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Taking off from Fairbanks, I looked down at a road leading out of the city and reflected on what a unique experience this was. Was I bummed that my trip ended badly? Not really, cause for one thing: I wasn't injured once in all the events that transpired; financially speaking, I didn't come out it too badly with the insurance claim and every breakdown that I had lead to some new friendships. Plus, being pushed out of the comfort of being on my own bike and having to hitch-hike multiple times, I crossed paths with a varied array of humankind. I chatted with oil workers, cooks, overland adventurers, gold miners, pilots, professors, trappers and a snowmobile racer and his family.

Even without any of the mishaps, I gained insights into how various people live across the US and Canada and especially Alaska. I'm glad I was able to finish most of my trip before auDRey let go and on the positive side, these incidents allowed me to spend more time in Alaska than I planned, which was a good thing.

Alaska has recently been thrown into the spotlight through the rimless glasses of Sarah Palin and for all her positive traits, she probably cast a misleading image of Alaskans to the rest of the world. Yes, they're rugged on the outside as this harsh environment demands it, but also because of the harshness of the outside, I believe the people up there have to become more gentle and caring of each other. It makes it easier to survive. I was shown tremendous amounts of generosity and warmth on this journey that I am ever grateful for, and for me, it reflects the underlying good nature of humankind.

What an exciting journey. For all the meticulous planning that I did before my trip, things couldn't have gone more wrong, but what I'll take with me is how interesting my life was over these three weeks in the summer of 2008. Yes, there are dangers in partaking an adventure as such, but how would human character grow if its limits weren't tested. There isn't enough time in our lives to brood over the what-ifs: what if no one came by with a spare tube on the Dalton Highway, what if the Jacobs family didn't pass by at just that right moment, etc. Life happens. Take the positives from every situation and move forward.

Go forth and live!

The planning for the next ride has already begun. Say hello to sanDRina. I picked her up recently from Detroit. She's a 1998 DR650 and has been setup very adequately for adventure touring. I definitely miss auDRey, but I know I must move on.

Ride Report Index

Ride Report: Day 20 - End

Day 20 – End / July 1 – July 4, 2008

Matt arrived the next day and the three of us set off towards the Canadian border. It was an interesting stay at Tok, but I was looking forward to making it to Whitehorse and onwards to Yellowstone. It was gloomy with a light rain and the temperature wasn't rising above 50 F. auDRey was idling smoothly and sounded better than before.

I went ahead of the guys and there was some heavy construction with lots of gravel on the highway and while I've ridden through that kind of road surface many times before, this time I was probably feeling a bit too tense with all that was happening and I had a low-side accident into the ditch. A low-side is where the bike falls under you when the tires loose grip. They're usually not that damaging to the rider compared to a high-side where you're thrown off the bike. I slid on the gravel with my protective gear and came to a stop without my helmet or gloves even touching the ground. However, auDRey was upside down and my Throttle Rocker (device on the throttle to relieve wrist pain) was stuck in the ground, keeping the engine running until it finally died. I quickly stood her upright and tried to start the engine, but it wouldn't budge. I gave it a few minutes to regain my composure and allow any fuel to settle back down, in case the carbs were flooded, but this time it sounded like metal against metal in the engine and I knew that was the end. I threw in the towel. Nick and Matt pulled up and I told them I had to figure out a way to get back to Fairbanks or Anchorage and see what my options were. There was nothing more they could do and I thanked them for their help and bid them goodbye.

I pushed auDRey into the last gas station before the border and called up AAA's towing service to see what they could do. They said the maximum they could tow someone would be a 100 miles and I was about 300 miles from Fairbanks. Just then I saw a yellow pick-up truck with a blue dirt bike and a trailer pull into the gas station. I ran up to the driver and asked them if they could give auDRey and me a ride. I would pay for gas or anything they wanted.

The bike trip officially ended the next day when auDRey and I took a small spill on a wet construction stretch and ended up in a ditch. I was totally fine; it was slow speed but auDRey ended up upside down and the engine finally gave out. This was close to the US-Canada border and I figured my only option was to try and make it to Fairbanks, back to the Suzuki dealer. One last dose of luck as this family of Peter Jacobs was heading to Fairbanks and offered to give me a ride.

Peter and Tracy here took me under their wings until I figured out what to do about my bike and transport for getting back home to Chicago. They were taking their son to the local motocross races and I really enjoyed the time spent with the family.

Peter Jacobs was taking his family from Whitehorse to Fairbanks for the local motocross races. He gladly offered to help another rider and we put auDRey in the back and took off towards Fairbanks. He said he was good friends with the Suzuki dealer in Fairbanks and was sure they would help me as much as they could. He was traveling with his wife Tracy and their son Jake and his friend, Pineet.

