It was one of those days where I had a couple of options, do something I felt obligated to do on my day off or something I wanted to do. The summer of 2017 hasn't been a banner summer on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Lots of less than stellar days and the few really nice days more often seem to occur on days I was, well, obligated to something that was not my first choice. This morning the sun was out, the temperature was agreeable and I had to choose.
June and July had flown by in mere moments it seemed. Here it was the closing days of July and I hadn't really done anything that celebrated the summer much. Staring out the window asking myself, "what's it gonna be?" I dug down deep and stared obligation in the eye and didn't blink. I am going for a ride. Obligations aside, I am going to do something for me today. I feel the need for this.
Wasting no time once the decision was made, I topped off my Harley Ultra Glide, reset the trip meter and donned my leathers. I rolled that heavy road bike out of the garage and pressed the starter button and with a cough that 96 cubic inch V-Twin broke into that world famous shaking rumble as it began to warm up. I pulled on my gloves, fastened my helmet and put on my sunglasses. Sitting astride the Ultra I pulled the clutch lever all the way in, tapped the gear shift lever and heard the clunk that lets you know you are in gear.
I am on my way, not sure of my destination yet, but as I make my way through Soldotna I decide I will ride north as I rode south to Homer on the only other local ride of the summer. I think through the possible destinations I could make going north. As I make my way through the dip netter traffic in Soldotna, I mentally cross Seward off the list of possibilities since I was there last week on another trip in my car. Anchorage is a little far than would be practical and Portage or Girdwood would mean I might have to deal with the motor homes and boat trailers all day. Hope. Hope it is. I haven't been to Hope in a few years and that is where I decide to go.
Hope isn't much of a destination mind you. It is the road that beckons. Less traffic, more bends and turns, beautiful scenery make the journey an attractive one. I am in the mood.
I maneuver through the ponderous caravans of elephant-like motor homes traveling at the speed of turtles, eventually pass pickup trucks towing boats of all types, most of the boats sprouting recently used dip nets waving in the wind like flags and at last I am at the head of the pack with nothing but highway in front of me. I like to be in front mostly because it is the safest place to be. Traveling behind one of those skyscraper high motor homes is like staring at a block wall for hours. You can't see ahead and detect problems, road conditions or brake lights or things of this nature.
I ease the throttle up through the last two gears of my bike and I pull away from the pack. For awhile. Until I catch up with the next caravan of ponderous motor homes. I am patient and keep my place in line until we eventually reach the community of Cooper Landing. I love riding my bike through Cooper Landing. It is right on the banks of the upper Kenai River. The flora thrives through this corridor and the fragrance of the leaves, grass and wild flowers is a pungent, pleasant aroma. I open the face shield of my helmet as I ride and breathe in deeply. It is almost intoxicating.
What comes up not far from Cooper Landing is one of the best sections of highway for a bike rider on the Peninsula. I do not want to ride it behind a stodgy line of lumbering vehicles. I am going to employ a trick to enable me to ride this section of the highway as it was meant to be ridden. I am going to pull off the highway and wait for about 10 minutes. If I can get it right, we have at least that much of a lead on the caravan I passed early on and it will give enough time for the line of slow moving cars I am behind now a chance to be clear of the section of road I want to indulge myself in.
Besides, pulling off at Cooper Landing is a treat in itself. The day is extraordinarily beautiful and the river is its usual turquoise, glorious self. I enjoy the subtle breeze, the fragrance wafting by and the chance just to sit and take in sights people come from the far flung corners of the world to gaze upon. It is a cherished moment.
At the end of the Sterling Highway there is an intersection with the Seward Highway. At that intersection is one of the most striking viewing areas anywhere. Tern Lake fills this small spot that is surrounded by tall peaks on every side. I want to stop, but most of the caravan I was trailing before has pulled off and I assume will be getting back on the road soon. I decide I will enjoy the views on my return trip.
I make my stop at the intersection, look both ways and pull onto the Seward Highway heading north and uphill. I wind through the gears again and find my sweet spot between speed and rpms. I may sound like I am some kind of speed demon to you. I am not. I am over going fast. Even when I am taking corners and curves I find the best balance between speed and the abilities of my bike. After all, I am not riding a Japanese crotch rocket, I am riding a heavy touring bike and it rides best when you aren't pushing it to its limits all the time. I will say that I tend to find the "sweet spot" of my cruising somewhere north of posted speed limits, but not too far north.
I pass upper Summit Lake and then Lower Summit Lake. I am nearing the area that once was a gold mining community called Sunrise but now does not exist. I gear down and make my turn from the Seward Highway on to the Hope Cutoff. I am smiling behind my full face helmet. This little road, only 16 miles long is a bikers dream. Low on traffic, scenic, tight, twisty and full of that pungent fragrance that only overgrown brush on the sides of the road can produce. Plus, there are lots and lots of signs like this:
I am nearing the community of Hope so I take the next couple of miles slower. Hope is one of many "end of the road" destinations on the peninsula. I don't know if people who live in more developed civilization can relate to this. Several communities on the peninsula are at the end of the road, meaning you can't drive anywhere else from where you are. The road just simply ends.
I make my campground survey complete and head into Hope. Not far from the end of the road is the only "gas station" I can find. My suspicion is that they don't sell a lot of gas in Hope. I wonder where the residents run for gas as Hope is a long way from the next nearest gas station. I am glad the range on my Ultra will get me the 200 miles from home and back without filling up.
I continue into town.
I am hungry. The Discovery Cafe is the only game in town today, today being Monday. All the other eating establishments are not open. That's OK, the Discovery Cafe had a killer bacon cheeseburger the last time I visited AND they make homemade pie. I am set for some of that.
The return trip south has less traffic than on the way in. The other lane heading north, is one unending line of traffic. The weekend warriors are heading home. I am glad I was ahead of that bunch. I press on and near the Sterling Highway intersection I pull off one more time to try to squeeze Tern Lake into the tiny lens of my iPhone.
I select chicken fingers and a coffee which comes to 8 bucks. I would rather eat chicken fingers than quiche and pay less too. I savor the coffee and contemplate the day. Good decision to make this ride today. I probably won't get a finer day to do this until next summer.
Christmas Letter 2017
10 months ago