Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Work & Travel, Travel for Work

I'm being pounded with travel for work lately.  Alaska is on my mind, but unfortunately my hands aren't on the keyboard.  More soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Time is a Double Edged Sword

As of this writing, I have 239 days till my trip.  The great part about this is that I have eight months to prepare and work out the logistics.  The bad news is I have eight months to wait before I can go.

I've considered so many in-bound and out-bound routes that I bet Google Maps wants to start charging me for bandwidth consumption.  My in-bound route is pretty much set and validated by others who have made the trip. I don't want to ride the same path back that I rode out, although to a certain degree 'll have to.  I'm thinking after the Circle, I'll head back on the Alaska Highway and then south near Watson Lake to Prince George, passing through Jasper National Park in Alberta.  From there, riding west to east across Canada is appealing.  I can ride to Regina Saskatchewan and then south to Sturgis and Dallas. I want to see Sturgis and its surroundings, but not during the Rally mayhem.

This return route makes sense.  At least it does today.  I have 239 days to change my mind. 

Sorry Google.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

No Explanation Needed

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we'd like to be
Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee...
- Neil Peart/Earnest Hemingway 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Received the New Milepost

My 2010 edition Signpost arrived Thursday.  The Milepost is an excellent guide to getting around in, as well as to and from Alaska. It has a nice section dedicated to the Dalton highway that includes details about turnouts, grades, and sights at specific mile markers.  I know it's silly, but things like this get me psyched for the trip.  I've already identified several spots in Alaska I want to visit.  My goal is to arrive in state with enough time to spend a week up there.

No more time to opine right now.  Work calls; gotta pay for the trip.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Motorcycle Technology - Gadgets & Toys for the Bike

Remember the days when you could look under the hood of a car and see the ground beneath the engine?  Now days, the real estate under the hood is so crowded, you can't even see the wheel wells.  Motorcycles have evolved in a similar fashion.  My first bike was a 1974 Indian knock off from Taiwan.  It was a simple two stroke motor with a carburetor, points and condenser, an intake and exhaust pipe, a kick start, and drum brakes.  I could completely take that bike apart and reassemble it in a couple of hours. I had several other rides, both street and dirt over the years since that first bike.

Fast forward to 2006 and my first Harley. It was a new Dyna Wide Glide that I had customized into a one-of-a-kind expression of what I wanted to ride and who I wanted to be when I was on  it.  It was a cool looking bike and people said I looked cool riding it.  It had an exhaust note that could force an involuntary bowel movement from unsuspecting near bystanders when I twisted the throttle.  After three years and almost 40,000 miles on the Wide Glide, the desire for cool had been overtaken by the desire for comfort.  I'm no poser.  I ride.  OK, ignore that photo on the right of me sitting on the Wide Glide and re-read that statement.  My point is I'm not one of those guys who finally gets permission from his wife to buy a Harley, has the dealer ride it home for him, parks it in the garage, and puts a few hundred miles a year on it.

Fast forward again to 2010 and consider my new Harley. It's a beautiful FLTRX Road Glide Custom bathed in what Harley calls Scarlett red paint, that I named Hester. Compared to my old bikes, this thing had everything when I rode it off the dealer lot; dual ABS disk brakes, cruise control, electronic fuel injection, and adjustable air suspension.  Still, I added more.  I knew when I purchased Hester that she would be my ticket to comfort on long road trips. but the stock seat and handlebars were woefully uncomfortable.  I had the seat modified with memory foam for butt relief on extended periods of riding.  I installed handlebars that reach back to the rider position better so I don't have to stretch and lean over to ride the damn thing.  The exhaust I installed eliminates the the catalytic converter, which drops the temperature significantly while providing a hearty warning bark when I twist the throttle to alert clueless cagers of my proximity to them.  In a stroke if pure vanity, I painted the inner fairing and dash area to match the bright red finish.  Those modifications are nice, but my favorite additions are the electronic gadgets.

