Disclaimer: This post isn’t about bicycles. It is a story about adventure on two wheels though; because of all the means of travel I’ve used over the years, I like two wheels the best.
Summer’s almost gone. As a commercial fisherman this year had been really busy- until it wasn’t. It came to a halt like a bird flying into a window. There was a thud, a drop, a brief stupor… then done. It wasn’t pretty. Salmon seining in Prince William Sound was the poorest we’ve seen in recent memory, with salmon hatcheries still concerned with the brood stock they’ll have available to ensure strong enhanced runs in the future. The number of days we were able to put our nets in the water a fraction of what we’ve come to expect in what is (still) one of the best managed fisheries in the world. We’re unsure as fishermen (and maybe even the biologists in charge of managing the fishery) what the hell happened- but it did. Boats tied up earlier than in years past and here I am, less than a week from putting the boat away, already looking for winter work- since it’s a given that there will be hungry people looking for any work they can find in our little town. This says nothing about what the future will bring. Being a fisherman means being optimistic- so I’m hoping the years to come will prove this to be just one off year.
Even with the low number of fishing days, we didn’t get much time to relax. A “hurry up and wait” atmosphere was maintained by the fishery managers (ADFG) who were inconsistent with the announcement times (announcements say when we go fishing based on the run strength at hatcheries and in aerial surveys) and not just coming out to say “the fish aren’t here- take a break for a couple days.” Nope. Maybe we were too hopeful- thinking the fish were just a little late. We sat- always within email range, waiting for the scheduled 2pm announcement that would maybe come at 10am, or maybe 5:30pm- saying essentially “Maybe tomorrow.”
On one particular late morning I walked down to the boat to get my sunglasses- planning a bicycle ride in the woods to blow off some steam. Shit was fucked up. Six hours later I left the boat, following an ordeal involving an overly full plugged shitter, thirty years of calcified human waste and working in confined spaces- I was done. I needed a break to recharge my batteries. I won’t torment you by reposting the photo that I put on my @generallynautical Instagram.
The announcement of the day had wording that made it sound like we were going to be on the beach for a couple days at least- so it was time to do something. Maybe even something that some people would describe as an “Adventure.” The skipper was very supportive and said something like “Get the hell out while you can!”
Here was an opportunity to explore a part of the state that I’d yet to visit. Typically on a boat from February into October, a July trip to the interior was something I couldn’t pass up. With only a couple days available- and nearly 1000 miles of highway in my sights- the bicycle was set aside for the moto. It happened fast. Up to my elbows in shit at 5 in the afternoon, packing for a motorcycle trip by 8pm and on the ferry at 4am the following morning. I love living in Alaska.
Back it up a little bit: My wife went into the history books as “Best Wife Ever” when she gifted me a motorbike last December. A complete surprise, I was obviously ecstatic. It seems the perfect bike for Alaska- a 2009 KLR650. I had the opportunity to ride it a little bit in between fishing and the icy roads of winter- mostly on the unmapped logging roads that I’ve been slowly documenting off our highway system, trying to establish some nice bikepacking loops in the area. It’s worked great as a way to link up the trails when I don’t have time for a long ride.
I packed fairly light though I didn’t use everything- so maybe I over packed. I wore my Levis commuter jeans, a cotton tee shirt, Pendleton wool flannel, wool socks and MUSA merino underwear, Coal Headwear fleece neck gaiter, West America x Woolrich waxed cotton jacket, La Sportiva leather mountaineering boots, OR unlined leather gloves and Smith sunglasses. I’m also using Bell Vortex helmet. On the bike I carried:
- Klymit Sleeping pad
- 0 degree Wiggy’s bag
- OR bivy sack
- 3 pairs socks
- 2 pairs underwear
- OR puffy
- OR Gaiters
- Showers Pass rain pants
- MSR Dragonfly stove
- Aeropress and coffee for 4 days
- Stanley thermos mug
- Cook pot
- One day worth of freeze dried meals
- Tripod/selfie stick adapter to hold phone for photos and video
- Long underwear
- Ball cap
- Folding pack saw
- Basic tool kit
I think that’s it. My panniers weren’t totally waterproof, but I did have a dry bag for my sleeping bag. In a perfect world everything would have been set up just so- but sometimes you just gotta go. I don’t have much fancy “Adventure” gear- fully decked out it can cost thousands. I’ve got my old mountaineering boots, jeans, a street helmet and some other hodgepodge stuff. Stuff I feel comfortable going into the woods overnight with. Stuff I feel comfortable riding in. Sure, there is usually a safety element in expensive gear- but people have been traveling on two wheels for a long time and that hasn’t always been available- they got by somehow. Much like when riding a bike- I don’t plan on falling. Basically- if you wait to have all the gear that you think you need before you do a thing, you may never do the thing. If it rained hard every day, I may have been uncomfortable- but it didn’t, so I was stoked. Also- I didn’t get a flat tire which is good, because I didn’t have tire irons, or a tube, or a pump. I think I was expecting more traffic to help me out if I broke down- but even though it was peak of summer, I saw few cars. So I guess I got lucky.
Day One: I took the 7hr ferry ride from Cordova to Whittier, then took the tunnel through the rock and rode towards Anchorage. The Whittier tunnel is nuts on a moto. You really gotta pay attention. Up Hatcher Pass to the Independence Mine, then down Hatcher Pass and made it to Talkeetna the first night (with an obligatory stop at the Denali Brewing Co.) Camped at a site just north of town. Independence mine was rad- few people there and some cool hiking. Hatcher Pass was fun- gravel with very light traffic. Talkeetna is definitely a tourist town. 205 miles, lots of gravel.
Day Two: Talkeetna up to Healey. Camped at a site conveniently next to 49th State Brewing Co. Very touristy- especially near Nenana River with lots of raft tours going on. Lots of tour buses. The entrance to Denali Park- which was closed to all but hard sided RV’s 12 miles into the park because of a bear attack, so I didn’t bother going in. Too many crowds. It started sprinkling rain around here, but it cleared up when I got up to Healey. 164 miles, mostly paved highway.
Day Three: Healey to Anchorage. The big push. I could have just gone straight south- but I didn’t want to miss the Denali Hwy. It was a long day. A very long day. On a moto like mine though, you stand up a lot, so that makes it nice. Changing positions is critical. If I were on a cruiser that I had to keep my ass on the seat for that stint I would have been far more uncomfortable. Stayed at a dive motel in ANC and a bed felt good. $95 a night summer rate and I didn’t get bed bugs- that’s a deal for Anchorage. 526 miles, lots of gravel.
Day Four: Anchorage to Whittier. Got back on the ferry at 1pm and 7hrs later I was home. 61 miles, busy paved highway.
Taking it back again: When I was in high school I had an english teacher that used to give me books to read that weren’t required. I didn’t really read the books that were required, but I loved the ones he gave me. I was fascinated with traveling and couldn’t wait to graduate so I could get the fuck out of California (which I did- a week after graduation.) He introduced me to books like On The Road, Siddhartha, The Razors Edge, and the movie Easy Rider. I was hooked. Though it took me 20 years to do my first moto trip- it won’t be my last.
I made this video on the ferry ride home. Everything was shot and edited on the iPhone. The song used is the Ballad of Easy Rider. It’s the last song in the soundtrack to the movie- when the main characters die in a burst of flames. I love the song and it kept going through my head the whole short trip. Thanks again to Jordan Price, wherever he is, for encouraging me to explore not only literature- but life.