My "Slightly Past Mid-Life Crisis" Gold Rush Tour 2009
I recently returned from what for me was an epic cross continent trip to the Canadian Arctic and Alaska. I'm posting this ride report at Adventure Rider but I hope that perhaps it is OK to post here as well?
My "Slightly Past Mid-Life Crisis" Gold Rush Tour 2009
The Spell of the Yukon
~ Robert Service ~
I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy, I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it --
Came out with a fortune last fall, --
Yet somehow life's not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn't all.....
As I near 50 years of age, I often look back on my life so far. I contemplate the choices and decisions I've made, my failures and accomplishments, dreams and goals. The past while I have not been a happy person. Something is missing. I have never felt such discontent and restlessness. Why? I have a wonderful wife and children whom love me very much. I have a nice home. I have a good job that pays pretty well. I have my health. But still, I’m not content. I am tired of the daily routine. I find that I have fallen into a rut of repetitious existence. My spirit is dieing a bit more every day. There is much more to living than this.
Since getting involved in motorcycling a number of years ago (after my first life crisis), I've come to enjoy long distance touring; every trip taking me farther and farther off the beaten track. Riding my motorcycle always took my mind off life's problems and the daily grind. One cold winter's night while "surfing the net" searching for interesting routes and roads for future trips, I came across a unique website, "Adventure Rider". I was inspired. Reading the well documented ride reports of two wheeled adventurers traveling through far off lands got me dreaming. What a better way to warm my soul and put some adventure back into my life than to do a long distance, epic solo trip to a place far away on a motorcycle! Time to "go walkabout"..... Alaska and the Arctic would be the destination!
I started doing some preliminary planning for this trip back in 2007. Then I owned a Honda VTX1800 cruiser that I felt no longer was the right bike for me. I needed something that was more nimble in the twisties and could perform reasonably on rough gravel roads. In 2008 I traded my VTX for a Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom. I spent that summer outfitting and farkling the bike to transform it into a machine that I was confident could take me across the continent and back, not always on the easiest path. In addition, I upgraded all my camping gear. I did a couple of trial trips down through the Appalachians trying out different gear, coming home and ordering more!
My 2009 trip plan was to ride across the US plains as far as the Rocky Mountains in Montana then turn right. I planned to visit the Sand Hills of Nebraska, the Black Hills of South Dakota, travel Beartooth pass from Wyoming into Montana, Visit Glacier NP and then cross back into Canada. I planned to see some of the Kootenays of BC, Banff and Jasper in AB, and make a 2 day stop in Hyder in southern Alaska to see the Salmon Glacier and perhaps some fishing Grizzlies as I worked my way North to Whitehorse in the Yukon. After a much needed tire change and bike service I would continue north to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to see the midnight sun then back south-west into Alaska. After a number of days touring AK, I decided I would take a Canadian route across the prairies, around the Great Lakes and finally home. I had planned to camp most of the way hoping not to be ravaged by bears or other scary campground dwellers!
Well it’s hard for me to believe but after 2 years of dreaming, planning, spending and preparing, my epic cross continent motorcycle trip to the Arctic & Alaska is now just a memory. I figure after being home for a week, I best get this RR started. What an awe inspiring adventure it truly was. Any expectations I had for this trip were greatly exceeded! I know there have been many fantastic ride reports, especially about travels to Alaska & the Arctic, but please sit back and journey with me......
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
~ Marcel Proust
Day 1 – June 12
Home > Ludington, Michigan > Manitowoc, Wisconsin (Super Eight)
Today’s mileage: 645.4 km, Trip to date: 645.4 km
I was up pretty early today, didn’t really sleep all that soundly. I had lots on my mind. I kind of felt like a kid at Christmas. I felt both excited and nervous at the same time. I’ve done many motorcycle trips over the years but nothing close to the magnitude of what I was about to embark upon. My wife and I had spent some quality personal time together the night before as my waiting bike had been packed and re-packed for over a week now!
While my supportive wife watched on in the drive, I geared up, warmed up the bike, did a final check over and then said farewell, I love you, I’ll be back soon. I was off! The dream starts! I couldn’t help feel an up-welling of emotion at that moment. That same emotion would visit me on numerous occasions throughout this trip.
