Thursday, August 3, 2017

Riding To Hope

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.


I spend a little longer than I planned and decide to get back to the road.  I pull back onto the Sterling Highway and congratulate myself.  I am a genius.  There is no traffic in sight.  I cross the Kenai Lake bridge and round the bend that continues to follow the shore of the lake.  I enjoy every unobstructed curve and bend in the road.  It was glorious.  I pass Sunrise, a even smaller community with a restaurant and gas pump where the way north breaks into two lanes.  I pass the few cars that are in front of me with ease and continue on to the Hope Cutoff which now is not far away.

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 in heaven.  There are no vehicles of any size in front of me which allows me the luxury of taking those serpentine curves at my discretion unhindered.  This is so rare for this to ever happen.  I indulge myself once again.  Near mile 14 or so, the views become amazing.  I have to stop and look as rubber necking just cannot do justice to what can be seen.



The views are of Turnagain Arm, a treacherous body of water that is long, narrow and shallow.  Turnagain Arm is 21 miles long.  It has so much water to move between low and high tides that the currents are quite dangerous.  I have seen stranded whales and have read terrifying accounts of loss of life of people who ventured out onto the quicksands at low tides.  Often the incoming tide will come as a miles wide wave, two or more feet high.  This is known as a "bore tide" which occurs only two places in the entire world.  I park the bike in a pull out and clamber over a guardrail to gain a better vantage to take some photos with my entirely inadequate iPhone camera.  I am rewarded with ripe raspberries secretly hiding below the tall brush.  I eat all I can find and enjoy superbly ripe wild raspberry flavor.  So good.

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 drive to the end of the road and a simple sign declares you are there.  Just beyond the "End" sign is a campground.  For whatever reason, in the few times I have been to Hope in the past, I have never taken the time to investigate this campground.  What I find is perhaps the most scenic campground I have ever visited in the state of Alaska.  It has to be in the top 5 anyway.  There are many designated camping spots with phenomenal views, most of them available.


I am amazed I have never really heard how good this campground is.  Maybe no one else knows of it either?  It is the best kept secret as far as I am concerned.

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.


This gas station reminds me of many gas stations I knew as a kid growing up in pre-pipeline era Alaska.  The tank truck looks like it may have been new during the Eisenhower administration.

I continue into town.
Hope claims to be "the best preserved gold rush era town in Alaska."  It just might be.  Through the main part of town are many period buildings, well maintained and many of them year around residences.  The lawns are well kept and most of them have historical plaques with their histories and dates of origination.

I come around "B" street to Main Street and head to the business district of Hope.
There are a few tourists here.  Hope gets a strong run of "pinks" or "chum" salmon in the Hope river that runs through town.  No self respecting Alaskan would actually fish for pinks, they are only accidental by-catch that are hastily returned to the water with as little touching the fish as possible.  Alaskans detest the soft, pale flesh, the slimy, slimy, slimy nature of the fish and to many Alaskans who tend to be salmon snobs, they stink. Tourists?  They don't care.  The pinks bite rabidly, put up a heck of a fight pound for pound and the supply seems endless.


Even if you don't like to fish for pinks, the views will make you want to stay for a week.  I wish my iPhone camera could do the views justice.

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.
I walk inside and pick up a menu.  The place has changed hands since I was here last.  The menu now offers "quiche" and "lemon grass salad."  No bacon anything in sight.  Fortunately the host is occupied with a customer and I slip out without trying any quiche.  I decide I will eat later.  I start my bike again and head out of town and back up the Hope Cutoff.

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.



The sun is at the wrong angle so I don't get any drama but hopefully you get the idea.  I am still a little hungry so I plan on pulling off at the one stop everyone pulls in at in Cooper Landing, Wildman's.  It is actually just a sort of rural Alaska 7/11.  Wildman's does have the best rest rooms between Soldotna and Anchorage so it is popular with the wives which is excellent marketing genius from Mr. Wildman.

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.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Memorial Day Ride - 2017 Part 7

The Last Day

I awake refreshed from a hard night of sleep and quickly stow my stuff.  This drill is getting shorter each time as everything is very familiar by now.  I ascend the stairs out of the basement laden with my gear and deposit near the door as I detour and find the coffee already made.  Wade and Jack are sitting and drinking their morning libation.  I join them and Pastor Jason makes his appearance.  We chit chat about the trip and our last miles home.  We drain our cups and with just glances at one another, we signal it is time to load up and head to Fast Eddies.


