Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The End: Day 38 - July 21st, 2010 Wall, SD to Milford, IA

Wow, after 37 days on the road and months planning our trip, today would be our last day.  Several times we mentioned just turning around and doing the entire trip again.  Must mean we had a great time.  It will be done again but not for a few years.

Today would amount to a fast cruise east on Interstate 90 across South Dakota.  For Tammy, this required a few tunes (John Cougar?) from the headset.  I'd look back and see her head bobbing from side to side and she wouldn't respond when spoken to.  She was either tired of me or enjoying the music or both.

A quick stop to photograph Henrietta, the Badlands Campground's mascot.     


Pretty uneventful day as we spun out the 370 miles to home.  Cruised at an indicated 75 to 80 mph and the Suzuki was handling fine with the much stiffened forks.  Having little wind today really helped.  Did visit with several motorcyclists at gas stops who were heading west to Sturgis, Yellowstone, Glacier, Colorado,or just west.  Most were taken back to learn that Tammy and I were returning from Alaska and didn't ride a Goldwing, BMW, or Harley.  Obviously the bugs on the windshields documented our claim of riding that far.

Arrived home mid-afternoon.  It certainly was good to be home but we also felt like the trip had gone by way too fast.  Seemed as if we had just left as we sat in our driveway again.

The bikes had preformed very well, especially the Kawasaki Versys.  The Suzuki needs a little TLC plus a fork rebuild and new rear brake pads.  No tire problems even though we were well prepared for any.  I put on 10,600 miles with the trip to Prudhoe Bay, Tammy about a thousand less.  Luggage system kept everything dry. Kudos to Ortlieb and Happy Trails; their bags are awesome.

I really enjoyed this trip because my wife Tammy went with me.  I had done the trip in 2006 alone and could only tell her or show her thru pictures what an Alaska trip on a motorcycle was like.  You truly need to experience it to appreciate the vastness, the breath taking scenery, the daily changing conditions, and the array of people you interact with.  We found that being on a motorcycle let us meet people we'd never be approached by if just sitting in a car.  These fellow riders and motorists really added to the character and memories from our trip.

Finally, I must say a big THANK YOU to my wife Tammy.  I knew she was enthused about the trip but also a little nervous.  She never complained about the weather, the cold, the rain, the food, the sleeping conditions, or anything for that matter.  I couldn't ask for a better riding partner for this trip or the trip thru life.   I really look forward to future trips with her and possibly even back to Alaska in a few years (Roger and Kari, are you listening?).  But then, I must be a little road weary or twisted to think a girl wearing a mosquito net is sexy.  Love you!

Day 37 - July 20th, 2010 Broadus, MT to Wall, SD

From Broadus, MT would be a long day to home.  We made the decision to break the distance into two days and become a Black Hills' tourist for part of today.  We've vacationed several times in the Black Hills and always find the area clean and refreshing.  Only time it seems crowded is during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and that wasn't for two or three weeks.

An excellent breakfast in Broadus and a charge down Hwy 212 brought us to the wide spot in the road called Stoneville.  We didn't sample the food but did have to test ride a local bike.

Made a quick stop at the Spearfish, SD Chamber of Commerce to pick up maps of the Black Hills and to plan a quick loop thru the hills.  Would go down Spearfish Canyon, thru Lead and Deadwood, back to Sturgis for lunch and a tour of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, and back on I-90 past Rapid City to the Badlands.

Spearfish Canyon had construction ongoing that slowed traffic and grouped us together to make it seem congested.

Sturgis was busy preparing for the upcoming rally.  Shops were being filled with leather goods, t-shirts, and motorcycle accessories.  Sturgis has became a round the year stop with numerous motorcycle related stores, bars, and places to eat.  We ate at Loud America and loved the atmosphere and even discussed coming back for the rally.

We had never taken the tour of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum but today was the day.  Admission was only $5 and probably the best money we spent on this trip.  They have a tremendous display of all types of motorcycles from Malcolm Smith's ISDT Husky, to a Harley with a million miles on it, to early bikes I've never heard of.  Highly recommended stop if you ever get to Sturgis.
Leaving Sturgis, we hit a strong cross wind on I-90 east of Rapid City.  The Suzuki had now blown both fork seals and nearly all the oil in each leg had ran down the fork legs or blown back on the engine.  Handling was getting a little vague with the strong side gusts or passing large trucks.  Made the decision at Wall to get off the interstate and go thru the Badlands thinking the wind would be muted by the Badlands' bluffs.  Not to be.  Handling really deteriorated because going in and out of the Badlands created unexpected wind bursts and the handling became a real handful.   Tammy even remarked that the bike was really wobbling as I went thru curves.  At the campground, I would screw the fork springs' preload to the max to stiffen the forks for the trip home.  This worked well.

Rain was in the changing weather conditions so we grabbbed the last camping cabin at the Badlands Campground.  Great deal for $29.
The campground no longer served a restaurant evening meal so we road a mile south to Interior near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for a quick pizza and a few games of pool again.  Certainly going to try improving my diet once I return home.

