Monday, August 22, 2011

Alaskapade 2011 - Posts from the Entire Ride in Chronological Order

By popular demand, I posted the events from the ride in the order they actually happened.  There's nothing new here.  If you followed the adventure as it played out, this would be merely a review.  If you didn't read the posts beginning in October 2010, you might find some interesting insight into my head by doing so.  However, I accept no responsibility for screwing with your mind.  
The video is coming along.  We have several segments rendered and are working to tie it all together.  The trip took eight months to plan.  I don't want to sell myself short by rushing out something without proper thought.

October 10, 2010
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 have long 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.  Our plan was to meet up in Kansas and ride into the Arctic Circle together.  Martin waited too long and his untimely passing is a painful reminder to me that that I should not.  I will not.  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 is 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 will 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.

June 17th - The Longest Night 

Well, the Alaskapade is about to kick off and I think I'm done packing. I have all the camping, bike, and personal equipment I need for the journey packed and ready to roll.  I've spent the last eight months searching for the right gear at the right prices, planning routes, sorting out the logistics, working side projects for gas and expense cash, working out and trimming down, and it's all come down to this.

Selecting the right camping gear was a tedious process.  Everyone had an opinion and there was a lot of good gear out there from which to select.  There is also a great deal of expensive equipment out there.  In the past, I never gave packing size or weight a second thought and as such, most of the gear I already owned when I started planning this was way too large and heavy to pack on a motorcycle.  As detailed in previous entries, I have been fortunate to find just the right camping gear that was not only functional, but is light and highly compactable.  I can set up and pack up my tent in less than five minutes. It has plenty of space for me as well as room to store anything I choose to remove from the bike at night.  The tent, sleeping pad, pillow, inflatable repair kit, and tiny collapsible camping chair all fit neatly into a waterproof cylindrical dry sack that measures only 22" x 14" and weighs in at 11 pounds.

I'll be carrying more high-tech gear than the Apollo 11 crew did when they walked on the moon. My GPS has freshly updated North American maps and includes addresses for every Harley dealer in the continent in case I need to stop for service.  It also has 16 gigs of internal mp3 storage for all my tunes and a small library of audio books. The tunes, books, and even cell phone audio will play wirelessly via bluetooth into the stereo speakers mounted inside my helmet.

My Spot Connect satellite transponder will let my family and friends keep up with me on the road with location updates posted to easily-read Google maps that post every ten minutes. Unless I porked something up, the map should be at the top of this page now.  Viewers can click and drag to pan the map.  If your mouse has a scroll wheel, roll it up and down while pointed inside the map to zoom in and out.  If not, use the zoom buttons at the upper left of the map.  The lower right corner of the map has buttons to switch from map to satellite or hybrid views.  When there's actually tracking data to show, you can move your cursor to the tracking line to see when I was at the location last.  I will use my Spot Connect with a bluetooth connection to my Android smartphone to send messages out to those who have elected to receive updates from the road. There's also an emergency 911 button and even though I paid for search and rescue insurance, I don't plan on needing that.

If I get sick of the tunes I'm packing, I'll have my Sirius satellite radio with me as well.  I'll also be traveling with two HD video cameras, two digital cameras and two tripods, all of which I plan to use to capture as much of the action as possible for the post-journey Alaskapade 2011 documentary. Each days' footage will be downloaded to my laptop and backed up to an external hard drive when I stop for the night.

For personal gear, I have a ThermaCELL bug repellent system, a screened mosquito hat, sun screen, special moisture wicking underwear, extra glasses and goggles, a spare helmet, a towel, and a bag of shower crap.  For months, I've been collecting the little bottles of soap and shampoo from the hotels I stay in for work travel.  I always pack aspirin for hand numbness, Motrin and an anti-inflammatory prescription for back pain, and Imodium in case the local foods disagree with me. I've been eating very health-conscious foods for the last six months, but I suspect I could get somewhat lax on diet discipline while out on the road for so long.

As for clothing, I'll pack lightly and take garments I can wear repeatedly and throw away as they disintegrate and/or when their odor gets too strong to be blown away by the wind as I ride.  I suspect I'll be replacing some of the tossed out shirts with a few new Harley t-shirts along the way.  I'll try to do laundry wherever there's a campground with facilities.  Of course I packed toilet paper too.

Speaking of paper, the international component of this journey dictated that a few other personal details be handled before I depart.  I secured proof of motorcycle insurance coverage in Canada and of course I have my passport. Riding solo, the distance, the destination, and indigenous wildlife cohabiting my lodging accommodations dictated that I update my Will as well as financial and health election forms. On a lighter note, I received confirmation from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that I can carry some beef jerky across the border with me. Beef jerky, 5-Hour Energy, and Monster Energy drinks are a staple of my diet when I'm on bike trips.  Given the price for a gallon of gas these days, beef jerky and water might be more than just a staple.  Remember when gas prices were under $2/gallon?  That was just before President Obama took office.  "Hope and Change" indeed.  But I digress...
Hester is also primed and ready.  She has fresh engine oil/filter, all cables and wiring connections have been inspected and tightened, and all the nuts and bolts I can reach were checked and rechecked for tightness.  I'll carry an emergency tire plug kit with compressed CO2 cartridges and select tools for minor repairs and tightening along the route. I have a reflective rain suit and a bike cover that will fit over Hester, even if she's fully loaded.  I have my Harley Owners Group emergency road service contact numbers and the Spot Connect device to reach them if I'm out of cellular service.  I want fresh rubber when I hit the Dalton Highway, so I prepaid for a new set of tires at the Harley Outpost in Fairbanks.  I spoke with the service manager there to confirm they would do my work while I wait.  I've found most HD dealers will give priority to road warriors. On one hand, it's Alaska; I mean how crowded can it be?  On the other, the weather up there has been fantastic and lots of people get their bikes serviced for the short riding season. Better be safe than sorry.  When I gave him my Texas address, he asked if I was riding all the way up.  I'm not sure how else Hester and I would make it up there, but I answered yes and then jokingly asked if he knew of any shortcuts.  He said short of drilling a hole through the Earth and tunneling straight across, the northwest route through Canada was probably my best choice.

Click to enlarge
I also have a few sentimental items to carry along.  I wanted to bring something of Martin's with me, so his widow sent me his Harley Davidson snow cap.  My plan is to leave it at the Circle sign. I also have a special coin sent to me by an on-line reader and close friend. As an ex-military guy, I've been a challenge coin aficionado for some time.  Over the years, the coins have expanded beyond small military circles and have become more popular among the general public.  The coin on the right will definitely make the trip with me, but I'm not leaving it up there!

250lbs - Dec, 2010
One other important aspect of preparation for this trip was physical readiness.  I reached my goal to shed over forty pounds well before June 18th and even dropped a few more over the last few weeks. My waist went from a 38/40 to a loose fitting 33 and my bulging gut is gone.  I ate properly and I have worked my ass off in the gym five to six days each week since the beginning of the year.  I reviewed my daily averages this morning and calculated that between rowing and climbing on the elliptical trainer, I've covered 594 miles. I also cut out alcohol, sugar, and caffeine and I've maintained a low-carb diet.  I'm happy to once again be able to wear the leather jacket that I almost got rid of last year because it was too tight to zip.  It's a good thing because I'll probably need it as I pass through the Canadian Rockies.

So, I think I am ready.  I'm sure I've forgotten something, but I have learned that that is just part of traveling.  I have had so many suggestions and lists from friends and fellow riders that if I packed it all, I would need a trailer.  All I need now is to wake up tomorrow and ride away.

Before I go, I want to express my thanks to the many people who have offered well wishes and good fortune to me on the trip. I have enjoyed reading the comments on my posts sent to me by readers; even the angry ones.  My opinions on the topics might not have changed, but my points of view have been expanded.  I am especially grateful to my family and friends who have either supported the idea from the beginning, or come around when they realized I was not giving up on the dream and that I have actually thought this thing through.  There are still a few who think I am crazy and selfish and that there is no way I will make it all the way.  I may have to eat these words, but I will relish the thought of you watching the video I plan to shoot from the Arctic Circle after I get there. Nevertheless, I thank you for your inspiration.

June 18th - Departure Day
I'm off, folks.  Years of dreaming and eight months of planning have led to this.  By the time this entry posts, I should be on the road an hour or so.  Keep up with me by watching the map at the top of the page.  Barring any technical screw-ups, it should update my position every ten minutes or so. 
If You See This Guy, Honk & Wave

If I come across something interesting and I have cell coverage, I will post pics to the blog from my Android phone. Otherwise, look for the next written blog update from Denver tonight - unless I'm too tired to type.

Day 1
Dallas to Denver - 854 Miles
14 Hours Saddle Time

I made this same trip along this same route last July, so I pretty much knew what to expect in terms of traffic, terrain, and body fatigue.  The route is pretty flat and straight until I hit Raton Pass in New Mexico.  This is good because it takes a day for my body to acclimate to the long hours in the saddle and I’d rather that happen on easy terrain as opposed to on the Alcan or Dalton Highways.  Three stops to fill Hester’s tank (and one to empty mine) with a lunch at one stop and dinner here in Denver made for a pretty uneventful day.  Hester ran smooth and comfy all the way up and she's fueled and ready to roll again tomorrow. I'm staying at the same hotel I stayed in last year when I rode to Seattle. I even got the same ground floor room right near the parking lot where I can see Hester clearly.

It looks like the Spot satellite transponder has lived up to my expectations and updated my position. I'm keeping the updates I send to my subscribers to a minimum until I get into Canada and actually have something interesting to say.  I want to go to bed, but I need to download the video footage I collected today.  I'm pretty beat and probably won't review much of it.  I just need to ensure the camera memory cards are clear for tomorrow's ride.

My back feels pretty good.  I was worried I'd be miserable, but so far, so good.  A dip in the hotel jacuzzi will sure help.  I'm really glad I installed the highway pegs.  They offer another foot placement option, which is imperative on a fourteen hour ride.

Next stop: Great Falls, Montana; roughly 750 miles. Last year when I left Denver, I headed west through the mountains towards Boise and it was a breathtaking ride.  Tomorrow's route takes me straight north through Wyoming and up to the top of Montana.  I expect Wyoming will be about as exciting as watching paint dry. Still, I'm on a bike and that beats driving a cage any day, any place.
Nothing Invokes a Feeling of Warm Welcome Like Bullet Holes in a State Welcome Sign
Finally, Some Scenery

Day 2 - Denver to Great Falls, Montana
13 hours saddle time
756 miles today
1,610 miles total

I suppose the best I can say about today's ride is that it was an uneventful (albeit long) day in the saddle.  I'm sure there are more scenic routes than the concrete slabs I took to get here.  But while I'm outbound and still in the States, I'm just trying to get as far north as I can as soon as possible. Wyoming and Montana are two states in which I've never ridden, so I suppose that's an added bonus. I know; I'm reaching.  Denver to Billings was pretty dull and I spent the entire time dodging rain and hail.  The Billings to Great Falls leg was really cool.  The route was primarily two-lane split country roads with rolling hills and a mountain background.  I never got rained on too hard.  It was always just enough to make the roads slick and to keep me on my toes.  The skies were dark and ominous on three sides of me and I could see the dark streaks of rainfall in the distance ahead.  Every rider can relate to this: There always seemed to be a gap in the rain streaks ahead of me and I found myself hoping that somehow my route would take me through that gap.  I was fortunate to only get light sprinkles.  Navigating the terrain into Great Falls was especially enjoyable.  The turns were not so tight and twisty that I had to concentrate on them intently, but they were smooth and sweeping enough to keep me interested and enthused.

I stopped for lunch and gas in Sheridan, Wyoming. There, I ran into a family from Oklahoma.  Several hours later, I was gassing up again near Harlowtown, Montana and heard a young girl's voice say "hey mom, there's Mr. Shrug!"  They were also on their way to Great Falls.  They honked as they passed me while I was stopped to take the grain elevator pic and then again when we met up at a traffic light in Great Falls.

While stopped in Billings to don my rain suit, I parked Hester under a gas station awning next to a pair of Harleys; a Sportster and a Fat Bob.  The riders were kids.  By that, I mean compared to the average Harley rider, these guys were babies.  Most boys their age ride crotch rockets.  They came out of the station to say hello to me and marveled over the fact that I was way up here from Texas.  One was wearing a Steve Miller Band t-shirt.  That, and the bike he rode made me think he probably had really cool parents.  They watched me suiting up and asked if I was going to ride in the rain.  I told them I was heading to Alaska and that a little rain was probably nothing compared to what I potentially face on the way up.  I asked if they were local and they nodded.  I asked them why they were on bikes when this weather was threatening all day.  They both nodded their heads towards two cute young girls and smiled.  Ahh youth!

I'm spending another evening in a hotel tonight, cashing in more Hilton frequent guest points. I have something like moon rock status in the Hilton program and free nights are a nice reward for living out of a suitcase for 90% of the year. I find it ironic that the "reward" for living in a hotel is more nights in a hotel.  Nevertheless, I'm living out of a saddle roll tonight, which is quite different from what will be my typical Alaskapade accommodations.  A soft mattress, cable TV, a hot tub, and an Internet connection to upload this entry are all excellent benefits. Still, it's a hassle unloading the bike after a long ride because of theft concerns and then loading it back up again before dawn. To add to the frustration, nothing seems to fit back on the bike the way it came off. Every morning is a whole new packing experience.  I suspect my packing prowess will improve as the days pass.

While I was settling into my room, the phone rang.  It's common at Hilton hotels for the front desk to call after I check in and confirm that I'm happy with the accommodations.  I answered the phone and heard "Hi Scott, it's your favorite stalker".  Some friends from Oklahoma were tracking me on the map and called the hotel to reach me.  It was great to hear a friendly voice so far from home. It occurred to me that this trip might be resonating with people on a level I had not yet considered.
I'm still holding to my plan to dial down the pace once I hit Canada. I had planned on riding as far as Jasper, Alberta tomorrow to stay with a Harley Forums buddy who generously invited me to crash at his place for a night. Now, I've decided to stop somewhere near Canmore, Alberta and camp out for the first time on this trip.  Canmore lies on the southern edge of the Canadian Rockies and is said to offer some of the most scenic views in all of Alberta.  Stopping there will make for a shorter day of riding, which will give me time to find a spot to camp with some daylight left to set up and maybe see some local sites.  It will also give me more time to enjoy the ride through the mountains the next day and still see my friend in Jasper.

All that sounds great, but I have to clear Canadian customs first. I'm told it can be quite a hassle and the time I'll spend there is completely subject to the whim of the Customs agents at the Chief Mountain border crossing.  I plan on being at the gate at 7:00am when they open with my passport and a cooperative disposition. I'm leaving my TSA mindset at home.

Next stop:  Somewhere in Alberta, Canada.

Day 3 - Great Falls, Montana to Canmore, Alberta, Canada
415 Miles
2,025 Miles Total

Hester & Shrug at the Canadian Border
I’ve been on the road now for a few days and it’s finally starting to sink in.  I’m away.  I’m still much closer to home than I am to the Circle, but I’m out here and I’m finally making this happen. I’ve wanted to take this journey for years and just kept putting it off.  It took losing a friend to make me get off my ass to actually plan and execute the trip. This makes me wonder; why do we procrastinate with things like this when we know the good they could do for our soul?  We’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives.  We've all been to a funeral and heard someone say “why do we wait for tragedy to get together like this?”  I believe it’s a personal tragedy for all of us when we fail to find a way to get away.

Now that I’m in Canada, I plan to (try to) back off the throttle a bit and not concern myself with the clock, the calendar, and the odometer.  There are a few places I definitely want to see along the way and I suspect there are many more I don’t even know of yet.  The beauty of traveling alone is I can stop on a whim or just roll on through as I please.

Canadian Road Residents
The route out of Great Falls took me north on I-15 for a while before breaking off onto Hwy 89 and riding parallel to Glacier National Park. I strayed off 89 onto 17 and arrived at the Canadian border on Hwy 6 just south of Waterton, Alberta. I expected major hassles at the Chief Mountain border crossing.  After examining my passport, the Border Officer asked me if I had any weapons, mace, or plants.  I answered negative and he passed me through just like that.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The ride from Chief Mountain to Canmore was nothing short of breathtaking.  At only 415 miles, today's ride was a buzz around the block compared to the previous two days.  I would have arrived here sooner, but I kept stopping to take pics and pick my jaw up.  I can't wait to review my video footage and see what all I captured.  The roads were twisty, picturesque, and in great shape.  There was practically no traffic except for goats, cows, and horses who seem to prefer the road to the land on either side of it.  I stopped to don my rain gear (again) and although the skies were dark and threatening, I spent more time putting it on than I did in any real rain.  I stopped in the first bank my GPS found and exchanged currencies.  Having skipped breakfast, I was hungry and almost forgot that I needed Canadian dollars in order to buy lunch.

Hotel Hester - Canmore, Alberta
I arrived in Canmore and had to find a place to camp.  I learned last night that my previously planned accommodations for the night had fallen through.  I had originally planned to camp anyway, so the news wasn't a severe blow.  Besides, I had a low tech strategy to find the perfect spot.  I just looked for little blue street signs with camper icons on them to point me the way.  The first two places didn't allow tent camping.  I asked the lady behind the desk if she knew of any sites nearby that did and she coldly told me no.  Maybe she didn't like Texans, or maybe bikers.  Maybe she just didn't like me. Maybe all three.  The guy at the second place was cool and pointed me to a spot a couple of kilometers away.  I rode over and when I arrived, was greeted by a huge brown Labrador retriever.  This had to be the happiest dog on the planet.  He would have made a great spokesdog for Pet Prozac.  Once he saw I was friendly back to him, he grabbed some dogspit soaked rag of a toy, brought it to me, and began that game of "take it, no don't, take it, no don't".  It struck me at that moment that this was the most personal interaction I had experienced in three days. I'm not sure, but I think it made me miss home.  I set up my camp and headed out for a bite to eat.  Tim Hortons is apparently a popular place up here.  So far it is with me, because I ate at a Hortons for lunch near the border and again for dinner here in Canmore today.  Hortons is a win/win for me.  I can eat decent food and they have wi-fi, which is how I'm able to deliver this update.

1st Canadian Meal
Tomorrow, I ride another short day to Jasper to visit an acquaintance from the Harley Davidson Forums I frequent.  Several other riders have visited Hermann and his wife and I'm looking forward to meeting them in person.  I'll buzz around the Banff/Lake Louise area in the morning and then head north to Jasper.  From there, it's north by northwest to Alaska and up to the Arctic Circle.  I've logged over 2,000 miles in three days and I'm still as excited as I was on Friday.

Day 4 Canmore, Alberta to Jasper, Alberta
308 Miles
2,333 Miles Total

The View Outside From My Hotel Hester Suite
I had a rude awakening this morning.  It’s always annoying to have ones sleep disturbed by an unfamiliar noise, especially when falling asleep in a strange environment was so difficult in the first place.  In this case, the annoying noise was my teeth chattering.  I drifted off to sleep in t-shirt weather and awoke wishing I had the Batman pajamas with the feet in them I wore as a kid.  I’ve written repeatedly that I was sure I overlooked something, despite all my tedious planning.  This morning I realized what it was.  A BLANKET!  My sleeping bag is rated at -5 degrees and I know the temperature was nowhere near that low, but my entire body was shivering nonetheless and my teeth followed suit.  I’ll stop today in some town and pick up a hefty blanket.  I’m fortunate to have nicer accommodations tonight, staying in the home of a fellow rider.

I set my phone’s alarm for 6:00am, but had been wide awake for at least an hour when it went off.  I needed to pee, bad!  But it was cold out and I wanted to maintain what little warmth I had.  Now I know how my old dog Zeus feels when I force him to go outside in the morning.  At least I could let myself back in and didn’t have to stare back at the door hoping whomever let me out didn’t leave me out there to freeze.  But I digress…

Hester & The Canadian Rockies
I slowly, methodically packed up camp and loaded Hester down.  As I looked her over, her rear tire had (and still has) me concerned.  I’ve already purchased new tires in Alaska.  I just hope this one holds out until I get there.  I rode across the street and fueled Hester up with 92 octane gas and myself with an apple left over from my hotel in Denver and a Monster Energy Absolute Zero energy drink.  Breakfast of champions!  I had all day to get four hours away, so today was going to be a touring day.  I planned to ride through Banff and check out Lake Louise to see for myself what all the hoopla was about and to see if it lived up to the hype.  I loaded up a play list of my favorite tunes by RUSH, cranked the stereo up, and descended into a mental state that only a biker understands.  The ride to Lake Louise was nothing short of amazing.  I heeded the advice of a local rider and took the scenic 1A highway instead of Hwy 1 and I’m really glad I did.  As I rode northward through Banff National Park, I was torn between two distinctly different urges.  One is that primal craving which exists in every biker, to rage through the seemingly endless climbing and descending curves.  The other is the desire to slow the pace in a vain attempt to completely capture a glance at the constant display of towering mountains and jagged cliff ridges on either side of the road.  The roads were well maintained and provided a safe surface on which to satiate that first desire.  But in the end, the scenery won out.  I found myself setting the cruise control to whatever the speed limits were and pulling Hester over to let the cagers by whenever they closed in on me from behind. 

