn’t pick up, we could probably make it into Valdez in a couple of hours or less. After taking a few pictures of the Worthington glacier we were off again and headed to Valdez in the snow and rain. As we neared Valdez, the clouds continued to lower and we were concerned that we may hit some really difficult weather and intense snow. But as we entered a canyon, several blue holes opened overhead and the sun burst through in bright flashes. So there was hope to make it to Valdez and there was a sun above! Great!
The road began to twist and turn surrounded with high jagged rock canyon walls covered in greenery. If the weather were better, this road would have been the kind boy racers would enjoy quite a bit. But as nature would have it, there was another show to be viewed that would slow us down. Under a blue hole, in the sunlight, a cascade of white water crashed down from above. Bouncing from prominence to prominence, the water cascaded in a flash of white and a veil of misty fog. We had to stop to take it all in. In fact, while we were there, several folks were similarly effected and chose to stop as well. It was a feast for the eyes; a delicious sight.
After a few photos it was back onto the bikes and only a short jaunt to Valdez. The rain picked up again, but was an on and off affair for the two days while we visited. So in the on and off rain, we decided that it would be a good idea to visit Valdez and meet some of the locals and find out a little about the city.
We took the time to visit Valdez’s two museums full of information about the history, establishment and people of Valdez, as well as Good Friday earthquake and tsunami that wiped out most of the city in 1964. We saw a specimen of the extremely rare Alaskan Furry Koho salmon. It was encased in a glass enclosed case so you couldn’t pet it, or eat it. Those Alaskans, they protect their rare species carefully.
We later met the curator of the museum who gave us the opportunity to have our picture taken with an Authentic Alaskan hunting rifle saying that “everything is bigger in Alaska”. Shortly thereafter he came out with a 7 foot long rifle that you will see in the pictures here. Quite a guy that curator.
Did you know that Valdez claims to be Alaska’s snow capital? We had a chance to check some of their snow removal equipment and if it’s an indicator of the snow they get, we don’t doubt them. Snow machines 15 1/2 foot tall with 5 1/2 tall augers tell of a need to move a lot of snow; and there are several of them. When the auger of the machine is taller than my wife, you know its a big machine.
We also saw several examples of the symbol of our country flying around the harbor. Bald eagles are plentiful in the area and they can be seen quite regularly in Valdez. It was great to see them and they are just as majestic as you would think they are.
After two days of rain in Valdez, it was time to move on to Seward. By this time, the weather looked to be clearing a bit and we were anxious to be moving in some sun. We planned a full days ride with a couple of stops along the way. The first stop was to be in Girdwood at the Alyeska Tramway, a ski area that has a view of Turnagain Arm. Girdwood is also known for the Girdwood festival which has Alaskan artists, exotic foods and entertainers from all over Alaska. The ride was once again beautiful with curving roads alongside the ocean and mountains. The views were spectacular as the harbor was as placid as a mill pond and it reflected the surrounding mountains. It was a wonderful sight.
We parked at Alyeska and took the tram to the top. It was even more spectacular. From a white snow covered perch, you were witness to an amazing view of Turnagain harbor stretched out in front you. As if by some magical plan, a parasailer floated silently by us and down to the valley floor below. The water of the harbor was blue and sparkled in the sun, reflecting the surrounding mountains. It was perfect.
Again, we could have stayed forever, but we had to make Seward in one day, so we hopped back on the tram and headed down the mountain and got back on the bikes. Not too far from Alyeska, we spied a sign that pointed us to the Wildlife Conservation Center. Kim enjoys seeing “wild” animals so we set our course for the Center. It turned out that it was a drive through center where people drive through with their cars to see the animals. We were on bikes. Hmmm…. do we really want to be in a wild animal center on bikes? Can I really accelerate that hard on a fully loaded adventure bike? Do I really like wild animals that much?
Never fear we were told, all the “dangerous” animals were fenced in. So we paid our fee and visited with bison, elk, moose, musk ox, caribou, and supposedly bears which we never saw (although we saw the pelvis of some poor departed animal in their enclosure). Do you know that a musk ox makes a sound that sounds like a lion’s/tiger’s growl. I’m here to tell you that I heard it up close, and it does and it’s impressive. All in all, it turned out to be a good experience with the opportunity to get pretty close to the animals and see their behaviors. It was money well spent.
Time was indeed fleeting and we needed to get to Seward. So we said our goodbyes to the animals and hightailed it the rest of the way to Seward in clearing and brightening weather. When we got to our hotel, little did we realize that we would once again be surrounded by wild animals. We’ll tell you more in Part 9.
As we had seemingly been waiting for all day, we finally came to the fork in the road where we left the pavement and hit the gravel for the sixty mile jaunt to McCarthy. Almost immediately we began a fairly significant climb on a loose gravel surface road with no guard rail. It was quite a way down to the water below, but we were by this time quite use to the feeling of riding mountainous gravel roads with no guard rails. We continued further into the road and civilization quickly started to vanish. The road became a single two track that had us wondering for a while whether we had actually made the correct turn to McCarthy. Grass grew three inches high from between the two well defined wheel tracks and the trees closed in to only a few feet from the sides of the tracks. The road was beginning to look more like a trail than a road.
