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Follow My Motorcycle Trip to Alaska

This blog will chronicle my two month motorcycle trip to Alaska.  This trip has been a long time in the making and I am very fortunate to be able to do it.

My name is Kevin Gerlock and I live in Fallbrook California.  I plan to leave on June 2 and return just before my birthday at the end of July.

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I have been taking trips on my 2011 BMW R1200GS Adventure for the last six years and I have worked out how to pack efficiently for motorcycle camping.  My trip to Alaska will span two months so all of my practice runs had better pay off.  The photo above is a fly fishing trip I took from my home in north San Diego County to Colorado.  A GS Adventure can carry a lot of gear.

Some Alaska Photos

Many followers of my adventure have been hoping to see more photos.  My apologies for not posting sooner, getting back to the world means getting back to being responsible and catching up on things.  I recognize that I need to make time to organize photos and videos so that I do not let them gather dust.

This first photo is a campground just north of Coldfoot on the Dalton Highway.

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The Boreal forest is very interesting to experience.  The trees are spruce with a scattering Aspens and the small vegetation is very lush.  Here we are about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle and this photo was taken on the summer solstice.  The sun never varied in elevation and it felt like 4PM all day long.  I had to force myself to go to sleep, the daylight really does make one feel like there is no need to sleep.

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I am always fascinated by the new growth in the forest.  These little trees have to get a strong foothold so that they can withstand the harsh winter.  The trees are surrounded by the white lichen that grows everywhere and other types of mosses I am not familiar with.  Up here the growing season is about eight weeks long and you can tell that the plants grow like mad in the constant sunlight.  Another thing that struck me was that there were almost no brown leaves or other foliage on the live plants, it was as if the Disney gardeners came through and groomed every plant like the do in their parks.

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I will sign off with a memorable photo from a beautiful ride on the Dalton Highway.  There were volunteers at this stop that gave out officially stamped certificates commemorating getting to the Arctic Circle.  Mine is dated June 21, 2017.

After Action Report #1

Now that I have been back for a while and had a bit of time to contemplate my journey I will try and report intelligently on the good and bad of my trip to help those that plan on similar adventures.  The first report is on riding gear.

I rode with a Shoei GT Air helmet and I think it was a very good choice for me.  The helmet is very quiet compared to the Shoei Qwest, Arai Signet Q and Arai Profile helmets I also own.  I have a long-oval head shape and the Shoei fits well; not as well as the Arai helmets but I have concluded that the Arai helmets are too noisy and either Shoei is better.  I wear ear plugs but there is still low frequency noise in some of these helmets that is discomforting on long rides.  I also have speakers in my helmet to play music and the GT Air with the right ear plugs is great for me.

One thing I did not consider would be as big a problem as it was is the face shield fogging.  In Southern California that is hardly ever an issue for me and I left my Zooke anti-fog wax at home.  I have never put the pin-lock anti-fog insert in my shield so I don’t know how well they work.  It seems to me that dirt can work its way between the two layers and cleaning would be a hassle.  I will try it and see if I am wrong.  In the cold, hard rain my shield was fogging to the point I had to ride with it cracked open.  I did buy some Novus 1 plastic cleaner and it helped with the fogging a bit.  My only complaint about the GT Air is that there is no little lever that allows the shield to crack ever so slightly like on the Qwest so I had to open it to the first detente which is pretty far open.

My BMW Rallye pants and jacket served me well on the trip.  I like that they are well ventilated and work over a large range of temperatures.  Above 90°F it helps to wet your base payer for some added cooling.  The suit kept me dry in all amounts of rain with the liner installed.  The liner is also a first layer of insulation.  I have mixed feelings about a suit with a waterproof liner as opposed to gear that has a waterproof outer shell.  With the Rallye the outer layer will hold water and I think that as a result you get colder in the rain because of the swamp cooler effect in the wind.  It may be better to carry a light rain layer to put on top but then why have a waterproof liner?  A drawback of the Goretex shell jackets is that they are not as well vented and can be very hot.  I have an Aerostich Darien Light suit but did not wear it for just this reason.  I think in the future I will get the light rain shell to put over the Rallye.