Taking It All In at Lake Louise
Lake Louise was absolutely breathtaking.  Photos don’t do it justice.  The park was awash with Asian tourists.  I haven’t been surrounded by this many Asians since I was in defensive driving class.  Even though the place was bustling with thousands of tourists, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of tranquility just staring out at the indescribably blue/green, glass-smooth lake which was surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  I thought to myself, I’ll come back here someday.  I had arrived at the park early in the morning and quickly parked in one of the many available spaces.  As usual, I parked to one side of my space; leaving room for another biker should the spaces become scarce while I was on the lake.  I returned to find cars and campers idling all over the lot, the drivers looking for what had apparently become very elusive parking spaces.  I was followed by a slow-moving line of cars and I could tell the drivers were waiting for me to stop at a spot so they could grab it.  Ever the immature asshole, I stopped at one car and fumbled for my keys for a second.  The car that was stalking me abruptly stopped and a group of Asian people started getting out and unloading.  I then walked between the two cars and on to the next row.  “Kuso!” (shit) was all I heard from behind as I walked off quickly and fought to control a grin.  I didn’t need to look back to feel their piercing stare on me.  After a few more rows and a few more pissed off drivers, either the thrill played out or I grew up (I’m pretty sure I'm still an asshole though) and I made a beeline for Hester.  When I got back to her, there were two other bikes parked in our slot.  The scene in the parking lot was nothing compared to the scene on the narrow meandering road to the parking lot from Hwy 1A.  The winding line of cars and campers stretched out for a half mile or better.  If these people were all waiting for a parking spot, they would probably get to see a great night view of the lake.

Heart Attack in a Bun
Hester Entertains The Tourists
I made my way back onto the main highway toward Jasper, ever aware that I could arrive far too early for my hosts.  I was starving and decided to stop for lunch.  My GPS indicated the nearest place was about 70 miles behind me.  It occurred to me that the fine programmers at Garmin might not be aware of all the mom and pop dining spots in the Banff area.  I was right.  I stopped at a place called The Crossing, which had a souvenir shop, really expensive gas (glad I didn’t need any), camping supplies (but no blankets) and a cafeteria.  There, I ate the most expensive and equally decadent hot dog I’ve ever seen.  “The Filthy Rabbi” had smoked sausage split wide open and stuffed with pulled pork and thick-sliced peppered bacon.  It was topped off with caramelized onions and cole slaw.  I suppose adding the veggies made it healthy.  Realistically, this option was no less unhealthy than the other meals they offered and at $15 Canadian; it was one of the less expensive.  Besides, it came with a coupon for one free jolt from the Crossing’s defibrillator.  It was every ounce as delicious as it was bad for me.  I know I’ll pay for eating it.  When I left the Crossing, there was a group of Asian tourists taking turns posing with Hester.  One of them (who looked as if she stole her clothes from the wardrobe closet from the old Laugh In TV show) was holding my helmet.  I paused briefly and considered the possibility that these could have been the same Asian tourists that I pissed off in the parking lot a couple of hours earlier.  I decided to just roll with it and wound up posing for a dozen photos with them.
Roadside River in the Banff National Park

The rest of the ride to Jasper was equally pleasant, albeit uneventful.  I got to meet Hermann, his wife Joanne, and her parents who were visiting from Quebec.  Hermann designed and built this amazing home in the woods near Hinton, Alberta only minutes from HWY 40 - the scenic route to Alaska.  I can't do it justice with a description here.  All I can say is the man is an artist with wood.  Joanne made an excellent home-cooked dinner and Hermann and I went out for a short ride to fill our tanks. The next gas station is about 175 kilometers away.  Hermann advised me to fill up in Canmore because the fuel in Banff and beyond was low octane and very expensive.  I arrived at Hermann's place with very little fuel left and didn't want to sweat it when I departed in the morning, so another short ride was welcome.  Hermann and Joanne have a book that other riders sign when they visit.  They genuinely enjoy hosting friendly riders and it shows in their hospitality.

I played today and only rode about 300 miles.  I took the time to stop and take the pictures (there were no roses to smell) and to shoot plenty of helmet cam video.  A week ago, I wouldn't have had the patience to stop.  I think the spirit of this adventure is finally sinking in and manifesting itself in a calmer, less-rushed me.  Tomorrow, I hit the road bound for Alaska.  I plan to wind up somewhere between Dawson Creek and Whitehorse.  The Alaskapade adventure rolls on...

Where the Hell Have I been?

Seems a silly question given the map above, but I've had dozens of emails, texts, and voice mails asking me that very question.  The truth is, I've ridden over 900 miles in each of the last two days and that didn't leave much time to write.  I can simultaneously ride, take pics, shoot video, and program the GPS - all while vigilantly looking out for wildlife straying onto the roads.  But I can't do all that and type.  I’ve been writing when I can. I just need to review the entries, add pics, and post.  I know I have a great deal of catching up to do and I hope my memory can do the scenery and the experience justice.

I haven't seen any of them yet. 

June 22nd - Jasper/Hinton, Alberta - Watson Lake, Yukon Territory
912 Miles
15 Hours Saddle Time

Hermann & Joanne

I left Hermann and Joanne's place in Hinton, Alberta around 8:00am and headed north with neither an agenda nor a distance in mind.  I planned to just ride until I felt like stopping.  My goal once I hit Canada was to roll back the throttle and enjoy the ride.  I knew Dawson Creek was only 250 miles away and since that was the start of the ALCAN (Alaska-Canada Highway), I wanted to be sure to stop there for a photo.  I figured that would also be a good spot to stop to buy a blanket!  The extreme mountains and cliffs that had been the backdrop for my ride into Canada and up to Hermann's place had subsided into rolling hills and vibrant green meadows which were scattered with a variety of livestock.  Looking side to side, it reminded me of the Microsoft Windows log-in screen.  I could almost hear that stupid Microsoft sound.  The mountains maintained their presence in the distant horizon, but they were secondary to the meadows on either side of the highway.  The hours flew by like minutes and the miles like meters.  I hate to sound cliche here, but with no other way to describe it, I'll say that Hester and I were like one entity.  When I left Dallas, the bike's handling was strange because of the high center of gravity and the load I was carrying.  I tried to keep heavy stuff like tools and spare gas low in the saddle bags, but even as light as I packed, it took me a couple of days to get accustomed to the different feel.  By the time I hit Dawson Creek, the odd feeling subsided and the handling was effortless.  All I had to do was look where I wanted to go and Hester took me there. 

The Famous ALCAN Sign at Mile 0

Navigating the ALCAN traffic circle was a moment of significance to me.  The sign said it all.  I was really, finally on my way to Alaska.  I was also starving because in my haste to get on the road, I foolishly declined Hermann's offer for breakfast.  I hopped off the bike and snapped Hester's photo at the ALCAN sign and decided to look for a bite to eat.  I had hoped to find something relatively healthy.  When I took off again, I had to pee so bad I thought I'd burst.  I was squirming like a five year old and trying to keep Hester vertical while I searched for a place, ANY place to stop.  I pulled into a KFC and literally did the potty dance while I disconnected the USB wires that tethered me to Hester.  I burst through the doors in the middle of their lunch rush, still wearing my helmet and goggles and with my leather jacket zipped, bolted past the people in line straight to the hallway with the bathroom sign.  If the men's room door was locked, I would use the ladies.  If it was locked too, I figured my chaps would hide my pee-stained pants. The men's room was locked, so I swallowed my pride and tried the ladies.  It was open and I tap danced though the door, locking it behind me.  Relief was only seconds away.  All I had to do was shed my gloves, and work my way past the buckle on my chaps, unzip my jeans, dig around to find the waistband of my Under Armor full-length pants, and then dig through the flap in my underwear to try to find my dick. Sounds simple enough, but the light in the ladies room was out and I was still wearing my goggles.  At this point, the potty dance had swung into full-on Jack Lalanne calisthenics mode.  I looked like a blind, poorly-dressed, epileptic cat on an electrified floor.  I found what I was looking for and managed to not stain my pants.   Relieved and re-dressed, I opened the bathroom door and found the KFC manager staring at me.  “The washrooms are for paying customers only. And this ones for the ladies” he said.  I replied that it was an emergency and that I planned to buy lunch there.  Short of McDonald's, KFC was the last place I wanted to eat.  But I felt obligated at this point and figured I could order something grilled.  I washed down something they called chicken with a slice of lettuce on a bun.  I remember it was brown, but that’s about the most remarkable part of it.  My usual diet on road trips is beef jerky and Monster Energy, so I suppose this was no worse.  I walked out of the KFC much more casually than I entered, mounted up and headed north.

Belly full, bladder empty, I thought a moment about the trip so far.  It occurred to me that I still had yet to see them; any of them.

Hester at the British Columbia Border
I had been listening to “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, a great (albeit long) story about 12th century cathedral builders in England. I'm fascinated by history and love history-based literature.  When I came to the end of a chapter or when I just couldn’t stand being read to anymore, I switched my GPS to play tunes from the playlists I had created in the weeks before I left home.  Yesterday, I listened to “The Who – Live at Leeds”. That was some pretty blistering stuff for its day.  Today was Led Zeppelin day.  I’ve always been a Zeppelin fan and considered John Bonham among my top three drummers. Bonham’s timpani instructor Joy Gentile taught my drum instructor, so the Bonham influence manifested itself in my playing. Bonham’s ability to hold back the tempo of music that wanted to run away was amazing and his knack for playing as little as possible, yet seemingly creating more sound always fascinated me. But I digress…  I’ve always had several favorite Zeppelin tunes, but had never listened to their entire discography.  I knew I would have plenty of time on the Alaskapade, so I loaded up every album and planned to listen to them in order of their release.  There were amazing tunes I’ve never heard before.  There was also a lot of crap.  With the exception of “The Immigrant Song”  (my favorite on-ramp tune) Led Zeppelin III really sucked.  I made mental notes of the songs I want to add to my regular playlists and promptly forgot them all.

Hat Collection at Toad's River Ranch
The meadows gave way to the mountains again and looking at the path before me displayed on my GPS, I knew I was in for a great ride.  I kept a close eye on my fuel gauge as I motored through the canyons and sweeping turns.  When you’re outside the towns (which is most of the time), the gas stations seem to open and close whenever they feel like it. After a while, I saw a sign for a landmark I had been told to look out for.  Toad’s River Ranch is famous for its collection of over 4,000 hats left there by visitors over the years.  It occurred to me that I didn't bring a hat to leave.  I had Marty's cap, but that was saved for the Arctic Circle.  I pulled in and figured this was a good place for dinner.  After standing for almost ten minutes, I realized the poor girl serving some guests was also the cook, waitress, hostess, and cashier.  I snapped a photo of the hats, noting the count update written on a dry erase board and split. A couple of miles from Toad’s, I glanced back at my fuel gauge again and decided to turn around and head back there to fill up.  I’m glad I did because as it turned out, there were no open stations on the road for hours.  The fuel through much of Canada is low octane and Hester's mileage suffers as a result.  I keep a gallon of gas in my saddle bag, but haven’t had to use it yet.  Even with that reserve can, I try to not let Hester’s tank drop below ¼ full.

Hester Entering the Yukon Territory
As the roads wound on, I was increasingly wound up.  Every turn made me eager to get to the next to see what was beyond it. For hours on end, I was dodging moose, elk, sheep, goats (and all of their droppings), fallen rocks, potholes, and slow-moving tourists pulling rental trailers.  As much as Hester had become an extension of me, the winding Canadian road and all of its hazards had become an extension of Hester.  She effortlessly navigated the curves and hills and I was just along for the ride.

And what a ride it was.  I had been on the road over twelve hours and felt as fresh as I did when I left Hermann’s.  Before I knew it, I needed gas again and much to my surprise, it was 11:00pm.  The sun doesn’t set up here this time of year.  It just goes from dusk to dawn without any real nightfall.  I rode into Watson Lake and decided to look for a place to camp.  Watson Lake was a mainstay for US Army Corps of Engineers soldiers working on the ALCAN during World War II.  One of the soldiers erected a pole with a sign indicating the distance to his home.  Shortly thereafter, more and more signs were added.  Today, the Signpost Forest has hundreds of poles with thousands of signs from cities and towns all over the world. I stopped to take a photo and got a glance of some of the derelict-looking locals who were staring me down intently.  They seemed to be everywhere.  It was like a scene from Dawn of the Dead, only this was dusk.  I decided this might not be the best place to camp after all and looked for gas.  The stations were all closed for the night and none of their pumps took credit cards after hours. I was hungry and tired and I had too little gas to try to ride further.  I was stuck in zombie land.  As I pondered my options, it struck me again that I still hadn’t seen any of them.  I was beginning to wonder if I ever would.
Signpost Forest - Watson Lake, YT  - 11:00pm
I remembered that as I was riding in, I had noticed a small gathering of camper trailers about five miles before entering Watson Lake. I decided to ride back to them and try to find a place to pitch my tent.  I coasted in, trying to avoid waking anyone and found a spot off the pavement that was shielded from the road by a couple of motor coaches, but still had a direct view of Hester from the spot I would pitch my tent.  I unloaded only the essentials (which included my new blanket) and quickly yet quietly set up camp.  I was still awestruck by the fact that it was almost midnight and still light out. I had ridden 912 miles across varying degrees of terrain.  I stretched out under my new blanket in my sleeping bag and was out before I could count to ten.  

Day 6 - Watson Lake, YT - Fairbanks, AK
906 Miles - 17 Hours Saddle Time

Waking up in Watson Lake was strange. It was one of those nights where you blink your eyes and six hours have passed.  The light outside my tent was as bright as it was when I fell asleep.  For all I knew, it could have have only been six seconds.  I suppose I slept dead still, never moving because my body was stiff as a board and every joint popped as I laid in my sleeping bag and went through my awakening stretch and yawn routine.  The snap crackle pop from my bones reminded me of the more rude awakening I experienced back in Canmore.  It occurred to me then that my new blanket did its job well.  Money well spent.

I unzipped my tent and peeked out to see Hester, still there, still covered.  The derelicts from town didn't find us.  I uncovered her and turned on some music.  My Sirius satellite had no service.  I thought that was rather odd and then realized that I was pretty far north and switched to mp3 tunes stored on my Garmin GPS.  I was in a pretty mellow mood, so I played from my massage music collection.  This stuff is like musical Quaaludes and it set my mind up to be able to think about today's ride.  In the brief seconds before I fell asleep last night, I decided that I would ride all the way to Fairbanks today.  It would be another fifteen hour day with over 900 miles to cover, but I proved to myself yesterday that I was capable of making a run like that and I figured today was no different.  Today would prove to be very, very different.

I wondered again if I would see them today.

The ride out of Watson Lake started with a fill-up at the only open station in town.  The woman behind the counter looked at me and the patches on my vest and asked "What's Shrug?"  She didn't strike me as the literary type, so I told her it was a road/nickname and she asked me why they called me that.  I shrugged my shoulders and replied "I donnow."  She didn't get it.  It occurred to me that I didn't look much like a literary type either.  I thought to myself about what life in Watson Lake must be like.  Her job in that store was her window to the outside world.  I live in a place where people go as a destination and I had a destination on this trip.  I'm not sure I could live in a place that was just a stopping spot for the rest of the world on their way to their destinations. I wasn't sticking around to find out.

As I buttoned Hester up and tightened my helmet strap, I saw one. It was just one solo, but I was sure it was one of them.  I got a little excited.

The Stop Before the Bridge
Christian From Brazil & Mustang Joe
The rider was on a BMW adventure touring bike.  This was the ultimate machine for a trip like the Alaskapade.  I could see myself on one of those beasts someday.  I followed the BMW from a distance, figuring he was a local and knew better where to risk speeding.  The Canadian speed limits are woefully slow, even in the most open and flat roads.  Driving this slow on highways in Texas would get you killed.  This rider was on the move and I sped up to catch him, but maintained a respectful and safe distance.  We were carving through the corners like a heated Shogun JP series knife through a stick of butter.  I followed him for miles and he eventually started pointing out road hazards as he passed them.  Doing that is a common courtesy among groups of riders.  We weren't a group, but his warnings were a sort of acknowledgement that I was there.  We came upon a park with a scenic lookout over a large suspension bridge that traversed some river, the name of which I can't recall.  I stopped to get Hester's pic there before crossing the bridge.  My anonymous companion rode on and waved as he disappeared over the hilltop.  I snapped a quick shot, crossed the river and pulled into the first gas station I saw.  Apparently, this was the only open station and the line of cars and  trucks was long.  I rode around a large trailer and saw my BMW riding buddy there in line.  I pulled in behind him and waved as I dismounted.  He said something to me that I couldn't quite understand, but I know I heard the word "coffee".  I just smiled and nodded.  He went into the store and returned with two cups of coffee, sipping from one and reaching out to me with the other.  "How cool is that?" I thought to myself. I thanked him for the coffee and offered him some money, which he refused.  I hate coffee.  I love the smell, I just never acquired the taste.  Nevertheless, I forced myself to drink it with a smile.  I introduced myself as Scott from Texas and he replied as Christian from Sao Paulo.  Holy shit!  He had been on the road for months and was heading to Prudhoe Bay.  We chatted briefly and took a photo.  As Christian and I talked, I glanced up and noticed two others. I was starting to see them more frequently now.  The closer I got, the more I would see. Christian noticed the graphic on my fairing and said questioningly, "Hester".  I replied that Harley calls the color of my Road Glide Scarlett Red and before I could explain the literary reference, he said in a thick French accent "Hester Prynne; very clever".  He was the first person to whom I didn't have to explain the correlation.  He pointed to a graphic on his fuel tank of a ferocious looking horse with the words "Mustang Joe" above its head.  His BMW model is the Mustang.  We had a laugh over the similarities of our situations and mounted up to ride on.  I had to ride with my helmet face mask opened to avoid smelling my own coffee breath.

I was confident now that I would see more of them.

Hester at Yukon HD
Christian pulled over and motioned for me to take the lead. I was still enjoying my Siamese relationship with Hester and confidently motored past Joe and into the lead.  We rode together until we reached the town of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory  whereupon Christian and Mustang Joe exited.  I looked in my mirror in time to see Christian waving goodbye and waved back.  I pulled into the Yukon Harley Davidson dealership to pick up a t-shirt and something to drink.  One can never have enough Harley t-shirts.  I asked the guy behind the counter if there was a Subway nearby in hopes that I could grab a quick salad.  He gave me directions which I completely forgot after one turn out of the parking lot.  I decided to just head north to Destruction Bay.  As I was mounting up, the guy came out and yelled to me "Hey! Are you Shrug?"  I answered in the affirmative and he said "You got a phone call."  I was perplexed, but I dismounted and went back into the store.  I laughed silently as I walked and wondered if it was my friends from Oklahoma who had called me at my Montana hotel.  "Hello?" I said into the phone receiver.  The voice on the other end had a thick accent.  The caller said he was from New Zealand and that he and his mates had been tracking me on line.  They switched the map to terrain view and then went to Google Earth ground view.  When he saw I was at a Harley dealer, he looked up the number and called.  "We just wanted to tell you that you had followers down under and that we're keeping an eye on you.  Ride safe and keep writing so we can keep living vicariously through your images and words."  I was floored, happy, and proud.  This trip was clearly resonating with many people.  I knew I had followers back home and a few others across the States, but I had no idea the breadth of readers that this journey had taken on.

I had read horror stories about the road to the Alaska state line from Destruction Bay. After completing that run, all I can say is it was aptly named.  The start of the run should have been a premonition of what was yet to come.  After topping off Hester's tank with more watered down, low octane gas, I came upon a road block.  This stretch of highway was under serious construction and vehicles had to be led through by a pilot truck.  I was the first to arrive and the woman with the flag said it would be about ten minutes before the pilot truck would be back.  The truck arrived and led us though a muddy swamp of a road with scattered ruts and potholes that could swallow a Volkswagen whole.  I probably logged ten extra miles just from meandering back and forth around the holes and ruts.  After about ten miles, the pilot truck waved me by and turned around to lead the southbound traffic.  I figured I was out of the woods, so to speak.  That was rough, but it wasn't that bad.