I shared with them my story so far and they were intrigued by all that I had endured and how positive I still was. Peter is an ex-snowmobile racing champion and now he's seeing if his son has it in him to go professional in motocross racing. They attend all the motocross events across Alaska, as it's easier for them than heading south to attend the events in southern British Columbia.

His family runs a construction rental business in Whitehorse and he shared with me the ups and downs of owning a small business and trying to grow it bigger. He said there comes a point in a small business where you yourself can't manage all the daily activities and from then on, it becomes a medium-sized business. He supported my view that business growth isn't always a positive situation, since now his stress level had increased a lot, which was affecting how many motocross races his son could attend. Tracy confirmed the rise in stress and said with increased revenue comes increased stress. Peter was thinking about just selling his business and starting over with something else.

Besides having a good business sense, Peter and his family also have a strong wilderness sense. They hunt animals to sustain a semi-subsistence living. The price of beef being too high in the local grocery store justified their decision to hunt for their meat. The whole family gets involved in week-long hunts and their 10 year old daughter is the conscience police in their family. She insists that they can only hunt animals that have a fair chance of getting away. So if the hunters crowd the animal to a cliff or a water body, they have to let it escape before going after it again. They said it makes the hunt last longer but at least convinces their daughter that this isn't senseless killing.

Peter said to increase his family's subsistence, they're growing a little farm at their house in the wilderness outside Whitehorse. They have a few chickens where they get eggs from and they recently got a pig. Their daughter already named the pig and has made it into a pet, so he said they're going to have a tough time when it comes to explaining where the pork ribs for dinner came from.

Besides being intrigued by my long distance riding adventures, they also wanted to find out more about India. Their son's friend, Pineet, is the son of an Indian immigrant single mother who's very happy that the Jacobs family takes Pineet along and has introduced him to riding as she's very busy trying to get by managing a sandwich shop. They wanted to know which stereotypes of Indians were true and which weren't. I explained that yes we do have snake charmers, no magic carpets, yes lots of elephants but not everyone has one.

I spent the next two days with the Jacobs family while I tried to figure out what to do about auDRey and how to get home.

This is their son Jake on the bike and dad, Peter on the quad. Peter is an ex-professional snowmobile racer and he's seeing if his son has it in him. This was my first time to a motocross track and Jake told me all about how the races are run and how to ride the track.

Getting some air on a Kawasaki 250 2-stroke.

In that time, I talked with Peter about his business and his racing career, talked to Tracy about how it was to raise a family in the relative wilderness and I also talked to the boys about facebook, cell phones and if they had any girlfriends or not. Jake was a sophomore in school and his mom said he's very popular with the girls because he races dirt bikes on the weekend. Jake also pointed out how there's so many young girls that race motocross these days and he was trying to get the attention of this one particular fast girl. Everybody's got stories.

One interesting thing, which seems obvious now, about the Jacobs was that they could tolerate the cold much better than I could. They said they would start feeling hot if it got above 65 F, while I think for most of us in the temperate regions of the world, we would only start feeling hot above 80 F and for those in the deserts, it might be 100 F. In the mornings at the motocross track, it was around 40 F and everyone was just wearing a hoodie sweatshirt and not worrying about the cold. I don't mind the cold, but I need to dress properly for it. They said this was because their blood has become thicker by living up here for so long and people from warmer climates have much thinner blood. Sounds like the process of evolution: biologically adapting to better survive.

Peter dropped auDRey off at Northern Powersports and they joked that I was quickly becoming a frequent customer of theirs. They tore the engine down and found catastrophic piston failure and damage to the cylinder walls and cylinder head. Something caused the edge of the piston to crack into pieces and these pieces were probably responsible for damaging the electrodes of the spark plugs. The piston rings were damaged as well, allowing oil to be burnt in the combustion chamber leaving the black carbon residue.

Craig, one of the owners of the dealership, was very helpful throughout the process and said it would cost around $2,000 to do a basic overhaul of the engine and if I was going to be riding another 4,000 miles back to Chicago, I had better get some other work done on the engine (like replacing the valve train) and it would total about $3,000 and maybe a week or more of waiting for parts. He said the other option was that he could give me $500 towards a trade in for a bike he had there, like a Suzuki V-Strom DL1000. I wasn't ready to pay for another bike and if I was going to be riding back to Chicago, I would want to prepare the bike for the trip with some electrical modifications and make sure I actually liked riding the bike. It was too hasty of a decision, so I called up my insurance company and asked what they could do to help me out. I had full coverage on the bike and after sending an estimator out to the dealership, they considered the bike totaled since the repair estimates were more than the bike was worth, and they said they would pay me the value of the bike.

