Monday, August 29, 2011

7/30/2011: On Sunday, July 31, Nancy and I are headed "North to Alaska!" This year we're wrapping up our 13th "Annual Not Goin' To Sturgis" ride/two-week vacation into a three-week trip to Alaska in conjunction with a breast cancer fund raiser ride sponsored by the Women's Motorcyclist Foundation. And no, we aren't riding to Alaska; we're getting there with the help of Alaska Airlines.
Arriving Sunday night we are then taking a few days to do a little sightseeing via car. Plans are to visit with past Grand National Champion Mark Brelsford and spend some time on the Kenai. Then, on August 5 we meet the rest of the group of riders at MotoQuest Tours/Alaska Rider Tours in Anchorage and head out on a two-week dual sport adventure around Alaska and up to the Arctic Circle.

Plans are to try and post at least a few words and some pictures every evening, but that will depend on an Internet connection. Please join us on our adventure and check back from time to time.

By the way, did I mention that this is a dual sport ride? I know I did, but what I didn't mention is that while all 15 participants on the tour ride motorcycles only four have spend any serious time in the dirt. This will certainly make things very interesting. One thing that they all had to do is get some off road-training. I worked with Nancy for three weekends trying to get her comfortable off road. she even went to Sacramento for 3 days of off-road training. And while she is getting the hang of the finesse that she must use in the dirt she does make mistakes.

Nancy and Gin showing off their scraped elbows as they compare their hurts from one day at the three-day off-road camp in Sacramento,CA.

And now the bruises. A work of caution here:  before looking at this picture you need to put on your dark glasses. These legs seldom see the light of day. Poor babies!! Stay on two wheels and this won't happen. More damage due to poor technique. You got to hand it to them though, they hung in there and finished the training and rode away better riders!!

7/31/2011/0915 Well, it's already started! Nancy's mom gets patted down going through Security. I thought to myself, every time I go through an airport it's the senior citizens under close scrutiny.

Busted and she deserved it. Well, in this case she asked for it. When they say empty your pockets they mean it. And take coats and jackets off. What they don't say is that you also have to remove the hide-a-pack around your waist and under your shirt. I hope this isn't an omen of things to come. On a positive note, this may be the most exciting thing that has happened to her in a long time. Ha!
The rest of the trip to Anchorage was great. Eating peanuts and drinking juice, what more could you ask for. We had a short layover in Seattle and had the opportunity to get a pretty good meal. And as it turned out, this was one of the last times we would see any significant amount of sunshine for three weeks.

8/1/2011 - Here we are at a nice B & B, Highland Glen, south of Anchorage a wee bit. It's beautiful here except for the sky dripping on us. Temperature is delightful, about 50 degrees at 6 am with a high today supposed to be about 65. Waiting for breakfast, then off to some sightseeing and a visit to MotoQuest to check on our boxes of gear that we shipped up via UPS. The word is that all 5 boxes (110 lbs and $240 shipping charges, with insurance...) are here and accounted for. That's good news! More later............

The Highland Glenn B & B is a very "proper" establishment on the south side of Anchorage.

We've found that a Bed and Breakfast is a great place to meet and make new friends. For breakfast we had the pleasure of joining Cornel and Mihaela Bozdog and their son and daughter from Northern California, originally from Romania.
You can always expect and get a good breakfast at an B & B! And:

After breakfast and in a steady drizzle we found our way to MotoQuest and met the nice folks there. We retrieved a couple of our boxes to finish readying some our gear that we had shipped up here. We then wandered through downtown Anchorage trying to decide what to do next. We headed east and found our way to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. We almost didn't go in, as the admission was a bit pricey, but we did and were pleased to find lots of live action going on - such as native dancing, storytelling and guided tours through the "mini villages" that were constructed on the grounds. The "villages" represented life from the very distinct and different climate zones throughout Alaska.

Eskimo dances have a similarity to hula dances of the Pacific Islanders in that their hand movements tell a story. Sometimes they are representative of common tasks found in daily life like hunting, fishing, whaling, etc. The difference is they do it with a lot more clothes on.

Flowers abound in Alaska in the summertime, even redheads!

Bleached white whale bones.

Totems offer good karma. If size has anything to do with it this one offers great karma!

The raven and eagle are an integral part of Eskimo history and folklore. Here the eagle ( on the bottom) and raven are tongue to tongue while the hummingbird hides in the raven's ear.

Earth and sod, what a good way to keep the warm in and the cold out!

Downtown Anchorage, the airport and the Cook Inlet

Anchorage to Soldotna
8/2/11 So, here we are on our the second full day in Alaska. We've made it as far south as Soldotna, approximately 150 miles south of Anchorage and about half way down the Kenai Peninsula. Despite the three days of rain there is a sliver lining in the cloud hanging over us: The mosquitoes are keeping a low profile. We arrived yesterday afternoon after taking a detour to the Portage Glacier. I saw the glacier many years ago while visiting my uncle. An impressive sight, to be sure. In good weather we would have taken the boat tour up to the glacier, but the wind was blowing up a storm and the water was quite rough. Wouldn't have been a lot of fun.

A wet day at the Portage Glacier, lots of wind and water being blown around.

Small white caps near the Portage Glacier.

This is sure a big mosquito. Many years ago when I visited my Uncle in Anchorage I learned that the mosquito was official State bird! Luckily, we haven't even seen one, yet!

Arriving at the Aspen Ridge B & B in the early afternoon the sky was still heavily clouded and a sprinkle falling. The original structure where we stayed was originally built by Johnnie Parks. Parks was a well-known Native builder in Alaska. He normally built a cabin 17 logs high which makes for a low ceiling. And remember that the smaller a room/house the easier it is to keep warm during the cold winters. The problem here was that the original owner, the person that hired Parks to build his house, happened to be 6'4" tall and insisted Johnnie added two logs to the height. After a lot of discussion Parks finally relented and built the house to "fit" the original owner. Beautiful place. By the way, the story goes that Parks froze to death one winter; some say it was because of  getting drunk and falling asleep and others say he had a heart attack.

