Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Giving Thanks - By Kevin

Not to be too cliché, but it seems like a lifetime since Larry and I started this trip. In actuality, we were away from home for about eight weeks. We puttered almost 10,500 miles on our single-cylinder, 650cc dual sport motorcycles. I’ve been asked, “Are you glad you did it?” Of course! Would I have gone on this trip knowing what I know now? Ignorance is bliss.

I started this trip greener than a spring pea fresh from the garden. I was a fair-weathered, newbie motorcyclist who knew next to nothing about riding in adverse conditions, and even less so on motorcycle maintenance. Larry was instrumental in helping me learn what I needed to know. Again, while I’d love to be cliché and say that he “took me under his wing”, it doesn’t convey the right fee

ling. Larry’s method of instruction, like many great teachers, is to throw you out of the nest whilst yelling down the instructions. Just do it and learn as you go, you might say. Thanks for your guidance, Larry. Thanks for the tough love.

As my own father is quick to point out, not many people have the luxury of taking an eight week vacation. It’s one of the many benefits of being Mr. Mom, the “Domestic Engineer”, as it were. But even with all the free time in the world, this trip would not have been possible without the help and fervent support of Ada and Laurie. Ada took my place in nearly all respects – cleaning, cooking, and keeping the kids in line. Laurie found some way to work eight hours, keep our finances straight and get the kids back to school. I was starting to wonder why she keeps me around at all! Without her encouraging words (OK, insistence) that I keep a photo log AND a blog AND a journal, many of the trip’s details would surely have been forgotten.

I would be amiss if I didn’t give credit to my trusty steed, the bike I now affectionately call “my little oil-burner”. That motorcycle cranked out over 240 million revolutions to get me from point A to point B, to point A again. Who needs a fancy BMW to ride around Alaska, anyway!

I was asked the other day to name my most favorite part of the whole trip. Was it the places we reached? Absolutely. Was it the people we met? You bet. How about coming home? Funny thing is, I can’t name just one favorite moment. It’s a package deal. You’ll just have to try it for yourself and find out.

As for Laurie – will she ever let me go on another long trip like this again? Give it a few years. Ignorance is bliss.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My post trip thoughts

Well, the big return to Indianapolis has finally happened. When Kevin and I turned up Carvel Avenue, side by side, we looked up the street and could see the whole family was out in the street, hastily stretching out crepe paper ‘finishing lines’ for us to break. Cheers, whistles and screams I could hear as we passed by and my odometer was registering 10,300+ final miles of our trip. There was even a couple of bursting skyrockets left over from the 4th of July making a big bang of things and a sign in the yard welcoming home Dad and Grandpa. I have to tell you that I was energized all over again yesterday from all this, but not to the point of going even one mile more. A pizza party followed with lots of camaraderie, chatter about the trip and what we had seen and even some adult beverages. Quickly said, “it’s good to be home”.

A few of life’s motorcycling lessons I learned and want to pass along to anyone who cares to take a trip of this magnitude are:

If you see an open gas station, fill ‘er up.
Don’t let an opportunity to make a stranger a friend pass by.
Take care of your equipment.
Enjoy yourself and don’t let the little things bug you.
Savor the moments, they will last a lifetime.

I cannot add my final comments to this portion of our Alaska blog without some mention of the people who made this adventure possible and those who made it much more enjoyable for Kevin and me.

Tom Bernhardt

Joe Kramer

Tim McKittrick

Gary Soderlund

Jerry Watson

Tom Hendrix and Jeff Allen

Peter and Dawna Stenros

These people, now friends, offered accommodations for us for sleeping, washing clothes and ourselves, and even shop facilities and several times great meals. Before this trip we had never even heard of them, having made contact through a motorcycle adventure group on the internet. Thank you all, and, please, stay in touch somehow.

I would be remiss if I did not include in my appreciation if I failed to mention here my wife of almost 39 years, Ada…

and my daughter, Laurie, grandchildren, Jacob and Ella. Their support that Grandpa still had enough zest for life in him to achieve my lifelong dream of a motorcycle trip to Alaska was on my mind daily.

My final thanks is to my riding companion and son-in-law, Kevin, for putting up with me and my snoring.

Friday, August 21, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go Home! - By Kevin

“Just tap you heels together three times and say the words ‘There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.’”

Only one problem, Dorothy - we aren’t, never were, and never will be in Kansas anymore. We are in bloody North Dakota where the buffalo roam, the dear and the antelope play, and the freakin’ wind NEVER EVER LETS UP! My thoughts are on only one thing as I ride the motorcycle down this straight, desolate, never ending road. Get me the heck out of this state! Thus begins “The Great Push to Indianapolis”.

North Dakota does have some redeeming features, just none that I care to mention. And in all fairness, Montana gets flat pretty darn quick too. But Montana has happy horses. I watched them running together in groups, shaking their heads up and down, and cuddling up to one another. If there is a heaven for horses, this is it. North Dakota is where the bad ponies go.

So for the next three days, we ride our motorcycles along the entire width of both states.
I am grateful for the times when the road curves to the south. It gives me a short respite from the blowing winds. Fargo is the goal – on the border of North Dakota and where the road blessedly turns to the southeast. Fifty miles short of the border, storms stop us in our tracks. NORTH DAKOTA!!!

We end up finding a very reasonably priced hotel befit of its name – the O.K. Motel in Steele, ND. They’ve undersold it, actually. For fifty bucks, it was way better than “O.K.” It was clean, had two queen beds, a sofa and a color TV. They even let us park our bikes in their personal garage. Follow this with a night at the Amvets Club drinking beer with the local yokels and you KNOW you’re in small town North Dakota.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful the morning after our motel stay. We have traveled almost 650 miles in one day, starting from Steele, ND and ending up at the Days Inn in Portage, WI. This breaks all of our previous distance records for the trip. Tomorrow, we will end our race to Indianapolis. Sadly, our Alaska adventure ends tomorrow as well. But to quote Dorothy one last time, “There’s no place like home.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where the heck have we been??

