Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alaskapade! Questions & Answers

Here are some questions from readers and my answers.  I'll add to the list if I receive more.

Have read with great interest your story and have to say that you did a wonderful job painting the picture that is riding a motorcycle to places I haven't been. My brother and I have planned on riding to Alaska for a long time and your reason for going isn't lost on me. My brother has had a bad heart his whole life and carries the scare from his surgery at 6 years old to prove it.  Now we just have to make it happen...

My questions are:
Q. Now that you have completed the trip is there anything you would do differently if you were to ride to Alaska again?

Believe it or not, the most stressful part of the trip for me was finding camping spots.  I realize that sounds simple, but when you're out there, it's more complex than it looks.  The best way to remedy this would be to plan a specified distance, ride it, and stop when you get there.  In some of the remote parts of Canada, this is easier said than done.  Fuel availability, weather, and road conditions all have an impact on the route and the time required to complete it.

Knowing how I feel now, I would have camped at Coldfoot, waited out the weather in Deadhorse, and rode the rest of the way there.  I now know that I could have ridden from Coldfoot to Deadhorse and back in a day.  I was that close and I didn't do it.

Q. What advice would you give someone planning this type of trip besides the obvious "do it"?
  1. Carry spare gas.  It was a very reassuring feeling knowing I had it.
  2. Don't be in a hurry.  I know I rode over 900 miles two days in a row and another 1,000 mile day.  But I wasn't in a hurry.  I just took advantage of the daylight and the physical high I was experiencing.
  3. Assess the risks such as roads (and the lack of), wildlife, weather, etc. and respect them or you will fall victim to them.
  4. Pack a few basic tools and LocTite. Then make time to inspect and tighten the bike.
...and a side note, how are you doing emotionally? That had to be a tough day, sign, hat, et all...

It was very emotional for me on many levels, perhaps even cathartic.  I'm a pretty simple minded guy and am often accused of having no feelings.   There are many who have done a trip like this and it's no big deal in the grand scheme of things.  But I'VE never done it.  I'm very much a goal driven person.  This trip gave me a semi-long term goal of slapping that sign, with short term rewards of checking off preparation items, getting in physical shape, etc.  Add the Martin component to all that and you have a recipe for emotion; even from a stoic guy like me.

Was it all you expected?

It was all I expected and more. The sense of adventure just knowing I was out there was invigorating. Stretching out in my tent at night after a long day on the road provided a satisfying sense of freedom and independence that I never experienced checking into a hotel.  I discuss this in greater detail in the video.

Which did you prefer, hotels or camping?

Camping by far.  I stay in hotels for my job and did about 46 weeks in them last year.  On the Alaskapade, I always felt uncomfortable leaving my gear on the bike in the parking lot, so on the few nights I did stay in hotels, I nearly unloaded Hester completely.  Even then, I would wake up often and go to the window to check on the bike.  When I camped, Hester was a few feet from me and I could unload just the bare necessities.  Camping just seemed more like a vacation to me.

I followed your adventure day and night and turned my family and co-workers on to your site.  Rest assured New Zealand was well represented in your audience.  The live map you provided was really innovative.  It was I who called for you at the Yukon Harley Davidson dealer in Whitehorse, Canada. I don't even know you and it gave me a sense of comfort to know where you were and that you were safe.  My wife thought I was insane until she read your most entertaining entries. She said they "humanized" you and she herself would be up at all hours checking up on you.  We have a couple of questions for you.

  1. Did you ever feel that the tracking device left you with a sense of diminished privacy?
  2. Your final entry was almost as emotionally tugging as the one when you reached the Arctic Circle. In fact, it seems that you sugar coated nothing.  Do you feel overexposed? 
Actually, The Spot Connect device offered a pleasant mix of feelings.  There were times when I felt thousands of miles from anyone and yet knew I had eyes looking down on me.  I had no idea it would generate the attention it did.  Like the spare gas can, I knew it was there and at the push of a button, I had help if I needed it.

