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.