Goodness, Gracious! It has been way too long since there have been any additions! All our “groupie followers” must be ready to disown Kevin and me. I can tell you where we are right now, Malta, Montana, in a motel room that is infested with mosquitoes since ‘someone’ left the door open too long and now we are seeing how our aim with face towels are with the pesky buggers. We have decided (been ordered, actually) to make Indianapolis and the end of this journey by Sunday, the 23rd of August. Today we rode 488 miles, plus or minus one or two. There will be more of these long days from here on out to make the deadline mentioned above.

Since leaving Dawson City, we traveled to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, looking for a campsite for the night. We had heard that there was a public campground there which we thought would be reasonably priced since it was ‘public’. Right! Tent spaces were $18 Canadian, and, oh, if you put another tent on the same space it would be another $18 please, and thank you. Whitehorse rules, you know. Well, according to Kevin and Larry’s rules that would not do, and since Teslin Lake was only 100 miles away in the direction we had to go anyway, we started off. If you remember, we had stayed at this beautiful place on our way north and knew we would be welcomed at half the price and had free showers and internet which the Whitehorse one wanted to charge extra for.

My front tire was wearing very badly, I changed my worn out knobby for Kevin’s old street tire which we had been carrying around. Then we started down the road towards Watson Lake and the Cassiar Highway.

The Cassiar is a pretty good road, but we had been warned that there were long stretches between gas stops. We checked the map given to us at one of the tourist places and decided that we could fill up at Watson Lake., then Cassiar, then Dease Lake, which is about half way down this road. Were we surprised to learn that the ‘town’ of Cassiar is no longer there, even though it is still on the map. Seems it had bee bought out, lock, stock and barrel, and the name had been changed to Jade City. You guessed it, we blew right through there, thinking our gas stop must be just around the next bend. It never happened, but we still made it to Dease Lake on the fumes that remained in the tanks.

We decided to motel it that night and ran into a fellow Army man that was riding his Harley to his next duty station in Texas. It was nice to meet him again, since we shared a meal earlier in the week, now we decided to share the road also since we were all going towards Hyder, our next, and last, Alaska destination. Hyder is the most southerly place on Alasaka’s map that can be driven to, and, since we had already been to the most northerly Alaska road, this was a natural decision.

We parted company with Scott there in Hyder and headed towards Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia. These two parks are a must see for anyone who enjoys beautiful scenery. We have put pictures of these parks on the Flickr link. One great view after another….judge for yourself.

Coming into the USA at the border was a little unusual as the Border Patrol detained Kevin for a bit. Seems an Indiana car license plate with exactly the same numbers as his motorcycle plate was reported stolen, so, of course, it took almost an hour and a squad of para-military types to come the decision that this was not the guy they wanted.

Today we left Troy, Montana and a pleasant night plus a few hours with Dawna and Peter Stenros, one of my wife’s (Ada) cousins and their family. We were treated like celebrities (we are, really, aren’t we?) and we’re sorry we could not have stayed longer, but duty and Indianapolis were calling. So, here we are, 488 miles later in Malta, Montana. By my reckoning we have traveled about 8,500 miles on motorcycles since July 7th, when we left Indiana.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken! - By Kevin

Boy does it feel good to be headed in the right direction! Aside from a short jaunt to the northeast to ride the Top of the World Highway, Larry and I have begun our “descent” to Indianapolis. Every mile we travel is another mile closer to home.

While the Top of the World Highway took us a few miles farther, I’d have to say it was one of most enjoyable roads we’ve taken on our trip. Spanning sixty six miles from Dawson City to the Yukon Border, the road is a mixed-bag of asphalt, gravel and hard packed dirt. Throw in broad vista views, sweeping curves and just a handful of cars and you have the recipe for motorcycling nirvana. You won’t see Larry in many of my pictures; he was having way too much fun to sit still! For miles I tried capturing the essence of this road with my camera, to no avail. I ultimately decided to ride this thin ribbon of road, which hugs the sides of mountains, and enjoy every second.

Around the halfway point of the TWH, you find yourself in the quirky little town of Chicken, Alaska. Here in Chicken, they’ve taken tourist trap to a new level. You can get an education at “Cluck U” academy (Go Peckers!), brag that you “Got Laid in Chicken”, and (when nature calls) go to the Chicken Poop to do you business. They’re other claim to fame is their pies. We didn’t think much of them. Tastes like chicken.

While there, we ran into a man peddling a heavily loaded, three-wheeled recumbent bicycle. Over coffee we had a chance to chat. Christopher is from Germany and his business card says “extreme adventures”. This years adventure was bicycling around Alaska. He started in April and plans to end sometime in October. We laughed together as he told us how the trip was going so far. “This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever had. I am so brain dead!” Turns out that he had been on this particular road for four days already (going an agonizingly slow 2.5 kph). It was going to take him another four days to get off it – IF it didn’t rain. One advantage to going so slow is that you have plenty of time for pictures. To date, he has taken over 16,000 photos during his extreme travels. Jeez, I get scolded for taking more than 16!

After a fun day on the highway, we finished our day at a provincial campground just before Dawson City. The night was cold and neither one of us got a good night’s sleep. Dawson City is an old mining town and looks like the set of an old western town. In order to get into Dawson, you take a short ferry ride across the Yukon River. While there is much to do, and much money to be spent, Larry and I decided that getting home was much more important. We kept pushing on until we reached our favorite camp site in Teslin, YT. This is where I end today. Where will be tomorrow? Who knows! One thing is for sure – any town closer to home is a good town, indeed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Been There, Done That, Never Again - By Larry

Kevin and I have just returned to our host’s home in North Pole, Alaska from our epic journey to the Arctic Circle, Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean. It took us two days to get there from here, stopping halfway, both up and back at Coldfoot, Alaska. We had gorgeous weather on the way up, and completely opposite on the first day of the return trip. All the predictions of doom and gloom about the road itself did not materialize, but we did have some “complications” with both motorcycles.

