Alaska: 8000 miles and 18 bears later. Chapter 1: The Journey North.

In the summer of 2019 I rode my BMW R1200GS from San Francisco to Anchorage, and then back home via the Canadian Rockies. This is the first of a few posts detailing the trip.

The way to Alaska

This Alaska trip was about more than just a road trip for me. It was a the start of a larger life change. I quit my lucrative tech job on June 1st, 2019 with a personal goal to set the remainder of my career as one of fighting against climate change. The trip to Alaska was therefore both an opportunity to reset my mind on the struggle to come, an opportunity to see a profound part of nature before it changes even further, and of course, a much needed break.

This is a story about the trip, and so I won’t discuss climate change any further than this paragraph, but know that the entirety of the trip was spent listening to audio books and podcasts, reading papers and articles, and generally immersing myself in the details of this deeply upsetting but critical challenge facing our planet and our species. This made for an interesting lens to say the least, and while I felt no small amount of personal guilt in the carbon-fueled indulgence of this trip, I also felt a quasi-outrage at the hordes of gas-guzzling RVs and campers, and at the exploitation of natural lands which was nearly always on display. Even the remoteness of the Yukon Territories was no exception. This trip, therefore, was an emotionally trying experience on many levels. For accounting purposes, my gasoline emissions alone contributed roughly 3200 lbs of CO2.

Returning to more anodyne ground, I spent about 6 weeks on the road, traveling 8000 miles in total. Throughout the trip I saw 18 bears, dozens of bison and sand hill cranes, flocks of Dall sheep, one lynx, and one moose. It was a hell of an experience — an adventure more than a vacation — and I’m glad and thankful to have had the good fortune and ability to undertake such a journey. I hope you enjoy the photos and stories that follow.

The route up (left), the route back (center), and a zoom-in on the Canadian Rockies section (right).

The Journey Up

Day 0: bike checkup and new tires!

Day 1: San Francisco CA to Klamath CA. 336 Miles.

I left SF on July 30th and took a coastal route up to Portland Oregon over three days. The first day started with a goodbye breakfast at the family farm in Petaluma, and camping on the Klamath river just north of Eureka. Somewhere along the way I unknowingly picked up a ten-penny nail in the rear tire, which would come to be a real pain in the days to come. Weather on this first day was lovely, which would come to be the exception.

Day 2: Klamath CA to Newport OR. 252 miles.

This was the fifth long-distance motorcycle trip I’ve undertaken. One lesson I’ve learned the hard way on previous journeys is the value of taking it slow. As such, and aided by the great fortune of being gainfully unemployed for the next year, I planned from the get-go to not plan too much. I wanted to take this trip slow and enjoy the places around me as much as possible.

The first chance to really put this mentality into practice came on day 2 and passing through the small town of Lincoln Oregon. In fact, this was the the 3rd time I’ve passed through this town in the last 5 years, but I’ve never before stopped. So on this trip up I found myself parking spontaneously and taking it all in. What a lovely little town! Curio shops, a fossil museum/store, and a fantastic salad at the local Thai place made for a lovely and relaxed morning. Spending a few hours in a place that I would normally pass through within a matter of minutes did a fantastic job of setting my mental state for the trip to come.

The small town of Lincoln Oregon was a pure delight. One “man cave” dollhouse please!
Rawrrrrr!

I ended in Newport Oregon, another town I’ve oft passed through on more hectic road trips, but never properly visited before. Dinner at the local Thai place (yes, you can and should eat Thai multiple times in a day!) and a long walk along the cliff side well into the dark of the evening capped off a fantastic day of relaxed riding.

Sunset in Newport Oregon on day 2.

— Camera nerd break —

Most of the photos on this trip were shot on my pocket-sized Sony RX100VI. I also brought my Sony A7Riii with a 24–105mm lens and the 100–400mm lens (with the intent of shooting wildlife), as well as a full-sized tripod. I ended up using that massive telephoto lens at the Anchorage zoo and for some of the glacier shots, and the rest of the time it just sat in my luggage, taking up precious cargo space. Next time, I might only bring the pocket Sony, it’s just that good!