I figured wrong.  The next fifty miles were the worst I've ever encountered in a car or on a bike.  I was being bounced around like a ping pong ball dropped onto a field of loaded mouse traps.  There was no getting around the ruts, humps, dips, and holes.  They were everywhere.  I stopped and dismounted numerous times to manually scoop up rocks to fill in a gap just wide  enough to carefully navigate Hester over it.  There was no safe speed either.  Go too fast and you would hit a hole before you saw it.  Go to slow and you didn't have sufficient speed or inertia  to maintain vertical balance and forward motion.  I was on and off the throttle and clutch like a mad man.  It was both mentally and physically exhausting.  Figuring I was past the worst of it, I picked up speed and began to relax in the saddle a little.  Suddenly, I was launched into the air high enough to see the gap between the "road" and Hester in my shadow.  My front wheel hit the ground first and then my back wheel rolled into a huge pot hole. when it did, the rear end bounced so violently that I was literally bucked out of the seat and was doing a handstand over the bars.  I could actually see my reflection in the chrome of my console trim.  I had my helmet face guard closed and all I could see inside it in the reflection was a mask full of eyeballs.  I was going over the bars; I knew it.  In a flash, the Alaskapade would be over before it really even started. In a last-ditch panic effort, I twisted the throttle in an attempt to get Hester to lunge forward and pull me down. It worked. In a flash, I was face down between the handlebars with my stomach on the gas tank and my legs flailing behind me over my tour pack. I wrestled my legs free and pulled my knees forward, managing to slow Hester safely to a stop.  She tipped slightly to the left and rested on the highway peg which was mounted on the engine guard.  My heart was pounding and my hands gripped the handlebars like a boa constrictor around its prey.  My vision pulsed in pace with my heartbeat.  I quickly took stock of my situation.  There were no cars approaching me from the north, which was fortunate because I came to a stop in their lane.  The impact had popped both saddle bags open and my camping gear sack was laying in the road.  I scrambled to collect my gear and button up the saddle bags.  I stood Hester upright, pushed her to what would be the shoulder if this had been a real road, and paused to collect myself and wash out my pants as my heart rate settled.  The road continued like this for another couple of hours.  It was insane and somewhat maddening.  Thinking back on it, I'm not sure if the end result would have been any different had I been fresh on the bike as opposed to eight hours into the ride like I was.  I was just thankful it was over.  A sign said the US border was 30 km away.  Alaska was finally within reach.

Mecca to Bikers
That last 30 km was at least as bad as the previous 200.  This stretch of "road" was a no man's land where neither government appeared to have concern for its condition.  After my jaw dropping experience in Destruction Bay, I was riding very cautiously until I approached the US Customs facility.  I quickly passed through Customs and stopped for a brief celebration and a quick photo at the Alaska sign.

Finally, I saw them.  There they were. Groups of them.  All along the route I had been looking for the others.  Surely Alaska had called others like it had been calling me.  Could I really be the only one on the road who answered the call?  Thankfully, no.  From the Alaska welcoming sign all the way into Fairbanks, I saw bike after bike.  Groups of riders, some with trailers, some on trikes, but all with the same goal in mind.  It reminded me of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". In that movie, people were motivated, inspired, called to a location they had never seen.  Like myself, they overcame numerous obstacles, distances, and ridicule to get to a common place.  After thousands of miles and a week alone on the road, I felt like I was a part of something; something synergistic if you will.  I don't know these people and they don't know me.  But we silently acknowledged respect for each other and our common goal.  I felt great.  If I never reached the Arctic Circle, I could go home and feel great about my journey.  This feeling motivated me to stretch to make the final leg of the day's ride up to Fairbanks.  I had been out of touch for two days with no email or text messaging.  My Spot communicator had allowed me to send outbound status updates, but I couldn't receive anything and hadn't for two days.  I had an important message in response to my announcement that I had crossed into Alaska from a fellow rider named Jeff who lives in Alaska.  I just wasn't able to receive it.

The first town of any significance on the road into Alaska is Tok and honestly, it isn't very significant.  It did have an open gas station and cellular service.  I was kinda hungry too and began looking for a place to grab a quick bite.  It occurred to me that I hadn't eaten since lunch at KFC the day before.  Now I was starving. I spotted a restaurant that I had heard about called Fast Eddy's.  The parking lot was packed, so I figured the food might be decent.  I pulled in, dismounted, and wobbled into the restaurant foyer.  The place was packed with what appeared to be a well-dressed banquet crowd.  The restaurant held a few tables aside for what I assumed was the non-banquet crowd.  That crowd was me. A waitress approached and looked at me as if I was a ghost.  "We're closed except for the party" she told me.  I asked if I could use their restroom (without dancing this time) and she said I would have to go past the party crowd to get there and looked somewhat frightened at the possibility that I actually might.  It was a true Bob Seger "Turn The Page" moment.  It struck me that any other time, scooter trash like me would have been welcome at a place like Fast Eddy's.  I said it was no problem and headed back outside.  When I saddled up, I got a glimpse of myself in my mirror.  I did look like a ghost. My hair was a mess, my leathers were caked with sprinkles of dried mud, my face was grimy from the dusty, muddy roads, and I had a line of dried dirty blood running from my nose that was wind blown across my cheek and through my mustache. I wouldn't have wanted me there either; banquet or not.  I spotted a gas station across the street and motored over.  It was closed, but its pumps accepted credit cards after hours.  I had paid cash for every drop of gas on the trip this far for a couple of reasons.  First, I didn't want to deal with the exchange rate and credit card fees in Canada.  Second, paying cash forced me to get off the bike and interact with people, even if just for a few minutes. I filled Hester's tank, found a water valve to wash my face, and checked my phone.  I had a text message from Jeff, a fellow rider from Alaska.  Jeff had mentioned a few weeks before that he might be working in Fairbanks when I was in state and if so, I could crash on the pull-out bed in his corporate apartment.  The text confirmed that he was indeed in town.  I was awash with relief.  I love the long rides, but I have to admit that it's a bit unsettling when you have no idea where you will sleep.  I had resigned myself to just find a hotel in Fairbanks.  After the ride I had just had, I needed a decent bed.  Jeff's offer changed all that and I had a renewed sense of energy and spirit.  Fairbanks was only 300 more miles and the roads were in great shape.

No matter how tired I found myself, the scenery never got old.  The sights offer a great distraction from the sore butt, tired arms, and that intense burning that builds between the shoulder blades from being in one position too long.  I came upon a Prevost motor coach towing a Jeep.  As I was pondering how many gallons per mile the thing got, I noticed something odd about the Jeep.  It seemed to be swerving to the left and right almost as if it had a mind of its own and was peeking around the coach to try to pass.  Then I noticed the sparks.  A shower of bright orange sparks began shooting backward from underneath the Jeep.  The thought, "how cool is that?!" was quickly replaced by "HOLY SHIT!"  I pulled to the side and was shocked to see that the towing tongue was disconnected and was scraping the concrete and the friction created the spark shower.  The Jeep appeared to be connected solely by the electrical umbilical and the braided cable and hook that was attached to it to keep it from being stretched apart.  I revved the motor to pull aside the driver who sat way above me in the coach cockpit.  I waved frantically, honked, and revved the motor to get his attention.  I was in the left oncoming traffic lane and a car was approaching.  I darted into the shoulder of the oncoming lane and moved back over when the car passed by.  Getting a second glance, I could see the front end of the Jeep was smashed pretty good and the driver side headlight was shattered.  The driver finally acknowledged me and looked down at me angrily as if I was just complaining about trying to pass him.  I continued to wave and and point backwards and he finally trolled down his window.  "YOU'RE ABOUT TO LOSE YOUR JEEP!" I yelled.  He just looked at me.  "YOUR JEEP!"  Nothing.  Another car approached and again I darted into the left lane shoulder.  I swerved back over and yelled "STOP!" about the time the Jeep darted to the left and came into the driver's view from the side mirror.  He apparently got it now and waved at me as he slammed the brakes causing the Jeep to slam into the rear end of the coach.  I veered back into my lane and motored on, not bothering to see what the damage was.  All that excitement distracted me from the aches and hunger and before I knew it, I was in Fairbanks.  Jeff had texted me the address and I had programmed it into the GPS.  All I wanted was to find an open fast food restaurant and grab something to go.  The only open place I spotted was a Taco Bell drive through.  It would have to do. I ordered some sort of oversized ultra-mega burrito that looked like a dachshund rolled into a tortilla. As I motored up to Jeff who was standing in the parking lot I had a bag hanging from my handlebar and  the drink cup dangling from my mouth.  Jeff welcomed me, helped me unload and showed me to his place.  I was beat.  I had ridden 904 miles across countless mountain ranges, bridges, creeks, and valleys, doing handstands and saving wayward Jeeps.  I had been on the bike sixteen hours.

Jeff and I chatted for a bit and he told me that the Dalton had received some pretty serious rain, adding that I should not attempt to go up on Friday.  He also gave me web links for weather cameras mounted along the pipeline,  The rain had stopped and the forecast was favorable, but allowing the passages to dry would make for a much more enjoyable and safer ride on Saturday.  Honestly, I was too tired to try it the next day anyway.  The weather gave me a good excuse to be lazy.

I awakened with the stark realization that I was really in Alaska. I had ridden over 4,000 miles in six days.  I sprang off the couch and dressed.  A few weeks prior, I purchased new tires over the phone from the Harley Outpost in Fairbanks and needed to get them mounted.  Hester's original tires had over 18,000 miles on them and the center of the rear tire was completely slick.  It was so worn down that I couldn't set my center stand.  I motored over to the dealer and found it interesting that the only road in was a garbled mess of loose rocks and potholes.  Jeff and I laughed later that they sold $30,000 motorcycles to people and then expected them to ride across that crap on them. I said "nice road" to the service manager.  He replied, "you're heading up the Dalton, right?  I nodded.  "Consider it practice" he added without emotion.  I had just traversed the highway to Hell yesterday.  I couldn't see how the Dalton could possibly be any worse.

They found my tire order and worked me in.  It still took them over three hours, but as I sat in the waiting area near the service counter, I heard them telling callers they were booked solid and were taking appointments for the middle of next week.  I was glad they took care of me.  I had my brake pads changed too, since I had thousands of mountain miles still ahead of me in the days to come and the original set wouldn't have lasted to the next tire change.  The wait also gave me time to catch up on the blog a bit.

Hester at the North Pole
I left the dealership with Hester wearing her new shoes and motored over to North Pole, Alaska. I wanted Hester's picture next to the North Pole sign. The sign is on the other side of a wooden fence and on the fence is a hand written sign saying "PRIVATE PROPERTY" KEEP OUT".  Apparently, the land owner doesn't appreciate tourists climbing his fence to take photos on his land.  There was plenty of room for me to park Hester and get the photo that would prove to the world that I rode a motorcycle to the "North Pole".  As I set up my tripod, I could see a man staring intently at me from his porch.  I smiled and waved at him.  He didn't smile or wave back.  At North Pole, there is a store full of everything Christmas 365 days a year; enough to make my skin crawl.  Visitors can  send a post card from their store and it will be post marked from the North Pole.  I bought a card and addressed it to my granddaughter.  On it, I wrote:

Dear Brooke,
Place this card next to your stocking each Christmas and when I come to visit you, I'll know you thought of me.


She's only 18 months old now, but my motivation was that if her parents keep the card until she's old enough to start questioning Santa, they could show her the post mark and maybe buy another year of belief.

The Last Supper Before The Dalton
Jeff got off work shortly after I returned and we headed out for a steak dinner at a local brew pub.  It was the only real meal I had since visiting Hermann on Tuesday and it was excellent.  There was no place near the Harley Outpost to eat except for a strip club that offered a lunch buffet.  Eating Taco Bell was all the risk I wanted to take, so I skipped lunch.  I had grown accustomed to not eating anyway.

We talked about our work, families, and somehow the topic always came back to the Dalton.  Jeff has driven it may times and knew what to look for.  I took copious mental notes and laid awake for hours after dinner thinking about it.

Tomorrow would be the day.  I had dreamed of this for five years, planned for it, and almost obsessed over it for the last eight months.  Now, after all of that and a 4,000 mile journey, all I needed to do was wake up...

Day 8 - The Dalton Highway - Into the Arctic Circle
Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away. - unknown

I awakened and sprang off the couch like a kid leaping out of bed on Christmas morning. It was 6:00am Alaska time and the skies were clear and bright blue. In the grand scheme of things, this was just another days riding on another crappy road.  I kept trying to convince myself of that as I got dressed, but I never managed to.  I was stoked and like that kid at Christmas bolting to the tree to see what Santa left, I bolted out to Hester to see what Alaska had in store for me.  Hester's dirty appearance was misleading.  She was fully fueled and had fresh tires and brake pads.  She had run like a top on the entire trip.  I've ridden long and hard for a week straight and she's hung in there.  My Gold Wing riding friends can try to convince me of their machines' superior reliability after they make their trip to Alaska and back.   And BACK. Hmmm...I hope I don't have to eat those words.  I digress...

My friend Jeff let me leave some of my gear in his corporate apartment.  I unloaded my spare clothes and a few other items, taking only a few tools, some water, and my camping gear.  A lighter load could only make the ride easier.  I mounted up and headed north on the Elliott Highway.  The Dalton Highway begins about 70 miles north of Fairbanks near a town called Livengood.  I chuckled to myself when I considered that I was certainly livin' pretty good the last week.

The weather was perfect with a light breeze, crystal clear skies, and temperatures in the low 70's.  Still, I wore my chaps, a full leather jacket, and my Shark Evoline modular helmet.  I had been advised that the trucks on the Dalton are notorious for throwing rocks and other debris and I had come too far to take senseless chances.  I also knew that despite the extended daylight, the temperature up here still drops significantly during the late hours.  The Elliott Highway provided a nice primer for what was to come.  Fully paved with sweeping, banked turns, and surrounded nearby by trees and by mountains at a distance, the Elliott allowed me to settle in to a riding groove.  I was in the final chapters of my "Pillars of the Earth" audiobook and was anxious to reach the end of that adventure as well.  When it ended, I queued up my Rush playlist.  As the opening riffs of "The Spirit of Radio" blasted forth and echoed through the unsuspecting forest, I grabbed a handful of throttle, stretched my legs out on my highway pegs, took a deep breath, and rocketed north.

The Start of the Infamous Dalton Highway
The Elliott Highway gives way to the Dalton highway with no fanfare; not even an intersection.  There's just a sign.  I stopped there to put on my CB radio and an orange vest.  The truckers are notorious taking up the entire road  and I wanted a means of reaching them and to be as visible as possible.  I was advised to use channel 19 to announce my presence at blind turns and on the roller coaster hills.  The Midland radio I used was small and clipped to my vest.  It had an ear bud and a voice-activated throat mic. At one point, I forgot about the voice activation feature, but was promptly reminded of it by a trucker who had grown tired of hearing me sing along with Rush.

For some reason, I expected the road to turn to shit as soon as I was on the Dalton.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The first hour or so on the Dalton was as fast and smooth as the Elliott had been, although that would certainly change shortly.  Hazards abound on the Haul Road.  I saw more moose and sheep than anything.  It was common to come around a corner and find either a pile of rocks, an animal, or a pile left by the animal sitting there.  I  believe the most nerve racking part of the Dalton was the unknown.  I found myself holding such a death grip on the handlebars that my forearms went numb all the way to my elbows.  I had to force myself to relax and realize that Hester had this. I was finally there and it was all going to be alright.

Super Hero Action Figure Pose Shrug at the Alaska Pipeline
After a while the Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline came into a pretty regular view.  There are several cut-outs along the Dalton with maintenance access roads leading to the pipeline.  They're gated to keep vehicles out, but a person can just walk through them.  I've seen images and video footage of the pipeline, but nothing beats getting a first hand look.  Under construction  from 1974 to 1977, the pipeline spans 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez and crosses three major mountain ranges along the way.  Over 420 miles of the structure lies above ground on specially engineered flexible trestles.  I read that this is to prevent pipe temperatures warmed by the hot oil from melting the permafrost and wreaking environmental havoc in the Alaskan ecosystem.  
The Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline - An Engineering Marvel in Its Day

There are several sections that were constructed along known wildlife migration paths and as such, were built extra high to allow wildlife to pass under it. When the first oil production started flowing through the pipeline, it took three weeks for it to reach Valdez from Prudhoe Bay.  It was an engineering marvel, built under the harshest conditions, and was designed to last twenty years.  When I considered the fact that it's 34 years old now, I wondered briefly how well it's holding up.  This pipeline is a testament to how man can engineer and oversee a solution which can exist in harmony with nature and still serve the purpose for which it was designed; even with 1970's technology.  It really negates the eco-Nazi argument that we can't safely extract oil from the ANWR.

Eventually, the road winded down to the mighty Yukon river and the famous 1/2 mile long bridge that traverses it. I motored slowly across the wooden planks and took in as much of the scenery as I could.  I was awestruck by the structure and by the river it spanned.  I stared at it in my mirrors as I made a sweeping left hand corner and was so distracted by the sight that I unknowingly rode right past the only available fuel stop for the the next 180 miles.

Wayward Vagrant Loitering at the Hot Spot Cafe
Hot Spot Cafe Dining Room
Before I knew it, I saw a sign for the Hot Spot Cafe.  I had read about the Hot Spot and knew that I wanted to stop there.  You can't say you did the Dalton if you don't stop at the Hot Spot Cafe.  I rode up and saw that Hester was the only vehicle there; well, the only running vehicle.  The place was run by a thin,  pale-skinned woman wearing a turban and who had no eyebrows.  She was congenial, but spoke with the raspy voice of a chain smoker. One might think that a person living in this tiny box in the middle of nowhere might be excited to see somebody - ANYBODY.  One would think otherwise after a visit to the Hot Spot.  Lack of congeniality notwithstanding, the woman cooked a great burger.  The Hot Spot also offers a plethora of souvenirs ranging from shirts, bottle coozies, and even a book titled "Sex in a Tent".  I was curious, but didn't look.  I had the tent, but lacked a partner.  I could have spent hours just wandering around the place looking at all the crap laying around.  I reminded myself that I had an agenda and needed to gas up and head further north.  I asked where the gas pumps were and the woman just stared back at me with that "really" look.  It was then that I learned that I had motored past the last fuel stop before Coldfoot a few miles back at the Yukon River Bridge.  I did the math. I had just over a half tank of gas and I carried a spare one gallon can in my right saddle bag.  I knew that five gallons at 40 miles per should get me to Coldfoot.  I was petty sure I could make it. Then, I considered the fact that the gas up here is low 87 octane and remembered that Hester's mileage drops considerably on low octane fuel.  The bridge was only about four miles away.  Common sense got the best of me and I decided to backtrack to the bridge for fuel.  I was in no hurry and I had plenty of daylight.  Better safe than sorry; especially out here.  I paid for my lunch and as I was mounting up, was asked by a trucker who had stopped in "You going up or down?".  I replied that I was going up, to which he replied "On THAT? You're outta your mind".  I thought for a second and replied "If I were going down, then I would have already made it up...on THIS; so what's your point?"  Apparently, he didn't have a point because he didn't answer.
Sign Outside Hot Spot Bathroom
Sign Inside Hot Spot Bathroom

Yukon River Bridge Gas Stop

I rode off and backtracked the three or four miles to to the Yukon River Bridge.  At $5.55 per gallon, gas there was the highest I've paid on the trip.  I filled Hester's tank and took off again knowing that my next stop would be at the Arctic Circle.  Shortly after the gas stop, I heard traffic on my CB radio.  I couldn't quite make it all out, but I did hear the words "roller coaster" in the transmission.  Before I knew it, I was at the roller coaster hill.  This was the steepest, tallest, and treacherously unpaved crap pile of terrain I've ever ridden.  As you approach it and start the descent, it's just like a roller coaster in that you can't see beyond the downward bend to view the road all the way to the bottom.  I found myself standing on the foot boards in a failed attempt to see the bottom.  I spoke up "Motorcycle northbound into the roller coaster" hoping my CB transmission would be received by any vehicles heading my way.  To my surprise, I got an answer.  A state worker in a pilot vehicle was sitting at the top of the other side of the hill waiting on the trailer she was escorting to arrive.  "You're clear, but don't stop in the bottom" was all I heard.  I blasted into the depth and yelled "Woooo hoooooo!!!" all the way down.  "Kinda fun isn't it?"  I heard in my earpiece. Shit!  I forgot about the throat mic again.  I grabbed a handful of throttle and raced back up the other side fighting to stay vertical as both wheels slid along the gravel.  The ascent out wasn't as steep as the descent was, but I was well aware that it would be on my way back down to Fairbanks on my return trip.  Other super steep hills followed, but they paled by comparison to that first one.  The next interesting corner was an off camber steep uphill climb on a gravel covered surface.  The challenge was to maintain enough speed to climb the hill, but not go so fast as to lose traction in the loose gravel. Add the off camber aspect to the mix and you'll understand why they call one of these spots "Oh Shit Corner".
This Sign is NOT Photoshopped

I rode on through the multitude of terrain and surface changes.  It's strange; the Dalton has many stretches of perfectly maintained two lane highway.  Then, it instantly changes to loose gravel over almost impossible to see (until it's too late) ruts and potholes.  There were stretches of dirt that were under construction and had been groomed by road graders.  The grooves forced me to ride fast in order to stay vertical.  Both the front and back wheels were fishtailing wildly.  All I could do was hang on, stay alert for holes and rocks, and hope my inertia carried me through. I was reminded of the road from Destruction Bay a few days prior, but at least the Dalton was dry.

