BEGIN THE BEGUINE:
"I have traveled all over the world by motorcycle and still find riding to Alaska an unparalleled experience." – Dr. Gregory Frazier, author of "Alaska By Motorcycle".
PLANNING THE ROUTE
So, we’re going to ride our motorcycles to Alaska. How are we going to get there? What do we want to see along the way? Where can we get the motorcycles serviced? Will our gas tanks have the range to go the distances involved? What do you do when you meet a grizzly bear?
The first thing I like to do when planning a trip is to look at a map and pick the places I want to visit. Some people just like to jump on their motorcycle, point it in the right direction, and go where the wind takes them. That can be very enjoyable for a short trip, but when considering a long journey I find it worth while to do as much research and route plotting as possible. When I planned my 100 Days 48 States trip last year, I spent over 200 hours working on the route. And it paid off. I was able to visit all the places I dreamed about, and see almost everything I wanted to see. If I hadn’t been so thorough in my preparations I would have missed much and potentially run into weather problems, as my trip lasted until Thanksgiving.
Motorcycling in the lower 48 states seems relatively easy in comparison to riding to Alaska. I always knew that there would be gas somewhere up the road, that there would some place to stop for the night. I rested easy knowing that if I had a problem with the motorcycle, I was never too far away from a service shop. Of course, my motorcycle never failed me, and one comes to expect that with a machine as solid and reliable as a BMW. But when traveling to Alaska, a feeling of uncertainty abounds as one ventures into miles of uninhabited territory. And that’s exactly what makes the idea of this journey so exciting; the unpredictable nature of travel and the feeling of adventure that lay further up the road.
A quick look at a map made it clear to me that making this trip would be a matter of time and distance. Alaska is a long way out there. Take a look at a globe and place the lower 48 in the center of your view. You’ll just barely be able to make out the edge of Alaska coming over the horizon. And we don’t want to just go to the edge. We want to go all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Some people just ride up to Fairbanks and turn around, usually because they don’t have the time to go any further. Others take the ferry from Bellingham, WA, up the Inland Passage to Haines or Skagway, then ride the relatively short distance into the central part of Alaska. But that’s not for us. We want to ride up the whole way.
The shortest ride from New York City to Prudhoe Bay is over 4,800 miles. But that route cuts through the plains of Canada, from Winnipeg to Edmonton and then to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the start of the Alaskan Highway. For me, getting there is half the fun, and I want to see what the southern sections of Alberta and BC have to offer. Places like Banff and Jasper National Park. So the short line route was out. We have the time. We can go the distance.
There is a wealth of books about travel to Alaska, but one volume is vitally important to any motorcyclist researching the region. The book you can’t leave home without is "The Milepost", a mile by mile guide to all the roads and towns in Alaska, The Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. About the size of a Sears catalog, "The Milepost" is filled with phone numbers and detailed information for lodging, gas, food and transportation services. Although it takes up much space on a motorcycle it will prove to be a valuable resource. Whitehorse Press always has it in stock.
After hitting the books, I checked out the web for more research. Besides the usual travel sites, there are also some wonderful personal reports of rider experiences in Alaska. One that stood out in particular is Greg Pink’s Motorcycle Touring Web Page. Greg, a motorcyclist from Florida, rode his BMW R1100RT from Key West, Florida to Prudhoe Bay last June. He covered the distance of more than 6,000 miles in just six days, successfully completing the Iron Butt Association’s Ultimate Coast to Coast Ride! He survived the adventure, but his motorcycle needed a little help. I gleaned so much useful information from his engaging tale that I put a link on my web site to his. As I was preparing an e-mail full of questions for Greg, I received a note from him! He had seen my link to his page. Needless to say, "Pinkman", as friends know him, has been a tremendous help in planning this trip, and I’m sure Chuck and I will gain from his experience.
So, after much research, I sit down and begin to plan the route. The goal is to reach Prudhoe Bay, at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, while seeing as much as we can on the way up and back. And there are a few scheduling issues to consider. Since Chuck lives in the Bahamas and keeps his bikes in Florida, I’ll need to meet him out West. And Chuck will need to be in Kenai from July 12th through the 16th to attend a meeting of some Jester buddies, the reason he is going to Alaska in the first place. But this would allow us some time off the bikes to do some extemporaneous sight seeing. After all, most of Alaska isn’t accessible by road anyway. In fact, planning this trip was starting to look easier after I saw there were so few roads leading up to and around Alaska. The choices are limited, but all sound intriguing.
We decide to meet in Montana, as we both love the place and this will allow us to ride though Glacier National Park on our first day north. It also turns out that Chuck has a friend with a home on Flathead Lake, where we can meet and make final preparations. From Glacier we’ll head to Calgary and then up the Continental Divide, along the Canadian Rockies. Once through Banff and Jasper, we’ll turn west to Prince George. From here, one has the choice of heading north to Dawson Creek and the Alaskan Highway, or continuing west towards Stewart and then up the Cassiar Highway to intersect the Alaskan Highway in Watson Lake. Since the Cassiar has a long (100 mile+) section of gravel, we’ll save the bulk of our off road riding for further north. From Dawson Creek we’ll turn north to Fort Nelson, then Watson Lake, ending up in Whitehorse, the capitol of the Yukon Territory. Leaving the Alaskan, we’ll ride the Klondike Highway up to Dawson City on the banks of the Yukon River. A boat portage will take us to The Top of the World Highway and we’ll enter Alaska at the furthest north border station in the United States.
From Eagle, Alaska, we’ll turn south to Valdez and Prince William Sound. In Anchorage we’ll have our BMW motorcycles serviced at The Motorcycle Shop, one of two authorized BMW dealers in Alaska. Continuing to Kenai, we’ll spend a week touring the peninsula, on and off the bikes. Heading north again, we’ll visit Denali National Park, then make our way to Fairbanks. The gravel and dirt path of the Dalton Highway will take us to the Arctic Circle. Built by the Alyeska Pipeline company in 1974 to bring supplies to the oil fields, the 414-mile long "Haul Road" shadows the pipeline route. Things should get very interesting as we travel another 300 miles north to the town of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay. This last part of the Dalton was only recently open to the public, although many riders used to slip around the guard post after hours and adventure north. It is one of the most remote and challenging roads in Alaska.
If we survive the Dalton, we’ll return to Fairbanks, then head south to Tok and Haines. The Alaskan Marine Highway will take us to Juneau by boat, as no roads lead in or out. Then we’re off to Prince Rupert, British Columbia where we’ll return east to Prince George. Continuing south, we’ll visit Seattle, Mount Rainier, cross Idaho, and then return to Montana. To celebrate our return, we’ll join hundreds of thousands of bikers attending the annual Sturgis Rally Bike Week in South Dakota. I’ll then head to Michigan and then home, while Chuck will head south to participate in the 25th Annual 3 Flags Classic, a motorcycle rally which starts in Mexico and ends in Canada four days and some 2800 miles later.Click Here to see the details of our planned route. The entire journey will be a 14,000-mile round trip from New York City.
Unlike my 100 Days 48 States ride, where I made very few motel and hotel reservations, we decided it would be prudent to make some reservations in key places where we thought it might be necessary. Alaska, the Yukon, and British Columbia can be fairly crowded with tourists in the summer season, and we prefer not to have to camp out. We are bringing our camping gear for the occasional outdoor experience, but with all the bears up north, staying in a motel seems like a better choice to us. Reservations for the ferry trip from Haines to Juneau to Prince Rupert are definitely required. And of course, we called months ahead to schedule the service of our motorcycles.
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