Good, relaxing day (except for the poor handling Suzuki) and posed well for our ride home tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 36 - July 19th Butte, MT to Broadus, MT

Today was a day of interstate buzzing.  This is the cruelest way to travel on a motorcycle because you just sit there, crank the throttle open, and stare straight ahead.  No shifting, leaning, accelerating, or even braking.  But it does put some miles on the odometer.  Gas mileage does drop at these speeds though.

Today our only stop of significance was at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  The National Park Service has done an excellent job of recreating what led up to this battle and how Custer's men were simply out numbered that day.  Displays give equal billing to each side and recognizes that countless men on each side lost their lives on this hillside that day.

After watching a movie regarding the Indian wars and the reasons for them, we walked up the hill to the final battlefield.  Quiet and eerie, not unlike the area around the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC.  Custer's men actually shot 35 of their own horses just to hide behind as the Indians surrounded them and continually attacked. 
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where most of the soldiers are now buried.
There was also a National Cemetery on the grounds where soldiers and their family members were buried from many of the Indian Wars to the west.

Camped at a farmstead setting campground just west of Broadus on Hwy 212.  Had three Harley riders a couple sites away from us come home after a night of drinking.  Enjoyed listening to their disjointed conversation thru our thin tent walls.  Manly topics such as guns, women, and vasectomies!

Day 35 - July 18th, 2010 Republic, WA to Butte, MT

Day 35 and we've been on the road for five weeks.  In some ways it seems like we just began and in some ways, riding across Beartooth Pass, getting into the Canadian rockies, going to Dawson's D2D rally, and riding to Deadhorse seemed long ago.  But we both are looking forward to getting home and knew we were only days away.

Today we stopped for an early breakfast in Colville, WA and had two excellent omelets.  Made up for last night's snack supper.  For the two omelets with coffee, we paid $13 and change.  Same meal in Canada or Alaska would have been $25 or higher.  Pleasantly pleased.  But then we had to ask the waitress what day of the week it was and she kind of gave us a funny look before answering.

Made the decision to drive down thru Spokane to get to I-90.  Once we hit the city, it was stop and go traffic for miles before we got on the interstate highway.  Road was busy all the way thru Idaho and to Missoula.  Lake Coeur d'Alene in ID was as gorgeous as ever but the area seems to be becoming more crowded.  Did stop in Kellogg, ID where I had a job offer thirty years ago. 

Felt like we made reasonable mileage today getting to Butte, MT.  Camped at a RV park next to the interstate but chose a remote camp site to avoid traffic noise.  We're becoming less tourists and more road warriors at this point.
Did call Verizon Wireless now that I was back in the states and not roaming.  A simple reprograming of the phone and all is good.

Day 34 - July 17th, 2010 Quesnel, BC to Republic, WA

Today we were up early with the goal of making it into the State of Washington.  It was obviously the weekend because traffic was extremely heavy.  Turns out, this part of British Columbia is a destination area with large lakes in mountain settings, vineyards with numerous wineries to stop, sample, and buy, fruit and vegtable stands everywhere, and miles and miles of rivers to be tubed.

We stopped at a roadside fruit stand and enjoyed blackberry cider, apple pie with ice cream, and a cranberry/nut type bar.  All good.  We counted our remaining Canadian money, decided we had a little extra, and purchased some strawberry jam and blueberry brandy syrup for the trip home.  Even had a local give us some red cherries to sample.
I studied the map after enjoying the pie and ice cream.

The lake just north of the US border was nearly 50 miles long and the road paralleled it on the west.  Gorgeous homes with great views, park-like settings, orchards and vineyards, and boat marinas filled the area.  Definitely a place to return to someday.  The river flowing from the lake was adjacent to road for miles and was filled with Apple River type tubers, thousands of them.  We had an easy border crossing south of Osoyoos with no wait.  We had heard the border crossing waits could be over an hour nearer Vancouver.

Took Highway 20 across the State of Washington and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic and two National Forests we traveled thru.  Stopped in the small town of Republic at their fairgrounds to camp.  One other motorcyclist on a KLR tenting, a pickup camper from eastern Iowa, and a pull type camper were our only neighbors for the night.  What we did not realize is that the entire county had no electricity for the day for maintenance reasons so no restaurants were open for supper.  Went to a gas station that was operating on generator power and bought a pre-packaged supper (chocolate milk, chips, peanuts, and a Slim Jim).
Guess what, it now gets dark at night.  Tammy's habit of a little reading before sleeping would take some fabricating.  No problem, a LED flashlight resting on your forehead works just fine.

It was good to be back in the USA.  While we all complain about the price of food and gasoline, we instantly noticed a drop in prices when we got back in the US.  And this was not just the Canadian to US dollar conversion either.  Gas was nearly a dollar a gallon cheaper.

