Kelly's 2011 Alaska Journey

Wrap-up, Acknowledgements, Final Thoughts

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Before I wrap up the blog completely, I'd like to address something needing attention. Thanks and Acknowledgements (in no particular order) to:

  • Ariel and Brenden at AK Rider / MotoQuest, for their tireless patience in answering my interminable questions prior to the trip.

  • Brenden and Dan at AK Rider / MotoQuest for being excellent tour guides. They went above and beyond in making sure we all had a great time. Even with the challenges of mechanical issues, they kept good spirits, and nothing could dampen their enthusiasm and professionalism.

  • Mark at AK Rider / MotoQuest, for making time to take care of many of the issues my bike had from the accident, as well as the rear tire that wore faster than I'd expected.

  • Pierre at Works Performance, for making my custom shock absorber in record time so it could help the trip. Additionally, he'd set it up with the proper adjustments for the weight of my bike, gear, luggage, and myself. It performed flawlessly.

  • Marilyn at PlugUp! custom earpieces. Marilyn's dedication to customer service is spectacular. She made some custom earphones with little time in which to do it, and got them to me before I left. I used those earphones daily, and the ride would have been MUCH less enjoyable without them. (They're custom molded to my ears, so not only do they make the stereo easy to hear, but they block out a huge percentage of wind and road noise.) She also made custom earplugs intended for sleeping. These were used on the ferry from Whittier, AK to Bellingham, WA. They made sleeping MUCH more comfortable.

  • Robert and Jane at Evolution Motorcycles in San Jose, CA for getting my bike in there in short notice, and installing the aforementioned shock and Progressive fork springs just days before I left. They also cleaned up and lubricated the much ignored linkage for the rear suspension.

  • Luke and his service team at Mt. Baker Moto-Sports in Bellingham, WA. Without their availability and flexibility, I'd have been stuck in Bellingham for three days or more instead of just one (granted, Bellingham is a charming place, and I'd love to spend more time there, but I had to get home). They're great people, and they really pulled me out of a bind at the end of my journey. Luke even called me the next day to make sure I'd gotten home okay!
Final wrap-up:
The Route
This has been indeed a ride of a lifetime. I say "A" ride not "THE" ride, as I'll no doubt continue with great adventures, and I've already had some pretty spectacular ones before heading to the Arctic Circle. But let me recap the personal milestones achieved on this trip.

For the first time, I have:

  • Visited and ridden in the Canadian Great White North
    • Northwest Territories
    • Yukon Territory
  • Visited Alaska, the only state in which I had not previously been
  • Ridden in Alaska, the only state in which I had not previously ridden a motorcycle
  • Visited the furthest north on Earth I have yet been
  • Ridden a motorcycle into the Arctic Circle
  • Ridden a motorcycle to the Arctic Sea - Riding the length of the Dalton Highway both ways
  • Stepped into the Arctic Sea (though just barely)
  • Riding the length of the Denali Highway
  • Seen humpback whales & bald eagles
  • Learned that no seafood anywhere can compare to the quality of the fish in Alaska. King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Halibut, etc. It's SO fresh, and the chefs know JUST how to prepare it. I could move to Alaska solely for the fish.
  • Had a bison steak. (Have previously only had buffalo burgers)
  • Had different kinds of caribou- Steaks, sausage
  • Taken a multi-day ferry trip
  • Taken glacier-viewing excursion cruises
  • Stampeded wild bison (I know, I know! :-)
  • Have eaten a Klondike Bar IN the Klondike (I don't know why this cracks me up, but it does)
  • Eaten ice cream at the Arctic Sea
  • Been involved in a traffic accident outside my home state (though I could have happily skipped this one)

There are some statistics from the ride. They're interesting, hopefully not only to me:

Number of Days: 30
Number of U.S. States: 4
Number of Canadian Provinces/Territories: 3
Total Distance Ridden: 7151 mi / 11508 km
Distance Ridden on dirt: ~900 mi / ~1448 km
Distance on Ferries: 1700 mi / 2735 km
Total Distance: 8851 mi / 14243 km
Average fuel economy: 46.9 miles/gallon
Total fuel used (by the KLR): 154.4 gallons / 584.5 litres
Number of gas stops / fill-ups: 51
Weight of equipment and luggage: 93.3 lbs / 42.3 kg
Weight of beer: 23.4 lbs / 10.6 kg (and this extra weight strained the rear spring!)
Total cargo weight: 116.7 lbs / 52.9 kg
Human weight lost: 9 lbs / 4.1 kg
Refrigerator magnets acquired: 16 (it seemed like more)
Photos taken with Canon cameras: 2811
Photos taken with helmet-cam: 184370
Total photos taken: 187181
Animal species seen: Bison, black bear, Dall (bighorn) sheep, mountain goat, moose, caribou, marmot, humpback whale, stellar sea lion, sea otter, dolphin, salmon (being chased by the dolphin), bald eagle, ptarmigan, goose, crane