Pastor Jason rides a on/off road bike which is very useful for the terrain in the Tok area.  It is what I would own if I lived here.  He puts his helmet on with us and it is seconds before we all arrive at the best breakfast place in town.  We enter and discover even now it is filled with locals and tourists.  We select a booth and the four of us squeeze in.  Since there is no car to leave our heavy leather coats in, we drape them over a nearby chair like usual.  

The omelets and pancakes and bacon all arrive and we dive in.  We talk of ministry in Tok, motorcycles, the experiences and about getting home today.  After eating, we wriggle out of the booth and retrieve our jackets.  It looks like it could rain today.  I switch out leather for rain jacket and layer up getting into my mismatched waterproof bag bungied to my back seat.  We say our thank yous to Pastor Jason which seem inadequate for all the first class treatment we have received.  It is time to get going and we all head to the Chevron station to fuel up.  

Topped off, we merge onto the highway, I don't know what is going on with my motorcycle, it seems like it has a mind of it's own.  It wants to run at top speed like a horse that senses it is headed to the barn.  I can't hardly make it slow down.  To discipline the Harley, I use the cruise control, the only thing that keeps it at a steady 70 mph.  At the junction, we choose the Tok Cutoff route.  I wince when I think of all the "road damage" we will have to negotiate today.  

We pass all the out of business road houses, lodges and gas stations in reverse order from when we came.  Soon enough the first "Road Damage" sign appears, the first of many.  Jack is leading, and I am second.  We spread out so when slowing up for the "loose gravel" we don't ride up on the person in front of us too close.  Speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down.  It is the Tok Cutoff true to form.  It goes on for about an hour.  We round a sharply bending corner on one of these damaged sections at the usual 35 mph.  Jack is far enough ahead that he is nearly out of the loose gravel when a monster of a motor home, the kind with front windshields that look taller than an average height man and a half dozen doors on the side to the "basement".  It is also towing what a rental car company would call a "full size sedan".  The driver is not making use of the 35 mph advisement signs posted for the road damage section.  He enters the loose gravel at what I estimate to be 60 mph and there is literally (and I do mean literally in the literal sense) an explosion of "gravel" flying through the air.  It is interesting to me how incredibly fast the mind works at times like this.  My eye spots what looms as a fist size piece of loose gravel, it traces the arc of trajectory and sends the information to my brain.  My brain calculates that yes, I am going to intersect with the arc of that loose piece of gravel.  I have enough spare time to do two things, wonder what the damage to my bike will be and close my eyes and brace for the impact.  All of that in what must be milliseconds.  

The fist sized piece of gravel makes contact with my helmet with a resounding "WHACK!"  I also feel a stabbing pain in my left shin.  The face shield is now flapping stupidly detached from the impact side of my helmet.  I open my eyes a bit dazed and disoriented while still steering the Harley at 35 mph.  The driver of the monster sized motor home drives on none the wiser.  I exit the loose gravel and pull to the side of the road to collect my wits, do something about my face shield and look for damage on my bike.  Wade who catches up to me, pulls in behind me wondering what is wrong.  

I look at him through the dangling face shield and his eyes look puzzled.  We shut off the bikes and I remove my helmet trying to collect my thoughts.  We discover the shield is not broken but only detached from the hinge mechanism.  Wade knows how to reconnect it and compresses the little spring latch while I press the shield back on.  It works.  I rub my left shin realizing I must have caught another rock.  I am imagining that there must be damage to my bike somewhere.  I walk around front and miraculously there is none to be found.  I check the left side that was exposed to the flying gravel and still find no damage.  I am amazed and thankful that it was only my head that took the hit.  Honestly, had I not been wearing the helmet the flying missile would have undoubtedly knocked me out cold and / or taken out an eye.  I resolve that I will always wear a helmet which I have already resolved but I renew the resolve on the spot.  

After several minutes, Jack pulls up on the other side of the road and circles around to find out what is going on.  We discover that a rock has taken out the headlight on his bike, the glass smashed out.  All of the drama is over and I am sure it doesn't look like much to him.  I am fine but still a bit rattled from the whack on my helmet.  I can't wait to get done with the Tok Cutoff.  I look up the "Milepost" description of the Tok Cutoff on the website when I get home.  I have cut and pasted its description for your reading pleasure:
"Road conditions are generally good along the Tok Cutoff and Glenn Highway, with a number of improved sections of highway that have been or are in the process of being realigned and widened."
I don't know what Tok Cutoff they are talking about, but I disagree with the "generally good" part.