Another hazard of the Dalton Highway is the truckers.  They transport everything from oil to heavy machinery between Deadhorse and the rest of the world.  When a truck passed by in the opposite direction, it wasn't so bad if I happened to be on one of the few paved surface sections.  But when they approached and passed me in the sloppy mess that was the Dalton, it's all I could do to hang on and maintain control.  I learned quickly to approach the top of every blind hill  from the far right because if a truck was approaching, they would undoubtedly be smack dab in the middle of the road, if not in my lane.  The Dalton is there for the truckers and for the most part, the truckers see motorcycles as a nuisance.

About two miles from the Arctic Circle turnout, I came upon two Honda Gold Wing trikes parked on what there was of a shoulder.  One of them was missing a rear wheel.  The driver had hit a pothole that ripped the wheel right off the axle.  I pulled over and asked if they had been able to reach help.  They had not.  I tried my CB radio; nothing.  So I used my Spot Connect to send a message to their emergency contact.  It took a few minutes and I had no way to know if they received it, but judging from the responses I've received from the other messages I've sent to the Alaskapade readers, I felt confident that someone would know.  I left them a liter of water and headed on up the Dalton.

"Your Dream" Next Exit
I knew it was only two miles to the Circle.  My heart was pounding and even under my leather, I could feel the hairs on my arms and neck bristling like a Rhodesian Ridgeback who just heard a strange noise in the middle of the night. Then I saw the sign.  I slowed to a stop, snapped a quick picture, and then drew a large breath.  The turnout was another off camber, uphill chunky gravel road that curved to the left.  I rounded the corner and about 1/4 mile later saw it.  Five years of dreaming, eight months of planning, and 4,300 miles had all come to this.  I rode into the gravel lot, dismounted and literally ran up to the sign and slapped it with both hands.  I couldn't believe I was really there.  I felt a sense of accomplishment like never before.  I haven't felt so happy since my sons were born.  I have to admit that it was a pretty emotional experience.  I thought of the people who told me I shouldn't do this; I couldn't do this; I wouldn't do this. I thought of Jeff who gave me a comfortable place to sleep and a base to ride from in Alaska, of Hermann and Joanne's hospitality back in Jasper, and of Jim from Harley Davidson Forums who gave me so much advice from his experience.  But mostly I thought of my friend Martin.

Tired, Worn, Ugly, & Beaten (But Not Down) Rider
Marty and I worked together years ago and we both bought our Harleys about the same time.  We were pretty much the same age and were in similar places in our lives.  We both had grown kids, a little money and time to actually try to pull something like this off.  We talked about this trip several times and every year something came up.  Life always got in the way.  I remembered how I was stunned when I learned about his untimely death and how I decided after his funeral that I  was going and nothing was going to stop me.  We had let life get in the way until death took his dream away.  I remembered telling his widow that I was going and wanted to bring something of Marty's with me.  Then I remembered his hat that she sent me.  I put it on and just sat back for a while taking it all in.

While I sat, a tourist bus drove in and unloaded a small crowd of people.  The driver took a piece of carpet with  dotted line on it and laid it in front of the sign and the passengers walked "across the Arctic Circle line" and took pictures.  It was kinda hokey, but I enjoyed seeing the people having a good time.  I had allowed myself to get a bit bummed out thinking about Martin, so joking with the tourists was fun.  One old lady asked the driver "How did that motorcycle get up here?"  An old man came up to me, said he was a retired EMS worker, and then proceeded to tell me about all the motorcycle fatalities he worked over the years.  One couple from the bus wearing black leather jackets seemed to be holding back and didn't pose for any photos.  The guy of the couple was carrying a duffel bag and they seemed to be waiting for the rest of the crowd to finish.  While the driver was serving ice cream to the other passengers, the guy opened the bag and extracted two sets of chaps, goggles and doo rags.  They both donned the gear and stood for a photo in front of the sign looking as if they actually rode up there.  While sitting on Hester across the gravel lot from them, I couldn't contain myself and yelled out "You want a real bike to pose in front of?" No response.

After a few minutes, the bus departed and I was once again left alone with Hester and my thoughts.  I took Martin's hat and placed it atop one of the posts on the Arctic Circle sign.  Then, I set up a tripod and took a few pictures.  I had accomplished all I planned.  I made it to the Circle and I kept my promise to Martin's widow to bring something of his with me. Still, I couldn't bring myself to leave.  I just moved Hester across the parking lot again and hung out there a while.
Hester, the Prize, & Marty's Hat

No Caption Needed

Christian & Shrug - Reunited at Coldfoot Camp
After an hour or so, I decided to take off.  I was happy and my heart was full.  I was also a hell of a long way from home! I rode back down the hill to the Dalton and had to make a decision.  Do I turn right and try to go to Deadhorse or should I turn left and just go back to Fairbanks?  I turned right.  The way I saw it, I would never be here again and this was most likely my only chance to go that far north.  I headed north another 60 miles to Coldfoot Camp and pulled in for gas. I parked in front of the restaurant and was excited to see Christian and Mustang Joe. He was on his way back down from Deadhorse.  He told me it was very cold, but the roads were not too much worse.  It was only 200 miles further and I was convinced I could make it.  Christian and I ate dinner and talked to the others visiting.  I met people from Texas and a doctor who is a physician at a hospital in Chicago where I designed and deployed a wireless network.  Desolate places like Coldfoot can still make the world seem small.  I was getting ready to leave when a few trucks drove in and emptied out a bunch of oil workers from Prudhoe Bay.  They were heading south because the weather on the north slope was turning.  They all advised that I not try to make it because it would be too cold and wet to camp and there were typically no hotel rooms available when the weather is bad.

My decision had been made for me.  I was heading south.  Christian and I rode the route together and took turns leading.  The ride back was more relaxing than the ride up.  I suppose that was because I knew what to expect.  Maybe I was more relaxed with the tension of making it to the Circle behind me.  About halfway back to Fairbanks, we passed a tow truck with the broken Honda trike loaded on its flat bed.  I thought to myself, there's an expensive tow.

As I sat up there, i was amazed at the enormous expanse of nothing out there was; miles and miles of land, trees, streams, and mountains; all unspoiled by human “improvement”.  I believe as the years pass, it's easy to grow full of ourselves and marvel at our own accomplishments, abilities, and our possessions. I gotta tell you though, those things quickly become less significant out there.  A ride like this through this sort of majestic scenery does many things to a man.  It makes your butt sore.  It makes your hands go numb. Some of the road conditions will make the fillings in your teeth rattle.  Still, the most profound effect on me was the sense of humility and insignificance I felt in the presence of all I could see.  These mountains were here eons before I rode by them and they will be for eons after I go home. And regardless of what I might think of myself, I know my affect on them is nothing.  I know also that their affect on me will last a lifetime. 

And So Begins The Long Ride Home

I arrived back in Fairbanks around 10:30pm.  The ride in was relaxed; almost solemn. Suddenly, the most important event in my life, the focus of most of my attention and energy, and almost the very reason for my being over the last eight months - was over.  I was exhausted.  I had been on the road for 18 hours.  I felt numb in parts of me I didn't know existed.  I was unloading Hester in the parking lot when my friend Jeff showed up to congratulate me.  As sore, tired, and completely spent as I was, I was also almost ecstatic.  Jeff and I talked about the ride for a bit before I went to bed.  While I laid there, I was torn between my body's begging me to let go and drift off and the unwillingness to allow the moment to end.  Some part of me rationalized that as long as I stayed awake, it wasn't over and that yielding to the euphoric exhaustion was to acknowledge the end of the very chain of events that created it. The exhaustion won and I slept like the dead.

I knew when I planned this trip that if I simply rode straight home after reaching the circle, I would dread the entire ride back.  So, I planned to make the return trip as interesting as possible with planned stops that would only add a few days to my itinerary.

I awakened at 4:30am with much less enthusiasm than I had when I departed on the Alaskapade and when I started my Circle run.  I was awake nevertheless and took a few moments to review my planned routes.  I had been relying heavily on my Garmin Zumo GPS and it had been very accurate, even along the Dalton. I knew that I would have to backtrack along my inward route almost as far as Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory.  I knew also that that route included the dreaded ride through Destruction Bay and Haynes Junction where I almost bit it on the way in.  Short of riding south to Anchorage and taking a ferry into British Columbia or the States, there was no alternative.  I had paid tremendous prices to plan and execute this journey.  This was just one more price to pay.  I am one of those people who at times will allow himself to dwell on the bad in things to the point that they will almost depress me.  That horrible road was all I could focus on and I found myself dreading the return trip because of that one stretch of terrain.  If there's a benefit to such stinking thinking, it's probably that the event which I dread so much usually never turns out to be as bad as my mind had convinced me that it was.  This was the case with the Destruction Bay ride.  Maybe it was because I had ridden it before and had an idea of what to expect.  Maybe it was because it hadn't rained and the surface was dry.  Maybe it was the fresh tires and brakes.  Maybe it was because I didn't have 600 miles under my butt immediately before I attempted it.  Maybe it just wasn't that bad in the first place.  No. Trust me; it was.  Whatever the reason, the southbound ride through Destruction Bay wasn't nearly as bad as my mind had psyched me out to believe it would be.  Don't get me wrong; It sucked big time and I never want to ride anything like that again; not on a Harley anyway.

Burwash Landing Welcome Center
The hell that is the road through Destruction Bay ends traveling southbound in the Yukon Territory at Burwash Landing on Kluane Lake.  Burwash Landing is little more than a sign and an abandoned airstrip in the grass.  Kluane Lake is an enormous, picturesque expanse covering over 150 square miles.  It's glass smooth and reflective surface provided Hester and I with a tranquil welcome from the pounding we had just taken on the Road from Destruction Bay.  It was almost as if the universe was offering me an olive branch as a reward for completing what was arguably the worst ride Hester and I had ever taken.  I would find out later that the universe was only kidding and the worst was yet to come.

Hester Enjoying Kluane Lake

I stopped aside the lake to rest a moment and to look Hester over for loose nuts and bolts.  I also adjusted and re-tied my gear.  Everything had slipped to one side and while it was tied down tightly and wasn't going to fall off, it made it difficult to ride vertical and it just looked stupid.  I noticed my right saddle bag was hanging low and upon examination, learned that the bolt attaching the mounting bracket to the frame had vibrated loose and was missing.  That was nothing a few zip ties couldn't fix.  Once back in the States, I could find a Home Depot and replace it.  Until then, I would just keep an eye on it.  I mounted up and motored on.  Once I hit Haynes Junction, I knew I was out of the woods.  The roads north of Haynes were under heavy construction and there were several stretches were vehicles had to be led by a pilot truck.  The waiting point was usually manned by a cute girl; much too cute to wear a hard hat and reflective vest and be standing out in the middle of nowhere with a stop sign on a pole.  They always waved motorcycles to the front of the line and they always asked where I had been.  When I replied "the Arctic Circle", the response was always "on that?!"  After negotiating all the construction zones, one's natural tendency is to speed up; not to make up time, but because you're tired of going so damn slow for hours on end.  This is the perfect place for cops to sit and rake in the dough from unsuspecting motorists like me.  I suppose the availability of officers is limited up there because the only cop car I saw was the infamous ALCAN fake police car made of painted wood.  From a distance, it looks real enough to fool most anyone and it certainly fooled me.  I laughed when I saw it on my way in and laughed even harder when it fooled me again on the way down.  I had to stop and get a pic.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Haynes Junction gave way to Whitehorse, which made for a good gas stop.  Getting gas in Canada was actually trickier than getting gas in Alaska.  My GPS had a listing of fuel stations along my route, but it was woefully inaccurate.  I learned on my way up that if I had less than half a tank of gas and saw an open station, that I had better stop and top off.  My general rule of thumb when traveling is to never buy gas at the first station that appears in a small town.  Their prices are usually higher because they snare all the suckers who are desperately low on fuel and have no choice but to stop there.  I had to remind myself that at only six gallons, a few pennies per liter was insignificant.  I didn't have to remind myself on the way down that in the remote parts of Canada, that first station might be the only station.  Even if there are stations, their schedules seem to be based on whenever the proprietor feels like being there.  Even though I stopped regularly, there were several times when my fuel gauge read empty and the miles remaining indicator dropped below ten miles and read "Lo".  I was carrying a spare gallon of gas in my saddle bag and the knowledge that it was there and the additional forty miles it afforded me offered a great deal of comfort. I was pondering the fact that I had not had to use it on Hester when I rode up on a BMW sitting alone on the opposite side of the road.  I saw its rider about three miles ahead of me and stopped.  He had run out of gas and was walking back to the nearest town near Teslin in the Yukon.  Teslin was only a couple of miles away.  I wondered why he didn't gas up there.  Maybe there was no gas.  Nevertheless, I unloaded some gear on the side of the road, took him back to his bike, and gave him my gallon of gas. He rode up to me as I was repacking Hester and I followed him to Teslin to make sure he got there.  He was on his way to Alaska also and had a thousand questions.  We talked a few minutes as he filled up and then took off to the north.  Even after all that, I debated topping off Hester's tank, but did so before I left.

At this point, I needed to start thinking about finding a place to sleep. I wasn't tired yet and I knew the sun wasn't going to go down this far north.  I looked at my odometer and considered the possibility of making this a 1,000 mile Iron Butt day.  On my way up, I rode over 900 miles two days in a row.  I was pretty beat after those days, but how much worse could another 100 miles be? I decided to find out and so that I wouldn't wimp out on myself, I sent a message from my Spot Connect telling the world of my plans.  Now, I was accountable and had to make it happen.  I had motivation, I had conditioning, and I had a case of 5-Hour energy shots.  I could do this.  The only potential obstacle that stood in my way was the availability of fuel.  My route would take me across Hwy 1 (the ALCAN) and would snake its way in and out of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory and across the Canadian Continental Divide before hitting highway 37 south towards Prince George.  If I couldn't do a thousand miles, I at least wanted to make it to the highway 37 junction.

Up to this point, the weather had been perfect.  It was cool enough to wear my leathers, but not really cold.  I had once again settled into that riding zone where man, machine, and road became extensions of each other.  That zone can be a difficult place to reach, but just like when I reached out and actually touched the Arctic Circle sign, once I got there, the feeling was worth every ounce of effort.  I had finished "The Pillars of the Earth" and "We The Living" audio books and by now was knee deep into listening to "Atlas Shrugged" again.  At 67 hours of unabridged audio, Atlas would probably carry me all the way home.  As I rode and listened, I couldn't help but notice the daunting clouds ahead of me.  Every serious rider knows that feeling one gets when the streaks of rain can be clearly recognized in the horizon.  You hope against hope that there's a clear path for you to ride through it, but you know you're going to get wet.  Just hours before at Kluane Lake, the skies had been an indescribable color of blue.  The magnificent display before me was of multidimensional clouds that were flat on bottom as if willingly yielding a view to the mountain peaks beneath them.  Above the clouds, the crystal clear horizon seemed to reach infinitely into space.  I felt like this might be what astronauts saw from above.  Like the an astronaut, I felt freed from gravity.  It was as if I had no origin and no destination.  I was just on the move and had this amazing view to infinity in front of me as a backdrop to wherever my destination might be.

But now, the clouds had closed their ranks and there was no more blue sky.  Occasionally a crack would appear and laser-like beams of sunlight would pierce through to the ground.  Such light would normally offer inspiration to the prospect of better weather ahead.  In this case, it served only as a reminder of just how bad the rest of the sky looked and perhaps as a warning of what was in store for me ahead.  I continued my east by southeast route toward highway 37, counting the miles as I rode.  I passed bears, moose, buffalo, bighorn sheep, and foxes along the route.  On the way up, I stopped and took photos.  This round, I was focused on missing any rain that I could and hitting my 1,000 mile Iron Butt goal. 

Eventually, mercifully, the ALCAN gave way to highway 37 south.  I was running low on gas again and it was after 9:00pm.  I had decided that if I didn't find an open gas station at the 37 intersection, I would ride the additional forty miles on to Watson Lake.  I knew there would be no open gas station there, but I knew also that I had enough fuel to get me to the camp site at which I stayed when I was riding up.  Watson Lake is not a friendly town and I felt a sense of threat there when I rode through the first time.  My camp site was about five miles past town, safely away from the derelicts I described in an earlier entry.  I figured that worst case, I could camp there again, get gas in the morning and backtrack to highway 37 south.  Hester's luck held and I found an open station at the ALCAN/37 intersection.  I pulled in as the owner was walking out and locking up.  The look of exhaustion and desperation on my face must have been sincere because his wife felt sorry for me and convinced him to let me in to buy gas.  I asked what was ahead of me on 37 and he said nothing for a couple of hundred kilometers.  I thanked them profusely for staying and selling me the gas and sat on Hester looking at my GPS and paper maps.  Highway 37 leads to the Cassiar Highway, which is said to be one of the most scenic routes in the Yukon.  Scenic or not, it was the route I had to take.  Recent severe rains in the area took out a bridge somewhere between Watson Lake and Dawson Creek.  37 south was my only route home.  As I sat looking over my maps, an old man who looked like a western gold prospector asked me where I was heading.  When I told him south on 37, he replied "Watch out for the shroomies.  They're out thick tonight".  I replied asking what a shroomie was.  The store owner said that mushrooms grow rapidly after hard rains and that groups of gypsy like people go out in droves to collect them.  He added that they are very territorial and are not to be messed with.  I didn't (and still don't) know if these mushrooms are the dope kind that get you high or if they're just food.  I didn't intend to find out.  I had an agenda.  In about 100 miles, I would hit my 1,000 mark and then I could find a place to stop and sleep.

I headed south on 37 as the rain started pouring pretty heavy again.  I noticed a tent on the side of the road with a sign on it that read "I BUY MUSHROOMS".  I thought to myself that maybe the shroomies were just an odd looking arm of legitimate commerce and that these were indeed food mushrooms.  I didn't stop at the tent to ask.  Within minutes, the pavement on highway 37 gave way to graded dirt roads.  I thought to myself, oh great!  I'm back in Destruction Bay.  It was like Déjà vu all over again.  Honestly, I think Destruction Bay was easier than this.  I was riding this time in the rain, after 900 miles, and it was dark. Dark?  I thought to myself, why is it dark?  During my thousand mile ride planning, I had failed to consider that I had traveled far enough south that there was no more midnight sun.  The clouds that had been so inviting, so high and proud above the horizon earlier today had now descended into a brooding ceiling of fog which seemed to hover just feet above my head. Random fingers of fog draped down to the ground like depressed gray columns  in the dungeon of some ancient castle. They seemed so thick that I actually found myself steering around them and fighting to remain vertical on the gravel road.  At one point, I saw an opening up to the sky that yielded a prism of colors reminiscent of the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon.  It wasn't a rainbow.  It was a vertical wall of color; difficult to describe.  I had to stop and try to get a picture.  I was focused upward at the colors when I heard voices.  I pulled the camera down and saw a group of people working in the field below the prism. They were wearing tie-died shirts, knitted caps, and shorts and were carrying bags.  I thought to myself  that these must be the shroomies the guy at the gas station mentioned.  One of them dropped his bag and came walking toward me.  I dropped my camera and turned to ride away.  As I got back onto the main dirt path, I noticed a few of them hopped in an old pickup truck.  I twisted the throttle and screamed away as fast as Hester would take me.  For miles, I swear I kept seeing headlights behind me.  Perhaps I was just being paranoid.  In my mind, I figured they saw me taking pictures and thought I was spying on them.  Nevertheless, I ran Hester like I stole her and after about fifteen minutes, no longer saw headlights behind me.

I continued southward and while I was relieved that I was no longer being pursued (If I ever really was) I was more concerned now with wildlife.  I bet I saw more bears that night than on the entire trip leading up to it.  Seeing bears in the wild is exciting.  Seeing bears in the same wild where you're looking for a safe place to camp is a different kind of excitement.  In Canada, you can pretty much pull into any open space in the wilderness and pitch a tent.  In previous days, it had been little effort to find places to sleep.  Tonight was different.  I could barely see the sides of the road, so just finding a clearing was a challenge. Whenever I found a suitable clearing, I would shine my super bright HID headlights into the woods.  When I did, I saw dozens of pairs of eyeballs reflecting back at me and even as exhausted as I was, I knew this was not the place to stop and camp.  I was numb from head to toe (except for all the parts that hurt), I had been on the road for 18 hours, I was cold, wet, and I hadn't eaten in 36 hours.  There was one other feeling I couldn't shake.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it then, but looking back, I recognize what it was.  I was afraid.