Northern Powersports Suzuki tore down the engine and showed me the damage: a ruined piston head, piston rings, cylinder head and valves. Repair estimate was around $3,000. I called up my insurance and thankfully I had full coverage on the bike and they said they would take care of it for me. I believe the water in the fuel caused the engine to run hotter than normal (lean conditions) and this might have lead to detonation that destroyed the piston head and the rings allowing oil to be burned in the combustion chamber. Water is the biggest enemy to internal combustion engines.

The damage to the cylinder head inside the engine. I think many things contributed to this catastrophic problem. The DR650 is known to have a very reliable engine, but I think too many variables were working against it - the bad muffler that lost its packing material, the water damage from way back on the Dalton who knows what else. She definitely put up with a lot before finally letting go.

Stripped off her touring guise, she’s still shows her dirt-bike heritage. Knowing that my insurance would now be totaling the bike, I tried to salvage as many aftermarket additions that I installed in preparation for this trip and future trips.

When I bought auDRey in November 2006 in Tucson, my intentions were that I would learn about the DR650 and do a few local trips, slowly setting her up before leaving on a grander trip, maybe through South America and beyond. The 5 months before this Alaska trip, every modification I did to her was done with keeping in mind this longer trip. However, these were the cards I was dealt and I would try and make the most out of it.

Once it was settled that auDRey was going to be totaled, I spent a day slowly stripping off all the aftermarket accessories that I had painstakingly and joyously installed on her prior to this trip. I had wiring setup for the GPS, radar detector, iPod charger, video camera charger, heated grips and a headlight relay kit. When you install something on a bike, it's hard to think that there will come a time when you have to remove it. I removed the mounting frame for my side panniers and top case along with the highway pegs that I fabricated with a friend a few nights before leaving on the trip. The shortened and wide plate kick stand would have to stay. I packed all those items into boxes and shipped them off via UPS back home as I had every intention of getting another DR650 and setting her up just like auDRey.

A one-way plane ticket out of Alaska was surely going to be expensive, but I had enough American Airlines miles to not worry about it. I thanked Peter and his family for graciously taking me under their wings over the last two days and also thanked Craig at Northern Powersports for being very helpful.

I bought her with 4,000 miles on the clock and we had an excellent time through Mexico last year and up till now, a wonderful time up here in Alaska.

A sad ending to a fantastic trip. I was totally bummed to be leaving auDRey behind because as cheesy at it sounds, I felt we had really connected and I really enjoyed riding her. Hopefully someone buys her for cheap and fixes her up.

After shipping my luggage home through UPS, I used some airline miles that I acquired from my numerous trips to China to get a one-way ticket back to Chicago from Fairbanks. What a bummer to be ending the trip this way, but hey, at least I'm getting home safely without too much of a financial ding. What a great adventure!

Taking pictures of planes in Seattle, while waiting for my connection.

The Seattle airport terminal.

Next: Epilogue

Ride Report Index

Ride Report: Day 18 - 19

Day 18 / Sunday, June 29, 2008

My journey from here on out was set to take an unexpected path. I had planned on crossing into Canada by nightfall and making my way towards Yellowstone National Park. However, it was time for the gremlins to surface.

On the ride back out of Valdez, I stopped by the Worthington Glacier and hiked up to the start of the glacier. Interesting to note how a glacier was simply just frozen water and some soil, yet it seems to have a life on its own craving out the landscape. The weather was much better today as I got to experience the brighter side of the micro climate of the Chugach. The beauty of the snow-capped peaks with their lush green skirts was definitely a better sight under bright sunshine rather than the gloom of the day before.

Stopping by Worthington Glacier on my way back into the Interior.

The Chugach Mountains near the glacier. Elevation is not very high but the high latitudes keep the snow on the peaks almost throughout the year.

The brighter side of the micro climate of the Chugach. It was damp and rainy yesterday and nice and bright today. While the town of Valdez itself wasn't that much to see, the ride down and back is definitely worth coming this way.

Looking out at the Wrangell Mountains from the main highway heading towards Gokona and Tok.

As I pulled into a service station in Glenallen, back on the major route heading towards Tok, I knew that it couldn't be good for auDRey to be running a muffler without the end cap. But she sounded relatively fine and I figured I would at least get to Tok and then have a mechanic there fix up the muffler until I got to Whitehorse (first major city in Canada coming from Alaska).

