Friday, June 29, 2007

Alaska Caper -- Day 20

June 23, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Anchorage, AK
Destination: Tok, AK
Miles traveled: 340

It was up and going this morning in what might be considered "typical" Alaska coast weather. It was only about 50 degrees and misting lightly. When we arrived at Palmer for lunch, the weather broke. By the time we hit Eureka one hour later, the skies were at least half blue, and we had open visibility of the majestic vistas which have greeted us on a regular basis on this Alaska adventure. We rode on the perimeter of the Wrangell St. Elias National Forest. Mt. Sanford–a 16,231 foot peak–is the highest among several beautiful snow-capped volcanos. The magnitude of this mountain range is amplified by the fact that at the base where we were traveling the altitude was less than 2500 feet. En route we passed the Matanuska glacier. This is referred to as a valley glacier which travels down the mountainside to the valley floor. This was an incredibly impressive chunk of ice. We were told that it had receded substantially in the past 50 years, presumably based on changes in climate. We arrived at Tok where we gassed up for tomorrow, sprayed a generous layer of bugs off the front of the bikes, and headed for Fast Eddy’s and the adjacent Young’s Motel for dinner and a good night’s sleep after a long but exhilarating ride.

Alaska Caper -- Day 19

June 22, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Seward, AK, to Kenai Fjords National Park
Destination: Anchorage, AK
Miles traveled: None on two wheels

Last night we stayed at Murphy’s Motel. On awakening today with the cloud ceiling 500 feet off the deck and rain, it appeared as though Murphy’s law had extended to us full force and that our blessings of sunny days were a thing of the past. Steve and I were skeptical as to whether the Kenai Fjords National Park boat trip planned for 11:00 o’clock would be any more than a trip through "rain city." This could not have been further from reality. Downtown Seward is actually quite charming, notwithstanding a bevy of tourists fortified by the 2500 persons on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship which had docked early in the morning. One downtown building was painted as if it were a huge aquarium. This caught my eye, and a photograph of it is attached. The boat ride was wonderful. By the time we started out, the clouds had begun to lift. We saw humpback whales, seals, sea lions, a black bear, several bald eagles, and a host of sea birds, including the cute, stubby, little puffin. The highlight of this trip and an experience both of us will remember for a long time was the Aialik Glacier. The boat pulled in to within 300 yards of the glacier wall which towered 300-400 feet above the ocean. A bed of small icebergs surrounded us. As the boat sat motionless, we could hear ice cracking and occasionally pieces of the glacier breaking off and crashing into the ocean. This phenomenon is referred to as "calving." The process creates a strange booming noise like nothing else I have ever heard. At the completion of the tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, we gathered up our gear from the lobby of Murphy’s Motel and rode to Anchorage for the night.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Alaska Caper -- Day 18

June 21, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Homer, AK
Destination: Seward, AK
Miles traveled: 222

We were up and going early this morning and rode around Homer. The skies remained clear, and the views of glaciers across the bay were spectacular. The Iliamna Volcano towered above adjacent mountains and made a wonderful photograph which is attached. We then headed for Seward, stopping in Soldotna for lunch. We arrived in Seward early and put our feet up for a while before treating ourselves to another excellent seafood dinner at the Chinook Restaurant. We turned in early in anticipation of our catamaran boat trip to the Kenai Fjords National Park in the morning.

Alaska Caper -- Day 17

June 20, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Anchorage, AK
Destination: Homer, AK
Miles traveled: 249