I love Hester's Harmon Kardon stereo.  Many old school riders will tell you that the sound of the wind and exhaust are sweet enough and that music just gets in the way.  Well, many old school bikers are just plain wrong.  It's easy to knock something that didn't exist when you rode actively.  Although I never even considered  the need for a stereo on my Wide Glide, although I often rode with my iPod and ear buds.  The stock stereo on a modern Harley comes with an audio CD/MP3 CD player and AM/FM radio.  Fortunately, it also comes with an external audio input jack because I never listen to CDs anymore and terrestrial broadcast radio sucks.  I have a splitter that accepts audio inputs from my iPod and my Sirius satellite radio and plugs into the external audio jack.  I can ride fifteen hours straight and not hear a single commercial or repeat tune.  On my last long trip, the collective works of Rush,  Motőrhead, Frank Zappa, and Cheap Trick from my iPod provided an integral part of my sanity as the miles and hours passed. Other times, classic hard rock from Sirius' Boneyard channel and political talk from Sirius' Patriot channel filled the air between my speakers and my helmet.  While Hester's dash was being painted, I installed a HogTunes power amplifier and J&M 7-1/4" speakers.  After all, all those tunes and cool satellite channels are worthless if you can't hear them at 80+ miles per hour, so better speakers and an amp were a must.

All of these devices have one thing in common.  They need power.  Harley touring bikes come stock with one twelve volt cigarette lighter.  With an iPod, cell phone, a satellite radio receiver, GPS receiver, radar detector, and a video camera, I needed more power.  Hell, I probably need another battery.  I ran dedicated fused power wires from the battery to the right glove box and in it installed a dual 12 volt power outlet and dual USB power ports.  Tim Taylor would be proud of my Binford-esque efforts in search of more power.

The bike isn't the only recipient of enhanced technology modern riders face.  Helmets these days rival NASA in function, composition, and complexity.  My Shark Evoline 2 is a modular helmet that adjusts from a full coverage helmet to an open-face 3/4 configuration.  It has an internal retractable visor and is equipped with internal stereo speakers and a microphone.  The speakers and microphone connect via bluetooth wireless to a host of other devices including a cell phone, GPS receiver for audible directions, and other riders' wireless helmets on the bike and as far away as 1/4 mile.  I can also connect via bluetooth wireless or wired to my iPod or satellite receiver for inside helmet sound if for some reason I deem the rest of the world not worthy of hearing my music.  Beyond all its functionality, I think the Shark is looks cool and if nothing else, it would come in handy if decide to dress up as the Black Power Ranger for Halloween.

Riding long trips is rewarding, but the ability to capture the ride and bore the hell out of everyone you know with the footage is especially cool. I have a very compact digital video camera that mounts to the handlebars and stores its footage on a 32GB SD card.  I can store an entire day's riding on the card and offload it onto a terabyte drive I carry  on the bike, allowing me to document up to month's worth of riding.

The problem with the handlebar mounted video camera is that it only looks forward.  This view allows for some nice shots, such as my Death Valley crossing or twisty mountain passages, but doesn't allow for peripheral views. The answer is a helmet cam and I'm in the market for one.  I want to be able to capture the side-to-side wildlife and terrain and mix it into the handlebar footage.  I've watched hours of good helmet cam footage and want to record my own.  I will enjoy learning my options in the coming months.

Is all this technology too much?  I see it this way. Cell phones, MP3 players, radar detectors, etc. are a fact of life on the roads today.  We hear all too often about cage accidents caused by clueless drivers texting, talking, and otherwise fiddling with the gadgets when their eyes should have been on the road and their hands on the wheel. It's no different on a motorcycle, especially when you ride twelve to fifteen hours a day.  If I can manage these devices wirelessly while keeping at least one hand on the bars, I'll be able to maintain my focus on the road conditions and keep an eye out for the clueless cagers who are trying to text, talk, drive, change the CD, and drink their coffee.  That not only keeps me sane and entertained.  I believe it keeps me safer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pondering a Route

Let me start by acknowledging that the details in this entry will probably change dozens of times before the trip, but it's fun to plan it out and consider the possibilities.  I'm browsing through my 2006 - 2009 Milepost books like I used to do when I was a kid drooling over toys in the Sears Wish Book.  I'm also bookmarking Internet sites like a tourist.

I want to maximize my time seeing the sights in Canada and especially in Alaska, so I plan to speed ball it from Dallas into Canada and then slow the pace and enjoy the view.  I figure I can reach Canada at the end of three days if I repeat the pace I ran on my Whidbey Island trip.  So far, I'm thinking this way...

Dallas, TX to Denver, CO  ~800 miles
Denver, CO to Great Falls, MT  ~775 miles
Great Falls, MT to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada  ~500 miles
Edmonton to Dawson Creek, British Columbia  ~ 370 miles
Dawson Creek to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory  ~ 600 miles (gotta see the Signpost Forest)

This leaves me about 600 miles from the U.S. border at Alaska.  I suspect there will be plenty of camping and last-chance hotel stops along the way.  I'm guessing also that there aren't too many Hilton owned hotel properties where I can cash in my frequent stay points.

