Alaska Sojourn!
Ian's Updates, Days 9-11


A Long, Strange Trip to Alaska
by Ian Schmeisser (ischmeisse@aol.com)

Days 9-11

We're near Denali National Park tonight (June 30, Day 11), and gonna bag a park stamp for our passports tomorrow am. Getting to Denali involved some of the best riding I've ever experienced.

From the Red Goat Campground on the Cassiar Highway we headed to the signpost forest in Watson Lake. I managed to park next a sign from Snellville, GA (just a few miles from where I live) completely by chance. Strange, eh?/oui?

From there, we head northwest on the Alaska Highway and after a gorgeous ride that included crossing the Cassiar Mountains land in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. I was surprised at the excellent condition of the road, especially after everything I'd heard to the contrary. The next morning we changed oil, adjusted valves and hit the trail to finally enter Alaska.

Pounding Ground

The next day (Monday, June 29) the Alaska Highway lived up to its reputation. The remainder of the Yukon Territory consisted of alternating stretches of fabulous scenery and treacherous road conditions. The mountains and lakes are completely unspoiled, but the same can't be said for the road. Frost heaves and motorhomes have a lot to do with this, along with a very short season for maintenance and repair.

If you're planning on riding to Alaska after the National Rally (or at any time, for that matter) please don't believe the statement that the Alaska Highway is completely paved. There are miles and miles of construction, with loose gravel, major league potholes, and frost heave that will tear the suspension right off your bike. And that doesn't even count the trucks throwing gravel at you (and I've got the fractured eyeglasses to prove it.)

Needless to say, the R11GS is the ideal motorcycle for this trip. It handles all this adversity without even breaking a sweat. This is a world-class bike and it has actually made these rough roads enjoyable. I wouldn't ride my K-bike here… the potholes would bend the wheels, the gravel would trash the bodywork and the attention required to avoid all the bumps instead of just riding over them would be exhausting.

Take a right turn at Sunset

One last strange thing before we leave Canada (where there was nowhere near as much strangeness in the US)… the sun sure takes its time setting up here at the top of the world. In fact, it barely sets at all. It gets close to the horizon, starts taking a right turn, and finally dips below the horizon at about 1 am. Sunrise it at 3 am… it seems like night because you're tired, but it doesn't look like night. It's day, but there's no one around… eerie… kinda like the Omega Man movie.

Rocking

As we entered Alaska, back in the US, the strangeness picked up as if on cue. It seems that ancient man chose to leave messages in the sand along the Alaska highway. They did this by stacking rocks in recognizable patterns on the banks along the side of the road. Some people wrote primitive messages, such as their name, others made pictures… and it looks as if some of these primitive images have been copied in these modern times. I have the pictures to prove it!

The day ended in Tok, Alaska (pronounced "toke"… no jokes, please), where we stopped and ate at the Gateway Salmon Bake, eating our fill of salmon, reindeer sausage and beef ribs… real biker food.

(picture of salmon bake place)

Today (June 30), was one of the best rides of my life. We departed toke, uh…. Tok, early, rode the Glenn Highway past some excellent mountains and some awful construction, and found our way to the Denali Highway… the original route to the Denali National Park. What a great road, about 100 miles long, only 20 of them paved. We were (and have been) extremely lucky with the weather… we got an excellent view of Mt. McKinley (or Mt. Denali, depending on how PC you are).

Stopping for lunch at the Gracious House was a real experience…. a very strange place, smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, staffed by 60's holdovers who had visited Tok perhaps once (or twice) too often. The cook was the best… by his own admission the guy could only do one thing at a time, otherwise he would get, uh… confused. Definitely one Tok over the line! I apologize… I completely forgot to take a picture of this place… perhaps I should stay away from Tok on our way back home, eh?/oui?

So here we sit, two days into Alaska, with 6 remaining before heading to the National Rally back in Missoula. We're having a great time, and looking forward to more.


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