Exhausted from an exceedingly vigorous and long day yesterday, I slept in until 8:30. We talked with a cyclist from Alabama who were staying at the motel. He was riding a 2004 Honda Goldwing with 60,000 miles on the odometer. One would wonder what else this guy did besides ride his motorcycle to have that kind of mileage in only four years. We were then off to the BMW dealer to change my oil. Steve bought some brake pads which he will install as soon as we get a breather in our traveling schedule. We then took off for Homer. The ride was pleasant, and the weather was delightful. Mountain views across the Kachemak Bay were again spectacular. Rugged, snow-capped mountains were easily visible as we had been dealt another day of bluebird weather. We stopped on the way to see the Portage Glacier. This drains into the Morraine Lake. Parts of the glacier break off, leaving icebergs floating in the Lake. This is an unusual fresh water occurrence. The volcanic runoff water is not clear. It has a milky appearance, like mixing one part of skimmed milk to 50 parts of water. I had been at the Portage Glacier 20 years ago. I was struck by how far the glacier has receded and the considerable water level drop in the Lake. This speaks to the issue of global warming but not to the total cause of this phenomenon. We checked into the Driftwood Inn. Our room was tiny with a pull-out bunk bed above a double in a room which was little more than 6' x 8'. However, it was clean and comfortable and the price was right. We then rode out to the Homer Spit, a tiny peninsula of land, sticking out into the bay where there are a host of touristy things. We had a great dinner, fresh halibut, which was a special treat for me, having been spoiled, eating truly fresh fish on several previous Alaska fishing trips. It was still light out when we turned in at 11:00 p.m, although considerably less bright than when at Coldfoot, which is more than 500 miles north of Homer.

Alaska Caper -- Day 16

June 19, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Cantwell, AK
Destination: Anchorage, AK
Miles traveled: 246
Last night I made the decision that I was going to take the bus tour through Denali NP. Steve decided not to pursue this option, but rather riding to Talkeetna was his choice for the day. I was up at 4:00 a.m. and on the road by 5:00 a.m., back 30 miles to Denali NP to catch my bus at 6:00 a.m. It was an eight-hour ride through the Park. Rugged mountains surround the valleys through which the tour bus travels. In the early morning, we could see the top of Mt. McKinley, but it then clouded over, obscuring the tall mountain peaks. Wild life viewing opportunities in Denali are outstanding. In our eight-hour trip, we saw two moose, three grizzly bears, and at least 40 dall sheep and caribou. These species consist of the "big four" which park visitors hope to see on their trip. We also saw gyrfalcon; this is the largest of the falcon family and reminded me of Zakar, the spectacular falcon owned and trained by Morley Nelson. (Picture right -- Dall sheep inhabit the rocky peaks at Denali NP.) The scenery in Denali is spectacular. The trip starts at about 2000 feet above sea level. In the altitude difference between 2000 feet and 4000 feet the habitat changed from an area with many small spruce trees to a rather barren mountainous tundra area with only small bushes. I took many pictures on this picturesque and educational trip. In the early 1920s Mt. McKinley National Park was on the list of "must sees" for adventurous tourists. In 1922, Park officials reported seven visitors, but the number grew steadily from year to year. Today, over 400,000 visitors come to the renamed Denali National Park and Preserve. At 3:00 p.m. I headed south from Denali to Anchorage. Miraculously, the skies had cleared. The views of Mt. McKinley and adjacent peaks were spectacular and something I will always remember. (Picture right -- Artic ground squirrel -- major food supply for predators.) When I arrived at the motel in Anchorage, Steve was comfortably settled in. I was too tired to even think about eating dinner but was pumped up on sensory overload from the incredible experiences of the day. Sleeping will not be a problem for me tonight.

Alaska Caper -- Day 15

June 18, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Fairbanks, AK
Destination: Cantwell, AK
Miles traveled: 198

