Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's Thursday, 16 September and I have given up the idea that I can catch up before Cannonball is over. It's mainly due to poor time management and a chronic netbook keyboard gremlin. I hope to get it all sorted out and resume updating soon. Big thanks to all who've sent messages of support and encouragement!

In the mean time, many of thses folks are updating their Cannonball blogs fairly regularly. Take a look at the ride from their perspective if you've got time.

Cynthia (Bodacious)

Pistol Pete

Oz (TheO.Z.)

David (feb31st)

Brian (bklwashere)



Starr (starreem)


Karen G.


Geoff (HelixGeoff)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

[My roommate for Cannonball just arrived and very generously allowed me to use her netbook since mine is misbehaving. Thanks, Starr!!!]

Sunday, 22 August 2010 – Denali National Park to Anchorage – 245.5 miles

There were three things I hoped to do today: (1) see Mt. McKinley, (2) attend the sled dog demonstration at Denali Kennel, and (3) ride to Anchorage.

Seeing The High One proved more difficult than I thought. I mean, it's 20,320 feet tall. That's almost 4 miles from the base to the peak. I ought to be able to see that, right? Last night, the bus driver told me I might get a peek at it if I ride out to Savage River or one of nearby the viewpoints. "In the morning," he said, "After 7:30 or so. But before 11. It might be clear."

It definitely was not clear when I got up. My camp neighbor said the weather was expected to be cloudy all day. Dang! She also said that of the 5 times she and her family had been to the park, not once was the mountain in view. I learned later you should consider yourself lucky if you actually see Denali. The mountain is so tall it makes its own severe, unpredictable weather. During the summer months, it's only visible about 20% of the time, making the questions "Is the mountain out today?" a very common one.

The sled dog demonstrations are held three times a day. I could have made the 10am but decided to ride over to the visitor center campus and take a look at the bookstore, the museum and the science center. It was well worth it! There are very informative displays, exhibits and film presentations. There's lots to learn here. Plus, there are ranger-led hikes and talks, as well as the evening campfire programs. And it's gorgeous. I could easily have spent a week or more taking it all in.

The bus to the kennels departed at 1:30. There were four bus loads of visitors. (Our driver said this was quite common as the dogs were especially popular with children.)

These Alaskan huskies, more simply known as sled dogs, are bred for specific characteristics: a thick two-layer coat, long legs for breaking trail through deep snow, tough feet with close pads, speed, endurance, a great work ethic and a friendly demeanor. Since they are not bread for a specific look, there is a wide variation in their appearance. Something else I thought was interesting – about a third of the dogs have blue eyes, the rest have brown eyes. Occasionally there are dogs that have one blue eye and one brown eye. Cool!

The kennel typically houses about 30 dogs. The number may vary slightly depending on how many puppies are born and how many older dogs are retired. They usually have new litter of about 3 to 5 pups in the spring or summer. The eight- or nine-year old dogs are retired and adopted out to park staff or visitors who live in a northern climate. They just had 3 pups about a month ago. They were snuggled in their house with their mom, so we couldn't get a photo.

Dogs have been a part of Denali for over 70 years. They are canine ambassadors during the summer months, putting on demonstrations like the one I saw. During the winter months they return to their real work with the rangers: hauling equipment and supplies, setting trails, monitoring park borders, assisting mountaineers, etc.

I rode back to the Mercantile because it was the only place in the park with WiFi. I sent a few quick e-mails and looked for a place to stay in Anchorage. Many of the hotels, motels and hostels were already booked for the night. Who knew Anchorage was such a hot spot on a Sunday night?! I finally found a hostel with one bed open. Whew! Now all I have to do is get there.

I was almost ready to go when three riders pulled into the lot - one KLR and these two BMWs.

