Tuesday, May 29, 2012

National Parks Tour -- North to Alaska

Follow along:  SpotWalla active map

See the Garmin Connect GPS Track of this ride.  6,610 Miles

Jun 14, The 237th Anniversary of the establishment of the United States Army!
Bullwinkle's Girlfriend
Did the short ride from Fairbanks to Denali National Park....Mission Accomplished!  Got the all important passport stamp, grabbed a hefty burger at the grill and logged onto the free park wifi.  Haven't heard from Howard yet.   If they left Haines around 2 AM the should be pulling into Fairbanks around noon.  It's about 2PM as I'm typing this.  I just checked Howard's Spot map on his blog.  He is at the US/Canadian border.  That means he has another 4-5 hours of riding to get to Fairbanks.  Maybe I'll head back to town and scout out a couple of hotels.

I found out where the Key West to Deadhorse riders are staying and headed over to the Alpine Lodge.  Nice hotel with special rate for the bikers.  I booked a room and gave Howard a call.  They got delayed leaving Haines.  Canadian customs, i.e. the border, didn't open until 7 AM so Howard and Brad slept at the Iron Butt Motel....always open.   I met many of my Iron Butt comrades at the hotel.  They were all excited about the Saturday run up the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse.  We all went to a local BBQ eatery and enjoyed a hearty meal.  I had chef's salad and Diet Coke because I was till full from the burger I ate at Denali.  Howard split the room with me and I met up with him back the hotel. 

I planned my return trip this morning at the motel.  I'll blog about it with a new posting, as this is the final page of the NPT - North to Alaska adventure.

June 13:  The ferry cruise to Haines was about 4.5 hours long.  Still lots of maritime drizzle and cloudiness.  Said goodbys to the Aussies and left for Fairbanks.  I had never ridden from Haines to Haines Junction where it meets the Alaska Highway.  Crossed over a mountain range summit and it got cold.  I started with my electric jacked liner and head to toe Gore-Tex riding riding gear.  After the going over the mountain pass the weather broke out sunny and warm with scattered cloud cover.  It took me 45 minutes in line at the US/Canadian border.  And, only 3 minutes to clear Customs.  By the time I got to Tok the weather had come down and it started to rain.  While gassing up at Tok I called Howard.  He and Brad were on the ferry heading to Haines and expected to arrive around 1AM on Thursday.  There plan was to make the 10.5 hour ride to Fairbanks arriving around 1PM.   As I was entering Delta Junction I passed a group of 5 motorcyclists.  Each had Iron Butt Association plates and I thought I recognized Greg Rice riding trail. They pulled off into the first available gas station in Delta and I rode on.  It was raining and cold and I wanted to get to the motel.  Having a sandwich at the Denny's next to the motel one of those guys sat and had a cup of coffee.  We talked bike stuff.  Tomorrow my main objective is to secure the passport stamp at Denali NP.  After that.....we'll see. 

Jun 12 1300 Alaska Time:  Arrived in Juneau AK aboard the Taku Alaska Marine Highway ferry.  Wow, what a good decision I made to catch the ferry up to Haines.  Just checked the Yukon highway conditions and I see they opened it today.  With all the traffic backed up, to God only knows where,  I'll beat most of it to Fairbanks.  I checked Howard's blog and see he and his riding buddies are in Prince Rupert.  I assume they will catch the ferry up to Haines.  I posted a comment on his blog about where to find good places to sleep on the ferry.  Tomorrow, Wed, I take a 4.5 hour ferry ride from Juneau to Haines then ride to Fairbabks and stage for the short trip to the Denali NP visitors center on Thursday morning.  The Aussies, couple from FL and I are all going out for a Juneau seafood dinner tonight.  My next blog will when I stop riding tomorrow.  Maybe at Fairbanks if the travel through the short stretch of the Yukon goes good.  Checked the weather and doesn't seem to be any issues.  Life is good.  

Jun 10-11:  Aboard the Taku AMHS ferry.  Very comfortable but no wifi or cell phone coverage along the way.  At some of the stops along the way there was cell coverage and I made calls back home.  I also Spot'd along the way.  Saw lots of cool critters on the ride.  Humpback whales, harbor seals, bald eagles and bears along the shores.  Was rainy most of the way.  Life aboard Taku was relaxed and the crew were very friendly.  Prices for food and drinks were less expensive than I would imagine.  I got a great turkey on wheat sandwich with chips for $6.50.  Beer was $6 apiece and I tried the Alaskan Amber Ale.  Excellent!  Unless one books a cabin sleeping arrangements aboard the AMHS is relaxed.  One finds a spot in one of the lounge areas and sleep on the carpeted floor.  There is even a section on the upper deck where folks can set up their tent.  The Solarium area has large folding deck lounge chairs that were ideal for sleeping baggers.  The kid play room area had 6x3 foot floor mats so I grabbed one and used it with my sleeping bag. 