Hmmm… After about 20 minutes of this type of riding I began to wonder whether we were indeed on the correct road. But shortly thereafter, the road began to widen and some beautiful vistas became evident. Below us glowing a bright silver in the late day sun was what/who we would find out was the Copper River. She was wide and wonderful, carving large sweeping swaths between the mountains, sometimes running fast with white water, and other times merely dawdling along. She was full of life and effortlessly showed her power while letting her magnificence be known. She was breathtaking and she knew it.
Onward we rode and signs of civilization made themselves known in short spurts along the way. A few houses huddled here and there, out in this wilderness among the towering trees, mountains and bright blue sky. However as we continued deeper into the forest, we came to recognize that to live here you must be sturdy and self sufficient. Here, the laws of nature come first and are in control, not the laws promulgated by man. Winters with double digit sub-zero temperatures and snow measured in feet not inches are not for the weak of body or mind.
Nearly two hours after leaving the pavement, we came to the parking lot (yes, parking lot!) for the place we would be staying for the next few days; the Kennicott Glacier Lodge. We had found this place nearly by accident on the web and when we found what it was near, we decided we had to visit. But here’s the deal, you can’t ride or drive there yourself (without permission from them which is almost never granted). You must take a foot bridge across a section of the Copper River to a waiting van that will drive you the last couple of miles to the lodge. In all honesty, there are other means to get there, but the natives keep that to themselves and it’s only fair to leave it that way for them.
So what’s so good about the Kennicott Glacier Lodge you ask? Well despite great accommodations in the middle of the Wrangell-Elias mountain range, it’s located directly beside the Root Glacier and a short walk from the Kennicott Mine which is now a National Park maintained in a state of arrested decay by the National Park Service. As such, it looks like an abandoned mine that it is, but it is not being permitted to decay any more than it has to date. Therefore, you can visit and experience some of what the miners life was like and what conditions they dealt with 100 or so years ago.
So it was at this awesome place that we decided to give our bikes a rest and take some time to soak in what the Wrangell-Elias mountain ranges had to give us. One day we took a flightseeing tour and flew over numerous glaciers. Words really can’t express their beauty. They are truly something that defies description so you must make it an absolute to visit a glacier in person during your lifetime.
A glacier’s amazing attributes make it one of the wonders of the world. A slow moving dynamo, a glacier is an unstoppable force, one that the earth itself cannot stop. Able to render solid rock from the walls of a mountain and carve new pathways, they possess incredible beauty often glowing so brightly that they are difficult to look at. When you do gaze upon them you may find them to be solid white or silver, striped, or brown/grey, completely covered with the rock and gravel they have scoured from the mountains as they have slowly journeyed past.
It was therefore an even greater treat to walk upon the Root Glacier for a 4 hour guided trek, where we found the glaciers not only to be beautiful, but alive. As we approached, the scene was a bit lunar like as the surface was grey and rocky with the murrain that the glacier had removed as it traveled along the mountain’s sides. However, as we made it to the top, the surface glinted and gleamed under our crampons as we walked up the side. As we crested the first peak of the glacier and investigated its surface, we saw that it indeed had the attributes of a living being. There were streams that twisted and turned, ponds of bright blue and dark azure, deep crevices and soaring ridges, all located on the body of this single glacier and all viewable during this short hike. Amazing. We stopped for a short lunch from a ridge overlooking a bright blue pond and sooner than we knew it, it was time to leave. Having been on the glacier only 4 hours, we felt cheated but at the same time honored to have witnessed its power and beauty so close and at such a personal level.
Next, we toured the Kennicott mine. Again we witnessed amazing sights but on a more human and personal level. This mine was one of the largest copper producers in the world. But producing the copper took a gigantic toll on the men who extracted the copper from the mine. The mine was truly in the wilderness and as such Kennicott had to be totally self sufficient. Rail brought in supplies and took out product, but that was about it.
You were on your own and needed to work hard to make a living. Your bunk was supplied by the company and it was a hot bunk. When you were not sleeping in it, someone else was. You worked in the mines or in the factory that separated the copper from the ore and you did it 7 days a week. The temperatures we in the double digits negatives and the heat supplied was not for the workers but to keep the machinery working. It was the lucky worker who was stationed next to the heaters that heated the machinery. If you were far from those heaters, you got the temperature the environment gave you. As we said earlier, this land required stout people.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave McCarthy and the Kennicott mine area, get back on the bikes and continue our Alaskan adventure. In the morning we would once again wait for the van beside the Root Glacier and be taken back to the foot bridge so we could make our way towards Seward where we will take you in Part 8.
