Tag Archives: motorcycle trip planning

Reflections on the Trip… The final post…

After spending 26 days and nearly 12,000 miles on the road to get to Alaska and back, I thought it might be appropriate to spend a minute and reflect on the ride a little.  The dust has finally settled and after about 3 weeks, I have finally recovered from the ride – physically, mentally and readjusted to “normal” life.  I wouldn’t say that the trip was a life-changing experience, but it certainly was an accomplishment – at least for me.  Keep in mind that hundreds of riders do much more extensive and challenging rides every year with little worry.

I wish that I was more articulate in my attempts to describe the odd mix of feelings encountered during the ride.  In some sense, compared to the planning and anticipation of the ride, the execution was a bit anti-climatic.  Once the wheels began to roll down the highway, life was pretty simple… eat-sleep-ride…  On the other hand, there was definitely a dichotomy or trichotomy of goals or objectives.  Part of me wanted to keep moving and get to the next spot while part wanted to hang-out and get to know the land, people and sense of place.  Part of me yearned for companionship and fellowship, while part of my soul soared at with the solitude and single-minded simplicity of life as I faced each day.  Part of me despised the need to be in a certain place for the fundraising aspects, but that turned out to be the most fulfilling part of the ride.

In the end, my drive to complete and “succeed” or “do what I said I would do” won, in most cases.  I think I put way too much on my plate – and my nature is to clean the plate – at all cost.  Between the fundraising objectives, Prudhoe Bay objectives and the desire to see more – by the time I got where I wanted to be, I was too damned tired to do much more than recover for the next day.  A common error apparently – trying to do/see too much and ending up doing it all superficially.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a phenomenal trip; worth all the planning, physical expenditure and cost.  But, I could have spent 2 weeks on the Cassiar Highway alone – exploring, photographing and experiencing; maybe 3 weeks.  Still, the solo aspect was inspiring.

Do you remember the TV series “Then Came Bronson” – maybe 25 years ago – that’s my point of reference – has been for 20 years.  The romantic notion of traveling from place to place on a motorcycle, helping the single mother in distress, working odd jobs for gas money then traveling to the next town – what a neat life…

But…  On the other hand, I am way too connected to my life as I live it.  I missed my wife and daughter tremendously; missed the contribution that I was making (real or perceived) to my clients and their business success, and missed the comfort of familiarity – waking up knowing that there were clean socks in the drawer or weather was inconsequential to my routine. Not quite as romantic as Bronson portrayed.

Anyway, enough blathering about the ride and those deepest feelings about it.  Would I do it again, yes, but differently.  More time for nature and photography; less schedule and probably without the fundraising aspect.

Thoughts On the Bike

No worries.  Performed flawlessly.  I was a little concerned when the outside temp reached 105 degrees F and the engine sounded like hell, but later learned that the “anti-knock” program of the engine computer doesn’t work that well at high temp.  A few oil changes, a few bulbs and tires, and Sally was good to go.  12,000 miles w/o a hick-up.  She was forgiving of my ineptitude on the Dalton and all of the gravel; she went down the highway at 85 mph for 4-6 hrs without missing a beat; she even tolerated enough mud and calcium carbonate to clog her engine fins and kept on running.  No better bike to do the trip – spot-on with this choice. I should note that the overpacked panniers (BMW Stock for GSA) leaked a bit.  In fact, the left one had about 1″ of water in it after 16 hours in the heavy rain. But, that was the extent of her failings; not too bad in my book.

Thoughts on the Land

Although I can’t determine if it was the timing of the trip, lay of the land or just my energy level, British Columbia was the most impressive part of the trip.  It was the only place that I felt connected and inspired.  I can still feel the excitement when I think about the scenery of Route 39a enroute to Stewart and Hyder.  The Cassiar was breathtaking – a must do if you have the opportunity.  As for Alaska, I think that by the time that I got there, it was just a place on the map.  The Haul Rd, although impressive, would be one of the 1st things I would eliminate from the plan if time was short.  Kind of a been-there-done-that king of place.  Prudhoe Bay ?  Don’t bother… go to the Arctic Circle or Atigun Pass and turn around…

I think My future holds another visit to BC or the Yukon, maybe even Alaska.  However, I am sure it will be a few years and the itinerary will be much less structured.  Always wanted to do it with my son, Ben, but things just never came together.  But, now he has a bike and is learning how to keep the rubber on the road.  Maybe in a few years…  think I have time….


Day 15-16, June 24 and 25 PRUDHOE BAY!!!!!