Past the small town of Gakona, the highway was feeling quite remote and just as I was hoping to myself that nothing would go wrong with the bike from here to at least Tok, the engine died. I checked my battery voltage monitor and there was still around 12.9 volts, so it wasn't an electrical issue. She wouldn't fire up again.

There was a remote gas station about half a mile away and I pushed auDRey along the shoulder into the parking lot. There was an Australian rider on an old Honda Goldwing with his American buddy in the sidecar, who were taking turns riding, and he suggested right away that I look at my spark plugs, since they can tell you what's going on in the engine. It didn't look good as the electrodes of the spark plugs were completely bent in meaning there was no space for the spark to occur and combustion to ignite; that's why the engine stopped.

Something was definitely hitting the spark plugs. I suspected that this might be a resurfacing of my fuel issue on the Dalton Highway. The black residue on the plugs were indication that carbon was building up in the combustion chamber, meaning either there was too much fuel in the combustion (rich) or oil was being burnt due to damaged piston rings.

Not being able to tear the engine apart and have a better look, I figured I should just try and get to Tok where there would be mechanics. The Australian rider said I should definitely get the muffler end cap back on and as I put some JB Kwik weld to hold the end cap to the muffler, he went off into the bushes near the service station to find old telephone wire. How random that he would guess that old telephone wire would be lying around, but lo and behold, he did find a couple yards of it and I set about removing the sheath and getting at each individual copper wire. I made a restraining copper basket that held the end cap onto the muffler and with spare spark plugs installed, auDRey was sounding much better. However, I could already see the pressure from the exhaust was too much for the JB Kwik and it was not going to hold.

I asked the station owner if there was a mechanic nearby to at least better secure the end cap and she said yes there was a friendly pilot named Thumper who also rode bikes that had a handy shop about 10 miles up the road. She said he would gladly help me. Thanking the Australian rider and his friend, I hoped Thumper would be home.

I pulled into a house that had two old planes in the yard and as Thumper came out, I explained my woes and he said he would gladly help me out. His wife June also came out to see what all the fuss was about. Thumper cut up some old Aluminum sheet into straps that he screwed in to the end cap and the muffler. I offered to pay for using his materials and service, but he said not from another rider. He keeps a Harley down in Washington state and flies there often in the summer to ride with June.

Regarding paying for help, sometimes it can be seen as rude to offer payment for people's help as you could be insulting their character. Regardless, I at least make it known that I am very grateful for their help.

This is where the trip started going off-track for me. So I had to remove my muffler end cap the day before, before it ripped itself off and I was running with no end cap. As you can see, I believe the packing material for the muffler has been eroded away. These lightweight dirt-bike mufflers need repacking of the muffling material every 3 months or at least 1,000 miles. I should’ve learned about this before and installed a muffler that doesn’t require repacking, as it doesn’t make sense for touring. Lesson learned.

Just near a remote gas station on the way to Tok, the bike died and I rolled it in to the station and started taking things apart to figure out what the problem was. Good thing I had a spark-plug removal wrench in my tool kit and figured out why the engine was dying – the electrodes were being bent in leaving no room for a spark to ignite the fuel. I had spare plugs and put them in but still hadn't figured out the cause.

I figured not having the end cap on was bad for the exhaust back pressure and with the help of another rider there, I found some old telephone wire next to the station and stripped the copper wire out from it and made a cage to hold the end cap on. I also put on JB Weld on the seam.

The owner of the station said there was an airplane/bike owner a few miles up the road who would have some tools to help me out. I pulled up and Thumper and June came out and offered to help. He's a Harley rider and keeps his bike down near Seattle and flies down to ride often. He also thought what I was doing was crazy but understood and helped me out.

He attached some metal strips to hold in my muffler end cap. What a pleasant couple. The kindness that I came across all over this state has definitely been reassuring in the greater goodness of humanity.

Back on the road to Tok, auDRey was holding up fine and at a scenic pull-out, I caught up with a group of riders on KLRs who recognized my bike from their trip up the Dalton Highway and were concerned as to how I was getting along. The infamy of my snafus were catching up.

Besides all the trouble that I was having, the actual ride up to Tok on the Glenn Highway-Tok Cutoff was quite pleasant. The road hugs the northern border of the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and thus provided some pleasing views of majestic peaks.

On the way to Tok, I caught up with these riders who recognized my bike from their trip up the Dalton Highway and were concerned as to how I was getting along.

The last picture of auDRey in the wild all setup as a DR650 Adventure.

Heading to Tok where the Alaska Highway heads south and east into Canada.