We finally reach the junction of the Tok Cutoff and the Richardson Highway.  We turn left and on to Glennallen.  By the time we reach Glennallen the stinging pain in my left shin has faded and I don't feel quite as rattled.  I regard all motor homes with caution from this point on.  

The home stretch lays before us.  After fuel and a vivid description to Jack and Wade of my little mishap we make plans for lunch at the Eureka Roadhouse.  It has rained lightly off and on ever since Tok but from Glennallen the overcast is higher and less dark looking south in our direction of travel.  We set off again and put the cruise controls on 70 mph to keep the bikes from running off with themselves.  

After the nastiness of the Tok Cutoff, the road out of Glennallen seems smooth and gentle.  In general, it is better than most of the Canadian road surfaces we have encountered.  I wonder what it would be like bike tripping in the lower 48 on the smooth blacktop that interconnects civilization down there.  I'll bet there aren't as many "Road Damage" signs posted on the side of the road.  

We get to Eureka in the estimated time and are surprised how busy the place is!  Pickups with large tires pulling trailers with multiple four wheeled side-by-sides are lined up for fuel.  Campers, motor homes (which I give an instinctive wide berth) and cars full of Memorial Day celebrators fill the parking areas.  The weather lifts a bit and blue sky is seen between the clouds.  We still have Sheep Mountain to pass through which for me never seems to not be raining or worse but the prospects of getting out of our rain gear is good.



The Eureka Roadhouse has a reputation for good pie.  I never get to sample it because I am usually too full from their bacon cheese burger.  I change my strategy.  Pie is what I want but I'll need something else to go with it.  I inquire about soups.  The waitress says, "well, we have a broccoli-cheese bacon, and..." I raise my hand and tell her, "you had me at bacon."  Wade  and I order broccoli-cheese bacon soup and it delivers on its promised goodness.  Jack opts for the chili.  I then order cherry pie, my all-time favorite, yes, I will have it heated and yes I will have it with ice cream.  Jack and Wade also order their pie and soon we are savoring the talents of the pie maker who provides these pies to the Eureka Roadhouse.  I really want another piece of pie, but I tell myself to be patient while I sip the rest of my coffee and let the message from my stomach slowly transfer its information to my brain that I actually am full.  If the message from my eyes to my brain and back is high-speed internet, the message from my stomach to my brain is dial-up modem.  It finally does make the connection and I decide against another piece of pie even as I continue to scrape the remaining traces of cherry pie sauce from the plate with my fork.  I would like to lick it clean but...

We exit the roadhouse and I begin to awkwardly remove my rain pants.  I don't want to remove my boots and bending over after lunch is hard with a full stomach.  Getting the elastic leg openings at the bottom of the pants over the huge and clunky bike boots is challenging.  About a half hour later I am stowing the hated rain pants away and looking forward to riding with just my leather chaps, jacket and my helmet.  Always wear a helmet.

To my surprise, the weather looking up to Sheep Mountain does not look too bad, about the same as Eureka.  There is quite a bit more traffic because of the holiday weekend but so far, most of it is headed out of town still while we head toward town.  We plan to take a final break somewhere in an hour or so before we head home.  

The weather only improves and we are riding in wonderful sunshine, far different from the nasty weather we had only a few days before on this very road.  The leaves are popping out and it is clear spring has sprung today on Sheep Mountain.  The curves are a bikers dream only sullied occasionally by slower traffic.  The road is narrow with  hard rock mountain side on the right side and a steep, no guardrail, no shoulder chasm to the left that descends far below to the Matanuska Glacier or the Matanuska River.  One would love to gawk at the scenery but with traffic and the curvy, narrow road, glimpses are all that can be managed.  We pass through the little towns that still show signs of life, Sutton and Chikaloon have found ways to stay in business and I applaud them.  We pull off as planned somewhere along this route to take our last break.

The weariness of the long distance, 5 day trip begins to be felt.  I don't know if you don't allow those thoughts earlier because you still have a long ways to go or if you just can't help it.  We realize that this will be our last conversation with Wade as when we get to Eagle River, he will be taking a different exit home and the plan is for me to stay with Jack and Ann Aiken one more night before I go home to Kenai tomorrow.  We shake hands with Wade and fall in behind him as he leads us out of the pull off and back on to the highway.  