It has a 1" sensor that punches far above its weight, features a 24–200mm pancake lens (that’s a LOT of zoom!), but also suffers severely in low light and lacks custom buttons. Most critically, while the overall picture quality is surprisingly good, the screen is severely lacking. Quite often when checking the viewfinder I’d find my photos lackluster due to the poor screen, and then be delightfully surprised by the high-quality images when checking the raw files on my laptop days later. This leads to a slightly confusing shooting experience where you get much better quality results than what you see, and it took a while to trust the camera. However once I fully committed to trusting the pocket Sony, I became increasingly happy with my results. I found myself shooting far more than I would have with a full-size camera. In particular, with some practice I became comfortable operating it through my motorcycle gloves. This proved super useful on those rainy days where I wouldn’t dare remove a glove for a photo, lest rain get in and heat escape.

Back to the trip!

Day 3: Newport OR to Portland OR. 140 miles.

I came into Portland by means of Hwy 6, which was an absolutely perfect road for fast riding. Long sweeping curves on smooth asphalt through majestic forest, plenty of passing lanes, and minimal traffic — for 40 continuous miles! Heaven. Unfortunately, as I neared Portland the heat came on strong. Around 4pm I found myself sucking on fumes in stopped traffic and drenched in sweat by the 93F heat and humid air. It took nearly an hour in stop and go traffic to make it to the AirBnB for the night. This was my first taste of the rough and exhausting weather that would come to dominate this trip.

A morning walk in Portland featured lovely flowers covered in kisses from the constant drizzle.

Day 4: Portland OR

I spent the day walking for hours and hours throughout Portland. Eventually I made my way to the Japanese gardens which proved to be a real treasure — larger and lovelier than I expected. They are an absolute must-visit for anyone passing through. The skies were overcast and a light mist hung in the air — perfect shooting weather for a garden!

The Japanese gardens in Portland Oregon.
This waterfall was so mesmerizing and relaxing that it was hard to walk away.

Day 5: Portland OR to Chilliwack BC. 306 miles.

This was a long one. Nearly 8 hours of travel in 80–90F heat. Stopped traffic on I-5. Cranky drivers. Cranky and sweaty me. Pretty miserable all around. On these hot days I took few photos due to the heat and exhaustion.

Despite wet mornings in Portland, by noon it was scorching and I was road raging pretty hard on the I-5. Blueby, my good luck juju, helped keep me sane.

I pulled into the town of Chilliwack just before dusk, staying that night at a historic hotel built in 1908. The town has apparently faded a fair bit from its industrial heyday. Still, trains regularly rumble through and there’s a small but delicious foodie scene. At just 60 miles east of Vancouver, I imagine it's just a matter of time until Chilliwack becomes as gentrified and overdeveloped as the rest of the greater Vancouver area.

Choochoo, I’m gonna wake you up at all hours of the night!

Day 6: Chilliwack BC to Williams Lake BC. 279 miles.

Leaving Chilliwack, I went dead north up Canada’s Hwy 1. It is with great regret now that I find myself without photos of the area, for it was stunning. The highway here quickly rises up into the mountain line and then follows the contours of valleys, mountains, and rivers. The Fraser river was massive and on full roiling display. It was also hot. Very hot. And entirely lacking in shade or respite. The road was tight and lacking pullouts. Throughout the day I felt a palpable anxiety. With the exception of gas stations, I basically hoofed it non-stop all day.

I ended the day in the industrial town of Williams Lake. The first thing I did as I checked into my room was to careless drop my iPhone, cracking the screen pretty badly. Like, shards of glass popping out all over the place badly. I applied some super glue and used my trusty Motion Pro Fork Seal cleaning tool as a trowel — great success! While ugly, this repair proved to hold up for the entire trip.