As I got near Tok, I was thankful that auDRey had made it here, but I was counting my blessings too early as she died again just outside the town limits. I found a campsite and decided to do a proper engine tear down and figure out what the issue was before heading off into 400 miles of wilderness to Whitehorse.

Luck be it, just as I was paying for my campsite, Professor Nick pulled in and would be staying at the same campsite. Nick was instrumental in helping me with my tire issues on the Dalton Highway. He was also on his way out of Alaska and he said he would gladly help me diagnose my issues. He said I was definitely very lucky, as whom better to camp next to then an automotive professor who consulted for the Big 3 in Detroit. It's like having an issue with your basketball jump shot and Michael Jordan happens to swing by and show you a few pointers. My despair of this situation was quickly being taken over by hope.

As we setup camp, two Germans staying at the campground were intrigued by Nick's German license plate on his BMW. Nick lived in Germany for a while and has his Euro German plates along with his Michigan plates on his bike. Constantin and his friend were young diplomats with the German Foreign Service, stationed in San Francisco and The Hague, and they were touring around Alaska and Canada in their VW Toureg SUV taking in this great land. They brought the tools they had to offer any help they could.

As I set about tearing down auDRey under Nick's guidance, I explained the things I was doing to Constantin as he was intrigued by all the oily bits of a motorcycle. The spark plug electrodes were bent in again and Nick said we had to have a look to see if there was any damage to the valve train (the valve stems) that could be causing low compression. I unbolted the header and the exhaust valve looked ok. However, the view down the intake side wouldn't be as easy as it was obstructed by the carburetor. Showing his field experience, Nick told me to remove one of the rearview mirrors and use that to look into the intake port. If anything, I was learning a lot from this experience. The intake valve stems didn't look damaged and we saw the valves were also seating properly, so there was no damage to the valve train. Through the open valves, we tried to see into the combustion chamber to see if we could find any pieces that were causing the damage to the spark plugs, but we didn't see much.

Not having the tools to go further into the engine by removing the cylinder head and looking into the piston, we figured the best we could do was put it back together and see how she runs.

While I slowly set about putting auDRey back together, the four of us had some great conversation around the campfire with topics ranging from culture, politics, nationalism, religion, science, gun control issues, immigration, etc. One of us was a practicing Christian, another agnostic and another an atheist and we discussed our views very openly and had good healthy arguments. We didn't solve any problems with the world, but it certainly was pleasurable to discuss. Nick said our grandfathers probably sat around a fire and had some great talks and we hoped our grandchildren would also have the opportunity to sit around a campfire and talk into the night.

The bike died again just outside of Tok and I figured I better strip the engine down and try and find the culprit before heading off into 400 miles of wilderness to Whitehorse.

With luck still running high on this trip, Professor Nick in the cap here happened to stop at the same camp site and pitch up right next to me. He was the one who helped me finally get my tire problems fixed out on the Dalton Highway and I also met him earlier in the trip in Dawson City. I told him I was having engine issues and he said I was certainly very lucky as he's actually an applied physics/automotive professor working with the Big 3 car companies in Detroit. We set out root-causing the problem. The guy in the foreground is Constantin, a German diplomat who was touring around Alaska with a diplomat friend from San Francisco and they offered to help with whatever tools they had.

Nick's ingenuity: using the rear view mirror to look between the carburetor and the intake port of the engine to see the condition of the intake valves. We were trying to see if anything was obviously bent or damaged. We didn’t find anything damaged and not wanting to open up the cylinder head out on the road, we couldn't tell if the insides of the engine were damaged.

With no option besides putting her back together and seeing how she holds, I put some exhaust bondo to better seal the end cap and hoped it would hold. We waited a day for one of Nick's riding friends to show up before heading south into Canada.

Day 19 / Monday, June 30, 2008

Nick was waiting for his friend Matt to finish his Alaska trip as they said they would ride back home through Canada together. Matt was also part of the group that helped me with my tire issue on the Dalton and he was coming back from Homer. Wanting to ride with Nick, in case anything went wrong again, I too waited the day out.

There was a snowmobile mechanic in Tok who suggested that I try running spark plugs that were slightly shorter in case the piston itself was hitting the electrodes and slightly hotter, to burn up the excess carbon residue in the combustion chamber. I also bought some exhaust bondo to better seal the end cap to the muffler.

After a rainy afternoon, we walked over to a local bar and as soon as the local patrons found out we rode our bikes to Alaska, we quickly became friends with everyone. This was the kind of watering hole that this whole remote community revolved around. This was their place to catch up with everyone. The biggest character there was Pete, who's a local motocross champ and loves to ride his dirt bike through the woods. He was really encouraging me to stay a few days and the ride some crazy trails with him. He had a larger than life personality sounding very bombastic on the outside, but became very sympathetic when I recounted all my bike troubles so far.

