Chasing Winter and the Midnight Sun 2009
This trip across the North American Continent to the Arctic Ocean and back had a lot of elements;
[LIST][*]An International arms merchant in the Yukon - who operates in Africa six months of the year.[*]Gold panners who claimed to average $900/day, selling their gold for (tax free) cash [*]Herds of Arctic Caribou.[*]F-150 sized Bison thundering across the roadÔÇª in front of us.[*]A cute 30 something Harley chick offering to show us ALL of her tattoos.[*]Snowy passes - some with solid pavement and some with thick freezing mud - all seemingly with accumulating snow and blowing ice fog, often mixed with rain and hail.[*]Achingly beautiful distant mountain ranges framed by dramatic skies [*]Staggeringly huge Glaciers[*]A still frozen Arctic Ocean[*]Bears everywhere.[*]Forest fires closing the Alaska Highway.[*]Endless ribbons of dusty gravel and dirt roads stretching over the horizon.[*]Provincial Campgrounds closed by rampaging Grizzlies.[*]Free camping in open meadows[*]Ferries plying the Alaska intercostal waterways[*]Sunny days[*]Rainy days[*]Cold days[*]Warm days[*]Still frozen lakes[*]A world where the sun never sets.[*]First Nation people giving gifts to us as travelers through their tribal lands[*]Ferries closed due to house sized ice floes being carried down stream after a record winter.[*]Moose, Deer, Caribou, Muskoxen, Big Horned sheep, Mountain Goats and Antelope (some of whom 'misbehaved' and ran in front of our speeding bikes)[*]A cheerful British Bicyclist riding the Haul Road from Deadhorse to points South at 4 MPH battling headwinds on gravel, mud and worse.[*]Endless North American Prairies [*]AndÔÇª. much, much more[/LIST]
The machines -
2003 BMW 1150GS, Rox Risers, Touratech skid plate, Cee Bailey Windscreen, Touratech kickstand foot pad, Wolfman Waterproof Tank bag, Touratech headlight protectors and oil cooler protector, Mags Bags, XM Radio with a Boosteraroo and noise suppressing earphones. :german
2006 Kawasaki 650 modified with a Buell Front fork, oversized tires... and a lot of gear.
Both bikes carried extra gas, tire repair kits, tire irons, comfort modifications to the stock seats. The GS had Conti tires strapped to the back, the Kawasaki rider Dave shipped his up to Canada in advance.
North of the Arctic Circle and the Brooks Range - The Haul Road, May 2009
I'll post the trip by segment over the coming days.
May 19th - Chicago/ Madison to the Badlands, SD
Dave had ridden up from Virginia to Madison, Wisconsin to visit some old College buddies - I merely had to roll out of bed in Chicago and ride the two hours to Wisconsin for a 7AM kickstands up.
We rode quickly and effortlessly across the cool and very windy Northern Plains, stopping only once to explain our trip (and uhmm.. speeding) to the Minnesota Highway Patrol. Gregarious Dave successfully talked us out of a ticket, regaling the Troopers with stories about our middle aged efforts to hopefully ride these bikes to the Arctic Ocean.
We eventually made it to Western South Dakota where we stopped - exhausted - to try and find a camping spot near Kadoka, SD. This was the first of many dusty near ghost towns we encountered - we stopped by a 'motel'/campground and in keeping with the overall theme of the town, the innkeeper was directly out of central casting for a Stephen King movie. Creepy only begins to describe the innkeeper… and his dusty 'campground'.
We decided to press on into the Badlands and camp in the National Park instead. An excellent decision BTW. There is a perfectly acceptable open and airy campground - we pitched our tents and rode down the road a piece for dinner. (You know you are 'out West' when 'riding down the road a piece' for dinner entails a 70 mile round trip).
I lit up the night on the way back with my new Hella driving lights - quite few critters scattered off the road as we wound down from the first day - 889 miles for me. This wouldn't be my longest day.
Day 2 Badlands, SD to Red Lodge MT. May 20th
Up at dawn, we repacked the bikes and took the scenic - and highly recommended road thru the Badlands - always astonishing country. I also darn near took out a deer - fortunately I guessed right and anticipated his path, braking at the right time. ( My 'wisdom and skill' was helped by the mandatory low riding speeds in the Park. )
After seeing the Wall Drug signs for about the last thousand miles, we thought we'd be remiss if we didn't stop in for breakfast. About what you'd expect - an adequate breakfast at a higher than normal price.
We pressed on into Wyoming to Gillette where we took the scenic 16/14 route thru the Northern backcountry. This too is 'out West' for me - open land - this time of year still green - antelope, deer… and oil rigs slowly pumping, and darn few open gas stations.
We got to Sheridan and opted to take Alt 14A over the Mountains. Note to self - when you approach a Mountain range this time of year and it seems to be draped in clouds - stop and gear up or select a different route.
We climbed higher and higher and quickly encountered deep snow along the sides of the road, blowing ice fog, rain, sleet and visibility reduced to… about zero. The deepest snow we saw along the road was about 6 feet, the road fortunately was clear with no ice or accumulating snow. I had my heated grips and my electric vest cranked up full - Dave faded away into the swirling clouds behind me.
Concerned, I eventually pulled over to the side - mindful of the fact that anyone coming up behind me probably would have a hard time even seeing my yellow bike - and waited for Dave. However within a few minutes Dave pulled up (Dave did the trip without benefit of heated… anything…, so he had to pull over and further gear up as the altitude climbed and the weather got thicker).
We rode on and down - and suddenly burst into bright sun and spring again. We dropped further in altitude and soaked up the warming sun. (Note - a warm sun trumps even the best electric gear every time)
Future riders won't have quite the scenic twisting route we enjoyed - looks like they are working hard to straighten this pretty route out to two lane boring.
We wound up in Red Lodge, MT at the KOA camped next to a babbling brook. 480 miles.
Can't wait for the tatt's
Day 3 Red Lodge, MT to Flathead Lake, MT May 21
Route 78 out of Red Lodge should be a nationally recognized motorcycle byway.
What a beautiful ride - a smooth road, rounded green hills framed by distant snowy peaks, twists and turns - fantastic. Should have stopped and taken pictures.
Further on into Montana, Dave had sorted out a couple of dirt and gravel back roads for us to practice our ADV skills on… probably totaled 100 miles or so. Got dusty, got lost. Seems right.
One of the back roads Dave had his heart set on…. didn't actually exist according to two locals.
It didn't exist on my GPS or maps either. This I was to discover was to be commonplace.
We wound up camping on Flathead Lake - a beautiful campground on the largest freshwater lake West of the Mississippi River…. next to a family with a couple of very 'Lolita like' teenaged girls. We predict that the parents will have their hands full in the years to come. Probably do right now which is why the girls were dragged out camping.
500 miles or so. We wanted to make Eureka, but ran out of time and energy