Today’s ride wasn’t anything special. It was mostly on 400 series / interstate highways to get to the far side of Michigan to catch a ferry across the lake >
I had done this on a previous trip to the west and it sure beats going down through the busy Chicago traffic. The ship didn’t leave until 7:55 pm so I had all sorts of time to get there. I did get into Ludington fairly early so I found a good spot for a couple of beers and a bite to eat >
It was still pretty early and I had about 3 hours to kill so I hung out at the Ludington beach. While I was sitting on a park bench enjoying the sunshine and “scenery”, I hear a motorcycle pull in behind me. It’s a lady rider, Corinne, riding a Volusia towing a homemade uni-wheel trailer packed to the gunwales with gear. She was quite the character. She was out for a solo camping weekend along Michigan’s West lakeshore. We chatted for about an hour then she bid me safe journey and went on her way.
The ferry ride across the lake although quite calm, was windy and cold. I didn’t spend much time out on deck. The ship wasn’t very full like the last trip I remember. Must be because it was a Friday and early in the season. It was pretty well stocked however with locally brewed libations! I had booked a motel room on the other side because I did not want to set up camp or hunt for accommodations at midnight.
Good bye Kate
Chasing the gulls at Ludington beach
Oh, to be younger again!
Corinne shows up
My Ship is in
Loading gangway on the stern
All stowed away
Leaving port to the west
Ludington in the distance
Heading west into the sunset
On the bridge
Last edited by Twistn'roads; 07-27-2009 at 12:26 PM.
"Our Nature lies in movement; complete calm is death."
~ Pascal, Pensées
Day 2 – June 13
Manitowoc, Wisconsin > Lake View, Iowa (Blackhawk State Park)
Today’s mileage: 794.3 km, Trip to date: 1,439.7 km
The day started out rather dark, cloudy and gloomy. It seemed rain was looming to the west. I had hoped the roads I had chosen would prove to be more interesting than yesterday’s ride. I started off on Route 151 and got as far as Lake Winnebago but soon had to detour back to the east due to construction. It seemed 151 was tore up for miles. Too bad because I remember it as rather scenic as it follows the shores of the lake from a previous trip. I followed Route 60 along the Wisconsin River all the way to Prairie du Chien where I crossed over the Mississippi River into Iowa. Route 13 to the south-west was quite curvy and entertaining, Then it was time to head straight west and that’s when the topography changed…. damn is Iowa flat! I took route 3 then 20 straight west.
I decided to spend the night at a Blackhawk State Park near Lake View. When I got there I was in for a surprise. The place was a hive of buzzing motor boats, screaming jet skis, party pontoon boats, bass boats and any other thing that could float. I should have known better. It was a Saturday and this part of Iowa wasn’t exactly strewn with water sport recreation areas! It was crowded, noisy with every kind popular music wailing away on thumping car stereo systems. This wasn’t my idea of serenity, but I was tired and it would have to do. The picture of my journal entry for the day kind of sums things up! After setting up camp, I went into town for supplies, came back and had a few beers and hit the sack wearing my earplugs and had a rather sound sleep, oblivious to the outside revelry.
I didn’t take many pictures today and that would have to change. I’m not quite in vacation mode at this stage of the trip. It takes me a bit to get into the right mind set.
View of Lake Winnebago from 151
My camp that day. At least I was close to the shitter!
Part of my journal entry for day 2. I’m not happy!
Last edited by Twistn'roads; 07-27-2009 at 12:26 PM.
". . .travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
~ Miriam Beard ~
Day 3 – June 14
Lake View, Iowa > Gordon, Nebraska (Western Sands Motel)
Today’s mileage: 687.5 km, Trip to date: 2127.2 km
It’s kind of funny….. everyone I speak to along the way so far look at me in an odd way when they hear of my destination, Alaska. They learn of where I’m from and comment….. “Aren’t you going the wrong way”? My response is always “I’m taking a short cut”!