Count 'em, the wall is 19 logs high.
My left thumb had been bothering me for a couple of days and by the time we had arrived at Soldotna it was red, swollen , hot, sensitive and wouldn't bend. On the way in we passed a doctor's office and I decided to try and get the doc to take a look at it. I figured that I had gotten a splinter and the thumb was getting infected. By the time I got to the clinic the Doctor had left, but his office assistant gave him a call and 15 minutes later he was back, evaluated my thumb and wrote a prescription for two antibiotics. All I can say is not in SoCal. It's unlikely that anyone would get that kind of personal service in a million years in the big city.
Nancy's mom, Carolyn, out in front of the Johnnie Park's built cabin, now the Aspen Ridge B&B
8/3/2011 - Today, we didn't go far. We only went up the road about 10 miles to the town of Kenai. They have a nice visitors center with lots of interesting stuff. We had lunch at a great local spot called Louie's and went back to the B & B for a nice nap. Ahhhh, vacation!!!

The Wetlands at Kenai and more of the Cook Inlet
By the way, didn't get anything posted last night due to a connection problem We're sitting in Starbucks using their WIFI now.

A little wine, new friends and a fire pit - 9:30 PM and it's still light out!
We're heading back to Anchorage tomorrow to get ready for the big adventure!


Headed back to Anchorage.

There's still patches of snow in those mountains.

8/5/2011 - Anchorage: We awakened on our fifth day in Anchorage to more rain. We are staying for two days on campus of the U of A. After a quick breakfast the skies cleared and the sun came out. With it came the highest temperature we've seen - 66 degrees.
Don't ask! But it was good (for campus cafeteria food...)
After breakfast Walt attended a Staff meeting after which he went to MotoQuest to help prep some of the bikes that we are using. A little clean up, install mirrors on several and check tire pressures. Riders started showing up to take their bikes and either ride around Anchorage or return to our digs. Nancy and mom got to be really good at getting around Anchorage as they ran errands all over the place along with picking people up at the airport. Dinner at 7 PM followed by a discussion of why some of us were here - very emotional! And finally the Medallion Pass. Until you've see or been involved in one you have no idea of how powerful this is!
Before writing any more, we think it important to explain the Medallion Pass: The Medallion is a robust hunk of 4 metal pieces that fit together. The component parts are as follows: two horseshoes, one for The Future and one for The Survivors; placed between the two horseshoes is The Ring of Memory and in the center is the Heart. Each part was carried by one of the riders each day and in the evening the Medallion was reassembled and then the parts passed out to a new set of riders. With one exception this was a nightly task we performed. This certainly helped each and every one of us focus on the true purpose of why we were doing this ride.
By the way, we are fortunate to have two breast cancer survivors riding with us, Gin Shear and Cindy Fata.

The Medallion

The Medallion Pass is always very emotional.

Saturday, 8/6/2011: Finally! The ride has begun. Today dawned (even though it stays light most of the night) without rain. It was a spectacular day. Traffic was light, and the views didn't disappoint. Glaciers and mountain tops along with cool temperatures, good road and a great team makes today very special.
Loading Jethro, our trusty the chase vehicle.
Brenden Anders, our MotoQuest guide and all around good guy, is the "man." He's hauling all our gear and camping stuff so we don't have to.

Mirror Lake about 30 miles outside Anchorage. Note the float planes in the background. L - R standing:  Laurie, Kathy, Shirley, Mike, Gina, Roy, Rita, Trapper and John.  Kneeling:  Sue, Cindy,Walt, Nancy and Eldonna

Matanuska Glacier south of Glenn Highway on A1

Close up view of the Matanuska Glacier.

The Matanuska Glacier was a spectacular sight. Go around the bend and there it is in all its glory. Wow! What a sight. In the background is the Chugach National Forest and the tall peak may be Mount Marcus Baker, 13,176'.  After seeing the glacier we stopped for lunch at the beautifully situated Sheep Mountain Lodge.  The view was the same mountain range seen here.

Arriving at the Copper Center Roadhouse. We had to wait outside for about 30 minutes because they had a fire in on of their clothes dryers and were trying to clear the smoke and smell.
The fast moving Copper River was right outside our front door,
or rear door, depending which direction your tent was facing.
We're camping at Copper Center for two nights. We pitched our tents next to the fast-flowing Copper River. After servicing the chains, checking the oil, having dinner and the daily Medallion Pass we fell into our sleeping bags tired and content with the first day on the road and with anticipation of future adventures.

Copper Center Roadhouse staircase.

BBQ chicken,beans, potato salad and dessert - a great end for a great day!
Medallion pass at Copper Center
Copper Center to Kennicott and return.

8/7/2011 Copper Center Lodge: Up at 5 AM this morning and the temperature is hovering at 50 degrees with about a 14 to 20 knot wind; at least it is dry and there are patches of blue in the sky. Today is also the first time we will ride off road and all are looking forward to the challenge.
The first order of business was approximately 60 miles of paved road that passes through some spectacular scenery like snow capped mountains; the low ceiling limits our view of many of the mountain peaks as they disappear into the clouds. We're headed into the Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The scenery is spectacular in every direction! Wrangell - St. Elias is by far the largest National Park in the United States; it covers an area of approximately 20,500 square miles, about 13 million acres!

Mt. Elias rises 18,008 feet above sea level and is the second highest mountain in the United States. And nine of the 16 highest peaks in the US reside in this Park. While we didn't see Mt. Elias which was much further south from where we were, three mountains dominated the landscape:  Mt. Sanford at 16,237 feet, Mt. Wrangell at 14,163 feet and Mt. Blackburn at 16,390 feet.  We got a great look at them yesterday on our ride to Copper Center, but didn't see them again due to the low clouds.

Our destination today was McCarthy and the fabulous copper mine at Kennecott, at one time the richest copper ore mine in the world. Remember the "Art of the Motorcycle," courtesy of the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim family and J. P. Morgan were the money behind Kennecott (correctly spelled Kennicott, but that's another story).

