Alaska-Just Do It!
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ALASKA - Just Do It!

By John A. McGirr

When the subject of Alaska came up a few years ago, we started talking to people who had been there, and were told many stories (some good and some bad) about going there. One thing they all were in agreement about was that it is one of the most BEAUTIFUL places in the world. We all decided we would take all the stories into account (the good and the bad) but would take it one day at a time and Just Do It!

A trip to Alaska, especially on motorcycles, takes a lot of pre-planning although it couldn’t be planned too rigidly. (No time to Smell the Roses!) After a couple of evenings discussing the trip, (and a lot of e-mail correspondence and a few phone calls) we decided we should plan our trip around Denali National Park because reservations there HAVE to be made a long time in advance and that was one place we didn’t want to miss. We also had one passenger who couldn’t make the whole trip and would fly into Fairbanks on the 3rd of July and that would have to be taken into account when making plans.

 Planning too far ahead for the rest of the trip would take the spontaneity away and many sights might be missed due to time restraints and the need to "stay moving". A current copy of the MILEPOST magazine was a must. Without it, many of the sights along the way would be missed, and it is invaluable when making motel reservations. Don’t believe all the horror stories about gas not being available. There are places no further than 50 miles apart to get gas. Some of them are not the most modern and don’t look like much from the road but that is part of the experience.

One place we stopped at, we decided it was close enough to lunch time that we would eat. The lady who was pumping our gas told us to make sure to pay for our gas right away because she had to go in and cook. Almost all of the gas stops and lunch stops were made at places that had their own generating plants out in the back. Even some of the towns had their own systems. Motels and lodges are spread out along the route and, with a little luck, are very nice. We only had one encounter (make that Ida’s) with less than good accommodations. One pleasant surprise along the way was they ALL took credit cards. (so much for primitive!) Now the part everyone is waiting for, the ALCAN HIGHWAY.

If you are thinking you are going to run 1500 miles in gravel you are wrong!

If you are thinking you are going to run 1500 miles of blacktop highway you are wrong!

If you are thinking you are going to have a mixture of gravel, chip and seal, blacktop, mud, frost heaves that remind you of a mini roller coaster, and any other road conditions you can conjure up, you are getting close to the truth. The winter takes its toll on the highways and the work crews are constantly repairing them. Most of the time they give you plenty of warning, to the point where you get sick of seeing orange signs.

Some days we traveled most of the day and ran onto only a few "Loose Gravel" signs. Some days it was the opposite. The loose gravel areas turned from "white knuckles" to "aggravation" after a few days. We would no sooner get up to speed and another patched area would appear and you had to slow back down because you couldn’t tell if it was an old patch or a new one. We discovered that if you can see the white line along the side of the road you could keep on trucking. The areas of concern turned out to be the places where they are building new highway to make the road safer. We would only get nervous when we saw a water truck. They like to water the areas of construction to keep the dust down and to help pack down the dirt and gravel. We decided that they want us to help pack it down too, as many of these sections were soft and gushy. One area we went thru behind a couple heavily loaded semi’s. They left ruts with their duels and a ridge in the middle. Did you ever try to run with the front tire in one rut and the rear in another? NOT FUN!

Now that I have told you all about the bad parts and have your attention, I’ll tell you about the good parts. We traveled the prettiest, most scenic highway I have ever been on. You can see things you will never see anywhere else. You will see things that will give you an idea of what it was like to live 150 years ago. You will meet some of the most interesting people that live up here year-round. The 1400 miles of GOOD road made up for the 100 miles of BAD road. I don’t want to mislead anyone and tell you that all 1400 good miles were smooth but they weren’t any worse than a lot of highways back here in good ole Ohio. We did encounter a stretch of road called the TOK CUTOFF that goes from Glennallen into Tok. We had 28 miles of continuous gravel. This was not the typical gravel we had ridden in on the Alcan. This stuff was BIG gooneys mixed in with little stuff. There wasn’t much conversation on the radios during our ride across there. (We are still looking for an a--hole in a motorhome from NJ that passed us.)

I didn’t mention the 2800 miles and 5 plus days we traveled to get to the start of the Alcan (Alaska) Highway. We traveled long and hard most of the time because we wanted to get up North to start our adventure. We had less than ideal weather (understatement) in Montana and again when we left Edmonton. We arrived in Dawson Creek on schedule to start our adventure.

From here on to the completion of our trip it would be an impossible task to tell you, in detail, about our trip. There are simply no words to describe it. Mizz Carol (our computer nut) tried in her daily e-mails to take you along with us and I think she did a better job than I could attempt. I’ll just leave it at that and tell you to get a copy of her e-mails and read them. There is also a video tape, but it really doesn’t show the real beauty of Alaska. A couple of places stand out that deserve a special mention. No trip to Alaska would be complete without a trip to SKAGWAY. The ride to Skagway from Whitehorse was the most outstanding ride of the trip. An airplane ride from Skagway over to Gustavus to go on our Glacier Bay tour was fantastic. The second special place was Denali National Park. We got to see MOUNT McKINLEY. This may not sound like a big deal but we had talked to a lot of people who spent weeks waiting on the cloud cover to lift so they could see the mountain. We saw it on the first try.

You will have to get a group of friends together, make your plans, and Just Do It!


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