I did get a bit cold at times.  I wore Merino wool for a base layer and then a North Face Thermoball jacket with the Rallye liner and outer shell and it usually was enough but cold rain could make it a little cold.  I rode with a few people who had electric vests and they liked them.  I did not think I would need one but I am now reconsidering because a warmer core lets your body stay warmer at the extremities.  My toes and fingers got cold.  I have winter gloves and ran my heated grips on low but sometimes that was not enough.  It is not recommended by BMW to run the grips on high constantly so I did not do that.  I do not know what to do to keep my toes warmer.  Electric socks would be one option.  I had wool socks and bamboo fiber socks and when the rain kept my boots wet my feet were often cold.  At least after I sealed the leak in my boot I did not get wet and cold.  I rode with someone that had Sidi Adventure Rain boots; they are not waterproof, you have to pay more for their Gortex boots.  His feet were always wet.  Get Goretex boots.

I took three pairs of gloves for hot, cool and cold conditions and am glad I did.  The warm gloves are perforated and let air pass through while the other two are Goretex and kept my hands dry.  Once it got too hot for the Goretex gloves they could be uncomfortable.  With a heated vest I imagine my fingers would stay warmer in the worst conditions.  I forgot my balaclava but did have two different buffs to keep my neck warm, one with a fleece layer.  I missed the warmth the balaclava would have provided for my face.

 

An Unseen Force Pulling Me Home

Joe made breakfast to send me off on my final leg and I was on the road at 8 AM.  I really felt a strong force tugging me home so I rode at 75-80 on the 101.  Normally I would take highway 154 through the Santa Ynez Valley but it is closed due to a large fire so I stayed the course to Santa Barbara.  I am in this area every spring for an archery event and ride secondary roads like highway 150 through Ojai but today I just wanted to make time so stayed on the 101.

As I got through Ventura and then Woodland Hills the traffic increased until I was in the San Fernando Valley where it got very heavy at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning.  I had to split lanes around the freeway interchanges and finally escaped toward Pasadena.  The traffic was thick everywhere but moved at a brisk pace.  Eventually I needed one more fuel stop and got gas in Asuza.  I had ridden 200 miles since I started which is a pretty long stretch that took about three hours.  I guess my ass is finally broken in for the long haul.

At the fuel stop I had only about eighty miles to go and now I felt the force really drawing me.  It was hot and I wet my base layers so I could be cooler than I was the last hundred miles.  I had a text from my wife.  She would not be home because she was gong to the San Diego Pride parade.  Dang, I hope she has not switched teams in my absence.

I continued on the Foothill freeway until turning toward Pomona, then Chino, then Corona.  In Corona the traffic was really heavy and I had a long stretch of lane splitting in the heat to put the cars behind me.  The traffic thinned after the mall near El Cerrito, go figure, and now the temperature climbed to 102.  As I neared Lake Elsinore the traffic got thick and I split lanes from there all the way through Temecula.  Where the hell is everyone going?  The Pride Parade?  Or the casino, since it thins out after that exit.

Splitting lanes again is a real pleasure.  On my trip there were a number of times that I was stuck in traffic and would have loved to do it.  It is one of the reasons I love California.  I don’t split lanes like a madman like I see a lot of people do on my daily commute.  I steadily work my way through the cars and find that most drivers are glad to give me room.  There is something fun about doing battle with traffic like this.  It is a lot like riding briskly on a winding road; it requires total concentration and quick reaction.  I find it fun.  And, when people saw me coming on my fully loaded, thoroughly grungy, adventure bike they let me pass without complaint.

