Tacoma, Washington to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and return. 8200 miles via Honda Goldwing and a 650 BMW.
This blog is about my lessons learned and experiences on a month long motorcycle trip from Fox Island, WA. State to Anchorage on a 2003 Goldwing. Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean on a BMW 650FS, then back to WA. State from Anchorage on the Wing.
Would I do it all over again? Absolutely! Already planning sometime to go back up and do the Top of the World Highway from Dawson City, Yukon, to Chicken, Alaska.
I will post some of my trip logs below. I’ve also set up separate links above for review of everything from equipment, gear, accommodations, customer service, weather, and more, to try and share my learning experiences with those planning to do the trip.
I was overprepared! Don’t drive yourself crazy prior to the trip. You’ll always forget something, as long as it isn’t your passport or credit cards, deal with it. :-)
Bring less stuff. I’ve been taking 1 – 2 week motorcycle trips with my wife for many years now, and I still never learn this lesson. Even on a Goldwing.
Check your gear and then check it all again. Things start falling apart quickly on a long trip. Dump AT&T. Add velcro to your riding gear, make sure zippers are in good repair, bring some Canadian cash for campgrounds, etc.
Gas is not a problem anywhere in Canada, even northern B.C. and the Yukon. The longest stretch I saw was about 90 miles, and that wasn’t very often. Usually gas about every 50 miles.
Wouldn’t have brought the trailer. This is a personal opinion. Some people swear by them but I had problems with it (admittedly first time in 11 years.) and I’ve decided it’s not worth the hassle unless you are planning on doing extensive camping with two people.
I heard from all the “stuff” on the internet that it is advisable to bring a shotgun if you are planning on camping out, and for remote areas for wildlife. I did this and it was not worth the hassle, even though I did everything legally: paperwork, fee, etc.
I tried to do this and should have done even more of it. Take your time and explore. If you see an interesting side road, take it. Pull over and take pictures and videos, you won’t regret the extra time when you review them.
Even if you’re not a social networking type, like I’m not, use Facebook, Flicker, or Youtube etc to post pictures and videos instead of trying to send lots of stuff over email.
Camping: The Canadian provincial park campgrounds are immaculately maintained, but be aware of the usual RVs setting up their “mini industrial parks” and bearing yappy dogs. Argh.
The Dalton Highway: My British friend and I heard stories during the Anchorage-Prudhoe Bay portion of the trip about bad muddy conditions when raining resulting in crashes, turning back etc. He taught me good techniques: Keep weight to the rear of the bike, minimize front braking (obviously), use a higher gear than normal- less likely to spin the rear wheel. Keep up momentum, it reduces fall risk. Probably not a safety issue in the mud at 30 mph, but potentially expensive with a rental deductible.
Weather: I was extremely fortunate for the August trip. Not more than 7 partial days of rain out of 32 days on the road including the Dalton Highway. Don’t know if I would have made Prudhoe Bay if it rained a lot due to the resulting muddy dirt road. Temperatures ranged from 39F/4C leaving the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay, to 82F/27C in Revelstoke, B.C. Expect anything: heat, cold, sun, rain, or even snow north of Coldfoot, AK in Aug.
Latitude ranged from Tacoma, WA to Prudhoe Bay Alaska. Geography ranged from beautiful fiords to mountain passes. Hot and dry to temperate rainforest to chilly north Alaska tundra.
Deer: nuff said. Watch for them constantly and practice your high speed emergency braking and swerving drills before you go. Only one near miss the whole trip, but once is enough.
Wildlife included black and grizzly bears, mountain goats, a fox, a coyote, buffalo and deer.
Bring an ereader. You can store books and keep up your daily newspaper/magazine subscriptions. It saves tons of space.
Forget about work! Have fun.
Captain’s log, stardate Aug 1, 2011. Arctic Ocean trip, day 1. Refueling and entering orbit in Hope, British Columbia.
Descent and approach into the P.C. Canada universe.
Left for the first day of my venture to the Beaufort Sea at Prudhoe Bay. Only about 3200 miles to go. Stuck in traffic for two hours thru Seattle. Bad choice in picking a departure time.