This morning we got better acquainted with the GS riders who arrived on their muddy bikes from the Haul Road last night. Joe Mobley is a cordial, articulate, retired Navy Admiral. His buddy, Mike Chase, probably age 60 but buff as heck and probably able to pick up his GS bike with one arm tied behind his back, is a retired Navy Seal. They are planning to catch the Alaska Marine Highway from Haines, AK, to Bellingham, WA, and then ride home to California and Mexico where they reside. After divesting myself of 17 lbs of excess luggage, taken to the FedEx office to be shipped home, we headed for Denali National Park. (Picture to the right -- The road
to Denali). The ride was uneventful. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and a little bit rainy, so we did not see too much of the majestic mountains. We road into the Park 15 miles. Beyond that point, visitors are obliged to ride in tour buses. A small number of people, such as professional photographers, can obtain a permit to ride through the Park at will, and there is a lottery for later summer personal vehicle travel–about 400 cars per day. The outskirts of the Park are "tourist city personified". We got out of there as quick as we could and headed down to Cantwell. This is at the junction of the old Denali Highway. Motel accommodations there were bare bones to say the least. However, the cafe there served a decent meal at a good price. By bedtime the weather was clearing. The sun was shining on the mountains which were exquisitely beautiful. (Picture right -- District Courthouse in Nanana, AK, -- law Alaska style)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Alaska Caper -- Day 14

June 17, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Today was another easy day in Fairbanks. You might even say we indulged ourselves in slothful ease.

At about noon we rode out to the Chena Hot Springs. The scenery was beautiful as we traveled through boggy areas along the Chena River where we saw several moose (below), the first of such critters that we had laid eyes on this trip. The Hot Springs itself is somewhat of a tourist trap, and I must say by Idaho’s standards a bit too commercial and way too crowded. Steve took a plunge in the hot water while I walked around and spoke to tourists from diverse locations, including Belgium, Germany, and South Africa. They all seemed like pleasant and adventuresome people who were very much enjoying their Alaska experience.

When we got back to the motel, two guys showed up on their filthy dirty GS bikes. They had ridden all the way from Prudhoe Bay today, over 500 miles, 300 of which is on gravel. I can’t even imagine how much effort and stamina it would take to accomplish a ride of that proportion, and they were old coots like Steve and me.

I began surveying my luggage and culling anything which was not deemed essential. I ended up with a bag of stuff weighing over 20 lbs which I will take to FedEx before we head off to Denali National Park tomorrow.

Alaska Caper -- Day 14

June 17, 2007
Posted by: Steve Larrabee

Fairbanks, Alaska: 75 degrees and sunny

Hello All: This is my first addition to the blog, and since Dick has done so well keeping it updated, I thought I'd wait for some perspective almost 1/2 way through the trip. I have run 5500 miles on the bike since leaving the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on May 22nd -- headed for Boise. The miles traveled on the great ferry boat ride are not included. There are so many positives I'll condense it down to the two most unforgettable, in my view. Regarding more pictures, Dick tells me there is some technical problem with getting more of them on the blog, and he is trying to remedy that. The first highlight was the ferry boat ride for 3 and a half days through the thousands of tree covered islands that allow the inland passage from Washington to Haines/Skagway, Alaska. That's the same route some of the pioneers and folks hoping for gold riches in the late 1890s gold rush took. The rest came overland -- the way we are going back to the "lower 48". Dick has told you about the ferry so I will just add that it reminded me of the little packet boats that run through the islands in Casco Bay off the coast of Portland, Maine, delivering their people, goods and mail. The scale was much larger and the beauty magnified many times as we slipped through channels not much wider than the ferry and past untouched, pristine forests of green in every shade. The second highlight was the run north to Coldfoot, Alaska. There was some doubt as to the availability of gas at the Yukon River outpost, but not enough rumors to squash the spirit of the thing. We could always mooch some gas from adventurous souls doing the same senseless thing we were, right? It turns out the road was not as bad as I had heard it was; there was plenty of gas at the spectacular Yukon River, and the scenery and natural beauty was much more beautiful than I had heard it was. A net, very big positive. The only hiccup was a freshly laid down 1/2-mile section of large jagged edged stones on a downhill -- a new one for me, and quite tough. The stones' pointed edges jammed the front tire left and right, and not necessarily the way I wanted to go. Balancing this 700 pound machine was tricky and I almost dropped it in the middle after I mistakenly stopped to find a smoother path ahead. The secret is to keep it moving at a steady speed and let the rear tire do the work of pushing you through it. This concept made the next day's return up the hill much more manageable. The rest of the 175 mile road was a "pick and choose the best path" all the way. Potholes, ruts, cracks, and whatever obstacle demanded your attention. I had to remember that the roads really take a beating here with temperatures down to MINUS 50 and more in the winter. Below the roads is "permafrost" or perpetually frozen ground that sometimes thaws a little and causes huge frost heaves or waves in the road, or cracks in the road. The road crews up here have the impossible task of trying to fix what they can during the summer. We punched through the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees North latitude and stopped to treat the millions of mosquitoes to a free, tourist lunch. The 500 mile round trip to Coldfoot was through the most beautiful country of its type I've ever seen (including the Alps and the Andes). To keep me humble and grateful, it was one heck of a workout, too. The hard part is over, me thinks. Tomorrow we head south to Denali, (Mt. McKinley, at 20,000 feet, the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere) and the surrounding Denali Park. Then on to Anchorage, Homer, Seward and the Kenai Peninsula. What a fantastic opportunity we have, and I am trying hard to be patient, absorb as much as I can, take as many pictures with my brain as I can, and be safe while keeping track of Dick, too. I have had no problem sleeping since day one. Thanks for "listening" and I'll jump in with some more down the line. By the way, Fairbanks has the beautiful and modern main campus of the University of Alaska here. Dick and I went to see their "Museum of the North" yesterday and it was superb. The building is of modern architecture, trying to show the many faces of Alaska; inside, the native art, crafts, carvings, totems, uumiaks (canoes), wildlife, and history of the Native peoples is wonderfully exhibited and explained. The Museum is really a treat!! Next time you are in Fairbanks, remember the "Museum of the North" at the U of AK.