Jun 10 Sunday:  Arrive in Prince Rupert about noon and checked out where to catch the ferry.   Punched up the nearest Starbuck's to relax until I could check in for the ferry ride about 3 PM local.  Booked the reservation for Prince Rupert to Haines then relaxed with a nice sandwich and half liter of 1% milk.  At the assembly area for the ferry I met several other bikers with the same idea.  A couple from Australia and I struck up a friendly conversation.  We hit it off right away cause Aussies and the most like Texans.  Turns out Mike and Jennifer are yacht-ies as the call themselves and something of world travelers.  Another couple from FL showed up also.  Turns out they are on the National Parks Tour also.  Wow, lots of good company I can hang out with. Went through customs and got loaded up.  The Alaska Marine Highway System AMHS is run by the State of Alaska.  I had always wanted to do this ferry ride and was glad circumstance led me to this point.  Check out this video about the AMHS.  The cost for me and the GS was $402. 

Upper Laird river bridge
Noon Jun 9:  The RCMP, that's the Mounties, are directing all the stranded travelers at Nugget City to go back to Watson Lake.  The Upper Laird river is swelling beyond its banks and threatening the Alcan Hwy bridge over it.  If that bridge goes everyone west of it will be trapped between two washouts.  When I got to Watson Lake it was packed with travelers.  It was a refugee camp.  There must have been a couple of thousand people, countless trucks, campers, cars, motorcycles and bicycles all vying to consume every drop of fuel, all the food, and every space to set up camp.  But, as one Yukon local told me they probably won't run out of beer.  Watson Lake is a small wide spot along the Alaska Highway.  The authorities opened up the community rec center to stranded travelers but it quickly fill up. 

So, decisions:

1.  Wait it out in Watson Lake for maybe several days in the refugee camp
2.  Go home, not!  Or.....
3.  Apply critical thinking, understand the operational environment, solve the right problem and adapt to dynamic conditions.

I, of course, chose # 3.  The objective is to score Alaska and secure the passport stamp at Denali National Park.  So, around 12:30 Yukon time I headed south to Prince Rupert, about 550 miles away.  There I'll catch the ferry to Haines.  It's a nice cruise up the eastern coast of Alaska.  From Haines to Fairbanks is a 650 mile ride through the wilderness.  At least, according to the latest Yukon DOT, the road it open.

Beautiful BC
I arrived at the Best Western in Terrace BC around 9:30 local time.  Got a nice hot shower, washed out my LDComfort riding shorts and checked the ferry schedule.  Tomorrow will be a relaxed day.

Jun 9:  It's Saturday and I'm still stuck in Nugget City, 15 miles west of Watson Lake on the Alcan Highway.  It's still closed between here and Teslin.  The Yukon DOT now don't expect to have the road open to Whitehorse until MONDAY!  So, got no where to go, no cell phone service and only WiFi at $5 an hour from the RV park.  Hey, it's something.  I slept on my motorcycle last night until about 1am when a trucker woke me and offered the floor of his cab to sleep on.  It was very neighborly of him so I took him up on it.  I was going to set up my hammock and crawl into my sleeping bag but the bike was a familiar resting spot and I didn't want to rent two trees in the tent site for $20 a night.  At breakfast I was befriended by a man and his wife from UT who offered the floor of their toy trailer to sleep. They even have a lounge cushion I can sleep on.  It's almost as good as the Super 8.

I checked on Howard and the gang and the just made it to Jasper park in Alberta just west of Edmonton.  I sent Howard a couple of txt msgs via Yahoo Msgr about the Alcan being closed.  I wonder if he got it?  

Jun 8:  Starting at the bottom of the Alaska Highway heading to Whitehorse.  About 14 hours of riding time.  That will put me in position to make Fairbanks Saturday evening.  Stuck on the Alcan just west of Watson Lake.  Road ahead is washed out in several places.  The Canadian DOT is working on getting it opened but don't expect any change until after midnight.  I have my survival hammock, poncho and my sleeping bag.  Hopefully I can get rolling again soon. 

Jun 7:  Today was great riding.  Cool in the morning so I put on the electric gear.  Blue skies with marshmallow clouds.  Stopped at Sweetgrass to get some Canadian cash and a cup of coffee.  Crossing the border was uneventful.  Four lane Canadian version of the Interstate all the way to Dawson Creek.  Arrived about 7:30 PM local time.  Filled up the tank and checked into the motel.  Had a cool beer and hot stir fry before prepping for tomorrow.  Life is good.

Jun 6:  The gang hadn't seen Mt. Rushmore so we did the short ride there before heading to  Devil's Tower National Monument, WY.  Their plans called for riding some of the more scenic areas on the way up to Alaska.  My plans were to score SD, WY and MT before heading north so we road together as far as
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, MT.  It was great riding with Howard, Brad, Joe and Duncan.  You can check out Howard's Blog to follow their adventures.   I headed to Great Falls before making the border crossing into Canada. 

