Here are a few notes, in no particular order, that might be of interest to others planning to ride to Alaska like we did.

Wildlife viewing was much better along the Alcan between Ft. Nelson and Watson Lake than it was in Denali. We saw quite a large number of black bears and bison right along the highway, as well as a few moose, caribou, deer, and one red fox(no grizzlies though). Denali is mostly a huge valley that is miles across with not a lot of animals. When you do see one it is miles away and just a spot on the horizon. Binoculars might make it a better wildlife viewing experience. Mt. McKinley is pretty spectacular if you get to see it, but it's hidden by clouds 70% of the time.

Wireless internet access was available at even the most remote place we stayed. Most had unsecured access, but a couple required getting a password from the front desk. The passwords ranged from a simple, "Ilovecanada" to a complex, "B10454DD506084498EC7FDF4FE".

There was no problem finding good to excellent food all along the way. The most surprising was the very eclectic restaurant attached to the Woodlands Inn in Ft. Nelson.

My wife and I rode two-up 9200 miles on a new set of Michelin Pilot II's and even went to the Arctic Circle. We rode a lot of rough roads and gravel. The tires could still go another several hundred miles at least when we got home, but they were getting close to the wear bars.

The weather was not great for our trip. Almost all the way across Canada to the Alaskan border and almost all the way back from the Alaskan border to Illinois the weather reports were that while it was not quite setting records, it was unusually cold and rainy. Way too many miles were ridden in temperatures from 43 to 55 and in rain. Highs most days were in the 50s or 60s. We rode through very high winds an awful lot of miles across Canada, both ways. Also had high winds across ND and MN.

Other traffic
There were lots of friendly bikers along the way. Most were willing to share information about the road ahead. Some were smart-alecks who thought it would be fun to scare us about how bad it was going to be. It wasn't really too hard to tell the difference.

Once we got on the Alcan, we saw very few passenger cars or SUVs. It was probably about 1/3 motorcycles, 1/3 trucks and 1/3 big RVs and motorhomes. Of the motorcycles, most were dual-sport bikes, then Harleys, non-GS BMWs, Gold Wings, and only a couple of sport bikes.

There are tons of geocaches along the way if that is something you are interested in.

Border Crossings
All our crossings except the one back into the US in North Dakota were uneventful. Just the usual few questions and show them the passport. Going into ND, every vehicle was pulled over for baggage inspections. The guard asked to look in one saddle bag, asked us to open the toiletries kit, took a second glance before I even had it opened half-way and sent us on our way. I'm guessing the guard didn't really want to inspect our bag, but had to.

While most of the roads on our trip were very ridable, most of them were not in excellent shape and way too many miles were across long flat prairie lands. This was definately not a sport-riding adventure. Once we got near the Alcan, even the best roads were mediocre and, in general, the further north, the worse. The worst stretch was the 150 miles or so in the Yukon before the Alaskan border. Alaska's road repairs were very good compared to the Yukon's and the riding improved almost immediately once we crossed the border. That is not to say Alaska's roads were great, just a lot better than Yukon's.

Conditions can change in a short time. The couple mile stretch of dirt road with no constuction crews present that we passed on the way up was 3 or 4 stretches of pilot vehicle led road repair areas that covered probably 8 or 10 miles. The road to the Northwest Territory did not have any construction when a couple of other riders we met rode it on July 2nd, but by the time we rode it on July 12th, they had started two constuction projects and we had to ride through a few miles of newly laid gravel.

You learn fast to pay attention to signs about road damage. It can get pretty bumpy. Also you can tell where the worst dips are by looking at the tire skids that appear at the back edge of the dip. Probably semi tires hitting the back lip. The more tire skids the worse the dip. Slow down more for these.

There are a few different types of gravel roads Dirt is the worst. When it is wet it is slick and throws a lot of mud up into the bike. My exhaust pipes looked like were coated about 1/2 inch thick with mud after one stretch. The size of the aggregate in the dirt makes for a smoother or bumpier ride.

Gravel can be freshly spread in which case there is lot of loose gravel. The tires sink into it a bit and it tries to pull the bike in directions other than where you are trying to go. Travel at 40mph seems to work pretty well, except when going down steep hills in which case I needed to slow down to about 30. (Perhaps due to my inexperience more than the physics of it.)

Gravel that has not been recently spread can be surprisingly easy to ride on if the aggregate is not too big. There is not much loose gravel to sink into and with small aggregate you can travel at 55mph or more. If the aggregate is large, it's a rougher ride but still not too bad. This not-recently spread gravel is susceptible to washboarding though, especially on steep hills.

Dalton highway
The ride from Fairbanks to Livengood was pretty nice except for some patches of frost heave damage. The first 20 miles of the Dalton was rather newly spread dirt and gravel with some pretty steep slopes and sharp curves. We had to travel about 30mph for most of it because of all the washboarding and the large loose aggregate. We hit a couple stretches of pretty nice asphalt that we later found out were only a couple of years old, but even they had a couple of frost heaved spots. The rest of the parts that were asphalt were pretty badly damaged by frost heaving and we could only ride at about 45 to 50mph (less in some places). There were long stretches of gravel that had large aggregate so again, slow going. A few more stretches of good gravel and bad asphalt alternated before the Yukon bridge.

The Restaurant at the North side of the bridge has gas despite no sign to indicate it. Give the guy at the restaurant your credit card or driver's license and you can fill up at the pump about 50 yards north of the restaurant by the maintenance shed.

After the Yukon River, most of the gravel was in very good condition and we rode 55-60 on a lot of it. Of course, you still have to watch for washboarding on steep slopes and there were a few bad spots as well. It then turned to asphalt that wasn't too bad except for the frost heave damaged areas. Some of the repairs were done with freshly spread large aggregate gravel which meant slow going.

The road from the Yukon to the Arctic Circle was generally better than the road from Livengood to the Yukon. I preferred the good gravel to the asphalt because I could maintain a pretty steady speed whereas the asphalt was an exercise in concentrating on the road surface for damage and heaves and needing to slow down and speed up almost constantly.

Bike Problems
Had a fork tube seal blow on the way to the Arctic Circle, perhaps exacerbated by the rough dusty conditions, but the bike had about 60,000 miles on it so maybe it was just time to go.

Brake Failure light went on. We got dirt on the rear brake switch which lit the "Brake Failure" light until it was cleaned.

General trouble light. This trouble light came on once on the second day. Didn't notice it for quite a few miles, but a restart cleared it. Came on at a gas stop on the way to Saskatoon and would not go out despite repeated restarts. Bike seemed to run fine though. Met a fellow rider with a K1200RS at a gas and breakfast stop the next morning. I asked if he knew what the light meant. He got his owner's manual and while the model was not the same, it indicated the problem might be a brake light. After breakfast we checked the lights and they all seemed to work. Did a Google search after we checked into that night's hotel and found that the bike compensates for a blown bulb by using the other bulb to indicate braking somehow. We checked the bulb and it was blown. Went to the local auto parts store and got a bulb which fixed the problem.





Follow the links below for more pictures and narrative of our trip

Intro page for our Alaskan trip

Berwyn to the Alcan Highway

The Alcan Highway to Alaska

Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle


Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula

Homeward Bound

Route Map

Ride Planner's Notes


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