Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Post Script

We just spent an enjoyable two days with Carole and Laurent, the adventurous French couple that we met in Alaska as we boarded the ferry in Juneau, bound for Prince Rupert, BC. You may recall from this post that they are now three months into a twelve-month journey, traversing most of North, South, and Central America. They modified their original route slightly to swing through North Carolina on their way down to Florida to rendezvous with their grown children for a vacation, or as they would say, a holiday. I rode over to Knoxville Sunday afternoon to meet them for dinner and a nights rest in one of Tom Bodett’s finest. They had spent the previous night in Louisville at the home of Inspector Gadget. Dave W fed them filet mignon and sweet corn. The corn on the cob was a first for them and they said it was good, but they spent the rest of the night brushing their teeth, trying to remove the silk. The reason for meeting in Knoxville was so I could accompany them down to Deal’s gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina border to ride The Tail Of The Dragon. It seems this 11 mile stretch of Highway 129 with its 318 curves has an international reputation and is on the bucket list of riders the world over. Here is a video clip of pieces of The Dragon, shot by Carole from her rear perch on the GS. Laurent also has a camera mounted on his right-side crash bar, but when we looked at the film, all you could see was the tops of trees.

At the East (NC) end of The Dragon lies the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. There you can eat, drink, sleep, and have your picture taken.

A lot of high testosterone sport-bike riders like to test their skills against The Dragon. Sometimes they win and sometimes The Dragon wins, in which case surviving pieces end up on The Tree Of Shame. Carole didn’t want her picture taken with the Tree Of Shame because it might bring bad luck. Sorry Carole…I was taking a photo of the tree, and you wandered into the scene.

The guy on the right is Nathan Mende, owner of Boxerworks BMW shop in Watkinsville, GA. They specialize in restoration, service, and repair of older air-head Beemers. This is a link to his website. We met Nathan and his girlfriend at a stoplight in Marysville on the way to Deals Gap. They were on their way home from attending the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, OH. Nathan’s girl friend was born in France and really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to Carole.

After leaving Deals Gap, we rode a good portion of the Cherohala Skyway and then the Blue Ridge Parkway, running into rain again as we started down the mountain on NC 276 into Brevard.

We arrived home in Lake Lure, soaking wet, just in time for one of Penny’s wonderful meals of roast chicken with croutons, potato galette, green beans, and blueberry crumble.

Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day, and we took advantage of it with a tour of the lake, including a picnic lunch on the water. Laurent scored another first by trying his hand at driving a boat instead of a motorcycle.

Their visit ended all too soon, as they headed on down the road this morning, hoping to make it to Miami sometime early Friday. Au revoir good friends. We hope to see you in France next year.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ride Maps

I thought I would post maps of the Alaska trip. In Google Maps, the map is divided into daily segments with beginning and end points and mileage. Thirty-seven days wouln't fit on one page in Google (and therefore on one map) so I divided it into the route to and in Alaska and the route home. This link will take you to the map in Google if you want to see details. You have to click on next at the bottom on the left side to see the second (return route) page, and you have to click on individual daily segments on the left to see details.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Rest Of The Story

My last report on the Alaska trip was two weeks ago. We are home now. The trip is over. My long time dream is now a memory. Unfortunately, the last few days of the odyssey turned sad. Dave W’s ailing brother, Jesse, passed away. We were making our way home, and had just gassed-up in Vernal, Utah on Thursday 6/30 on our way down to Rifle, CO and I-70 when Dave got the news. (Gadget has a Bluetooth com system in his helmet that allows him to make and receive I-Phone calls on the go). He rode for 2 ½ hours, staying from one to two hundred yards behind me, thinking about his brothers, the two that are now both gone, and Jo, his still vibrant and sharp-as-a-tack mom.

When we finally reached Rifle around 5:30 pm and pulled into a gas station, he quietly said, “Jess died, I have to get home.” We sat down and talked about it awhile. I knew I wasn’t up to the kind of hours he was going to put in to get back to Louisville as quickly as possible, so we decided to split up. Gadget headed east on I-70, hoping to make it beyond Denver before stopping for the night, and I started looking for a motel in Rifle. Dave made it home to Louisville two days later on Saturday evening July 2, while I arrived home in Lake Lure to fireworks on the 4th of July.

Now I need to back up and fill in the gap between arriving by ferry on the north end of Vancouver Island and receiving the bad news about Jesse in Vernal, UT.