I have never felt, nor do I now feel overexposed.  We all have lives and they all have issues.  A vacation like this has its own set of issues, problems, and stress (bad roads, weather, bike issues, etc.).  To "sugar coat" the experience by eliminating the challenges would be misleading and unfair to my readers.  Same goes for the anecdotal entries before the trip.  I caught heat from a family member who felt I was unfair to my father. But she (like he) wasn't there and I suppose there can be times when enlightenment can be discomforting.   Mentioning my agnosticism generated grief from several people.  Apparently, it's OK to feel that way and to have ecumenical questions, but inappropriate to admit it.  I started the blog as little more than a means reaffirming my commitment to the Alaskapade.  When the site hits started piling up, I was motivated to write more.  I've found opening up to be very liberating and I do my best to not expose personal details about others who appear in my entries.  If I look like a tool, so be it.  Sometimes I am a tool.  If the scenarios are humorous, that's even better.  Writing about the goofy events in my life is a good way for me to remember and re-live them.  Admittedly, some of the memories are less than happy, but those make the happier ones seem even better and in my book, that feeling is worth the "exposure".

KTM, Shrug, Scott, John Galt, or whoever you call yourself,
Although I'm not alone in my opinions, I'm probably the only one who will take the time to write this type of message to you. I don't have a question. Just a comment. I found your repeatly failed attemtps at humor to be sad. I found your occasional moments of contrition and humility to be contrived. You may have the simple minded American motor scooter assembly fooled, but educated literate types see through your attempts at catering to everyman. You alliterate as if you are informed and educated and yet place yourself in situations far beneath someone of such an enlightened state.  I found your self absorbed "lofty goal" to be a monumental waste of time and resources and I find it difficult to believe that the visitor counter on your web page is accurate.

I doubt you have the stones to publish this in your shallow little blogosphere trophy case

Well that was special.  I briefly wondered why someone who dislikes something as you described would waste their time repeatedly (notice I spelled it properly) checking it out.  To each his own, I suppose.  I take no offense to your comments about me.  Still, I suspect that in your enlightened state, you still somehow managed to overlook the fact that the "simple minded American motor scooter community" is successful enough to find the discretionary income to actually buy Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Enough said.

Loved the trip and all the logistical details you offered.  Can you talk to us about the expenses a little?

The overall trip costs were less than I expected.  I needed lightweight camping gear and a few tech goodies, all of which are detailed in earlier blog entries.  Bike prep was minimal, although I pre-ordered new tires from the Harley Outpost in Fairbanks and had them installed when I got there.  Their labor rates are ridiculous.  I suppose I could have located an independent shop there and saved some cash, but the peace of mind helped offset the cost somewhat.  Fuel averaged $5 per gallon.  It was really high in Canada and in the remote parts of Alaska.  The octane rating in the available gas was pretty low and Hester's fuel mileage dropped somewhat.  Hotels up there are expensive, but I preferred to camp anyway.  Camping costs were minimal, leaving extra cash for food.  I found that I ate very little on the trip.  There were a couple of nights where I splurged and ate full meals, but those were usually when I was in the company of other riders.  I just wasn't hungry and I dropped fifteen pounds while on the trip.

Would you do it again? solo or with people?

I would.  I think it was important for me to get away from people for a while.  Next time I'd do it with people, but they would have to be real riders who don't mind putting in serious miles each day.  I know that sounds counter to my earlier statement of taking my time, but at over 4,000 miles from Dallas, it would be easy to waste two weeks just getting to Alaska if a serious mileage discipline wasn't followed.

I've been following your adventure. I made the from Austin to Jasper, Canada trip on a Sportster 1200XL a couple of years ago. It rained pretty much 3/4 of the trip on me and a hailstorm even dented my gas tank!!

I always thought that I would make the Alaska trip ( I'm 55 and Female) but, I think that those bigggg trips are in my past. Not sure if I care to endure the pain anymore. I'm proud of you for making your dream come true.

I would like for you to do something that many bikers really don't want to address. The physical part. We are graying rapidly out here. I think I even see a little weathering on you from this trip:) but, really be up front about it in gory detail?!  How hard, on the old joints, back, would you do it again 10 years from now(aren't you 47)? Could you do those roads then. Would you have the body strength? It ain't like riding to the local watering hole is it!!

It's not a sexy or bravado subject and there is exceptionally fit folks out there at any age know what I mean. Most folks when I am planning a long trip have no idea what it takes to ride all day in all weather and discomfort. I'm I sorry? no, but it ain't always big grins either.
So, what your take on this matter.

p.s. I know you love Hester but, would a different bike type be better for all the tornup roads.
So glad you safe and did it
Mari Beth

Great questions! Congrats on making that trip on a Sportster!