We soon are passing the State Fairgrounds on the outskirts of Palmer.  The road finally breaks into four lanes and we pass through the traffic signals of Palmer without stopping and on to the Glenn Highway.  Traffic is moving briskly and we form up our stagger formation and tighten our spacing to help protect ourselves from  aggressive drivers.  We pass Eklutna and Mirror Lake knowing our exit will be soon.  Wade continues on and Jack leads me off the Glenn and into his neighborhood.  The garage door is open and Jack rides directly in and I park in the driveway.  I am not home, but it sure feels good to be home.  We pull off the leathers again and enter Jack and Ann's comfortable home.  I am kind of amazed that the one pair of jeans I have taken on this trip are still fairly presentable, no mustard or other issues that I have to explain have happened to these pants.  Because of all the showers we were able to take each night of the trip I don't smell too bad either, at least I don't think I do. 

I sit in a comfortable chair as Jack and I relate the details of the trip to Ann.  Did I mention the chair was comfortable?  The house was warm and I am pretty sure I involuntarily fell asleep mid sentence talking with Jack and Ann.  Honestly, I was in la-la land somewhere and enjoying every minute of it.  When I awake some time later, Jack has stowed all the stuff from his bike back to the places he stows it and Ann has dinner from her magical "Insta-Pot" ready and on the table.  I feel a bit of a goof for falling asleep on everyone as I am invited to share in the dinner.  It is excellent.  

I check the weather reports for the next day and notice that the rain is predicted to lift in just an hour and after that it is all sun.  After a warm meal and a snooze I feel up to the last 170 miles and three hours of riding that lay between me  and my Kenai home.  My wife, who was on a trip out of state when I began this adventure arrived home the day yesterday.  I decide to go for it as the light from the sun is constant and I feel rested.

I announce that I am heading home and thank Jack and Ann for hosting me so wonderfully.  I start my bike and head to South Anchorage via the Muldoon-Tudor Road route to avoid downtown.  I fuel off the Huffman exit and pull on the New Seward Highway.  There is one tremendous squall looming up ahead that I am hoping I can avoid but it looks to be directly in my path.  It is parked on the point of Turnagain Arm across the water and looks like a doozy.  It would be the kind of rain that flooded the earth in Noah's day.  I head across Potter's Marsh and we catch the edges of the downpour but are soon out of it by the time I get to Girdwood.  

I have been over this portion of the road so many times in my 35 years of living in south central Alaska  that the three hours go by in no time.  The weather continues to improve the further south I go.  Heading up the skinny road that connects Sunrise to Cooper's Landing demands dark sunglasses as the pitch puts you directly in line with the intense sun.  Soon I am back in the shadow of the mountains and shortening the distance between me and home.  As I pass through mile 74 I glance to the sides of the road hoping to catch sight of a little camera lost a few days before.  No luck.

I pass through Sterling, Soldotna, and on to Kalifornsky Beach Road.  I turn right on Ciechanski, left on River Hills and find myself pulling in to my driveway.  JoLynn is playing fetch with our grand-dog, Lulu, our son's poodle, on the front lawn.  I am home.  I am greeted by a barking, growling poodle who is alarmed at this monster clad in leather.  Assuring Lulu I am no threat I hug JoLynn and shuffle wearily into the garage to remove my riding gear for the last time.  I pull my dirty, road grimy Harley Davidson into the garage and leave it for the next day to unpack and stow the stuff.  

Just before I go into the house, I check the trip meter.  It reads: one thousand, nine-hundred, forty-seven miles.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Memorial Day Ride - 2017 Part 6

The Longest Day

I sleep without waking all night.  That is pretty rare for me even when I don't have trouble sleeping.  I guess the accumulated sleep loss finally caught up with me.  A quick shower and I pack up my stuff and move it downstairs so we can make a quick exit following the church service this morning.  Our longest day of riding is ahead of us and for now, all we can do is wait.

It is Sunday.  We are in Klukwan, Alaska, a Tlingit Indian village that has been in existence in one location or another in the general area for hundreds of years.  One of the stories that comes out of Klukwan that is fascinating is that of the Whale House.  It is something you don't want to mention in town because it is controversial and divisive to this day.  Google "the Whale House" for an interesting read.  

