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Seattle To Alaska on Two Wheels

17 Days and Nights - Part 1

Text and photos by Colleen First

Lots of people dream about it, but few of us ever saddle up and head to the great Northwest Territory of Alaska. When we were presented with a diary of Colleen First's recent trip we thought it might be fun to share it with our Sound RIDER! readers. It's a long one and will be published in four parts throughout the Fall and Winter. For some it may inspire, for those who have done the ride before, they may relive moments from the past.

July 23rd � August 8th 2004
Total Miles: 5,600 miles,
17 days White Rock, BC � Deadhorse, Alaska and return
Tickets: 0 Mishaps: 0 Puckers: 0

Day .5 � 100 miles The odometer on my bike had just rolled over 10,000 when I left Seattle this evening, and the 100 or so miles I put on between then and now were just the start. Doug and I agreed to meet in White Rock, BC to start our epic journey northward, to the Arctic Ocean. We had been talking about and planning this trip for almost a year. We looked at maps, mileage, bikes, routes, equipment, supplies and money. Amazingly enough, it was about to begin.

Day 1 � 480 miles The helpful woman at the motel desk in White Rock suggested that if we wanted to avoid the Vancouver traffic on Friday morning then we should leave by 6am. The alarm went off as it was supposed to do and we packed up the bikes and took off east to Hope, BC. This is a rather dull stretch of road, and at this hour there wasn't much going on. We had a quick bite to eat at Hope before heading north up the Frasier River Canyon (#1). It's a beautiful stretch of road and includes some excellent scenery along the Frasier River, through Hell's Gate Air tram base and then on to the more arid and warmer climates of Ashcroft and Cache Creek. Once we left Cache Creek we had reached a point where neither of us had been this far north before. At Cache Creek the road becomes the #97 and the landscape flattens out from a spectacular river gorge to more mundane hills, farms and forests. At Williams Lake we decided that after the heat and the early start to the day we deserved a rest. We found a not-so-quiet spot near the lake underneath a large tree and attempted to nap. Unfortunately, the gleeful children playing in the water, the crows calling out to each other and the chain smoker at a nearby table all conspired to keep us from complete rest. However, it was still appreciated (even though our chap stick melted in our tank bags � it was hot!). We pulled into Prince George and found a motel less than a block away from Moxie's, a tasty "classic" grill. I'm not sure what "classic" is supposed to mean, but they have a damn fine Honey Roasted Garlic Sirloin that really hit the spot!

Day 2 � 435 miles As would be typical for the trip, we didn't leave Prince George until almost 9:30. We're on vacation, darn it, and we're going to sleep in if we want! However, we didn't get started on the road right away even after leaving the motel. It seems that the muffler/heat guards that a friend of mine made didn't quite do the trick and the plastic bag Doug used to line his saddlebag with melted onto some of his clothes. We need more insulation, and we need it now. Fortunately we're still in the hands of civilization and we found a Home Depot nearby. What to get, what to get??? We scoured the aisles and found some pipe insulation that was actually something like two sheets of aluminum foil with bubble wrap in between. Can't hurt, right? So we buy a roll, cut and tape it together to create a lovely insulating wall inside of Doug's right saddlebag. Tools and gear repacked, we proceeded westerly on the Yellowhead Hwy. Now begins our journey into the unknown!

The Yellowhead winds through lots of agricultural lands with frequent little towns dotting the way. The mountains got bigger and the trees got thicker. The temperature was comfortable, the sky was mostly blue, the roads were in good repair and traffic was not a problem. It was a great start to our trip. Breakfast was found at the OK Caf� in Vanderhoof, served by Mennonites of all people. We made a couple of stops along the way at Topley and New Hazelton for refreshments and brief breaks, in addition to a few photo stops. At Topley Doug found that part of his helmet was missing. It's a little part that holds the visor on and is fairly vital. The first zip tie of the trip is called up for duty.

At Smithers, BC, we met a gentleman who strongly encouraged us to make the side trip to Stewart, BC and then cross over to Hyder, AK to see where the grizzly bears feed on the salmon. It sounded good, so we made reservations at the Rainey Creek Campground in Stewart. The name should have warned us, but we were na�ve. The ride up #37 from the Yellowhead junction near Kitwanga was peaceful, with very little vehicle traffic. We saw our first black bear (there would be six seen on this day alone) as well as a beaver and a marmot. Once we took the turnoff to Stewart the scenery became more intense. The mountains reared up in front of us like the teeth of a bear. Glaciers and snow-covered peaks played hide-and-seek with the clouds and the sun was slowly sinking to the far northwest. Rivers rushed past us with their cold water frothing over rocks that had tumbled down the mountainsides. It was a beautiful ride.

Once in Stewart we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant and then reconsidered camping and looked into the availability of a motel room. We were shocked by the price and tucked our tails between our legs to go set up camp. In the rain. And the almost-dark. Surrounded by mosquitoes.

