Alaska. The last great frontier in the United States and one of the ends of the world. Being poised at the north-western tip of the North American continent, it's a massive landscape filled with pristine wilderness and has a character of its own. In the motorcycling community, it is seen as one of the great rides in the world partly because it is quite remote from major civilization and that remoteness provides a sense of being in true wilderness, which is hard to experience in today's world. That remoteness also provides excellent opportunities for seeing wildlife in their natural state, such as grizzly bears, moose and elk.
After going south last year through Mexico on my motorcycle, I turned north this year to experience Western Canada and Alaska. There really is no sound reason for this trip, besides it being there and me wanting to experience it. I spent the previous winter watching numerous programs on the Discovery Channel and History Channel about Alaska and now I'm raring to go live it myself. Alaska is largely remote due to its challenging geography and the roads through that tough land are bound to provide excellent riding and stunning views.
One of the highlights of going to Alaska is riding the Alaska Highway, which is the main highway leading from lower British Columbia to near Fairbanks and Anchorage, 1,500 miles away. The highway opened up the state to tourism by road and made itself a driving destination. It was constructed during World War II as a response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Japanese invasion of two Aleutian Islands, which raised concern in the US and Canada about a land invasion by Japan through Alaska. The road was built so that military bases in Alaska could be properly supplied to prevent an invasion.
The construction of the highway is considered an engineering marvel for the speed at which it was laid down and the challenging terrain the army faced while building it. One of the unique aspects of being so far north is permafrost, which is ground that is permanently frozen year-round. When the construction crews cleared the vegetation that insulated the permafrost, it melted, creating swampy conditions that made it a real mess, along with damaging the ecology. This challenge in terms of frost heaves still continues to present day and repair work on the highway is expected annually during the summer. The highway is said to be completely paved, except for large sections that undergo repair construction.
Getting to Alaska is one thing, but riding to the northern edge of the continent is another ride onto itself. Since Alaska is sparsely populated, the number of roads in the state is limited and is centered on the major population areas of Southcentral Alaska. From Fairbanks heading north is the Dalton Highway ending 500 miles later at Deadhorse, which is a remote industrial town supporting the Prudhoe Bay oil fields run by oil giant BP. This road is a motorcycling destination as it's said to be quite challenging with its gravel surface crossing a mountain range and the remoteness of the road itself. It was constructed in the 70's to support the famous Alaska Pipeline, which runs oil from Prudhoe Bay down to Valdez on the southern coast of Alaska, where it's then carried away by oil tankers. The majority of the road is in tundra region and new construction methods were applied to protect the permafrost. The road was opened to the public in the mid-80s and since then, travelers on all kinds of transportation have made the journey not just to the Arctic Circle, but all the way up to experience the Arctic Ocean. From Coldfoot at the mid-point to Deadhorse is 240 miles of nothing except nature, which lends itself to being one of the remotest sections of road in the US.
Whilst the upper remoteness of Alaska is a great draw for riders, I've been told the southern coast is not to be missed as one can experience marine wildlife and glaciers emptying out in the ocean up close and personal. Alaska's waters are known to be very rich in marine life and commercial fishing is a major industry (leading to overfishing of some species).
Along with the great roads and the nice scenery that are expected, I'm really looking forward to the numerous days of camping on this trip. I really enjoy the outdoors and find it quite satisfying to setup camp after a good day of riding. With regards to keeping finances in control, camping is almost a necessity on this trip as motels in these remote areas are quite expensive. And since I'm traveling solo, lodging costs can't be shared, but I don't really need a reason to camp besides the feeling of sitting by a campfire and enjoying being amongst the elements.
Besides the joys of riding, another reason why I enjoy motorcycling in general is the people you meet along the way. There truly is a sense of community between all motorcyclists. And in that spirit, I'll be staying with fellow motorcyclists along the way that have opened up their house for passing riders. On ADVrider.com, there is a Tent Space list, which asks users to post up if they can host a traveler in their backyard by providing free tenting, or a couch to sleep on or even a spare bed with maybe even a meal thrown in. This isn't so much about free lodging as it is about spreading the motorcycle community vibe. Your hosts aren't really strangers as you already share one thing in common, so it feels like you're staying with friends.
I've been dreaming of riding to Alaska since I made my first solo trip three years ago to Eastern Canada where the joys of long distance motorcycle touring were planted. Subsequent trips out West with friends to Montana and Idaho and then Colorado and Utah showcased the rich landscape that can be experienced in mainland USA. And my longest ride to date, going through Mexico was a highlight of my life so far. I'm not expecting anything from my ride through Alaska... besides being another major highlight in my life.
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