It took about 7 hr to ride the 300 miles from Port Hardy at the north end of the island down to Victoria on the southern tip of the island. The only wildlife of note that we saw along the way were a couple of eagles. Victoria is a beautiful city and the capital of British Columbia. We spent two nights at Marketa’s B&B on Superior St, a couple of blocks from the harbor, the Parliament Building, and the ferry docks. That’s the Parliament Building behind us.

If you turn around and snap another picture you see the harbor and the Empress Hotel.

The breakfasts at Marketa’s were delicioso. I had eggs benedict two mornings in a row because I enjoyed it so much…high cholesterol be damned…I’m on vacation. I hope my cardiologist doesn’t read this.

You can read all about the great food we consumed on this trip on Penny’s food blog if you are interested.

One of the highlights of our stay in Victoria was a visit to one of Penny’s blogging friends who lives in the Highlands on the outskirts of Victoria on several acres with a couple of ponds, some ducks, chickens, goats, an unwanted American Bullfrog, and a loveable Cairn Terrier named Rory. Her blog, Pondside, is beautifully written and heartfelt. She and her husband, The Great Dane, a retired Canadian Air Force Officer, invited us for lunch on Friday 6/24 and it was a pleasure getting to know them. She chronicled our visit in a post, from which I borrowed this shot of us departing through their gate on our way back to Victoria.

The next morning it was time to board our fourth and final ferry for the 2 ½ hr ride to Port Angeles, WA and bid adieu to the fair city of Victoria.

After disembarking in Port Angeles at noon, we headed west past the very scenic Crescent Lake in the Olympic National Park, to the Pacific coast of Washington and down the coastline on WA 101. For some reason, all the pictures I took along the way have disappeared into the ether. Our destination was The Inn At Crippen Creek Farm, a two-guestroom B&B in a very rural setting a couple of miles north of the tiny burg of Skamokawa, WA.

Penny has written beautifully about our evening and morning at Crippen Creek in a post on her blog here, so I won’t try to compete with her except to say that both the dinner and breakfast that we were treated to were true feasts. And, the dinner guests around the table that Saturday night, 6/25, were a varied and interesting group that included the author of Hold Me Tight And Tango Me Home who has also been a spotter pilot for commercial fishing fleets in Alaska.

Also at the table were a semi-retired commercial Alaskan fisherman who is now doing fish research on the Columbia River on a government contract, a civil rights attorney who founded the ACLU Chapter in Washington, and a commercial free-lance photographer who has worked as a commercial crabber in Alaska with the Deadliest Catch fleet. The dinner conversation was interesting to say the least.

Here we are with the Inn Keepers, Don and Kitty Speranza.

Our final scheduled stop was Sun River, OR where Dave and Tulin have good friends from Louisville, Michael and Deborah Diven, who moved to Oregon several years ago and own the Village Bar And Grill (VBAG for short) in Sun River. While Dave and Tulin stayed with Michael and Deborah, Penny and I were graciously hosted by their good friends, Gary and Kate Brooks. We stayed a total of three nights in Sun River and had a great time sightseeing and hanging out at the VBAG with a large group of friendly and funny folks. The VBAG has a definite Cheers vibe to it.

We drove some and hiked some to see an obsidian lava flow field near Paulina Lake, south of Sun River. Here Kate, Deborah, and Tulin show-off their high tech hiking footwear especially designed for trekking in snow.

On our last night in Sun River we all gathered at Gary and Kate’s house for dinner.

Michael made his famous Oysters Rockefeller.

I must have eaten a couple of dozen of them. Early the next morning, Wed June 29, Kate and Deborah drove Penny and Tulin to the airport in Redmond to fly home. Penny said the girls wanted to know if the oysters worked...she wasn’t telling.

Meanwhile, Gadget and I took off for home heading down OR 31. At that point of the journey, California remained as the only state that I hadn’t ridden in, and our route was taking us within 20 miles of the OR/CA border. So, instead of turning left on OR 140, the only route eastward, we continued south to Goose Lake and the California state line. We stopped at the first “Welcome To California” sign, took a picture, and turned around and rode back to the junction with 140, then headed east. I can now color in all of the remaining lower 48 states on my riding map in addition to Alaska and all remaining Canadian Provinces except Northwest Territories, The Maritime Provinces, and Nunavut which isn’t accessible by land. The continental US map will be all red as a result of this ride….woo hoo!