Finally got to the border at Sumas, B.C. Declared the shotgun and told them I had the proper paperwork. 5 minutes of questions, “do you know it takes a long time to get to Alaska by motorcycle? “Yes”. “Really”, “Yes.” Then off to the Customs building. Went to the customs dude behind the computer. Asked me if I owned a handgun and I said yes, three but left them in the states. Had me open up my jacket and open up my riding pants to check for a handgun in front of all the other criminal masterminds. (Do people really wear a holster under a motorcycle jacket into a Canada customs building? Wait…. nevermind.)
Several minutes of serious concerned looks and typing at the computer. Arrest records (damn those juvenile indiscretions), where have you lived as an adult,etc. I said, you mean since 18 years old: “Yes”. He says. I started with 5 countries lived in, started down the temporary overseas ones list, then started on the states. He said: “forget it.”
Tells me to wait. Goes out to the motorcycle, two days of packing the motorcycle trailer ends up on the asphalt. Comes in and asks me 4 times if I’m carrying a handgun. 4 times I say no. Finally lets me go.
p.s. After all this he pulls me aside and whispers: “We aren’t allowed to protect ourselves with guns in this country, I don’t agree with it but that’s the law. By the way, you aren’t allowed to keep your shotgun loaded, but if I was you,when you get into the bush farther north, I’d load it, but you didn’t hear it from me.”
Tomorrow north towards Prince George, B.C.
Capt’s log, star date 2, Aug 2, 2011.
With a banana from the Hope, B.C. hotel coffee shop, was able to break gravity and attain escape velocity out of Hope, B.C, across the Thompson River and into the Fraser River Valley this morning.
Bike running great, of course.
Up through the Fraser River Valley, through spectacular mountains, lakes, and rivers, great remote back roads by historic ranches, and on into the B.C. central valley on up thru Clinton, past Williams Lake, and eventually descending in to orbit in Quesnell, B.C. for food, a work out at the hotel gym, and putting a tired Goldwing to bed.
375 miles today, many thru slow back roads away from the usual B.C. Highway 1 and 97. Incredible scenery, great well kept twisty roads, plenty of gas. Longest stretch today was about 60 miles between dilithium crystal recharge stations. Piece of cake. The Wing will flame out at about 270 miles normally. A bit less pulling the trailer.
Up into Prince George tomorrow for first dilithium crystal recharge , then should make the start of the AlCan later in the day. I’m now officially farther north than I have ever been on a motorcycle, but many more lines of latitude and longitude to cross before reaching the U.S Border East of Tok, AK, then on to Anchorage and up to Deadhorse on the Arctic Ocean. (Beaufort Sea.)
Then the party will really get started.
Hello to all, and to all a good night.
Capt’s log. Stardate Aug 4, 2011. Day 4. 384 miles. Location: Watson Lake, Yukon. Total distance 1456 miles.
Finally got out of British Columbia today. Holy distance batman. 3 full riding days just to get thru one province. Kind of like crossing Texas on I-10 three times.
Made Yukon Territory. Yay.
Quite a day. I won’t go into the mind numbing incredible scenery on the Alaskan Highway. Anyone who’s suffered thru all these sitreps is probably getting tired of it. Shortly it combines huge mountains, dense forest, fast flowing rivers and big blue/green glacial lakes. For those who have been on the Columbia Icefields Parkway in Alberta, the mountains have that glacial stratified look, but much more green and forested. Gas is running about every 75 -100 miles, so no problem there. Most gas stops are tiny ramshackle buildings with someone to the effect of Yukon Charley with a big long white beard behind the counter. Running about $7-8 a gallon in the more isolated areas. Cheaper elsewhere.
Been on the AlCan since yesterday afternoon. 4 days of perfect weather, but an hour before Watson Lake temp dropped 20 deg and started raining. Limped into the town (intersection) and got one of the last hotel rooms. Thank God.
Stopped at an interesting museum in Fort Nelson. Lots of AlCan history, and lots of history about the AlCan construction. Built during WWII in record time to supply Alaska in case of an attempted Japanese occupation. Many people don’t realize the Japanese bombed the Aleutians and there were infantry battles there too.
Highlights of the day:
- With no warning signs, ran into deep gravel and 75 mph. Front end fishtailed and I somehow remembered the technique; got off the handlebars, didn’t fight it and the bike figured out its own way thru the mess. Trailer steady as a rock.
- Hard braking three times for deer and buffalo.