His friend Mike was an animal trapper by trade. In the winter, he sets traps to catch lynx, beavers and muskrats for their fur and if he has a good season, he doesn't need to work through the summer. If not, he said he would find a job on a commercial fishing vessel. Animal trapping has a long heritage in Alaska and is actually the reason that this area became known to the world first, before gold and oil were discovered here. In the 18th century, the Russians started a fur trade with the natives and this attracted merchants from Europe and America. Prior to trade with the outside world, the natives used the fur for clothing and the meat for food. But with outside trading, they progressed their communities by trading for metal tools and manufactured goods that were not available in their harsh environment.

Through Mike, it was nice to see that the tradition of trading has been passed on from the natives to the White Americans that moved to Alaska after its discovery. Mike looked like a man of the earth, sharing the joys and spoils of his local environment. In this modern age of relentless consumerism, it's refreshing to see that subsistence living still has a place in today's society. All the animals that are trapped are abundant in quantity and are thus not endangered. He said this also helps maintain consistent animal populations as the local government will encourage trapping of a certain species in case its population is exploding, like currently the lynx. The local rabbit species, the snowshoe hare is on about a 10 year boom and bust cycle of its population. People still don't know exactly why this happens, but the rabbits are at their peak currently and I saw them all over the road. Lynx feed almost entirely on the rabbits and thus their population is closely tied to the rabbit's. Once the rabbit population collapses (from eating plants that produce a defensive chemical), the lynx population also collapses and perhaps trappers will trap less lynx in that period.

Over the course of the night, I asked my new friends how they ended up in Tok and was there any desire to move to the bigger cities. Strangely, after a few beers, all of them quietly said that they think something bad is going to happen soon regarding world politics and the state of peace. It sounded like they were worried about nuclear war breaking out. Before this discussion, for being small-towners, I was impressed with the breadth of their knowledge of global current events. They said they read the newspaper and watch the news diligently and are aware of all the bad things being portrayed by the news media. They mentioned how Tok is in a natural valley and they hope the surrounding hills and its remoteness will prevent any nuclear blasts from affecting them. They said this in complete seriousness. The obscurity of Tok was what attracted them here and they encouraged me to consider coming back and joining them. They did mention that having a massive military presence in Alaska was reason enough to believe that in the next global war, they might definitely be in the target of their enemies. Having Russia nearby, with the Cold War not too far away in their memory, might also add to these thoughts.

Now, this is maybe just the result of the news media's priority of mainly displaying bad news as it sells better than good news (maybe Obama can change all this with his infinite hope). Or maybe there is some truth in their thought process. In today's world, if you live in a highly populated developed city, the chance of a random terrorist act affecting you is much higher than if you lived in an obscure small town. I too do wonder why the news media consistently portrays a negative view of the world, which in turn makes the public have a pessimistic view on life. This comes back to Steve's view based on Quantum Theory that thinking negatively might lead to negative events. I'm hoping Mr. Change-We-Can-Believe-In has some impact in this area of society by spreading the message of hope.

Besides the interesting conversation, lots of bravado also ensued. Pete wanted to prove to us that he could do upside down hand-stand push ups and Nick joined in for an arm-wrestling match. He held his own for a good while. The night ended on a pleasant tone and we thanked our new friends for an interesting evening.

That evening, we hung out at the local bar and quickly became friends with these guys. The guy on the left, Pete is a local motocross champ and he loves to ride his dirt bike in the woods. The guy on the right, Mike is an animal trapper by trade. He traps Lynx and other animals over the winter and sells their fur. If he makes good money, he doesn't work in the summer and just relaxes. These guys just totally love the wilderness and their strong small community and they were very jovial.

Pete said he could do handstand pushups and really wanted to show us. Nick is making sure his head actually touched the ground.

And Nick joined in with all the bravado and tried his hardest to upset our man here. Good times.

Next: Day 20 - End, The Journey Ends

Ride Report Index

Ride Report: Day 17

Day 17 / Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saying farewell to Mark, I set off for my last destination in Alaska, Valdez. The Glenn Highway heading east out of Anchorage and going towards the junction of Glenallen is labeled as a scenic highway and it certainly lives up to its name with stunning views of the Chugach Mountains and even a glacier, which can be seen from the highway. Being a major thoroughfare (the only way leading out of Anchorage and Alaska), there was consistent traffic on the road but many others were travelers like me and stopped to take in the sights along the way.