Once the traffic thinned again I was ten miles from home and left the freeway ahead of where the GPS wanted so that I could ride the last five miles on familiar roads that are not straight.  I got to my neighborhood and found that it looked the same as when I left.  At home I found the front door locked and no one here.  Such a grand arrival, but hey, I had all this time to do as I pleased so the rest of the family can do what they want as well.  Elroy, my cat, was very glad to see me after all of this time.  I am his favorite human and he missed my supreme petting skills and wanted to make up for lost time.  I got out of my hot gear and unpacked a few things and stuck the warm beer from my cooler into the freezer then tuned on my PC to see what emails I missed.  Almost all of the 750 emails were junk, as they usually are.

So I had my Alaska adventure.  I traveled 11,034 miles.  The bike ran flawlessly but a few times when the quality of fuel was suspect it protested at low speeds.  My Mitas E-07 tires were terrific.  The rear started with 12mm of tread and now has 4mm left.  I think at least another thousand miles could be had from the rear.  The front tire started with 6.5mm of tread and has a bit more than 4mm left.  The oil leak from the rear of the engine is typical when the seals age and so I will have to split the bike and replace them, not a big challenge for me and I will be able to get things cleaned up after all the bike has been through.  The bike looks cool with all of its road grim, dirt and remnants of mud.  I have used it for its intended purpose.

People have asked me what the highlight of the trip was.  It is not possible to pick one thing but I will try and capture some of them in future posts.  I now have a lot of video and photos to go through and arrange so please stay tuned for those future posts as well.

One thing I learned is that the adventure would be enhanced by sharing it with Sandy.  I don’t think she would be up for six weeks on a bike.  I want to go back and see things I missed and re-visit places I loved and so the best way I can think to do that, and have my life companion with me, will be in a small RV.  I can’t wait for that adventure as well.

The End is Near

July 14

The campground in Big Basin Redwoods was very quiet and the night got very dark.  The tree canopy was probably covering 80% of the sky so even though the moon was bright it had little effect.  I awoke before 6 AM and started to get packed and then fed the shower with a dollar and enjoyed four minutes of warm water.  The camp was very peaceful and I made as little noise as possible so as not to disturb the rest of the world around me.

I fired up the bike and made my way back towards Boulder Creek.  I enjoyed the winding, well banked, road until I hit the first of the morning commuters.  A surprising number of people go into Silicon Valley every day.  When we moved to this area in the nineties we thought it would be cool to live up here but the 45 mile commute on the corkscrew road would get old fast I imagine.

It dawned on me to stop in Scotts Valley and go to The Beemer Shop to meet Ted Porter and his staff.  My bike has suspension and a drive shaft supplied by them and I would like to ask a few questions about my Airhead that I want to resto-mod.  It was early and so I stopped for breakfast then made my way to the shop.  It was not obvious where it was since there is no prominent sign and when I found it I learned that they were closed because they went to the MOA, a BMW bike gathering.  Oh well.

During this trip the connection to my left helmet speaker was acting up and I eventually had to position the cable just so to have both speakers working.  It is really nice to have music in your head while riding all day and my MP3 collection is pretty big so I get a variety of styles.  Today I could not get the cable in the right place to have stereo.  Bummer, but at least I don’t have too much farther to go.  I rode the 200 miles on one speaker.

I continued on through Santa Cruz and made my way to the 101.  Going down the coast is still not possible because of the damaged bridge and two land slides.  One of the slides is huge and before I left read that engineers were not sure how to deal with the forty or fifty feet of earth covering the road.  It is not a simple matter of clearing it because the hill above is still very unstable.

As I rode south the temperature climbed as I went through the agricultural areas toward Paso Robles and its wine country.  It was about 95 degrees in Paso and I was ready to get over the pass and feel the cool ocean air.  It is like a switch, suddenly a ten degree drop and then a steady reduction until it was about 60 degrees when I got to Pismo Beach.  This was my destination where I was going to stay at my cousin’s for the night and catch up on life with Lynn and her husband Joe.