Where to start? To refresh my own memory I just went online and re-read the last posting, so I will take it from the North Pole and go north from there. It was quite exciting, starting up a road that has had an aura and mystique built up around it. We had been told (by many experts who had never been on this road before) everything from ‘we would have to have 22 ply tires’ to ‘we would be eaten by grizzly bears.’ Thankfully, none of that came true, but caution is the norm for all travelers who make this journey as bad decisions this far north could be a life changing experience.

This road is partially paved, I would guess about 40% of it. The rest is some kind of dirt. To be honest, where the dirt is hard packed it is a much better surface than many asphalt roads I could name in the lower 48 states. The state maintains this road (Alaska Highway 11) year round and is constantly working on it, even to the point of long hours for these workers, 7 days a week. I suppose if the road job is 200 miles away from their homes the state must have work camps along the way to eliminate any commuting hassles.

Anyway, back to my tale. The speed limit on the Dalton Highway is 50 miles per hour. For the most part we moseyed along at 40 to 45, just enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way. Boreal forests, rushing rivers, grand vistas, vibrant plants in bloom all to see, and then here comes a giant truck raising a veritable storm of dust behind it making visibility and safe driving impossible. What we did was just slow down, try to remember what the road looked like just before the truck came even with us so we could make an intelligent guess of where we were driving and go for it. I even held my breath so I would not have to breathe in so much dirt. Question: Would this dust still be “terra firma”, or “terra dusta”? Any answer you may come up with will do, no wrong ones here.

It is 400+ miles from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, at Prudhoe Bay. I don’t want anyone to think it was all dust, but it was a constant condition over much of it. We did not encounter any rain going northward, but the state workers are issued toys called road graders, and they seem to be more enjoyable to play with if LOTS of water is applied to the road just before digging it up with the giant graders. Not only is this a recipe for MUD, but now the road surface is also dug up to mix in the water making it quite soft and pliable. “Apply-able” is also a word I will use, as this concrete goop got applied much to every surface of the motorcycles as well to some of ourselves. I think they got a new recipe for making adobe bricks here, just use Dalton Highway mud!

Coming back south was a completely different experience. It was warm and clear on the way up, but it was 38 degrees and had been raining for 24 hours already when we started south. Winds were blowing from every direction of the compass at an average of 25 miles per hour. Sweet! This area is call the Northern Slope as for over 100 miles south from the Arctic Ocean and there is very little to stop the wind, and it didn’t (stop, that is). Travel by motorcycle is exciting, but we decided to heighten our enjoyment a little by have some mechanical difficulties along the way. Kevin’s bike must have gotten some water or mud where it did not belong and kept stalling and using gas at Hummer levels, so much so that after 150 miles or so he had to stop and beg 6 more gallons of gas from some caribou hunters just to complete the days’ ride to Coldfoot, AK. We think it must have been water related since once we had traveled over the infamous Atigun Pass, his bike seemed to perk up. The weather cleared up to blue skies south of the mountains and we had no further trouble with it after that point.

My problem came at a section of the road near Happy Valley (don’t look, it’s not on the map) where we had to stop at a road construction site. The man with the stop sign directed us to the side of the “road” where I promptly fell over, bike and all. This must have knocked a safety switch to the no-no position, since once we were cleared to go, my bike wouldn’t. It took me a little while to diagnose what had happened, but with the aid of the multitool my grandson, Jacob, had given me for Christmas I was able to do a patch job and get going again. Many prayers were pleaded, and answered on that day. Thank You, God!

One more note about Atigun Pass. This has to be one of the most enjoyable pieces of road to a motorcyclist. I could spend a week camped here and just continuously ride up one side and down the other. Not only is the road curvy and good surfaced, but, the scenery in both directions (even up to the tops of the rugged mountains) is nothing short of spectacular. What you see on the TV about all the trucks with their problems may be true, but I found beauty and enjoyment here.

OK, that is all I will say about the Dalton Highway…now on to Prudhoe Bay.

The first thing, and certainly the most favorable thing that happened was that we stopped to get gassed up - the bikes that is, not us since no alcohol of any kind is allowed at Prudhoe Bay. When we were in the gas station office paying, there were some people standing around just talking and “shooting the bull” as workers always do. Kevin asked if there was anywhere we could pitch a tent, hoping to avoid a $200 per night hotel stay . One of the office fellows offered us a slice of graveled area near one of his buildings and assured us that we need only mention their names if we were questioned. This building turned out to be an aircraft hangar where this man and his company were hosting a fun-run and cookout for the workers that night. We continued talking, joking, etc. and, as things always seem to happen on this trip, our accommodations got moved from NEXT to the hangar to INSIDE it if we could wait until 9pm once the party was over. By this time the rain and wind had started in earnest and a decision had to be made. Who are we to say no? NOT US!!!

A short time later before scoffing at the $22 dinner buffet, we run into the men again. “Come on over early and join us for the cookout!” As it turns out, we had been talking with two of the “headsheds” of Carlile Trucking who were hosting the party. And just to sweeten the pot, this is the same company that the TV reality show “Ice Road Truckers” uses for their popular show – and the stars of the show were there signing t-shirts and posing for photos.

So not only did we not sleep in a rain soaked environment, but curled up in a heated hangar big enough to hold corporate jets, and got to hob-knob with all kinds of personalities and just nice people whether they were featured on TV or not. When this ride is over and done with we will not remember the lousy ride in the snow and rain as much as the good people and the greater time we enjoyed with them at Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay. A special and mighty big “THANK YOU” goes to Tom Hendrix and Jeff Allen, who by showing us their kindness, changed our visit to Prudhoe Bay from a dull, soggy and miserable trip to a pleasant and very memorable one.