Riding over the Kaskulana River - It's a looooong way down!
The pavement ends and 60 miles of dirt road stretches out in front of us. Most of the road is an old railroad grade that was used to transport miners and supplies to Kennecott and copper ore out. What this means is no tight turns and a gentle grade. Story goes that initially the copper wasn't mined, but picked up off the ground in large chunks. And talk about a company town reminds me of the Tennessee Ernie Ford song "You load 16 tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt." Yes, the company owned you. I understand that the miners were paid in script and not dollars and the company controlled everything, including transportation in and out and the costs of all goods, including food and clothes.

The road into Kennicott has a gradual slope to it and large sweeping turns to allow train travel in the early days of the mine. By 1911 the trestle in the background accommodated the train. 
Even today Kennecott is in the "middle of nowhere." Why in the world someone was wandering around in the wilderness in the 1900s and discovered this ore vein is amazing to me! 

If you decide to visit Kennecott, be forewarned that you cannot drive your car to the towns of McCarthy or Kennecott.  There is a "footbridge" that spans the river, and it is there where you must park your car and walk across the bridge to catch a shuttle van.  Now, if you are on two wheels, you can ride across this bridge and make your own way to the towns on the other side.   
On the way to Kennecott via foot bridge; remember that pedestrians have the right of way.
We're all here
Headed out to explore Kennicott

The Kennecott Mill. In 1916 the mine produced $32.4 million of copper ore, big bucks at the time.

Distant view of the Mill.
The Kennicott Glacier. Years ago there was a reunion of people that grew up at the mine. When they arrived in Kennecott they asked where the mountains came from? When they lived there the Glacier hid the mountains from view, the glacier was very large at one time!


What you actually see here, between the mine and mountains, isn't sand dunes; it's actually the glacier. As the glacier moves it grinds up all the dirt and rocks in front of it and in the process covers itself with the resulting sand, gravel and rocks.
The ride home wasn't as pleasant as the ride to Kennecott; the 60 miles of dirt was now dry and dusty, but there were no complaints. All had a great time and every one's ability and confidence level has grown by leaps and bounds.
The temperature variance from morning to night can be wide - when we awoke this morning, the temperature was 50. On our return to Copper Center, the temperature (in the sun) was 95 degrees. At the end of each day we service chains, check oil and check nuts and bolts.
We invite you to also check out the "official" link for our trip: On this blog, you will find comments from all of the participants, and also links to their blogs. It's fun to get other's take on the events and see their pictures too.

Copper Center to Tok

August 8, 2011: It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to post real time for the next couple of days because of the slow Internet connection at Copper River, a lack of Internet connection and no power at our next stop at our digs in Tok, but I’ll bring you up to date as soon as we get both, probably Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, Canada. If you don’t see any pictures, come back later – we will post pictures as soon as we have enough bandwidth to load them.

Today was a short day. Breakfast again at 7 AM, but was served late, about 7:20. Had croissant with eggs and sausage. After breakfast we packed, loaded the truck and took down all the tents. On the road about 9 AM and headed to Tok. Just outside of Copper Center we caught our first glimpse of the Alaska Pipeline in the not-too-far distance. Before we traveled too far down the road, we stopped at the Wrangell-St Elias National Park Visitor Center. We watched a wonderful movie about our nation’s largest national park that has the largest glacier in North America. Most notable is the size of this Park:  just over 20,000 square miles which figures out to roughly 13 million acres!
Our luck ran out today with the weather - rain and cold with muddy roads and lots of construction, miles and miles of it (one stretch went on for 12 miles). But with the dual sport bikes and knobby and semi-knobby tires we did not have any problem negotiating the bad pavement or lack of pavement. Also, our new Olympia gear worked great – keeping us warm and dry. And our waterproof boots are living up to our expectations, so far.
For our convenience (ha), gas stations are positioned approximately 50 miles apart which is great for the bikes with small tanks. By the way, did I mention how crazy it is to use such small bikes for such long distances and high speeds? The 250s are going about 90 miles before they go on reserve – the KLRs can go 200+ miles. We, on the KLRs, carry gas for the smaller bikes. I'm not quite sure why the powers to be (the motorcycle manufacturers) feel that because they build a small motorcycle they have to fit it with a small tank?
Anyway, I digress. The ride to Tok could have been as spectacular, or more so, as the ride to Kennecott if the there wasn’t rain and the temperature and clouds weren't so low. Wonder of wonders: just before getting into Tok, the skies cleared, clouds went away and the sun came out. After gas it was off to the campground, Thompson's Eagle Claw motorcycle-only campground. This is a very cool place with some unique options for a stay in a theme-of-your-own “dream” place. You have your choice of tent-camping or staying in a tent cabin, ambulance, the bunk house or a tee pee; very unique. And Vanessa, one of the owners, is also unique. As the story goes, she and her partner lived in a school bus for two years while they finished the campground before building their own house. There is no Internet, no power, and if you want a shower you must heat the water with a wood fire.
Didn’t take many pictures today on the way up to Tok because of the rain, but here are a few after our arrival.
 Tompson's Eagle Claw motorcycle campground
On the war path.
IV anyone? Cindy and John choose the ambulance for the night.

Pizza party . . .

. . . and S'mores. All the comforts of home. Yum!

Tonight there was another Medallion Pass, as there will be at the end of each day’s ride. Walt has witnessed several of these in the past when he participated in a couple of legs of the Pony Express Ride. The Medallion Pass is an extremely emotional event even when you don’t know the riders passing the medallion. Now, after several days, the 15 riders and Brendan Anders, of MotoQuest, are functioning as a team and we are finding out more about their motivations and personal details of their lives. This makes an emotional situation all the more intimate.

Tok, AK to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada

8/9/2011: Up early today with reasonable-looking skies. Plenty of clouds, but no rain, yet. Breakfast was at Fast Eddy's in downtown Tok. That’s almost funny as it is more a “T” intersection with a stop sign and not much more. There is an airport (they’re all over the state) and a State road maintenance station responsible for abut 50 miles of road.

