Tuesday, June 30, 2009

AK '09 - Day 10

Last night was probably the best night's sleep I've had yet. The phone alarm went off at 5:31 CDT which was only 4:31 local time. I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. When the real alarm went off at 6am we all got up and started getting ready. By 6:20 we were ready to go to breakfast.

Fred, Dick and John went next door to the Husky restaurant while Jerry and I enjoyed the free continental breakfast. Who could pass up english muffins, toaster waffles and juice. Jerry snagged a muffin for later in the day.

By 8 o'clock we were finally ready to go. We went across the street and filled up, then headed out of town on Hwy 43. The plan was to make today a short day, to do laundry and get some rest. We stopped in Hythe to do laundry because it was early in the day and no one was at the laundry mat. After an hour or so we were done and back on the road.

When we got to Dawson City we stopped for the customary Alcan highway start photo. Then we rode around until we found a coffee shop called Hug A Mug. We got in out of the rain and took some time to plan our destination. We looked through the MilePost and found the Shepherds Inn at mile post 72. We made a call and liked the rate for 2 and 3 beds so we made the reservation.

After a little more coffee and conversation, we decided to head out on the road. We stopped along the road to check out a stretch of the old Alcan hiway with a wooden curved bridge. Then continued along the road until it met up with the current hiway.

We got to the inn at 2:30 and checked in. There was only one gas pump so we all filled up before calling it a day. We all unloaded our bikes and relaxed.  Total mileage for the day was 156 miles. Most of the time was spent riding in the rain, fortunately my gear worked great. I didn't have a single leak. Things worked well.

Tomorrow we are going to try to go to Watson Lake but there are several options before we get there. So maybe it'll be a 600 miles or maybe it'll be shorter. We'll see what happens.

Monday, June 29, 2009

AK '09 - Day 9

Since I am now west of my time zone I don't have any trouble waking up early. This morning I was up at 4:30 but laid in bed for an hour. Then I checked email and packed things up. I was in the lobby at 6:31 for breakfast and missed the cereal station that also had the oatmeal. Oh well, maybe next time.

I was on the bike  and on the road by 7:00. A few miles up the road on 16 I found a gas station so I filled up the tank. Unfortunately the pumps didn't accept American Express so I had to go in after filling up. It's sort of nice to be able to fill up and then walk in. It seems to be a much more trusting environment in Canada. With the tank full it was time to ride.

I had planned to get to Grand Prairie between 4:30 and 5 local time so I'd be ahead of the guys. I wanted to make sure the hotel we were supposed to be meeting at had Internet connectivity. Along the way it dawned on me that if I could find an internet connection I could track John via his spot. Then it would be possible to adjust my arrival to catch them along the road. The route was simple. Leave Saskatoon on 16, once through Edmonton I'd take 43 toward Grand Prairie. The guys would reach 43 at Mayerthorpe.

Since I had a pretty good head wind much of the day I wasn't getting really good mileage so it didn't seem likely that I could make it all the way to Edmonton on a single tank of gas. I ended up stopping in Vegerville because the GPS showed a Shell station there. As I rode through the town it dawned on me that this town is like any other rural town in North America. Good hard working folks who still wave at people. After I filled up the bike I decided to go inside and get some juice and a snack. The cliff bars were starting to get boring. While looking at the peanuts, a fellow with a very thick french accent struck up a conversation with me about my trip and my bike.

He had an R1200RT which I saw as I was riding out of town. Nice. We talked about when he flew his bike to Iceland for a month long trip with his 5 year daughter. And then he told me he had given up his job in Quebec as an engineer to come out to Vegerville to work as an electrician. The money was a whole lot better plus he got $60K of it tax free. He said he was making $284K by working here. I can't believe the things people tell me. While I was talking to him I pulled out the laptop just see if I could find the name of the town where the day's routes would intersect. While looking at MapSource the wi-fi indicator popped up saying there was connectivity so I tried it and it worked. I pulled up the Spot page for John  and saw they were indeed on the road and making reasonable time. So I ended my conversation with my new friend and headed out of town. He was even nice enough to give me an easy but quick short cut out of town and back onto Hwy 16.

As I got to Edmonton, the sky began to darken. And I encountered a trash truck going down the road with his trash bin on fire. The smoke was so bad at least 3 different cars almost got into bad wrecks. I just wanted to get by the truck as quickly as possible so I didn't get wrapped up in a wreck. Then there was the hot oil (tar) truck that I got stuck behind in traffic. And finally the lack of a bypass, Hwy 16, which is a real hiway in Canada, goes right through town with stop lights and all. Unbelievable. So my impression of Edmonton is that it is a smelly, dirty, congested town. Definitely not a place I want to visit again.

Once I turned onto 43, there was a since of anticipation and excitement. The solo part of the ride was coming to an end but the real adventure into Canada and Alaska was just beginning. And I was going to get to enjoy it with friends. So I pressed on until Whitecourt where I stopped at a Super8 to get Internet access. I had to talk the clerk into giving me the access code as they had had problems with someone using their Wi-Fi from the parking lot and committing crimes. Once I logged on I found John aprroximately 30 minutes behind me. So I went to the gas station to fill up and then waited. I began to think I had missed them so I went back to the motel parking lot and checked. The tracker showed them very close to Whitecourt and the update time was 15 minutes earlier so I packed up the laptop and headed back to the hiway. Just as I got to the light see them rolling through the intersection to I make a right turn and falling in line. I have caught them.

We ride for several miles and then stop for a short break at a roadside pullout. Then it's back on the road for the final 100 miles. At first it wasn't bad but the last 60 miles had a really strong headwind, plus a rough road, plus it just being the end of the day. It seemed to take forever. Finally we rolled into town, there was a mix up on getting to the motel but we made it. Then there some comotion during check-in but even that was overcome.

Total mileage for the trip today was 610 miles. It was neat to see the landscape change so drastically. I started in the flat lands with long straight roads. And I finished with steep hills and the occassional wide sweeper. As we move further northwest it can only get better. Tomorrow we'll go to Dawson Creek, do laundry and take photos at the start of the Alcan. Whether we stay in Dawson Creek or we rolled forward is up in the air. But it's sounding like we'll make it a short day tomorrow and stay in Dawson Creek. If we had only gotten there this past weekend we could have been in town for D2D.