The last thing we did before departing the area was to take a guided tour of the area, with all intentions of going swimming in the Arctic Ocean itself. Yeah, riiiigghhhttt!! We did the tour, but when it came to swimming, if going in to at least the ankles is good enough, then we did go “swimming”. Let’s just say that 30 something degree water and a 25 mile per hour wind blowing straight from the north pole was enough for us to change what the dictionary says swimming really is. There was one Canadian man on the tour that did take the complete plunge, however. Brrrrrrrrrr!!

I’ll add one last note about Prudhoe Bay. I have started describing it to others as a gigantic helium balloon with a very long string. Lots of activity at the top, yet the string is the Dalton Highway (the Haul Road) where you find very little except God’s beauty. But even a plain string can be beautiful.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

...Just Can't Wait To Get OFF The Road Again - By Kevin

The road to Alaska is paved; and up until now, Larry and I have ridden almost exclusively on asphalt. True, there have been short sections in the Yukon and Alaska where roads were being repaired that allowed me to gain a little experience on gravel roads – but this was nothing compared to what we were going to ride on once Laurie and the family headed back to Indianapolis.

Gravel roads don’t scare much. Throw in piles of loose stuff, cantaloupe-sized boulders, and potholes and I start to get a little nervous. Blessedly, the route layed out before us is easier before it gets harder. Our plan for dirt roads is as follows: Ride the Denali Highway from Cantwell to Paxson and head north towards the Arctic Circle. In fact, we’ve just completed the Denali Highway portion with little to-do (more on that in a bit). We’ll then ride to Prudhoe Bay or as far as weather will safely permit. The weather here changes quite dramatically. The current forecast calls for wind, rain and wet snow flurries – Hooray!). After Prudhoe (or not), we’ll back-track (ironically) towards the Top of the World Highway and Dawson City. We’ll end our off-road tour in Watson Lake (home of the sign forest) via the Campbell Highway (a long desolate road requiring extra gas cans for us both) or the Canol Road (a shorter more interesting road where getting gas is a little easier). Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of dirt and dust. I should also add that Alaska is having its worst case of forest fires in recent history. The smoke is so bad that some businesses here and around the Fairbanks area are closed due to smoke.

So once again were on our own in Alaska. We happily returned the cumbersome RV with a clean bill of health to the rental company and borrowed Gary’s garage to make some suspension upgrades to Larry’s KLR – a new fork brace and springs. After loading the bikes, some pleasant conversation and eating some of the best strawberry-rhubarb cobbler I’ve ever tasted (thank you Gary and Diane!), we headed north to Cantwell where one end of the Denali Highway begins.

No day of this trip is without something funny or interesting happening. August 4th was no exception. Upon entering Cantwell and having dinner at the only gas station slash restaurant in town (hope ya like BBQ!), we noticed a recently burned up RV in the parking lot. Apparently, the owner thought it was smarter to DRIVE a burning RV to the gas station rather than put out the fire. Thankfully, everyone got out in time and the driver managed to keep himself off this year’s list for a Darwin Award.

Riding the Denali Highway put most of the anxiety of the gravelly, potholed road to rest. Aside from the occasional jet-powered SUVs and trucks that came flying down the road at us, the road was easy to travel at our 40 to 45 mph pace. Since we got such a late start, we decided to camp at a BLM campground 30 miles into the highway. We managed to snatch up one of the last remaining campsites hidden from the main road near a swiftly flowing stream. You could actually hear small boulders tumbling there way down the stream. We set up our tents on the grass surrounded by blueberry bushes – quite the idyllic campsite, actually. We capped off the night by inviting ourselves over to a fire that some nice people from Alberta had made. I still haven’t fully come to grips with what I call an “invasion of privacy and personal space”, but it sure beats starting your own fire!

After traveling some 4000 miles to Alaska, we decided to let the family take some of our “non-essentials” back home to Indianapolis. Among these things were packets of instant coffee and a camp stove needed to boil the water for said coffee. After riding hungry for an hour, we came upon one of the few-and-far-between lodges that populate the Denali Highway. A sign at the bottom of a long and steep driveway advertised that they were open. As fate would have it, we managed to find ourselves barging in on a group of paying guests just sitting down to a family style breakfast of bacon and eggs, corn beef hash, and toast. How could we say “no” to the manager’s insistence that we sit down and join them?! The lodge turned out to be “The Alpine View Lodge”, and for 99 bucks a night including a great breakfast, is a steal compared to a lot of the dives we seen or had to pay for along the way.

The remaining ride along the Denali Highway went off without a hitch and we arrived in Paxson on the other side. As seems to happen a lot on the (few) roads in Alaska, we ran into Ian Coates on his Honda Trans-Alp. When we left him, he was working his way down to Anchorage, thinking his next motorcycling adventure would take him into Siberia. If you’re reading this Ian, good luck and safe journey!

I end this extremely long blog today in North Pole, AK. We are hosted this time by Jerry Watson, a KLR and Harley rider, who has graciously offered us a couple nights stay in his camper. He also cooks a mean steak, second only to his wife Adelle’s cooking. We’re helping to pay our dues by helping Jerry change out his rear tire tonight. This will be the forth tire we (meaning Larry) will have changed today. Tomorrow we continue our long, dusty (and smoky) ride to the north…

Family Vacation Photos

I've posted a small portion (127) of family vacation photos on Flickr so grab yourself a cup of coffee and click here.

Also, I am posting this short video to help you get a better appreciation for the Denali park road...imagine the same bus seat on the way back!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Family Vacation - Part 4: Epilogue

Laurie here, coming to you from home sweet home in Indianapolis. Our final days in Alaska as a family were spent driving back to Anchorage. The last time I remembered to check we put well over 1000 miles on the camper--good thing the scenery was worth it!

