Sunday, August 14, 2011

Motorcycle Trip to Alaska for the Summer - Part 2

“A trip of a lifetime, this rally begins wherever you are and culminates in Dawson City at the Downtown Hotel”

Submitted by Gary Pedersen

First, I apologize for not explaining how I got my 650 fixed in Part 1 (July issue). I took it to Tigard BMW of Western Oregon. Within 10 minutes of arriving at the Service Department they had the bike in the shop. They worked on it for 2 hours, found and fixed the problem and had me on the road. It seems that the computer in the F650GS sometimes decides to “remap” itself. Scary! The tech put all the settings back to where they should be and it runs great. I suppose the “Air-head” guys are now all going: “See, we told you so!”
June 20th. I met my Alaska riding buddy, Tom (who grew up in Junius, SD), in Eagle River at 10:00 and we left for Tok. Tok is only 330 miles so it’s an easy day that starts with a ride up the Matanuska Valley on the Glenn Highway. It’s a reasonably clear day with views of the Chugach Mountains and the Matanuska River on the right, and the Talkeetna Mountains on the left. You could go into scenery overload. From Palmer to Sheep Mountain Lodge is one of the great motorcycle rides in North America. However, the Alaska Department of Transportation is working steadily at changing this part of the road to a great motorhome ride. The DOT projects have removed or straightened hundreds of curves in the last several years. By leaving at 10:00 we arrive at Sheep Mountain Lodge about noon for lunch. Their soup, rolls and pie are legendary. Then it’s on to Glenn Allen for gas, and then on to Tok. The weather has changed to heavy overcast and it will start raining in the next few miles. The first 24 miles of the Tok Cut Off have just had the marbles put on the chip seal. Alaska and the Yukon both use the same method for chip sealing roads. (See picture at left.) A thick layer of oil, and then several inches of ½ to ¾ inch round rock for the surface. You can imagine what this is like to ride on. The temp has also dropped to 40F and it is raining. Just great! With Firstgear Kilamanjaro suits and Gerbings liners we do stay dry and warm. We have never ridden from Glenn Allen to Tok without rain.
June 23rd. We wake up to a torrential downpour. The first thing I do is call my wife and wish her Happy Birthday. Not the best circumstances to wish your wife Happy Birthday. It’s only 195 miles from Tok to Dawson City but most riders spend the night in Tok so they will have an entire day to make the ride to Dawson City. The 195 miles can take from 4 to 10 hours depending on conditions, and the conditions today are bad. The first 74 miles are either paved or chip seal so we’re in Chicken in a little over an hour, even with the rain. The temp is now down to 38F, there is thick fog and the rain is relentless. We arrive at Chicken drenched, and ready for some hot coffee. From Chicken to the border is a sea of mud mixed with bottomless mud pits where the permafrost is pushing clay up through the road. The mud on the surface is like riding on 2 inches of grease on a polished steel plate. It takes us 2 hours and 45 minutes to go the 48 miles to the border. From the border to Dawson City is 66 miles with about 20 of those chip sealed. The rest is more mud! It’s another 2 hours and 15 minutes to Dawson. Yuk! Trying to pick a line to go through the mud is exponentially more difficult due to the fog in the air, the fog on the face shield, and the fog on my glasses. Several riders are down in this stretch, but no one requires hospitalization. I’ve made this run every year since 2002 and this is the worst I have ever seen this part of the road. I guess if it didn’t get like this it wouldn’t be called Adventure Touring. As we start down from the ridges to Dawson the rain finally lets up. While waiting for the ferry to cross the Yukon River I notice that I have a problem. Either my 12 year old Firstgear riding pants are leaking at the crotch, or I relieved myself when I went through one of the bottomless mud pits. Or both? At least the rain has stopped. Dry clothes, coffee, not beer, and I feel much better.
Later that afternoon we notice that we have an interesting development in Dawson City. This is for the record books. There seems to be a large number of people dressed like the Village People walking around the D2D bikes on the street. Besides the 230+ riders in Dawson City for D2D, there are 90 Harley Davidson “owners” in Dawson City. Notice, I did not say HD riders. These 90 HD owners are on a BUS TOUR, a BUS TOUR, of the Yukon and Alaska because everyone knows you can’t ride real motorcycles in the Yukon and Alaska. That was basically a quote from one of the HD owners. They are wearing their leather ON A BUS! They even have special patches commemorating their “Harley Davidson Tour of Alaska and the Yukon.” Someone forgot to tell us, and us includes 3 HD riders, 2 Victory riders and 6 Goldwing riders that made it to Dawson City that you can’t ride motorcycles in Alaska and the Yukon.