Odometer Reading: 54,577
Mileage Today: 239 miles 
Total Miles: 5,956 miles

Day 15 (June 24, 2012)

Road from Fairbanks to Wiseman (just above Coldfoot) after stopping by the Northern Moosed RV Park and Campground to meet with Rich Welliver (owner and Arthritis Foundation contact).  Rich helped out by making arrangements for me to stay at the Wiseman Goldrush Camp in Wiseman before heading to Prudhoe Bay.  Wisemand is about 250 miles south of Deadhorse, AK (Pruhoe Bay) via the Haul Rd.  Thanks for your help Rich!

Headed north from Fairbanks about 8am and crossed the Arctic Circle about 11am that morning.  The Arctic Circle is partially defined as the place above which the sun does not set – and I can testify to this.  I am still having trouble dealing with bright sunlight at 1:00 in he morning. But, a good night’s sleep the night before hitting the road has made all the difference in the world. Felt good and the reputation of the famous Haul Road didn’t seem as intimidating.

Stopped off in Coldfoot for gas and guess who came running out of the restaurant? Roger Patterson of Areostich Tours fame!  Roger lead the tour of Patagonia that I did about 2 years ago.    For all the details on the “End of the Earth” tour, see the Patagonia Blog or check out the Patagonia video.  Roger had tried hard to talk Aerostich into sponsoring the Ride to Alaska, but I guess it kind of bucked the company policy.  If any of you riders out there has an interest in doing one of Aerostich’s tours with Roger – do it, you won’t regret it.  Roger was leading about 28 riders from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay and back – they were on the return trip.  Was good to see him and we both committed to staying in touch.

Made if to Wiseman about 2pm and met Clutch Loundsbury, owner of the Wiseman Goldrush Camp.  Quite a character and heard many interesting stories over the next few hours when we ended up going back to Coldfoot for dinner.  Clutch donated the stay at his place to benefit the Juvenile Arthritis cause.

Day 16 – June 25, 2012 – Wiseman to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse)

Well, everyone I talked to about doing the “Haul Road” on moto cautioned that gets pretty tricky only if it rains.  The calcium chloride used by the road crews to keep dust down gets really slick when wet.  Well, of course, the clear warm weather trend of the last week or so decided to change just in time for my push to Deadhorse.  It rained most of the night and temperatures dropped to about 50 degree F.  It had stopped raining by the time I actually got moving, but the damage was done – the dirt roads were wet and slick.  Very, very big space up here. Miles and miles of tundra and nobody else around, especially at 5am.  the bike danced on the gravel and slid on the wet smooth sections.  Just about the time my confidence grew, I would hit a patch and almost loose the bike – needed to be very attentive on this ride.

Passed over the Atigun Pass after about 55 miles – pretty amazing and kept the adrenaline flowing.  Not sure how steep the decent is over the other side, but couldn’t imagine doing this in winter.  This is the spot of all of the drama in the Ice Road Truckers series.  I saw evidence of past catastrophes in the damaged/missing guardrail at 5000′ ASL.  Dramatic plunges to the valley below.

Prudhoe Bay (note the ice on the Bay)

Anyway, by abut 11am, I pulled into Prudhoe Bay. Outside temperature was about 43 degrees and the wind was howling.  Impressive place – even though it is mainly industrial buildings.  As one who works in the industrial environment, I can only imagine the work it took to establish this industrial complex, all to satisfy the insatiable thirst for oil – makes you wonder…

So, I made it.  Now begins the long trek home, after a good night’s sleep and a few meals.  Heading out by 5am tomorrow.  Supposed to be about 35 degrees out.  Will be chilly for the 1st 2-3 hours.   Just hope the rain quits.  Depending on how I feel, I might just continue on the  Fairbanks – would be a 12-14 hour ride.  However, if it is warm and dry by the afternoon – I am finding the dirt/gravel road kind of fun.  Dirty though – thorough cleaning needed  – both me and the bike…

Sally Needs a Bath!

Thanks Hermy! A Week to Go!

Had the moto in for a final servicing before heading to Alaska next Sunday.  Oil change, valve adjustment, new front tire etc…  All done at Hermy’s in Port Clinton and at a substantial discount as a contribution to the ride.  Thanks Hermy!  Great shop and people, very supportive.  Highly recommended if you are looking for a new BMW or Triumph – or services on the same!

A Week To GO!

With only a week to go, have to say it is hard to imagine riding after all of the preparation.  As I write this, a week from now I hope to be heading down the PA turnpike to land in St. Ignace about 8pm.  Really can’t wait and am really looking forward to some veg time in the saddle – think I’ll have plenty of that.  Just some time to focus on riding, the scenery and being “in the moment” as the Zen proponents suggest…  Committed to moving ahead, but not too worried about exactly where I end up for the day.  Need to be in Fargo by Tuesday, but other than that – no real plan.