Take your squirrels elsewhere, Williams Lake doesn’t want ‘em!

Day 7: Williams Lake BC to Chetwynd BC. 336 miles.

What a heck of a time. The day started hot again, and quickly transitioned from mountains into the clear cut highway of gently rolling hills and meandering curves that dominates the route to Alaska.

1500 miles of nearly uniform highway, all the way to Alaska.

The vast majority of the road traveled look just like this. A two lane highway, 30 feet of cut forest to either side, and then endless monotonous forest. All the trees are exactly the same height — I don’t know if this is due to previous clear cut and new trees having grown back all at the same time, or some other factor. Regardless, it numbs the mind and I found myself struggling at times to stay focused, especially as the temperatures rose. Thankfully traffic is light, the lanes are wide and smooth, and riding conditions couldn’t be safer. Although wildlife is prevalent, most creatures know to stay well clear of the road. I was surprised at the general lack of road kill.

Pixelated monotonous forest. Imagine this day after day after day.

So, most of the day was this boring monotonous forest. I passed through Prince George around lunchtime and carried on. PG is a “last” for a lot of things a traveler might want. It’s the last outpost where a motorcyclist is likely to find: spare parts, tires, mechanics, dealerships, etc. It’s also the last Thai food until Anchorage. I breezed through without taking advantage of any of these lasts.

Prince George is also the intersection of Hwy 97 (which goes north and then west) and Hwy 16 (which goes west and then north). A fork in the road if ever there was one. Over lunch I paused to contemplate the weather. If I went the westerly route I’d be facing many more days of unbearably hot weather. If I went north it’d be wet and a bit cold, but seemingly manageable. I decided cold was the lesser of two unpleasantries and went north. I vowed that I’d take the other route on my return leg.

East or North? Both promise adventure and will take you to Alaska, but with very different experiences!

Some time later I crossed the northern stretch of the Canadian Rockies, which at this far north compares more to the Sierra foothills than mountains proper. Still, the topographic changes were enough to induce a clear change in the weather and the mercury dropped quickly. While Prince George had been 92F, the last hour before arriving in Chetwynd was 50F and raining heavily. The roads here are salted heavily with a calcium substance that clung to everything, especially my visor. Visibility went to shit. As I finally parked at an inn for the night, the heavens truly opened up and it approached flash flood conditions. Thank goodness for my goretex riding suit, which performed flawlessly the entire trip.

Right before and right after crossing the Canadian Rockies. Weather comes at you fast!
Left: Suited up for the rain. Right: I made an 8 legged friend at a gas station.
All I gotta do is ride faster than the weather!

Day 8: Chetwynd BC to Fort Saint John BC. 84 miles.

I wouldn’t leave Chetwynd until 5pm. I woke up to find that my rear tire was busted. Not flat per se, but at half pressure and dropping, dangerously unsafe to ride for hours at high speed. To cut hours of frustration short, after a few failed attempts on my own with tire pumps, and after being refused service from KalTire, I found myself at a mom-and-pop big-rig and snowmobile repair shop, being aided by a friendly group of Canadians (are there any other kind?). I pulled into the repair bay and we had the wheel off within minutes. We quickly found a ten-penny nail in the rear tire. Given that each day I’d been losing 2–4 psi, I suspect I picked up the nail on day 1. Perhaps something about the cold overnight in Chetwynd loosed the grip of the rubber around the nail, finally allowing the release of pressure. If anything, it’s remarkable that I had made 1500 miles with a nail!

It’s not a real adventure until things go wrong.
Many thanks to Dwayne and everyone here that helped get my tire fixed up.