Those of you that live in the cold climes know that summertime is the time for road repair and we gotta tell you that in Alaska the work is wide open. We’ve ridden miles and miles of roads that are in a variety of repair/disrepair. On the way to Dawson City one of our riders, John, dropped a gas can off the back of his KLR. Shirley and Walt stopped, refueled Shirley’s KLX250 and tried to catch up with the group. Unfortunately they were stopped by a flagman at a construction site for about 15 minutes. While there, Walt asked him some questions about the road which is paved between Tok and up to 4 miles before Chicken, AK. They quit repairing the road in October and close it in November and it stays closed until April. You can expect 3 to 4 feet of snow, but the temperatures are so low that it doesn’t melt until mid-spring.
Typical road, flora and fauna.
Chicken, AK is an interesting place. There are several year-round residents and not many more summer residents. The town is isolated from the outside world during the winter save mail being brought by airplane in once a week on good weather days (which means probably not often). We suggest that you visit "Old Town Chicken" which is around the corner from the main road - gas was $.04 cheaper a gallon than the "New Chicken" complex.  What’s for lunch in Chicken? What do you think...?

Downtown Chicken and the crew.
Only in Chicken.

This huge contraption is a dredge used int he river at Chicken to pull out gold. It was brought in overland and assembled in Chicken piece by piece. 
As the story goes, the miners wanted to name the town after the local bird, the Ptarmigan, but couldn't agree on the correct spelling. Well, the bird tastes like chicken, and they could spell chicken so they settled on that name.From Chicken we headed over the “Top of the World” Highway. The road between Chicken and the Canadian border is not paved. Not to worry, again we had the right bikes for the ride. It rained on us some more, but we had a great time getting to Dawson City. Making the border crossing was uneventful (except for Walt) and just after the border crossing we caught our first sight of some caribou.  

Next stop the Yukon. This is an overlook just before the border crossing from the U. S. into Canada.

"Don't take my picture." Already in trouble with the Canadian authorities. I blacked out the officers face to protect the innocent . . . and me!

The first caribou sighting

In the middle of nowhere on the Top of the World Highway, Yukon Territory, Canada, headed to Dawson City

Talk about wide open spaces. No question that there is lots of it in the Canadian north. Little traffic, great scenery, few people and harsh weather.

Watching a rain shower make it's way up the canyon toward us.

Decisions, decisions. And with the range of the KLR I could have ridden to Eagle and back to Dawson without a worry.

Waiting for the ferry to arrive. Dawson is on the other bank. Shirley likes the KLX and bought one when she got home.
To get to Dawson City, you have to take a ferry ride across the Yukon River. It was amazing to feel how strong the current was on the crossing. We set up camp just as the skies opened up, and it rained for a good hour after that. Nancy’s hair got a good washing… and it washed a lot of the mud off the bikes from the day’s ride. Dinner was great at Sourdough Joe’s and then it was time for another Medallion Pass Ceremony.

The last thing between us and Dawson, the fast moving Yukon River.

Tents were set up just before the sky opened up and it poured rain.
Dawson City is quite a place. No question that at one time it was a rough and tumble kind of place. Today it's a bit more mellow and we find out tomorrow as we wander around. It interesting that according to climate data Dawson receives slightly less than 8 inches of rainfall in a years time and slightly more than 1 1/2 inches in August. This August must have been quite wet as rain continued on and off for most of the three days we were in the City.

8/10/2011: Today is a “down day.” We hung out at the campground and used the time to recharge our personal batteries, do laundry, and wander Dawson City and do some shopping. And let's not forget servicing the bikes. An afternoon nap felt great and the clean clothes will be appreciated when we take off down the road. The weather has been hit and miss all day, but it has been warm, dry and snug inside our tent.

Sue shows off her waitressing skills while Shirley and Kathy are unimpressed before coffee.

Chinese Canadians with a sense of humor

Eldonna and Nancy compete for internet access.

A dry morning, finally.

Step back in time on this Dawson City riverboat tourist attraction.

Never realized that KTM was a part of Dawson City.

Dawson City to Eagle Plains

8/11/2011: WOW, what a day!! Ever had those days that start out perfect and then they begin to unravel, thread by thread? Today started as picture perfect; up at 6 AM pack the bags, eat breakfast, take the tents down and ride.

You may think that Trapper and Kathy are demonstrating the perfect way to start the day. Not really, the perfect way is with sunshine, a commodity we have seen little of on this trip.

The happy crew about to embark on approximately 250 miles of dirt. Great weather at the start of the Dempster quickly gave way to a downpour and a muddy road. By the time we arrived at Eagle Plains we didn't have so many smiles and were missing one rider.

This is a very important sign that should be taken very seriously!

The weather was perfect and quite warm in the sunshine even though it was in the 40s when we got up. We ate at the Midnight Sun in Dawson City, a short walk from the campground. We had planned to leave around 9, but as usual we were a few minutes late, but no worries, we had all day to make Eagle Plains, about a 280 miles from Dawson City and a 250-mile ride up the all-dirt
Dempster Highway. The first 100 or so miles were great riding, especially with some rain showers to help keep the dust down... but.... when we got within 100 miles of our destination, that's when it got dicey. The rain got harder, and the road surface got nasty.

The rain started and seldom let up.

Muddy, but Nancy still has a smile on her face and the wheels under her..

The road surface turned to mud soup and made for tough and slow going. First, one rider went down and just got banged up some, no big deal. She spent the rest of the day in the chase truck (and has since gotten back on the bike to continue riding the next day).

Trapper, covered with mud from a face plant and belly slide. Not to worry she was back on the bike the following day.

More seriously, another rider fell and fractured her pelvis (as it turns out in three places) and had to be airlifted to Anchorage. It made the day very long, and put a dark cloud over the day. Kathy Thornton's KLR was turned sideways and she was thrown off the bike, hit the ground hard. She laid in the mud for 4 hours while she waited for the only ambulance in 200 miles to arrive and then another 45 minutes for a helicopter to evacuate her to Dawson and then an airplane ride to Anchorage.

Keep in mind that there are no real emergency services on the highway. An ambulance was summoned by a local resident via radio phone. Our satellite phone did not work. Cathy Brais not only drives the ambulance but is the first road maintenance foreman in Canada!

The only reasonable way to get an injured person out of the wilderness; expensive but who cares at this point? Check out the mud! And notice the large truck behind the helicopter. (Photo by Rita Mark)

Kathy on her way to Dawson City and Anchorage. (Photo by Rita Mark)
Thanks for evacuation insurance. I estimate that the flight from the crash site to Dawson and then another flight to Anchorage ran up a tab of about $40,000. If you plan to ride to faraway places you need to be prepared.