Lynn is a year younger than me and so we are in about the same place; our kids are done with school and now we have to figure out how get set for retirement.  It has been several years since we were together so we had a nice tome just visiting.  Late in the day I tried to go down and see if I could ride on the famous beach.  The line of cars waiting to pay to go on the sand was about a quarter-mile long so I did not have the patience to wait through that.  It was probably a wise decision since sand and a 600 pound motorcycle are not well suited for one another.  I whiled away the evening and went to bed, no more tents on this trip.

A Long Ride Through Northern California

July 13

I awoke in Gold Beach and was on the road by 7:30.  I had debated what route to take after getting back into California.  I have debated for days on whether to go to the sierras or not.  I like the east side around Mammoth and Devil’s Postpile and I like the west side in Sequoia NP.  I would not dare go near Yosemite at this time of year.  Both of my choices would offer some fly fishing, probably a little better at the Postpile.  The biggest problem with going to the sierras is that I would have to ride through 105 degree heat.

My first inclination was to take the coast to Eureka and then head east on route 299.  I have not ridden this road and I know it to be a great motorcycle route.  The forecast for Redding was 105.  From there it would be at least 200 miles in the heat to get to the Modesto area.  I decided not to go east and instead stay on the 101.  I also decided not to take highway 1 because I know that there would be a lot of timid car drivers and the likelihood of numerous road repairs due to the severe winter would not make the ride enjoyable into San Francisco.

The coast highway south from Gold Beach is really scenic and should not be missed if you have the opportunity.  The lush green forest comes right down to the ocean and in California the coast redwoods come into play.  As you work south you see that the mountains get dryer by the transition to golden brown grass on the slopes were the trees are not dense.  The highway winds through some amazing stands of redwoods between the border and Eureka.  From Eureka the road heads away from the coast and it gets warmer.

I left Gold Beach in 59 degrees and decided to not layer up and enjoy the coolness before it got hot.  After an hour I had to add a layer and switch gloves; it was too cold.  Once I moved inland a hundred miles later I had to switch back to warm attire.

By the time I finished breakfast in Eureka I had decided to go through San Francisco and camp in Big Basin State Park and then head for the Pismo Beach area the next day where my cousin lives.  The ride to Ukiah steadily climbed to 99 degrees and I stopped for fuel and to cool off and wet my base layer for the cooling effect in the wind.

A big factor in my deciding to take the route I chose was that it felt good to just rip along at high speed for miles on end.  There were a number of road work sections that slowed up the 101 along the way and I surmised that taking highway 1 would have had a lot more such delays.

After Ukiah it was just a road warrior run into San Francisco.  By now the coniferous forest had given way to the California oaks and golden grass.  I entered Sonoma County and the wineries were  dime a dozen.  I got to Petaluma and the northbound 101 had bumper to bumper traffic all the way to south of San Rafael.  Whoda thunk.

As I neared San Francisco I could see the marine layer in the distance and the temperature dropped.  When i hit the Golden Gate Bridge it was 59 degrees and I was cold.  You couldn’t see across the bridge because the fog was so thick and the city was obscured in the distance.  If you want to see San Francisco and the Golden Gate come in December or January.  Odds are that it will be 80 degrees and clear as a bell.  Trust me, I have been here numerous times and I have frozen my ass off in the middle of summer and been warmed by the sun in January.

After the bridge it took about 20 minutes to work my way through the city and head down the peninsula toward Boulder Creek.  I got to split lanes in the city traffic and it felt great.  One thing you could sense is that everyone was in there own little world and did not give a shit about those around them.  A marked contrast to what I have experienced in the nether regions of North America.

As I worked my way toward Skyline Blvd. it warmed back up to the mid 70s.  Skyline is one of the storied motorcycle roads in the bay area and worth the trip if you ever get to the area.  It is best on a weekday outside of commuting hours.  After about twenty miles of Skyline I turned on route 9 to Boulder Creek.  This road is amazing in its roller coaster twisties but one thing to keep in mind is that this and Skyline are adjacent to millions of people in the bay and shold not be ridden too vigorously because surprises are almost guaranteed.  Some people commute from Silicon Valley on route 9 to B.C. and you can tell who they are because they know the road and haul ass.  I was still running them down without getting to frisky; great fun.