It took 3 attempts and 4 hours to finally get the tire repaired fully. First, we tried a patch. It seemed to work, and so all the luggage went back on the bike and I sped away. Within a minute my TPS warning came on indicating that pressure was dropping again. The shop was happy enough to see me back and we went back at it. Next up we tried a mushroom style plug (which was part of my tire repair kit) and that seemed to work. But, after a few minutes tiny air bubbles could be detected from the plug site. Rats! Eventually I went to a nearby NAPA parts and bought a fresh pack of gummy worm style plugs, which worked perfectly. A second test ride on the highway and the pressure held! I returned yet again to the shop, but this time to mount all the luggage and finally be on my way. The owner and a small crew came out to see me off, and we chatted bikes for a bit before I hit the road. Lesson learned: trust the tried and tested gummy plugs. Indeed, they continued to hold pressure perfectly for the rest of the trip, and now at 6500 miles later, you can’t find any indication that they are there at all.

I’m feeling glum in Chetwynd with the prospect of losing a day of travel and then heading back out into bad weather.

Before moving on, I think it’s worth describing Chetwynd a bit, at least as I found it at the time. It’s a small town, and it was covered in dirt. Some of the roads had been completely torn up and appeared to be in the process of reconstruction, but with the rains and heavy vehicle traffic, thick dirt and pebbles were strewn about every road in a layer just thin enough to cause panics about traction — a situation further exacerbated by the rain. The town has an outsized number of hotels and inns — I suspect it could house many hundreds of visitors at a time. Apparently it’s a darling of the Canadian snowmobiling scene. It is also home to active coal mines and oil and gas operations, all of which is on display. One of the guys that came down to see me off had just come from his shift in the coal mines and was covered head to toe in black — his brand new pickup truck was similarly adorned.

Chetwynd, like much of the remote-but-accessible areas of the mid latitudes of Canada, appears to be a place in transition. Industry co-exists with growing demands for tourism. Most of these towns feature efforts at having small arts scenes, and the food scenes were constantly surprising. Every such small town I visited housed health food stores, offered surprisingly fresh and well priced produce, and had solid options for vegan travelers such as myself.

Local wood carvings along a winding walking path in Chetwynd… right next to highway.

Lastly, before moving on from Chetwynd, and because we have already taken a few detours in the telling of the trip, it’s worth discussing “the warnings” I received about this trip. The first such warning came as I entered Canada. The border patrol agent, while an enthusiastic rider such as myself, asked stern questions about my preparedness. Do you know what you’re doing? Are you aware of the remoteness? Do you know that the gas stations are few and far between? Are you prepared for the lack of support? Despite my assurances, those expressing the concerns never seemed mollified. Yes, I had completed multiple long distance trips prior. Yes, I had done my research. Yes, I am prepared to go 200 miles between gas stations. Yes, I am aware of the wildlife. Yes, I’m geared for extreme weather. Those issuing the warnings still looked stern, shook their heads, and wished me luck.

While it’s true that gas stations and outposts became more scarce north of Prince George, by the time I got to Whitehorse — at which point I had crossed the most remote areas of the route — I continued to receive warnings. I even received warnings as I crossed the border into Alaska, despite there being far more dense towns and infrastructure there than in the Yukon Territory!

At any rate, the concern is sweet and everyone meant well, but these warnings became increasingly confusing and unmoored from reality as the trip wore on.

So, I finally left Chetwynd around 5 pm, after chatting bikes with the local shop guys, hearing about the coal mine, and receiving a round of “warnings”.

It was just 2 hours up to Fort Saint John, where I’d spend the next 3 days due to freezing weather further north. I passed the Dawson Creek area on the way up, though I didn’t stop. While I knew I’d see oil and gas extraction in these regions, experiencing it in person is still quite remarkable. Just north of Dawson Creek there is a great ravine with a long suspension bridge high in the air above the rampaging Peace river. In this place all the oil and gas pipelines, normally hidden from view, are laid bare as they too cross the river by means of a their own suspension bridge. It was quite a sight.

Another particularly strong impression: there was a small facility I passed that just absolutely reeked of Ethyl Mercaptan, the smell additive put into natural gas. The stench lingered for miles before and after this processing plant. One would be forgiven if they were fearful of lighting at match just then, lest the whole world explode.