- Wildlife. Grizzly cubs, some strange-looking black and white deer (I think?), mountain goats and a herd of buffalo. Got stuck for about 10 minutes as a herd parked itself in the middle of the road and surrounded a baby staring us down. A car started to try to get thru and one of the males made it known that this is not acceptable. A Peterbuilt finally edged thru and I and a couple other guys on bikes followed behind him quickly. Whew.
- Pulled into Watson Lake and saw my right tail assembly hanging by a thin wire. I was rear ended about 3-4 years ago, so the ^T$#$*&^R mechanic probably didn’t tighten down the screws when they replaced it. Fished the other wire out of the fairing assembly and found the 3 nuts in the saddlebag. Roadside repairs. Have tools, will fix.
Ran in to my Mexican buddies from Guadalajara again who are also heading to Anchorage from Guadalajara, Mexico, Daniel and Antonio for the third time. We rode together for the afternoon. Nice guys. One guy owns a gardening business, and the other guy is a prof. photographer. Weddings and ads for major tequila companies. Staying here at the same hotel in Watson Lake, YT.Antonio doesn’t speak english and Daniel does well. Between that and my lousy spanish we’re getting by. Amazing how wine and tequila aids the language barrier! :-). We’re going to ride together to Whitehorse tomorrow.
Should make Whitehorse tomorrow no problem. Will evaluate what I need to do to make Anchorage by Mon or Tues there.
Captain’s log. Stardate Aug 5, 2011. Day 5. 293 miles. Watson Lake, Yukon to Whitehorse Yukon. 1962 miles so far.
Hello all, will keep this one short:
- Rain cleared last night. Perfect weather again today. 70 deg and sunny. Typical spectacular stuff. I’m still on the AlCan. Kept the day fairly reasonable today. I’m now only two “hard” riding days from Anchorage. So am chilling out in Whitehorse this evening. Biggest city since I left Seattle. 27,000 population. Lot’s of Yukon Gold rush stuff, etc. May take an extra day to do some additional exploring before ANC since I’m making good time.
- Lot’s of motorcycles today. More and more the farther north I go. All ages, all types of bikes, many from farther than I’ve come. Newark, Ohio, Colorado, and several Europeans. (No Japanese though, guess no one there has figured out how to put a big tour bus on two wheels.)
- Roads in remarkable shape mostly. Constantly working on them, even hours from anywhere. I saw a pothole so big I stopped to look inside to see how deep it was. There was this Chinese guy in the bottom of it it was so deep. We talked for awhile and I asked him if he had an extra rag so I could clean my bike’s windshield. He handed me a U.S. government bond.
- Left my two Mexican buddies this morning. They’re supposed to be here tonight. Maybe will find them in a Sarsaparilla hole. Other bikers report they’ve seen them along the way. Keep running into the same bikers occasionally.
- Pic of the sign forest in Watson Lake, YT. There’s a couple thousand (really)more than in the pic. I read about this from some motorcycle magazine articles about riding to Alaska.
- Just went for a run and had my ego crushed. Jogged up a hilltop to the Whitehorse Airport up a steep trail. Was commending myself for doing so great until a Yukon cowgirl passed me up like Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen going up Grapevine Hill. (Good size airport. Several 737s on the ramp.)
Capt’s log. Stardate Aug 7th. Today’s distance 385 miles. Total 2200+. Location Tok, AK. (Rhymes with joke.)
Made Alaska! Took a day off in Whitehorse, Yukon yesterday as I’m making good time. Still a day ahead of schedule. Heard from my British buddy Damian. He made it in from England yesterday and will take a ride on his rental down to Seward and back whilst waiting for me, so we can start our attempt to reach the Beaufort Sea at Deadhorse/Prudhoe bay on dual sport bikes.
Gray and chilly leaving Whitehorse, temp got down into the 40s briefly, then just as I thought my week stretch of luck had run out, clear skies and temp in the 60s returned. This kind of luck is getting scary.
Usual incredible scenery on the AlCan. Drove by an incredible national park in the Yukon, and again am now approaching Wrangle, St. Elias National Park in Alaska.
Wildlife: huge swans and a coyote that walked up to me at a rest stop to say hi. Fearless.
Border crossing this time much less eventful.
Border agent: “Do you have anything to declare?”
Me: “Yes, a shotgun and some wine.”
Bored look from the customs guy, as if to say, “Is that all, why are you wasting my time with that information?”
Border agent: “Have a nice day, see ya.”
Total stop about 8 seconds.