I haven't been genuinely afraid in over twenty years.  Genuine fright is a powerful emotion.  I suppose in my case this time, it motivated me to just keep moving.  I had plenty of gas.  I knew I could just keep riding till dawn if I had to.  Finally, I saw a clearing where two camper trailers were parked.  I grabbed a handful of brakes, swung Hester around, and nestled in between them with each camper about twenty feet on either side of me.  I noticed when I was setting up camp that as my flashlight beamed into the woods, I could still see reflections from multiple pairs of eyes staring back at me.  These woods were full of foxes.  I saw several of them hovering around as I was setting up my tent.  Foxes are strange animals.  They trot about and have a gate like dogs, but they sneak around like cats.  I didn't know much about fox behavior, but I knew I didn't trust them.  They seemed to be working cooperatively, planning against me.  Like I said, I was really tired.  For all I know, there may not have been any foxes, bears, or shroomies.  I finished setting up my tent, transferred the day's pics and videos to my hard drive, and wasted no energy fighting sleep.

Day ??? ( I Lost Track) Into Prince George, BC

This day started like many others on this adventure.  I awakened staring at the bright orange inside ceiling of my tent.  After a brief moment of complete disorientation, I realized where I was and thought about the events of the previous riding day.  What a long day! What an adventure! What an idiot!  What kind of fool takes a chance like that?  On the one hand, I rode a thousand miles, I did it alone, and I did it not on a highway slab, but across some of the worst terrain imaginable and in the worst of weather conditions.  I was proud of that.  On the other hand, I rode a thousand miles, I did it alone, and I did it not on a highway slab, but across some of the worst terrain imaginable and in the worst of weather conditions.  It was a pretty stupid move.  It was pointless to ponder the rationality or stupidity of it all. The manly man in me still thinks it's kinda cool despite the abject fear I felt for a while.  The rational part of me thinks...well, I tend to just ignore that part.
1,011 Mile Roadside Hotel

I rolled up my sleeping bag, deflated my air mattress,  and packed everything I could before I even exited my tent.  I crawled out and saw an older couple a few feet from me bent over examining something in the dirt between their camper and my tent.  They looked over at me, said "good morning" and turned back to look at whatever it was.  Naturally curious, I wobbled over, still shaky from the previous night's dead still sleep to get a glimpse.  There on the ground between our two camping spots was the biggest turd any of us had ever seen.  I'm not talking about a big plop like a cow drops or a pile of nuggets like from a horse.  This was a fully shaped, tubular turd with tapered ends that was loaded with twigs and what appeared to be unchewed berries.  It was coiled up into a pile and was the diameter of a tennis ball can and about twice the length. The man said "I thought dinosaurs were extinct."   I looked up at the woman and said "Did you do that?"  The coffee the man had just began sipping spewed forth like projectile vomit and he doubled over in laughter.  She laughed and replied that she was about to ask me the same question, pointing at their camper and reminding me that they had a toilet. As bad as I wanted to, I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of it in front of the couple.  I wanted to ask them to take a pic of me knelt down next to it.  The thrill of it all was quickly overshadowed by he hoard of flies and merciless smell, so we stepped away and did the usual morning introductions.  They were on a driving vacation across Canada and were on their way back to Vancouver.  I packed the rest of my gear and hit the road.

River Stop Where I Met Scot

Scot From Seattle
A few miles down the road I saw a hotel, a gas station, and a small store.  I had stopped in desperation the night before because I figured there was nothing ahead of me.  Had I seen that hotel, I might have tried to get a room.  As I rode by it, I saw a guy loading up a BMW Adventure bike and did the usual biker one finger down wave.  A few moments later, I rode up on a cool piece of river rapids that winded itself up right next to the road.  I pulled over to get a quick pic and as I was getting back on the bike, the BMW rider I had seen mounting up at the hotel up the road rode up to me and said "Hello Scott.".  "Hey Scot" I replied.  Scot and I had met briefly at the Arctic Circle monument three days prior.  When I was up there, I saw a group of BMW riders arrive  together and Scot was among them.  I thought he was part of their group. I was wrong.  Like me, Scot was on his own and was also heading down to the Cassiar Parkway.  He had left Fairbanks on Sunday and made a couple of stops before we ran into each other here at Deese Lake in British Columbia.  When he mentioned he was riding the Cassiar to Seattle with a planned stop in Prince George, I said that I was too and we decided to ride the 1,200 mile route together.  After the harrowing night I had just experienced, riding company was a welcome sight and any guy willing to go it alone like I had was probably a cool guy.

Houston, We have a Problem
Highway 37 eventually gave way to Highway 16 (the Cassiar Highway) in a little town called Kitwanga.  I had heard great things about the Cassiar and I have to say that it delivered.  Scot and I spent the day carving corners, crossing mountains, climbing hills, and diving into steep drops.  Our riding pace was pretty much the same and we seemed to have a similar mindset for stopping to snap photos and take in the scenery.  Despite the rainy weather, the 600 mile ride to Prince George would be child's play compared to my ride yesterday.  

The Cassiar also delivered when it came to wildlife.  Scot and I stopped numerous times to watch bears and moose.  We saw a mama bear with three tiny cubs in tow.  It's hard to believe something so cute can be so dangerous.  I was really psyched to see a huge bear right next to the road.  I caught a glimpse as I rode by and turned Hester around to get a closer look.  Sadly, this huge bear was dead.  It didn't look as if it had been hit by a car or attacked by some other animal.  It was just dead...and it stunk!  The sound of the flies hovering around it was reminiscent of my military days in Central America.  I snapped a quick pic and raced to catch back up with Scot.

First Meal in 36 Hours
Our southbound route took us through numerous small towns with no apparent industry or other community sustaining infrastructure.  There would just be a collection of houses or trailers in the middle of nowhere.  We stopped for lunch and gas in a place called Bells.  The bed and breakfast there was quite nice.  The bacon cheeseburger and fries for lunch was even nicer.  I met a couple there who were up from Texas.  I was in the middle of nowhere in Canada and still meeting people from home.

At another gas stop, Scot and I noticed two really old motorcycles parked out front.  One was an Indian and if memory serves, the other was a Triumph.  The riders were a father and son who were attempting to make their way up to Alaska from San Francisco.  They said their pace was about 45 mph and that they were obviously in no hurry.  I thought I had balls riding a Harley to Alaska. I admire their effort, but I don't think I could take such a slow pace.

As the day wore on, the clear British Columbia skies and crisp air morphed into some pretty serious rain.  There were low hanging clouds as far as we could see and the darkness came early.  I had been camping most of my trip and while Scot had camping gear, he had been hoteling it.  I mentioned that I planned to camp again and Scot agreed.  After riding in the rain for what seemed like hours and finally arriving in Prince George in the dead of night, we both decided to just find a room.  Setting up camp in the rain sucks and packing up wet gear the next day is awful.  To make matters worse, we had both just rode up on a horrific accident north of Prince George.  Just seconds before we arrived on the scene, a van struck a huge moose and there were parts everywhere.  It was a fatal accident and a gruesome scene.  People behind the van were scrambling out of their cars as emergency workers weren't yet on the scene.  Scot and I rode by slowly and stopped at the first open station to top off our tanks.  We confirmed with each other that what we thought we saw was really what we saw.  We also confirmed that neither of us wanted to pitch a tent and decided to split a hotel room.  I informed Scot that I was not in the habit of going to hotels with strange men I just met, but that in his case, I would make an exception.  We found a clean place with Internet access, two beds, and a shower.  After a much needed hot shower, I laid in my bed and considered the timing that took place back at the scene of the moose strike.  Had we been at that intersection when the moose was in our lane, that could have been us on the road.  Some say timing is everything.  I think luck has a lot to do with it too.  Tomorrow, we would cross back into the United States.  Scot would go home and I would stop to visit my mom's friend and deliver a rock.  I still had over 3,000 miles to ride to get home.

Back Into the USA

As with each day on the Alaskapade, morning arrived early.  It's funny how no matter how utterly exhausted your mind and your body might be after a long day's ride, you still wake up at the crack of dawn ready to roll.  Waking up in the hotel in Prince George was no different, except that I wasn't alone.  Scot and I packed our gear and readied ourselves for another day in the saddle.  Scot was heading to his home near Seattle today and I was going to visit a friend of my mom on Whidbey Island, northwest of Seattle.  The previous day's ride had been a slow-paced tour of the Cassiar Highway, which yielded numerous opportunities for us to stop to photograph the abundant wildlife and the seemingly endless majestic scenery.  We decided on this morning that we would concentrate on the road and would dial down the tourist mindset a bit in an effort  to try to get "home" with some daylight left.  The route was pretty much a straight shot south on the Cariboo (their spelling, not mine) Highway that would deposit us into Sumas, WA after we cleared U.S. customs.  It was that simple.

Actually, it wasn't.

Top of the 99 Loop
The morning started out with reasonably clear weather and moderate temperatures.  There was only a mild threat of rain, but I donned my rain gear anyway.  I found that in most cases on this trip, I spent more time on the side of the road putting on and removing my rain gear than I actually spent riding in the rain.  It was easier to just wear it since the temperatures were so low.  An added benefit was the fact that the non-porous rain suit fabric blocked the occasional blast of cold air we would ride through in mountain passes and water crossings.  Scot and I had a great time navigating the Cariboo and taking it all in.  There was little traffic to deal with, gas was abundant, and the roads were in great shape.  This would be a relaxing ride, culminating with our triumphant return to the USA.

Alexandria Tunnel Entrance
We had stopped for a quick lunch at a Subway in Hat Creek and were saddling back up to leave when a woman in a car asked us if we were traveling south.  Scot answered in the affirmative whereupon she warned us that the previous night's heavy rains had washed out a bridge along our planned route.  She advised we take the scenic highway 99 loop, then catch highway 12 into Lyson.  I was up for another scenic loop, especially if it meant I wouldn't have to sit in a long line of frustrated cagers.  We backtracked a few miles to the 99 junction and headed west.  The word "scenic" was an understatement for this loop.  This was an awesome ride offering stellar mountain and canyon views, switchbacks along and a thousand feet above roaring rivers, steep climbs, steeper grade drops, and numerous tunnels that dissected the mountains.  Entering and exiting the old tunnels gave me a strange feeling of power.  It was as if I alone had some super power over physical matter which allowed me to burrow through mountain rock that was as timeless as the earth itself.  Whenever I exited a tunnel, I looked back at the mountain through which I had just passed and pondered the man hours it took to complete the structure and marveled at the accomplishment having been performed so long ago without the aid of AutoCAD and Google Earth.

GPS View of the Road Ahead
Our plan from the start of the morning was to concentrate on riding and get through the 600 miles to the US border.  The 99 loop was so picturesque that we couldn't help ourselves.  We probably added an extra two hours to our riding time over the course of the additional 41 miles this loop threw at us.  I think Scot would agree that it was worth every minute.

Highway 99 merged back into 12 and 12 into 1 and we found ourselves back on track on our intended route.  We were relieved that we were able to bypass the washed out bridge and the resulting traffic snarl that went with it.  The series of tunnels eventually came to an end near the town of Hope in the southern end of British Columbia.  We were on a riding high, having just come through roads many bikers only dream of riding and the U.S. border was less than an hour away.  Suddenly, the bottom fell out of the sky and a torrential downpour started.  We were suited up for the rain and didn't let it bother us. We just exercised additional caution on the winding roads and kept an eye out for clueless and frustrated cagers.  Then, we came upon what appeared to be a long line of cars crawling along at a snail's pace.  We motored along in first gear feathering the clutch and doing that super slow biker crawl, weaving back and forth in our lane trying to see how slow we can go without putting our feet down.  Riders know what I'm talking about.  

Old School Gas Stop Deep in British Columbia
Chiliwack Mud Pack (Give a Dog a Bone?)

Eventually the snail pace gave way to that of a Louden Wainwright III tune topic.  We were sitting dead still and in the middle of the road and the rain was pouring.  Cages were ahead of us and behind us as far as we could see.  The road wasn't wide enough for cars to turn around and even if they did, there was nowhere to go.  We were stuck.  So close and yet so far.  A road construction worker was making his way along the line of cars explaining what the problem was to the drivers.  He told us that the Trans Canadian Highway 1 was blocked in Chiliwack by a mudslide and that all traffic would have to be re-routed.  I thought to myself "re-routed where?"  We've spent the entire day dodging washed out bridges and closed roads and this was our only way out.  The worker asked where we were heading.  I told him "Dallas", which caught him off guard a bit.  He said we could stay on the road we were on for about eight miles and offered up a detour from there to get us back on to highway 1.  Eight miles was nothing.  Eight miles in traffic like this in heavy rain was a pain in the butt.  Eight miles at zero mph in this rain was eternity.  The worker looked at our bikes and at the shoulder of the road and said "The shoulder's wide enough if you wanna chance it."  I think Scot was a bit hesitant.  I was not.  I rolled over and slowly rode along the narrow shoulder trying not to piss off the cagers sitting dead still just inches to my left.  Most of them didn't seem to care, but a few made an obvious effort to block us by pulling over to the right.  I just smiled as I gingerly negotiated the muddy slop to the right of the shoulder.  Scot's BMW just sailed through these spots.  Hester is a fat bottomed girl and as such, remaining vertical at such a slow pace was a challenge to say the least.  The thought crossed my mind that after negotiating Destruction Bay and the Dalton all the way up to the Arctic Circle and back, in the blink of an eye I could dump Hester into the mud and lose her in the flooded drainage ditch below.  Despite that possibility, I motored on.  I checked my rear view mirror and saw that other bikes had joined in our little train.  We had to force our way back into traffic briefly to cross bridges with no shoulders, but over time, we covered a great deal of ground, all things considered.  Along the way, we saw herds of campers, numerous overheated and otherwise stalled cars, a few minor rear end collisions, and some dead eighteen wheelers.  The rain had mercifully slowed to a light drizzle and by now, some of the camper occupants had given up on making any forward progress and were setting up camp right there on the road.  Kids were playing about and waving at the slow rolling biker procession training by them.  I had grown somewhat comfortable with the sloppy, narrow lane I was navigating and rolled by a Mack truck who blasted his air horn as I was right to its side. I think I actually crapped my pants a little and was reminded of my impromptu trip into KFC back in Dawson Creek.  That seemed so long ago and so far away.  We rode up on a traffic circle that was fed from four sides, all of which were stalled completely.  Scot and I carefully made our way around the circle and back onto highway 1. The entire thirteen mile detour took us about three hours to negotiate.  The road and the skies simultaneously cleared and we could practically smell the U.S. border.  After a quick gas stop and a chance to burn off more Canadian currency, Scot and I discussed the little remaining route we had left before we would go our separate ways.  We saddled up and before we knew it, were facing the U.S. border.

The border crossing was wide open when we arrived.  Scot and I simultaneously took separate lanes and with a few quickly answered questions, were back in the States.  The Customs agent looked at Hester and asked what the logo was all about.  I explained briefly and he commented that that explained why I had the dirtiest Harley he had ever seen.  His comment didn't bother me at all.  Hester's filth was well earned.  Scot and I rode together for a short while until I peeled off to head for Whidbey Island on the scenic highway 20 and he headed further north towards his home.  As we waved each other off, I mulled over how much I enjoyed the two days we spent riding together.  What were the odds that two strangers could meet in the Arctic Circle and part ways only to meet up again days later and thousands of miles away?  Scot was a class act and a solid rider who like me, answered the call from Alaska and rode solo to the Arctic Circle.  I respected the guy as much as I liked him.

Deception Pass Bridge onto Whidbey Island
I was in a state of deja vu as I rode into Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island.  I had been here a year ago having made the 2,300 mile journey from Dallas in 2.5 days on Hester with my mom.  It occurred to me that crossing the bridge over Deception Pass was much easier this year than it was last time.

My mom had owned a small retirement place in Oak Harbor and one of her favorite pastimes was collecting rocks from the nearby beaches and placing them in a small rock garden in front of her place.  While at the Arctic Circle, I found a rock I thought mom would have liked and since my route took me so close after re-entering the US, I took it to her best friend in Oak Harbor whose home I was planning to stay the night before heading home.

Tomorrow would be Thursday.  I had ridden over 6,700 miles and still had 2,300 to go to get home.  I had never been to such legendary riding spots as Sturgis, Deadwood, the Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and the Chief Crazy Horse monument.  I had to ride southeast to get home.  I figured I would just ride east to South Dakota and Wyoming and then south to Texas.  I could milk the Alaskapade for a few more days.

Eastbound & Down

After what seemed like a quick nap, Hester and I were awake and ready to head east toward Sturgis and into the Black Hills.  I arrived rather late the night before and didn't have time to catch up with my mom's friend in Oak Harbor.  I decided to not set an alarm and just wake up when I felt like it.  I needed to exchange my Canadian currency and give Hester a much needed bath.  I was also meeting Mary Anna for a late breakfast, so I was in no hurry.  I hadn't had a real breakfast in weeks and I was looking forward to it.  We met at a diner called Frank's Place and I pigged out.  I had a bad habit of not eating on the Alaskapade and would sometimes go for two days without a meal.  The massive pile of cholesterol, protein, and carbohydrates placed before me by the waitress was a welcome sight. The owner Frank is a former Marine and his diner is loaded to the hilt with military decor, including his Heroes Wall out front.  There is a small Navy station on Whidbey Island and Frank's Place caters to the active duty sailors and the many local retirees.  After scarfing down a much needed breakfast and asking about a defibrillator, I mounted up and headed for the Mulkiteo Ferry.  I had considered taking the scenic highway 20 route across Washington, but since I was getting such a late start, I decided to take the ferry to the mainland and slab it across Washington to Idaho.  I had seen plenty of mountain passes over the last two weeks and I was somewhat excited to get to Sturgis.

There Was Some Animal Shape When I Took This
Camp Cataldo

Shrug at the Borrowed Camp Fire

After a twenty minute ferry ride, I made my way onto Highway 90 and rode east towards Spokane.  The mountain passes into Idaho and around Cougar Lake made for a nice break from the flat concrete slabs I had ridden from Seattle. The bright beams of sunshine played hide and seek with the scattered clouds that dotted the otherwise bright blue sky.  As I listened to Atlas Shrugged, I found myself getting distracted by the animal shaped clouds and briefly reverted back to that childhood game.  I rode through the center of the Idaho panhandle, past Coeur d'Alene to a little town called Cataldo.  There, I found a nice little camping area nestled along some river (that appeared to have no name) where Hester and I could bed down for the night for just $10.  The thought of being able to set up camp in the daylight was appealing, so I pulled in.  There was a nice pile of cut fire wood in the fire pit.  A roaring fire on a cool night of camping next to a quietly babbling river would be perfect.  The only thing that could have made it more perfect would have been something to actually light a fire with.  I thought a moment and remembered that I had a gallon of gas in Hester's starboard saddle bag.  I thought better of it and decided to forgo a fire.  I wandered the campground to get a closer look at the river and noticed a huge camper with a roaring fire.  Now I really wanted my own fire.  I decided to take some of the wood from my fire pit over to the camper and offer it up.  The guy who was staying there had a truck bed full of cut wood, but graciously accepted my unburnt offering and invited me to sit with him.  His kids were grown so he had sold his home and was living out of his camper, which was probably as large as my house.  It had pull-outs, slide-outs, pop-ups, a satellite dish, and I could see a huge flat screen TV through the oversized side window.  I wondered to myself how many gallons per mile it took to pull the thing.  He commented that he was staying at this site in Cataldo for four months and would pack up and move somewhere south when cooler weather sets in.  We sat and chatted for a couple of hours.  It made for a great night, but I forgot to eat again.  I had worked hard the six months prior to the Alaskapade and had lost over forty pounds.  Even still, I could tell I had dropped more weight over the last two weeks.
Nameless Rider at a Nameless River

The next morning, I packed up camp and headed further east on 90 and then took 287 south at Three Forks, Montana bound for Yellowstone National Park.  I'm not sure what possessed me to go to Yellowstone.  I think the scenic loops there were recommended by some fellow riders.  It was on the way to the Black Hills, so I figured why not.

The ride into Yellowstone was pretty uneventful.  I arrived at the west gate Friday afternoon, paid the entry fee, and went looking for Old Faithful.  I rode up to another biker and we found ourselves stuck in bumper to bumper stop and go traffic.  The park was littered with huge camper trailers with RENT ME emblazoned across them, which were full of tourists who I suspected couldn't coherently drive their cars much less these behemoths.  Much of the park road loop speed limit is 35 mph.  That's annoying enough until you add the campers' snail pace of 20 mph.  My skin was crawling off my back and Hester's paint was boiling.  Maybe I was spoiled by all the close-up wildlife I had seen in Alaska and Canada, but I grew increasingly annoyed with these people stopping every two minutes to jump out and shoot pics of every squirrel and deer they saw.  I wanted to shoot the drivers.  I saw steamy water and a huge crowd of people, and pulled over.  It turns out that there are are dozens of geysers in Yellowstone and this was just one of them.  I got back on the road and realized I was now again behind all the campers I had managed to pass in the previous hour. I finally found the Old Faithful area, which was actually difficult to miss.  All one needs to do is look for the largest collection of poorly parked campers on the planet and you're there.  I shared a parking space with another bike and walked what seemed like a mile past the education center, toilets, gift shops, and park ranger offices to the geyser area.
Old Shrug at Old Faithful

The geyser had apparently just erupted because the parking lot was a mess of campers and minivans all trying simultaneously to get to the single exit and back to the one lane park road.  Horns were blaring and drivers were glaring.  It was a stalemate.  Somebody probably saw a squirrel.  All these tourists who had sat for hours trying to get into the area now had a carload of screaming kids who were less than impressed at the sight they had just waited hours to see and were now forced to wait in more traffic.