My best to you all, hasta pronto


Alaska Caper -- Day 13

June 16, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

A day of rest and relaxation in Anchorage.

Today was an easy day. We slept in until 7:00 a.m. before mobilizing. It felt good not to have any specific travel obligations. We took the bikes to a local car wash to clean off the huge amount of mud which had accumulated from the ride to Coldfoot Camp the previous two days.
We then went to the University of Alaska Museum of the North. This was extremely interesting with wild life, Native Indian exhibits, as well as varied art collections from the previous 100 years. This included works by settlers who had moved to Alaska as well as the Native Indians.
On our way back from dinner, we ran into a couple of riders from Northern California who were heading North in the morning. They were hoping to make it as far as Coldfoot, but they did not intend to consider riding the additional 240 miles on gravel roads to Prudhoe Bay.

The weather today in Fairbanks has been absolutely delightful. During dinner at 7:30 p.m., the temperature was 76 degrees, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Hopefully, this delightful summer weather will continue for a few more days.

Alaska Caper -- Day 12

June 15, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Coldfoot Camp, AK
Destination: Fairbanks, AK
Miles traveled: 246 challenging miles
I awakened at about 6:00 a.m. There was a strange noise outside. As I poked my head out of the door, I could clearly hear a pack of wolves howling. I would estimate they were no further than a couple of hundred yards from our room, back in the timber. We packed the bikes, ate breakfast, and then stopped at the Coldfoot Visitors Center. This is a modern building, unlike the bare bones style and condition of Coldfoot Camp where we had been staying. The displays there were quite enlightening with respect to climate and ecology above the Arctic Circle.

Packed to return to Fairbanks, we headed south on the Haul Road. We traveled approximately 60 miles south and when we arrived at the official Arctic Circle "Welcome Center," a parking lot with a large display sign, we then stopped to contemplate our accomplishment. We had a picture taken, proving to all witnesses that we had actually completed the ride as reported. We then proceeded south without incident. Overnight, the road had dried out, and travel was much easier. The bikes were surefooted. The BMW GS bikes, which are designed for this type of travel, handled without any problems. We stopped for gas again at the Yukon River, then it was back to Fairbanks. The only challenge was the short section of rocky road which we affectionately named "the rock garden." Returning south, it was a steep uphill climb of approximately one-half mile. This was accomplished without losing it. We were successful in keeping the "rubber side down," as they say in the motorcycle world. The remainder of the trip back to Fairbanks was relaxing and picturesque. As we hit pavement, there was a rain storm ahead of us with a wonderful rainbow. This was an appropriate culmination of a fantastic and challenging two-day motorcycle ride. In my 20 years of riding bikes, this was the most difficult and spectacular ride I had ever completed, bar none.
We unloaded the bikes when we reached the motel in Fairbanks and crashed without even wishing to eat dinner. We had completed our goal of riding the Haul Road north of the Arctic Circle and returning back safely.