It's 9:49 local time and it's very bright outside. Once I put away this computer though I don't think I'm going to have a problem getting to sleep.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

AK '09 - Day 8

The alarm didn't go off but I woke up a few minutes before 5 without it. I wanted to leave by 6 so I hustled into the shower, packed everything up, loaded the bike and went to check out. Although breakfast wasn't supposed to be served until 7 they already had it out for the truckers. The Super 8 on I-29 in Fargo really appreciate their truck driving customers. If I'm headed through Fargo again it'll be the place to stay but next time I'll get a non-smoking room and pay extra if I have to. My clothes reak.

I grabbed some non-sweet donuts, an english muffin and some juice. Then completed the check out process. With everything done all that was left was to get on the bike and ride. I figured I'd find gas along the way out of town.

The fuel gauge readjusted and indicated I wasn't about to run out of gas as I had thought when rolling into town. I finally stopped for fuel an hour later in Valley City, ND. Tip about getting gas in Valley City, although the sign says there are 3 exits, take the first one when heading west. The other 2 loop back to the first one where the gas stations are. I called Reagan to say good morning while I was filling up the tank. The receipt printer didn't work so I had to walk inside and wait for the half baked cashier to print a receipt. The dude would have been entertaining if I hadn't been eager to keep rolling.

The route was pretty simple, head west on I-94 to Bismarc, go north on US 83 to Minot, then north on US 52 all the way to Portal, ND where I crossed the border without hassle. I didn't realize it was open season on Teal but apparently it was. I wonder if I have to claim the brown teal I killed on I-94 since it was in Montana. I mean what does Texas care :) I'm sticking to my story, I was riding down the rode when the teal flew straight into the right jug. At 80mph that proved fatal.

The immigration officer asked me if I had enough money to be in their country. I looked at him a little odd and he asked if I had enough to enjoy my vacation. I told him I had an American Express card plus cash in the bank. That seemed to satisfy him. But then he wanted to know where I worked, so I gave him the company name and hoped he didn't ask what I did. The customs guy wasn't interested in anything but my yellow slip as he was in the middle of a story so he took the slip and said thank you.

I was officially in Canada. Woo hoo! My "Ride the World" sticker has a little validity finally. US 52 becomes Canada 39 so I followed it to Regina where I picked up 11 into Saskatoon. 100 kmph seemed really slow but I discovered just like in the US, people drive at least 10 over so I just made sure there was always a faster car in front of me. The biggest challenge today was that so much of the ride was straight, flat and BORING.... There was one thrilling moment when I looked over and saw 2 deer grazing in a field near the road. No one else seemed concerned but I certainly didn't want to end my trip by hunting deer with the BMW.

I arrived in Saskatoon at 5:15  but it was actually 4:15 since they don't observe the day light savings thing. Check in was easy and the clerk was very friendly. As requested I got a first floor room opening to the parking lot. I have a door on the inside plus one to the parking lot. How cool is that? It certainly made unloading the bike a breeze. The room may be the most expensive on the trip to date, but if I didn't know any better I'd think I was staying in a Marriot.

I cleaned up, checked my email and headed out. This motel couldn't have been in a better location. There was an ATM across the street so I could get some Canadian cash and there was a restraraunt down the street. I almost went to the Tim Horton's but the motel clerk said it was like Starbucks so I may try it for Breakfast in the morning if the Super8 breakfast is the same old same old. I ended up at Dave's Family Restaraunt which was next door to Dave's Lizard Lounge. The restaraunt was closed so I went to the bar.  They called it family food but I think it's probably more like bar food. None the less, the waitress warmed up to me after I told her I was from Texas. Then there was the owner, Ken. He's a hoot. If his gig as a restaraunt owner goes south he should go on the road as a comedian. He told me he's the real owner but it used to be called David's but it had changed by a previous owner. So he changed it back and added "& Ken" really small. It's a local joke. He's a funny guy.

So what about the food. It was good bar food and the Rickards Red was good. Between the amazing room at Super 8 and the entertainment of the bar I think Saskatoon is a fun stop along the way. But things in Canada cost more so be prepared. Remember the immigration agent wants to make sure you have enough money :)

Tomorrow I catch up with my "support crew". That's what I'm calling them since there's 3 trailers between the 4 riders. If one of them had a camcorder it'd be an easy sale to tell the locals we were filming a show for a the Discovery channel. The independent portion of the trip is coming to an end but the adventure is hardly over. I have renewed confidence in future long term trips but then again I also like traveling with others.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

AK '09 - Day 7

This morning's surprise wasn't a banana, it was the weather. When I looked outside the parking lot was wet and the sky looked dark with ominous clouds. I decided it would be a good day to switch over to my black riding pants which are mostly water resistant. I had to hope that I wouldn't get into any 90 degree temps though because those pants are uncomfortable around 80 degrees and unbearable past 85 with the sun shining. I was resigned to stripping them off along the side of the road if it got too hot. It wasn't like I was going commando or anything.

So I had a to shuffle pads from one pair of pants to the other and then get everything packed up. This extra step just seemed to throw off my motel leaving routine. Finally, with a few extra back and forth trips I managed to get everything out of the room and on the bike. Since it was in the 70s I thought I'd hold off on putting on rain covers or rain gloves. I pulled out of the parking lot just after 7.

A few miles down the road on US 53 I found a gas station and stopped for juice and gas. A quick call to Reagan and I was ready to go. Between the weather and the extra time I spent switching pants my morning just seemed off.

About 30 minutes later the dark skies went from threatening to delivering. Just before I got into it though I switched over to my Alpine gloves because they are more comfortable when temps are cool and it's raining. The claw rain covers are OK but the mediums seem a little too tight and the large seem a little too bulky to use the controls properly. But they will work in a pinch.

I proceeded north on 53, then west on 54 and again north on 93, the whole time I had a solid rain coming down. In Eau Claire I picked up 53 again and followed that up to Duluth. Along the way I stopped in a 'wayside' which is a Wisconsin way of saying rest area. I was happy to see the restrooms were inside a building so I grabbed my gerbing liner and walked in with all of my gear on. Once inside I pulled off the gloves and helmet, used the facilities and then started to dress again with the Gerbing liner. Up to this point I was reasonably dry but the cold rain on the jacket's shell left me wanting a little more warmth. At this point things started to unravel for me. I zipped the liner up to the top so the zipper and collar were outside my jacket collar. Then I tried putting on my gloves with slightly wet hands. The inner liner came out of the left glove and I had to switch over to my Gerbing gloves instead. Trying to put on insulated gloves with wet hands is a loosing battle so I went back inside to dry my hands under the air dryer. OK, gerbing gloves on, I tossed the Alpines into the case to deal with them later.