I was up pretty early today. It was starting to rain lightly as I packed up camp. I took the time to make coffee and some instant oatmeal. It had rained pretty hard to the west of me during the night. I think the entire US mid-west had received more than its share of rain this year. Today would bring some real adventure!
From Balckhawk Lake SP I was going to do a bit of gravel riding; a short cut to get me up to Sioux City, Iowa. I missed a turn so I decided to take the next left. The road started to get narrower and narrower. I recall seeing a sign that read “gravel ends”. Where I live that’s an indication that there is pavement ahead…. wrong assumption here! I had picked up some steam as I crested a hill and before me wasn’t pavement at all but rather deep, fresh, slippery mud! Oh shit! My bike very quickly got snaky and within seconds I spun around 180 degrees as I slid backwards to a stop in the slop. Adventure, Yeah! I guess it happens to everyone sooner or later, and this was my very first get-off. No damage done but there was mud everywhere. It took me some time to stand my scoot back up because every attempt to right it using proper techniques resulted in me slipping on my ass to the muddy ground below. Finally I just bent over and picked the beast up. I had to wedge some rocks and wood under the kick stand to keep her up. I’m kind of lucky the bike fell the way it did because there was no going down the road the way I was headed. I detached the side cases and set them aside. While gently feathering the clutch and throttle, I walked the bike back up the hill to firmer ground. I spent the next half hour trying to clean mud from around the wheels, brakes, fenders, chain & suspension with my hands. When I eventually got back onto Route 20, I stopped at the first car wash I came to and gave both the bike and myself a good spray down!
I eventually crossed into Nebraska on Route 12, “The Outlaw Trail” What a fantastic road in the middle of the plains! I found Nebraska to be very beautiful in a stark, desolate way. I found the sand hills to be very different; not like anything I had seen before. I quite enjoyed this route. I did start to notice little lumps on the road which turned out not to be cow dung but turtles sunning themselves. At one point I stopped and moved one off the road but he very quickly (for a turtle) went back out. That’s determination!
I had planned to camp at Cottonwood Lake State Park near Merriman, Nebraska but when I got there I found that overnight camping was no longer permitted. Shit, now what! I gassed up and continued on to Gordon, Nebraska where I decided it best to “puss” out and get a motel room due impending severe thunderstorms ahead. I stayed at the Western Sands Motel which turned out to be inexpensive, clean, had wifi and was close to all the amenities…. Well I did discover that you can’t purchase alcoholic beverages on Sundays in Gordon, Nebraska. Good thing I carried some emergency rations of spiced rum!
Adventure, hell yeah!
Tracks in the mud
We’re having fun now!
Along the Outlaw Trail
Save the turtles!
Sand hills, lush and green from rain.
Cow dog mooching for some of my jerky
My digs for the night
"We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment."
~ Hilaire Belloc
Day 4 – June 15
Gordon, Nebraska > Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Today’s mileage: 528.8 km, Trip to date: 2656.1 km
I left Gordon this morning under brilliant skies. Today was going to be a great day. There’s nothing that lifts the motorcycle traveler’s spirit like early morning sunshine! Today I would eventually start to head north-west and revisit the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had been out here a few years back and really enjoyed the riding in the area. I took in a few of my favourite roads: Custer SP Wildlife Loop, Iron Mountain Rd up to Mt Rushmore, Norris Peak Rd, Nemo Rd, and Spearfish Canyon to name a few.
I did bump into another ADV Rider from Oregon at the Pactola Reservoir rest area that was headed east. We talked a bit about my trip to Alaska and I mentioned to him my travel routes. He made some suggestions that I would later do. I’m sorry I didn’t get your name but thank you!