Alaska Caper -- Day 11

June 14, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson
Start: Fairbanks, AL
Destination: Coldfoot Camp, AL
Miles traveled: 260, very hard-earned miles
Today, we began the ultimate road adventure and the most successful and anticipated leg of the Alaskan Motorcycle Caper, riding the Dalton Highway. This road extends from Livengood, Alaska, to Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay, 414 miles north. Our goal was to ride to Coldfoot, 175 miles and a total of 240 miles north of Fairbanks where we began.

In 1969, when oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s north slope, excitement was high at the prospect of new money to fuel Alaska’s "boom and bust" economy. The nation was in the throws of an energy crises and were pushing for an 800-mile long pipeline. The Dalton Highway, named for James B. Dalton, a life-long Alaskan and expert in arctic engineering, was constructed in only eight months through the dead of winter, with temperatures at -50 degrees F. or colder, and mud, dust, and clouds of mosquitos in the summer. It is also referred to as the "Haul Road," used to carry construction materials and provisions for the pipeline which was completed in three years (1974-1977).

Traveling north from Fairbanks, we reached Livengood, where the pavement ended, and we began a 175-mile jaunt northward on gravel roads. It had recently rained, and the road surface in parts was, what they say in Alaska, "slicker than greased pig poop." We traveled slowly and without incident. One challenging section of the Highway, approximately one mile long, was a recently laid road bed composed of softball-sized jagged rocks which had not been adequately compressed or filled. We made it through just fine, although not without some anxiety. Apparently, the previous day that road had claimed over one dozen truck and RV tires because of the sharp rocks. Crossing the Yukon River bridge, we traveled north, gassing up for the north ride. This is spectacular country. The road parallels the Alaskan pipeline, some of which is submerged and other places elevated sufficiently high to permit wild life to travel underneath.
We arrived at Coldfoot at approximately 10:00 p.m. It was bright as day. We checked into the motel, a very "plain Jane and expensive cubicle" and ate supper. At two minutes after midnight, I photographed the mountain behind Coldfoot Camp at 12:01 a.m. As you can see, the sun is shining on it. We were definitely in the "land of the midnight sun." We unloaded the bikes and crashed after an exhausting but exciting day.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Alaska Caper -- Day 10

June 13, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Tok Junction, Alaska
Destination: Fairbanks, Alaska
Miles traveled: 220 miles

We are far enough north that it never gets completely dark at night. It is not light enough to read, but you don’t need a flashlight to see what you are doing. I was awakened at perhaps 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. out of my sleep by what sounded to me like a rooster pheasant cackling. Obviously, this could not have been the case–right? It repeated itself four or five times before I got out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and noticed that about 20 yards from where our tent was pitched, the Sourdough Campground owners had a pheasant pen with one rooster and a handful of hens. The lesson here is to believe your ears, even if you are half deaf.
We packed up our tents and sleeping bags, and we were off to Fairbanks. We stopped at Delta Junction. This is the end of the old AlCan Highway. It is roughly 1500 miles long and cost $115 million dollars to build in 1943. That would be a real bargain in today’s economy.
The Tanana River, which we followed from Delta Junction most of the way, was quite interesting. It would appear that at the height of spring runoff this river bed is completely filled. The accompanying picture illustrates that as the water recedes there are only a few channels running with a huge amount of dry ground. This is a pattern for many of the low-lying rivers in Alaska which drain the vast mountain ranges.