That day we made it to Wendover, UT where we found the light on at Motel 6. For dinner, we rode back two blocks to the west to West Wendover , NV to eat at the Montego Bay Casino. There is a line painted on the street with NV printed on one side and UT on the other. The string of casinos on the Nevada side abruptly stops at the line.

On the way to Wendover, we passed through Winnemucca, NV. I’ve now been just about everywhere…you got nothing on me Johnny Cash.

On Thursday, 6/30, we continued eastward across the Bonneville Salt Flats and past the Great Salt Lake. It was strange to inhale air that smelled like the ocean in the middle of a desert. I am hereby adding to my bucket list a return ride to the Salt Flats during Speed Week. Another minor bucket list item was about to be checked off as we rode into Salt Lake City. I have been wanting to see the Morman Tabernacle and Salt Lake LDS Temple for many years. We took the time to exit I-80 and seek out the Temple. I was disappointed that non-Mormans are not allowed inside the Temple, but it is still impressive from the outside, and they have a cut-away model in the visitors center to show you what it looks like on the inside.

Here’s the Temple as viewed from the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Building across the street.

Here’s the cut-away model. It’s as close as we non-Mormans will come to seeing the inside of the Temple.

Later on that day, we made our way on down to Rifle, CO, passing through Vernal, UT where Dave got the news of his brother’s death. I spent the night in Rifle while Dave rode hard for Louisville. The next day, July 1, I bailed off of I-70 at Glenwood Springs and headed south on CO 82 through Aspen and across Independence Pass. This is a beautiful and challenging road. In some sections, it is very narrow with shear rock faces on the left (going south) and steep drop-offs on the right with no guard rail. Several mini waterfalls were flowing down the rock faces and contining across the road, presumably from melting snow above. At 12,095 ft, Independence Pass is the second highest in Colorado after Cottonwood Pass which only exceeds it by 31 ft. It was pretty cold at the top of the pass with lots of snow still on the ground.

As I descended the south slope, the temperature increased quickly, and I would soon come to cherish the cooler temps higher up as the temperature eventually climbed into the low 100’s. I spent that night in Dalworth, TX, a small cattle and oil town north of Amarillo. I was in Amarillo by 9 am the next morning (Saturday) and called the Suzuki dealer about installing a new chain on the bike because mine was making ominous noises and I was worried about it lasting until I got home. They said to come on in and they would install a new one, and they did, which only took about an hour. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it out of the parking lot before the new chain jumped the front sprocket and broke the clutch control rod that passes in front of it. This little mishap took another three hours to repair. I was finally on the road again by 2:30 pm….too late to reach my initial goal of Fort Smith, AK, so I settled for Oklahoma City. After spending another night as Tom Bodett’s guest, I managed 650 miles on Sunday with the temperature stuck at 102 F. This put me in Dickson, TN about 35 mi short of Nashville, for another night at Tom’s place. It was an easy 5 ½ hr ride home on Monday, arriving to the aforementioned fireworks in Lake Lure.

In summary, it was a heck of a ride and the topmost item on my bucket list, but not the last. There are still all those Maritime Provinces to see, the Lake Superior circle tour to do, not to mention the four-corners tour. But those will have to take a backseat to Penny’s top list item…France. Next year it will be France Or Bust, but not by motorcycle.

Been there, done that.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ferry Tales

The two-day ride from Anchorage to Haines, sans girls, on Friday and Saturday 6/17-18 was relatively uneventful. After clearing the super-rough section south of the Alaska line down to Destruction Bay, it was smooth sailing except for a cold rainy section over the high-altitude pass between Haines Junction and Haines. The annual Haines Junction to Haines bicycle race was in progress on Saturday and we passed hundreds of cyclists on the road. I decided the only thing worse than riding a motorcycle in cold, rainy conditions would be having to do it on a bicycle.

The scenery on both days was beautiful. Here is yet another glacier along Rte 1.

This snow-covered mountain was very impressive.

We spotted this big guy on Friday a bit west of Delta Junction.

He was feeding on something on the bottom of the pond.

We spent Saturday night in Haines at A Sheltered Harbor B&B, and caught the 9 am ferry to Juneau, arriving there about 1:30 in the afternoon to rendezvous with the girls once again. This waterfall is right in town.

On Saturday, while we were en-route to Haines, the girls amused themselves with a tour of Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier six miles north of town.

