Day 14 / Wednesday, June 25, 2008
We pulled into a car wash in Fairbanks around 8 am and rejoiced that I made it back to civilization. auDRey was not sounding good towards the end and I hoped she would make it to the dealership. We bought some Calcium, Lime and Rust remover to wash off the build up of Calcium Chloride that is sprayed down on the Dalton Highway. They use that in the winter so that road doesn't freeze and also in the summer to reduce the dust on the gravel road. When the road gets wet, the Calcium Chloride gets sprayed over all the frontal surfaces and must be washed off quickly before it cakes on hard. It also ruins paint work.
I said good-bye to Steve as he was headed for his service appointment and thanked him for all his help. His travelogue is located at taxidialogue.com.
And voila, I made it back to civilization. The bike was sputtering and not sounding very good towards the end of the night. I figured water in the fuel system was the main culprit. We went straight for the car wash after buying some Calcium, Lime and Rust remover from a nearby store.
I was informed earlier to wash off the calcium chloride as soon as I was done with the Dalton Highway, because it could cake onto the hot parts of the bike and affect cooling performance of the engine and other parts. They spray calcium chloride down on the road to keep it from freezing in the winter.
My exhaust fully covered in mud and the screw that I put in about 8 days ago to hold the end cap on was working itself loose. The carbon buildup around the loose rivets and the end cap opening was indication that all was not well in the engine.
After the bike wash, auDRey would not fire up and I had to figure out a way to get her towed to the Suzuki dealership in town. Lady Luck still riding pillion with me introduced me to my next angel, Perry, who was washing his Toyota 4Runner SUV in the next bay over. He heard me struggling with auDRey and asked if I needed any help. He said he was a rider too and just bought a Yamaha cruiser and made his first big trip down to Anchorage a few weeks earlier. Upon hearing I needed a tow to the dealership, he said he would go back home and get his trailer to help me out. It was his day off and he said he was glad to help another biker.
He said he worked as an engineer at the Ft. Knox gold mine near Fairbanks by the Tanana and Chena Rivers. It's one of the longest running mines in operation in this area, which began in 1902.
We got to the dealership, Northern Power Sports and sensing the urgency because I was in the middle of a trip, they immediately took me in for servicing. The guys running the shop were very friendly and let me in the back where the bike was being worked on by Doug, a mechanic proud of his work. He showed me exactly what was wrong: water was mixed in the fuel tank and there was also water in the air box. He drained all the old fuel, cleaned the carbs and put on a new air filter. She fired right up and sounded great. I hoped that was the end of my problems.
The bike wouldn't start after getting her fully cleaned and I figured the best option would be to take her to the Suzuki dealer in town and get her fixed, but I would need a tow somehow. Luckily, in the next car wash bay was Perry with his Toyota 4Runner and he asked if I needed any help. He said he was a rider too and just bought a Yamaha cruiser and made his first big trip down to Anchorage a few weeks earlier. Upon hearing I needed a tow to the dealership, he said he would go back home and get his trailer to help me out. It was his day off and he said he was glad to help another biker. Here we are emptying his trailer at the local garbage dump. He told me there's no at-home garbage pickup and residents have to take their own trash to the dump.
A plea to keep the garbage dump clean.
Putting auDRey in the trailer.
Getting her serviced by Doug at Northern Powersports. This dealership is run by great people and knowing of my situation, they got me into service right away. I was surprised by how busy they actually were. Doug did find water in the fuel and thoroughly cleaned the carbs, air filter, and fuel tank. She fired up and sounded good. I thought my problems were over.
I had planned to stay with a friend from ADVrider in the town of Healy, which supports the entrance to Denali National Park and arrived there around 5 pm. Paul, who owns the Subway and photo shop by the entrance to the park, moved out here from the East Coast after spending a summer and loving it here. He said the Subway store takes in more revenue in just the months of summer compared to any other Subway store along the West Coast. He gave me a few sandwich coupons and the place was constantly packed with park tourists.
Paul bought some great land next to the park for a very low price and is currently constructing a nice log home. He rides his KTM 525 dirt bike over numerous trails into the woods around here and is thinking of opening up a dirt-riding tour company of some kind. In the winter, when his businesses are closed for the season, he heads down to the Lower 48 and rides where it's warmer. He's got a great gig set up.
I made it down to Denali National Park and would be staying with Paul, who I contacted through ADVrider's Tent Space list. Paul owns the Rapid Exposure photo shop and the Subway in front of the park entrance. It's only open during the summer and that Subway is constantly full of tourists. He said that Subway takes in more revenue in just 3 months than any other Subway on the West Coast does in a year. Paul moved out here from the North-East after spending some time and really liking it here.
