Kelly's 2011 Alaska Journey

Day 12 - Wednesday, 6/1

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An early start, after a terrible night's sleep. It feels as though I'm catching a cold- It's probably because I'm not sleeping well or drinking nearly enough water on a daily basis. Since I'll mostly be off the road for the next few days, I'll try to rectify that.

But a correction- I was up at 3:20, and looked out the window. It was actually dark, with the exception of the streetlights.

Check-in at the ferry was at 7:00, and we were underway in an hour. Since the weather's so bad, I didn't get to see much of anything on the boat, but that's okay. It's better being warm and dry than having to ride 5 or 6 hours in rain.

It's staring to feel as though life's imitating art. In about every movie one can see, there's a formulaic sequence that happens:

  1. Things are wonderful and happy.
  2. There's some conflict that upsets everything.
  3. The confict is resolved, and there's a bright, cheerful happy ending.

So here's what's happening:

After strapping the bike down in the vehicle area of the ferry, I decided to take a photo of it. Unfortunately, taking the camera out of the tank bag, I dropped it, rendering it useless. The housing around the lens got dinged in, making it impossible for the lens to extend. It could likely be fixed, but I expect I'll simply have to buy another one in Anchorage, and send this one in for service later. Peachy.

But wait, there's more. What I didn't tell you a couple days ago is that riding into Valdez, some guy hit my bike broadside with his. Mostly a glancing sideswipe against my left saddlebag. It threw my bike into a guardrail (with me still on it). I waited a couple days to write this, as I wanted to be sure of just how serious it was or wasn't. No point in making people worry until I know what I'm dealing with, when I'm not in a place where others can come by and help.

Now, I'M OKAY. Let me repeat: I'M OKAY. No injuries at all to anyone. His bike has some (probably expensive) cosmetic damage and a leaking radiator; mine has minor things that'll be taken care of in Anchorage. It's rideable; in fact I've already ridden it 100 miles (161 km) since. But it's an inconvenience. My biggest concern at the time was that my trunk had popped off its mount, flown over a guardrail, tumbled down a long and steep embankment and into bushes. I was fairly frantic to retrieve it; it contained my laptop, external disk with all of my photos up to that point, etc. Fortunately after 10 minutes of searching I found it, and the guy who'd hit me retrieved it (and it had miraculously remained unopened) and the contents were none the worse for wear. The mounting plate still works, though it's cracked and should be replaced. It won't reliably hold the box anymore- For the rest of the trip bungee cords will be needed to ensure the box stays latched onto the plate.

Oh, the guy who hit me was going too fast, didn't know how to use his brakes, skidded over 150 feet into me, and hit me in MY lane not his (when my front tire was even in the shoulder, trying to give him room), and continued to skid another 70 feet after impact. We'll handle it ourselves. He seems to think that I'll be paying for his bike- After long analysis of the incident, it's become clear that it's entirely his fault. Had he simply stayed in his lane, even without slowing at all, we'd have both been fine. There's this thing called "target fixation." If you look at what you think you might hit, and since the bike goes where you look, guess what will happen? Right. Bang. I've been a motorcycle safety instructor too long to not recognize the lack of essential riding skills in someone.

So here's what happened:

Pulled over
I'd just passed the entrance to the Worthington Glacier. It occurred that going back to check it out would be a good idea; There was plenty of time, and I had no plans for the afternoon. I pulled over, stopped, looked in my mirror, did a head-check over my shoulder, and made a safe, legal U-Turn. By the time I was facing the other direction in my lane, he too was fully in my lane, coming straight at me! I moved right to give him more room. My front tire was in the road's shoulder, and his bike struck my left saddlebag. Upon impact, my bike spun to my right, around the front wheel as if it were pinned where it was. You can even see the arc skid my rear tire made as the back of the bike was sent towards the road's guardrail.

Checking Mirror
Imagine my delight when I found that my helmet-cam had captured all the pertinent items of this little incident! The vehicle of the guy colliding with me was BIG. It wasn't just a Gold Wing (about 900 lbs), it had been converted to a trike- a three-wheeler. Bigger, heavier. But wait, it gets better: His wife was on the back, the bike was pulling a loaded trailer, and the trailer even had a loaded ice chest on the tongue. This was a LOT of mass coming at me.

Made the
Now, the rider panicked, locked his front brake, and even admitted to not having used his rear brake at all. He never released the front brake and reapplied properly to slow him. Unfortunately, with his front brake locked, he had virtually no stopping power working for him other than gravity (being that he was climbing a 7% grade). Had he been riding a two-wheeler instead of a trike, he'd have crashed instantly, long before he even got to me. The posted speed limit was 55 mph (88 kph), he claimed to have been going 65 (105 kph), but also admitted that he was accelerating up the steep hill. I suspect he was going even faster, as he closed the distance between us so fast.

I'll be able to continue the ride, though I'll have some metalwork to do when I get home to repair tweaked saddlebag and exhaust system mounts.

Portrait of
an idiot
Nothing like an incident like this when 4000 miles (6437 km) from home. For a fleeting moment it crossed my mind that this was "my worst nightmare," but I kept it in perspective. Being that I could have wound up in a hospital (or worse) makes me realize what this truly is: Just an inconvenience. And at least it happened when I had some down time planned in Anchorage, which has a real Kawasaki dealer (who is already aware I'm on my way). I expect the side trip to Seward is effectively cancelled.
It won't take much to bring my bike to 100% functionality, but it's also the shop's busy season and they're booked up. At absolutely worst case, the KLR can be left at the dealer while I rent another KLR for the Prudhoe tour. But naturally it'd be much better to have my bike with all its modifications for that road (not to mention I'd prefer to not have to spend another $1000 to ride someone else's bike).