While I was dealing with the rain gear issues I had a few people interested in my challenge. Of course I didn't let them see me sweat but I was really having a time of it. One elderly asian lady was saying 'poor man' as she walked by me. I assured her it was a beautiful day. Another person asked where I was going and when I said Alaska he said "Oh, you'll get lots of rain up there". I sure hope not.

So I got back on the road and headed north. I was going to be at Aerostich in less than 2 hours. The rain was really coming down after my stop and then I felt it. That cold, moist feeling. At first I was unsure if it was just the damp chill of the jacket liner against my chest or if water had come inside uninvited. A few miles later I knew for sure, water had started coming in the front of my neck area. I pulled off the road at a small intersection and tried to figure out the source of the problem. I reminded myself NOT to take off the gloves or I probably wouldn't get them back on. So there I am  in the pouring rain, with thick gloves on, trying to figure out how the water is getting in. I couldn't feel anything due to the gloves and when I stuck my gloves up around my neck all I felt was the cold wet leather. Then I realized.... by zipping the liner's zipper up to the top I had given an express entrance to water letting it run down the zipper. So I unzipped it a little and stuffed the collar down into the jacket. Now I had a wet collar under my jacket, a wet shirt and I was struggling to get the jacket closed. Until I put on the stupid liner I was reasonably dry.

I get back on the road and within a few minutes I realize my sleeves are also getting wet. What the heck? I look down to see that the gaunlets of my gloves are all bunched up due to the inner liners and basically they are catching water and funnelling it in between the glove and jacket. Dandy!! I tug and pull to straighten things out. Water collection stopped but the sleeves are wet and not going to dry until I get out of the rain.

As I roll into Duluth I go from being wet and annoyed to wet, cold and pissed off. The temp fell from 68 degrees to 55 degrees in a matter of just a few miles. It was windy, wet and cold. I just wanted to get to Aerostich and get this wet gear off. So when I made it there, I took a few moments to snap a picture of the bike in front of their building and then went inside to check things out and try to get warmed up.

I found the showroom and a few other customers. We started talking and I dumped the wet gear but still had my wet shirt on. I decided to get a jacket liner and put on my BMW shirt I bought the other day. Unfortunately I didn't realize how wasted my Alpine gloves were or I probably would have looked at a new pair of gloves too. In doing all of this I was talking to a fellow rider named Kevin and then another rider named Steve. Kevin was from Mineapolis and was fairly new to riding, he had a K1200GT. Steve seemed a little more seasoned on his '08 GS from Canada. Both guys were great to talk to and had various bits of info. It was just nice to visit really. There were a few other riders that I didn't catch their names and of course Jeff was so helpful in getting my liner. Once I had a dry layer on next to my skin I was in a much better mood, and the $140 I spent didn't seem to hurt at all.

When I got ready to leave the rain had cleared and the temperature had risen so I decided to run up toward Two Harbors so I could see a little of Lake Superior's shoreline. I didn't get far until I found a pull out where I could get some pictures. The speed limit along the road was slow and I didn't want to spend 30 minutes riding up there only to have to back track. So I headed for Fargo, ND.  On a future trip I want to ride along the coast of all the Great Lakes, I'll bring my winter gear because that lake is like a big refrigerator.

Once out of Duluth I was heading west on US 2. The rain returned but I was dry. The scenery across Minesota just didn't do it for me. It was mostly straight roads and people would do just the speed limit and nothing more. And don't get behind a slow moving car. At one point I had to pass 12 vehicles and no one wanted to let me in as I leaped forward but no one seemed interested in passing the slow car either. It was really weird. Note to Minesota folks, if you come to Texas and you want to go the speed limit or less on a 2 lane road PULL ONTO THE SHOULDER AND LET PEOPLE PASS!!! Geesh!

I didn't notice it at first but as I got closer to Fargo, the wind was getting faster and faster. Just before I got into town my low fuel light came on. I had only gone 194 miles since my fill up. What???? The rest of the trip was completing 240 miles or more before the light would come on. I don't want to know just how bad the mileage was.

I hadn't booked a room and wanted to just try walking in to get a room so I stopped at the Motel 6 which I had priced the night before for $44 with free internet. When I inquired the lady said it was $49.95 plus tax and when I asked about AAA she said they didn't give discounts. When I asked about internet access she pointed to a sign on the counter showing Internet access for $2.95 a day. Huh? A higher rate, pay for internet, and a lady that just didn't seem helpful. I explained that her rate online was $44 and that it listed free internet. She wasn't concerned so I walked out. I went next door to the Super 8 and the room was $65 but they accepted AAA with a 10% discount and the girl was really friendly. When she saw I had a CDL license she knocked the rate down to $55. So by the time I got finished I got a room at Super 8 for the same price as Motel 6 but I got better service and the stay will go toward my reward points. Cool.

Dinner was chicken fried steak and eggs at Perkins. The waitress was very friendly and prompt to keep my drink filled. Warning, save the muffin until after dinner. It's huge!

It's 9:18 and still light outside. I think I'll be able to get an early start tomorrow and be on the road by 6am. Riding in the dark won't be an issue at least.

Friday, June 26, 2009

AK '09 - Day 6

When the alarm sounded at 5:29am I was nice andsound asleep. But I didn't have any problem waking up. My feet hit the floor and I was up, feeling rested and refreshed. I felt like it was going to be a great day. I got dressed and started carrying things out to the bike. When I looked under the bike cover I found a present waiting from me.

Yep, that's a banana, and when I saw it I immediately knew from where it came. Well sort of. The letters FYYFF are well known on the advrider.com forums. So a fellow "in-mate" had left me a little gift. You can figure out what it stands for if you don't know already.  I need to get on ADV and post a thank you to the banana guy.

It was 6:04 by the time I started the bike and pulled out of the parking lot. Since there was no breakfast at the hotel yet I figured I'd just get something at the gas station since I also needed to fill up. A few miles later I was getting gas and  buying some cranberry juice to go with my Cliff bar. A quick call to Reagan to say good morning and then I was ready to go. I had a little apprehension because it was already 80 degrees and I wan't looking forward to a blistering hot day. But I hoped for the best and took off. Getting out of St. Louis required a lot of interstate riding eventually going west on I-70.