At the University of Fairbanks we visited the obligatory Museum of the North before making our way south. We camped at a beautiful wide spot in the road and caught a glimpse of The Mountain in morning. Attempting to fit as much into our last days as possible we pushed on and spent a few hours strolling through touristy-yet-quaint Talkeetna where we were graced with our most complete view of McKinley yet. Approaching Anchorage with far too much daylight left we took a pleasant detour to visit the Iditarod Trail Headquarters in Wasilla (no we didn't see Sarah...please stop asking now). To say they did it, Mom and the kids took a fun spin on an all-terrain dog sled. I was desperate to end our trip on a high note and was exceptionally pleased to have stumbled upon Eklutna Lake State Park. Our final campsite was nestled high up in the trees with a view of the green ridges that surround the lake. About 9:30PM (because the kids had way too much energy to burn) we decided to walk down to the lake to take a peak. It was pure serenity...well, the scenery was.

Tuesday was airport day. After we packed all the DIRTY clothes back into the suitcases we all took a hike to see Thunderbird Falls which I learned about from a bullet point on a tourism map. It was a nice way to cap off our family vacation before heading into the city, visiting Earthquake Park and enjoying pizza at the locally famous Moose's Tooth Pub. The guys said goodbye to us at the airport the first time around 9PM on 8/2 (the second time was when they came back an hour later for the camper keys I found in my pocket)! Mom, the kids and I got home in Indy 26 hours later!

We spent 12 days together hitting the highlights of South and Central Alaska. We may not have had constant sunshine but we saw our fair share of wildlife and we did have mountains every day. I think that's what I'll remember most. We've got ourselves a beautiful country and Alaska is a gorgeous example of God's handiwork. I'm already plotting ways to explore the "lower 48" (and Hawaii!) before the kids go and grow up on us.

So was it the trip of a lifetime? Absolutely! Was it good to sleep in our own beds again? Absolutely! Are we ready for the guys to ride their motorcycles home? You betcha!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Family Vacation - Part 3: Fairbanks

What I consider to be a highlight of this summer vacation is over, and it was with some regret that we left Denali National Park and Preserve yesterday. Such a grand place to see the natural wonder of our great world!

We spent last night in Fairbanks and today toured Ft. Wainwright, where I was stationed for 2 ½ years. Things have really changed there with new living facilities for our Army heroes, but we were still able to find the old quarters where we lived. Back then Laurie had to walk to school a half mile every day sometimes at –40 degrees F. We even verified the mileage to prove her claim! We also bought discounted Alaska souvenirs at the PX and just generally did the reminiscence thing for a while.

We then went to Fox, AK, to the Eldorado Mine, where we took a tour of a real, operating placer mine and got to do our own panning for gold. They supplied us with a small bag of concentrate from the mine and gave us all lessons of how to make the gold appear magically in our gold pans! We all found some, and of course, the three gals confiscated Kevin’s and mine and had some jewelry made from it. Jacob would not relinquish his claim—of all of us, he (the birthday boy) found the most gold and he is proud of it!

Now we are in North Pole, Alaska, camped at Santa Land RV camp “where Santa spends his summer”. This is one of the nicer commercial parks that we have been in. There are little signs of Christmas cheer everywhere and they even loaned us the movie Elf!

The most surprising part of the day happened while the gals shopped at Santa Claus House and Kevin and I ran an errand (escaped). Believe it or not, I spied a man who I met at Daytona’s Bike Week this past March who has been traveling the world on his own motorcycle for 10 years! I yelled a greeting out the camper window when we passed at a stop sign, then pulled into a parking lot and had a good chat with him. I will enclose a picture of him here. We are fortunate to have run into him since he is just returning from the exact routes that Kevin and I are planning to travel next week. He was a plethora of information about road conditions, where to pitch our tents and even how to protect ourselves from the rocks that will come flying from the trucks who are masters of the road to Prudhoe Bay and the oil fields up there.

We’re winding down for the evening now. Rain is falling. It will hopefully help the local forest fire fighting efforts and clear the smoke from the air for our last day in this area tomorrow.

Family Vacation - Part 2: Denali

Well, here we are in Denali National Park and Preserve. We have been here two nights already and tonight will be our last one here before we move along to the Fairbanks area. Yesterday we took a 10 hour / 100 mile roundtrip bus ride to the end of the park road at Wonder Lake (where all the reflective pictures of Mt. McKinley are taken). The road could be described as "dangerous as the dickens"—no guard rails, one lane wide, switchbacks around the cliffs, sheer drop-offs up to 1,000 feet and always the possibility of meeting another bus coming the opposite direction. If that did happen, one bus or the other would have to back up to a designated wide spot so that the two could pass safely. The beauty of the landscape far outweighed the journey’s risk. The picture I am attaching is one taken at Polychrome Pass, so named because of all the different colors of the surrounding mountains.

On our bus ride we saw lots of native wild life including moose, fox, caribou, ptarmigan, golden eagles, Dall sheep, and many grizzly bears (some with cubs). The bus driver also served as a narrator of the interesting facts for Denali, which made the long dusty bus ride much more enjoyable. Although we’re still bundling up in our fleeces and jackets the weather has been a lot nicer than what we experienced in the Seward area. Just guessing, the temp here in Denali has been in the 60's, very breezy, but luckily no rain other than a couple of 'spits' from the clouds.

After a week together in an RV we’ve figured out our roles in the camper: I have been doing all the driving chores, Kevin does most of the cooking, Laurie and Ada keep the place tidy and the kids stay out from under foot!