Days 9 & 10: Fort Saint John BC

These days were spent enjoying Fort Saint John while a cold front passed further north. Maybe I should say, an even colder front. There were below freezing temps and snow forecast for Pink Mountain, which lies about an hour north. Given that the next leg of the trip would now truly enter remote areas, I thought it best to wait out the weather. The town of Fort Saint John was surprisingly lovely with great restaurants and some nice cafes. I also stocked up on miscellaneous travel supplies, including a bicycle hand pump — just in case I have another tire incident.

Left: All of the luggage off the bike at Fort Saint John. Right: All of my clothes. A good sock supply is critical.

Day 11: Fort Saint John BC to Fort Nelson BC. 237 miles.

The day started rough but ended with a delightful bear sighting. While the weather had warmed a bit, it was still bitterly cold and raining as I left Fort Saint John. Thankfully the two days of rest and my rear tire continuing to hold pressure combined to work wonders for my spirit. A few hours out and I spotted my first gas station. Again, I had been warned to stop at every station I could, and so I dutifully did just that here. Of course, it was still raining, and between me and the pumps was about a few hundred feet of mud — stirred up and rutted out by big rig traffic. It was a fair bit sketchy navigating the bike through the slop, but we made it without incident. By mid-day the rain finally broke, and as I approached Fort Nelson in the late afternoon it was positively delightful out.

Just minutes before pulling into town I noticed a small black dot up on the horizon. It stood up as I got closer, and I just barely managed to switch the helmet cam on in time to capture this encounter — my first bear sighting of the trip! While I’d see many more bears in the days to come, and at even closer range, it turns out this is the best footage I got. I gotta say, these black bears are really cute.

Watch out for bears! The gopro effect warps things, but in reality I could every detail of his shiny pelt and the whites of his eyes.

Day 12: Fort Nelson BC to Watson Lake YT. 319 miles.

This day proved to be lovely, remarkable, and my favorite of the route north by far.

Finally, a respite from the monotony of the forest highway! The road now took me into tight mountain curves, rushing rivers, and lakeside vistas. Wildlife sightings abounded, and to cap it all off, a dip in the world famous Liard hot springs! Throughout the day I played leap-frog with a few other motorcyclists and we’d trade stories at the few gas stations or pull outs.

Some of the motorcycles I met along the way.

As the weather was accommodating, I took every opportunity for photos and diversions.

I think this is the Tetsa river.
At times the Tetsa got wide and slow such that it resembles a lake.
Tight mountain roads with curves to speed through. And the scenery aint too bad either!
The McDonald Creek — this water was rushing, powerful, and deadly.
Oh that I could visit such beauty every day!

This section of highway also winds through many provincial parks and wildlife refuges. Although most tourists such as myself gave the animals careful consideration, the big rigs (which easily accounted for a quarter of all traffic) slowed not at all. It’s a wonder that the animals have adapted so well to avoid traffic.

Pixelated wildlife! Most of these critters were within a hundred miles of the Liard hot springs.

By the late afternoon, much waylaid by the gorgeous scenes and critter spotting, I found myself approaching the Liard hot springs.

Marshland on the way to the springs.
Left: A wood walkway is the only route to the springs. Right: The upper and hottest pool at the springs.
Foreground: the mid-temperature pool (still quite hot!). Background: the more natural lower temperature pool.

The Liard hot springs is assuredly one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited. It’s a provincial park and well maintained. The government attention coupled with the true remoteness of this place bodes well for the long term prospects of the hot springs — a more accessible place would be so overrun with Instagram obsessed hordes that I doubt it’d survive.

As it is, the springs themselves are accessed by a 10 minute walk on wooden planks. You approach them through a marshland and shallow ponds fed by the springs. The waters team tiny fish. Tine birds that resembled sand pipers hunt and peck amongst the reeds. For the first time in my trip, nearly 2000 miles from home, it feels as though this is truly wilderness, where the human influence is tightly controlled to the narrow confines of the wooden planks. An immense sense of calm washed over me as I came to the springs proper.

