Sunday, July 17, 2011

Motorcycle Trip to Alaska for the Summer by Gary Pedersen

(Ed.Note: Gary lives in Chester, SD,and spends his summers in Alaska working as a guide.)

I left Chester May 26th for this year’s trip to Alaska. I found a new short cut and my first stop was the Spam Museum in Austin, MN. The museum is on the “should do list” for anyone going to or from the Money Creek Rally. It is actually interesting - for me anyway. But then I do keep Spam in my tank bag.

After the Spam Museum I headed south to Anamosa, IA, and the National Motorcycle Museum. This museum is a definite MUST DO for anyone reading this article. There is a Super 8 Motel across the street and Wapsipinicon State Park is nearby for those who prefer to tent it. I spent three hours in the museum and then headed in the general direction of Indianapolis. I spent most of the afternoon on roads that weren’t on my map and spent the night in Rantoul, IL. The best part of the day was the absolute lack of wind. I had no idea how much trouble the wind would be for the next several days.

I got to Indy on Saturday at noon and helped with the preparations for the Saturday night party. The people that I stay with live about a mile from the front gate of the Indy 500 Track and Saturday night is a big deal. The race was great as always with several of the antique race cars used as honorary pace cars this year.

I left Indianapolis early May 30th and headed back to Chester. By 10:00 am the cross wind was terrible. I had no idea that the cross wind would last until Missoula. I stopped at a couple of rest areas to ease the pain in my neck from hanging onto the handle bars. My mileage had dropped to 45 mpg, and that is very bad for an F650GS. I know what Gary Johnson was dealing with.
I had just worked my way through a large group of lemmings as I was coming to Iowa City (lemmings: a large group of vehicles traveling as a pack on the Interstate at the same speed). I noticed a DS (DS is the politically correct abbreviation for a dumb s--t) in a four door S10 Blazer on the ramp with a box spring and mattress on the roof with one orange tie down on it. The DS will get to the Interstate in front of me if I don’t speed up considerably. As the DS gets under the overpass and hits the wind the box spring and mattress pop up at about a 45 degree angle to his roof. When I get far enough ahead to check my mirrors, sure enough, the tie down breaks and the box spring and mattress each land in a lane. In my mirrors I see vehicles in the ditch, the median, the word FORD (reversed) on the tailgate of a pickup, and lots of dust. I did not stop.
I spent the day riding west until my neck got stiff and then north for a ways, then west, then north. I finally ended up on I-90 and was out of north. As I was coming to Blue Earth, MN, I could see a huge black, green and blue wall with lots of psychedelic light flashes to the west. That can’t be good. It was 5:30 pm so I stopped at a Dairy Queen for something to eat and to check the news and weather. No radio, no TV, but one of the other customers had an I-Phone and checked the weather for me. The radar screen on his phone was also wild and the voice on the phone was talking about grapefruit sized hail and wind gusts in excess of 80 mph east of Mitchell. I knew I couldn’t make Chester before the storm so I stayed in Blue Earth that night.

May 31st I got to Chester about 10:30 am for my scheduled pit stop. I changed the oil and filter, changed the chain and sprockets (yes Toto, this BMW has a chain), changed the rear tire, did laundry and went to supper at Buffalo Trading Post. This is a culinary delight that I suspect many of you have missed. Tuesday nights are 50 cent taco nights at Buffalo Trading Post and the tacos are a reasonable size and quite good. Bet you can’t eat just one. I spent Wednesday getting the house ready for summer and visiting my mother-in-law and my folks.

June 2nd I left for Portland, OR, another shortcut on my way to Alaska. Our youngest son had called and wanted to know if I could detour through Portland. He had just bought a 2005 R1200GS and wanted to ride to Alaska with me. Another BMW convert from the sport bike set. Yes! The wind was again against me as I headed west. I had also tried 511 on the phone for some non-interstate roads and every road that I was looking at was closed due to flooding. I spent a boring day on I-90 noticing a lot of high water and stayed in Gillette, WY, that night.

June 3rd my 650 decided to have issues. It didn’t want to start cold, and once warmed up it didn’t want to idle. I had again checked 511 and again the roads I wanted to take were closed to either flooding or too much snow. I started at 6:00 am to get out before the wind, but it didn’t work. The wind was already up. I hate wind. I stayed on I-90 all day and spent the night in Missoula.

June 4th, the 650 was having issues again, but what a great day to ride. Lolo Pass is open!!! I got to do Lolo Pass for the 4th time and I finally got it right. The first three times didn’t count. Why? Twice in my mega cage (motorhome) and once in my little cage (Saturn SL) really don’t count. I found myself doing 60 to 65 mph several times coming out of corners which is not good in a 45 to 50 mph speed limit area. I have always seen ID Highway Patrol Cars on Lolo Pass, but I was lucky and did not get a formal written welcome to ID. I got to Graingeville, ID early in the afternoon and was able to spend the night with a retired friend and fellow BMW rider from Alaska.

We left West Linn Thursday afternoon, June 9th, and stayed in Seattle that night at his girlfriend’s apartment. We went from Portland to Seattle on back roads and probably beat the I-5 time by hours.
June 10th was on to Canada and the land of good roads. When we got to Cache Creek, BC, we almost didn’t get a place to stay. There was a weeklong celebration in progress call Graffiti Days. There were 300 to 500 hot rods and race cars in town, along with what looked like a very large RCMP convention. We each had “some” beers with supper and then went out to look at the cars. There was a gathering of the owners under our motel window and the owners wouldn’t take no for an answer. We had several more beers. The Canadians are a friendly bunch, eh.

June 11th we were back on the road and stopped at Smithers, BC, for the night. We had supper in a microbrewery/restaurant. They made four beers on site so we ordered a sampler. Each sample was a 12 oz. glass. Great place. We stopped about 90 miles short of Watson Lake for about an hour for a forest fire. At Watson Lake, my favorite place, The Air Force Lodge was full so we ended up in one of the more questionable motels.

June 13th was a long day, 640 miles. When we were getting gas at Destruction Bay there were 2 Harleys out front and 2 riders in the dining area. One was from Faulkton, SD, and one was from Willow Lake, SD. We had supper at Burwash Landing and got to watch a guy catch 2 very large lake trout from the dock. My son ordered the 24 oz schnitzel that he was sure was caribou. We got to Tok, AK about 11:00 pm. I normally wouldn’t have ridden that far, but we had reservations at the Golden Bear Motel and putting the frost heaves between Burwash Landing and the border behind us was good.

June 14th, the last day out, we only had 330 miles to go and only about 30 of those were under construction. We talked to another father and son group from IL at Glenn Allen when we got gas and coffee. We had lunch at Sheep Mountain Lodge and then rode on to Eagle River and the end of a great trip.

I must say, to ride with an ultra-marathon runner who happens to be a professional photographer was interesting. At each gas stop he was on his cell phone with his work, had to eat a large meal, and photo stops were always at least 30 to 45 minutes. To take this trip with one of my sons was the best motorcycle trip I have ever taken.

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