One more picture for you: sunset from our campground in Denali at 11:30PM!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Family Vacation - Part 1: Seward

A lot has happened since the last entry. We happily picked up the rest of our family from the Anchorage airport on the 22nd and we headed immediately towards Seward. Driving a big motorhome was strange to me at first, but all the miles that I drove when we had our own quickly came back to me.

As we journeyed toward the Northern Pacific Ocean the weather turned bad and super windy, which made for a few thrills along the way. We spent the first night roadside along Turnagain Arm, a windy section of tidal waters, and the next two camping at the Army’s Seward Resort. Seward is purportedly surrounded by mountains and although we did see evidence to support that we never did see one in its entirety. All those sunny brochures are a hoax. Rain and clouds seem more the norm but we made the best of it. We took a 9 ½ hour glacier/nature cruise of the Kenai Peninsula. It really was spectacular, seeing all the animals that call this area home. Sea otters, seals, eagles, porpoises, humpback whales, puffins and many more species were in abundance. Also, rain, heavy seas and more rain accompanied us.

We also managed a visit with a couple of Ada’s cousins who live in Soldotna, Alaska. We had not seen one of the cousins for about 35 years, so it was a special treat for all before we headed back towards Anchorage. It was raining and blowing so hard along Turnagain Arm that we pulled off the main road towards Portage Glacier. Being 6 miles away from the tidal water we thought that the weather conditions would moderate up the valley, but it just got worse and worse. The wind and rain was blowing “like 60” off the glacier and we had to find shelter late last night in a state campground that was sheltered by willow trees. The weather was so nasty that the campground host did not even come out of his comfortable camper to collect our camping fee, so we got a free nights stay there.

Today, the 26th, we drove to Wasilla, Alaska and came up to a place called Hatcher Pass…way up in elevation where the state has made a historic place out of an old hard rock gold mine. We are at 3,800 feet elevation and are going to spend the night here among these majestic mountains and spectacular views. But, I don’t know what I am going to do, the weather is beautiful and I don’t know if I can get to sleep without the rain beating a tattoo on the roof of the camper. I am sure we will all manage somehow, LOL. Now I see that Kevin and Laurie have climbed to the top of one of the surrounding ‘hills’ (I guess another 1,000 feet in elevation from where we are right now), so I reckon that their sleep will be early and deep. Tomorrow….Denali and Mt. McKinley!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Welcome to Alaska! - By Kevin and Larry

Well, we’ve reached our destination – Anchorage Alaska. Now when do we leave?! Not that there’s anything wrong with Anchorage – it’s great, actually. The scene here is hip, fun and full of energy thanks to the University of Alaska and its cultural diversity. For the first time in weeks we have an almost unlimited selection of exotic restaurants to choose from, like pizza and bagels. But with these benefits come the trade-off. It’s just no fun riding your motorbike around town, stressed out in traffic and trying not to get hit by crazed college kids hopped up on espresso.

Getting from Wasilla to Anchorage was no picnic either. At some latitude somewhere between the Yukon and the Alaskan border, one thing becomes particularly clear. Roads don’t like extreme temperature changes. There’s a term that’s used to describe the change that occurs from this constant freezing and thawing. It’s called “frost heave” and it’s particularly fun for motorcyclists. Think of it as the longest roller coaster ride you’ve ever taken. Up, down, left, right. “Look ma, no lap bar!”

Since arriving in Anchorage, we’ve been staying with a fellow KLR rider and his family until our families arrive Wednesday. We’ll be picking them up at the airport in a rented 32-foot Winnebago. Everyone together now… “Yeeeeee Haaaaaw!”
We started this trip thinking that we would be camping almost every night and only staying at motels when the weather was bad. In actuality, we have camped a whopping 4 nights out of 16, which is just fine with me. What’s surprising to me is the number of nights we have spent with our adopted families from the internet. By tomorrow, we will have spent 9 blessed nights of shelter provided by the kindness of these newly met friends. Tom, Joe, Tim and Gary (and to all your wonderful sympathetic spouses) – we can’t thank you enough!

Now let the fun begin as we enter the second part of our vacation. The part where we all get to spend countless hours together in a cramped RV. That’s what you call “quality time”, right?

Larry here now….The best part of motorhoming it for the next 2 weeks will be just sitting back and relaxing in a real seat and calmly talking to the person next to you without shouting through helmets to make ourselves heard. Some of the things that I thought I would miss from home on this trip that I usually cannot live without, like TV, the news, regular meals and daily clean clothes, I find that I am not really even thinking about them. OK, clean clothes are missed, but with a 60 MPH breeze blowing on the road that really is a non starter. And, if anyone asks, I will never tell anyone how long a set of skivvies lasts.

One thing we are learning, that if we have a question about the road conditions, or what tires will do the job on a certain highway, or any other technical question, the best way is to just go find out for yourself what is going on with whatever it is you are wondering about. For every question there are many answers, and as many opinions as to what is best.

As far as attitude goes, Kevin and I are still speaking to one another, and he only comments on my snoring if we are sharing a room and not separate tents. For this I am grateful. By the time we get back to Indianapolis Kevin will be an accomplished motorcyclist. Correction: AFTER ALMOST 5,000 MILES OF THIS, HE IS ALREADY EARNED THAT MONIKER! By the time I get back to Indianapolis I will be very tired! And happy to be back with family. And glad to have lived up to the commitment we made to finish this LONG trip.

And to those who’ve called us crazy for going and for all the reasons why we should not, we are still going and not even thinking about quitting. Time will tell, but we are still in the game!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

We Made It!

Hi….Larry writing this time. Not that I feel like it. I am just worn down from a 400+ mile day yesterday from Teslin Lake, Yukon Territory to Tok, Alaska. Yes, we finally made it and got our picture taken at the border signs. I was really glad to get out of Canada…not that I have anything against Canada (they are very friendly people), but 9 days of traveling through a country when you have another country for a destination, it seems a little much. The bikes again ran good, with the only breakdown being my speedometer cable came unplugged and I lost some mileage on the odometer. I will pick up what I missed from Kevin’s and just add it to mine.

