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.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thursday, 19 August 2010 – stayed put in Fairbanks, rested up and waited out the rain - 0 miles

I really didn't do anything today except update this blog and make a few phone calls. Oh, and take a shower. A really long, hot shower.

I saw Tim, Tom and Phil. They're happy about the fuel filter repair holding up. (or at least it seems to. Fingers crossed it stays that way!) They're going to try to wash off some of the mud. I should, too. I did clean the rear turn indicators, brake light and license plate. The lights I wiped clean for safety reasons, the plate because I was told I may get ticketed. The rest I'm kind of afraid to mess with. It might be the glue that's holding everything together at this point.

It's going to be hard to leave here tomorrow. Not just because the bed is comfortable and the tent is cozy. I've met some really nice people here. Like Jennifer and Todd (I hope I got that right). They're from Juneau and every trip they explore another part of Alaska. This time they're hiking to Gates of the Arctic National Park with inflatable rafts in their backpacks. Then they're going to float for a while. Sounds like great fun! I'll miss bumping into Tim, Tom and Phil, too. At least I'll get to keep track of them through their blog.

Here they are in the community kitchen. Aren't they adorable?! Wait. Not adorable. Funny, smart, handsome . . . No, that wasn't it either. I forget now.
Anyway, here's the boys: Phil, Tom and Tim.
Wednesday, 18 August 2010 – Coldfoot to Fairbanks – 264.7 miles

Well, it wasn’t exactly a sunny morning but I was ready to ride. I broke camp and rode back to the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot. I needed to return the bear canister they loaned me on the way up. In the parking lot I saw two picture-worthy sights.
This sweetie belongs to the ranger.

This one does, too. (Duct tape - used by NASA, park rangers, me and, well, probably everyone) I love all the colors!

The road from Coldfoot wasn't all bad. But a lot of it was. Here's the muddy, sloppy, "greasy oatmeal" road behind me.

Here's the muddy, sloppy, "greasy oatmeal" road ahead.

I took it slowly and steadily. Before too long I was passing Finger Rock. The finger points toward Fairbanks. I should be there soon.

I stopped back in at the Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station (That name cracks me up. Why couldn’t they say Visitor Center??) Linda and Ray were still there, friendly as ever. They were glad to see I’d made it. “Me, too!”
I hadn’t seen their tiny but productive vegetable garden before.

I may have posted a photo of this bridge before (from the ride up). It's pretty impressive and I think another view is warranted. E. L. Patton Bridge over Yukon river.

It was getting hard to find a dry spot on the road.

Near the end of the highway, I met another Englishman, Nick Sanders. He’s been on some amazing motorcycle adventures. You can read all about him on his website. He's quite a character and worth reading about, if you have the time. Nick told me about his trips around the world, the video documentary he's making and his current adventure from Ushuaia to Prudhoe Bay. At times I struggled to understand him – he talks really fast. I guess that’s understandable: Nick set the record for riding over 19,000 miles around the globe in 19 days, 3 hours. This guy’s in a hurry!

I was very grateful to arrive at the end of the Dalton Highway and transition to mostly smooth pavement all the way to Fairbanks. On the way, I thought about Nick and the questions he’d asked – why did I do it and what did I learn.

This is pretty much what I came up with: Everyone was right. The whoop-dee-doos, the roller coastering, the gravel, mud and greasy oatmeal make this road unfriendly to scooters (and to scooterists, for that matter). The road and wind and rain will conspire against you. It was not easy. It probably was not smart. I’m glad I did it. And I’m very glad it’s over.

I rode back to Go North, my Fairbanks home. Guess who was there? Yep, my English pals Tim, Tom and Phil. (HA! - They’re gonna think I’m stalking them!) They found a local mechanic who seems to be equal parts MacGyver and Dr. Frankenstein. They’re hoping his magic worked. They're gonna test it out tomorrow. I'm gonna go to bed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tuesday, 17 August 2010 – stayed in Coldfoot – 10.8 miles

It rained off and on throughout the night. It was still raining when I got up. I dawdled a bit hoping for it to clear. I finally decided to ride. Things didn’t quite go as I’d hoped.

Last night, I left my muddy boots outside the tent under the rainfly in the vestibule. Apparently, the wind blew the unstaked rainfly so that my boots were now unprotected. Uh, oh . . . I poured a couple of inches of water out of each boot, pulled the insoles and wrung them out. Now I know to store my boots soles up. I guess I’ll stay put for another day. That will let the boots dry out, give me time do catch up on a week’s worth of blog entries and gather up my courage to ride the Dalton Highway one last day.

The rain had finally stopped in the afternoon so I went for a walk around the campground and along the nearby creek. There were a variety of birds including gray jays and white-winged crossbills but no other wildlife that I could see. It’s just as well. I really don’t want to see a bear, Dall sheep or moose up close and personal. (I'd already seen caribou crossing the road. They are HUGE! I don't want to be anywhere close to them.)
My favorite part of my nature walk was all the various mosses and ground covers.

I think this is reindeer moss growing amongst the mushrooms

I also liked that the campground host has a sense of humor.

One of them even has a tattoo

The previous occupant left me a bundle of wood. It was too wet to have a fire. I left it for the next campers.

I was walking back to camp when I remembered that I hadn’t closed out my credit card when I got fuel in Coldfoot. I guess I was so happy to get the throttle lock that it completely slipped my mind. I decided to put on my still semi-squishy boots and ride the 5 miles to the café. Fortunately, they had my card and the $9 gas bill for me to sign. The fellow said it happens a lot. Sure enough, he pointed to about half a dozen credit cards lining the bottom of his message board.

I walked back out to my scooter when I saw my English friends, Tim, Tom and Phil. I thought they’d be very far away by now. A chronic fuel filter problem kept them overnight in Happy Valley and threatened to keep them in Coldfoot, too. Luckily they found a trucker willing to haul them to Fairbanks that night. (They still wanted to get across the US to New York and time was starting to become an issue.) I gave them all good-bye hugs and wished them good luck with the repairs. I rode back to my campsite and tucked myself in for the night.