I had a nice salad and beer at the Boulder Creek Brewery and made my way to Big Basin State Park.  The campgrounds are really nce here so if you get the chance stay here.  There is a huge-ass redwood ten paces from where I write this that has the center blown out from a lightning strike but it still lives and scrapes the sky.

I forgot to mention a few nights ago that it actually gets dark once again.  I spent so many nights where I did not need artificial light that I had remember to get the light out of my bike.  Tonight I actually have to use a lantern to see my little keyboard as I type this.

Today I rode fast and hard for 473 miles and my bucket list journey is nearing the end.  I will have a short day tomorrow and another the next day and be back home again.  I hope I can handle it.  I am already thinking about how long I have to save vacation to do this again.  It has been fantastic and I hope that the memories do not soon fade.  I have met a lot of nice people on the way and ridden with some great new friends that I hope to see again.

More Twisty Roads

July 12

I was up early and out of camp a bit after 7am.  I rode south toward Hoodoo Butte on route 22 and then 126 to Eugene.  The road to Hoodoo was more of the great twisties like the previous day.  Around Hoodoo the terrain is volcanic rock.  i am always fascinated by the piles of lava rock that are dominant in these areas.  The piles of rock are of every size imaginable.  Some areas the rock is completely sterile and is like a moonscape.  In others there are huge trees that have managed to take hold thrive.  I have wandered through these kinds of forests and it is very difficult to go cross country in such rugged terrain.

The road into Eugene wound through a river valley and was very entertaining when the cars were behind me.  In Eugene I finally found a place at a pancake house for breakfast.  The guy working the front of the house asked where I was coming from and said he did not know there was a road to Alaska.  He thought ‘the I-5 stops at Seattle’.  I told him I did not know since I have not been on the I-5.  It was obvious from the stares I got that all of the old people in this restaurant had never seen a space alien in full space alien gear.  Now they have.

I followed Kelly’s advice to go to the coast and enjoyed the road from Eugene west t the coast.  But I never saw the coast.  I saw a shit load of red lights and 20mph speed limits in small towns though.  Coos Bay was the worst; it took forever to get through that place and back up to speed.  So far you can have the coast.

At BandonI stopped at this great place for wood carvings that Sandy and I marveled at a few years ago.  They had a great carved sasquatch that I really want.  If sixty followers send me ten bucks I can get it shipped to me.  From there I went inland to Myrtle Point to visit Rose City Archery.  The road there was really twisty and very fun.  The person who engineered this road liked banked corners and it was a fast road.

I arrived at Rose City and Kaleb gave me a full tour of the place from a bolt of Port Orford cedar to finished arrow shafts.  The whole process is very well thought out and automated where it can be.  They ship arrow shafts around the world by the tens of thousands.

From Myrtle Point I worked my way to Gold Beach through the national forest on some very gnarly winding rounds.  They were very tight and undulating and a great challenge to ride fast.  There was a ten mile stretch of gravel road in the middle of the sixty miles to Gold Beach.  In Oregon they have too much gravel.  THe first six miles of road had really deep gravel and that is scary as hell on a 600 pound motorcycle.  I picked my way carefully through this section and then the road improved to more dirt until I was finally on pavement again.  Part of my problem is that my tires have ten thousand miles on them and are not as secure on gravel as they used to be.

I finally hit Gold Beach and saw the ocean.  And then I turned into a pansy and booked a room instead of finding a camp ground.  I bought some IPA and then went and had a really nice dinner at a discount courtesy of the hotel.  After that I went to the hot tub overlooking the ocean and watched the sunset before coming back and writing this.

Tomorrow I will be back in California and have no idea yet where I am going.  I have not been on some of the roads in the Klamath River area so that is the most likely route. Stay tuned.

I have passed 10,000 miles today and expect to travel at least another thousand.