Right now we are drinking coffee and trying to decide where to ride to on our way to Anchorage, where we will stay with a man we met through the internet motorcycle group. The scenery has changed from rolling hills to mountains with even some snow still on the peaks. The Alaska roads are a big improvement over the Yukon with its construction and dusty conditions but the car and camper drivers still drive like Mario Andretti.

So, Kevin has some pictures from yesterday to post, so I will now enjoy my coffee and let him do his thing.

Photos - Flickr

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Let the Real Fun Begin - By Kevin

The adventure continues, or maybe it’s just begun. After six days of travel, we reached Dawson City, BC and the start of the Alaska Canadian Highway. The road spans over 1,500 miles and ends in Fairbanks, AK. It’s hard to imagine as you ride down roads carved through an endless forest of pine-covered mountains, that a road could exist here; never mind the fact that it took only 8 months to complete the initial Alcan Highway in the early 1940’s. Pictures can neither describe the vastness nor the beauty of this country.

Our first day on the Alcan ended in a greasy little campground on the far end of Fort Nelson. Twenty one bucks a night, pay showers, and a small lumpy piece of ground. We would find out later the next day that just few dozen miles down the road was a quaint campground and restaurant – Tetsa River Outfitters. Fifteen bucks and free showers. Boy were we swindled! Did I also mention that they make the most deliciously enormous cinnamon buns? If you ever find yourself in Fort Nelson, do yourself a favor and stay with these nice people.

After our not-so-spectacular night of camping in Fort Nelson, we rode through some of the most beautiful mountain canyons you’d ever want to see. Rock sheep and Elk crossed the road regularly, making for interesting stop-start situations; not really a good thing when riding a motorcycle. The other part of this day’s adventure was the dust. Many sections of the roads on that days ride were gravel. Combine that with no rain, lots of cars and trucks, and you have a recipe for impermeable dust clouds. Larry and I were covered in dust after the twenty-some miles we traveled. The dust was so bad that, many times, we had to wait for an escort vehicle to guide us through the roads on direction at a time. Larry and I felt uneasy on the loose gravel mounds covering the road, but eventually made it safely onto the other side of the construction. Muncho lake, with it’s topaz blue waters, was worth all the dust in the world.

Day two of the Alcan ended at the Liard Hot springs Provincial Campground. At the end of a dusty day, there was nothing better than soaking in a pool of steaming hot water. If only it didn’t smell like sulfur. Well, you can’t win ‘em all!

Whereas day two was all about dust, day three involved a lot of smoke. As soon as we left our campsite at Liard, donating at least a pint of blood to the local mosquito population, we ran into what turned out to be a fairly sizable forest fire. We stopped for breakfast at an exit nearby and were told that over forty fire fighters needed to be fed – “Sorry, no breakfast for you”. We begged for coffee and ended up being fed anyway from the leftover pancake batter. Again, nice people up here, “eh”?

Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory is home to the “Sign Forest”. In 1942, a homesick soldier placed a sign here to indicate how far it was back to his home. One sign followed another, and at last count, there were well over 60,000 signs in the sign forest. Larry and I contributed our sign, met up with some travelers who we seem to keep running into, and moved on to put more miles under our belts.

It’s the end of our traveling day and I sit here at the Yukon Motel (and campground) in Teslin. Our campsite is the most idyllic campsites I have ever experienced. The backdrop to our tents is Lake Teslin and the mountains that border it. The wind is blowing gentle ripples over the water and the weather is the best it’s been the entire trip. Now if only my family were here. Six days and counting every minute…

Holding Down the Fort - By Laurie

The guys are travelling in a communication dead zone right now. It’s kind of like the dark side of the moon, but in this case it’s the Canadian Rockies. While they are wirelessly incommunicado I’ve decided to give you news from the home front.

Mom and I had such great plans for our husband-free weeks pre- and post-Alaska! Ok…I did the planning and Mom was agreeable to participating. I had intentions of hosting multiple crafty girls nights. It was going to be my vacation before vacation. Let me tell you how that plan has worked out so far…

The guys left on Tuesday. We hosted my three cousins Wednesday through Sunday (so I guess I did get my girl’s nights after all). Convinced that it couldn’t wait until August, I began my solo effort to collect school supplies on Monday. Here’s what I was forced to deal with by Friday (I kid you not):

- Replaced the batteries in BOTH fire detectors so as to silence them
- Took my bicycle to get a flat fixed (Hey Rita--what’d you do to my bike?
- Removed a hair clog from the tub with the coat hanger technique I reluctantly learned from my Dad when I was a long-haired teen

and…drum roll please…

- Got the water heater replaced!

Now, don’t anyone panic for me. It leaked a trickle, not a flood. And I
am quite capable of coping with the unexpected…but I’m afraid that when a water heater is 20 years old, you’re on borrowed time. That’s my husband for you: always pressing his luck (or mine in this case) striving for maximum output. I suppose in a way that’s kind of what this dramatic motorcycle trip is all about too. Kevin’s nothing if not consistent. I’d shake my head and say “ya gotta love him” but in this case I actually do. So I’ll let it slide that he left me with a hydro time bomb before he went cruising across the continent. I might even forget to tell him that the check engine light came on again in our 11-year “new” car. But when he gets back…he’s going car shopping because I’ve earned it! Did you catch the part where he forgot to kiss be goodbye?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lots to catch up on...

Hi, Larry behind the keyboard this time. Kevin said I had to do the next entry, but did not tell me that he had not been doing any and I have almost a week to catch you all up on. After the bike trouble in Iowa we made it to Sauk Rapids, Minnesota and was received into the household of Tome and Bonnie Benrnhardt, a couple we met on the internet who also are motorcycle adventurers. We stayed 2 nights in their camper, which was much more comfortable than the tents and drier to boot. One great thing that we experienced while there was a steam locomotive excursion train that passed right through their town.