I wandered up to the geyser and had no idea when the next scheduled eruption would be.  One would think based on its name that the geyser would be more predictable.  Apparently, it's not that simple.  Of course it wasn't because I was there.  The height and duration of the previous eruption dictates when the next one will take place.  The interval can be anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes.  I sat around and waited for a while and noticed the constant flood of campers still piling into the already overstuffed parking lot.  It was about 5:30 and this might be the last eruption before nightfall.  It occurred to me that when this thing finally goes off, I would find myself smack dab in the middle of the next round of camper mass exodus.  I promised myself that I'd look at it on line and headed back to the parking lot to get out while the getting was good.

Shrug's Shadow & Hester at the Continental Divide
I was heading out to the east gate and fortunately, most of the traffic was heading back to the west from where we all came.  I was surprised to learn the east gate was about fifty miles away.  I fought the temptation to blast on the wide open roads through the park.  This was a good thing because Yellowstone has many cops and I saw several drivers were pulled over receiving citations.  The ride out took Hester and I over 8,000 feet up and included countless waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and canyons.  It was strange riding past snowy hills with kids sliding down them on sleds after having just been in sweltering heat the morning before.  It was even stranger seeing huge lakes like Yellowstone Lake sitting at elevations higher than 7,700 feet.  That altitude and all that water made sense of the snow and cold temperatures I was feeling.  I caught myself being spellbound by the hundreds of small impromptu waterfalls I passed.  The snow was melting and the resulting flows were very picturesque.  The loop to the east gate took me north around Yellowstone Lake and then an additional forty miles before dumping me out on highway 20 in Wyoming.  Getting out of Yellowstone took me much longer than I expected.  When I considered the time spent there and the $20 it cost me to ride through, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't bother with it again.  I'm probably just spoiled.  The scenery is probably amazing to anyone who hadn't just seen all that Hester and I had ridden through in previous days.

Cody Wyoming - Named After Buffalo Bill Cody
I followed 20 eastbound into Cody, WY and got there just in time for the Cody Stampede!  I thought rodeo was big in Texas.  Wyoming LOVES its rodeo.  The highway ran right past the arena where the rodeo was taking place and was completely blocked by local officials.  I pulled up to the barricade and was told I needed to turn around or come back later.  Turn around?  Where the hell would I go? I thought to myself.  Actually, I said it out loud to the guy.  Oops.  I changed my tone quickly and explained that I was heading east to the Black Hills and then lied and said I had a hotel reservation in Cody.  The official asked which one.  I lied again and replied "Holiday Inn" figuring that was a safe guess.  Apparently it was.  He called ahead to another official on the other side of the barricade to let him know I was passing through.  I was hungry and tired and actually considered stopping at a hotel.  I grabbed a can of Monster Energy and filled Hester's tank while searching my GPS for campgrounds nearby.  It indicated a place about 50 miles away and listed the phone number.  I called the number and asked if they allowed tent camping.  They did and I told the lady I was less than an hour away on a motorcycle in Cody to which she replied a late arrival was no problem.  She had the softest, sweetest deep southern drawl and told me to ride safe and she would keep the coffee hot for me.  She added that all the restaurants (the only one, I learned the next morning) were closed, but that she had left over dinner if I was hungry.  It was like talking to grandma.  I couldn't wait to get there.

I followed the GPS directions to the campground.  I use the term "campground" loosely here.  The address on the GPS took me to an old, wooden frame house with a large back yard where an old pickup truck camper was parked.  My back yard is larger than this campground.  Better yet, my back yard doesn't back up to a railroad track through which trains seemed to pass multiple times each hour.  I went to the porch that looked into the office/living room and rang the bell.  It was one of those old doorbell buttons that was back lit, but the cover was broken.  I pressed it and got a slight shock, jerking my hand away quickly. The place reminded me of an old I Love Lucy episode.  It was the one wherein the Ricardo's and Mertz's were on the their way to California and had stopped at a "luxury hotel" in the middle of nowhere, which turned out to be a dump right next to the railroad.

Chloe on Guard
Towards the screen door approached an oddly shaped frame with a face that looked like a crumpled up piece of paper topped with white hair stuffed inside a clear plastic shower cap.  It was wearing a man's wife beater t-shirt and no pants.  As it approached, I thought it might be a woman.  My fear was confirmed when she reached up to unlatch a lock at the top of the door.  Not wanting to get caught staring at her face, I looked down.  My gender suspicion was confirmed when her t-shirt was pulled upward as she reached up with of her arms.  Her pendulous breasts hung in front of her ample stomach and looked like flattened, inverted bowling pins.  I snapped my head up and probably snapped three vertebra in the process.  At that point, the crumpled paper spoke - and it had the softest sweetest, southern drawl. I gathered my wits and smiled shaking my head as she said "I'm glad you made it. Did you eat in Cody?".  "I saved you some fish".  Fish.  Shrug doesn't do fish.  I paid her $8 and not having the heart to say no, took the paper plate of fish and okra she offered me.  I love okra, but the fish juice had run all over the plate and the smell was starting to make my stomach turn.  As I walked down the steps toward Hester, I was greeted by a very large and very happy blonde Labrador retriever.  "Don't mind Chloe." the crumpled paper said.  "She loves people. She'll ask, but don't give her a bite of fish.  It gives her the shits" she added.  All I could muster was "Yes ma'am" as I sat on Hester and balanced the soggy plate on the gas tank.  I set up my tent and didn't bother to dump the day's photos and video to my hard drive.  I was beat and the odor from the fish took care of my hunger.  I chugged down a package of peanuts and fed the fish to Chloe who had parked herself outside my tent.  It was warm enough out that I didn't even bother to unroll my sleeping bag.  I stretched out fully clothed on my air mattress and was out before the train near the yard finished passing by.

Into Sturgis & the Black Hills

I woke up to the fragrant smell of fresh shit.  Chloe had left a present for me right outside my tent.  In fact, it was so close that I struggled to imagine how she could have squatted that near the tent without falling through the screen door.  I guess the paper lady was right and it was my fault for feeding Chloe that stinky fish.  I dragged my tent away from the putrid pile and packed up to leave.  By this point, I had gotten pretty good at rapid camp set-ups and tear downs.

Awesome Curves Ahead
Hester and I headed east on highway 14 towards Sturgis.  The route took me through Bighorn National Forest and over the 9,000+ foot high Bighorn mountain pass.  This was a stellar sixty mile ride that I didn't even know existed.  The horseshoe curves, switchbacks, and elevation changes were the most extreme I had ridden in all of the previous 7,000 Alaskapade miles.  Fortunately, these roads were all paved and in great shape with no gravel sections or pot holes.  When I saw what was in store for me on the GPS display, I stopped at a scenic spot to rest for a second and to mount my helmet cam under the right footboard.  I had fabricated a mount there before I left, having anticipated the cool views it would capture on roads just like this one.  The road was so tight that it took me over two hours to ride sixty miles and I loved every second of it.

Floorboard Cam
Actually, there were a few tense seconds when I played a game of chicken with Bambi.  I had just negotiated a tight uphill curve and finally passed a slow moving cage that had been holding me up when I saw the deer standing at the edge of the rocks on the road on my right.  I eased back on the throttle and kept a steady eye on the deer.  It stared at me; I stared at it.  I had horsepower, but this was the deer's turf.  I remembered that deer usually wait till the last second to react, so I approached with even more caution.  Just as expected, it darted in front of me the instant I was next to it and glanced the leading edge of my right saddle bag.  I looked behind me and saw the deer spinning on its side in the middle of the road.  It jumped up and limped off the road just before the cage I had recently passed rolled up.  That was a lucky deer.  I was a luckier rider.  The video camera caught it all.
A Deer Playing Chicken
Bighorn Pass - Adventure at Every Turn
The Bighorn run was a mix of painted rocks, canyons, snow capped mountain crests, and jagged cliffs that reached vertically downward into roaring rapids of  water that were as blue as the sky above and randomly topped with white foam. I saw numerous trails leading from the roadside up to caves in the sides of the mountain walls and I was tempted to pull over and climb up for a closer view.

Highway 14 dumped me out on highway 90 near Sheridan, WY and I found myself rocketing towards Gillette. I crossed I-25 and realized that I was intersecting the exact same spot I had ridden on day two of the Alaskapade. 
At 2:00pm on Friday July 1st, a copper wire snapped inside Hester's fairing and the music which had violently shattered the tranquil silence of the unsuspecting countryside with blistering rock music all the way from Texas to Alaska and back to Wyoming and all the while entertaining your humble writer - was suddenly silenced.  At the next gas stop, I checked my cigarette lighter and it had no power.  Way back on day three of the Alaskapade, the auxiliary cigarette lighter and USB power ports I had wired in had melted in my glove box.  In a rush, I had stuffed a bunch of USB cables into the glove box and one of the USB plugs must have dropped into a 12 volt cigarette lighter socket and shorted out.  I saw smoke billowing out of the glove box and damn near had a heart attack.  I pulled the melted cable out and saw that the plastic power housing I had installed had actually melted into the glove box.  Since that happened on day three of the Alaskapade, I had been swapping out charging cables in the stock cigarette lighter on the left side of the fairing.  It was difficult to keep all my cameras and bluetooth headset charged when I was tent camping without electricity.  Now, my last source of recharging power was gone.  There was a Harley dealer in Gillette, so I stopped in and checked my fuse in the parking lot.  The fuse was fine, but the circuit was dead.  I resigned myself to riding the rest of the trip without music.  I could play the tunes though my bluetooth headset, but the audio quality sucked.  I had plenty of audiobooks to keep me entertained and was in the middle of Atlas Shrugged (from which I stole the opening line to this paragraph).  At 67 hours, there was plenty to keep my mind occupied for the rest of the trip.  

Parking Lot Repairs in Gillette
A service tech who was smoking a cigarette outside the dealership walked over to talk to me when he saw the logo on the trunk.  "I'm guessing by the look of that bike that you really rode it to Alaska" he said.  I replied that I had, suppressing a prideful look and acting cool about it.  The next question he asked was common among bikers. "Where did you get that windscreen?"  I told him that it was from MadStad Engineering and that I wouldn't own a bike that didn't have a MadStad screen available for it.  A sales rep came out, took pictures of it, and wrote down the name.  The coating of bloody, squashed bugs probably didn't make for a very good representation.  Perhaps my testimonial and recent miles would lend a bit of credibility.

As I was putting Hester back together, a beautiful new Harley Trike awash with all the chrome and bling one can imagine came rolling in and parked next to me. It was so new it still had the paper dealer plates.  The couple riding it were dressed head to toe in official Harley Davidson gear.  It was like a bling competition between the bike and its riders.  I listened in as the sales guy explained to them how to use the stereo and helmet communication features.  Noticing Hester's filthy condition, the driver looked at me (in my own filthy condition) and asked "What the hell happened to your bike?"  I replied "Alaska happened."  He commented that he had far too much respect for his Harley to treat it that way.  "Dickhead" I thought to myself.  Before the trip, I probably would have said it out loud.  He pointed out a pretty deep scratch on my right saddle bag and asked if I had crashed up there.  I told him that I struck a deer at 9,000 feet and that the scratch was Hester's battle scar.  He just shook his head.  I pointed out a small, fresh scratch on the side of his trike and asked how he got that on such a new and well respected bike.  Before he could shush her, his wife piped up and replied "A grocery cart at the Walmart parking lot rolled into it."  No reply was needed.
I rolled out from Gillette and made my way to Devil's Tower.  I've been fascinated by this monument since seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind in high school and I wanted to see it first hand.  I took a thirty mile detour off the highway to get Hester's picture with the monument in the background.  The line of cages waiting to pay to get into the park was half a mile long and after my experience in Yellowstone, I wasn't falling for that again.  I rode on the shoulder, stopped at the monument park entrance sign, took a picture, and turned around to head for Deadwood.  It was worth the extra miles. 
The Devil & Miss Hester
I exited off the interstate and took highway 85 into Deadwood.  Honestly, I had never heard of Deadwood until the HBO series aired a few years ago.  I had heard cool stories about the place since then and it was on the way to Sturgis, so I thought I'd drop in.  Deadwood was bustling with tourist buses, bikes, and pedestrians.  As far as I could tell, the only attraction to Deadwood was the mere fact that it was Deadwood.  Still, I found it cool and enjoyed riding the main street.  I must have found the back way in because on my way out, I saw a nice Deadwood sign atop a hill and had to stop to get Hester's picture there.  I just had to stop.  The wind was gusting up pretty good and I wondered if we would get some rain.  I pulled Hester in front of the sign and dismounted.  While I stood fiddling with my camera, a blast of wind blew Hester right over.  I literally screamed "FUCK!" so loud I was sure it echoed all the way back into town.  Bruce Banner had nothing on the rage I was feeling and I thought I was going to Hulk out right there on the side of the road.  I had ridden over 7,000 miles through hell and back with no problems and now Hester was dropped by the fucking WIND?  I struggled to pick her up on my own.  I tried everything I learned in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class I took thirty years ago.  The Honda XL-100 I rode back then was much easier to lift than Hester was. The rage I was feeling and the physical conditioning I had put myself through in the months prior to this day were no match for Hester's weight. I struggled for several minutes on my own before another rider stopped to help me stand her up.  I was as embarrassed as I was outraged, but I was also grateful.  I dusted Hester off and hit the road heading for Sturgis.
Hester Sideways in Deadwood

I've never been inclined to be in Sturgis during the corporate mess that the rally has become, but I wanted to see the place nonetheless.  Up until Hester's fall, I was in a great mood.  I had ridden through the most incredible mountain pass I've ever seen that morning and I had spent the rest of the day knocking off places that I've wanted to see for years.  I was still fuming and was in no mood to let myself enjoy the moment.  It was a good thing I was riding alone because I was not fit for company.  I rolled into Sturgis and it was empty.  A month before the rally, I didn't expect much of a crowd, but I figured this being a holiday weekend, there would be a few bikes.  I found it odd that Sturgis was the ghost town and Deadwood was the boom town.  

As Hester and I rolled down Main street, I envisioned pictures I had seen where tens of thousands of bikes were parked on both sides and down the middle.  Now, Hester and I rode solo down the empty street, stopping every fifty feet at each of the legendary annoying stop signs.  I rode through town avoiding blinking so as not to miss it and headed for the Full Throttle Saloon.  I had watched every episode of the Full Throttle's reality TV show and was looking forward to seeing the place in person.  Of course it was pretty much empty, but wandering around the place and seeing all the landmarks I had watched on TV was pretty cool.  I bought a t-shirt and remembered when I met the Full Throttle Saloon owner Michael Ballard at the Lone Star Rally in Texas last year.  I wanted a shirt then, but told him I would buy it on site in person.  I have a few Harley shirts given to me by friends, but I only buy biker shirts for myself from places I've actually been.  I bought my shirt, snapped a few photos, and mounted up planning to head for Mount Rushmore.

Ghost Town Hester Under Threatening Skies
Then I looked up.  The skies to the east were black and hung low on the horizon.  The air was dead still and in the silence that was the emptiness of Sturgis, I could hear my heart beating.  I topped off Hester's tank and asked a local at the station if he thought it looked like rain.  He replied "Are you kidding? This is Sturgis, man."  I was already in a fowl mood and I didn't need this.  My plan (born out of anger) was to ride to Mount Rushmore, find a nearby place to camp, and then just head towards home in the morning.  I had accomplished my goal of riding to the Arctic Circle a week ago and in my angered state, I convinced myself that all these extra stops were just gravy.  Nevertheless, the weather altered my plan and now I needed to find a place to stay.  None of the popular Sturgis campgrounds were open yet as the rally was over a month away.  Despite the date, the hotel rates were all still ridiculously high.  I rode back across town to look for a tourist information center I had seen earlier on my way into town, hoping they could point me towards a campground.  As I sat at a traffic light, a pickup truck with a dog in the back rolled up next to me.  This was one of those dog mixes that defied breed classification; a real dog's dog.  His coat had more colors than Cyndi Lauper's hair, he had one white eye, and proudly wore an old bandana around his neck.  This was one happy dog.  He looked thrilled just to be alive in the back of that truck sniffing the world as it passed by.  His little stub of a tail wagged so hard that his whole rear end shook.  One ear stood tall and the other hung folded over, half erect.  His tongue hung out of one side of his open mouth as he panted and it looked as if he was actually smiling.  When the truck stopped next to me, the dog stepped up on the side of the bed and stretched himself as close to me as he could without falling off.  As I reached over to pat his head, I wondered if I would draw back a nub.  I could see a young boy in the truck's cab peeking at me through the passenger mirror.  His head was resting in the crook of his folded arm at the bottom of the open window and his face was devoid of expression.  I thought to myself, what a contrast.  The dog was thrilled to be alive and the mere site of a person on a bike patting him totally made his day.  The boy remained stoic as the light changed and the truck and dog drove off.  For some reason I felt better.  My anger over Hester's fall had passed.  I missed my dog Zeus.

On the way to the visitor center I saw the Sturgis RV Campground up on a hill above town.  I rode up and down the street looking for the road to get there.  The skies were growing darker by the minute and the wind was really picking up.  Long, thin forks of bright lightning were streaking from the sky to the ground in the distance.  I was mesmerized by the sight of the lightning. It appeared to me as a 3D special effect projected against a constantly morphing bruised backdrop of grey, blue, and black curtains.  I snapped back to reality and realized I was in trouble.  I could either ride west in an attempt to escape the storm or find a place in Sturgis to hunker down and ride it out.  Neither Hester nor I were in any condition to attempt to ride through it.

The Previous Name & Sign of the Sturgis RV Park
I finally found the road that led up to the RV park.  It was a brand new road that wasn't on my GPS.  By this point, I was accustomed to my GPS not knowing where the hell I was.  I rode in and figured it was open because there were a handful of large campers there.  The office door was unlocked, but the office was empty.  I decided to pull Hester in under the porch overhang and ride out the storm there. A woman exited a camper parked immediately across from the office and asked if she could help me.  I looked up and said "Tell me you allow tent camping and you can definitely help me."   She replied that they had tent spots with water and electricity and the rate was $10.85.  "Per hour?" I said. I mean, this was Sturgis.  "That's the daily rate through July" she replied.  I was stupefied.  She said that there was only one other tent and that I could have any spot I wanted.  I found a place near a tree and quickly set up my tent.

It was only 4:00 in the afternoon, but it looked much later because of the approaching storm.  As large raindrops began to fall intermittently, I used all the stakes in the tent package to anchor it to the ground.  The gusting winds were already making it difficult to set up the tent.  I placed as much gear from Hester's saddle bags and trunk as I could into the corners of the tent to weigh it down.  It was starting to rain pretty hard by then, so I rolled Hester up to the large tree, sat her up on the center stand, covered her, and used my tie downs to strap her against the tree trunk.  I had learned my lesson well about high winds earlier today.  As I went to crawl into my tent, I noticed all sorts of stuff blowing off the picnic table adjacent to the only other tent in the complex.  There was a small bike trailer there and a canopy was erected over the table, but no one was around.  I slipped on my rain suit top, walked over, and placed as much of the stuff as possible under the table and then took some rocks from the fire pit and used them to anchor the outside corners of the tent.  It was almost completely dark by then and the approaching wall of the storm was hanging directly over the edge of the RV park.  The air was dead still.  The only sound was the faint hint of music emanating from an empty bar across the street.  I heard sirens and wondered what happened.  I quickly realized that these were storm sirens.  Did they have tornadoes in South Dakota?  I was about to find out.  I high tailed it to my tent, crawled in, zipped up, and hunkered down.