June 24th. We wake up to “not a cloud in the sky” and it is going to be warm. The high points for today are the Poker Run and the Banquet. I’m with Joe on check point 5 today for the Poker Run. Check point 5 is at the top of Midnight Dome above Dawson City and because of the rain the day before and the sun today the views are spectacular. Joe’s rear tire is flat when we are ready to leave so he’ll be up later. There are 2 ways to the very top of Midnight Dome from the parking lot at the overlook. The backside has an old trail that the Canada Parks people have tried to make impassible, but not for a GS. The front side is straight up a bluff about 80 feet above the parking lot and is as steep as the middle of a hill climb. Only a couple of riders each year attempt the front hill climb side. Joe arrives and motors up the back trail on his R1100GS. Joe is 74. This year 2 riders came up the front hill climb. They are 20 somethings with 1 on a R1150GS and 1 on a 2 wheel drive KTM. As everyone is complimenting these guys a HD Street Glide comes into the parking lot, downshifts, does a left turn, and comes straight up the hill climb on the same line as the 2 young guys. Now this is a HD rider! After Joe and I are done on the Dome, we head back to the Downtown Hotel. Joe heads into the bar to find the guys with the air compressor and I head to my room to drop of my stuff and then back to the bar to rehydrate. When Joe comes out of the bar his back wheel is missing. He goes back into the bar and someone buys another round, when he comes back to check on his missing wheel it is back on his bike, with a new tire. These are D2D people.
D2D is now too large for any of the available banquet capable places in Dawson City. The Fire Marshall has limited the Opera House to only 150 people, and there are over 230 in attendance this year. We hope to get Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, the casino, for next year but that will be a stretch. The good news is that I ran into Jeff Sar (pic at left.) from the Sioux City BMW Club at the banquet. I haven’t seen Jeff since we ate lunch together at The Dock at Running Water. Since the Sioux City club members are also (well honorary anyway) Autobahners, we’ve had a 100% increase in attendance of Autobahners at D2D. In order to have a similar increase next year there will need to be at least 3 more of you to make the trip. The bike games were over at midnight and the bikes were posted. Jeff now has a “Dust to Dawson 2011 sticker. And he earned it in the mud on Thursday.
June 25th. Another clear, warm day. The Top of the World and Taylor Highways are the best I’ve ever seen. They are still damp from the rain and hard packed like the clay on a flat track oval. Yeeee Hawwwww!!!!!! The bad news is that several riders get carried away and we now have at least 2 that were hospitalized. I have supper with Jeff at Fast Eddie’s in Tok and he heads back to the campground and Tom and I head to the Golden Bear Motel. In the morning Jeff will head home and Tom and I will head back to Eagle River where I have to make amends for missing yet another birthday.
June 26th. There is only a light sprinkle this morning as we head south, and this lets up after about 20 miles. The sun is trying to come out, but the St. Elias Mountains are still covered with clouds. However, a record has been set. The temp is in the 50s and it ISN’T RAINING OR SNOWING! What a pleasant ride. Gas at Glenn Allen, lunch at Sheep Mountain Lodge and on to the curves. Well, some good things do end. It seems that every Ma and Pa Kettle in America is on the road this afternoon. One guy with Washington plates in a Lincoln Navigator is doing 40 mph in the straights and 20 mph on the curves. Sure enough, when one DS passes in a straight section and probably hit something way over 55 mph the Alaska State Troopers were johnny-on-the-spot to point out his errant ways. Tom and I are just patient and take our time.
I’m 7100 miles into this summer’s trip. America is great. D2D 2011 is history. 2012 will be the 20th anniversary of D2D. Now is the time to start making your plans. See you in Dawson City on June 21-22, 2012.

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