I've been using Google Maps to give me a basic idea of potential routes. I find the satellite imagery of the roads and terrain coupled with the ability to drop to ground level and see a 360° view of any spot I select to be very useful and informative.  So I decided to look at the ground view of the Alaska state line heading northwest out of Canada.  I found the image displayed by Google Maps at that exact spot to be a profound indication that I am meant to make this trip happen.  Click the image on the left or a larger view.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GPS Woes

I need a new GPS.  I know, I know.  Real bikers don't use GPS.  I recently talked with an old biker at Strokers Ice house in Dallas who looked old enough to be Methuselah's grandfather.


 He described to me how he rode the the entire perimeter of the United States in the early 1970's with little more guidance than folded maps.  I thought about that; no GPS, no cell phone, no iPod or stereo on the bike, no cruise control, and AMF-era Harley Davidson quality.  After considering what it would take to make a trip such as he described, two words came to mind. "Fuck that!"  I respect the accomplishment like I respect the Apollo moon landings completed with vacuum tubes, but I need more than a slide rule, sextant, a compass, and maybe an abacus.

I have been called many things, but I have never been labeled a Luddite.  I'm a digital man.  If it makes my life easier, if it's cool, if it lights up, makes noise, and has a handlebar mount, I want it.  Better yet, if it has a USB port, I need it! I'm working on a blog entry to detail the electronics and technology that will be accompanying me on this ride. I think I'll title it "Ned Ludd Can Suck It"
I used a TomTom Rider2 GPS on my last trip. That trek was 6,000 miles; roughly 300 of which could have been avoided because the TomTom led me astray.  I had printed maps and routes as a backup, but those a bit tough to use at 80 miles per hour.  I admit that it was my fault that I hit the road with map software that was from 2006, but I tried repeatedly to update the map software and had no success.  TomTom support said it's a common problem and that since my unit was out of warranty, I had no recourse.  They did offer me me 10% off a new Rider2.  I respectfully passed.  It wasn't the poor customer service agent's policy and she was embarrassed to break the news to me.

Needless to say, my eyes and mind are open for something new with update capabilities and I'll be scanning reviews of the latest motorcycle-specific GPS devices.  In the mean time, TomTom can get in line behind Ned.


It didn't take long to find the model I want. I'll keep my eyes peeled for a good price on the Garmin Zumo 660.  It sports all the features I need and has a good reputation among my riding peers.  Garmin sure is proud of it though.  The cheapest I've seen it on line is $575. Consumer electronics prices always drop during the holiday season and I'm in no hurry to buy.  I'll set  some internet price alerts and strike when the price is right.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Negative, Negative, Negative...

Man, I'm hearing it from everyone on this one. Many of the riders with whom I discuss the trip are the types who have a five year-old Harley in their garage with about a thousand miles on it.  Still, even some of my hardened biker buds look at me like I'm crazy.  Comments include:
  • "Do you have a will?"
  • "Can I have what's left of your bike if they don't find your body?"
  • "If they do find your body, can I have that cool NSA coin?"
  • "Do you have a living will because bears don't always kill their prey?"
  • "Is your life is so empty that you think you have to do shit like this?"
  • "Why don't you fly into Alaska and rent a motorcycle to ride around up there?"
  • "Don't ride your Harley.  The roads are rough and you might get scratches and dings from the Dalton Highway pebbles."
  • "Ride up to Alaska if you must, but rent a KTM or BMW for the trip up the Dalton to the Circle."
  • "Bear food..."
  • Talk all you want, but you'll won't really go."
I think I'll just keep my mouth shut and not discuss it anymore. Yeah, right.  Anyone who knows me knows I can't keep my mouth shut about anything.

None of the comments even remotely resonate with me; nor do they deserve a response.  I have to admit though that that last one is a little haunting.  I'm a goal driven person and get depressed without a long term goal or something to look forward to.  Planning a trip like this offers me a goal to reach for while yielding short term rewards as things fall into place. It also offers a nice diversion from the geek work world of my job at IBM.  The logistics are a bit daunting, but nothing I can't overcome.  There are also plenty of people offering encouragement and support and expressing envy over not only having the time to do it, but the drive.  I've even had a few people I know from various Harley related forums offer a place to sleep or wrench if I need it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Compadres or Solo?