Throughout this trip, a number of revelations have come to me. These are some impressions I had:

  • Four weeks is too long to have motorcycle boots as one's only footwear.

  • Something learned years ago: Store clean clothes and dirty clothes in separate sealed bags. Put them together, and soon clean clothes smell like the dirty ones.

  • My fingertips are all cracked and chapped from being inside leather gloves all day, every day for weeks on end.

  • A motorcycle riding trip, particuarly a long one, needs days interspersed throughout which are relaxing, non-riding days.

  • Preparations are key. While the weather was nowhere near as bad as it could have been at this time of year, it very easily could have gone the other way. Because of this, I brought a lot more cold/wet weather gear than I needed. Still, it was much better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

  • There are diminishing returns to the above thought. It's very easy to carry TOO much stuff. Not only is extra weight a problem (particularly on a motorcycle), but simply trying to keep it all organized is problematic.

  • Speaking of carrying things: If at all possible, carry everything in solidly-mounted rigid watertight containers. Nothing will get wet, nothing will flap around in the wind, bungee cords can't pop loose.

  • If you're worried that some component on a bike "probably should" last the entire trip, change it first. Even if it DOES last, you'll worry about it the entire time. Despite making the trip without problems, I should have changed my clutch, drive chain and sprockets just to have been on the safe side. I'd have spent less time being preoccupied about whether or not they'd let go on the trip.

  • An adventure tour such as going to Prudhoe Bay is somewhat gruelling. Riding on dirt and gravel roads isn't generally a big deal, but riding around 900 miles of them takes its toll, on both you AND the bike. The constant vibraton is hard on both the bike and rider, and to be continually looking for and fighting to keep riding a chosen line in the gravel, dirt and mud is both mentally and physically draining.

  • Left to its own devices, the Dalton Highway will EAT a bike. The microscopic dust from the gravel gets into EVERYTHING mechanical and electrical. This can play havoc with maintenance- Dust is abrasive, and will wear everything it touches.

  • Make sure that checking the air filter is part of regular maintenance when riding hundreds of miles in the dirt. Check it every couple of days. Three at the most. Be prepared to change it.

  • Don't schedule a trip so tightly that there's no free time. Should anything go awry (like some moron broadsiding you), it will be essential to be able to flex the trip a bit to handle the unexpected.

  • On a trip of 4 weeks, something unexpected is BOUND to happen.

  • Keep your eyes and your mind open- Enjoy the things you wouldn't ordinarily even notice. Delight in that which takes you out of your comfort zone, and out of your daily routine.

  • Even when nothing new and surprising is expected, you'll see new things and be surprised.

Going back and looking through the hundred eighty four THOUSAND photos from the helmet-cam, a few weather-related items came to mind.
First, I didn't realize just HOW many days were overcast. It seems now that about 3/4 of the days had solid or almost solid cloud cover much of the day.
Second, that cloud cover must not have been very thick, as the sun managed to shine through anyway. This was noticeable in a couple of ways: It frequently glared off of the GPS and instrument cluster into my eyes much of a given day (as the sun was high in the sky more than what is normal for my area), and I maintained sunburn on my face and neck. The facial sunburn was frustrating, as the helmet's faceshields are supposed to block 100% of UV light. Clearly (no pun intended), this isn't the case.
Third, there was more rain or mist than was in my recollection. This rain wasn't heavy enough to make the ride uncomfortable (thus making the precipitation memorable), but it was definitely there.

I've taken many trips in my life, and have seen many things. This trip is definitely one of the most memorable (and possibly THE most memorable, so far). Despite my having few (fairly accurate) expectations as to what I'd find, there's no way I was prepared for all that Alaska and Northwest Canada would show me. The people were great, the roads were fun, the food was wonderful, and the beauty of the land was beyond compare. With luck I'll visit Alaska again. It's truly a magical place.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about the trip. If you have the opportunity to go someday, I heartily recommend it!


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