One of the BMWs belonged to Amir. He's a physician, originally from South Africa and currently living in Prince Rupert. The other BMW belonged to his South African school chum who also became a physician and recently moved to Prince Rupert (which struck me as kinda funny). The KLR rider was a fellow they met on the ferry. That happens a lot - riders meet, chat, find they have a common destination and end up riding together. Sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for days. Anyway, Amir said their time was short (only 10 days) so they only rode to the Arctic Circle. That's still a pretty good ride, if you ask me! I hope you send me the video of your ride through the Rockies, Amir. Sounds like that was quite an adventure, too!

It was later than I thought when I finally headed out of the park toward Anchorage. The good news is I saw an igloo. Not a real one, and it was tattered, but still, an igloo.

I stopped briefly at yet another turn-out hoping for a glimpse of Mt. McKinley's peak from the George Parks Highway. I'd have to settle for the base and the information plaque.

I also stopped briefly to see if I could help a couple with a lovely yellow Harley Davidson. Their rear tire was flat. They had those shiny spoked rims (and tubed tires), so my plug kit was no help. Their phones were dead and holding all the phone numbers, so my phone was no help either. Oh, well. At least the tow service was on the way. I was happy to hear from them later - they got back to Fairbanks safe and sound.

The clouds were clearing and made for a very dramatic sunset at around 10:30pm.

I rode through Wasilla and took this photo for Liz and Julie. I looked among all the roadside political posters for "Levi for Mayor (or Governor, Senator or President)" but found none. Sorry, ladies. This is the best I could do.

It was very late and dark by the time I got to Anchorage. I was lucky that the fellow from the hostel was still there to answer my distress call. I had either missed a turn or taken a wrong turn and had no idea where I was. He gave me clear directions and even offered to drive to my location so I could follow him back. His directions were so simple and straightforward that I assured him i'd be there shortly. And when I rode up, he was standing in front waving at me. He also helped me get the scooter in the back yard - a more secure location for over-night parking.

The hostel was kind of like a fraternity house. Lots of people up and about late at night. And not the cleanest place I've been. But it was only for one night and every one was friendly. I took a shower (with my shower shoes on!), climbed into my top bunk and went to sleep.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Getting back to blog updates at last!

There's something whacky going on with my netbook's keyboard, so this may take longer than I thought. Thanks, all, for your patience!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Today is Friday, September 3rd and I am waaaaay behind in blog updates.

The scooter and I are just fine. We're in Seattle. The scooter is getting serviced and I'm getting ready to head up to the rally in Vancouver. I promise to bring this blog up-to-date before Cannonball starts.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Saturday, 21 August 2010 – stayed in Denali – 3.1 miles

I purposely selected a tent site near the road. I knew some campers would be up early to break camp and ride down this very road fairly early in the morning. Since I had no alarm, I figured those early-risers would be my wake-up call. And I had a 9am reservation for the bus up to Eielson Visitor Center. (Private vehicles are not allowed this far into the park.)

The bus ride was long and the driver was entertaining. He’d been driving in the park for 22 years and seemed to know everything. Plus, he had a good sense of humor. He stopped for every wildlife sighting so we could all get photos of “the big 5,”



Dall sheep


Rounding out the big 5 are wolves. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any of them.

Of course, the main reason we all were there was to see Mt. McKinley, Denali, the High One. Unfortunately it never did come out from behing the clouds completely. Here’s two pics where you can barely see the north summit peeking out. There are clouds above and below and the peak is snow-capped so it’s very hard to see.

The Eielson Visitor Center is fascinating. They have many of the works of the past “Artist-in-Residence.” Each residency takes place during a ten day period between June and September. Denali National Park and Preserve provides the use of the historic East Fork Cabin (also known as the Murie Cabin) at Mile 43 on the Park Road. The artist is responsible for their own food and transportation. No stipend is provided. In exchange for the use of the cabin, each artist is expected to donate one art piece to the park and offer at least one public presentation. (For example, a slide lecture, demonstration, or workshop.) These artists come to the park and leave at least one piece with the center. (I looked into it - can you tell. It's really got me thinking . . .)

One of my favorites was a 4-section quilt. It is hand-dyed, dye-painted, stamped, resisted, silk-screened and stenciled. It is machine pieced and quilted. And it's huge! Congratulations to the artist, Ree Nancarrow, for a job very well done!