This is Paul's log home that he's building on cheaply purchased land right next to Denali. He rides his KTM 525 dirt bike over numerous trails into the woods around here and he's thinking of setting up a dirt-riding tour company of some kind. In the winter, he heads down to the Lower 48 and rides where it's warmer. He's got a great gig set up.
Day 15 / Thursday, June 26, 2008
Paul said that he's good friends with one of the local white-water rafting outfits and they help each other out with goods and services, and friends are included. So, I got to go on a free two hour rafting trip on the Nenana River through some Class II and III rapids with the Denali Outdoor Center.
I've only been white-water rafting once before on the New River in West Virginia and totally loved it. It's amazing and exhilarating to be able to control yourself through rapidly surging water and direct the raft to get the maximum thrills from the waves. Because the water is so cold up here, we were all in dry-suits that completely sealed off the body minus your hands and your head. You still end up getting splashed with the very cold glacial run-off water but it feels great once the adrenaline is flowing. And getting splashed here with the water is called a Glacial Facial because of the dispersed sediments in the water that give it its grey hue.
I was tagging along with a family of five and our guide was Ben, who's an architect in Colorado working for someone who understands the thrill of rafting and lets him take off 3 months in the summer to guide and enjoy. What a great setup. Seeing that the dad and I knew what we were doing, Ben directed us through some more challenging rapids, which we attacked properly. It was great fun, but lasted too short. He said he's been on 15 day rafting trips down the Colorado River and highly recommends it. So many things to do, so little time.
An awesome thing about staying with Paul was that he's good friends with one of the local rafting outfits and they help each other out with goods and services, and friends are included. So, I got the chance to go on a 2 hour rafting trip with the Denali Outdoor Center on the Nenana River through some Class II and III rapids. Far out. That's me on the right-front of the raft.
These pictures were taken by Paul and he sells them to the rafters, just like photographers at theme parks and track days.
I love white-water rafting and wish I could do it more. Our guide, Ben was very cool and very good at guiding. He's an architect in Colorado working for someone who understands the thrill of rafting and lets him take off 3 months in the summer to guide and enjoy. What a great setup.
Getting a Glacial Facial. This is all melt water from the glaciers in Denali and is full of sediments thoroughly mixed in the rapid water. Yes the water was cold, about 40 - 50 F but we had on full dry suits (that cost about $600) with only our head and hands exposed and with the adrenaline pumping, you don’t even feel the cold. It actually felt great to be splashed in the rapids.
Woo hoo, what a great time. The other 5 people on the raft were a family from Colorado and we all got along well. Now, onwards with the riding towards Anchorage.
Looking down at the Nenana River that I rafted down. You can see the gray color of water filled with glacial sediments. To be rafting up in the wilds of Alaska was a great experience. Thank you Paul.
I thanked Paul for his hospitality and continued on towards Anchorage down the George Parks Highway. If I didn't have all my problems along the Dalton Highway, I had planned to take a day off and hike around Denali National Park, but I didn't want to rush it now and decided I would come back at some point to fully appreciate this national park. The views along the Parks Highway were pleasing and if Denali chooses to show herself, there are view points along the way to stop and admire her. But alas, she was covered by her own clouds. On the few clear days that the peak is exposed, the locals say, "the mountain is out today." And I hear you can see the peak all the way from Anchorage, 150 miles away, on a clear day.
I was entering Southcentral Alaska as I came through Wasilla and the fact that most of the state's population lives in this area is definitely evident with the sprawling big box stores and the Interstate like highway connecting Wasilla to Anchorage. But the small towns like Willow and Houston and parts of Wasilla did look like very pleasing places to live as the road wound through tree-covered lanes. I took a small break by a sea-plane port in Wasilla and remembered reading that there are more lakes for the planes to land on than developed runways. And who knew that a resident of this little obscure main-street-kind-of-town would shoot up to national prominence in the coming months.
I didn't have time to go through Denali National Park and I heard you have to actually sign up a few days in advance to get on one of the park buses to go deep into the park and since I was planning on spending two days in Yellowstone, I carried on.
Coming across a massive over-sized cargo on a really long trailer.
It's a piece of equipment for a gas station that now has to carry ultra low sulfur diesel.
High gas prices near the tourist hub of Denali. The prices dropped by a dollar just down the road in Anchorage.
The view from the George Parks Highway heading down to Anchorage.
Stopping at a look-out where you can view Denali (Mt. McKinley), if she decides to show herself. The actual peak is probably behind all the clouds in the back. Denali is over 20,000 ft tall and is the tallest peak in the area and thus creates its own weather system, which results in cloud cover of the peak for the majority of the time. On the few clear days that the peak is exposed, the locals say, "the mountain is out today." And I hear you can see the peak all the way from Anchorage, 150 miles away, on a clear day.