Have packed and unpacked – too many times.  Trying to minimize the obligatory list of things that I have forgotten.  Feels like a self-expanding list of things to get done for family, business and such, but 5am next Sunday will come and I am sure that there will be a few things remaining that will go unfinished.   Went from detailed planning to keying in on a few dates and letting the rest happen.  Weather looks pretty good and am ready to go.  Working on last minute details and figuring out the SPOT GPS so anyone following can track the route I am taking and progress along the way.

This will probably be the last post until just before leaving.  Lots to do and title time to do it…  Subscribe to the blog for notifications and details.  Be back in about a week!

Packing for the ride… 2 weeks until departure

The time is here to shift from writing, planning and fundraising  to the ride and beginning the technical preparation.  All of the necessary gear for 34 days/14,000 miles on the road is here – next the packing.

Because I intend to camp as often as possible, with hotel stays only every 3rd or 4th night, a bit more gear is necessary to brave the elements.  Tent, sleeping bag, pad, cooking gear, food and similar equipment is necessary as well as a place to store all the stuff on the motorcycle.  To this load, add the myriad  of parts and tools that allow the rider to be self-sufficient in terms of  emergency repair and maintenance for the ride, and you have quite a bit to carry.  Maybe after the 3rd or 4th solo trip the list of gear would get a little smaller, but for my 1st solo ride, when in doubt I am bringing it along.

So, what does all the gear look like prior to loading?  Take a look below to see. This picture shows all of the stuff that I am taking with me, including the riding gear and helmet.  Think it will all fit?

Well, the picture below shows the bike with all of the gear loaded and ready to go.   This exercise is kind of critical to complete prior to the ride.  I was hoping to have the top box empty for the ride to use the space for food, quick storage access and the like, but I had to use it to get all of the gear on.  For those nights where a hotel  is available, I only have to grab the duffel and the rest of the gear stays in place.  For nights spent in the tent, a good bit of the gear needs to be unloaded and used.

I am sure there will be some last minute incidentals that I will add, but I should be in pretty good shape.  I am guessing that the bike and gear weigh a little over 650 lbs – but the bike handles well at this weight and has no trouble handling the highway – very comfortable.  The electronic suspension compensates well for the increased load.

For those interest in the details of the packing, I have included my packing checklist in pdf form HERE.

The next 2 weeks seem to be crammed with activities related to the ride, securing my consulting practice  while I am gone and of course, connecting with the family that I will be separate for about a month.  Will be harder than I originally thought…  As for blog posts, they might be a bit succinct over the next few weeks, until the ride starts.  Just not enough hours in the day.

Funding Approaches $4,000! $200 more!

As the departure date approaches, the donations appear to be increasing a bit.  We are still a long way from the $25,000 goal, but donations are coming in from all over the country including South Carolina, Michigan, Georgia and Alaska.  Slightly more than $200 in donations will get the total to $4,000, so, come on folks – get out those checkbooks and credit cards!  I still have hopes for a rush of donations during the ride with all of the radio, TV and other publicity.  My next fundraising event till be at Hermy’s BMW in Port Clinton, PA where we will have a table at the upcoming Spring Open House Saturday, May 19th, 9am-4pm. Stop in and say hello!

With about a month to go until take-off, my focus is going to be less toward fundraising and more the planning of the trip itself.  The route is pretty well set, but will be weather dependent.  I have formal commitments in Fargo and Bismarck, ND, Anchorage, Fairbanks and North Pole, AK; but, other than those, the schedule is pretty open.  I do have a few folks that I would like to see in Missoula, MT; Calgary, AB and Houston, BC; but those visits will depend on timing and ride progress.  Just hoping that folks won’t be offended if I don’t stop if timing just isn’t right or I am behind schedule.

Still have a bunch of minor unresolved issues including:

  1. Riding Clothes – BMW vs. Aerostich Riding Suit? After my last 12 hr ride in heavy rain, my opinion of the Aerostich suit that I have come to rely on dropped down a few notches.  I got pretty wet and cold – although admittedly, I wasn’t well protected with the helmet shield up.  Haven’t tested the BMW Rallye Suit in heavy rain, but might be the way to go..
  2. Electronics – Still need to work out some bugs in keeping all the electronic gear charged and functional.  More of an entertainment issue than technical, but hopefully the folks at Powerlet will help me out.  Need to keep the iPhone charged for music and communications!
  3. Photo Gear – As I have mentioned in previous posts, capturing some of the scenery in high quality digital files is one of the 2ndary or tertiary goals of the ride (adventure, fundraising, photography).  I have been working with Owen Biddle of Lansdowne, PA over the last few months to hone the image capturing skills for this trip of a lifetime.  To do it right, lots of gear is needed and I need to be sure to have it accessible, yet  protected – two diametrically opposed objectives…  Once I get this all sorted – I’ll update the list of photo equipment in the “Gear” page of the blog.  If you are looking to develop some skills in this area, I strongly suggest contacting Owen for  some one-on-one time, no matter what your level.