We arrived in Fairbanks, and we were lucky enough to get the last room at the Best Western. Steve sweet talked the young lady at the desk into a room rate of $110.00, down from the usual AARP rate of $154.00.

We then went to the "BMW dealer." The shop was a rundown mobile home with all manners of trash and defunct motorcycles and parts everywhere you looked. Not surprisingly, he had not ordered Steve’s speedometer, but he indicated he had a 1999 bike in the back from which he could scavenge a part. We were skeptical, and Steve will probably be looking elsewhere to replace his speedometer.

The weather for tomorrow looks encouraging for the ride to Coldfoot. The road report suggests that there is quite a bit of construction, which may be a limiting factor. It is our gaol to travel as far north as we can, confidently and safely; hopefully, to Coldfoot Camp. More on that later.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Alaska Caper -- Day 9

June 12, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Haines Junction -Yukon, Canada
Destination: Tok, Alaska
Miles traveled: 321 miles

After loading the bike this morning, we went to the city bakery. They had an unbelievable assortment of delicious, not so low-calorie pastries of all sorts. After devouring more than we needed, along with a generous caffeine infusion, we headed north. The roads in the Yukon are chip sealed. They were repairing a 40-mile stretch which gave us a taste of what we might have to deal with further down the line. We then passed from the Yukon back into Alaska. The attitude and treatment we received from the U.S. custom’s officials was night and day compared with their Canadian counterparts. It turns out that the agent who processed us has a daughter who lives in Boise. He wisped us through with no harassment and only a minimum of the "usual" custom questions. It was then a clear shot to Tok Junction, Alaska, where we pulled into the Sour Dough Camp Ground and RV Park and set up our tents for the night. The day, which started cloudy with a bit of mist, had cleared with blue sky, and the forecast was for no rain during the next 48 hours. With our sleeping bags rolled out and the tents pitched, we "hit the hay" early.

Alaska Caper -- Day 8

June 11, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Off ship at Haines, Alaska
Destination: Haines Junction -Yukon, Canada
Miles traveled: 154

The purser’s announcement over the intercom awakened us abruptly at 4:30 a.m. He was announcing the Columbia’s arrival at Juno. I dressed and hustled to the kiosk on shore to pick up e-mail messages. It was then back to the stateroom to pack our bags and cases. Murphy struck us again today. Steve’s bike was attached with a tie-down strap to a refrigerated truck-trailer. They drove off without undoing the strap, pulling his bike and dragging it 10 feet. Fortunately, the damage was only superficial, and the AMH employee agreed that they would pay for any necessary repairs. When we docked at Haines, it was missing a bit. We donned our rain gear and headed north. When we reached the Canadian border, there was a huge line of people waiting to get through customs. Apparently, the holdup was because of one individual who had a DUI conviction in the U.S., and they were not going to permit him to even enter Canada. Then, there was only one custom’s agent on duty, a surly and portly gal who was becoming bored by the time we reached the front of the line, and she wisped us through but only after we answered a series of somewhat inane questions regarding our intentions, duration of stay in Canada, and whether we were carrying any weapons or pepper spray. We continued riding north through some beautiful country in the Yukon and arrived at Haines Junction at about 8 p.m. Except for a shaky start on the vehicle deck of the Columbia, our first day of riding in Alaska was judged by all to be a definite success and enjoyable experience.

Alaska Caper -- Day 7

June 10, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

On Board Columbia

It was still raining this morning when I woke up at 6 a.m. The ship was pulling into Ketchikan. There were several other large cruise ships in port there. We got off and walked on tara firma for about one hour and had a cup of coffee at a local restaurant. As we pulled out of Ketchikan, heading north towards Wrangell and Petersburg, the weather broke, and there was sunshine and at least some blue sky. Wrangell and Petersburg are much smaller towns. The Columbia stopped to drop off and pick up passengers. Throughout the day, we snaked our way through channels, some of which were quite narrow, and the ship was only a stone’s throw away from shoreline.

