I have not worked on my ride report in over 5 months. I had planned to post it in January 2010 but fell behind in my writing. I have most of it done and decided I am going to go ahead and post it now. It is still in a pretty raw form so you may note typos.
I will post a chapter every few days so as not to overload anyone who actually wants to read a report about 2 crazy guys who rode from San Diego to Alaska and back last July.
Anyhow, if you are planning a trip to Alaska you can ignore this report at your peril. It may actually have a few nuggets hidden in it that could make you smile. (People mentioned in this report are fictional and any similarity between actual persons living or dead are purely coincidental)
The purpose of this tour report is to show others who are thinking about a motorcycle trip to Alaska that the only requirements to complete such a trip are 1) having about four weeks of free time, 2) a dependable motorcycle, 3) a credit card, and 4) the will to do it. The report includes the route from San Diego to Alaska and back, a list of items I took along, and suggestions about tires, equipment and prepping your bike before the trip. Also I have included names of helpful motorcycle establishments and people along the way who may come in handy. One of the hurdles a trip of this magnitude entails is the concern about how the bike will perform and the nagging worry about a mechanical breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully while reading this report you will have a few laughs and learn a few things. If it helps you make some decisions about a similar trip and anticipate potential problems, it will have served its purpose.
You will find in reading this report that I am a humble fellow. Probably one of the most humble people I know, and without any real flaws, too. I am also good at pointing out other people’s flaws so they can improve. It is a curse, but I have learned to live with it. It’s what I do best.
I had always wanted to do a truly epic motorcycle ride after completing over 10 rides encompassing anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 miles each. I have been riding bikes for 42 years and have almost 300,000 miles logged. I enjoy the lone tour when I can escape the crowded roads of southern California. I especially like the Pacific Northwest states with their combination of mountain scenery, ocean highways, and perfect twisting roads with great summer weather which means no humidity or rain like you find in the southeast or east coast states.
Also in the west you can always find a fire road to take you into a secluded part of a National Forest for a free place to camp. Not only does this allow you to enjoy the wilderness free from RV’s with generators or loud campers who like to light up the world with a Coleman lantern but it also allows you to save money on lodging and feel like a Boy Scout again.
I hatched my plan to ride to Alaska in 2006. I had thought it would be great to do it in minimalist fashion on my 1994 XR600R. It was a dependable bike. It had only a kick start. It averaged about 40 mpg. I had outfitted it with aluminum hard cases, 5 gallon after-market gas tank, rear rack, heated grips and an accessory plug for my heated vest, and even attached a small windshield designed for a cruiser to deflect the wind, rain, bugs and rocks.
I had researched the routes, bought all the necessary rain gear, and prepped the bike. I even had extra tires shipped to Anchorage to change when the first set wore out. I thought I was ready for the trip. I had planned to truck the bike to Seattle to avoid the painful ride on Interstate 5 from San Diego to the Canadian border.
I had given myself a month the do the trip. I planned to leave San Diego June 1, 2007 and leave Seattle June 3rd. It would be 2,500 miles from Seattle to Anchorage. I wanted to do at least one side trip to Hyder, Alaska on the way north.
On the morning I was to depart Seattle, the enormity of the ride began to sink in. It was only after riding 200 miles on the first day in perfect sunny weather that I really began to think I could pull it off. It was not long before my confidence would begin to erode.
I woke to a light rain the next morning. I packed my tent in the rain and rode all day in the rain. The next day I was north of Prince George and had now covered 600 miles on the bike, one quarter of the way to Anchorage. But I was monitoring my tire wear and the Kenda tires that were supposed to be 80% road-20% off road were already 25% worn away. This meant that I would probably make it to Anchorage on bald tires if I did not take any additional side trips. But I would have to switch out my tires and then unless I made arrangements for other tires, I would get back to Seattle on bald tires. The low mileage on the Kendas was annoying.
Besides being covered in mosquitoes, worrying about tire wear, kick starting a bike that at times refused to comply, and riding in constant rain on a long solo trip on a bike that was about 100 pounds over its load limit, I had a new concern. The week before I began my trip there had been record heat in British Columbia. This had produced early snow melting. Combined with the heavy rains this produced flooding. I listened to news reports of flooding 200 miles north of me in Smithers. There were reports of people making panic runs on food supplies, washed out streets, rivers on the rise, etc.
I had endured another night of lighting and rain. The bike was loaded and ready to go. I kicked, and kicked, and kicked it but it refused to start. I was in a sweat. I took off my gear and tried every trick I could to get it start. I finally decided, maybe this was not going to be the year I rode to Alaska. It was the wrong time of year (June instead of July), the wrong tire selection, and on the wrong bike. When I got the bike started, I ate breakfast and pondered my options.
I called my wife who was supportive of my plans. She wisely offered that if I wasn’t having fun, it wasn’t a vacation. I decided to head south and salvage the month by seeing southern British Columbia, visiting a friend in Powell River and touring Vancouver Island. If the XR600 could make it home, I was going to sell it and buy a Suzuki V Strom and outfit it for an eventual trip to Alaska.
I spent two weeks touring southern BC and the Cascades. Even though I put a decent 1,800 miles on the XR600, I felt a bit defeated. When I got home, I sold it for a good price and within a month had purchased a year and a half old V Strom 650. It had 24,000 miles on the clock but was clean and well cared for. I bought it for $3800, about $600 under Blue Book.
I spent $2000 putting on every farkle I needed for a long trip. I added a fork brace, hand guards, heated grips, cruise control, engine guards, skid plate, aluminum hard cases, and a Madstad mount for a Givi windscreen. I made a mount for my Garmin GPS and added a voltmeter to monitor my charging system, and two accessory plugs on the dash. I had a local upholstery shop make me a comfortable seat.
I got to know the bike very well. In addition to using it as one of my daily commuter bikes, I had taken it from San Diego to Taos, New Mexico in April, 2008. It performed flawlessly in 2500 miles. In February 2009 I took it to Death Valley for a few days. Again, it proved to be a worthy sport touring bike. I knew I had found the perfect machine for my Alaska trip. Now I had to get mentally prepared to overcome my previous failed attempt.