Shrug Has Officially Lost His Marbles
Once inside, I inflated my air mattress and unrolled my sleeping bag. I made a dizzy mental note to buy an air compressor before my next trip.  Of course, with no auxiliary power, I'd be blowing the mattress up manually this time anyway.  I realized it was really dark, so I cranked my wind-up lantern, slipped off my wet jeans, and started nesting.  The winds continued to pick up and the sound of the rainfall pounding the top of the tent grew louder.  Within minutes, I was under the full rage of the storm.  The wind blew between the rain cover and the vented top of my tent and swirled inside around me, making for a strangely comfortable breeze.  The thunder was as loud as I had ever heard. The tent was being hammered by winds from one side and then the other as if trade winds were taking turns testing my planning and the anchoring stakes.  Suddenly, one corner of the tent rose up tossing the helmet and leathers that had been placed there to hold the corner down into my lap.  The thin metal stake had loosened in the soggy ground.  Then the opposite corner lifted up and I found myself sandwiched like shivering meat in a flimsy vinyl and nylon taco.  I tossed the helmet and leathers back into the corner hoping to regain some stability.  No dice.  I briefly considered crawling out of and dropping rocks on the corner like I did the other guy's tent.  At that instant, a huge series of flashes illuminated the inside of my tent providing a strobe light effect that allowed me to clearly see the violent shaking the tent was receiving. The lightning was followed almost instantly by enormous, seemingly endless claps of percussive thunder, telling me just how close the strikes really were.  Another corner of the tent let loose.  My attempts at replacing the items into the corners were fruitless.  I stretched out, lying flat on the tent floor extending my hands and feet as far into each corner as I could reach in an attempt to hold them down.  The wind was howling, thunder was clapping, and lightning seemed to dance indiscriminately just outside my little two person tent.  I was lying there wondering how long I would have to hold that awkward position when my yank and crank lantern died.  Darkness.  I considered crawling out and running to seek shelter in the office.  I considered putting on my helmet. I considered how stupid I would look if I was found dead wearing a helmet spread eagle in my tent in my underwear, snuffed out by lightning electrocution and/or fright.  I found myself counting the sound of my heartbeats.  Then it struck me that I could actually hear my heartbeat and I realized that the wind and rain stopped as suddenly as it had started.  What seemed like hours was in reality, mere minutes.  I retracted my arms and legs and fought the urge to roll up into a fetal position.  It was dead silent outside and I wondered if this was just the calm between the storms or if it was over.

I unzipped the door to the tent and crawled outside to see the damage.  To my amazement, there was none.  The skies were clear and deep blue and there was a light breeze in the air.  It appeared as if nothing had happened, until I looked at my poor little tent.  It took about twenty seconds for me to shake it back into shape and it popped back into its dome like structure as if it had never been molested by the wind and rain.  Indeed, nothing inside was even remotely moist with the possible exception of the spot where I had been lying holding the corners down.  I glanced down and checked my drawers; no stain.  An older gentleman from one of the campers walked over and asked if we were OK.  Standing there in my underwear, I replied that I was alone, that the other tent was unoccupied, and that I was fine.  I've always joked that I wear black underwear to hide the skid marks.  In this case, it was no joke.  I checked Hester and she was still parked on her center stand with her vinyl rain cover still in place.  The straps I had placed around her and the tree were unnecessary.

I was hungry.  No, I was starved.  I couldn't remember when I last ate anything other than peanuts and Slim Jims.  Even the fish offered to me the night before in Greybull was starting to sound good.  People were stirring down on the street across from the RV park.  I decided to go find a real meal.

At a traffic light, I was once again greeted by the same pickup truck with the same dog in the back.  This time, there was no passenger staring me down from the side mirror in the cab and the dog in back who had seemed so happy a couple of hours earlier, was now slumped over, dripping wet; his dusty bandana soaked and dripping.  Unlike before, both of his ears were drooping and his nub of a tail was tucked tight against his speckled rump.  I reached out to him like before and he just laid his head on the side of the truck bed.  Apparently, he was as afraid of the storm as I was, but I had shelter from it that he apparently did not.  I thought of my dog Zeus and how as fiercely protective as he is, he's still terrified of thunder.  A strange but somewhat familiar feeling rumbled inside me and it wasn't hunger.

I settled in for a steak at a place called Rosco's and I rode up to incredulous stares from the staff there.  "Did you ride through that storm?" the hostess inquired.  I replied that I had ridden it out in a tent down the street, which only generated more stares.  "You're not from here, are you" she commented.  I asked "Is anybody?"  She said that there were a few, but they knew better than to risk exposure to a storm like that" as she walked me to my table.  I thought to myself "they had a choice".  The waitress arrived and offered me a menu.  I told her all I wanted was the largest steak they had - cooked medium rare, a salad, and a glass of tea.  "Don't you want to see the prices?" she asked.  I replied that I didn't care; I just wanted food.  It occurred to me that my appearance might not be its best, so I hit the men's room.  I was right.  I was a mess. My hair looked like Albert Einstein stuck his finger in an electrical socket, my face was dirty, and I needed a shave.  I was reminded of the look I got from the hostess at Fast Eddie's seemingly eons ago in Tok, Alaska.  I shaped my hair down using my fingers and water from the sink and then washed my hands and face.  I still was far from pretty, but it was an improvement.  As I looked in the mirror, I could see that the shape of my face had changed.  My belt was tightened to the last hole and my pants were still drooping.  I looked like a homeless guy with a really cool, albeit really dirty Harley.  The steak was OK; Sizzler quality at best.  But it was much-needed sustenance and I scarfed it and the mixed veggies down using the bread to sop up the juice.  When I was finished eating, the plate looked as if it hadn't even been used.

The cook came out and sat across from me in the booth.  "Didn't like it, huh?" he joked.  "No. Can I send it back?" I replied with a grin.  He told me that he had been in the Army, stationed in Texas and had come to Sturgis for a rally twenty years ago and never left.  Even compared to me at that instant, this was a rough looking character.  His faded do-rag covered his sparse grey hair and reached down over his forehead, almost touching his unibrow.  He had old piercings in both ears that appeared to have closed up years ago.  One looked as if an earring had been torn clean through the ear lobe.  Strangely, he had no tattoos; at least none that I could see in his short sleeves.  His face held deep cracks, surrounded a cauliflower nose that appeared to have been broken more than once, and bore no facial hair.  He had scarred hands with thin rings on several fingers and on one thumb.  His fingernails looked as if they had been nervously chewed way too far down.  His dark, narrow eyes seemed to lighten and widen a bit as I described my trip; where I had been and where I was heading.  He asked for details about all my stops and seemed genuinely interested in my response.  As we talked, I considered the other people I had encountered in Sturgis.  Everyone there seemed like voluntary inmates in some sort of Twilight Zone prison camp without walls.  It occurred to me that their entire lives revolved around ten days in August.  I remembered the old woman in the window back at the Hot Spot on the Dalton Highway in Alaska.  She was stuck in the middle of nowhere.  But these people could drive thirty minutes to the east or to the west and be in a world that had a purpose year round.  It seemed to me when I spoke with them that they secretly relished their voluntary vassalage, yet they intentionally projected a sense of emulous despair to people like myself who were only passing through.  It made me glad to have a home to go to.  I realized that this as-of-yet unrecognized feeling that had been developing within me over the last two or three days - was me starting to miss it.

One exception to the depressed Sturgis residents was the park manager. She and her husband were retired snow birds who lived in Florida during the winter and managed the RV park through the summers.  She was a gracious and kind woman who seemed genuinely interested in the Alaskapade and for my safety after the storm.  She had the appearance and demeanor I expected from the voice on the phone the night before.  If I ever go back to Sturgis, I will stay at this RV park.

I saddled up on Hester and rode back to my campsite. The ground was dry and there was no evidence whatsoever of the violent storm that had rocked these grounds less than two hours before.  The summer sun was setting to the west, but it was still bright out.  This struck me as a stark contrast to the seemingly absolute darkness I had encountered only hours before.  The skies had faded from a deep blue to a warm orange, which made the few clouds that dotted the sky seem even more voluminous and closer to the ground, yet peacefully harmless.

When I arrived at my tent, I felt a peculiar sense of security.  I felt like I was in a familiar place.  It wasn't home, but it was strangely common and comforting.  I was again reminded of my dog Zeus.  He always felt at home wherever his bed was.  My tent was my comfy, familiar dog bed.  As euphoric as I found myself feeling when I rode through mountains and scenic landmarks each day, every night that I had to seek a place to camp generated an uneasy sensation in my gut.  It was an insecure feeling to which I was not accustomed.   I felt homeless.  I had money for hotels, but I wanted to stick to my plan and more importantly, I needed to stick to my budget.  The uneasy feeling seemed to dissipate almost instantly whenever I secured a place to sleep; even if that place was just a cut-out on the side of the road.  I have yet to put my finger on the exact reason for my insecurity in this regard, but the feeling was as deep as any other emotion I had experienced on the Alaskapade.  Needless to say, I was happy to be back at hotel Hester in the Sturgis RV park.

I saw a bike and realized that the other tent's occupant had returned.  I wondered where he had ridden out the storm.  He saw me and came walking over.  We introduced ourselves and made smalltalk about the weather.  Ed was retired from the utility industry in Florida and was on a long bike trip across the country, riding a Triumph Rocket III.  He rode out the storm at a card table in a casino down in Deadwood.  I mentioned that I tried to put his things back where they were before the storm.  He was appreciative, but I think he still wondered how his camp survived.  Ed and I talked quite a while and the topic turned to where we had been and where we were going.  He said he planned to ride the Spearfish Canyon scenic loop, to the Chief Crazy Horse monument, and to Mount Rushmore the next day, which was Sunday.  I said that I planned on breaking camp in the morning and heading to Rushmore myself before starting the final 1,200 mile ride home to Texas.  Ed mentioned that we could ride it together if I wanted. We talked more about our respective journeys and I was somewhat taken by Ed's relaxed demeanor.  It occurred to me that I was in no real hurry to get home and that I enjoyed Ed's company.  I decided on the spot to stay through tomorrow and ride with Ed to all the places he mentioned.  I would drop by the office in the morning and pay for another night.

Ed From Florida
Ed and I talked a while longer and I decided I needed to charge up my goodies and try to get on line to update this blog.  The Sturgis RV park had an excellent WiFi network.  Earlier in the afternoon before the storm, I was geeking out looking at the antenna array with its directional patches broadcasting to the various camping areas and the backhaul antennas that connected their signals between the network equipment and the antenna towers.  I wanted to ask the hostess if I could get a look at the network gear, but I figured she already thought I was weird enough as it was.  In the background, a band could be clearly heard playing in a bar across the street.  I considered walking over to give them a listen as I love live music. Hearing all the great classic rock tunes made me really miss playing my drums.  I blew off walking over, electing instead to enjoy the music from a distance.

I sat back in my tent with all the flaps open, letting the light breeze blow through.  The air was scented with a fresh, clean-smelling post-rain fragrance.  It was as if I was living in a TV ad for fabric softener.  The bright orange sky gave up its battle against nightfall and darkness fell over the camp.  Sturgis had a great starscape.  The clearly visible constellations in the deep black night sky reminded me of camping trips I took with my uncles when I was a kid.  My uncle King would point at stars and make up ridiculous stories about them, all of which I believed wholeheartedly.  It struck me that in less than an hour, I had experienced an emotional 180.  I had a comfortable, safe place to sleep without the threat of finding wildlife, derelicts, or dog shit outside my tent the next morning.  I was relaxed, confident, and looking forward to a full day of relaxed riding with my new friend Ed and without an agenda.  My belly and my heart were full and my spirit was recharged.  I quickly fell asleep staring up at the new moon through the open tent flaps.

Touring the Black Hills
I woke up Sunday morning feeling every bit as refreshed as I had the day after I reached the Arctic Circle. As I laid in my tent pondering the day's plans, I found it appealing that I didn't have to break camp and load Hester.  I had already offloaded most of my gear from the bike the afternoon before in a failed attempt to hold my tent down in the storm that battered the area that day.  Just riding away without extensive preparation would be a rare luxury on this trip.

Belle Fourche Marker
I crawled out of my tent and left the mess behind inside.  It was liberating, like getting up and not making your bed...which honestly, I really never do at home anyway.  Ed was already up and stirring around his camp.  I dressed and wandered over to the RV park office to pay for an extra night's stay.  The office had a cooler with Monster Energy drinks and a snack rack with peanuts.  I bought a can and a bag...breakfast of champions!  As I paid for the camping spot, I asked the lady there what the rates were during the rally.  She replied that the rates jumped to $35 per night per person with a minimum of five nights, which included water, electricity, and WiFi Internet.  She added that campers are given wrist bands and all bikes and people must pass through a narrow security gate that would be manned 24 hours a day while the rally was in progress.  $175 for a week's camping with utilities during the Sturgis rally with access to their top notch, modern restroom and laundry facilities seemed like a bargain to me.  Honestly, I expected to pay $35 per night for my brief stay before the rally.  We talked briefly and she commented "Ya know, you don't speak the way you look."  I had grown my hair out over the last several months and I suppose the last few weeks on the road had me looking as haggard to other people as Hester looked to me.

Ed and I discussed possible routes for our day of riding.  Both of us were somewhat lethargic about it all.  It's not that we weren't interested, we were just easy about it and neither of us had any real preferences.  Ed had heard that the geographic center of the United States was in a nearby town called Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  The actual center is still a matter of debate.  Kansas used to claim it, until 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii became states and Kansas lost its bragging rights, which is sad because Kansas has very little else to brag about.  We saddled up and headed for Belle Fourche.  From there, we planned to ride the scenic Spearfish Canyon route and make our way to Mount Rushmore.  The townspeople of Belle Fourche have erected a nice monument completely encircled with flags from all fifty states and there was a Korean War memorial as well.  We spent a few minutes relishing the splendor that was Belle Fourche and then headed out to Spearfish Canyon.  Ed and I had heard great things about this scenic route and were stoked to get to ride through it.  Unfortunately, hundreds of rental camper drivers had apparently heard about it too.  The ride was painstakingly slow.  I'm not one of those guys who has to ride fast all the time, but there are some roads that just command speed and the Spearfish loop was one of them.  We piddled along at a speed only a Gold Wing rider could appreciate.  I suppose a benefit to the snail pace was that we were able to get long views of the canyons, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife that dotted the land.
Hester at Rest in Spearfish Canyon

We stopped to snap photos at several locations.  I was enjoying being able to ride in a short sleeve t-shirt without my chaps and leather jacket.  I really wanted to lose my helmet for a while like I did before my game of chicken with Bambi. That close call reminded me of how lucky I was and I decided to just keep the skid lid on.  The photo on the left illustrates just how clear and blue the skies were that Sunday.  The temperature was in the mid 70's and there was but the slightest of breezes in the air.  I noticed that the air up there smells different.  I think I've grown accustomed to the smog that surrounds the Dallas area because my sense of smell seemed heightened in the absence of it.  It was hard to believe that the area had been ravaged by such a violent storm just sixteen hours earlier.  The roaring rivers, waterfalls, and raised lake levels were a clear indication that several inches of rain had fallen.  The Spearfish loop is littered with trail heads and we saw many hikers suiting up beside the road and many more scaling the canyon walls.  I thought to myself that those people really needed helmets!

Ed and I rode past the Rimrock Lodge, Victoria's Tower, Eleventh Hour Gulch, and by a few working mines before making our way to highway 86 near Spearfish Falls at Cheyenne Crossing.  We then continued southward for about seventy miles toward Custer, SD.  This route would take us to the Chief Crazy Horse monument, from which we could hit Mount Rushmore on our way back to Sturgis.  I had heard the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial had to be seen to be believed.  Mount Rushmore gets all the mainstream press, but many riders said that Crazy Horse was not to be missed.  We stopped for gas and a cold drink and compared our differing GPS directions to a printed map.  An Army soldier home on leave stopped by and told us that improvements to 385 had been completed and that that road was a great route to the Avenue of the Chiefs that led up to the memorial.  When in doubt, I tend to trust the locals.  We decided to ignore our GPS and take the soldier's advice. The ride on the multilane highway was a welcome departure from the elephant walk that had been the Spearfish Canyon run.  Before we knew it, we were at the gate heading in to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  This monument was commissioned by Lakota Chiefs after seeing all the Mount Rushmore activity in their back yard.  Work on it started in 1948 as a solo effort by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. We rode up a long hill to the ticket booth and each paid $5 to enter the park.  Ahead of me, meticulously carved into the mountain was the profile of an enormous face.  Realizing the enormity of the face at that distance made me instantly realize that my $5 was money well spent.  I couldn't wait to get closer and to learn more about it.

Ed and I entered the pavilion and watched the twenty minute video presentation detailing the history and progress of the monument.  The sacrifices Korczak made to realize his dream were mind boggling.  While living on the mountain, he married and had ten children.  Five of them are still involved in the day-to-day operation of the monument's construction. Korczak died in 1982 at the age of 74, but his widow still lives on the property.  Progress is woefully slow, but the project is completely funded through donations.  The Lakota and Korczak twice turned down offers of over $10 million dollars from the U.S. government in favor of keeping the project private.  It's completion might come sooner if there were more cash infused into the process. I suspect I'll not see the monument completed in my lifetime. The term "monumental" truly applies here and although it will take generations to see it through, it will be completed on the Lakota's terms.
The Model & the Real Thing
After watching the video and wandering through the sculptor's residence and workshop, we decided to pay the additional $4 to take a bus ride down to the base of the mountain and get a closer look.  The enormity of the structure is mind boggling.  As a comparison, all four heads of Mount Rushmore could fit into Chief Crazy Horse's head when the monument is finished.  It's amazing that the sculptor was able to gain the ground he did without the aid of satellite imagery and modern cutting tools. 
The $9 Ed and I shelled out to see the Crazy Horse Monument was absolutely money well spent.  I'm a goal-driven person, so I can relate to the commitment the sculptor's family has made to seeing the project through.  It will be generations before the sculpture is complete, but I suspect those generations will have all included members of the Ziolkowski family.

Ed and I saddled up and headed towards Mount Rushmore.  We backtracked a few miles and made our way towards Keystone to the National Park.  The sweeping mountain roads were somewhat crowded, but this was a three day holiday weekend, so it was to be expected.  We approached the entrance to the Mount Rushmore park and saw that they wanted $11 just to drive on the road that allowed viewers to get a decent photo of the sculpture.  We weighed our options comparing Rushmore to Crazy Horse and both determined that our $11 could be better spent on dinner.  We found a spot on the highway to snap a quick photo and motored on back towards camp.
I'm not saying Mount Rushmore isn't an impressive accomplishment.  It's just that when compared to the Crazy Horse memorial, well, there's just no comparison.

It was after 5:00 and Ed and I were both hungry.  We both skipped lunch and the fuel from my breakfast of peanuts and Monster Energy had burned off hours ago.  Ed suggested we find a grocery store and pick up some steaks to cook at camp.  I had no cooking equipment, but Ed was pulling a trailer and had all sorts of camping gear.  I was impressed to the point where I can see myself picking up a trailer rig like that sometime.  I love riding and I love camping and if a trailer makes camping more comfortable, I'm up for that.  I wondered however, how a trailer would have survived the road from Destruction Bay and the Dalton Highway.

We made our way into some small town that I can't even find on the map as I write this.  Apparently, thousands of others did though because traffic was a snarl when we rode down the main street.  Eventually, we came to a dead stop just past the tunnel in the photo above and the line of cages stretched as far as we could see.  I decided to trust my GPS and we turned back looking for an alternative route back to Sturgis.  Moments later, Ed and I found ourselves on a single lane twisty road that meandered along numerous creeks and forests.  It was an unexpected treat after riding an hour on the highway out of Mount Rushmore.  The twisty road eventually dumped out on some other road that led us up to Rapid City and Interstate 90.  

Campin' Vittles
We hit Sturgis around 7:00pm and found a grocery store.  Shopping for groceries was the last thing I thought I'd be doing on the Alaskapade, but I was salivating over the prospect of a steak cooked on an open fire.  Everyone knows food cooked outside on a campfire is better than any food cooked in a restaurant.  We loaded up on steaks, beans, salad stuff, and bottled tea and headed back to camp.  Ed was as laid back a chef as he was in every other manner in which I observed him.  He had a handle on the cooking chores and two cooks in any kitchen can be a crowd, even if that kitchen is a wide open space such as our campground.  While Ed was cooking, I headed up to the topmost hill of the Sturgis RV Park to take a pic or two and shoot some footage for the Alaskapade! video.  While I was alone up there, I could see the entire town of Sturgis and for miles beyond it in three directions.  Sturgis was still dead.  It occurred to me that the essence of Sturgis isn't the place.  It isn't the volunteer prisoners who mope about the place.  It's the event.  It's the ride.  When I considered the bigger picture of the Alaskapade, it too was not about Alaska or even the Arctic Circle.  It was about the ride, and it had been the ride of my life.  Throughout the trip, I had struggled to find profound things to say in the little self interviews I conducted in front of my video cameras.  Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with plenty to say.  The profundity of it all is yet to be seen when the video editing is complete and I find a place on the Internet to post it.  But I think I was able to articulate my feelings and observations clearly enough.  I suppose we'll see when it's complete.

Ed from Florida - Shrug from Texas
Several deer made their way down the hill behind us and wandered almost all the way into our campsite as Ed and I enjoyed a great steak dinner.  The reality is that it could have been more peanuts and Monster Energy and I would have enjoyed it just as much.  I had a great day of riding which was preceded by a picture prefect night of camping under the stars.  Tomorrow, the fun would be over.  I would be packing up camp in the morning and and heading home.