Road Nervana

July 11

Today was the most amazing windy road riding that I can remember.  I rolled out of camp in Mount Rainier NP and first rode over the Chinook Pass and then back into the park.  The road was great and the views of the mountain were fantastic.  I made my way out the southwest corner of the park to Ashford.  The roads in the park had all manner of great corners and the traffic was light.  Those cars I did encounter quickly allowed me to pass.  Except for the richard cranium that pulled out right in front of me.

Once out of the park I went south on route 7 leading to Mount St. Helens.  This road went over a pass and was intense.  It had all manner of types of corners, sweeper, hairpins, esses and it was punctuated by any pavement irregularity that you can imagine.  The sudden dips mid-corner were sometimes very exciting, so to speak.  Especially when they also happened to be in a shadow from the trees.  That is one of the things with forest roads, you are in and out of shadow constantly and it can play tricks on you.

At Morton I went east to get to route 25 on the east side of Mt. St. Helens.  This road was very similar in terrain to route 7 but the pavement was way better, almost new.  The road to the Spirit Lake viewpoint was closed but the main road lead me to a few really nice views of the mountain which is barren on the east side after it blew its top in 1980.  From the end of 25 I took route 30 to the Columbia River.  This road was much faster in nature and I had a ball on the extra-legal sweepers.  All of these roads had light traffic which makes it way more fun.

I crossed the river into Hood River, Oregon.  Route 14 runs east along the north side of the river and is very scenic but not a thrill ride like the others.  There are a bunch of short tunnels that bore through the volcanic rock that comes right down to the river.  As I approached Hood River the water was a beehive of activity with dozens of wind surfers traveling every which-way.  The breeze from the west was stiff and they were hauling ass.  There were also dozens of kite surfers going at it.  It was very colorful and chaotic at the same time.  I hope the video captures the essence of the scene.  The bridge to Hood River is another steel grate deck affair.  This one is very narrow and the oncoming cars are right there.  The grating was a bit different and did not feel as out of control as the others I had crossed.  The stiff cross wind made up for the more secure deck by trying to blow me into the oncoming traffic, which was constant.  The Columbia River is wide so this was the longest one of these I had crossed.  I even got to pay seventy-five cents to have the shit scared out of me.  I do not like these kind of bridges on two wheels.

Once in Oregon I took route 35 into the Hood National Forest.  This is another great windy road that is mostly fast corners.  The views of Mount Hood are cool as well.  Just past Government Camp I took some forest service roads toward Breitenbush Hot Springs.  These roads were great, narrow, windy as hell and no traffic.  After about ten miles on FS 42 it become one lane with pullouts for opposing traffic.  It retained its twisty nature and I misbehaved to my heart’s content.  It is a good thing no animals sprang out of the forest into my path because there is not much room to maneuver.  I wound my way to Breitenbush and found a great campground next to a river.  It turns out that the hot springs is a private resort and all booked up.

This campground is a real hidden gem, water, toilets, the river and the dense forest.  I went down to the river hoping to swim and call it a bath but I did not dare to go all in; it was cold.  I did get in a ways and dunked my head a few times but I could not see submerging more delicates parts.  Later I tried to catch fish but had no luck.  There was pretty good insect activity on the water and I could imitate the patterns but I saw no fish action.  There were some kids catching stocked trout on worms; not my thing so I had dinner.

The forests in this region continue to enchant me.  They are so lush and dense.  I even found some wild strawberries near the river.  In the middle of the day when the sun is overhead the way the light penetrates the canopy and lights up the floor is, to me, really cool.  I could wander in the forest all afternoon just reveling in its diversity.  I certainly could retire to this area.

Tomorrow I will head for the coast west of Eugene and try and stop at Rose City Archery, the largest manufacturer of wooden arrow shafts that I know of.  They used to give tours of the place and I would like to see it if I can.  I traveled 330 miles today and it was all a gas and hard work concentrating on non-stop corners taken at highly entertaining speed.  Tomorrow probably holds more action judging by the map.