Just as the helicopter took off a rainbow appeared. (photo by Rita Mark)

Nancy, Roy and I arrived at Eagle Plains around 7 PM that evening, muddy exhausted and hungry. We arranged for rooms and dinner for the rest of our group.When Brenden arrived he had to unload a couple of bikes from the trailer and truck and head 60 miles back down the Dempster to pick up Kathy's bike and a couple of other riders that opted not to ride through the mud. After a flat tire on the truck and another on the trailer, more rain and a "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" back to Eagle Plains in the mud Brenden and the rest of the group got in about 1 AM.
We were supposed to camp for two days in Eagle Plains, but after the long and arduous day we all opted for a hotel room. The problem is that on Friday there were two bus loads of tourists arriving and all the rooms will be taken. Cathy Brais and Evelyn, manager of the Eagle Plains Lodge, pitched in and arranged for us to "camp" inside in the rec room for the road crew, laundry room and Cathy opened up her house, spare room and couch for a couple of our riders.

Eagle Plains to the Arctic Circle and the Northwest Territories
8/12/2011: We awoke to a new day, and the weather looked much better! We spent the the morning assessing the damage from the day before and washed off most of the mud from our bikes and our gear. After figuring out where each of us were sleeping that night, we geared back up again and headed to our planned most Northern destination, The Arctic Circle.

First thing in the morning we weren't sure the weather allow us a sunny day.

The Arctic Circle is around 26 miles from Eagle Plains; the roads were dry and hard packed and offered no issues. After a short and lovely ride we arrived at the the southern border of the midnight sun. Small trees and a harsh, but beautiful, landscape covered with tundra was the norm. So was the wind - constant. After pictures and lunch we built a inukshuk, a trail marker and sign of good luck.

The Prize, the Arctic Circle on the Dempster Highway. Nancy and I showcase our new Shoei Hornet helmets and Olympia riding gear.
Lunch on the tundra at the "Circle."

Cindy, Gin and Sue build the Inukshuk
while Shirley and John supervise
Sue approves the finished Inukshuk.

Nancy surveys the tundra. Sure is beautiful.

The hardiest seven riders opted for an impromptu ride farther north to the border of the Northwest Territories, another 40-mile ride. For the most part the road was in good condition and hard packed. Several miles before the border, the road starts a gradual climb, today to the clouds, literally. Rain and wind and slippery road, but not that bad. After reaching our destination and a few pictures it was off to Eagle Plains, the pressure washer and chain service.
Returning from the Northwest Territories

For the Medallion Pass this evening at Eagle Plains we had a group of Australian tourists join us (they were the folks in the two buses that ousted us from our rooms...). After the ceremony they collectively donated another $200 to Adventures for the Cure!

For the Eagle Plains Medallion Pass we were joined by a group of Australian tourists.

This isn't the sunrise, it's the moonrise at 9:30 PM in Eagle Plains.

APOLOGY: Please excuse us for not keeping this blog current. We have been faced with poor or no Internet access on many days and those days that we have had access we’ve been so tired that we just didn’t make any entries. Also, as you read you will find that we have had other problems that have kept us quite busy. Again, we’re sorry for any inconvenience.
Walt and Nancy

Eagle Plains to the Hostel, Dawson City

8/13/2011: Today we leave Eagle Plains and make our way back to Dawson City. For some of us the anticipation of having to navigate through the mud one more time was a big concern, but for a change, it's not raining and that is good news. We figure the Dempster has had some time to dry out and the ride from Eagle Plains to Dawson City should be an easy one. As it turns out, it was. We even kick up some dust on the way to Dawson. Before leaving we say our goodbye to Cathy Brias and Evelyn, the lodge manager. Kathy has an interesting distinction: she is the first female Road Foreman for the Yukon Highways and Public Works and she is also the lady that drove the ambulance that helped our Kathy on the Dempster. Evelyn is also a breast cancer survivor - so we, of course, included her in our Medallion Pass Ceremony!

Getting ready to head down the Dempster to Dawson City.

Nancy was "promoted" to be leader for Group 2 - so now she had the challenge of safely leading her group back down the Dempster. 

Cathy and Evelyn ready to take our picture.

What a difference a few hours of dry weather makes. For the most part the Dempster is hard-packed and offers little challenge. On the way down we passed a grizzly bear and her cub, but didn't take a chance of stopping to take pictures. It was tough to keep all the groups moving, but good sense prevailed and we continued on our way - none of us really wanted to BE "lunch."

Rain coming our way. We were lucky enough to miss is and stayed dry all the way from Eagle Plains to Dawson.

Good ole Jethro was always there when needed. Sue gives her KLR a quick splash of gas while the other riders wait for their turn. I was able to manage 255 miles on my KLR without going on reserve.

Finally, sunshine and dry roads!

Riding is always better and easier than pushing!

A dry Dempster Highway

Looks like the start of the race to Dawson City!

Today, even after the long ride down the Dempster most of us have plenty of energy left over. After gassing in Dawson some of the group rode to the store to pick up food for dinner, some took the ferry to the hostel we're staying at to make sure there is room for us, and others took a ride up to the Dome overlooking Dawson. There's even some sun shinning through.

The Dome a very cool place and offers a bird's eye view of Dawson City and the surrounding area. The road to the Dome has some nice corners. After the Dome, several of us rode up the steep dirt road to a Forest Lookout on an adjacent peak. Instead of the lookout being on stilts high in the air, it is a log cabin placed at the edge of the peak. A little different than what I'm used to seeing. This one really has all the comforts of home.

The main street through Dawson

Another view of the riverboat

A real paddle wheel

After another trip across the river by ferry (by the way, it runs 24/7 and it's free) it's just a few more blocks to the hostel. What an unusual place! Reminds me of the 60s. Plenty of young and older people staying there. Nancy and I met a fellow motorcyclist from Switzerland. He's riding his own BMW GS and plans on picking up his wife from Seattle in a week and heading to Phoenix and then San Diego or Virginia Beach, whichever moves him at the time. He's been on the road for a three weeks already and plans to be out at least another couple of months.