We ran into a young fellow named Peter Hammett who has a home in Boise (small world again), and he is riding his BMW GS 650. He is heading north, but he is not sure he will make it north of Fairbanks. He has previously ridden a KLR down the Baja to the Mexican mainland and back to Idaho. He is a pleasant, outgoing fellow. He joined us for dinner and discussions of South American politics with Steve.

I turned in early with the expectation of getting up early in the morning when we make a port call at Juno at 4:45 a.m./7:30 a.m., pick up e-mails, and download the Akaska Caper blog. The boat trip to date has been an excellent experience, relaxing, with great food, quite reasonably priced, and a reasonable assortment of interesting people to talk to.

Alaska Caper -- Day 6

June 9, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

On Board Columbia

When we awakened today, it was pouring rain. The cloud bank was low, virtually obscuring the mountain ranges on either side of us. This huge boat threaded its way through the water, traveling North. At times, the land was 200 yards or less on either side of us. As we traveled past Bella Bella and Chatfield Island (Hello, John and Natalie), we then went through long narrows where water was cascading over the rocks in multiple places with beautiful waterfalls. It looked as if this was runoff from the snow-covered mountain peaks which were occasionally visible for a few moments through the clouds.

Each Saturday night, the Columbia has an all-you-can-eat buffet. It is $13.50 for us seniors. The food was excellent. The ship’s dining room had panoramic windows which afforded us an incredible view of the passing scenery. We again turned in early, wishing to catch up on her sleep and get our batteries fully charged for the riding days ahead.

Alaska Caper -- Day 5

June 8, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Bellingham, WA, on board Columbia
Destination: North

Steve and I awoke early today when it became light in the room at sunrise. We scrambled to organize our gear and pack the bikes for the short trip down to the Alaska Marine Highway (AMH) terminal. On the way, we stopped at the UPS store to pick up the radio headsets which had been shipped to us from Whitehorse Gear in New Hampshire. Shortly thereafter, Donna, the salesperson at Whitehorse Gear, called to ask whether we had received our headsets. I thanked her for her prompt attention and follow-up. At this point, we were good to go except for buying munchies for the trip, anticipating that food on board the ship would be quite expensive.

While waiting in line to board the Columbia, we became acquainted with other cyclists who were traveling to Alaska. There were two couples from Michigan and one couple from Alaska. In addition, there was one young man who is a smoke jumper and lives part-time in Boise. It was a small-world situation. We also talked with the motorcycle police who were providing security for the AMH. It turns out that one officer grew up in Lewisburg, PA, home of Bucknel University where Steve went to college. We talked motorcycles for an hour or so. He gave us his e-mail address, asking to be put on the blog list. He was envious of our adventure, and he indicated he hoped to take a similar excursion some time in the near future.

Motorcycles were the first vehicles to be boarded. They stuffed them into a small corner in the bow where we tied our bikes down. Seven of them fit into a space that would not accommodate one automobile. At $450.00 per bike, we reckoned that the AMH system would be in "fat city" if they could fill the whole ship with motorcycles. The vehicles loaded on the Columbia were diverse, to say the least. Next to us was a large stock trailer with three bulls. Apparently, a rancher near Anchorage was looking to get genetic diversity into his herd, or so the story goes. Apparently, he had not heard of artificial insemination. There were lots of small cars, pickup campers, and a few large motor homes, as well as several U-Haul trucks pulling trailers. When loading was complete, there was hardly a space to turn around on the deck which ran virtually the entire length of the ship. The Columbia is the flagship of the AMH system. It is powered by two 6170 horsepower diesel motors which chug along at 409 rpm. This moves the 418-foot "ferry boat," weighing 13,000 tons gross, at a service speed of 17 knots. As the ship pulled out of the dock, Steve and I said, "Hey, we’re headed for Alaska." There was no turning back at this point. We were on our way.

