Kelly's 2011 Alaska Journey

Day 9 - Sunday, 5/29

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After breakfast with Mark and Dave, once again I'm riding solo. I've done it so long, it rather feels natural.

Getting mundane
Today's trip is definitely in the "get somewhere" category, and not one of "let's go sightseeing." I'd thought it'd be a somewhat dull day; I am beginning to see Roger's point- At some point it's all "more of the same."

Amazing view
While pondering how easy it is to become jaded, and how something wonderful can become commonplace, rounding a turn THIS comes into view:

Kluane Lake
Okay, so I'm not at the jaded point yet. The mountains still look like either the Swiss Alps or the Himalayas. Magnificent. And it just gets better: a little later the Kluane Lake comes into view. It seems the lakes here are the bluest blue I've seen, even more so than Lake Tahoe. Additionally, the local lakes seem to be fairly shallow, so more light reflects back from the bottom making them almost unnaturally turquoise. It's almost eerily beautiful.

Random thoughts:

No more 911
1. While I'm not sure why, it strikes me as funny that I can now say "I've had a Klondike Bar while actually IN the Klondike."
2. Seeing a sign saying you're leaving the 911 monitoring zone is a big clue you're really on your own.

Battering Ram
3. Some trucks have REALLY big crash bars to protect them from big animals.

A few miles past the Destruction Bay area of the Kluane, the "frost heaves" started. "What's a frost heave?" I hear you asking. It's when water gets under the roadway, freezes, and displaces the road itself. The roadway both bubbles up, and collapses down. This makes weird bumps. Some are perpendicular to the roadway, looking like speed bumps (or dips). Some are parallel to the roadway, and not in a uniform shape. They can be very hard on a vehicle's occupants (to say nothing of the vehicle itself).

Partially fixed
frost heave
A few people have warned me about them- Ariel from MotoQuest, and Dave, my recent riding buddy among others. Dave told me "Just slow down to 60 KPH, and try to avoid them as best you can. You'll have time to slow way down when you see them."

I chose another approach.

Considering my KLR was the perfect vehicle for such things, and the suspension was dialled in perfectly, I hammered it up to 100-115 KPH, and FLEW over the "whoop-dee-doos." I gave the new suspension a full workout, and it performed flawlessly. On the bigger bumps I'd just barely bottom and top it out (meaning, just barely fully compress and expand the springs, respectively).

What an absolute BLAST!! (Think of 'Dash' in the movie "The Incredibles" shouting "THAT WAS TOTALLY WICKED!!!") Definitely an "E-Ticket Ride."

I was having SO much fun in fact, that an oncoming cop (the only one I'd seen for days) flipped on his blue and red lights to tell me to throttle back my enthusiasm (and the bike). I waved, backed off the gas for a bit, and later heard at a gas stop what I'd expected: The cop likely wouldn't chase me, as their vehicle wouldn't handle the bad road nearly as well as the KLR could. When telling the people at the gas stop how much fun I'd had, they cracked up saying that everyone comes in there complaining of how bad the road is, asking them why it wasn't fixed (as if the gas station was in charge of such things), etc. "You're the FIRST person who's ever actually ENJOYED it!!" they exclaimed. "It's all about having the right tool for the job," was my reply.

After about a hundred miles (161km) of that though, my knees started feeling the strain. You see, the best way to handle bumps like that is to rise off the seat a ways, putting all your weight on the footpegs. This accomplishes two things- First, it lowers the center of gravity of the bike for stability, and secondly, removes your tailbone from the jarring of the seat rising rapidly. The down side is that your knees essentially become shock absorbers for the weight of your body. For a short time it's no problem, but for the distance I've done it today it really takes its toll.

The next challenge needing to be dealt with were many sections of dirt road where they were attempting to fix said frost heaves. A technique taught to me by my good friend Brian is "Slow to it, Gas through it." Meaning, before you get to a challenging section, slow down to the point where you can accellerate through the entire path. This lightens the front wheel, and the bike goes over the mess easily. I'd used that technique in my early dirt riding years, though I'd never heard of the adage. It's much like the lesson we teach in the motorcycle safety course about surmounting obstacles- The difference is, an obstacle such as a rock or branch is only underneath for an instant. A bad patch of gravel can be many yards/meters long or more.