Our new Swiss friend setting up camp.

Cooking over an open fire is always fun. The two on the left shared our fire.
Hear no evil, see no evil, . . .No, just hungry and tired. Check out the soles on the "Sue Boots"

What do you mean you wanted some dessert? There was only enough for me! Think she might be tired?

We bunked together in a couple of large rooms with 6 or 7 people to a room, but if you wanted to camp, you could do that too.

Tent area

By this time, Nancy had developed a cough from the dust and had to sleep sitting up so that she didn't hack all night long.  Walt was trying not to succumb to a cold, but we were still having a grand time!  Dinner was cooked on and eaten around a campfire fed by wood from old pallets.  We then had our Medallion Pass Ceremony with the town of Dawson and the river as our backdrop.

The weather rock is always right!

The medallion pass along the banks of the Yukon River.

Bathing at the hostel was to be an adventure, which not too many were willing to undertake.  You had to heat your own water and then use a scoop to pour the water over yourself.  The pit toilets were very hard to take, as I don't think the owner knew what lime was to keep the smell down - yikes!!

Nonetheless, we appreciated a warm and dry place to sleep and were ready to head back over the "Top of the World" highway the next day.

Hostel to Tok, Alaska

8/14/2011:  We awoke to more clouds the next day... the good thing was it wasn't really rainy, at least at the hostel, but the bad thing was it was low clouds and we knew that as we headed up the mountain to the "Top of the World" it would become very dense fog and heavier rain.

Breakfast first!

Roy tries to whisper something in Rita's ear.

Coffee first

Getting ready to leave the hostel in Dawson City.

Broken down cabin, broken dreams

A dry moment on the way to Tok.

There were times we couldn't see 100 yards ahead of us due to heavy fog and rain.  But we went slowly and and did fine.  When we got to the Yukon/Alaska border crossing, we stopped again to look at the Caribou herd and take more pictures.  It took longer to get into our own country than it did for us to get into Canada - go figure!!! And while the border guards checked every one's driver's license and recorded the license plate number, Jethro was waived through with a smile. No pictures at the border this time.

Not really that close, just a camera on full telephoto

Almost to Chicken. Gin rides on.

Also, we stopped again in Chicken, AK.  This time we got gas in "Old Chicken" where it was cheaper.  The cafe owner remembered that we were coming back on this day and had huge trays full of chicken pot pie ready for us!  Yummy!  We appreciated the wonderful comfort food that warmed us inside and out. 

Chicken Pot Pie, the hot set-up in Chicken.

Drying helmets

The Chicken Pot Pie lady - another survivor.

After lunch, it was a quick hour back to Tok, where we were supposed to stay again at the Eagle Claw, but after a long ride in the rain and fog we opted to stay at the motel that was associated with Fast Eddy's Restaurant.  Nancy's cough was not better and everyone was yearning for a bed and a hot shower instead of a tent and sleeping bag.  We did head back over to the Eagle Claw for dinner; Fast Eddy's made it real easy for us by furnishing transportation to and from Eagle Claw. Vanessa and a couple of her friends had put together a dinner for us that was stupendous.  We also learned to make hobo pies over an open campfire with a couple pieces of bread, butter, pie filling and powdered sugar.

Rita, Gina, Mike and Trapper start loading up on food.
Brats and burgers from the Delta Meat and Sausage Company.

Swapping lies around the campfire

The beginning of a Hobo Pie

Cooking Hobo Pies over an open fire

The perfect Hobo Pie

After warming up and a hot shower at Eddy's we refused to allow the rain to dampen our spirits!
Proud of his medallion

Tok to Gracious House Lodge

8/15/2011:  Rain, rain and more rain....  We awoke to the patter of rain, and after another good breakfast at Fast Eddy's we headed northwest on paved roads to Delta Junction.  It was 100 miles of wet, wet and more wet.  The rain came down hard for a good portion of this leg of the trip.  This driving rain at highway speeds really put our Olympia gear to the test.  Nancy's gear worked well except for around the neck, which probably was attributed to the balaclava she wears - which was wicking the wet down to her shirt.  Walt had more issues with his riding pants.  

When we got to Delta Junction, we stopped for gas and also took time out for some warm coffee, tea and some snacks at local restaurant.  We must have been a bit overwhelming to the waitresses... they did their best to avoid us.  If they had just served us right away, we would have been out of their hair so much more quickly!! 

Cindy, Nancy and Lori waiting patiently for a warm drink and soup . . .

While Trapper and Rita try to out text one another

So, finally, we got back on our way south on Hwy 4 to Paxson.  Yes, I said south - after heading northwest for 100 miles, now we head due south.   There are very few highways in Alaska, they all go around the tall mountains, so the only way to get to the Denali Hwy. from Tok was to go northwest to Delta Junction and then south through Paxon to the Denali Highway and then west. 

Just outside of Delta Junction we got a great close-up look at the Alaska Pipeline.  You could walk right up to it.  There was a nice turn-out with a big board with info about the pipeline.  A must-stop place if you go by there.  Gives you a great sense of this huge project being so close to it. The torrential downpour has lightened to a heavy drizzle, finally.

Miles and miles of pipeline flowing black gold. Worth the stop even in the rain.

Once past this quick stop, the weather started to get better, so by the time we got to Paxson to get gas, we were seeing some blue skies and mountain tops. 

A brief fuel stop at Paxson

At Paxson we turned due west onto the Denali Hwy -  and back on to dirt again! 

This is the start of the Denali Highway. In the background is the Richardson Glacier

Closeup view of the Richardson Glacier

We stopped for a late lunch at a nice little place that had a restaurant with a great view and a few rooms to rent.  This place was 20 miles from Paxson, but our final destination was at mile-marker 83 - the Gracious House Lodge.  So we had more than an hour to go, depending on the road conditions.  If they were good, we could travel at the speed limit of 45 mph with no problem.  It turns out that for the most part the road was mostly dry but full of potholes.  Not too bad, but enough to keep you standing on your pegs and looking for the best way through for a good portion of the ride. 