As for the springs themselves, they are simply resplendent. The pools are large and the perfect blend of nature with the conveniences of civilization. The bottom of the springs are muddy and rooted, but nearby a wooden changing room provides privacy and storage for ones things. The water is a deep turquoise. The largest pool is fed not only from the main hot spring, but also from small cold-water tributary streams, allowing you to find the perfect mix of hot and cold to your liking. One can explore “upriver” of some of the tributary streams and quickly find themselves around the bend and alone. As amazing as my visit was, I can only imagine that a return in the dead of winter would be a spiritual experience.

I do wish I had more flattering photos of the springs themselves, but I didn’t want to intrude on the privacy of fellow bathers.

Day 13: Watson Lake YT to Whitehorse YT. 272 miles.

I managed to get up relatively early (for me) and snap some photos while the sun was still sideways. Watson Lake is most famous for its “signpost forest”, and indeed, it did not disappoint. This is one of those attractions that’s nigh impossible to understand fully without experiencing it first hand. It is large. It has many, many layers and twists and turns. The signage is so varied and personalized that I found myself at times overwhelmed by the volume and insistence of the stories told. There were dozens and dozens of repeat visitors, friends who left their mark in the 90s, married in the 2000s, and brought their children in the 2010s. Dedicated world travelers (many of them motorcyclists) representing all walks of life. One of the defining characteristic of this outpost appears to be the lack of rules. Yes, a local volunteer effort seems to tend to the grounds, but there are no rules governing who can put up a sign, what constitutes a “sign”, nor where they should go. And yet everything seemed perfectly respectful. I had expected this to be a quick tourist item to check off the list, and instead it left a long lasting impression.

Watson Lake in the Yukon. The signpost forest was started during WWII.

This was a short and direct day of travel (I think about 4 hours). While the previous day had offered a sampling platter of sights and changing road conditions, the route from Watson Lake was an dull return the forest of monotonous landscapes. Upon arrival in Whitehorse I spent most of the day relaxing in an AirBnB “suite” which in reality was a mostly unfinished large basement.

Entering Whitehorse was in many ways a shock. It’s a city, and a moderate sized one at that. Though the population numbers only 25,000, it felt much larger. There was traffic. What am I doing, being stuck in traffic, all the way up in the Yukon, when I was just recently so alone for days on end? More importantly, what are all these other people doing up here? How is it that they are living normal city lives? How did they transplant a Vancouver suburb all the way up here? Very perplexing. Still, I was happy to find a local health food store that not only carried my some of my favorite vegan snacks (love you, Daiya yogurt), but even some fantastic vegan jerkies that I’d never seen before. Whitehorse is a pretty great place.

Day 14 Whitehorse YT.

This was a rest and hike day in Whitehorse.

I spent the morning planning my final two days of travel before Anchorage, booking a place to stay in Tok for the following night, and double checking my plans with my wife for our 1 week vacation in Anchorage. With those chores out of the way, I set about what had now become my new favorite “rest day” activity: hiking as much of my immediate locale as I could.

In Whitehorse, I quickly found myself alongside a delightful walking path that follows both banks of the raging Yukon river. Like the Salmon, I moved upstream. Within a mile or so I was at the Whitehorse Dam, an utterly breathtaking project . Although the height delta in elevation between the top and bottom of the dam appears to be just a few tens of feet, the volume of water flowed by the Yukon river makes not only for an impressive sight, but also for a deep chest-felt rush of vibration.