As I was leaving Spearfish Canyon, the sky was getting very dark and I could actually hear the sound of thunder bounce off the canyon cliffs inside my helmet. I was riding down the main street of Spearfish when ahead what looked like a tidal wave was quickly approaching from the direction I was headed. I recall a car wash (I’ve gotten good at spotting them this trip!) I just passed and quickly did a u-turn and headed back for cover. Good thing because within seconds a hail and heavy rain dropped out of the dark sky above. It was very intense and as the car wash roof was made or metal, very loud too! A number of cars came along looking for a place to seek shelter and one fellow squeezed in behind me. The hail was at least the size of dimes and would have hurt like hell had I kept going. I waited for the storm to pass for about 45 minutes. The guy that pulled into the car wash with me was checking the weather radar on his “crackberry” and it appeared that a hole in the storm that might allow me to get to the Devil’s Tower unscathed. I was off! Although the skies looked very threatening, I made it to the Devil’s Tower KOA without the sky falling again. The weather forecast for that evening was still very unsettled and after the hail storm earlier, I didn’t feel like sleeping in a tent. I decided to check into a KOA Kabin….. with a view! So much for my travel budget!
I unpacked and went out in search of supplies (beer). It just so happens that the KOA store had what I was after. The nice lady working there also invited me to a nightly showing of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to be shown on the patio right bellow the Devil’s Tower itself…… no shit! That was of course if it didn’t rain. I went back to my “kabin”, cooked up a pot of soup, drank my beers, downloaded my photographs, updated the photo site, had a fine KOA shower, and retired to my “kabin” where I promptly fell asleep dreaming of alien abduction and curvy roads strewn with big beastly bison….
Roadside rest area view along Route 385
Where the Antelope roam…..
I have a great deal of respect for these big dudes, especially when riding a motorcycle! I’ll explain sometime…..
More of them
And yet many more!
Spearfish Canyon water fall
In Spearfish Canyon
My “Kabin” for the night
The view from my “Kabin”
Last edited by Twistn'roads; 07-30-2009 at 12:48 PM.
"Spirit of place! It is for this we travel, to surprise its subtlety; and where it is a strong and dominant angel, that place, seen once, abides entire in the memory with all its own accidents, its habits, its breath, its name."
~ Alice Meynell
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming > Red Lodge, Montana (Alpine Lodge)
Today’s mileage: 686.6 km, Trip to date: 3342.7 km
As a child, mountains, tall snow capped mountains captured my imagination. They would always be the subject matter of my drawings and paintings. I dreamed of traveling through them as the early settlers, miners and hunters did. Their rugged majestic beauty was a constant lure. I had only ever seen them in pictures and film. As a motorcyclist, I have traveled the eastern mountains; the Appalachians, extensively for about 8 years now. They are an older, more rounded and eroded mountain range than the Rockies. I never tire of the scenery or twisty roads that traverse them. I have always wanted to travel to the western mountains, especially by motorcycle!
Today would be a special day. Today would be one of the most exhilarating motorcycle experiences of my life. I left the Devil’s Tower in light rain. I was glad I got the “Kabin” after all. Packing up a wet tent and gear can be a pain. Eventually the weather would clear with only isolated showers here and there. Rather than take 2 lane secondary highways, which is usually my preference, I decided to take I-90 up as far as Sheridan to get to the mountains quicker, then 14 and 14A over the Big Horn Mountains to Cody. From Cody I would ride the Chief Joseph and Beartooth Highways to Red Lodge, Montana.
I wasn’t on I-90 long when I spotted another motorcycle ahead in the distance. I hadn’t seen nor talked to any other riders headed in the same direction for days so I picked up the pace to catch up to him. Eventually I closed the distance between us. You got to love the western speed limits! The other rider saw me in his mirrors and pulled aside and gestured for me to move up. I really couldn’t communicate with him at 130 km/hr so we just waved to one another and I tucked in behind him. We traveled as far as Sheridan where we both exited I-90 to for fuel. Turns out my fellow traveler was Mike from Baden, Ontario on his way to an FJR rally in New Denver, BC. He only lives perhaps an hour from my home! Our travel plans were pretty much the same for the day so we decided to ride together. It was actually nice to have some company.
One of the neatest memories of that day was when the mountains first came into view, I will never forget. Words cannot adequately describe my feelings at that moment. I had traveled for days on the relatively flat plains. We came over a slight rise and off in the distance were snow capped mountains and they were growing larger by the kilometer! There they were, the mountains of my childhood dreams! What a heart warming sight that truly was. I know Mike was taking it all in as well as he slowed down his pace and was busy snapping pictures with his camera.
