Wednesday, July 1, 2009

AK '09 - Day 11

Our stay at the Shepherd Inn was a pleasant one. The staff was friendly and the room was comfortable. It's been nice to find hotels with 3 beds in a room. I really sort of expected to be sleeping on a roll away by now. I was up before the alarm and started working on the computer. There was email to check and weather reports to read. It looked like it was going to be a wet day warming up as we went north. Breakfast was large, really large. There was something they called a bannock, which was a monster biscuit that was like a thick pancake but made of biscuit dough. Afterwards we finished packing and got on the bikes.

Just before 7am local time we were back on the Alaskan Highway, heading north. The goal was Watson Lake but no one really believed we'd make it since that was 538 miles and this group didn't do big mileage days anymore. Retired folk like to move at a more sedate pace and "smell the roses". Not too far up the road we saw a moose on the side of the road but before I could get a photo he high tailed it into the woods. Our first stop was at Pink Mountain for some hot coco and a bathroom break. It was just 67 miles up the road but with the cold temps and the rain it was a welcomed stop for all. Jerry was pretty much ready to turn around and head home but then again, that would mean that he'd have to ride through more of the rain and at least there was the possibility of sun shine ahead.

After hot chocolate, socks for Fred, and a sticker for the bike we headed back out on the road. I went ahead and added the electric liner at this point but kept my Aerostich liner as well. The combination was great. I really didn't need the electric on much but I stayed warm and dry. I feel like I've finally found my wet weather combination for the top half. The pants are working OK but I need to shorten a velcro tag and I need to do something about the boots. They absorb a little too much moisture even with the mink oil. I think a coating of "Water Proofer" might just do the trick but finding some on the trip may prove to be a challenge. Maybe in Alaska.

So we got back on the road heading north and it was more the the same. A two lane road with a lot of land cleared on both sides of the road. I believe this was to make sure the wildlife didn't just pop out onto the road and get hit.

About 100 miles down the road we stopped at a road side pull out to take a break and visit mother nature. We managed to snap a pictuire of the real Alaskan Highway.


Actually this was an old logging road but if there hadn't been a big wash out between us and the road we would have run the bikes up the road a little ways to get some good pictures. It's probably best the wash out was there, I think it was pretty muddy at the time.

With the break done and only 167 miles on the trip odometer it was pretty clear we weren't making Watson Lake for the evening. At this point we just wanted to make Ft. Nelson to fill up and then find a place for lunch so we could discuss the stopping spot for the night.

When we got to Ft. Nelson they were preparing for a Canada Day parade and the whole town was a buzz. We found a gas station on the north side of town and filled up, then quickly scooted out of town before we got caught up in the celebration. On the way out of town there was a warning sign saying there were no services for 212 km. So much for lunch. Fred thought the sign was talking about gas so we pressed on since we had full tanks of gas. When we got to Steamboat where he had stopped many years earlier it was closed. Apparently when the sign said no services it meant NO services. So we pressed on waiting for the next spot which was supposed to only be 1 1/2 hours north of Ft. Nelson.

The trip really seemed to begin when we left Ft. Nelson. We went from a nice 2 lane road to a narrower 2 land road that wasn't as well kept. We also entered into the Northern Rockies. The sides of the roads weren't cut back as well and there was more wildlife to be seen. Along with construction. We got stopped 2 times by road crews doing construction with pilot cars to guide traffic from one end to the other. One stretch of construction had loose, moist sand/gravel and it  made it fun as the bike would slip slide around on the road. A steady throttle was key.

The scenery also changed. We were climbing into the Rockies and finally saw our first snow capped mountains along with some high altitude lakes filled with snow melt. Dick volunteered to take a dip in Lake Summit but could never find an appropriate parking spot along the side of the road. I tried to help but every place had a problem. Maybe next time.

We took lots of pictures today. Some of the time I took the pictures while going down the road and other times we just pulled off the road to take pictures. I doubt I was able to capture the real beauty of the area but I hopefully captured a sample.