Getting to Gracious House was a sight for sore eyes.  We were ready to stop and get dried out.  We were given the choice of camping out on the grounds, camping in the airplane hanger, or getting a room. Some of us opted for the hanger, some stayed outside in the rain and many of us opted for a dry room.

Staying dry in a tent in the hanger wasn't a bad idea.
We got in early enough that we had some time to explore around the Lodge. In the hanger we found a couple of early Yamaha dual-sport bikes that considering the environment and huge temperature extremes were in excellent condition and they run. These were the first two DT250s in the State of Alaska!

A Super Cub is a great way to see Alaska from above.

The runway.
Great view from the front porch.
Wall trappings appropriate for Alaska.

Wouldn't want to be this close in the wild.

We were able to take showers and get cleaned up, and had a nice hot dinner - and of course, a Medallion Pass Ceremony- which we did out by the campfire (although, it was tough getting it going with all the wet wood...). 
Great meal, great friends, great hosts and we're warm and dry!

Table decorations


And dessert.

And after dinner a lively game of Cribbage. Nancy is trying to impress a survey team staying at the Lodge. She didn't . . .

We were joined that evening by Phil Freeman and others from Motoquest.  Phil is the owner of Motoquest, and he was there to scout out a few backroads for a group coming out to Gracious House Lodge in a few weeks.  Walt and Roy were invited to ride along on the scouting expedition and took them up on the offer for the next day.

Gracious House Lodge to Denali National Park Visitor Center.

8/16/2011:  Nancy waited until this morning to decide what to do, she wanted to see how she was feeling and what the weather was doing.  The day dawned dry enough, so she decided to go with Eldonna, Laurie and Rita to the Denali Natl Park.  The 60-mile ride out was uneventful with glorious scenery along the way.  The mountains to the west were spectacular. 

The weather was spectacular as was the view.

Then there were about 30 more miles north on pavement to the park.  There was a "moose jam" along the way, so we stopped and took some pictures of these huge animals.  After some shopping, Nancy and the other ladies headed back home.  More on the trip back later....

These things are really BIG!

Walt went riding with the Motoquest guys, Brenden included, and had a great time crossing small rivers and seeing the backcountry to the west of the Lodge.

This is where Roy and Walt got to play with the Motoquest crew.

What a great time it is to be off the beaten path with rider you don't have to worry or be concerned about. Riding with Phil Freeman, Brenden Anders, Roy Anderson and the paramedic and guide for Motoquest was nothing but fun. Phil lead us to the tops of mountains, across so many water crossings I lost count, to a secluded lake and back to a mountain top for lunch in the tundra. And what view every direction you turned.

One of the many water crossings we went through today.

Not a bad view from the middle of nowhere.

Not a good time to go onto reserve!

Pull up a piece of tundra and enjoy a cushy seat while having lunch.
Brenden always has a smile on his face and a sense of adventure. Roy looks on in the background.

Taking another break.

Roy, reloading his GoPro camera.

Looking for spare change.

On the way back to Gracious House Lodge.

After a great tour of the real back country it was back to the Gracious House Lodge to take out another group of riders. Ended up with a group with Mike and Gina, Sue and Gin, Roy, John the rest of the Motoquest group and me. This ride was a little more relaxed and more mellow that the morning ride, but fun none the less. We used some of the same trails and dirt roads we did in the morning, but also got to see new sights.

Up near a working gold mine.

You can see Sue headed downhill in the lower part of the photo just right of center. And yes, that's rain you see in the distance.

And yes, more rain.

Cells of rain everywhere we turned.

Gina making time in an effort to beat the rain and stay dry.

Meanwhile, Nancy and the ladies are making their way back to Gracious House, and about 20 miles from Cantwell (where they turned off the pavement and got back on the Denali Hwy), they ran into a bad section of mud the consistency of peanut butter.  Nancy, who was in the rear, managed to get her wheels trapped into a rut and wasn't able to negotiate her way out of it gracefully. She got pitched off and ended up in the mud.... unable to get up.  She noticed immediately that her right arm was not doing what she was telling it to, and quickly came to the realization that she had broken it.  Rita, who was just in front of Nancy, slid off the roadway and almost into an embankment. She was able to stop on two wheels and aid Nancy. Rita is a handy person to have along on a ride. She got a truckload of workers with a radio to agree to call the ambulance as soon as they got within radio range, but it still took 2 hours for the ambulance to arrive. 

The mud that got the best of Nancy.

Meantime, the other ladies had come back, saw what had happened and made their way to the Gracious House to tell Walt and the others.  Walt came back to the scene with one of the Motoquest guys and was there in time to help put Nancy in the ambulance and then climb into the front seat for the ride to Fairbanks. Nancy wasn't real happy with him when he asked if I had ever thought about taking up knitting instead of motorcycling!  Three more hours.... and we made it to the emergency room.  Thank goodness for drugs.  It made the ride more comfortable for Nancy, but not enough drugs to calm the pain when they took x-rays and put her arm back in position.  Ouch!!!  But good drugs after that and orders to leave the hospital - no night spent there! 

8/17/2011:  We spent the night in a nice place and the next morning rented a 4WD Ford F350 pickup truck, filled prescriptions, bought a pillow on which to rest her arm, and a step stool to get her in and out of the high-suspension truck.  Then we were on our way back to the Gracious House Lodge to meet up with the group for the last night of our trip and pick up our bikes to transport back to MotoQuest. 

On our way back, it had rained some more, actually poured, (of course), and the Denali Hwy was a mess!  We hoped that the next day would be better for everyone riding back to Anchorage, or it was going to be a very interesting last day. By the time we got back to the Lodge the rain had slowed and Walt was tasked with picking up a couple of bikes that didn't make it back from the ride earlier that day, one that got too wet in on of the creeks, and the other with some major engine problems. On the way we saw a large caribou. It was a long way away so the photo isn't sharp.

After dinner it was time to share what this entire trip meant to us. Everyone took turns and shared the experiences that have made a difference in their lives. We also had our last Medallion Pass Ceremony andn through the help of great drugs, Nancy was able to participate.

Gather around and let's share our experiences.

Brenden Anders

Cindy and John sharing a humorous moment.