After lunch on Sunday, we headed back out to the ferry terminal to board the good ship Mantuska that would be our home for the next three days and would take us to Prince Rupert, BC. The big purple bus was a Nagel Tours bus. A large percentage of the ferry passengers were wearing Nagel name badges. This photo is a study in contrasts between transportation modes, although I would have to say that we were probably each carrying as much luggage as any passenger on that bus.

The Matanuska is one of the “slow” ships of the Alaska Marine Highway System. She cruised at 16.5 knots compared to 32 knots for the “fast” ferries.

You need to bring your own tie-down straps to secure your bike or, alternatively, the crew will be happy to secure it for you using heavy chains.

The Matanuska was built the year Penny graduated high school. Like her, it has aged well.

I found this bit of safety information very reassuring. In case the boat sank we would not have to worry about the survival of the life rafts…they would be just fine.

There was a surprising degree of cell coverage as we traversed the Alaskan Inner Passage. Inspector and Mrs. Gadget enjoyed widespread use of their I-phones.

Little Buddy met two new friends on this trip…Chucky and Chewy. Little Buddy flew to Anchorage with Penny and has been enjoying the ride ever since. I found Chucky and Chewy hanging out in Bemidji looking for a new riding adventure. When I told them where we were going, they signed on for the duration. All three are enjoying the ferry leg of this journey almost as much as us humans.

Little Buddy enjoyed a latte while Chucky and Chewy remained in the cabin feeling a little queezy from the motion.
Inspector G proclaimed he was just going to have a light snack for lunch, given the prodigious breakfast we had just recently consumed. Here is his “snack”, consisting of goulash, green beans, split pea soup with croutons, roll, and blackberry pie.

Our voyage from Juneau to Prince Rupert included stops at Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, and Ketchikan. We were delayed in Petersburg for over three hours due to a problem with the electronic navigation system. The local Coast Guard unit would not let the boat proceed until the problem was fixed. This was particularly important because the Wrangell Narrows begins right after Petersburg. This 22 mile long shortcut between Mitkoff and Kupreanof Islands is extremely narrow, being only 100 yd wide from bank-to-bank in some places. There are a large number of navigation buoys marking the channel through the narrows, spaced about 100 yards apart in many sections. We had to negotiate the Narrows in the dark due to the delay in Petersburg. The channel was lit up like a Christmas tree by the red and green markers. It was a sight to see as the Captain zig-zagged his way through the narrow, dangerous channel with the red markers close by our port side and the green ones close to starboard. Despite the late hour, the forward lounge was full of folks watching the ship maneuver its way up the channel, and it was spookily quiet the entire time. Tulin was prompted to ask, "are these people all dead?"

As we were boarding the Matanuska and tying down our bikes, we met a French couple, Laurent and Carole. They live in the medieval town of Tours, France, where Laurent works as a regional manager for a group of hotels. He somehow talked his employer into granting him a one-year leave of absence to go on a motorcycle trip covering most of North, Central, and South America. We thought we were on an adventurous ride, but their epic journey makes ours look pretty wimpy. They shipped their BMW GS1200 to Montreal and are one month in to a twelve-month ride, having so far covered the bulk of Canada and Alaska. They are heading down to the lower 48 with plans to see most of the states that they didn’t visit on an earlier ride in the US. After spending some time in Florida, they will enter Mexico by way of Texas, ride down to Panama, catch a boat to Columbia (since there is no road connection) and ride the length of South America before shipping the bike back to France. They are chronicling their travels on their website .

While we were spending the two nights of the voyage in warm and comfortable staterooms, they were sleeping in deck chairs on the stern solarium deck. We had several bottles of wine stored away in our converted emergency gasoline holders. So we broke out the wine and had an impromptu party in the solarium while we waited for the repairs to be made to the ship in Petersburg.

Here we are, drinking wine from paper coffee cups with new French friends beneath the POSITIVELY NO ALCOHOL sign on the aft solarium deck. Those things on the ceiling that look like light fixtures are actually infrared heaters that make this open area comfortable enough to spend the night.

The young lady on the left in this shot is Rebecca, an exchange student from Germany who just completed a year of study at the University of Montreal.

We have invited Laurent and Carole to come spend a night or two with us in Lake Lure when they are on their way to Florida, so we look forward to seeing them again in late July. I copied this photo from their website . It was taken by Carole as we were preparing to disembark the ferry in Prince Rupert.