Once I got to Hwy 79 I left the interstate for the day. The plan was to follow the Mississippi river alternating sides as the roads dictated. I was hoping that staying close to the water would help to keep temps lower but I thought it might backfire and put me in a miserably humid ride. I'm certain that's what it would be like riding further south in Louisianna.

Hwy 79 took me to Louisianna, Missouri where it definitely wasn't hot or humid. I was enjoying temps in the low 80s and the closer I was to the water the nicer the temps. I followed 79 all the way to Hanibal, Mo where the road changed to N and then 168 and eventually Hwy 24. I then picked up Hwy 61 and continued north. At times I was close to the river and then I would be far enough away that I couldn't even tell there was a river nearby. When I got away for the river the temps rose but they stayed in the 80's so it was a nice morning.

I cut over on 136 and got back to the river at Alexandria and crossed to the east side at Keokuk, Mo. Hwy 96 put me on right on the eastern shore of the river. It was great! At Niota I crossed back over on Hwy 9 to pick up Hwy 61 again. I went through Burlington and kept heading north. I had seen so many Billboards for Burger King I thought I'd stop for lunch. This was a change from my norm but temps were still cool enough that I felt like I could enjoy a longer day. Of course, then Burger Kings seemed to disappear.

Hwy 61 took me away from the river for a while but finally brought me back at Muscatine, Ia and really got me close in Davenport. Since I was on a scenic byway it led me through the downtown area in several towns like Davenport. They seem to have a pretty good tourist area which might be a good stopping spot for a future trip with a River theme. At some point in Davenport 61 became 67, it kept me along the River but no Burger King. Through Princeton and still no BK. Clinton, Bingo! There was a BK just as I turned on to Hwy 30.

I stopped in for lunch and while I was there a gentleman asked me if I was going to Alaska. I told him yes and he asked where I was coming from. I said Texas and he asked if I knew where Alaska was. I assured him I knew and that I had first went down to Key West. He looked puzzled and then asked, "Florida?" "Yes", I said. And then explained that I was going from one coast to the other at the furtherest points. He still thought I was lost until I told him I was interested in following the Mississippi river for a few days and then it made since to him, sort of. I told him I was on the road for 5 weeks. Then he understood and thought it was pretty cool.

After lunch I got back on the road following the river on Hwy 52 and crossed over to the east shore at Sabula. By now I had crossed over so many times I really couldn't remember what state I was in. It was always a surprise when I came over the bridge.

Route 84 took me through Hanover on the east side and then onto a fun road that didn't have a speed limit  but had lots of twists and turns. I was having a good time until I caught up with the Galena police, so I backed it down and followed her into town. She never once used her radar, gotta love some of these small towns. I crossed back over to the west side at Dubuque and continued north on 52. Northern Iowa is really nice, it has rolling hills and corn fields as far as the eye can see. And it has some nice sweepers too. The diet Coke from lunch caught up with me so I stopped at a roadside park.

Interesting. There was one picnic table, a replica of a birdhouse and a porta-can. It was probably the cleanest porta-can I've stepped into in a long time. Yes, even cleaner than the porta-cans on the first day of the 3day before the walkers get to them.

After my break I had a hundred miles left and continued on up the road. I headed  east on Hwy 18 and crossed the River for the last time. Welcome to Wisconsin, not! Apparently they aren't too hip on welcoming people as there was no "Welcome sign". I turned north onto 35 and followed the river all the way into La Crosse where I had a room at the HoJo.

Check in was easy and it was only 5:15 when I called it quits for the day. While unloading the bike, I put it on the center stand and looked underneath. I found oil on the left valve cover. Hmmm, that explains the occasional burning oil smell that I was attributing to other vehicles. It looked like it's coming from the gasket around the spark plug opening so I figured I'd look at it after dinner.

I showered and headed to dinner. There was an upscale pizza place 2 blocks from the HoJo. The place was decorated pretentously and had a conflicting name, Edwardo's Pizza Wagon???? Prices seemed too high, and my waitress pretty much ignored me, otherwise I might have ordered a second beer. I'm pretty sure she forgot my pizza because other people got their orders before me but it came out hot enough to burn my mouth so I decided not to complain. On the positive side, since she ignored me it was easy to work on this blog.

I walked back to the HoJo and started working on the leak. It turns out I failed to put on the gasket that goes around the spark plug.

Luckily it was in the bottom of the head so I was able to put it back and button up the valve cover. No fuss no muss.

Since this is day 6 of the ride, and since there wasn't a line to use the washer and dryer I decided to go ahead and do laundry tonight. 30 minutes for wash, and another 30 for the drying and it's done. Everything is all packed up and ready to go in the morning. The next time I do laundry should be on the schedule with the rest of the guys. Although if I need to go a few days longer I can since I'll be ahead of them with fresh clothes on their day 4.

Uploading pics from day 5 and 6 seem to be taking forever but then again it may be due to the fact that I tried to take more photos.

Tomorrow, Fargo North Dakota via Lake Superior! 
Yes I know where Alaska is still.
Yes I know where Lake Superior and Fargo are....


Thursday, June 25, 2009

AK '09 - Day 5

When I awoke this morning I was still stuffed from last night's Chinese buffet and I really didn't get a good night's sleep either. I jumped in the shower and then quickly packed things up. I'm starting to get a rhythm to my morning routine. I just have to watch my time on the laptop.

I finally rode out of the parking lot at 7:30. The gps led me down local streets giving me a taste of what the locals see on a daily basis. The temperature was in the low 70s and traffic was moderate for the time of day. I was slipping out of Knoxville without touching the interstate. I rode through Oak Ridge, Oliver Springs, Wartburg and Livingston. Initially the roads were really twisty with exciting elevation changes. I was laughing at one point because the speed limit was 55mph and I was happy to be doing 45mph. I continued on through Celina and Moss (they build log cabins there) and crossed into Kentucky on a small little farm road. There wasn't even a state line sign. I was surprised to find Kentucky to have so many pastures, I always thought of Kentucky as being a much more hilly state.

I rode through Scottsville toward Bowling Green. The gps routed me around Bowling Green through Russelville. The farther west I went, the bigger the roads were getting. At first I was on little 2 lane roads, and now I was on a parkway. The temperature had been rising too since I'd gotten out of the mountainous area around Knoxville.

