Sunday, November 8, 2009

Heading out of Anchorage

Oh, man, where the hell was I when I last updated?

Oh, right. Anchorage.

My last day in Anchorage was a Sunday, a day which I spent changing my rear tire, running minor errands and doing . . . other things.

Hogman, Norm, and ShortguyonaBMW had left earlier in the day, with plans to make it to Tok, 320 miles away to spend the night before heading up to the Top 'O the World Highway. My plan had been to get my rear tire changed and the leave mid-day, hopefully to catch up with them in Tok and then continue through the rest of Alaska and into Canada together. They were a great set of guys to hang out with, and I'm really glad that I spent the extra few days in Anchorage getting to know them.

Unfortunately (or, very fortunately), fate had other plans in store for me, and I didn't get out of Anchorage until almost 11pm, as the sun was starting to set. I thought that maybe, maybe if I pushed the miles and rode through the night, I could make it to Tok and catch up to the guys.

I rode out of Anchorage that night, heading back up Highway 1 and going East, towards Glennallen and eventually Tok.

The first hour of riding was okay, but as I got up into the mountains, it did start to get cold, so cold that I had to put on a bunch more layers under my suit and suit liner. The twilight lingered for a while, giving enough light through the thickening clouds to show that this was some really, really spectacular scenery I was riding through.

Of all the roads I was on in Alaska, I have to say for pure distance and quantity of amazing scenery from a road, this was the best so far. I was disappointed in myself that I was riding through at night under very dim light; there was no way I could take any sort of pictures that would have done it justice. Many times the road was carved into the side of a mountian going up from a valley, giving vertigo-inducing views a thousand feet down onto the vally floor, and off in the distance you could see the shapes of mountains that seemed to march on forever. Someday, I'll get back up there and do that road in the light. Highway 1 going from Anchorage to Tok is not a road to be wasted by night time.

After the first two hours, things started to take a lousy turn. It started raining, gradually at first but then more persistently. It was getting even colder still, so cold that I was starting to wonder if I needed to worry about ice.

At one point, I pulled into a gas station that was closed, just to get out of the rain for a couple minutes. I was running on the reserve by now, only had perhaps another 30 miles left, and both of the gas stations in the "Town" I was in were closed for the night, and didn't have automatic Credit-Card readers. The whole area was deserted, nothing in the way of any locals around that I could ask if there was another station anywhere close.

Truth be told, I was getting so tired by now that I almost considered just flopping down on the pavement in front of the gas pumps and going to sleep right there. At least it was out of the rain, and I figured whomever came to open up in the morning would give me a kick or something to figure out what the fuck this idiot biker was doing napping in a gas station parking lot. But I was still hoping to be able to make it to Tok, so against my better judgment, I got back on the bike, and got back into the rain. As luck would have it, ten miles down the road I did find a 24-hour truck stop and gas station, where I took the opportunity to fill up the bike's tank, and my water bottles. I made it to the junction at Glennallen, and went North to Tok (South would have taken me to Valdez).

By this time, it was 1-2am, and I started to lose it.

I'd been up at 7am the day before, and spend most of it running around doing errands, working on the bike, and other . . . exhausting activities. I was tired, and very quickly loosing my desire to try and make it to Tok by morning. It was cold, it was raining, it was very remote, and it was very dark. And lingering twilight gained by being this far north was made useless by the heavy clouds, and if there was scenery at all, I couldn't enjoy it.

Soon, I was so tired that it was getting dangerous. I'd blink, but my eyes would then refuse to open again, giving me a second of panic when I consciously had to force my eyelids to snap back up. I'd find myself nodding off for what felt like only half a second . . . but could have been much longer, I don't know. And riding a motorcycle is all about what happens in split seconds, nothing happens slowly on a bike. Half a second is an eternity to not be conscious, and sometimes I'd snap back to it in a different part of the lane, and once I was jolted back away by the rumble strip center line. I was in no condition to stay riding. I needed some sort of a break, anything, and there wasn't a town even remotely close where I might find someplace to get out of the rain. That night, I slept at the Iron Butt Motel.

"Staying at the Iron Butt Motel" is a term coined by hardcore long-distance riders, guys who pride themselves on doing as many miles as possible in the shortest amount of time. Recently, someone set a record for riding from Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Ocean, to Key West in Florida, in three and a half days. That's over 5,500 miles. Do the math. When you do riding like that, you sleep as little as possible, wherever you can. Picnic tables at rest stations, gas parking lots, anywhere you happen to flop down, you grab just enough sleep to keep you going.

In my case, I parked the bike, put down the kickstand, and flopped my body forward onto the tank bag.. Sitting on my bike in the side of the road, feeling cold, wet, exhausted, and generally miserable, I went to sleep.

Or at least, what passed for sleep. I have no idea how long I was there, at least twenty minutes and no more then an hour. It was enough to keep me from completely loosing it though, and I did another 60 miles that night. Finally, when I started to see the first peaks of sun just after 4am, the rain started to let up some, and I decided that was all I could do. I pulled into a clearing at the side of the road, pitched the tent, and called it a night. I'd given up on making it to Tok that day, and although I was disappointed I wouldn't get to see Hogman, Norm and ShortguyonaBMW again, I needed some sleep.

The next day dawned warmer, clear with patchy sun.

It was still another 100 miles to get to Tok, and with a head full of rest and some warm air to dry out my soaked suit, I could really enjoy the ride again.

Tok was the same as I remembered it when I passed through on my way up to Anchorage. A little oasis of flatness and straight boring roads in the middle of mountains. I turned right, heading Southeast down the Alcan to where the highway going up to Dawson City eventually turned off.

There was some construction on the way, a lot of mud on the road, which would turn into dust. They tried to keep the dust down by watering down the road, but it wasn't enough to actually wash the crap off. So while it kept the dust down, it also made it slick as hell. I locked the back tire a couple times under what I thought was pretty normal braking.

I got to the Taylor highway a couple hours later, and turned around to go north.

If you look on google maps, at first glance it appears that there's only one main road going into Mainland Alaska from Canada; the Alcan Highway. But zoom in a lot, and go a couple hundred miles north, and you'll see that there's another route into Canada, a much longer way on far less developed roads. On the Alaska side, it's called the Taylor Highway. In Canada, it's named "The Top o' the World Highway". I'd taken the Alcan up, and given how I hate backtracking, this was the way I was going back.

What does this 400-something mile detour get me? Pretty scenery, for the most part.

I can't remember exactly what the weather was like. At some point, I stopped to either take off my suit liner, or put it back on, I can't remember. Either way, no matter where you looked, the hills made you feel small.

Again, more evidence of recent fires.

And what a beautiful drive it was, winding casually through the hills.

Some places I passed through, entire hills were brilliantly purple, sometimes as far as you could see. Alternating patches of magenta and green marching off to the horizon.

The road was paved for most of the way, but the farther north I went, the more frequent the construction or patches of gravel were. Eventually the pavement ran out completely, giving way to mostly decent clay, although there were a lot of sections where it was fresh and loose gravel that were a bitch sketchy.

And the road just marched on and on, over an endless line of hills.

That's it for this post, hopefully my next one will be soon.

1 comment:

  1. Just started reading your blog. It's pretty awesome how you dropped everything & decided to take this trip.

    I'm really enjoying your posts. Cant wait to read more :)