23rd September 2012

Tough Miles blog 12: Alaska to Whistler

Jon here:

When I thought about Alaska I imagined snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes and 24 hour daylight. I pictured myself fishing with locals through holes in the ice. My preconceptions of Alaska at this time of year couldn’t be further from the truth, and as we crossed the border the weather was so warm that even riding in a t-shirt was comfortable! It would appear we had lucked out with the weather again. Apparently during July there was barely a dry day, but by the time we arrived in mid-August the sun was out in full force.

Our first night in Alaska, Tuesday 14th August, was spent camping in Tok alongside millions of mosquitoes, although nothing could compare to the BAM road. The following morning we headed for Fairbanks, our target destination before starting our journey back down towards Argentina. Upon arrival we decided to visit Chena Hot Springs, where we planned to relax and have some time off the bikes. This was my first experience of a ‘Hot Spring’, and as we entered I was slightly put off by the potent smell of natural gas and a gathering of pensioners lining the side of the pool. Nevertheless it was nice to have a bathe in the hot water whilst enjoying the view of the surrounding mountains.

The following morning Pete and I decided to go on a small hike along a local trail. After 200m the path became very narrow and we began scaring one another with the idea of a bear stumbling out of the bush. With a light sweat on the brow Pete stopped and said “This is ridiculous, a bear could venture out and block our route at any point”. I thought back to the previous night, where the bar tender told horror stories of a recent bear attack and said “Why would anyone venture through the forest during Summer without bear spray?” With this in mind we both agreed to bail like a pair of girls and head back to camp. Without any delay we changed our plan and fired up the bikes. A few miles down the road we stopped for lunch at a local cafe, where we met Dave, a die-hard Moose hunter.

Before long we found ourselves following a quad bike up deep streams and dusty trails. It was a challenging ride along the side of a mountain to reach a magnificent view-point overlooking a lush valley. Here the hunters sit and wait for days on end, with the hope of spotting some potential game. That evening we witnessed a young girl shoot a calf along side its mother. The sound of the gun shot made me jump as it echoed around the peaceful valley. The mother, known as a cow, nudged the calf as it fell to the ground. It was a sad sight sight to watch, and I couldn’t help but feel that this kind of activity was simply cruel. However, in this area of the world the population of Moose is too great for the available vegetation, so tight rules govern the hunting activity in order to control the natural habitat and environment. The hunters respect the wildlife and only kill to feed their families. Putting our feelings on hunting aside, the ride back to Chena was great fun. Without any luggage the bikes feel light and nimble. Throwing them around a twisty mountain trail reminded us why we had chosen the DRZ 400, a full-on motorcross bike that you can ride around the world.


On the 17th August we left Chena Hot Springs and began our journey south. On our way back through Fairbanks we stopped at a large camping store to reassess our luggage situation. Now with various holes it seemed the journey so far had proved too much for our 70L Life Venture dry bags, so we both decided to replace them along with an additional smaller version for our ever-growing collection of electronic devices.

Having suffered almost the entire duration of the trip with a punctured airbed, I now finally felt ready to invest a nights worth of drinking money into buying a new one. My extravagant spending spree didn’t stop there. I was sick of trying to find an area of earth soft enough to insert a peg, which often led to an obscure pitch on some kind of slope. With this in mind and the smell of wet dog, I decided the days of the Banshee 300 were over, and within minutes I was the proud owner of a brand-spanker ‘pegless’ tent. Pete looked at me with a look of disgust and said “There was no need for that mate, she’s been good to you”.

That afternoon we travelled back down to Tok, before heading north-east on the Taylor road, also known as the ‘Top of the World Highway’ to reach a bizarre place called Chicken. Chicken is a community founded on gold mining and is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska, with a ridiculously small population of approximately 17 inhabitants! As you can imagine there’s not much to do there, unless you fancy spending your day siving through a river bed, so the following morning Pete and I continued to tear up the loose gravel on our way to Carmacks in Yukon.

That evening we found a nice campsite on the edge of a river. The following morning, whilst struggling to pack up my new tent, a fellow biker named Henry poked his nose in to say hi. Much to their amusement I turned to him and his friend and said “I f*cking hate camping”. They found this hilarious given the fact I had decided to do a round-the-world trip on a motorcycle, especially with Pete managing the budget. We found it funny watching Henry wait patiently for Tim to finish packing up. Tim rides a BMW 800 GS, but with an old-school leather jacket and a tin top helmet with an alien on the front he certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype. All of the BMW badges on his bike have been replaced with a picture of a comic women, and he has named his bike ‘Hell Bitch 3′.