My other favorite is also textile art. The scale is smaller but it is nothing short of spectacular. It looks like a painting but it's appliqué and trapunto. I'm sorry I forgot to note the artist name.

There was one other piece that I found captivating. It looked like an art piece located outside the visitor center. It is the intertwined antlers of two bull moose. The plaque “Locked for All Time” reads, in part:
"In 2003 near Moose Creek, two massive bull moose clashed in an effort to establish dominance and earn the right to mate. Heads down, they forced their antlers together and engaged their considerable heft to earn surrender from the other. At some point in the battle, their antlers locked. One tine pierced the eye socket of the other. And so they remained on the tundra until death called for both." Yowza - that must have been some fight!

I spent so long at the center and on the nature trails that I took a later bus back to Denali Visitor Center. We saw more caribou, moose and sheep but I was more taken with the rivers and streams and the changing colors on the hillsides.

As I walked backed to my campsite, I saw something I haven’t seen in a long time – a moonrise. Nice.

Friday, 20 August 2010 – Fairbanks to Denali National Park and Preserve – 136.4 miles

I had lollygagged in Fairbanks long enough. It was time to head out for Denali. I had one more (one last?) hot bowl of soup and said goodbyes and farewells all around.

I rode to the gas station before I loaded up all the gear. WOW, this handles nicely! I’d forgotten how nimble and flickable this GTS can be. It certainly has been a workhorse on this trip. It's been lugging me and about 100 extra pounds of gear under very difficult conditions. I patted it gently as I rode back to the hostel.

For the first time there were motorcycles sharing the parking area. Two fellows had just arrived. One was Brazilian and the other was from the UK. As I loaded the scooter and they tinkered with their bikes, we talked about the road conditions on the way up to Prudhoe Bay and about their travel adventures. They were on a similar trip as the English boys I had just left in the kitchen. As soon as they finished oil changes and other minor maintenance, they said they’d compare notes with the others. They wished me well and I rode off.

There are some beautiful views from the George Parks Highway (Alaska 3). Loops have been added so tourists like me don’t stop on the road and block traffic while trying to get a photo of those lovely views. The problem is there’s a lot of tall trees alongside all the loops, making it impossible to capture the view.

Denali is only about 150 miles from Fairbanks, so I had plenty of time to take all the turn-outs and admire the scenery for as long as I pleased. At one, I met Alice and Jesse from North Carolina. They rented an RV and were cruising along, too.

I had to turn around and take a photo of this tribute.

The owner of the towing company noticed me pulling onto his property and he turned back to find out why. Mr. A. P. McDonald rolled up in this rig.

We talked for quite a while before we both decided we were wasting a perfectly gorgeous sunny day by talking about pets, families and riding. No more talking. Let’s ride! He turned off the highway with a wave and I continued on. I crossed the Tanana River on the Alaska Native Veterans’ Honor Bridge. There have been a bunch of cool bridges so far!

And, of course, there were the inevitable traffic delays.

Another cool bridge this time over the Nenana River

Just before the park entrance is a section the locals call Glitter Gulch. There are lots of shops selling jewelry, local handicrafts, t-shirts, etc. There was a quilt shop that I had to visit (and buy some fat quarters). And there’s Denali Harley-Davidson. It made me laugh because there are no motorcycles for sale just t-shirts, stickers, etc. The young clerk didn’t even look up from her Blackberry when I walked around.

My destination was just a short ride away.

I got a campsite at Riley Creek campground and a bus ticket to ride to the interior of the park the following day. I stayed at Riley Creek Mercantile for a little while, using their WiFi connection to send a few quick e-mails when a park ranger and a bunch of campers showed up. Dark clouds were threatening rain so they relocated from the outdoor amphitheater. Lucky me. The ranger gave a very informative talk on the animals found in the park. He had pelts of most of them (confiscated from poachers) as well as antlers and horns.

This is a grizzly bear pelt.

After the ranger talk, I found a campsite, set up the tent and went to bed.