In Wasilla (now famous for Sarah Palin), I saw this sea-plane hangar right by the highway. Interesting to see for real how common bush planes are to Alaska (it's a larger interior area).
I got into Anchorage and would be staying with my friend Mark, whom I met at the Dust2Dawson rally a week earlier and whom I know from before through a common friend. Mark was gracious to host me and he really shows a great love for life, living it to its fullest in whatever sport he partakes in. Along with the KLR, he also has a very beautiful Ducati 996 and a Triumph. Besides motorcycling, he's also an avid bicyclist (even cycling to work in the winter) and kayaker. Working at REI certainly matches his interests in life.
In Anchorage, I was staying with my friend, Mark that I met up in Dawson City a few days ago (whom I know through a common friend).
Day 16 / Friday, June 27, 2008
I had thought about riding down to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula and taking a glacier/wildlife boat tour, but the weather wasn't agreeable and instead spent a relaxing day in Anchorage with Mark. I also had to change my oil and remove a stripped bolt from my side pannier frame. The left side pannier was still too heavy with all the food items that I was carrying.
We went around town trying to find a place willing to remove my stripped bolt and every place we stopped at, Mark was welcomed as a well respected member of the community. We swung by the famous motorcycle store in the adventure community: Alaska Leather run by Barb. She's been very helpful to all the traveling motorcyclists through Alaska and allows us to do oil changes in her tech shop, check email, I believe camp for free, and help you get on your way. I had to finds parts to make an electrical connection for my Widder heated vest to the bike (I lost the original) and she threw in a few parts for free. She's also very active in getting riders into protective motorcycle gear.
We went to a local breakfast place and I got the Reindeer Sausage plate. Mmm mmm good. It's caribou meat and very tasty. So nice to eat other kinds of meat.
This is Comet, Mark's dog and I found this pretty funny. He would hop up on the dash and just hang out there. He braces against the windshield under braking and has grip on the carpet during acceleration. Awesome.
Stopping by the famous motorcycle store in the adventure community: Alaska Leather run by Barb. She's very helpful to all the traveling motorcyclists through Alaska and allows them to do oil changes in her shop and I believe camp for free, and help you get on your way. I had to finds parts to make an electrical connection for my heated vest to the bike (I lost the original) and she threw in a few parts for free.
That's a really good price for all that gear. I hear she's all for getting riders into proper riding gear. Kudos to her.
This is a famous sticker that Barbs gives out to everyone and you can see it on lots of adventure motorcyclists' bikes in far off countries who've passed through here. I got mine too.
At the BMW Motorcycle dealer, they were very friendly but said their service guys were completely booked, not having time to look at my stripped bolt. In the parking lot of the dealer there was an old, ragged bike with flags of various countries plastered on the panniers that was stripped of its gas tank and body work as her owner, Michael was doing some maintenance on her. He's in the middle of a Round-The-World trip and hails from Switzerland. He's already been through Asia and Russia and just flew into Anchorage. He's going to ride down the Americas to Tierra del Fuego, ship over to South Africa and ride back home. He's taking 3 years for the trip and using his own funds, budgeting about 20,000 Euros a year, which is amazing considering alone the high cost of shipping the bike across water. Regarding fuel range, he said the maximum he's ever gone between fill-ups was 600 kms (375 miles). And after hearing that I was Indian, he had to confess that Indian traffic scared him the most, so far. It's definitely challenging to ride back in India, and I'm glad he got through without incident.
I finally found a custom chopper motorcycle shop that was willing to help me remove the stripped bolt. The guys at Dream Catcher Custom Cycle were very friendly and charged a very reasonable amount for the tough work it took to get the hardened steel stripped bolt out of my frame. They had to drill and tap new threads and not being a metric shop, I had one standard bolt on the bike now. Whatever it takes.
I went to visit the local BMW Motorcycle dealership for a few parts and saw this old and dusty 1980s BMW R series and with stickers of various countries on it.
And this is her owner, Michael from Switzerland who's traveling around the world since April 2006. He's been through Asia and Russia and just flew into Anchorage and is going to do the whole Americas down to Argentina, ship to South Africa and ride back home. Wow.
He was doing some maintenance, getting ready to check the valves.
Look at that, he's ridden through Iran in this day and age. Nice to know it's doable. Funny, but he said of all those countries so far, India was the worst for actual driving. Notorious chaotic Indian traffic.
Not sure about the stick; he said it was a joke from a friend to fight off the bears??
I believe that dirt is from all over Asia. Dirt is a theft deterrent mechanism and it makes the bike look cheap and run down. Note the smiley face on the brake light. Regarding the fuel he was carrying, he said in general you need a maximum range of 600 kms (375 miles) to make it through the longest stretches without gas in remote areas.
Next: Day 17, Riding the Glenallen Highway into Valdez
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