Travelers coming up to Alaska in its beautiful summer don't really experience the harsh winters, which among other things, take a heavy toll on its roads. Frost heaves are a common road issue, where the freezing and thawing of the ground under the road leads to a wavy road surface that can also form cracks. Road construction is improving by accommodating frost leaves into the road design, but there are still roads that need rebuilding and there are some vast stretches of construction on Alaska's highways. These areas usually have a pilot car that guides one-way traffic back and forth.

As is common practice at any road construction, motorcycles are allowed to get to the front of the line and there I met a rider from Atlanta who was on a cruiser and heading back home after a 3 week trip up to Alaska. Amazingly again, I was so worried about running out of gas with my 5 gallon gas tank and here he was touring around with a 3 gallon tank. He did say that he did run out of gas on a few occasions. And people call me crazy.

One major highlight on the way to Glenallen is the Matanuska Glacier, which is visible from the highway. One can also drive right up to the glacier, which is active, moving at about 1 foot per year and it empties into a valley instead of an ocean. It's 27 miles long and 4 miles wide at the mouth. One interesting thing about this glacier is the presence of a weather hole, meaning that the weather is always calm with sunny skies around the glacier, probably due to the massive chilled mass and its reflection of the sun.

Heading out of Anchorage after a day of rest and repair for auDRey. There's technically no Interstate Highway in Alaska but this road in and out of Anchorage and the peninsula is the widest road in the state. I'm waiting to cross those mountains up ahead on my way to Valdez.

I can see why the Glenn Highway is considered a scenic route. That's looking at the northern edge of the Chugach Mountains.

This was certainly a beautiful drive. The mountain peak there with its head in the clouds kept me interested for a long while. Imagine how high it is from its surroundings to create its own clouds, just like Denali...

Beautiful views in all directions.

Now those are what you call mountains.

They were doing some major construction in one section.

It was tough to pay attention to the road all the time because of these great scenic vistas, plus taking pictures of them while moving.

Matanuska Glacier visible from the highway. It's the largest glacier that you can drive up to in your car. It's an active glacier, moving at about 1 foot per year and it empties into this valley instead of an ocean. It's 27 miles long and 4 miles wide at the mouth.

When I arrived at Glenallen, I noticed something obviously wasn't right with the bike as the exhaust end cap was rattling itself loose. It tore itself off the screw that I had put in when I first say signs of this excessive rattling. Something was causing vibrations down the exhaust pipe. The prudent thing to do would've been to find the next mechanic and figure out the problem before pushing ahead. But being a Saturday afternoon, the two mechanic shops in town were already closed and they'd be closed Sunday too.

In retrospect, I wonder why I continued ahead knowing that I had some mechanical issues, but somehow being on the road and not wanting to stop unless there was a catastrophic issue took over me as I was determined to continue ahead. Not wanting to loose the end cap in case the rest of it rattled off, I tore if off its hinge and auDRey was now sounding like a Harley running straight pipes. The engine was still running smooth, and I figured if Harleys can sound like that, it shouldn't be too bad for the DR to be running straight pipes. With that self-assurance I pushed on with my visit to Valdez.

The sign that something mechanical was not right on the bike. The exhaust should not be experiencing this kind of vibration. Since it was Saturday and all the mechanics were closed, I tore off the end cap to prevent it from breaking off while riding and it sounded like I was running straight pipes – really, really loud. But my logic was that Harleys ride with really loud straight pipes, so it can’t be that damaging to the engine.

There is only one road, the Richardson Highway, that heads into and out of Valdez and pretty soon, it was evident that the road and its scenery itself was reason enough to head down to Valdez. I would be crossing the beautiful coastal Chugach Mountain range, which is known for getting the highest average annual snowfall (over 600 inches) than anywhere else in the world; a mighty claim, which is backed by hosting the annual World Extreme Skiing Championships held near Valdez. Besides motorcycling, skiing is my next favorite activity to do in waking hours.

There was very little traffic on the road and the remoteness created a peaceful sensation during the ride, while I took stock in this unique environment that was lush and at the same time stark. The reason it snows and rains so much here is the basic fact that the coastal mountains block the moist ocean air and as it rises and cools, it precipitates on the mountains. The air was so moist that in one valley, I saw for the first time, a complete rainbow in my field of view. Usually, I've just seen a bit of the rainbow arc and a much further distance. Here, the entire rainbow was contained in this small valley and as I looked at the distinct ends of the rainbow, sadly I didn't see a pot o'gold.