Finally we made it to Toad River where we stopped for lunch. It was after 2pm so it really wasn't the best time to be eating a heavy lunch but finding something light up here is difficult. A few guys had burges, I had grilled cheese and fries. Probably should have just had the Grilled Cheese. After lunch it seemed like everyone just wanted to make it to Laird Hot Springs which was 50 miles or so up the road by my calculations. So we headed north again.

The last stretch of the day was filled with a lot of gravel road and a lot of wild life. I saw bison, bears, moutain sheep and caribou. The landscape had changed a little too, we seemed to be in a less vegetative area with more rocks. But the water in the lake next to the road was a beautiful emerald green and very clear. Dick declined taking a swim in this lake saying it wasn't at a high enough altitude and I declined taking a swim because I remembered that it's hard to get my gloves on when my hands are wet :)

We finally rolled into the Laird Hot Springs Lodge at 4:45pm. Fred went in to see if rooms were available, by the time I got inside I heard they did not have a large enough room for us. So they were calling up the road to make a reservation for us. I headed outside to talk to a couple of motorcyclists we had seen along the road during the day. They had made a reservation and we talked about going up the road to the next stop to get a room. They went inside, talked to the inn keeper, gave up one of their rooms and we ended up with a place to stay. How cool is that ? All 5 of us would stay in the same room for the night thanks to Fred's air mattress. It made for a tight space but doable. The room rate was $154 for 4, their single in $124 so it's definitely not a cheap place although there is no A/C or Wi-Fi but you do have the hot springs across the street in the park.

Dinner was had down stairs in the restaurant and to be honest I really wasn't in the mood to eat. There was talk about changing the whole trip which effectively forced me to abandon the guys much sooner than I had planned. So i was in a funk about that. I had a $3.50 side salad with water and called it dinner. That was really fine.

After dinner I wanted to get out of the room and find a place of solitude to write the blog. I found Jerry outside and talked to him awhile about the day's ride. I realized sitting outside wasn't going to be an option as the mosquitos were pretty bad. So I went back inside and noticed an ethernet cable in the common room, so I grabbed my laptop and headed there. Unfortunately the cable was not connected (probably because others had tried what I was doing) so I just started typing this blog. A little time later an older couple that I had talked to earlier came down and were talking about me so when the gentleman finished telling his wife my story I introduced myself and completed the rest of the adventure. Of course the idea of riding to Prudhoe Bay by myself intrigued her so we talked about that for a while and then about their trip to Dawson City and what they had planned for their route back to Ontarrio. They were farmers and really nice folks. Eventually Jim, one of the motorcyclists I met earlier, came down and joined in the conversation. We talked about politics, work ethics, unions, cars, engines, tractors, and more. Jerry came down at some point hoping to get me into the room since he was on the air mattress in front of the door. We finally called it quits about 9 o'clock and said good night to our new found friends.

That's the part of travelling that I've missed since meeting up with the group. I'm pretty sure there's a way to find a balance and I'm going to work on that. As far as leaving the group earlier than expected. The latest plan is to go to Whitehorse tomorrow and Tok on Friday. From there they will take the southern route to see Valdez while I head to Fairbanks and on up to Deadhorse. The change in their route sort of screws me out of seeing part of Alaska but I knew that was a possibility when I decided to do the UCC ride as part of this trip. Depending on what they decide after I leave them, I may likely do some of my own exploring after the Haul Road and catch them before they leave Alaska. Since Tok is only 200 miles from Fairbanks it seems to be the logical place to part. I might stay in Fairbanks or press on to Wiseman and stay there for the night. Then make Prudhoe the next day and turn around and stay in Wiseman or Fairbanks. There is also Coldfoot as an option. Lots of choices I suddenly get to think about.

Internet: No internet at the lodge so I had to type up this blog and save it in Scribefire. If you are reading it, obviously I got access somewhere along the way. Read on forward to find out when I got Internet again.
EDIT: I was finally able to post this entry from Whitehorse, YK on July 2nd.

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