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.
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