Finally I find myself in Indianna near Evansville. I didn't know I was going to Idianna today??? There I picked up I-164 which then took me to I-64. I rode across the rest of Indianna and all of Illinois on I-64 with the exception of a 20 mile segment where I had to avoid a 5 mile backup due to road construction. It's great to have a CB so you can ask the truckers how far a backup is around posted road construction.

My only gas stop for the day was on I-64 about 300 miles into the day. When I got back to the bike after going inside, the thermometer on my handlebar reported 117 in the sun. Yikes! I opted to eat my Cliff bar in the shade. Then I adjusted the pressure in the tires (I had aired them down yesterday for better traction). It's great to have the tire pressure monitor so I know just how much to add regardless of cold or hot tire temps.

I made it into St. Louis around 4pm. I was finally back in the Central Time zone. It helped that I gained the hour back since I got a slow start this morning. Once in town I went over to the BMW dealership to get rear brake pads (just in case) and a new alternator belt (forgot to bring my old one along). Hopefully I won't need either of these items on the trip but if I do, I'll have them. After talking to the parts guys I decided it would be OK to ride over to the monument instead of taking a taxi so I went back to the river and parked right along the river.

I went into the monumet and rode the tram to the top. While I was at the top I could look down and see my bike. Some dude was checking out the cases while I was watching him from 600 feet above. I snapped some photos and then came back down. I checked out the movie detailing the construction of the arch and I looked around the museum. I wasn't really interested in the whole Western Expansion theme but that's what the Arch is supposed to be a monument to. I was a little annoyed that everything seemed to cost and they only gave $3 off on the tram ride up because I had my annual park pass. This place it probably the most commercialized national parks location I've been to yet. I'll come back with someone who hasn't been here yet, but I won't return by myself. It's just doesn't excite me that much.

After the monument I rode back up to the north side where I found my motel and checked in. There wasn't anything but Taco Bell within walking distance so I had to get back on the bike and ride down the road looking for something to eat. I found a Picadelly cafeteria, I figured that would work since I had just been thinking about my grandmother only moments before seeing the cafeteria. That's where we always went when I was a little boy.

Being on the road for 5 days, it was time to do a little house cleaning. I put on a few stickers and cleared out some trash. I should probably find a post office in the next day or 2 and send some T-shirts home along with a pair of socks. My coconut socks are working well and when I get done in the evenings my after-riding shoes are comfortable without socks.

Planning to get an early start in the morning. Hope to be on the road by 6am. It's going to be hot tomorrow and I don't have any interstate on the route. It's all country roads and state highways following the Mississippi. Look out La Crosse, WI. I'm coming to your town.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

AK '09 - Day 4

I seem to be getting into my groove. I awoke before the alarm today and started getting ready to leave. The internet was working a little better so I managed to check email and answer a few questions. I checked the front desk to see what was served for breakfast, it wasn't much more than the first morning and there was a line of hungry people so I opted to eat a Cliff bar and pickup some V8 juice across the street.

By 7am I was on the road heading up I-95 to South Carolina. The first 150 miles of the day was going to be split between I-95 and I-26 but then I'd leave the interstate for the more interesting back roads. I ended up on SC 178 northwest of Greenville heading toward North Carolina. Talk about a fun road. This was one of those sweet little jewels you find from time to time thanks to the routing algorithms of the Garmin software. Too bad they haven't implemented some artificial intelligence to identify the types of road I like such as how Tivo picks out programs I might like according to my viewing habbits. That would be cool.

Well as I rode up 178, the temperature was steadily going down. I felt bad for my fellow trip-mates leaving from Houston today. While I was enjoying temps in the 70's and falling they were likely suffering through 90's and climbing.

So as I'm riding along 178 just happy as can be, the Garmin guides me up and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. BONUS!!! I rode it south for 20 miles and passed the 6,000 foot elevation mark, it was a cozy 69 degrees there. All good things come to an end and the GPS routes me onto Hwy 23. Eventually I get down to Hwy 28N where I exit. From the Blue Ridge Pkwy on, this was a familiar route as I had traveled it in May 2008 when I rode the Dragon last time. But this time I was going to follow Hwy 28 all the way to Deals Gap. Maybe next time I'm out in the area I can ride Hwy 28 in the other direction. It seems that I was going down more than I was going up.

Once I reached Deals Gap, I stopped at the resort to get a sticker for the bike and grab a bite to eat. I was a little hugry and thought a snack would hold me until dinner. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, fries and a drink, all for $3.50. Nice....

While waiting for my snack, a fellow rider asked me about the side cases on the bike. We continued the conversation at a table after we both got our food. The guy's name was Joe and he was from California. After retiring last December he decided to go from California to West Virginia in his camper and trailer. He seemed to have a pretty good setup, drive to a location, unload the bike, do day rides for several days and then move to a new location. That sounds like a pretty sweat set up, it certainly beats my $45 to $50 a night for a motel room.

We had heard the road was closed up ahead due to an 18 wheeler getting stuck in a curve so it was much nicer to set in the A/C and talk about riding than to get stuck up on the road. Finally we started seeing the traffic come down the road so it was decided that we should probably get on the road. We bought some stickers for the bikes, exchanged information and then I geared up. Joe headed across the street to check out the Killboy tent before taking off. I'm looking forward to hearing from Joe to see what he's up to on his travels over to West Virginia.

Well I took off up 129 following 2 supermotard bikes. Well, I followed them until they crossed the double yellow to pass a car. Then they were gone in a flash. The car graciously pulled over a few turns later and allowed me to pass. For several minutes I had the road to myself. It was great! I was starting to get my rhythm and was raising the thrill level. Eventually I caught up with traffic and had to pull over to let things clear out. Getting back on the road is always a challenge because I lose the groove and have to get it back quickly. Well practice makes perfect and eventually I'm dragging pegs in the corners. I held my pace at that point and didn't feel like I needed to push things any more. I was having plenty of fun. At one point when I pulled off to let a cager get on down the road I caught up with those 2 supermotards. OK, so they were coming back the other way. One of them stopped to introduce himself as Kyle and compliment me on the bike. He said he saw the ADV stickers and said he was on his own adventure and writing ride reports. I told him I was heading to Alaska but not writing a ride report because I had the blog. He wanted to catch the other rider so off he went and by then I figured the road had probably cleared a little so I too continued.