But it worked well, and I'm sure I'll use it a great deal on the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe and back.

About the time most of that ended, the U.S. border was rapidly approaching. (rather, I was approaching IT ;-)

Approaching Storm
After chatting for a long time with the border officers about the helmet cam and GPS, I was off- Back in the U.S., and heading into the interior of Alaska. Now for the next issue: Rain. There had been a couple of light sprinkles on the dirt sections, which were actually quite welcome. It cooled me off, allowed me to wipe the bugs off of my helmet's faceshield, and it settled the dust. What was in store for me next was an entirely other matter.

Looking up at the dark, foreboding thunderheads, only one thought came to mind: "THIS can't be good." Lightning started snapping across my path, and the rain and wind kicked up. Hard. I didn't have time to change into the waterproof gloves, but all the hatches on my jacket and overpants had been battened, so I didn't worry. First it was wind- VERY strong gusty crosswinds from the east. This didn't thrill me, as I was JUST barely on the west side of the storm. Had there been no wind, I might've missed it entirely. No such luck- In a most generous fashion, the wind allowed me to share in all the fun of the storm. Wonderful. It was hard to see, hard to control the bike, and to make matters worse, signs warning of caribou started showing up. Fortunately, this too was a "critter-free" day, aside from the dozens of bugs that had done a kamikaze routine against my windshield and faceshield.

Then came harder rain, then HAIL. BIG hail. Probably 1/8" to 3/16" hailstones. Now, I hear you saying "Gee, Kelly- Aren't you exaggerating? Wasn't it just big raindrops?" No. They were bouncing off of me and my bike. If it weren't for the feeling of being shot by thousands of BB guns, I'd say it was like I was in a Pachinko machine. It seemed as much hail was bouncing up as it was coming down. The temperature had been warm all day, so I didn't have the liner in my jacket. A liner does more than just provide warmth- They also provide padding for things like hail. Without that padding, I felt a whole lot more of those hailstones.

Eventually the hail transitioned to just rain. When I say "just" rain, I don't mean a nice summer shower. This was a cloudburst, a downpour. Wow. I suppose fair's fair- Luck's been on my side so far on this trip; it was bound to run out sometime.

At one point when it was safe to pull over, I stowed my sunglasses, making it easier to see through my dark faceshield. Later, I pulled over to put a rain cover onto my tank bag, protecting my "real" camera (The Helmet Cam is in a watertight housing).

The funny thing is, with the sun staying up long hours, the darkness provided by the black clouds made it the darkest I've experienced in a week! Something else seems odd- While there was a lot of snow in Canada, there's not a flake in Alaska to be seen so far, and I'm further north than I was in Canada.

Fortunately cloudbursts typically burn themselves out quickly, and this was no exception. A half hour after it started, it was behind me. My waterproof gear worked well- Only my pants had a slight leak in the seat area. But I have a completely waterproof rainsuit with me. In case of more rain, I'll just put the rain pants over the top of my overpants and be completely dry.

Forty-five minutes after that, I was pulling into the motel. A quick application of WD-40 on the chain to protect it from rusting was essential. (btw, WD-40 is often considered a lubricant. It's not. It does have lubricating properties, as it's made of kerosene and paraffin wax. But its real purpose is "water displacement," hence the "WD" in its name)

Smoky sun
Clearly there's a forest fire somewhere- The sky is almost totally obscured by smoke, and the sun is so well covered that it looks more like the moon on a cloudy night.

After checking in, having a warm shower, then a hot soak in the tub for my knees, and changing into dry pants, it was time for dinner and this writeup. Now we're caught up! As you see, today was a LOT more interesting than I'd anticipated this morning. One nice thing is that there are continually surprises along the way. Most are pleasant, and the ones that aren't pleasant are at least interesting, if not challenging.

Daily stats: Sunrise in Tok is: 3:47am Sunset is: 11:08pm. (recall that there was a time change between the Yukon Territory and Alaska) It's at the point where it's really not completely dark at all throughout the day, though I won't be up at 2:00 am to test that hypothesis.

Total riding distance today: 400 mi / 644 km Running total: 3473 mi / 5598 km

Stay tuned...


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