We carried gear up to our tiny stateroom with bunk beds, a small vanity, and an adjacent modular toilet and shower combo. It is small but comfortable and beats the heck out of sleeping in an inside recliner or pitching a tent outside on the rear deck. We grabbed a light supper at the snack bar and crashed for the night. I don’t think I wiggled until 7 a.m.; I probably would have slept through a typhoon.

Alaska Caper -- Day 4

June 7, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Desert Aire
Destination: Bellingham, WA
Miles traveled: 321

Murphy attacked us again this morning. A few miles out of Desert Aire, Steve’s speedometer cable broke. We went to the BMW dealer, Ride West, in Seattle. They accompanied us in fixing his cable, and we were back on the road. It was a beautiful ride down the Wenatchee River canyon. We arrived in Bellingham in time for a late supper and to organize our clothes and gear for the ferry trip on the Columbia, staring tomorrow. Enthusiasm is running high, as the excitement is just starting to begin.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Alaska Caper -- Day 3

June 6, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: West Richland, WA
Destination: Desert Aire, WA

The morning and early afternoon today were spent in search of a replacement for Steve’s
defective radio headset. He could hear messages delivered from my unit, but he could not talk back to me. We finally decided to call Whitehorse Gear in Conway, New Hampshire, where we had purchased the headsets. They will be sending them overnight to us, with any luck, to be picked up Friday morning in Bellingham, WA, before we get on the Alaska Marine Highway’s flagship, Columbia, northward bound to Haines and Skagway. The wind today was worse than yesterday. We felt like ping-pong balls in a clothes dryer. After fighting the wind for over one hour, we decided to pack it in, get a good night’s rest and get an early start riding in the morning.

Alaska Caper -- Day 2

June 5, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson

Start: Baker City, OR
Destination: West Richland, WA

We awoke today in the midst of a horrendous rain storm with gusty winds. I think the Gods were testing us for what we might be confronted with in Alaska. We donned our warmer clothes and rain gear and headed west on I-84. As we reached Pendleton, Oregon, the rain was replaced by gusty winds which challenged our riding skill. Our destination was West Richland, WA, to visit and spend the night with Byron, a long-time friend of Steve’s from Virginia. It was there that we discovered his radio headset was defective. All the tinkering in the world did not get it working. We turned in after a great home-cooked dinner, determined to solve our communication problem in the morning.

Alaska Caper -- Day 1

June 4, 2007
Posted by: Dick Wilson
Start: Boise, ID
Destination: Baker City, OR

My riding buddy, Steve Larrabee, and I were good friends and partners in crime during high school but lost track of one another for nearly 40 years until a recent high school reunion. It turns out we evolved with a common addiction–motorcycles. Steve rode from his home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia three years ago to visit his daughter in Salt Lake City and to tour Southern Canada. He visited with us in Boise on that trip at which time we spawned the idea of a Great Alaska motorcycle caper. After three years of planning, months of motorcycle and gear preparation, and Steve’s ride out again out from Virginia to Boise, we are finally on the road.
As we pulled out of the driveway, the thermometer hit 90 degrees. With a cool breeze, we remained comfortable on the motorcycles as we traveled north to McCall, south to Cambridge, and then west crossing the Snake River at Brownlee Dam. As we traveled north along Oxbow Reservoir, the trip was enhanced by a large variety of wild life. We saw goats in the rocks on the Idaho hillside, big horn sheep, and several generous coveys of chukars shared the road with us, scampering away as we passed by. The ride from Oxbow Reservoir to Baker City, Oregon, was majestic in the early evening with the foothills still quite green and numerous wild flowers along the roadside. Upon arrival in Baker City, we found a motel, ate dinner, organized gear for the following day, and then crashed. This was the end of a perfect first day on our long-awaited trip.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Preparing to leave

It is Saturday, June 2nd 2007 and Steve and I are preparing to leave for our great Alaska Motorcycle Caper. We are going to be leaving Boise Idaho on Monday, June 4th and we expect to return to the United States sometime before July 4th.