The Dragon seemed to end all too soon and just as quickly as it started the road changed to a dull series of longer sweepers and straight aways with little elevation change. But coming to the end also told me I was in the home stretch for the day's ride.

I rolled into Knoxville without much excitement. It's a little larger than I expected and traffic was a little heavier than planned but then again it was 5pm when I got to town. I checked into my room at the Super 8 and then ran down to Radio Shack and Walgreens for some stuff. I needed a soldiering iron to fix helmet speaker (done) and some alcohol wipes so I can apply stickers along the way instead of waiting to get home. Once back at the room I read some email, made some calls, had a few drinks and then walked across the street to a Chinese buffet. I probably could have skipped the buffet, I probably should have.

It's almost midnight here, but I've uploaded pics for the last several days, posted my blog, and booked tomorrow's room. I'm ready for another day of riding. Look out Kentucky, I'm heading north and then over to St. Louis to check out the Arch. Pictures, pictures, pictures....must take more pictures.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

AK '09 - Day 3

I awoke before the alarm set for 7am. Since I  was expecting a long ride back to the main land, I got up and started packing the bike. As I was carrying the last of my things out the alarm went off. So I finished packing and rode up to the lobby to eat breakfast. It was definitely an improvement over yesterday's breakfast. I had instant oatmeal, toast and cranberry juice. I visited briefly with an older couple and then checked out.

I rode down to the southern most point of Key West and parked my bike in front for a photo. There was a nice couple from Georgia who asked if I'd like them to take my picture. One concern solved. I had been worried I wouldn't be able to get someone to take my picture. I could tell the husband was a little envious of my trip but I left him with a little ammo. I told him my wife didn't always ride with me but she was meeting me for the last week of the trip and that I hoped she could accompany me on future trips for the entire duration. I'm sure they had an interesting conversation after I left.

Next up, I needed to get my witness start form signed so I headed over to the police department. When I pulled in it was shift change at the firehouse next door. I said good morning to a guy getting out of his truck and he said he knew why I was there and would be happy to fill out my form. He even invited me to come into the firehouse. He filled out my paperwork and gave me a patch and t-shirt from the station. I'll have to see if there's a fire station in Deadhorse. Another concern resolved, I was worried about asking a total stranger to sign my form but he was eager to help and wished me safe travels. I'm definitely going to send him a thank you letter when I fill out my paperwork for this ride.

The last and final step to kick off the trip was to get the starting gas receipt. I tried stopping by a souvenir shop before the gas station but they weren't open yet. So I called Reagan to let her know I was unsuccessful in souvenir acquisition and then proceeded up the road to the first gas station I could find. While talking on the phone I missed the question to print a receipt so I had to go in for my receipt. Once that was done I pointed the bike north on Hwy 1 and started my Ultimate Coast to Coast ride.

This time I was prepared for the slow speeds so they didn't seem so bad. Plus I followed some locals who knew when to speed up and when to slow down. The ride was really smooth up to Key Largo and I was really making good time. But I knew I had to take a detour in Key Largo because of road construction and just before the detour I realized I was going to see the first rain of the trip. So I pulled off the road and put away things like the radar detector and zipped up my jacket. I was wearing mesh pants so I just accepted the fact that my lower half would get wet and I didn't think the rain was going to be severe enough to warrant digging out the rain covers for my gloves. In hind sight that was a mistake.

When I got back on the road I ended up a few cars behind an 18 wheeler. The detour was on a 2 lane road and the rain was coming down pretty hard so there was no option of passing. Top speed of the truck was 45mph so this put a real damper on my 'making good time'. But since the rain was coming down so hard, and the road wasn't very forgiving I sort of figured the truck was helping to keep me safe. Eventually I made it to the main land and even with the circumstances I made it in 2 hours, 45 minutes. The rain kept coming down and I was regretting the choice not to get out the rain covers. But I knew my gloves would fit better once they dried out so it was a small price to pay since I hadn't really broken in the gloves before the trip.

My Zumo led me up Hwy 1 to the Florida turnpike where I got to meet various toll attendants every 10 to 15 miles. The continuous stopping and my patience for paying tolls eroded so I existed the turnpike and jumped over to I-95. The Zumo tried repeatedly to put me back on the toll road, even after I reach I-95. When I reached Ft. Peirce it realized I really was on the more optimum route and rewarded me by shaving 10 minutes off my origianl arrival time.

The planned route for the day included 620 miles so I was prepared to stop twice before exiting the road for the day. Apparently that first 120 miles on Hwy 1 really helped the mileage because I didn't start my fuel guage count down until I passed 300 miles on the trip meter and finally stopped at 353 miles after leaving Key West. I put in just a little over 8 gallons so I don't think I could have gone to 400 miles but 353 miles and 6 hours was long enough in the saddle for me anyways. It was about 2:30 when I stopped for fuel, I had left Key West just before 8.

The rain had quit several hours earlier and the temperature was rising. I only had 4 hours of riding left after my stop but the temps were up, it was going to be a long ride up I-95 to exit 87 in Georgia. There were always drivers going faster than me so it was easy to keep it at 10-over. The biggest struggle was my boots had filled up with water thanks to the rain and mesh pants and now the sun was steaming my feet inside my boots. I tried everything I could to get some air flow into the boots but since I didn't have a spare pair of boots I knew changing socks wouldn't really help. So I pressed on while counting down the miles.

Finally I reached my exit and was pleased to see a plethora of eating choices all within walking distance. The motel looked like it was going to be an adventure but once I talked to the front desk clerk I felt a little better. He gave me a non-smoking room and then suggested several close places to eat. I unpacked the bike, took a shower and headed out for dinner at the nearby steak and seafood place. I should have probably walked a few steps further to the BBQ joint but at least the beer was cold.

Tomorrow I'm heading up to ride the Dragon and Hellbender then stay in Knoxville and Thursday I'll ride into St. Louis. Both days are under 500 miles so it'll be nice to get on the back twisty roads for a change. So far I've met some nice people and had a good time. I'm definitely enjoying the trip but will be glad to see Reagan on the 17th.

Monday, June 22, 2009

AK '09 - Day 2

Since I didn't get in until late last night, I didn't get a very early start this morning. But since I wasn't planning on a long day I wasn't worried. WRONG.... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

When I walked out of the room around 8am to go to breakfast I very quickly realized I was in Florida. It was already in the mid 80's and humidity was high. It was bad enough to instantly fog up my glasses. Breakfast sucked, no fruit, only cold cereal, donuts, bread and waffles. No water even. I went with a waffle.