What can I say about Chief Joseph and Beartooth other than breathtaking! I have never experienced anything quite like this on a motorcycle. Riding a motorcycle up to 10,000 ft surrounded by vast, majestic scenery, passing through snow banks as high as a house, twisting switch backs that you dare not take your eyes from…… incredible!
Chief Joseph highway GPS tracks
Beartooth Pass GPS tracks
Beartooth Pass GPS tracks
My GPS elevation track profile for Day 5
Mike and I would eventually share a room at the Alpine Lodge in Red Lodge. I had planned on staying here and Mike didn’t feel like setting up camp with the dodgy weather forecast being what it was. I think the localized downpour as Mike came into town might have been a motivating factor too! I highly recommend this establishment. The proprietors do cater to motorcycle travelers and heck, breakfast is included!
Once we got settled and unpacked into our room, picked up some supplies (beers), Mike and I headed downtown to get a bite to eat. We found a nice pub (that I wish I could remember the name of). After a good meal and plenty of conversation about the day’s events, we headed back to our bikes parked on the street. I saw a fellow really giving my V-Strom a visual inventory! It turns out this is Les, who lives in Red Lodge and owns a V-Strom as well. We all stood there on the street chatting motorcycles for some time until I suggested that we head back to the Alpine for some cold beer waiting in the fridge. We carried on our BS’ing until late into the evening. What an awesome day this was. Mike, thank you for sharing it with me!
Mike from Baden, Ontario
Climbing up the Big Horn Mountains
Entering the clouds
Lots of snow!
Panoramic view from the Big Horn Mountains looking west
Chief Joseph highway
Panoramic view of Chief Joseph higway
The view as you climb towards Beartooth pass
Beartooth Western Summit
Panoramic view of Beartooth Western Summit
Mike & Les enjoying some stimulating motorcycle conversation over a few beers!
Last edited by Twistn'roads; 07-27-2009 at 02:49 PM.
"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. . . In other words, I don't improve, in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable."
~ John Steinbeck
Day 6 – June 17
Red Lodge, Montana > St Mary, Montana (KOA)
Today’s mileage: 762.4 km, Trip to date: 4105.1 km
I was up early today. Both Mike and I had fairly long distances planned. I was headed to the east side Glacier National Park, and Mike, somewhere to the west. Les had checked the National park Service website the night before to see if Going to the Sun Highway was open and unfortunately it was still closed at Logan Pass. I would have to alter my planned route a bit but not before we had a tasty plate of pancakes and eggs!
I was headed north today, following the edge of the Rocky Mountains. We left Red Lodge on SR-78. What a fun twisty road this was, although you had to keep your eyes open for deer. They were everywhere this morning. Mike and I followed 78 up to I-90 that we then took for about 100 km to the west. From there we headed north again on 89. I would pretty much follow 89 all the way up to St Mary, the eastern gate to Glacier NP. Mike and I rode together to the junction of 89 & 12 where we pulled off to the side of the road, shook hands and wished each other safe journey. I enjoyed riding with Mike and hoped to stay in contact when I got home.
I found the roadways here to be quite desolate with very little traffic. This was very much to my liking. I did encounter some very strong cross winds as I was getting closer to Great Falls that did have me somewhat frazzled. I could not imagine trying to ride a motorcycle in this all day!
I decided to camp at the KOA in St Mary primarily to use their wifi to update my picture site and email my family. It sucked! It was very slow with piss poor connectivity. It must have been all the other “kampers” using it at the same time! I should have just camped in the National Park. Oh well, at least their showers were warm and clean! After setting up camp I did go up Going To The Sun highway as far as I could, maybe around 13 miles. It is very scenic and I imagine more so further up. I guess this is good reason to come back one day to see the rest!
The “cook” fabin’ up a batch of pancakes and eggs!
And Mike and I eatin’ it up!
I did have a nice camp site
Painted sky to end the day
Stunning photography! Thanks for sharing your mid-lifer with us.
That looks like a lot of fun... I hope I can have a mid-life crisis like that someday!
2008 V-Strom Black w/ little blue metallic thingys in the paint
Too new to be heavily farkled...