Day 33 - July 16th, 2010 Houston, BC to Quesnel, BC

Our original plan was to reach the State of Washington near the Cascade mountains and then head south thru Washington, Oregon, and part of California.  Wanted to see Crater Lake, Mt Rainier, Mt Saint Helens, wine country, and cut across Nevada and Utah, thru Colorado, and then home.  But we made the decision to head towards home now.  This trip will be six weeks long by the time we get home.  To add more mileage at this point would be just for the mileage and not that enjoyable.  So we'll save those sights along the coast for another trip.  Plus there's Lake Okoboji to enjoy yet with our shortened summer.  And new dirt bikes to prep.

The views along Hwy 16 were great and you could see a good mixture of productive farmland in the valleys.  The economy was certainly healthy thru this area with each town and farmstead very clean.  Much pride was taken in how property was maintained.  Good to see.
We passed a very large open pit copper mine that was very impressive.  Went on for miles with countless large trucks carrying product back and forth like toys in a sandbox.  Mine's display really emphasized the measures being taken to keep the area environmentally clean.  Picture is of the mine's settling lake; all water from the lake was continually pumped back thru the process rather than released down a stream.

We were making good time especially concerning we were going into the weekend and traffic was heavy as people scurried to their weekend outing location.  We were about 40 miles south of Prince George when traffic came to a stop.  Turned out a Dodge truck pulling a fifth wheel had started on fire and had the road closed.  Long story short, we set for over two hours waiting for the traffic flow to resume.  They even brought in helicopters to fight the adjacent grass fires.  Traffic was backed up for two to three miles each direction.  Wish we could have gotten a picture of the pickup and 5th wheel.  Each was just steel wheels on the pavement with steel frames between the wheels.  We heard LP tanks and gas tanks exploding, saw plumes of black smoke, and became frustrated like nearly everyone else.

By this time it was nearly 8:30 PM so we stopped at the first campground we saw.  Neat campground on a lake and filled with weekend campers.  Always room for an additional tent though. 

We camped next to a teacher from San Francisco that was also stopped by the burning truck/rv.  However, he was on a bicycle and was spending the summer riding from Fairbanks to SF.  We ate dinner with him at an adjacent restaurant and found him very interesting.  He had bicycled each summer for years and had ridden in Europe, South America, Central America, up and down our east coast, and across the US.  Was averaging about 90 miles per day.   He'd broken his good bicycle's rear shifting mechanism on the Alaska Highway, couldn't get it repaired so shipped the bike home, and bought a used Schwin 8 speed and was still making great time.  He carried less than a small duffle bag of gear.  Too hard core for me.

Good day of riding despite the long delay.

Day 32 - July 15th, 2010 Hyder, AK to Houston, BC

When we have a real bed, we sleep in a little longer.  Barely made it out by the 11AM check-out time.  And we just road the bikes 200 feet to a breakfast place.  Great breakfast and as usual we ran into people that we had just seen days earlier.  Seems to happen frequently in Alaska because there's only two ways to go around to tour the state by vehicle.

Bar/restaurant was absolutely covered everywhere with Canadian and US dollar bills.  They even had 4'x8' sheets of plywood hinged to walls so more dollars could be attached.  The girl who waited on us was from Ashland, WI; went to high school and college there.  Had just graduated as a geologist and had some part-time work in AK.
After breakfast, we went to a bear viewing area but no bears to be seen.  Plenty of mosquitoes though.  Seemed to be a river that salmon come back to spawn in every year.  Just the wrong time for us.

Went thru the Canadian customs to get back into Canada as we left Hyder.  Border agent appeared to be 18 years old and doing it for a summer job.  Don't think this crossing ever got too busy.

Stewart had a harbor that consisted of boats tied to old tree stumps.  When the tide was out, they simply sat in the mud.  Not too glamorous until I realized this was the home port of world famous Captain Ron.

We drove the canyon back out to the Cassiar Hwy and proceded south to finish off the last 100 miles of the highway.  The gas station/convience store at the intersection of the Cassier and Hwy 16 was over-whelmed with customers.  Had to be 20 motorcyclists plus an equal number cars and trucks.  Obviously a great business location.

We stopped at a roadside rest area for a bathroom break and ended up spending nearly an hour talking to an older retired couple from Rapid City and then to two KLR riders from North Carolina.  The couple was driving a 1970's Ford with a pickup camper.  Said they were having the time of their lives at 10 mpg.  The KLR riders had trucked their bikes to Michigan and ridden from there.  Bikes were well farkled and looked very experienced.  One rider had been to AK several times by motorcycle and was bemoaning the Cassier Hwy being paved.  Said this was his last trip to the state because it was getting over-run with tourists.  I think he was just growing weary from the trip.

Stopped later at a small town with a totem pole display.  We found the church just as interesting.  It appeared to be still active while quite run-down.

Discovered a great little family campground just east of Houston for the night.  The local Chinese buffet left a lot to be desired though.  Even managed to get the oil changed in the Suzuki that night.  Hwy 16 is a major four lane highway across Canada and we would make good time on this road tomorrow.