I feel like I did my best to condition myself before the trip.  I wrote about it in detail earlier in the blog.  I committed to getting in shape for this trip and I stuck to my commitment. I mentioned that I weighed 240 in December.  Truth is, I was 250 but too embarrassed to admit it.  When it comes to weight loss, we all have goals.  In my case, I had not just a weight and size goal, but a reason to achieve them, which I believe is why I was able to.

I have had severe back pain for the last few years and thought it was a result of an auto accident.  My assumptions led me to believe I could take some pills or maybe even (eventually) get surgery for relief.  When I learned I had arthritis, it was clear that the pain was permanent and there was no solution.  I had to do something.  My doctor recommended a rehabilitation clinic near me and I begrudgingly went along.  I'm very glad I did.  I started their treatment and exercises about six weeks before leaving for Alaska.  The head of the clinic is a PhD Kinesiologist who really knows her stuff.  I explained what I was about to do and she and her staff worked with me, never judging me for my goal.

Other than my back, there was really no other noticeable pain on the trip.  I felt the usual numbness now and then and of course, my butt got sore.  But that's part of riding.  The ability to deal with it, look past it, and enjoy the ride is what separates real riders who pack on the miles from motorcycling enthusiasts who ride to the local ice house and pose.

Your "weathering" comment was an astute observation and I think the video will illustrate it even more.  I can think of no other way to state it than it was a really good weathering.  There's a sign in the rehab clinic that reads "Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional".  I found that to be simplistically profound and I took it seriously.  I was in the gym religiously at least five days each week, including the day before I left. I credit the lack of significant pain to that fact.

Yes, I would do it again in ten years and yes, I know I could.  Just knowing what to expect is half the battle.  Managing one's expectations is the key. Secondly, the roads between Whitehorse, YT and Tok, AK will be in much better shape in just a few years.  In ten years, the Dalton will probably be a four lane highway.

The ride on those roads would have obviously be easier on a KTM or BMW with suspension travel designed to handle the extremes.  The ride on the other roads was much more comfy on Hester.  There was a degree of pride in knowing that I got there on a Harley.  Mine was the only one I saw.  Some Gold Wings I saw on the side of the road weren't so lucky.  So yes, I would choose Hester again over one of those other bikes.

Wow!  Every time I read another passage of Alaskapade I feel as though I were there riding with you.  Now I am not one to normally take off on a Bike but you sure had enticed me to exercise my options.  To be free on the open road with my thoughts, oh how I would love to just do that.  Forget about all the worries, troubles, trials and aches of our daily lives and just LIVE!  It is amazing how your writing draws me in.  I just want to hear more and more.  I feel as though I am living vicariously through your experiences. One of these days I too will have to take a road trip similar to yours and see all the magnificent places that you have seen. 

Couple of questions I have for you, what did you discover about yourself on this trip that you did not already know? 

A few things actually.  I talk to myself  too much and I'm apparently a pretty bad singer.  Looking inward, I realized that the genetic wanderlust within me is much stronger than I thought it was.  I think also that I might have the capacity to be more emotional than I considered myself to be before I left.  I learned that I enjoyed the company of people more than I expected to.  I think the most profound lesson about the state of my life was learned pretty much immediately when I got home.

Are there things in your life that you are going to change because of this adventure?  

Yes.  I just have yet to sort them all out in my mind yet.  I want to get back to playing my drums.  I want to man cave the office apartment over my garage.  These are obviously simple goals.  I have other more esoteric goals.  I just need to fully come to grips with that last sentence in my previous answer before I can fully define them.

First I've followed your blog since the day you left and thoroughly enjoyed your journey.  I'm actually planning a similar trip to Fairbanks in 2013 and have a question(s).  I'm currently riding the same bike a 2010 RG in Scarlet red. I'm a very experienced rider and average 10k-12k per year. Now that you've returned if you had it to do over again would you consider a different bike to deal with the poor road conditions?  Although I'm a die hard harley rider I would consider making a temporary change to a BMW Adventure bike for a epic trip like this.

Without a doubt, I would ride Hester again. As stated above, an adventure bike would be more suitable on the harsh roads.  But those were few and far between.  Those bad roads can be negotiated on any bike of taken slowly and cautiously.  I'd rather slow down where necessary and enjoy the comfort of my geezer glide the rest of the way!

Other than your flat tire and tip over in Deadwood what other damage did your bike sustain?