By 8:45 I had packed the bike, geared up and was ready to go. Just loading the bike caused me to soak my shirt in sweat. It was going to be a long day. I rode next door to the Race Trac to gas up but they don't take Amex so I skipped getting gas and just went over to the air pump to add a little pressure to the tires. The monitoring system had told me I was running 3 to 4 pounds low once the tires heated up. Since I'd be running interstate until I got out of Florida I figured I'd up the air pressures and get a little extra mileage out of the tires. When I went to start the bike again my Zumo locked up so I had to shut off the bike, dig out my tool kit and find the 2mm allen bit to remove the battery. Instead of putting the tool up I just tossed it in my tank bag. I don't think there is anything else on the bike that uses a 2mm allen screw.

At 8:55 the bike was once again in forward motion and I was heading south on I-275. There's a neat toll bridge to cross the Bay and it only cost a dollar. Tomorrow evening I'll upload the pics and see what turned out and what didnt'. I continued down I-75 toward Naples stopping for gas along the way. I met a guy at the station who was interested in the bike. He thought it was cool that I was on the road for 5 weeks and really wanted a bike of his own. I told him to just do it and make sure he took a safety class. He had to get to work and I needed to get on the road so we wrapped up the conversation. It's amazing the folks you meet when you are standing next to a motorcycle.

When I got to Naples I cut down to Hwy 41 to avoid the toll portion of I-75 and to see a little more of Southern Florida. That was good because it led me through Big Cypress National Reserve where I stopped for a passport stamp and to watch a 15 minute video in the cool A/C. I even saw a few aligators while I was there.

After leaving the reserve I found the Miccosukee Indian tribe, which interested me as they are sponsors in Nascar but I never knew where their resort/casino was. Now I know.

As I got close to Homestead I made a serious routing flaw. I turned south on a road of my choosing instead of the suggested route Garmin's Map Source had suggested during my planning stage days earlier. I had made the choice because it looked like  a more direct route and a way to avoid south Miami and part of the toll road. What it turned out to be was complete and total HELL!!! It was residential type streets with limited stop signs and 35mph speed limits and lots of local traffic. OMG! I had 30 miles of that to endure. And where the heck do these people find $300,000 to buy 5 acres of land? Not a house, just the land.

After 2 hours of traveling since leaving the Big Cypress Reserve, I pull into the visitor center of the Everglades National Park. It was 3:15 local time so I knew I was running behind if I was going to make Key West in time to be at a bar for the sunset. Not wanting to rush through the park as some of my fellow riding buddies acuse me of, I took time to check out the displays in the visitor center and watch the movie. Then I decided to ride into the park a ways and look around. Since it was one way in and then back out I was only going to go in part ways but after 15 minutes I lost my mind and decided to go the full 32 miles to see the Florida Bay at the Flamingo visitor center. Once I arrived, I was disappointed to see it wasn't really anything special other than a run down visitor center and boat launch. The really frustrating thing was the flying insects that converged on me and proceeded to chew on me as if I was their last supper. After walking over to the bay and looking at the water I hot footed it over to the bike. The bugs were especially bad at the bike so I tossed on my jacket, threw on my helmet and pulled away from the parking spot. When I got a few hundred yards away I put gloves on, strapped on my helmet, zipped up my jacket and prepared myself for the ride back out of the park.

It was 5pm when I fled from the bay and headed toward Key West. I knew I had at least 40 minutes of speed restriction in the park and then a little more until I got to Hwy 1. But I thought it would be smooth sailing once I headed south. The Zumo said I had 126 miles to go from the bay, 76 if I could have flown across water. No problem 2 hours and I'd be there. 2 and a half if I stopped for fuel and a break. Even the Zumo was optemistic.

On any normal road that would have been true. But not on Hwy 1. The top speed is 55mph and at least 1/2 of it is 45mph or slower. Some of the Keys even drop the speed to 30mph. And there is enough enforcement along the road to make me believe 5 over is about as much as one wants to push it. I finally rolled into the Comfort Inn of Key West at 8:15. Yep, that was 3 hours and 15 minutes of hell. The only saving grace was the temperature had dropped to the upper 80's so it wasn't a complete scorcher. And as for the sunset, I saw it from a bridge a few miles outside of Key West. Not bad, but there was no drink in my hand. Maybe next time.

I have a theory... it's just a theory though. There must be extremely high levels of marijuana usage down here in the Keys so to make it less noticeable the officials have lowered speed limits so they are the natural speeds of stoned drivers. That's the only reasonable explanation for some of the limits I saw today. At one point I really wanted to trade my GS in for a trike, it was difficult to go any slower. Especially when the fool in front of me was going UNDER the speed limit by 5mph or more and there was a solid double line despite the fact that I could clearly see down the long straight road for more than a mile.

Ok, so maybe my theory has a few flaws. But it makes me feel better about the aspect of leaving tomorrow via the same route. I have cut my mileage down tomorrow by 200 miles and will be staying in Richmond Hills, Georgia instead of Greenville, South Carolina. I'm also setting my alarm in the morning to wake up a little earlier so it will be a little cooler while I make the 3 hour journey back up Hwy 1 to the main land. Oh gosh, just thinking about that is depressing me. Where's my 'medicine'?

With all my whining about speed limits and such, I like what I've seen today and would like to see more. I think the better time to come over here would be in the January/February time frame. Southern Florida is in a drought at that point and the Everglades' wildlife is supposed to be really interesting. And temperatures and humidity will be lower as well. So, maybe I'll plan a return trip just to see southern Florida but it'll be in the winter time. I still like the idea of getting to Tampa on day 1, and then taking 2 days to get to Key West so you can see the Everglades along the way. 2 days in Key West to site see and then 2 or 3 days to get home. So 7 to 9 days would do it. Leave on a Saturday morning, return the following Sunday. A great week long winter get away. Probably the worst weather you'd face will be along I-10 going and coming.

It's almost midnight here so I'd better wrap up day 2. It's been another long day. I'm looking forward to catching the guys in Canada so my daily mileage will drop. But I'm having fun doing the solo thing.