I pondered the accomplishments I had made on my long journey, all the places I had seen, and the people I met along the way.  This trip had been everything I had hoped for and more.  It was harder than I could have ever imagined, but it measured up and beyond the steep expectations I had set for it and for myself.  Ed and I sat at his camp and talked late into the night.  We talked for hours and we talked about nothing.  He pulled up my Alaskapade site on his iPad and started reading my account of heading to the Arctic Circle.  I eventually retired to my tent and left him there reading in the silence of the cool, crisp South Dakota night air.  I awakened hours later realizing I had forgotten to cover Hester.  When I stepped out, Ed was still reading. I stretched the cover over Hester and quietly crawled back into my tent anticipating another night of sound sleep.

Riding Home - Alaskapade!  Over & Out

This day started like every other in the Alaskapade; I woke up.  I looked over at my phone to see what time it was and to try to figure out why my alarm didn't go off.  It was set for 6:30am, but it was only 6:00.  Had I been at home, I would have rolled over and slept the extra half hour.  But like food, sleep just didn't seem to be something I needed on this trip.  I was living on the adrenalin rush of just being out here.  Well, that and 5 Hour Energy shots.

Where Did All This Crap Come From?
I took my time rolling up my sleeping bag, deflating my air mattress, and generally sorting out crap to be packed for the journey home.  After just two days in this location, I had spread out and made a huge mess.  The ride to Dallas would be about 1,200 miles south through South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and into Texas.  My goal was to pack so that I could take just one small bag into the hotel wherever I decided to stay.  To be honest, I considered making the 1,200 mile trip in one day.  Lord knows if I did 1,000 miles across the terrain I did when I left Fairbanks, I could do 1,200 on smooth highways standing on my head.  I thought better of it.  I was only going home and was in no rush to get there.  It was Monday, July 4th and I figured the traffic inbound to the cities through which I would have to pass would be stacked up with cagers returning from their long weekend.  I decided to stop halfway in Wichita, Kansas and had made reservations at a hotel there the night before.  Wichita was a short 722 miles from Sturgis and the ride from there to home would be a breeze.

Home of Arbor Day. Wow.
Hester was packed and ready to roll.  I walked over to Ed's camp to say goodbye and to express my thanks to him for the riding company and for cooking dinner last night.  He was planning to hang around another day or two in Sturgis and then pack up and head off somewhere, but I don't recall where.  Actually, I'm not sure he knew where he was heading next either.  Despite all the adventures I had just experienced, I was envious of Ed.  I saddled up and headed east on Interstate 90.  My southbound route through South Dakota took me through such thriving metropolii as Winner and Bonesteel before crossing into Nebraska.  It struck me that I had never ridden in Nebraska.  After a few miles, I realized why.  No offense intended to any Corn Huskers who might be reading this, but Nebraska was little more than just a state to get through.  The welcome sign said "Home of Arbor Day". I wondered, don't they need trees for that?  The view in Nebraska never seemed to change; just flat fields and railroad tracks as far as the eye could see.  Fortunately, I had vivid memories and images from the previous weeks dancing in my head to keep me sane.  I found myself actually looking forward to gas stops so I could see people.  Interestingly enough, the people in Nebraska - as boring and absolutely unremarkable as the state was - seemed happier and more content to be there than did the people of Sturgis.

The 300 mile southbound trip through Alaska from Fairbanks to the Canadian border was as quotidian as was Nebraska itself.  I saw no motorcycles, no law enforcement vehicles, and for that matter, very few cars at all.  It seemed like mere days past since I entered Nebraska and I was already seeing the sign for Kansas.  I had driven through Kansas before and I knew that it would set a completely new standard for tedium on today's ride.  I stopped for the obligatory photo at the welcome sign and tried to adjust my eyes to seeing in black and white.  About twenty miles from Concordia, I noticed Hester's ride felt squishy.  I thought I was just tired.  Then I noticed I was turning the handlebars to the right just to keep her straight on the highway.  The erudite in me realized that this wasn't normal.  I pulled over to look her over.  I had a flat rear tire.

Only Flat on the Bottom
I had ridden over 9,000 miles through the worst terrain imaginable and I got a flat in Kansas?  I had put 19,000 miles on Hester's original tires when I arrived in Fairbanks and I got a flat on a new tire with less than 5,000 miles, in Kansas.  KANSAS!  I looked the tire over and didn't see any visible tear and figured it was just a puncture.  That would explain the slow decline in handling as the tire lost air.  I was carrying a tire plug kit, so I decided to try to find the hole, plug it, and move on.  I removed the saddle bags and closely examined the exposed parts of the tire, then pushed Hester forward a few feet to look over another area now visible after the roll.  I located what appeared to be a small puncture, dabbed some spit on it, and saw bubbles.  Encouraged, I broke out the plug kit and got to work.  The plug process was pretty simple.  I had successfully used plugs before and they held up well.  I reamed out the puncture wound and inserted the mushroom-shaped plug using the cleverly designed insert tool included in the plug kit.  I stretched the piece of the plug protruding out to seat the plug against the inside of the tire and used my CO2 cartridges to inflate it.  After two cartridges, the tire was full.  Success!
Not so fast.  I heard a faint hiss emanating from somewhere in the wheel well.  Upon closer inspection, there was yet another puncture.  I repeated the process described above and used the remaining two cartridges to inflate the tire again.  No hiss.  Success!  Well, semi-success.  The tire was only half full and I was out of cartridges.  My GPS indicated there was a gas station about three miles down the road, so I decided to slow roll Hester there.  It was closed.  Not just closed; closed down. I slowly rode another twelve miles to a convenience store in Concordia and paid a dollar to use the air compressor in the parking lot.  All I had on me was a hundred dollar bill, which the guy at the counter said he could not accept unless I was buying fifty or more dollars worth of merchandise.  I tried my meanest look (which wasn't difficult to generate), I tried my nicest voice.  I was about to break down and ask the guy to just loan me a dollar when I realized I had a two dollar Canadian coin in my left vest pocket.  I kept my Canadian currency in my left vest pocket with my passport and my US currency in the right.  When I exchanged currency back in Oak Harbor, they wouldn't take my coins.  I offered the guy the $2 Canadian coin and you would have thought it was gold based on his reaction.  It was just a Canadian coin, but then again this was rural Kansas.  He opened the register and handed me four quarters as he called someone on his cell phone to tell them the good news.  I had about $9 in Canadian coins in that pocket.  Judging from his excitement, I bet I could have walked out of there with a case of Monster Energy and Slim Jims in trade for them.

I inflated the tire to the proper psi.  No hiss!  I performed the spit test on the two plugged spots.  No bubbles!  This was looking good.  I waited around a few minutes and re-tested the pressure.  No loss!  Success!  I took off and was looking forward to getting to my hotel.  It was well over 100 degrees out and I was melting.  I had drunk all my water and didn't want to buy $50 worth at the store where I inflated the tire.  All I wanted was a shower and a soft bed.  I passed through Concordia and was heading towards Selina when the tire completely let loose.  Hester was fishtailing all over my lane and I fought to keep the bike and its top heavy load vertical as I slowly rolled to a stop.

I had a towing plan and I wasn't too far from Concordia.  I was planning to stay somewhere that night anyway, so I figured Concordia was as good a place as any.  Tomorrow's ride would just be a few hours longer.  The optimist in me was just glad this didn't happen on the way up.  The Road America towing number was pre programmed into my phone.  I pulled it out to call and the battery was too weak.  I hadn't been able to charge it because of my previously mentioned electrical issues.  I had pre programmed a message into my Spot GPS transmitter that read "Flat tire at the location indicated in this message". The message continued with the Road America phone number.  I had one or two key people I could send it to and know that the message would be relayed.  It would be a waiting game from there because the Spot doesn't receive messages.  I sat on the road for about an hour pondering my next move when a Kansas State Trooper blew by me, made a U-turn, and then pulled up.  I admit that I'm not normally happy to see a State Trooper's lights flashing behind me, but I was happy to see this guy.  He invited me into his air conditioned cruiser and let me plug my phone in to call Road America.  I waited another hour in the trooper's car for Road America to call me back with a status.  They did, twice; and both times told me they couldn't find anyone, but that they were still looking.  The trooper was perfectly happy to let me sit there in his car.  He said that they were not allowed to drive over 130 miles a day and he had already hit that.  He added that he was on overtime for working the holiday, so sitting with me was no bother.  We chatted about our families, his recent 18 months of military service in Iraq, what it's like to approach potentially angry drivers, and whatnot.  Another hour later, a truck pulling a flatbed trailer arrived.  Road America called the Concordia Police and had them dispatch a local towing agency.  I had to pay him and will hit Road America up for reimbursement.  Turns out, this guy was a local cop with a Harley and a trailer.  He loaded Hester and dropped me off at a Super 8 Motel.  He said he'd store Hester in his garage overnight and pick me up in the morning to take me to a local motorcycle shop.  It literally was an offer I couldn't refuse.

A Rare View of Hester on a Trailer
I checked into the hotel and when the lady at the desk saw my Texas address, she asked me if I knew where Wylie was.  Wylie was minutes from my home.  I replied that I rode through the back roads there often.  She and her husband were from Wylie.  Her husband used to work for Nortel Networks.  I used to work for Nortel Networks.  Her husband worked in the Technical Assistance Center as dedicated support to the Global Crossing account.  Global Crossing was my account.  I even knew his name, but we had never met in person.  Still, what were the odds?  As thrilling as those coincidences were, I was still whipped and quickly made my way to my room and after a much-needed shower, hit the sheets.  I laid awake listening to an endless barrage of fireworks and screaming voices seemingly right outside my window.  I peeked out and realized they were right outside my window.  Apparently, Concordia has no laws against fireworks because dozens of kids were running around going crazy with bottle rockets, roman candles, and sparklers.  I was reminded of my days as a kid when we used to shoot bottle rockets at each other and chase each other around shooting fireballs from roman candles on our bicycles.  Fireworks were cool.  My kids got jipped.

Welcome Sign to Rational Thinkers
Tuesday morning arrived and Hester was waiting for me on the trailer behind the pickup truck when I stepped out of the hotel.  The parking lot was littered with burned paper, melted plastic rocket fins, and little colored dot trails where smoke bombs had been rolling around the night before spewing their smokey haze.  We drove over to the repair shop, which was only a few blocks away.
Hester Meets Phil's
California Phil's was an independent bike repair shop and the owner, Phil specialized in Harleys.  From the instant we met, I could tell Phil was a cool guy.  Actually, I knew it before we met when I saw the sign in his window.  Phil had the tire I needed in stock and got to work on it right away.  I tried to stay out of his way, even though he invited me into his shop as he worked.  He had all manner of bikes and cool old cars back there.  The mint condition 1972 Corvette he bought in high school still stands out in my memory.  I especially liked the Harley Davidson desert bike with the Rotax motor that was purpose built for the military for use in Desert Storm.
Phil and I talked while he worked and before I knew it, the tire was mounted and balanced and Hester was off the lift.  I strapped the old tire to my Trunk because I have a road hazard warranty through my dealer.  It's pro-rated and the tire is brand new, so when I need a new one, I'll exchange it.  I saw several BMW and KTM adventure bikes carrying spare tires up in remote Alaska, but mine was the only Harley I saw doing that.  I paid Phil for the tire and labor.  He shot me a great deal on both.  I was stranded and he could have raped me for parts and labor, but he didn't.  I got the impression that his character wasn't the type to do that to customers, but when you're used to dealing with Harley Davidson's dealer service shops, you tend to keep your guard up.  If you're in the Kansas area, or you order parts on line, look Phil up.  He ships all over the country and he's made a customer out of me.

Harley Davidson Rotax MT-500 Special Forces Bike

I was back on the road by late morning heading south in I-135 towards Salina, KS.  There was a Harley dealer there that I had considered taking Hester to had she made it that far with the two plugs I installed.  I wouldn't have considered trying to ride the remainder of the trip home on that tire, but it was irrelevant now.  I was riding without any leathers now.  It was hotter today than it had been on the entire trip.  Texas and much of the southwest entered an extreme heatwave after I left back in June.  Other than a little rain here and there, I had enjoyed great riding weather throughout the entire trip.  Now, I was melting.
115 Degrees on the Ride Home
I looked at the air temperature gauge and it read 60 degrees.  Something told me it was off.  I tapped the fairing and it jumped to over 115.  That was more like it, but I still didn't trust it.  Honestly, I don't know why I even bothered to look at the damn thing.  It's never been right, which made me wonder.  Harley can design internal engine sensors that can detect that the crankshaft is 1.5 degrees out of sync and then send engine killing alarms to the Electronic Control Module, but they can't figure out a stinking thermometer?  I'll be opening up the fairing to clean, tighten, and re-seat everything after the trip.  Maybe I'll replace the air temperature gauge with something more accurate like a mood ring or a divining rod.   
The 187 miles from Concordia to the Oklahoma line passed quickly.  Atlas Shrugged had me pleasantly distracted from the heat.  Hank Reardon had joined the strikers; Dagny was surely next.  Oklahoma to Texas was 220 miles.  Once in Texas, I had a short 80 miles and I was home.  Atlas ended.  I had read it before, but it's such a great and profound story that a repeat was warranted. I was heading south on Interstate 35 in Sanger, TX, jamming out to Ace of Spades by Motorhead using the spare ear buds I discovered in my glove box and then recalled that I had placed them there before the trip.  In one of my routine mirror checks, I saw red and blue lights flashing behind me right on my ass.  Oops.  I pulled Hester onto the right shoulder, killed the motor, and dismounted.  The Sanger Police officer patiently waited for me to remove my helmet and then told me that he clocked me doing 80 in a 70 using a laser gun.  I had seen him on the service road several feet off the highway and I wondered where the flat, reflective surface on Hester was that he used to clock me with a laser.  Nevertheless, he was probably right and as much as I like a good debate, I don't argue with law enforcement.  I explained that I was on the final leg of a 10,000 mile trip and that I believed I was really just trying to go with the traffic flow and not impede other drivers.  I never denied the charge.  He ran my license and let me off with a warning.  The irony of it all struck me.  I had ridden almost 10,000 miles through twelve states and three Canadian provinces.  With the exception of some courtesy assistance from a Kansas State Trooper, this was my first interaction with the law on the entire trip.

During my last night in Sturgis while sitting atop "Mount Rodney" in the RV park, I began musing about the past few weeks; the miles Hester and I covered and the places I had seen.  This trip was many things to me.  In fact, it was many more things than I planned for it to be.  My attitude before I left was piss poor.  I needed to get away.  I felt like with the exception of one or two friends, nobody seemed to get me.  I left with no fanfare.  No one at home even bothered to get up to see me off.  I was OK with that and realistically didn't expect them to.  This was my dream and it had been made clear to me from the beginning both directly and indirectly that it was a selfish and risky endeavor that I had no business taking.  I agree that this trip was somewhat selfish and that there was a degree of risk.  I was also fully aware that I am genetically prone to wanderlust. I wrote about it months ago and I've always managed to keep it in check.  That mindset notwithstanding, I was somewhat angrily looking forward to being alone; just a long-haired, anonymous guy out on the road on a bike with no responsibilities and no sense of commitment other than to realize a long suppressed dream that few who really mattered to me seemed to understand.  I got to experience those moments of solitude and they were wonderful in a liberating sort of way.  I wouldn't trade the feeling for anything.

Fat Shrug - Dec 4, 2010 & Slimmer Shrug Jun 21, 2011
Speaking of feelings, this trip took a physical toll not just on Hester, but on me.  I had worked hard for six months to condition myself and be ready.  I was in the gym at 5:00am doing heavy cardio  five days each week and had altered my diet considerably.  The hard work paid off and I dropped almost fifty pounds before I left.  The reality is that no amount of gym time could have prepared me for the pace I maintained while I was out there. I began at almost 250 pounds in January and weighed 186 when I returned. I've been reviewing the video I shot while out on the road and I think the transformation my viewers will see when we're finished editing it is astounding.  There's a tremendous amount of footage to review and edit, but when it's finished, I believe it will yield some exciting stuff and provide a pretty insightful view into my head and my heart; dangerous places - not for the weak.

Back on Mount Rodney, I sat looking out over Sturgis and considered the people I met along the way. Hermann and Joanne in Jasper, Alberta graciously hosted me and cooked a wonderful meal for me in their home.  Jeff in Fairbanks let me use his corporate rental as a base of operations while I was in Alaska.  He also gave me encouragement and invaluable information about the Dalton and pipeline weather conditions.  Christian from France riding Mustang Joe; his months-long south-to-north journey was an inspiration.  Meeting Scot at the Arctic Circle and then again on the road in the Yukon Territory and getting to ride two days with him gave me someone to share the experience with after being alone for days. Ed from Florida in Sturgis helped me to remember to slow down and enjoy the view.  He cooked a great steak too.
Pastor Jerry & Shrug at the Circle
I met a guy named Jerry while sitting at the Circle.  He and his friends had commented that somebody forgot their hat, pointing up at Martin's Harley cap I had left there moments before they arrived.  I replied that it belonged to a friend of mine who "couldn't make it."  Jerry walked over to me and mentioned that he was a Pastor for a biker church and added "I think there's more to this hat than that."  I related Martin's story to him and he seemed genuinely moved. I was already somewhat emotional having finally reached the sign, having kept my promise to Martin's widow, and having had time to contemplate things.  I'm not a religious person, but this was indeed a spiritual moment for me.  Well-timed compassion and understanding are powerful things.  Jerry emailed the photo on the left that one of his friends shot after he returned home.

There were countless others who were along from a distance, tracking me via the web page.  There were times when I felt very alone and insignificant out there and I would then realize there were thousands of eyes looking down at me, watching my every move.  The phone calls I received at my hotel in Great Falls and at the Harley dealer in Whitehorse were thought provoking, heartwarming, and inspirational.  I received hundreds of texts and emails from people telling me they were living vicariously through my adventures and my writing.  On the way up, I saw a passenger in an SUV staring me down as I passed them.  A few moments later, they sped up next to me honking their horn and waving.  The passenger was waving her arms and pointing to her iPad which was facing me and had the Alaskapade page on it.  They told me at a gas station hours later that they saw the logo on the back of the bike and "tuned in".  They even emailed me the day I got home congratulating me on the trip's success.  I received an email from a group of soldiers in Iraq. They were all Harley riders who were tracking me and commented that they would be proud to ride with me any day, anywhere.  I was humbled beyond description.  My point isn't that I was gaining notoriety.  My point is people really cared.  What started out as a simple means of on-line self affirmation and a dream to deliver a stupid hat somehow grew into something much bigger than any words I could write or photos I could post.  I considered all of what I just described and compared it to the times I spent alone and it occurred to me that I needed people more than I thought I did.  I was ready to go home.  I missed my family and friends.

Crossing into the Lone Star State
I rode the last hours through Texas genuinely excited to be getting home.  A close couple of friends who had been tracking me since I left were on the road waiting to follow me in and videotape my arrival.  They had actually gotten up the morning I left, met me on the highway forty miles from home, and taped my departure.  Here they were again to support me and share the experience.  About fifteen miles from home, I spotted a Harley rider on the side of the road and I remember looking over at him wondering if he needed help.  He waved and started rolling as soon as I went by and then rode up to me at a traffic light and yelled "Welcome Home!  He added something along the lines of "You and Hester are famous".  He told me that California Phil in Kansas was a friend of his, had read my page, told him I was coming through, and that he was moved to join me on a triumphant ride in for my last few miles home.  I have to admit I was glad I was wearing goggles.  I rode down my alley and into my driveway feeling a sense of accomplishment that I still can't pin words on.  The reception at home was about as warm as the one when I left.  Zeus was happy to see me and the friends who taped my departure were there.  Otherwise, the attitude at home was as if I had never left.  I accepted my role at home of being financially necessary but otherwise emotionally insignificant long before I left.  Perhaps that's one reason this journey was so important for me to make.  This journey wasn't for the readers.  This journey wasn't even for Martin.  This journey was for me.
Five years of dreaming and eight months of planning came down to 18 days and 9,764 miles for one man on two wheels.  It was more wonderful on every level than I could have possibly anticipated.  It was also much harder than I thought it would be.  The triumphs were great - crossing into Canada, reaching the Arctic Circle and slapping that sign, riding a thousand miles in one day, crossing back into the States, and the people I met who I'll never forget.  The trials were plenty also - horrible roads, motorcycle malfunctions, losing gear along the way, the flat tire, intense storms, and unplanned detours.  I wouldn't trade the triumphs or the trials for anything.  The events in our lives - be they good or bad - make us who we are.  Before I left, someone told me that this journey would be a good opportunity for me to find myself.  Since I returned, a few have asked if I feel it changed me in any way.  I'm pretty sure that although I wasn't looking, I indeed found myself.  The guy in the photo below is the guy I found and I hope I never lose him (hair notwithstanding).  I wonder a bit if the people who really know me will like this guy.  The answer to the did it change me question is yes because before I left, I would have actually cared whether or not those same people who really know me like this guy.

Alaskapade! Over & Out.  Stay Tuned for the Video, Coming Soon.