Day 3 � 451 miles We woke up at 5am with really cold rainwater dripping on us from a leaking tent. Our sleeping bags were wet. Our gear was wet. We were wet. We got up, dragged everything over to a covered picnic shelter and in the cold, cloud-covered morning light we stuffed all of our soaking stuff into bags and tied them back on the bikes. Alas, we couldn't leave town just yet: the gas station didn't open for another hour. And the caf� wouldn't open for another 10 minutes, but we let ourselves in anyway and had a seat in the relative warmth. After a leisurely and tasty breakfast we rode over to the gas station, filled up the bikes and then rode a very wet ride back through the not-so-spectacular mountains that couldn't be seen.

We rejoined the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy at Meziadin Junction and headed north, into progressively better weather, although it never truly warmed up. There isn't much in the way of civilization until you get to Iskut, and even that is a just a tiny little store by the side of the road. We stopped � unfortunately � at Dease Lake for lunch. Icky, no-character place with a server who repeatedly hacked over her order pad and the food. Yuck. Come to think of it, I didn't eat there, but Doug had some pie. Somewhere along there is Bell II (not sure if that's a "2" or an "11"; Doug says "11"). It's a really nice and expensive looking place. Apparently their clientele are those insane people who require a helicopter to get to the glaciers and snow fields in order to ski. Regardless, it's a nice place with friendly people.

We had been warned about the road conditions along this highway; that there was lots of construction and stretches of gravel, and we were not disappointed. The gravel sections were well-marked and easy to anticipate. They were generally fairly well-packed, although I can see that a good rain would easily make it a quagmire. The gravel sections were varied in their length and placement, never knowing if the next corner would be solid or not, nor how long it would go on. There was one stretch of construction that was particularly unpleasant. It stretched for over 10 miles and was all loose and thick gravel. This was quite treacherous as the gravel can grab your front tire and pull you over if you're not careful. Not to mention the fact that it was raining again.

There were a couple more black bear sightings that day, as well as some horses along the side of the road. It was one of those "Watch for Livestock" areas, and unfortunately someone wasn't watching, as we saw two dead horses a couple of miles later. It's odd how you get used to seeing road kill deer or rabbits, but a horse? That really threw me off�

At the northern end of the Stewart-Cassiar highway is the Alaska Highway. We stopped briefly at this junction and then headed west along the Alaska Highway, following its gentle curves and studying the vastness of the surrounding forests. We ended the day at Walker's Continental Divide Motel in Swift River, BC and none too early. It had been a long day, starting with a wet tent and then nothing but roads that required our constant concentration. The motel at Walker's was an ATCO building, something that Doug and I had scorned not more than a couple of hours earlier at Junction 37 (http://www.atcostructures.com/) but it was heavenly! Warm, comfy, quiet, hot showers and available! As a bonus, even though the kitchen was "closed", they still managed to rustle up some homemade soup and grilled cheese sandwiches (on homemade bread) � it was to die for!

Day 4 � 300 miles A breakfast just as tasty as the previous evening's dinner set us on our way from Walker's and on our way along the Alaska Highway. The weather cooperated and was about 68 degrees and mostly sunny. I am still amazed at the number of trees that Northern BC/Yukon/Alaska have! They stretch as far as the eye can see, and with no people populations to interrupt their command of the hills and mountains. I have to admit that I'm very disappointed to see the extensive "re-engineering" that they're doing to the Alaskan Highway. There are literally dozens of places where you can see where the road used to go, but in the interest of safety (or whatever) they have since moved the road so as to maintain a more level, straight and therefore dull route. Doug and I took the time to follow a bit of the old highway through the woods on our return trip, which was really fascinating. If we had more time on this trip I think that I would have liked to have followed more of it. The road crew had chewed up the road surface to allow for a faster naturalization, but you could still see chunks of asphalt scattered around. Sigh. They're ruining a perfectly good road � go ride it now while it's still remotely interesting!!!

We saw our first moose of the trip; a timid cow munching away in a river down below the highway. She must have been camera-shy because even though we were quite a distance from her she started to move away, so we left her alone.

There was a nice stop at Whitehorse, YK, which is a place that both Doug and I really liked. It's a clean bustling town with lots of nice shops and businesses. The motorcycle dealership doesn't stock anything for the KLR though, and it's a 3 day wait for shipments. I guess if you were to live here you'd be better off just have a parts bike sitting around.

After Whitehorse Doug and I continued west through Haines Junction where we had a surprisingly tasty dinner at the Kluane Park Inn. The mountains became larger and more snow covered and the fields were filled with fireweed, named so because it is the first thing to take root after a forest fire wipes out an area (or any other disturbance of the vegetation).

At Kluane Lake the highway becomes more like a rural two-lane road that I would expect to see around the Pacific Northwest. It followed the shore of the lake closely and had some fun corners and dips. Eventually the road straightened out again and Doug and I decided to stop at Destruction Bay for the evening. It was a nice enough place, but not terribly remarkable. It did, however, have the three requirements: food, bed and gas. It also had some cool stickers that I'm going to put on my bike!!

...Continue to Part 2


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