While the air is very moist, there still isn't a tropical forest here because the intensity of sunlight decreases the further you move from the equator. This was most evident while looking at some peaks that had a lush green carpet of small shrubs that ended clearly as the snow line started. In places like California, the tree line is preceded by actual trees that stop growing up the mountain due to the cold rather than the intensity of sunlight.

Traveling by motorcycle is rewarding for my psyche as I get to see over and over the simple balance that exits in nature.

Heading off to the fishing town of Valdez, also the end of the Alaska Pipeline, about 110 miles away. This is the only road into and out of Valdez and the scenery itself is worth heading down to Valdez.

It was quite misty as I got close to crossing the Chugach Mountains and I saw this complete rainbow in a small valley.

I've never seen one this close and complete. I saw where the rainbow ended and I'm sorry to report that there's no pot o'gold.

The weather was changing pretty quickly around each corner.

I like how at this latitude it's so clear where the tree line ends and where the snow starts. Those peaks are only about 4,000 ft but the air is quite chilly and being so close to the oceans, the Chugach gets a lot of snow and has the most glaciers in Alaska.

Being so close to the ocean also leads to all this funky weather. Bright sunshine behind dark clouds.

Passing by Worthington Glacier, a frequent stop for tour buses. Since it was getting late, I'd stop by to get a closer look on my way back.

Thompson Pass is the highest point on the road at only 2,678 ft, but in the winter, this pass gets the most snow in Alaska. In 1952-53, this pass got over 81 feet of snow! But in the summer it seems so dull. Heading down the coastal side of the pass, there are poles to indicate where the edge of the road is for the winter months, when the road can be covered in snow.

Getting close to Valdez, the road cuts through Keystone Canyon as it follows Lowe River towards the coast. There were quite a few snow-melt waterfalls, which were just spilling over the top and rushing to the river below, but one fall stood out for its composure, Bridal Veil Falls at around 1,100 ft tall.

In the steady rain, Valdez appeared as a sleepy little town, but is recognized for its importance as a port city for the interior of Alaska along with being known as a fishing port and a heli-skiing base in the winter. The Alyeska Pipeline terminates here, bringing crude oil all the way from Prudhoe Bay to be loaded onto massive oil tankers to be taken to the Lower 48 for refining.

Thompson Pass, the highest point on the road at only 2678 ft, but in the winter, this pass gets the most snow in Alaska. In 1952-53, this pass got over 81 ft of snow! But in the summer it seems so dull.

All those poles are for the winter, when the road is buried in snow.

On the ocean-side of the Chugach.

Entering Keystone Canyon, the last of the mountains before the ocean.

The road got winding and twisty.

Bridal Veil Falls near Valdez, which is over 1,100 ft tall. The name sounded familiar and then I later found out that it's a very popular name for waterfalls as it obviously resembles a bride's veil. There are over 20 waterfalls in the US with the same name.

Looking out across Prince William Sound from Valdez. You can see an oil tanker being escorted by tug boats as this is the terminus for the Alaska Pipeline and from here, the crude heads down to the lower 48. This was also the site of the infamous Exxon-Valdez oil spill of 1989 and the destructive earthquake of 1964, which leveled the old site of Valdez .

Prince William Sound, the water body that Valdez is located on, is recognized for its pristine beauty and was the victim of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989. The spill wasn't the largest in history, but was one of the most visibly damaging spills due to its effect on the wildlife that thrived in the sound. Some estimates say it will take around 50 years for the environment to fully recover from the damages. Exxon spent about $2 billion in the clean up and another billion in settling charges. It also had to settle with some seafood companies, whose business was directly affected as billions of salmon and herring eggs were destroyed in the spill.

What to do? Our current progress of civilization demands cheap oil and we'll have to continue paying the price for accidents like this and others that affect the environment until we figure out a harmonious source of energy for mankind.

I camped at Bear Paw RV park and the tent area was taken over by an adventure tour group. This was the kind of outfit where people flew in from abroad, usually the backpacker kind-of-crowd and the tour van took you around to various sites with camping and communal food provided. The emphasis is on outdoor activities such as hiking, rafting, cycling, etc. The group there was mostly European and a little Australian. I spent the evening at their group site and they found it amazing that people actually rode motorcycles around the world to visit places, rather than rely on others to get them there.

Traveling is traveling, but what makes motorcycle travel interesting to me is the concept of freedom where you choose where you want to go and how long to stay. Of course, the other appealing aspect of motorcycle travel is experiencing the journey of getting to a destination, making the journey a destination in unto itself.

Next: Day 18 - 19, Riding into Tok with Bike Problems

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