Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 6 Continued - Into Alaska

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 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.  I 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 coaches 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 an 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 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.

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  man staring intently at me from his porch.  I smiled and waved at him.  He didn't.  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.

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. .