Early last month a close friend (Ken Whetstone) had started a journey to Prudhoe Bay Alaska of which I was very envious. It happens to be a trip I have always wanted to make but due to that inconvenient but necessary thing called work this particular ride has evaded me.
I had been in contact with Ken while he was on his adventure and sincerely wished I was tagging along when I received a text from him inquiring about the tip over safety switch on Ginger, his trusty V-strom. After further conversation I was informed he had laid down Ginger on a muddy Dalton Highway and that she may be totaled. In jest I mentioned I should buy her from him, fly up, fix her and bring her home. A couple days later I received a text saying if I wanted to pay the salvage price I could have her, and that I should come up and ride home with him. He had already purchased a new V-strom in Fairbanks and at this point was preparing to continue on with his adventure. I asked Ken for some photos and the repair bill to verify what all was wrong with her. After looking at the repair quote and photos I determined she has much more life left in her and that even with it in a way taking advantage of Kens misfortune I should jump at the opportunity and get my derriere to Alaska quickly. (Fortunately with Cyndi's blessing)
I happened to have mirrors and the factory windshield from Misty sitting on a shelf at home. After spending part of a Saturday running around for the remainder of needed parts I had everything I felt needed to fly up get her running and to make half of an Alaska journey. I made airplane reservations on a Friday night, ran parts on Saturday and flew up on Sunday, a little bit of a whirlwind but the stars aligned and I was on my way. When I arrived at 11pm I had forgotten that the sun struggles to go down in the Alaskan summers and wasn't expecting temperatures in the mid 70's.. Ken picked me up at the airport and we went directly to the dealership to get Ginger in running condition. After an hour or so of fighting off some of the local birds (mosquitoes) we had her road worthy and headed to the North Pole Hotel where Ken had made reservations.
Over the Yukon on the way to Fairbanks
Fairbanks approach 11pm
At the North Pole Hotel after a little cleanup
The morning after I arrived was a little frustrating for Ken finding out the post office returned the hard luggage he had ordered without so much as a card in the post office box or giving him any time to claim his packages. He ended up having to tie and strap his gear to his bike and hope to avoid rain. We discussed a route and decided to head counter clockwise from Fairbanks (South West) and drop down through Denali National Park. We stayed the first night in Trapper Creek. One shouldn't make judgments without a full understanding of a community but lets just say in the back of our minds we both could hear a banjo playing off in the distance by the river..
The following morning we headed to Wasilla to look for an auto parts store, Kens V-strom was in need of a first oil change.. We learned the best option was to buy the oil, drain pan, funnel etc and head to a transfer station (dump) and change his oil there. Luckily it was along the way and was very convenient. At this point I was learning how friendly the locals were. The man at the transfer station came out and chatted with us along with another man who just pulled up and was full of questions.. We did gather some good information for lunch in Eureka from him and headed on our way.
Trying to keep my gastrointestinal system happy this trip I tried to stay with mellow foods for the most part. I had a number of French Dip sandwiches with salads. The Eureka Lodge between Palmer and Tok had as good of FD as any I've had and was a very social establishment. At one time I think there were four tables (including ours) all in conversation.
Young's Motel in Tok
In one of our conversations with someone along the way it was recommended that we eat at Fast Eddy's in Tok. Young's Motel was main lodging behind Fast Eddy's and we decided on a cabin. This photo was taken at 10:57 pm.. I finally figured out that the long daylight hours were messing with me and ultimately was the cause of some added fatigue.. Fast Eddy's food presentation was great but our steaks were quite tough for $30. Not a bad salad bar though.. Next stop Whitehorse...
Crossing the border headed to Yukon
Whitehorse was the first larger sized town we had been in since we left Fairbanks. We stopped at a few dealers to see if they had a tank bag I could buy but was told they don't carry them up there, "people coming through already have them and the locals don't use them". I also purchased a tire repair kit anticipating Ken and I splitting up soon. I could tell he wasn't very excited about heading home with time still on his vacation clock and unfortunately I needed to be back for work and had some long days I needed to put down to get home.