The Klukwan Assembly is in-between pastors at the moment and we have come along at the right time to supply the pulpit for today.  There are three preachers here and for some reason I have been selected to bring the message.  Pastor Jack is the worship leader for the day.  I tease him about him not having his "skinny jeans" with him.  He is only mildly amused.  He is a great guitar player and he practices a few chords in preparation.  I request "Do Lord" which I think will go over big with the locals this morning.  Jack says he will lead it.  

The service has been set up an hour early to accommodate us travelers as we have to make about 440 miles back to Tok, Alaska today and we won't even get on the road until noon or so.  It will make for a long day.  I am up at the usual 6:00 am and go over my notes.  Since we are now in Alaska and my iWatch has lost connection to my iPhone, I do not realize it is actually 5:00 am since we are back on Alaska time.  Great.  More time to pace and  wait.  

There are no restaurants or gas stations or anything else service wise in Klukwan so I munch a protein bar out of my Tour Pak and drink a Keurig coffee from the machine inside the church.  It will hold me over.  The time drags on as we wait for 10:00 am and the service to begin.  

The building we are in does not actually belong to the Assemblies of God.  Sometime back in time this place was established by the Presbyterian church and they eventually left Klukwan.  An Assembly of God missionary discovered this and an arrangement was made for the Assemblies of God to use the facility and it has been used as an Assembly of God church ever since.


There is a core of mostly elderly folks who continue to gather each Sunday for worship.  One of the features of the church that you won't find in your typical Assembly of God church is a bell tower.  It's actually functional and they use it to summon the faithful each week.  Since Jack is leading worship, I am preaching, Wade is tasked with ringing the bell at 9:45 am.  I tell him he needs to wear a tonsure and a friar's robe to do it right.  He is only mildly amused.  I am getting the idea no one appreciates my wardrobe humor. 

Finally the bell is rung and people begin to show up.  There are over a dozen or so who come.  Valentino opens with prayer and begins to take prayer requests.  After a few minutes, he admits he can't hear the requests being made because of a recent ear surgery.  Johanna takes over.  Prayer for the sick takes place and the service is turned over to Jack, who as promised, leads in "Do Lord".  As I predicted the crowd loves it.  Boisterous singing and hand clapping fill the room through all the verses and choruses.  Jack continues to lead less ancient choruses on his guitar and the singing portion of the services ends.  It is now my turn.  I have chosen the topic "The Providence of God" and use the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) to illustrate how God uses even the less pleasant times of our lives "for good."  

It is close to 11:00 am and we are needing to make our departure soon but we close with "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" led by Jack and his guitar.  The people are very friendly and engage us in conversation which I enjoy but nervously watch the clock thinking of the many hours and miles we have to put behind us to get back to Tok.   John, an elder In the village stands in front of me with a furrowed brow and asks, "was that you guys riding your motorcycles and making all the noise last night?  It's usually pretty quiet around here."  I am caught a little off guard and kind of squeak out something like, "probably."  He suddenly smiles and says, "we loved it!"  Ha, ha! I laugh with a little relief and a lot of appreciation for John's sense of humor. I eventually pull away and haul my stuff out to the bike and bungee it on.  My leathers are on and soon all three of us fire our bikes up and ride slowly through the village and onto the Haines Hwy.  The  vegetation is lush, green and dense here, so different from the entire rest of our trip.  Mountains of bear "sign" litter the highway here and there.  They must be finding lots to eat I think to myself.  We are more than ready for lunch and our short term destination is the Mile 33 Roadhouse which has a great reputation for elk and bison burgers (bacon is an option).
It is really busy when we pull up, probably those beer festival folks who know where to get good food.  There is only one place to park when I pull off the highway, front and center.  As mentioned before, I am prone to nostalgia and I am hit with a huge wave of it as I park.  I have been here before, maybe 50 years ago (hate to admit that) with my dad when he and I drove a box truck down from Fairbanks, Alaska to Haines full of mattresses and washers and dryers for a youth camp being set up at Gustavus, Alaska.  We stopped right here and filled up the truck from this very antique gas pump (it was an antique then).  I remember being curious about how it worked as dad, who knew exactly what to do demonstrated the process.  You first determine how many gallons you want to pump.  The glass top has gallon graduated lines.  There is a little hand pump that you work to pump the right number of gallons up into the glass top.  You then insert the handle/nozzle into the gas tank opening of your vehicle and it all gravity drains into your tank.  

