Tag: Alaska

Alaska bound: “and the horse they rode in on”

The plan was simple enough: pack up the bikes and scoot up to Deadhorse, TV camera crew in tow, cash in on the Alaska reality show boom, and retire to a place where a soft Pacific breeze tickles our toes and twisties encrust the hills. We thought of names like “Alaska State Bikers”, “Biking Alaska”, and “Deadliest Bikers”. Hm, okay, we need to work on the titles a bit. But surely the 49th state has enough juice left for one more compelling show series that we could squeeze some advertising dollars interested in a targeted audience full of self-important snark and frugality…?

Well, at least the dream lives on. Truth be told, we’re a just couple of guys who got three weeks off from work so we could stick our feet in the Beaufort Sea. It will likely be the most north I would ever stand on this planet, unless I get shipwrecked when attempting a circum-navigational route through the Northwest Passage, but that’s for our sequel series.

Brady and Craig
Brady and Craig

Let’s cut over to gear pix and commentary…

Trip gear with the 1200GS
The full spread


Close-up view
Close-up view

Here is the overall strategy…

  • Packed enough clothes for 4 days, and to handle a temperature range of mid-30s to 90s.
  • Electronics: Netbook with Windows 7, Kindle to store copies of documentation, Windows Phone 7
  • Photography:
    • Canon 50D with 17-40L zoom, 70-200 zoom, 1.4x extender, polarizer, extra batteries & storage cards.
    • GoPro HD with assorted attachments
  • GPS: Garmin nuvi 550 (waterproof and has AK maps)
  • Lodging: I hate sleeping on the ground…
    • Warbonnet Blackbird hammock with Big Mama tarp & Yeti UQ
    • If I am grounded…REI HD2, Exped SynMat 7
    • I need a pillow…Thermarest squishy pillow
    • Marmot sleeping bag with Sea-to-Summit silk-cotton liner
  • Kitchen: plan to cook in and eat out about 50-50
    • Alcohol stove for water boiling, fueled by HEET
    • MSR pot set
    • GobSparkâ„¢ Armageddon FireSteel (I just love the way that sounds)
    • Becker BK2 knife (this thing is a beast, batons through wood, and you can slice-n-dice tomatoes)
  • Tools
    • Basic toolkit with hex, torx, wrenchs, etc. Can take either wheel off if needed.
    • BestRest cyclepump, patch kit
    • Safety wire (it’s better than duct tape, particularly after my last repair episode)
    • Tool tube holding some of this goodies is tucked under the rear rack
    • Victorinox MUT
  • Assorted odds and ends
    • Aerostich Darien suit
    • Just two pairs of shoes: riding boots and Keens
    • Camelback pak with water
    • Blindfold for sleeping
    • Bike cover
    • 2 gallon fuel can – above placement is just a prop, planned to add the real on the road
1200GS all loaded up and ready to go
1200GS loaded up and ready to go


Let’s ride.


“The silent cartographer”

We wired up a SPOT to a Spotwalla page, which will save the trip route for eternity or until their server funding goes away, which ever comes first.

Here’s our total route for the trip…

  • Green banners are when I punched ‘OK’, typically at the start and end of each day.
  • Smaller orange dots are when we had ‘follow’ on, which fired off a beacon signal every 10 minutes. We discovered that battery life would only last a couple of days when we had this on, so we used it sporadically.

TIP: Spotwalla pages are free, and do not have a termination period associated with them, unlike the findmespot.com pages which come with the SPOT service, which disappear after 30 days. I gave out link to the Spotwalla page to friends and colleagues for remote monitoring during the trip, and family received the more immediate real time notifications – adults got an email, teenagers received a text. (sign of the times!)

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss

This trip has been in my head for 2 years, riding the gentle swell of equipment ramp up and rising through maps, trip reports from other travelers, before cascading into a plan. Here’s how I planned the details…