Their blog is awesome and it has such a good name: ‘crackof10′ Why Crack of ten? Because when on a motorcycle adventure, no matter how hard you try and start your day at the ‘crack of dawn’ you’ll almost never be on the road before 10am. So so true, and almost every day Pete and I chuckle as we shout “Crack of Ten” leaving each campsite. Follow this link to read what Tim has to say about Tough Miles:

From Carmacks we cut east along another dirt road towards Faro. By this time our rear TKC 80 was completely bald. It soon became apparent that our original plan to make this tyre last all the way back to Seattle was unrealistic. At this point we made a fortunate decision to loop back to Whitehorse via the Canol road, where we would have a good chance of finding some new boots. The Canol road is arguably the most scenic route in Yukon.

Much of it is single track with a loose gravel surface. Due to the weather parts of it were extremely dusty, but it was great fun sliding the rear end around whilst trying to find traction with whatever rubber we had left. Often it was difficult to remain sensible, and with a chance of on-coming traffic there were certainly moments for both of us where we had to hold our breath. It was a fantastic ride, one that I would certainly recommend if anyone is venturing up in that direction.

The only tyre we could source in Whitehorse was a cheap Kenda, seemingly without a name but with the word ‘Nylon’ written on the side wall, perfect. We had no other option than to go with it. Our intial impression wasn’t great. The rear end felt unstable, and 200 miles down the road at Watson Lake we noticed large chunks of the tyre were now missing. The centre knobbles were just tearing off, leaving deep holes in the rubber.

Feeling absolutely gutted, we decided to continue on our journey, hoping that the tyres would at least last until we could source some alternatives on route. That afternoon we passed a large herd of Buffalo. They are one brutal looking beast, so we didn’t dare stop too close for the money shot!

Not much further down the road we decided to call it a day. It was an interesting evening, besides one other biker named Sebastian, we were the only guests sleeping there that night. The owner of the site and his maintenance side kick sat with us drinking around a campfire, telling us how frequently bears and herds of buffalo are seen in the area. They even provided us with our own huge axe to chop the fire wood……somethings just don’t feel quite normal, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep well that night:

The next day we rode with Sebastian. He was on his way to a BMW GS challenge, and you can read more about his adventure here.
It was a long hard day riding in torrential rain on some rough road surfaces with deteriorating tyres. Fortunately it brightened up towards the end of the day, and after covering almost 600 miles we found a nice campsite in St Fort Johns. That night we headed to the pub, and believe it or not, whilst sitting outside sipping on a well deserved beer we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights!

The sun was out the following morning and it was a short ride to Dawson Creek. With no luck finding tyres there we pushed on to Grand Prairie, where the only option available was a Maxxis full on knobbly from Northgate Honda. This was certainly not the tyre we wanted, but we decided it would do as a spare, so reluctantly we each strapped one on top of our luggage and began our ride towards Hinton. Both feeling a little stressed about wasting yet more money on stupid tyres, our hearts sank further as the dreaded blue and red flashing lights pulled us over only 1 mile down the road. The sheriff jumped out of his car and began giving us a good telling off “You just jumped two STOP signs in a row, did you not see them?!”. He then asked to see our documents, which involved a full unpack in the blistering afternoon sun right outside a Suzuki shop. Despite having paid for insurance neither of us had printed the documents, typical. The sheriff went on to explain that this was an offence, and that along side a $2500 fine, our bikes could be towed away! He began filling out a ticket for each of us. Despite letting us off with the insurance issue, he proceeded to hand us a $287 fine each for jumping the stop signs.

I couldn’t believe the severity of this penalty, and held my head in despair. But looking like I was about to cry seemed to work in our favour, as the sheriff began to take pity. Before long we managed to negotiate scrapping one of the tickets, and shortly after that result the story of our epic adventure seemed to get us off the hook completely. He paused for a second and then much to our amazement said “I’ll tell you what, let me give you one of my cards, and if you email me with stories of your adventure then I’ll let you guys go scott free, but why don’t you keep the tickets for memorabilia?” We were certainly grateful to have gotten away with that one. With this drama dealt with we re-packed and hit the road, reaching Hinton by the evening.

Friday 24th August was our ride through the Rockies. From Hinton we headed south-west down to Jasper, and then took Highway 93 through Jasper National park towards Banff. The ride along this road is fantastic, and the scenery as you cut through the vast snow-capped mountain range looks like something off a post card. Whilst enjoying the view Pete had a near miss with a large black bear, having to swerve around it as it lumbered out of the bush onto the road. Before reaching Banff we cut west at Lake Louise onto Highway 1. Our last night was spent in Kamloops, and on our final day we re-joined the infamous Highway 99 to complete our ‘Alaska Loop’ back to Whistler.

In 11 days we had ridden over 3000 miles, relaxed in Hot Springs, experienced Moose hunting, ridden off-road mountain trails and travelled through the famous Rocky Mountains. An incredible part of our adventure that I know neither of us will ever forget.

We’re now within £1500 of our target. Thanks again to all those who have donated and those who have not yet had the chance, please visit our Just Giving page to make a donation straight to Cancer Research.

Check out the links below for some riding footage from this leg of the trip:

Clip 1: Riding the Canol road

Clip 2: Riding a Moose hunting trail in Alaska

Clip 3: Following Dave the hunter on his quad.