Oh, and I learned an important lesson. Using sites like Expedia you have to book your room at least the night before to save any money. I'm staying in a room that cost me $80 by booking this morning but last night it was listing for $49. Needless to say, I have my room booked for tomorrow night and it's less than $45 with all the fees.

AK '09 - Day 1

So today finally arrived. It's the start of the Alaska 2009 trip. And that means an excuse to run over to Florida and finally see Key West. In the early stages of trip planning it seemed like a good idea to run over to Key West and then I'd be able to file the paperwork for the IBA Ultimate Coast to Coast.

I awoke at 5:15 so I decided to get out of bed and start getting ready. After checking email, playing Mafia Wars and actually getting dressed I was ready to go. Of course it was almost 7am by this point. Reagan and I headed over to Avalon diner for breakfast with the group. It was a larger than normal group this morning but the waiter managed to get out orders out.

Just before 8 o'clock I decided I should probably start moving toward the door and get the trip started. The rest of my group would be meeting me up in Canada so I was the only one departing today. I geared up and promptly forgot to kiss my wife. Doh! Well wishes were expressed and I took off just after 8am. The route wasn't exceptionally exciting, 59N to I-10E, go south on I-75 when I get into Florida. The route was going to be a little over 1000 miles and I wasn't completely sure that I would reach St. Petersburg before getting tired from the heat. Luckily for me, when I got into Florida people were practically running me over while I was doing just 7 miles over. So I had a plethora of 'rabbits' to follow and follow I did. In the end I covered 1019 miles in just 14 hours and 6 minutes. I should have gotten my start receipt and a witness form and that would have made a nice SS1000 ride. For the mathematically challenged, my moving average was 75mph and my overall average was 71 point something. The key to the fast time was the 45 minutes of stop time, so for 13 hours and 21 minutes the motorcycle was in motion.

I snapped photos of each state's welcome sign but I have to sort out the Internet situation before I start trying to upload them. Luckily ScribeFire lets me author the blog without being on line. Obviously by the time you read this I will have figured out the Internet situation.

I've discovered the first item I left at home. My Sprint Wireless modem. Oops! I moved it to another case last week and yesterday when I was trying to quickly pack my computer I tossed out the modem by mistake. Hopefully my Verizon phone's Internet Sharing will work in a pinch.

Something interesting happened to me this evening while traveling along on I-75 toward Tampa and I'm trying to figure out what compells people to do this. While riding along looking intently in front of me to avoid hitting any 'gators' from the large trucks, a small SUV pulls along side me and I see a young lady jumping around in the passenger and then she shows me her breast. I gave her a thumbs up which seemed to make her happy and the SUV sped away. I'm not complaining about the show, but I am curious what on earth compells someone to do this. And where were these girls when I was in college??? It must be the Hi-Viz Green jacket that just drives them crazy. 

UPDATE: Internet isn't a problem in the motel. It just didn't work across the street at the Waffle House. I found the Ice Machine, so I'm having a drink while I finish this post up. I also found my Sprint modem in one of the pockets of the laptop case.

Photos will be posted at http://brian.lonestarsupport.com/gallery/v/bikes/ak09/

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Prepping the bike

Today, I finally found the time to get the bike ready for the trip. With only 3 days until departure and 14,000 miles planned there was some work to be done.

I started by changing the engine, transmission and final drive oils. The spark plugs were worn so a new set went in and the valve adjustments were checked while I had the oil drained. Brake pads were checked and I will probably stop by a BMW dealership along the way just to get a spare set of pads for the rear. I'm a little concerned about the pads wearing quicker once I get on the Haul Road.

Now for the best part of the prep work. I changed both tires without my Harbour Freight tire changer. Breaking the bead was a snap with the Happy Trails Bead Breaker. It only took one squeeze on each rim to break the bead. To make it easier, I did it while the wheels were still on the bike. With both wheels the bead broke on one side and the breaker touched the rim before breaking the other side. Folks worried about nicking their rims might want to carry a piece of rubber to go between the rim and breaker or just wrap the breaker in rubber tubing. My rims already have enough nicks on them that I couldn't find evidence of any nicking from the breaker.

So with the beads broken, I pulled the rear wheel, and pried off the tire. I washed up the rim, inside and out, and lubed up the valley of the rim with No Mar Tire Lube paste. A little lube on the No Mar tire iron and back side of the new tire then it slipped on easily. I hooked up my portable air compressor and let it run. To my surprise the tire started filling with air quickly and I didn't have any trouble setting the bead. I didn't even need the rachet strap I had planned to use. Balancing the tire was simple with my Marc Parnes balancer resting on top of my side cases.

Next it was the front wheel's turn. Getting the tire off was a little more challenging mainly because I have a real concern for damaging the front brake rotors. But the tire did come off and then I washed the rim, inside and out. Once clean and dry it was time for some lube in the rim valley and on the inside lip of the new tire. With a few well placed tire irons, spooning on the new tire was a snap. This one too was easy to inflate and set the bead. I did discover something while airing up the tires. If you roll the wheel back and forth quickly just a few times before trying to air it up it will activate the pressure sensor in the wheel. Then when I start airing up the tire I just watch the display to know when the tire is at the right pressure. That's one of the benefits to the tire pressure monitoring system in installed. Monitoring the pressure while airing the tire showed me the beads usually set with less than 25 pounds of air. I may have to rethink my regular habbit of airing tires to 50 or 60 psi to insure a seated bead.

The last thing to do for the day was to pack up my tools and figure out how to load the extra set of tires for the trip. My plan is still the same, run the Tourances up to northern Canada/Alaska then change over to the more dirt oriented TKC80s and wear them out (3,500 ~ 4,000 miles) and change back to the Tourances before picking up my sweetie in Montanna on the return part of the trip. So I used several zip ties to hold the tires together, covered the passenger seat to avoid any wear marks and then used 3 bungee cords to secure the load. Two down low to keep them in the seat and one on top going back to the top case to keep the tires pulled back. This set up seems to put the weight on the seat rather than on the top case which means it should do fine when I get on bumpier roads. I may change out the bungees for better straps when I stop by Rider Warehouse in Duluth but we'll see. I'm going to pull a steel cable through the tires and grab handle so I shouldn't be maving the tires much during the trip. And in this configuration I have easy access to the top case. I think this is going to work fine.

Tomorrow I'm going to throw my clothes in the right hand case and take a little test ride. I think it's best I not sneak out of town early though, still a few other things in life to do before I leave.