  • Organization – every restaurant recommendation, place to stay, route detail, bike shop, tips from other ride reports – was copied in OneNote, which comes with Microsoft Office. My OneNote notebooks were then stored in SkyDrive, where they could be accessed by phone, browser, and other locations. Brady used the OneNote web app to read on his Android phone, I used a Windows Phone, and they could also used on an iPhone. I also saved a PDF edition to my Kindle, along with scans of insurance, passport, drivers license, etc.
  • Route planning – used a combination of AAA maps and Streets and Trips to calculate mileage and places to camp. The AAA maps turned out to be excellent workhorses throughout the trip.
  • GPS – Carried a Garmin nuvi 500 with a Migsel mount, both of which turned out to be minor disappointments.
    • The Garmin froze on me at one point, and I pressed down a little too hard to get a link and cracked the screen. Eventually it stopped working altogether and I rode half the trip without a GPS. Although under warranty, Garmin would only replace with refurb’d unit under cost, as it wasn’t their issue. Grr.
    • The Migsel is wonderful design except the mounting screw – it’s an embedded hex which is difficult to get to behind the GS dashboard with my big hands. It rattled loose on the Dalton, and I spent 10 minutes hunting down the washer and screw among the road rocks. I eventually swapped the screw with an external head, which is easier to access and tighten down with Loctite.

Here’s the Excel spreadsheet – AKA ‘the plan of record’ – I used for daily planning, including mileage and camping stops. Anyone is welcome to grab a copy of this, just view the spreadsheet in full sized mode, and use the controls to save to your machine.

We varied from the POR a little bit, particularly in the high mileage days where we just didn’t feel like riding that long. We ended up skipping the Watson Lake and Richardson Highway segments, so no pix or videos later in the ride report.

Here’s a gratuitous shot of my top carry – most of the stuff I carried in my top bag and was regularly futzing with.


The scene: we’re traveling northbound on I5, left lane, just 5 minutes after departure from Brady’s house.

What happened: I glance at my left mirror…the sleeping bag bundle supposedly secured to my left pannier jettisons off the back and into traffic. What?! I punch the hazards, pull the bike over to the far left, out of the traffic lane, and look back.

The bag is sitting in the right tire well of the left lane of traffic on I-5 in downtown Seattle on a Saturday morning. A semi-trunk approaches the bundle, my eyes go wide, and the truck weaves around it without a touch. I start walking fast to the bag. Another car approaches, and goes around it. And another. And another. I’m now parallel to the bundle, wondering how to retrieve it while the cars whiz past. Then a mini-van driven by a mom with her kids in the back completely stops in the lane, waves me to cut over and retrieve the bag. We wave to each other while I scurry back to safety.

Damage assessment: ripped hole in the dry bag, ripped hole in the sleeping bag cover, and the sleeping bag appears to be okay.

dry bag damage
This could have been worse.

Later that night, I secured the hole of the exterior dry bag with gaffer’s tape, and put the sleeping bag in a spare dry bag, where it stayed dry throughout the trip. And the lash down method received extra attention as well, no other similar issues from there out.

I haven’t yet left my home turf and already I had an incident. Doh!

“Welcome to the big leagues”

Nestled here in our own little corner of the country, nicely insulated by mountains from the microwave heat across the middle of the country, I’ve always eyed the province of BC as a polite unassuming neighbor down the street, home to world class skiing and the occasional street riot (no need to shut down internet access for those crowds, just cut off their beer supply).

And then we rode. And rode. And rode. Three long days south to north. British Columbia is not only big, it’s beauty fully merits public declaration on a license plate. It’s geographic diversity ranges across rain forests, mountains, ocean, almost desert, rivers, and 20 square meter islands, and is home to some of the most remote landscape on the North American continent.

Rest stop along the Fraser River
Rest stop along the Fraser River


Start of the Cassiar Highway
Start of the Cassiar Highway


Northbound Cassiar Highway
Northbound on the Cassiar Highway

Video: helmet cam footage from Stewart to the main junction…includes Bear Glacier and a bear crossing @ the 3 minute mark.

Glacier Highway BC via motorcycle.

Cassiar Highway
Still northbound on the Cassiar

“We’ll leave the lights on for you”

A well-spent day brings happy sleep. — Leonardo da Vinci


where we slept montage
A sleep over sampler

Alas, I was only able to use the hammock for three nights. The remainder of the outdoor nights were in the tent on the ground. One and a half thumbs up for the Exped Synmat 7 mattress – plenty of cushion atop gravel and rocks, and a tinge too narrow when sleeping on my back, my elbows would be on the ground instead of the mattress. And I’m not that wide. Really.

With the trip taking place in July, we were treated to a couple of weeks of a 24-hr-a-day light skies, which required a blindfold to sleep at night. Although the sun would dip below the horizon at ‘night’, we didn’t need a flashlight to move around at, say, 1am. Not many stars to look at as well.