Various views of the Yukon river and the Lewes dam. A hiking path girds both sides of the river banks, while a pedestrian bridge allowes easy traversal and great photo opportunities.
This water moves fast.
Though the dam is disruptive to Salmon, the fish could be seen using the ladder at all levels. These guys are pretty huge in person, and it’s crazy to see them diligently swim upstream through such a blatant artifice.
The Yukon River walkway offers stunning views at every twist and turn of it’s many miles of path.
Left: A shallow lee in the might Yukon shows the stones and pebbles of it’s bed. Right: Up close and personal with the dandelions that are absolutely EVERYWHERE up here.

Day 15 Whitehorse YT to Tok AK. 386 miles.

The day brought me back into the US, and also back into the cold and wet. Despite leaving Whitehorse early, I wouldn’t arrive at Tok until just before sunset. It was a rough day, but still full of beauty.

On the way to Tok I passed through the small town of Haines Junction and then past the natural wonder that is Destruction Bay. There’s something deeply remarkable about Destruction Bay, which again I find myself having difficult putting into words. Perhaps it is how closely it abuts the mountains. Perhaps it’s the stillness in the water, the black pebble beaches, the mirror perfect reflections of the sky. There’s an immediacy of nature here that stole my attention both on the way up and on my return trip. On a future visit, I’d very much like to camp and spend a few days here, pondering it’s quiet beauty.

Left: The bike at Destruction bay. Above and right: A few miles out from Haines Junction.
Destruction Bay and Sheep Mountain from the southern approach.

The weather from Whitehorse up until the Alaska border was cold but dry and therefore acceptable. Besides Destruction bay it was unremarkable, though snow-capped mountain ranges could now be seen both to the north and south at all times. Sure enough, as I re-entered the US the border agent once again gave me the warning — despite the fact that I had just gotten myself all the way here!

As I came down into Alaska, the trees, the terrain, the weather, the road conditions — it all changed. The border crossing at Alcan is also the crossing of a small mountain range. Here in Alaska, the ground was boggy, with large ponds and marshlands all along the road. Power lines sunk into the ground, at times just a few feet above the murky water. The roads were better and asphalt instead of chip seal, except when they were worse, and then they were way worse. The bad part of a road in Canada was perhaps a bit of gravel around some small potholes. The bad part of these AK roads were topsy-turvy affairs, where stretches of a lane might pitch down or buck up radically. You gotta be on your toes and read the terrain carefully at all times now. And of course, it started to rain again. What had been a nice day dropped down to the 40s. I was back in the cold and the wet. Lightning could occasionally be seen in the distance. It was thus that I was welcomed to Alaska.

I entered Tok close to sunset, steered towards the first gas station I saw, and immediately began shivering as I got off the bike. There I met an older couple who had just come back up from Anchorage. They road on a massive Tenere, piled high with luggage and covered in dirt and calcium from the roads. I think they were British, or maybe Aussies. They couldn’t be happier. We traded stories and bemoaned the lack of cell service, and I gradually warmed up. I finally managed to load up the directions to my hotel for the night and set off. I had booked a nice looking BnB online without any understanding of where it was. Turns out, I had to exit the town proper by a few miles and then make my way down some old logging roads and into a neighborhood of sorts. Imagine vast tracts of flat forest. Now imagine logging roads breaking it into a neat grid about a quarter of a mile on each leg. Now imagine that a neighborhood exists there, among the trees, where each house lays claim to acreage about the size of a city block. My BnB was one of those houses. You wouldn’t know this neighborhood of sorts existed at all from the highway. I suppose this is suburbs, remote Alaska style.

The BnB itself was one of the more delightful stays of the trip, and so I’ll reminisce briefly. Of the two houses on the property, one was a private residence for the owners, and the other was built as a dedicated BnB. Apparently built in the early 2010s, the original owner thought better of the remoteness and returned to the lower 48, selling the property to a Romanian couple who had been in the states for just a few years prior. They were now happily adjusting to the hosting lifestyle, and enjoyed sharing stories with visitors. I also met a very kind Australian couple here and we spent a few hours discussing everything from climate change to search and rescue techniques (as the husband was a rescue specialist with the coast guard). In a trip of cheap motels and shady AirBnBs, this lovely place full of kind human connections was a meaningful respite.