We found a hotel in Whitehorse and luckily made it to the restaurant at our hotel before they closed. Ken learned that Chicken Fried steak is a mystery meat to the Yukon People with the waitress very confused at what it was. Instead we had Poo-Tine! Next stop Watson Lake and the Sign Forest..
Some Photos along the way to Watson Lake..
Oddly enough it was along this stretch that I had an epiphany that Gingers new name will be Willow.. Through long stretches of this journey my mind found itself wandering in some far off places.. I had been pondering that where I acquired this moto in Alaska I needed to give her some kind of Alaska theme.. Out of the blue as if this V-strom was talking to me the name "Willow" came to me. We had traveled through Willow a couple days prior and it seemed to fit perfect..
And... The Sign Post Forest. One could get lost here looking at all the history of those who have left their mark from every corner of the world..
Hey! I live in Layton!!!
Ken looking for ???
On most forums my handle (or user name) is Snownut. A while back I decided to make a logo for myself so I can leave my mark when traveling around.. It obviously needed to be placed at the Sign Post Forest!!
It was here that Ken and I decided to split up.. He was ready to call it a night and I knew I needed to get a few more hours of riding in to help catch up on some riding time.. I love riding with Ken because of situations just like this.. Many people would get bent out of shape to split up mid trip but I have come to appreciate Kens mantra "Semper Gumbi" (always flexible) and the fact that we can ride together or split up with the outcome enjoying the time we rode together and no ill feelings.
I will admit that after heading off by myself down the Cassiar it didn't take long for a solitary reality to set in. There were very few other vehicles on the road most likely due to tourist season not being in full swing yet, and it seemed I was seeing more bear than people. I thought to myself I was glad I had a couple days with Ken to shake out Willow and verify there were no underlying issues with her but still, here I am driving a moto that was deemed totaled by myself on a very long road where the majority of mammals in my presence are more interested in eating me than conversing with me..
It didn't take long for the beauty of British Columbia to consume me and distract me from any questionable fears. What an incredible place!!
That night I spent in Dease Lake, a quaint little town with very friendly residents. No cell service for me, but at least there was wifi in the hotel..
Next stop Prince George!
I was very fortunate to skirt most of the major storms, I did get wet a couple times but when looking at the road on my gps and where the storms were I generally stayed ahead of them and only a handful of times found myself in a down pour. I felt very fortunate that not at any time on this trip did I need to put on my heated gear or rain gear. I did however use the handlebar heaters on occasion, luckily they were not damaged..
From Prince George I found my next destination to be Grand Fork. My GPS wanted me to head to Seattle for a super slab ride home but I couldn't bring myself to head West when I needed to head South East. As my family knows I have this thing about back tracking, not to mention why would I want to super slab it home when there was so much more to see off the beaten path.
From Grand Fork BC I dropped into Spokane Washington, headed East through Coer d'Alene and down to Butte Montana. for the night. It was recommended that I eat at the Derby in Butte and have nothing but rave reviews for their service and food.
At this point as planned I had put in three long days and knew my final day home could be at a slower pace. The valleys heading south through Dillon MT were very green and beautiful. Depending on the time of year this ride can be quite boring, but what a lush landscape it is this time of year!
The 3480 mile 7 day route home
It was nice to get home to see my Bride, son and the girls, but I have to be honest in saying I didn't have near enough time to explore the North West. I am home but have a burning desire to return and take my time exploring.
As far as Willow goes, she has cleaned up very well due to some preventative measures Ken had taken. The handlebars and clutch lever housing needed replaced along with a few other miscellaneous items and the sub-frame (tail) needed a little straightening . I gave her a Rhinoplasty to update her look (she was only 5 months old), ordered some dirt oriented shoes for her, and put on a lower seat that I happened to have in the shed (with an Alaska Leather sheepskin butt pad). I also found a North West Native Artist sketch which I had made into stickers to replace the Suzuki emblems on the fuel tank.. The Alaska theme is coming together for Willow!!
A little Native Northwest art touch...
Some new off road shoes!!
Willow will be a nice addition to the stable and used more more off pavement excursions. Her sister Misty will be used for more road based expeditions..
Here is a photo of their first road trip together back in February when Willow was new and answered to the name Ginger..