Take a look at the skid marks in the "ouch" shot. The long straight one was from the locked Gold Wing front tire. Then look at the arc of my rear tire's skid- the KLR spun right, as if the front wheel was planted just inside the shoulder, to the right of the lane. The back of the KLR (with me on it) was thrown into the guardrail. Naturally I was wearing fullly armored safety gear, which certainly contributed to my being completely uninjured. Oddly, the two people on the 'Wing which hit me had taken off all their safety gear about 20 minutes before the accident.
HIS skid
Now look at the "HIS skid mark" shot. It was about 167' (51 m) long before contact, and about 70' (21 m) long after he'd hit me! He was MOVING. I later measured his skid by two methods: Pacing on foot, and using the odometer from my bike. I probably should have used the GPS too, but what I did was enough. You can see in the photo that the skid starts way back where I'd parked the KLR, the arrow points to where the impact occurred, and you see how much further he continued to skid after impact. Unbelievable. Note that this shot was taken with my regular camera not the helmet-cam, so it's not warped like the fisheye lens. The skid is REALLY that long! Another thing to note is that the skid was entirely contained in MY LANE. He looked at me, target fixated on me, moved into my lane BEFORE he locked his front brake, which removed his capability to turn or stop. Talk about doing EVERYTHING wrong.

Of course I'll post updates. So with that, the camera, and the potential head cold, some of the glow is off for the moment. But it'll come back. The trip isn't even half way done! Though honestly, a few days of not riding isn't at all bad. There are a couple of multi-day breaks in this journey where I'll be off the bike. Four days in Valdez and Anchorage, then nine days riding to Prudhoe and back, then 4 days off on a ferry to Washington, and then two days riding home. If it was just riding, riding, riding for 29 days I think that'd get a little tedious. Maybe it's the recent challenges, but it's also feeling like a four week trip may be a little on the long side. We'll see how I feel about it once on the way to the Arctic Circle.

As I type this and look out the ferry window, we've passed lots of icebergs and pods of dolphins playing- Not quite breaching, but clearly having a good time. Being on the boat is relaxing; I think I'll enjoy decompressing on it for four days once the Prudhoe trek is done.

Evening report:
Things are looking up. See? That didn't take long. Once exiting the ferry in Whittier (60 mi / 97 km from Anchorage), a visit to the ticket office was in order. The people there were able to bend the rules a smidgen and book me a trip going from Whittier to Bellingham. This means I don't have to ride the 700 miles (1127 km) to Haines. Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking: "Gee, Kelly- What about all that rough-and-tough biker image?" Come on, we all know I don't do ANYTHING for image. And after the gruelling ride to the Arctic Sea, I won't be the slightest bit remorseful about getting on the boat at Whittier instead. At this point, I'm just glad the trip can continue as planned.

One aspect about leaving from Whittier instead of Haines though- Both boats leave on the SAME DAY. So I'll have an extra day in Anchorage, and will arrive in Bellingham a day later. What this means is that instead of returning home on Saturday, it'll be Sunday. No extra day in between coming home and returning to work. Maybe if the WiFi is up on the boat I'll look at some work email.

Funny thing about Whittier- The way to get to the little city (or out of it, for that matter) is to drive through a one-way train tunnel! They pause train traffic, and send cars through one direction, then the other. The helmet cam had been stowed due to the inclement weather, but it'll certainly be on for the return ride. It's a really interesting 2.5 mile (4 km) tunnel.

Because the tunnel between Whittier and civilization is such an issue, it may make sense to spend my last night there, and not have to get up at "Zero-dark-thirty" to make it to the ferry on time.

While it had rained pretty consistently on the ferry, it had mostly let up by the time I was to ride to Anchorage. Nice.

The first stop was to the Kawasaki dealer, but I was told that they were SO busy they couldn't look at it much. "Come back tomorrow at 10:00." Then the bright idea struck me to call AK Rider, the outfitters for the guided tour. As they have a fleet of bikes, SURELY they have a mechanic or two to maintain them. That instinct was indeed correct, and the Garmin lead the way there.

Despite AK Rider's shop being swamped getting ready for our tour, within about 15 minutes I'd explained all that was wrong to Mark, and he had the little KLR on a stand, fixed the forks, fixed the side panel that wouldn't stay seated, bent a saddlebag mount back into the correct position, verified that the exhaust fix I made on the road was indeed sound, and told me he expected my chain and sprockets would last the Prudhoe trip. Once we return to Anchorage, we'll see if they'll survive the last 1000 miles (1609 km) home from Bellingham.

Mark, many thanks for taking the time to go over the bike! You've eased my mind tremendously. Everyone I meet at AK Rider are just aces. What a class act.

So the bike's in good shape. Not as good as when leaving home, but good enough. It's safe, it's road-worthy. That's a relief. Now it's time to look for a replacement camera. (and thinking about it, I'd bet I can fix the lens housing myself in my shop)

But no photos today, for obvious reasons.

After checking in to the hotel, getting all my luggage hauled to my room, dousing the chain in WD-40 (as the rain plays havoc with such things), and getting a light dinner, my outlook is much improved. It went up even more when finding a whirlpool bath in the room. Too bad I had to change rooms- The smell of smoke and the screaming kids next door weren't conducive for a relaxing environment! It was well worth trading the tub for tranquility.

The only animal sightings today were on the water- dolphins, humpback whales, sea lions. Funny, the same things as yesterday on the "non-glacier" glacier tour.

Anchorage Sunrise at 4:36a, Sunset at 11:16p.

Total riding distance today: 65 mi / 105 km   Running total: 3867 mi / 6223 km

Stay tuned...


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