Day 16: Tok AK to Anchorage AK. 318 miles.

I would finally get into Anchorage — the turnaround point for this trip north — and be reunited with my wife, but not before quite an ordeal.

I knew that it would be another cold and wet morning, and so I had planned to leave Tok around 11am. Despite the late start, it was still a bitter 38F as I mounted up, and the light morning rain soon turned into a downpour. Though it warmed a bit as the day went on, and the rain came and went, the road also climbed up and down through elevation changes, and soon I felt keenly the difference between 42F (shivering) and 46F (cold, but manageable). Vision was heavily obscured while I shuddered miserably and sped down the road in search of warmer weather. Through these unhappy times, I could tell the terrain and forest was changing yet again, becoming almost rain-forest like at times. It reminded me of the Hoh in Washington state. I knew I was truly in moose territory now, and glanced at every shadow in the mist, constantly preparing for an emergency stop lest a bull lope absentmindedly into the road.

It’s pretty, yes, but also cold. Oh, so very cold.

I saw no moose on that day, but after a few hours I did come upon what would prove to be the absolute sketchiest “road” conditions of the whole trip. A 12 mile stretch of the road between Tok and Anchorage had been dug up, returned to dirt, and was under reconstruction by hundreds of workers and massive machinery. A small boon here was that the long wait for the pilot car to steer us through this morass allowed me time to dismount the bike and warm myself before the ordeal started in full. It was still raining, and temps here were around 42F. After 20 minutes of waiting patiently in line, we were off. While most of the site was hard-pack dirt and gravel — a surprisingly comfortable surface for my street tires, even in the wet — there were multiple sections where the road turned to snotty mud. On top of that, the surface height changed abruptly multiple times, with steep muddy ramps to climb and descend. Although my rear tire lost traction repeatedly in this slop, the BMW electronics worked flawlessly, bringing power back in control and preventing me from taking a nasty spill. After a full hour traversing this gross, wet, and chilly construction site, I was free.

Waiting for a pilot car to navigate us through the 12 mile “construction” zone.

By mid-afternoon I passed through another small mountain range, entered a plateau just north of anchorage, and the cold rain was replaced by high winds. The bog lands turned to rushing rivers, fed by the rain and glacial melt. Eventually I saw for the first time in my life a true glacier — the Matanuska. With this glacier now in view, I had finally arrived somewhere entirely new, entirely different from things I had experienced in the lower 48. Bad roads and bad weather were nothing new, but a glacier, and one so massive that it could be seen for nearly 20 minutes of travel time, that was something special indeed!

The Matanuska glacier comes into sight!

The road now became mountainous and twisty as it descended into Anchorage. Sport bikes appeared, hugging the curves and chasing speed. As I entered the exurbs of Anchorage, the weather shifted radically again, and within minutes of entering the flat lands I found myself sweating and suffocating as it was 85F (a historic heat wave!) and I was fully bundled in my cold weather gear. I stripped in a parking lot, gassed up yet again, and finally made my way to a lovely AirBnB to enjoy a week of Anchorage tourist activities with my wife.

With 3,300 miles under my belt and the only major complication being some poor weather and a flat tire, I had made it to Alaska. Despite all the warnings, I had not run out of gas or succumbed to the elements. Indeed, all things considered, the trip so far was not horribly difficult, just a bit uncomfortable. I had made it. And now the way home would be easier — it’s always easier. Or so I thought…

That’s it for now, but in future installments I’ll cover visiting Anchorage (tons of glacier and bear photos), and my return trip through the wild British Colombian forests, the Canadian Rockies, and even worse weather! I’ll also have a post for motorcyclists considering this trip with my findings and suggestions.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! I hope you found this post interesting, and do please let me know what you’d like to see and hear more of in my next posts.

Teasers for Chapter 2.