From there we drove to Minot, ND and got a room at the U.S. Air Force base there. It was very comfortable and I was surprised to see how light the sky was at 10 p.m. even though it was still only North Dakota. It was only a short drive from Minot to Portal, ND, where we entered Canada. Needed some Canadian $$ I was able to find an ATM close by and we were ready to roll.
We did have a VERY unusual incident in Saskatewan while trying to avoid a giant rain storm. We stopped in a little wide spot in the road and found a coffee shop. After we had been there for a while one of the customers (who we had chatted up) asked us if we knew where we were? "Saskatchewan??" was our reply. Seems like we landed in a famous Canadian TV comedy setting called "Corner Gas". They were amazed that we had not ever heard of it. It sounded like a clone of the "Northern Exposure" show that American TV had going for a while. The coffee shop we were at was the old police station, and it was also featured in the show. Inside all the walls were covered with signatures and graffiti, so I had to do my own example for all posterity to view. We stayed so long that the owner wanted to close up, but had some leftover lunch that she was going to throw out, so she fed us with it instead. What a cheap day this was!!

The next camping was near Saskatoon, Sas. and it was 36 degrees that night....cold as a well digger's butt! And as soon as we got into the sleeping bags we found out that a railroad spur was just on the other side of the property, and the engineers of the trains must have had a PHD in tooting the train hour as he did it all night long. Thank God we got out of there the next day.

Edmonton, Alberta was next, where we were guests of Joe and Debbie Kramer, more internet friends, and now friends in person also. Such an interesting family, and easy to get to know. Thanks again, Deb and Joe!

Now we are in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, where the "official" start of our adventure lies, even though we have travelled well over 2,000 miles from Indianapolis to get here. Since the weather turned cold and drizzly shortly after we left the Kramer's in Edmonton, Kevin and I decided to opt for a motel room for the night. Tomorrow we will take the obligatory pictures of milepost zero of the Alaska Highway and get on the road.

Micro Update

New photos have been added to Flickr.
Keep checking the Alaska Bound map for progress reports.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A First Time For Everything - By Kevin

The day we left Indianapolis was beautiful and sunny. After a quick round of hugs, kisses and photos, we left to a crowd of friends and family cheering us on to Alaska. As the miles rolled on and I started to relax, I came to a sudden realization. I forgot to kiss Laurie goodbye! She gently reminded me of this later when I called. Talk about anxious to leave!

The first day of riding was the longest trip of my life. Some of you might think I’m speaking figuratively; what riding for eight hours must “feel” like . Yes, my butt was sore after an hour or so of riding. And yes, my shoulders were achy and my legs were stiff. But what I actually mean is that this was literally the longest ride I’d ever done in one day. A couple of hours was my previous record. Well, there were going to be a lot of “firsts” for this amateur rider…

The first day ended without much to-do (unless you count stopping at the world’s largest truck stop). We ended 460 miles later at Backbone State Park in southeastern Iowa. After paying our 11 dollars and setting up camp, Larry educated me a little on campground fires. If you don’t want to make one, crash someone else’s! Our neighbors had one a hundred yards away, so we walked right over, casually mentioned our “Alaska Motorcycle Adventure” to insure instant stardom, and before you know it, we had our campfire and chairs to boot. Thunder in the distance, however, got us scurrying back to our campsite to secure the tents. Severe weather was reported somewhere off in the distance.

There’s something nice about going to sleep to the sound of rain. I heard it start and stop throughout the night and was secure in knowing that I had a nice cozy tent to keep me dry. Waking up to this sound; however…not so nice. Larry and I packed up our gear, donning our rain suits, for over an hour and a half. As soon as we were finished, it stopped raining. Typical.

On our way through Iowa, I got a crash course on riding a motorcycle in high winds. Gusts topping 40mph raced perpendicular to us, trying to tip the bike over. Add trucks and impatient drivers (pulling horse trailers!) and you have a really interesting ride. Kind of like a really cool video game, only a lot more realistic and scary.

Things were stressful, but we were making ground. Did you know they make great pot roast dinners at gas station grocery stores in Iowa? Neither did I. Another first! We gassed up after our lunch and five minutes down the road, Larry’s bike went on the fritz – sputtering and quitting several times over the next twenty miles. I got a lesson on how a carburetor works when Larry finally had enough and proceeded to tear apart and repair the bike.

Larry had made contact with a rider offering us a place to stay in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota that night. After repairing the bike (clogged carb we think), we were several hours behind schedule. It would be almost ten o’clock at night by the time we could get there, if we made good time. Riding at night was something I’d never done before and Minnesota is chock-full of bugs. I had to ride with my tinted faceshield up so I could see in the dark. Three hundred sixty miles later, when we finally arrived in Sauk Rapids, I wondered if my face was glowing. The lighting bugs were out in force that night.

Next post? Sleeping with strangers….!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Click here to view the photo album of the trip.

Trouble comes to those who expect it.

Well, the trip turned nasty quickly. The first night on the road and it rained all night and did not stop until we were all packed up and ready to hit the road. Then after the first gas stop, within just a few miles my bike quit. Just seemed like it ran out of gas, even tho we had just filled them both up at the same gas station. I could coax it along, it would run after it sat just a minute, then run anywhere from 1 mile to 10. The picture I am including is me tearing the bottom of the carburetor off and blowing out any microscopic piece of crud. Put it all back together and it has been running like a tiger for over 250 miles now. Guess whatever I did cured it, but I will still keep my fingers crossed. We are taking a day off driving today to regroup at our host's home (Tom & Bonnie Bernhardt) in Sauk Rapids, Mn. Kevin and I will try to reach Minot, ND tomorrow, rain or shine, but probably rain.