I have two riding buddies from Dallas talking as if they want to come along on the trip. Honestly, I have mixed emotions here.  There are pros and cons to both sides.  Riding alone means I don't have to wait for anyone.  I ride my own schedule on my own terms.  I stop when I want and ride as fast or as slow as I feel.  I don't get delayed by someone else's sore butt or given crap because my butt is too sore to continue on.

Of course, there is a flip side.  Sharing the scenery and the memories with friends is invaluable. Having buddies to rag on, to talk to, eat dinner with, and to watch my back does have its benefits.  I see pictures of groups of guys all leathered up, smiling ear-to-ear next to their bikes with a mountain range and a river behind them and I start to think a group ride would be more fun. It also makes me think about beer. When I think further of possibly camping in bear country, there's a whole other level of security concern that riding in a group would address.  I know I can't outrun a bear, but I'm confident I can outrun these two!

Both are discussing the trip with their wives.  I won't be so callus as to say they're "asking permission".  Taking up to 24 days away from home for something like this is very selfish. In my case, I get three weeks vacation from my job and an additional five floating holidays outside the usual Federal holidays.  Still, being gone so long from the ones you love and who love you is asking a great deal from them; especially in my case when I travel for work almost every week of the year.
Hester Ready to Roll - Colorado 2010
The invitation is open and honestly, I'd be proud to ride with anyone who wants to make the trip with me.  Somehow though, I suspect when the rubber hits the road, it'll be just two wheels and they'll be carrying Hester and myself.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Initial Brainstorming

This is one of those events that will likely be similar herding cats.  There are so many aspects to consider.  When I made my trip to Whidbey Island, WA last summer, All I had to be concerned with was getting to the island by Sunday night.  After that, the pace for the rest of the trip was dictated by my butt and the amount of daylight remaining.

The first few days of this trip is similar in that riding up through the Unites States should be a snap.  The ride through Canada entering from northern Montana up to Alaska is about 2,300 miles.  Google Earth shows some pretty decent roads all the way up to to the Alaska border. As I learned riding through Idaho, construction could certainly impact that.

I'll need to look for places to sleep, be they hotels, camp sites, abandoned gas stations, whatever.  I don't plan on carrying much in terms of camping provisions and I'm spoiled, so hotels and cabins are my plan.

I'll need Canadian currency, which should be no big deal.

I need to look into the Canadian laws regarding carrying my pistol through Canada.  Alaska is a self-protection friendly state, so it's no big deal once I re-enter the US.  There are Canadian forms and fees that make it possible, but generally speaking the Canadian government prefers unarmed peasants.  I just need to decide if it's worth the hassle.  When I think of the bears up there, the hassle seems to diminish.

June is nine months away, but I laid awake for hours last night mulling all this over.  I'm generally not one to over think things.  I just hate to miss important details.  That said, I suspect there will be plenty more of those nights.  I ordered the 2010 edition of The Milepost to help with initial planning and to make for some good bathroom reading.  The 2011 edition will be published next March. I'm sure I'll buy that one too.  I still have 2006 and 2007 editions laying around.  As I mentioned, Alaska has been calling for a long time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's Time

How long am I to keep saying "One of these days, I'm gonna do that..." and still believe it?

Picture Me Here
Alaska has been calling me for years.  I've dreamed of riding my Harley there from Dallas and making a video/photo documentary of the trip.  I want to ride up the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse Alaska in the Arctic Circle and take in the surroundings at the sign. Don't ask me why because I don't have an answer.  It's just a nagging vision in my head that I need to realize.  Up to this week, it was a pipe dream; a one-of-these-years thing.

Martin @ Sturgis 2009
Today, it's different.  A co-worker and friend dropped dead at his desk this week.  He was only 48 years old.  I'm 47 and like me, he had raised his kids and was at a point in his life where realizing pipe dreams like this was possible.  Also like me, he rode a Harley and we used to tease each other over who would make it to Alaska first.  To add to that, my 68 year old father in-law sits in a wheel chair with 25% mobility following a massive stroke last year.  He completed two full careers and was set to enjoy the lifestyle for which he worked so hard.  These examples are weighing heavily on my mind right now.  There's rarely a good time to do things like this, but I'm all too aware that too late will come before I know it.

Alaska is calling again.  This time, I'm answering.  Get ready Yukon, because in June/July 2011, the Infidel is coming.

I'll post details of the logistics and planning on this blog as I sort them out.   It won't be too exciting to read.  If nothing else, each entry will serve as a reaffirmation of my plans and provide a checklist of important items to make the trip not only possible, but somewhat safer.