Even the broken arm isn't the event that defines this trip for Nancy. Perhaps you can see that she is on some good drugs!

Laurie gets excited while Trapper takes a power nap.
Eldonna Fernandez
Shirley Anderson shares her experiences.
Our gracious hosts at the Gracious House Lodge. To the right Gin and Sue moderate.

After a long day and longer trip it's time to relax and what better place to do this than the Sluice Box and the Gracious House Lodge.

Brenden is a real jack of all trades; a rider, guide and bartender!

Even Nancy joined us, but the strongest thing she had to drink was a Ginger Ale. Notice the dollar bills on the ceiling and walls.

Eldonna takes this opportunity to share a joke with a captive audience.

Gracious House Lodge to Anchorage

8/18/2011:  Our last day of the Adventure for the Cures - we awoke to more gray skies, packed our bags, loaded both our bikes, had breakfast and headed out, bringing up the rear behind all the bikes.  The road was in much better shape than the day before, and everyone made it to Cantwell on two wheels (except us, of course).  Gina was having problems with her bike, and it finally gave up the ghost, so we unloaded Nancy's bike (which was unharmed by Nancy's mishap), put Gina's bike in the back of the pickup, and Gina rode Nancy's bike the rest of the way to Anchorage.

Gina's bike finally sucumbs to water.

More rain, and the let-down of knowing the ride was coming to a close.  We did stop at a nice place for lunch.  It has been family owned since its beginning - before Denali Natl Park was even a park.  If it had been a clear day, we may have even have seen the great mountain, but no... more rain.

We were surprised by the amount of traffic headed northbound from Anchorage; it reminded us of LA traffic.

As we approached Anchorage we were able to pick up a decent cell signal and Nancy started the process of getting her doctor notified of her broken arm to get a referral to the orthopedic doctor.

My GPS on drugs . . . "Recalculating, Recalculating."

Also, we called her mom, who was waiting for us at the Marriott in Anchorage.  She was just back from both of her Alaska tours, and had a great time - until she sees her daughter in a sling.  But she takes these things in stride.  We get the bikes back to Motoquest, unload them and then take off to pick up Kathy and her husband Dale.  Kathy had been discharged from the Anchorage Hospital, but they let her stay at a room on site so they could continue to keep an eye on her until she went home.  It was a great deal.  Less $ than a hotel, and medical supervision to boot!  Dale initially insisted that he was flying to Anchorage and was planning on taking Kathy home as soon as she was discharged, but we convinced him to let Kathy stay until we all got back so we could see her before she went home to Omaha. This turned out to be a  very positive thing for Kathy. 

After we picked them up, we took them to Trapper's friend's house just around the corner from Motoquest.  They had a great dinner for us, and we all visited and made presentations and got to say our goodbyes to everyone.  We even got to meet Brenden's girlfriend.  It had been a very long day for Nancy with her arm, so we left there to our motel as soon as we could.

Even wobbling around on crutches Kathy could manage a smile.
Rita and Gin with Shirley and Mike in the background.

Nancy struggling to to get to her feet.

8/19/2011:  The day after... We met up with everyone (that hadn't already flown out) at Motoquest and Walt helped to wash and service the bikes while Mom and I hung out. We dropped one box off at the Kawasaki dealer for a UPS pickup, and then we all went to wash the Denali mud off the truck.  Nancy made calls to her orthopedic to try to get an appointment for the beginning of the next week - get this - they said her doctor didn't have any appointments for 2 weeks!  Now wait... Nancy has a broken arm - it's already been almost a week, she didn't think another 2 weeks was an appropriate time to wait to see a doctor.  So after being put on hold a few times she finally got an appointment with a nurse practitioner on August 23, the next Tuesday - well, better than nothing.

Bruised, swollen and broken. No fun.

The one-armed bandit ready to roll.

Dinner was across the street from the hotel with Roy and Shirley.  With an early flight out the next day, we called it a night early and finished packing.

8/20/2011:  Going home... We had a 6 am flight, and despite the early hour, the airport was busy!  Mom and Nancy checked their bags - instead of shipping them all home. We decided to keep most of our stuff in our dry bags and check them through on the airplane.  Alaska Airlines only wanted $20 per bag, so it was actually cheaper to check them than to ship them.  Now that we weren't so concerned about a bag getting lost.... it was a better deal all around.  Walt had to return the truck to a lot off site, and made it back in time to get his bags checked and shepherd us all through security.

This is the view from the plane of Alaska and Canada on our return trip.

And she still has a sense of humor!

We planned a longer layover in Seattle so we could have lunch with our friend, Bruce Laidlaw, who lives but 10 minutes from the airport. It's also funny that we can now say that we stopped in Seattle to enjoy the sunshine! The sunshine was very intense and its rays were welcome after three overcast weeks in Alaska.

Sunshine and blue skies as we approach Seattle.

He came to pick us up and took us a good Mexican restaurant.  With plenty of time to get back through security, we headed back to our gate to meet up with mom, who opted to stay at the airport.  I think after 3 weeks she was ready to go home.  If it were not for Nancy's broken arm, I know we would not have been ready to go home yet.  Alaska is a fascinating place with great people and even more spectacular scenery. 

8/23/11  Home sweet home. Nice to be back home where the sun shines.We have made the trip to the doctor to have Nancy's arm evaluated. Short story is that after only 3 weeks, no sling.  The only contrivance is a "clam shell" brace and she was told to carry on as usual, but one handed. Can you believe that Nancy can operated chop sticks with her left hand? I'm impressed.

What a difference a few days make. Very colorful.

And here it is in black and white! Now, that's a broken arm!!

Lessons learned:  First and foremost, when you are riding in an unfamiliar area and one in which help is far away you must remember that schedule is not the important thing. The weather is! Yes, the weather is what should set the schedule. As we pointed out, two days after Kathy's crash on the Dempster Highway the weather cleared and the road was perfect. You could have ridden you cruiser from Dawson to Eagle Plains. Whatever you do, don't push your luck with the weather.

11/8/11:  As we wrap this blog, for the next week or so we'll be adding updates to lessons learned and Nancy's condition. She is now in physical therapy and doing well. Updates to come. Next xrays due to be taken on November 23.