  4. Loading the Bike –  I still haven’t optimized the loading of the bike, although whatever I come up with will probably change as the trip gets underway.  As usual, I am taking too much stuff and may well send much of it home from the road.  Between the camping gear and the emergency maintenance stuff, seems Sally (as my daughter has named the bike) is pretty well to capacity…
  5. Helmet/Hearing Protection/Entertainment – This is not a major issue, but I still have not finalized the “system” for all of these issues.  Good hearing protection is critical for safety and comfort, but sort of eliminates the ability to have music in the helmet durring the ride.  Have tried a number of different systems, none seem to address all of the concerns.  I originally thought that the Schuberth helmet was the way to go, but, as mentioned in previous posts, not too thrilled with its performance on the last few rides.
  6. Phone cards, bear spray/bangers, cash, SOPT GPS site, GPS routes, maps, etc… are all issues that may or may not get resolved before the ride, but can be handled on the way – when needed.
  7. Work – My small environmental engineering company, TSD Environomics, Inc. allows me lots of freedom to pursue things like this ride.  However, the basis of this freedom is the understanding of most of my clients who are more or less involved in the ride and support it.  Technology allows me to coordinate from the road and short of a  few face-to-face visits, most work will continue without interruption.

New (and hopefully final) Schedule

With the recent additions to the agenda for the Ride to Alaska, I have modified the proposed schedule a bit.  Activities that have been added to the list include:

  • Stop in Fargo and/or Bismarck, ND to promote the ride and garner support for Juvenile Arthritis
  • Participation in the July 4th Parade in North Pole, AK prior to the Jingle Bell Run on July 7
  • Participation in the Jingle Bell Run (5K) on July 7 (then heading home)

As noted in a previous post, the Jingle Bell event adds a week to the trip and sort of stretches the whole thing out to a more comfortable pace.  On the other hand, I am sure I will be yearning to get home to the family.  As my wife pointed out, when I undertake these crazy excursions, I am usually ready to head home within a week or 10 days of leaving – gonna be tough to make it almost 30 days…  I have advised all involved at the Arthritis Foundation of this trait of mine and all have been very understanding of potential changes in the schedule to accommodate it.

So, here is the revised schedule for the ride.  It is pretty set for now, only to be influenced by the weather, mechanical problems or the like.  Although the schedule looks pretty easy, distances are deceiving as on many of the roads in the Yukon and Alaska, 30-35 mph is a good estimate of speed due to conditions and traffic.  The total mileage is about the same, but is sure to go up.

Equipment for the Ride – Continued

As promised in the last post, I am doing quick review of Wolfman Luggage’s Ridgeline Plus travel duffel – donated by Wolfman Luggage for the Ride to Alaska.  I will not copy the specs from Wolfman’s site (the link above will take you there), but the duffel is listed as an “ideal weekender size.”  Well, I hope to cram all of the personal items that I need for the ride into this bag, strap it to the bike and go.  Based on my trial runs, this should be plenty of space.

The bag is made in the USA and is made with the same ballistic nylon as much of Wolfman’s gear.  Zippers are heavy-duty and the bag is well thought-out with D-rings in strategic places, accessory straps and side pockets for miscellaneous gear. A very nice feature is the incorporation of bungies for strapping the bag on the luggage rack of the bike.  Although not waterproof, the bag is water-resistant and a rain cover can be purchased separately for an additional layer of protection.  Again, even the rain cover is not waterproof, but for my purposes, should be sufficient.  I plan on throwing a couple of extra heavy-duty garbage bags in the side pocket for those days where torrential downpours are predicted.

In addition to the standard configuration of the Ridgeline Plus, the bag contains an expandable “wedge gusset” to allow an additional 4″ of capacity; totaling 2600 cu in of capacity including the side pockets.   This is a great, durable duffel that will be as at home as my air travel carry-on as it is on the back of the 1200 GSA.

The bag retails for $144.99 and is backed by Wolfman’s solid warranty for 10 yrs – you can’t beat that.  I highly recommend the bag and will have a follow-up review after 24-25 days on the road…

While on the subject of luggage and storage, I am seriously considering leaving the top-case at home for the ride.  With the Ridgeline duffel and the side bags, it sure seems like the top-case adds just one more appendage that shifts the center of gravity of the bike north.  Without it, I can have ready access to the camera case behind me and loose about 15 lbs of weight.  On the other hand, the top-case is a great place to stash the helmet, hiking boots and other paraphernalia when making stops or camping.  A few more overnight camping trips with and without should be sufficient to tip the scales one way or the other…

Next post will be about Training for the Ride – Getting the 56 yr old body in shape for 800 mile, 16 hr days – Yoga ain’t gonna do it.