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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Progress Report - By Laurie

After two days of travel it's clear that our vision of near-daily blog updates was unrealistic. I should have expected that my motorcycle-crazed husband and father would want nothing more than to ride all day and to sleep all night!

In their defense, I must admit that I witnessed the packing (cramming) process...I can fully understand them lacking the energy to dig out the laptop during a wi-fi pit stop to post an update.

Since Kevin conveniently is still logged into this blog from our home computer, I am now conveniently taking temporary responsibility as your host! Along those lines please check out this Google map I've created to chart their progress each day. Click the blue pins for a few tid-bits to whet your appetite...but I'll let my Dad and Kevin tell you all the juicy details when they're back online.

View Larger Map

Monday, July 6, 2009

Packing it in - By Kevin

What a week it’s been. We’ve had the parties. We’ve said our goodbyes. We’ve packed and re-packed to make things fit. Now…it’s time for Larry to haul all my things to Alaska!

Maybe I was overly optimistic when I thought three cases and a duffle bag would fit all my gear. Actually it kind of does. What it doesn’t include is any tools, emergency supplies or spare parts! Larry is the “support crew”; the one who has unintentionally inherited the role as our pack mule for the trip. The poor guy has packed, shuffled, stuffed and re-packed more times than I can count. I’d ask him for a couple of spare bolts. They’re buried somewhere beneath his luggage rack. I think he’d kill me.

Ultimately, we’ve gotten everything to fit and I’ve learned that sometimes less is not more. A few months back I told Larry that I’d have plenty of room to haul some of our extra supplies. How wrong I was. But I’m still confident he won’t leave me stranded. After all, we’re family! …plus, I have his computer in my side case.