Hester took some serious vibration.  I took time each day to look her over and tighten up.  This week, I plan to remove the outer fairing to clean and tighten everything.  I'll also have to troubleshoot the electrical connection that killed my auxiliary power and my power amp.  When I cleaned the bike this weekend, although it took me almost three hours, there wasn't much damage.  I took a few scratches when I hit the deer and when the wind blew Hester over, but otherwise, nothing significant.  One rider in the parking lot at the Harley dealer in Gillette, WY shook his head in disbelief commenting that he would never risk damaging his Harley like that.  He and his wife were on a beautiful, fully customized Harley Trike.  I pointed out a scratch on the rear fender and ask how that happened.  Before he could stop her, the wife spoke up and said that a runaway grocery cart hit it.

How many total miles did you ride?

I rode a total of 9,764 miles.

Where on the trip do you feel the most significant impact happened to you?

Seeing the Arctic Circle sign.   I realize it sounds silly that a piece of painted wood would invoke such emotion, but I think at the moment I got there, the sign represented much more to me than a place on the earth.

Where was your favorite place to camp?

Cataldo, ID was picturesque and peaceful.  The Sturgis RV park was nice because I had two nights there without tearing down camp.

Did you meet any eskimos in Alaska or do they leave for the summer?

If there are any Eskimos there, I didn't see them.

Did you visit any Harley dealers?

I'm not a big HD dealer tourist.  I stopped at Yukon HD in Whitehorse, YT, The Harley Outpost in Fairbanks (for new tires),  and the HD dealer in Gillette, WY.

How did people react when you told them you were riding from Texas to the Arctic Circle?

Most thought I was crazy; not because I was going there, but because I was on a Harley.  Many thought it was cool and a lofty goal.  One woman whose family had followed me in their Suburban said at a subsequent gas/lunch stop that her husband stated out loud in the car that he was so envious that wished he was me.  Her oldest daughter then piped up and said "when you rode up and took off your helmet, mom said she wished that too".  They took pictures on Hester and I had a good laugh.

Why the Arctic Circle?  Why not just Alaska?

Because it was there.  I wish I had gone all the way to Prudhoe. Maybe next time. 

When can we see some videos?

I'm working on it with a friend.  We don't want to just post a bunch of boring road footage.  I tried to shoot stuff that I thought my readers would want to see and I took time to speak to the camera and express whatever was on my mind at that time.  Editing and rendering the footage in HD is a tedious process and I'm fortunate to have a friend who is ultra creative and really knows the applications.  It took us two hours to render a seven minute segment in 1080p high definition.  In the (hopefully not too) long run, it will have been worth it.  I planned this trip for eight months and I don't want to rush the video.  It's as much for my own entertainment as anyone else.  My hope is that it will fall somewhere between self-indulgent schlock and amateur riding clips.

Lance from New York here.  I'm sure I'm not the first to tell you that you are an excellent writer.  Your blog was referred to me by a friend on  I'll admit that BMW riders can be snobs when it comes to adventure touring, but I can tell you that you have been accepted as a genuine hard ass.  I started reading your blog when you left and then found myself spending days on it catching up when I realized it went back into October of 2010.  You clearly have a gift for description when you can keep a non-reader like me wanting more.  Your open sense of humor and a willingness to share your own misfortunes are refreshing.  You also proved that you're more than just a motorhead biker.  You exposed a sensitive, caring, somewhat vulnerable side in several entries...specifically in your Throw Mama story.  I was totally fished and surprised when you were on the bridge.  I'm sure I'm just one of many wondering who or what it was you lost or that you can't have in that Under the Bridge article.

I'm wondering if you have written professionally or if you've had any offers to do so.  Is it something you would consider?

Wow!  Thanks, Lance.  I appreciate your kind words.  I especially appreciate comments from other riders who know what it's like out there on two wheels.  I don't particularly see myself as sensitive or vulnerable.  I just write 'em as I see 'em from a stream of consciousness perspective.  I'm glad you and the other BMW guys get it.  Believe me, not everyone does.  As for writing professionally, I would love the opportunity to do so if the topic were right.  I have a couple of items I've been scribbling on for over five years that I'm considering finishing up and shopping.  I've stated to my friends that although I appreciate the favorable comments from my readers, I just can't buy into my own hype and as confident (some might say cocky) as I can be, I'm pretty humble about my writing.  That said, I would entertain any opportunity to write some published work.  I just don't know where to start.