As we said earlier, we stopped at the McKinley View Lodge where we were in for a special treat. After a brief lunch we learned a bit about the history of the lodge and its progenitor, Mary Carey. Mary was one of the first female pilots to fly an aircraft over Mt. McKinley and she also built the lodge with some of the tools and heavy equipment you see in the slideshow. Google Mary for she was a very interesting woman.
But we were in for a more interesting treat when as we were leaving, we struck up a conversation with a couple who noticed our NH plates on our bikes. After telling them about our journey and where we were headed, they asked if we would mind if they shared our email address with one of their friends who also motorcycled around the area. Of course we agreed and we were on our way.
We continued our way towards Cantwell in a dreary overcast, hoping that the cloud cover would lift a bit so we could see Mt. McKinley in all its glory, but persistent rain showers pestered us as we moved north. Although at times the clouds did appear to break a bit, they never fully opened and we did not get to see McKinley. But as the day progressed, it did brighten and we were treated to some breathtaking scenery.
When we rolled into Cantwell, it had pretty much cleared. It had been a long day of riding and we were pretty tired. We checked in to a small off the road hotel and asked them for a place to eat. It turned out that the closest place was called “The Perch” and was about 15 miles away. So we jumped back on the bikes for another ride which turned out to be quite beautiful and to top it off, the dinner was quite awesome as well.
After a long and sumptuous dinner, we lazily headed back to the hotel for a night’s rest before we headed out across the Denali Highway in the morning. I must say that I was concerned that it would a potholed, RV clogged, gravel disaster, but as we started out westerly on the Denali the following morning, it became quite clear that I needn’t have worried.
The “highway” was indeed gravel for all but 24 of its 135 miles, but it was nearly free of any traffic. As we rode along, we really could have used clamps to keep our hanging jaws shut as we were awed by one after another beautiful view or scene. Mountains rose from vast plains covered in spruce. The air was so clear you could see that the trees went on miles and miles until they reached the soaring mountains covered in snow.
Glaciers slid down the sides of several mountains leaving ice falls which glinted in the bright and sometimes almost harsh sunlight. The whites of the snow and ice at times became silver and almost clear as the refractory fire of the light bounced and reflected off the many facets of the mountains’ faces. Each time we thought we could not be more awed, we were indeed even more floored at the visual treats we encountered. It is difficult to explain the beauty of it all. In fact, we were stopping so much, we were in danger of having to stop and camp on the side of the highway if we didn’t get moving.
So with great difficulty, we soldiered on without stopping. After about 5 hours of stopping and starting on the road, we came upon the only place on the highway that serves food. We had seen only two or three vehicles the entire time we were on the highway, but as we pulled into the parking lot of the Gracious House and the Home Style Cooking Cafe we found where they all were. The dirt parking lot was packed and there was not a single seat in the house. Not one. We waited about 20 minutes and not a single seat opened. We then broke the code and decided that our lunch would consist of almonds, cashews, power bars and water, served on a bluff overlooking mountains and glaciers.
Boy did we make the right decision. It was a stellar 20 minutes of relaxation and communing. Few words were said between us while we munched on our meager lunch and soaked in all the surrounding elements would give us. It was 20 minutes or so that neither of us will ever forget. Soon it was time to get back on the road if we were going to get to our destination for the evening, the Tangle River Inn in Paxson.
We loaded up our gear and got back on the road, the scenery birthing a tranquility that I’d not previously known. We had been riding about an hour on a section of the highway that had been built up about four feet off the tundra. Steep embankments rolled off each side of the road into a thick green underbrush. I was just motoring along at about 45 miles per hour when suddenly from my right, a gigantic blackish blur darted out from the underbrush and ran up the embankment from in front of me. It was very large and it was moving fast, but then suddenly a second smaller brownish blur followed immediately behind the big black blur.
The only thing I could do was nail the brakes and try to avoid hitting the blurs. Then it dawned on me. As we were packing our gear, the agents that we used to ship Kim’s bike warned us that it was moose calving season and the moose were plentiful and wherever you might see a moose, there might be a calf with it. Well surer than heck, I’d just found my first two moose in Alaska. I managed to get my heavily loaded bike stopped about 10 feet short of and behind the adult female moose and the calf which was running with her. They both continued running across the road and down the opposite embankment.
It just so happened that we were approaching a small river at the time. I reached into the sleeve of my Stich to grab my point and shoot camera, but by the time I got it out of my sleeve, they had already dived into the river and gotten to the other side. By the time I could focus, they were in the brush and gone. I was so happy and sad at the same time. I had missed hitting the moose and avoided injury, but I had missed an awesome camera shot.
Moose avoided we only had about 40 miles to go to get to our destination. When we arrived, we found that the accommodations were less than stellar. But once again, in keeping with the Alaskan tradition, the food was home cooked and amazing and there was plenty of it. For dessert, there was spectacular scenery from our room with lake and mountain views. Well satiated after dinner, we took a few pictures outside battling our first real difficult encounter with Alaskan mosquitos, but it was well worth it. Tomorrow morning, we would head back onto the pavement towards Tok and ultimately the Canadian Yukon as you’ll see in Part 3.
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.