Jun 5:  While waiting on the UCC crew to ride up from Kansas City MO, I'm heading to the Bad Lands National Park.   On the way into the park I scored a stamp for the Minuteman Missile Historic Site.  Riding though the scenic loop of the Badlands was pretty awesome.   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD was spectacular and a must see if you're in the Black Hills.  I've been this way many times but never managed to experience it.  The UCC gang were going to make Custer SD there stopping point.  So, I rode there, scouted out a hotel and reserved a couple of rooms for their arrival around 7:30 pm.  We had dinner together and discussed plans for the tomorrow.

Jun 4:  Riding to South Dakota to meet up with the Ultimate Coast to Coast gang.  Most of the first part of the riding day will be on Interstate 80, again.  Was just out here a couple of weeks ago while riding the George Wyman commemorative coast to coast in 50 hours.  On the way I'm going to dash to the Agate Fossile Beds National Monument, NB to score Nebraska.  

Jun 3:  Dashed up to Promontory pass to visit the Gold Spike Nat'l Historic Site  Always wanted to visit this site and now I did it.  Imagine, two mighty railroad companies starting at opposite ends and meeting in the middle thereby connecting the first trans continental railroad.

Jun 1:  Got an early start.  The plan was to ride to Mesa Verde National Park, CO  and
Arches National Park, UT.  Weather was great today with no noticeable wind and temps in the high 80s.  The visitor center at Mesa Verde was some 15 miles of winding road from the entrance to the parks.  Spectacular scenery along the way.  Scored Colorado....on to Utah.  Utah is becoming one of my favorite riding areas.  Love riding through the Moab region up US 191.

May 31:  I got up this morning, Thursday, went out to the garage to clean the oil off of the bike.  Took the dented pannier off and pounded it the dents out.  Doesn't look too bad but I'm going to file a claim anyway.  Left around 7:30 after a couple cups of coffee.  Got all the way to north of Albuquerque without incident.  Had to call my daughter to let her know I wasn't going to make my 11 AM arrival time at her place.  Tomorrow is another day.....

May 30:  Wow, what a way to start a ride.  I left the house on Wednesday around 11 AM heading north west.  Just south of Abilene I started to smell oil.  Not unusual for this part of Texas as there are black gold wells everywhere.  The smell got stronger as I rode.  Then I noticed white smoke coming from my trusty GSA.  I knew something was up.  Got stopped as quickly and as safely as I could.  Dismounted, looked down and watched oil pouring out of my transmission.  Looking back I could see a trail of oil for about 500 feet or so.  I just knew the bike was toast.  First thing I did was call home and let Judy know what was going on.  At this point I'm thinking end of the trip.  Got on the phone to Lone Star BMW and talked to Robert the owner.  He had me inspect the area around to transmission to see if I could determine what was going on.  Yup, the transmission drain plug was gone.  A pool of transmission oil had formed under the bike about the size of trash can lid.  This was good news and told me that I had stopped the motorcycle before running the transmission dry. 

As a side note, I had the motorcycle serviced on Friday.  It appears the BMW Tech didn't torque the drain plug down during the service.  I've had these guys do almost 20 services on this bike.  I rode the bike home and checked it out good that weekend before leaving on Wednesday.  I should have known better.

Got on the phone and arranged tow back to Austin.  It was over 200 miles to Lone Star BMW.  Fort Worth was about 155 miles according to the roadside assistance folks.  They arranged to take me and the motorcycle to Austin for $250.  That was better than going to Fort Worth, getting a hotel and waiting on the bike to get fixed.

The tow crew showed up two and a half hours later with a pickup truck and a small motorcycle trailer.  As Dale, the tow truck guy, was securing the bike he knocked it over on the right side.  The right pannier struck the rail of the trailer and put two dents into the aluminum.    He asked how much those "saddle bags" cost.  I told him about $550 each.  He turned an ashen white.  Now with the motorcycle loaded up on the trailer we all get in the truck and he head to Abilene!  Seems he has to swap out the pickup for a Suburban.  By this time it's about 6 PM.  It's a 4 hour trip to Austin.  I give Judy a call when we're about an hour out.  Robert was going to have someone available to take the bike when I got there.  I called him about 15 minutes out as he live close to the dealership.

Got to Lone Star BMW around 9:45 PM.  Mike the tech met us there and he took the bike into the shop.  By the time I got the paperwork business done with the tow crew, Dale's son and his mom, Mike had the bike fixed and ready to go.  I thanked him and headed home.  I had to call Judy, who was stuck in I-35 traffic, to turn around and head home.  How does the saying go....it's not an adventure until things start to go NOT according to plan.