Once inside I ask the waitress how long the gas pump has been there.  She squints her eyes thinking for a moment and says, "at least from the '30's".  Yep, that's the one.  She adds that the original roadhouse burned down in 1984 and this log structure replaced it.  That figures because I have no recollection of the building.  It's day is long past and it is no longer used but makes a great landmark.

We all receive our orders with a little extra wait due to the crowded building.  We were fortunate enough to get the very last table.  There must be 50 people in this place.  Those who arrive after us have to sit on the deck in front.  As I enjoy my meal, I think, "I'm going to have to stop eating like this."  Trips like this are maximized by eating lots of meat, usually in burger form.  We want to linger but the day is half over and we still have to get 400 miles behind us.  The realization of that hangs over our meal as we try not to hurry too much to enjoy the delicious food.

Finally, we pay the nice waitress who has handled the crowd like a pro and scoot our chairs back to make our exit.  I try not to think "400 miles" but limit myself to the next fuel stop and that would be Haines Jct.  From where the ferry made a turn into Haines the previous day, every step takes us closer to home.  If that was one small step, this will be a giant leap.  Our route takes us on the Haines Hwy., up and over a pass through some of the most beautiful scenery.  I look forward to the ride.

We power up and are on our way, for a minute or two.  Customs.  That crowd that was at the restaurant when we arrived?  There is a loooong line waiting to get through Canadian Customs in front of us.  This looks like it will take all day.  I imagine we will not get to Tok until midnight or later.  But it's not too bad, the line keeps moving and in a much shorter time that I feared, we get the questions and we are through.  The traffic stretches out quickly and there are no bunches of slow moving vehicles to get around.  In fact, we are kind of the slow ones as we commit to our 70 mph while large trucks and cars filled to capacity whiz around us like we are standing still.  There are plenty of double lanes as we gain altitude and the traffic flows nicely.  Up ahead our sunny day loses ground to dark, high overcast once again as the vegetation once again loses the lush green and looks dormant as it has most of our trip.

We continue to climb but not as steep and eventually flatten out as we enter the pass itself.  This is probably the best road surface of the entire trip, it is smooth, virtually crack free and without any "Road Damage" signs whatever.  It must be a fairly new paving job as roads don't stay like this for long in the north country.  

We make a 50 mile rest stop.  The overcast rather mutes what might otherwise be fabulous vistas.  It is still beautiful but in an austere way.  There is enough snow to easily navigate on a snowmobile if one was inclined.  It too is still late winter in the pass.  

After a few minutes without discussion, we don our helmets and mount the bikes.  I notice that swinging my leg over the saddle gets harder as the day wears on.  Either the bike seat is getting taller, my legs shorter or maybe the fatigue.  We head on out  and ride hard without much to note other than the beautiful country which keeps rolling and rolling out ahead of us in an unending way.  Eventually we do begin a descent and the buds on the scrub are popping out, the birch trees have tinges of green on their extremities, life is making a reappearance in the lower elevations.  

At long last, Haines Jct.  We have completed the loop from this spot through Whitehorse, Skagway, Haines and back.  Check that one off the bucket list.  We fuel up and my Canadian coin stash is dwindling by now.  I have enough for fuel but probably not enough for the next time which will be Destruction Bay.  I save my last quarters, dimes and nickels for a Gatorade in Destruction Bay.

We are topped off and on our way again.  We see everything in reverse order now.  We enter the fabulous Kluane Wilderness which is bordered by the St. Elias mountain range.  This same range continues into Alaska in the least visited portion of our state that is accessible by road.  McCarthy, Bonny Lake, Copper Center, Chitna, and the Kennicott Mine are the little communities that are relics of days gone by.  The people who live there do so because they WANT to live there.  

With the steady drone of the V-Twin motor below mile after mile, we begin to encounter fierce winds that buffet us gustily.  As we near the south end of Lake Kluane, the clouds of silty dust are seen on the horizon being driven by the winds.  It thankfully has warmed from two days previously when we were headed south.  The tinges of green also make their appearance now and looking up the lake, the ice has disappeared.  I shake my head thinking it feels like we were here much longer ago than just two days.  

Destruction Bay offers us a chance to give our backsides a rest, fuel and stretch our legs.  The Gatorade takes my last $3.50 Canadian and I drink it down.  For some reason I get thirsty in Destruction Bay.  Long miles await us so we once again assault the road and head north.  

Generally we take a break every 50 miles or one hour give or take if we find a suitable place to pull off.  The wind stiffens as we pass Burwash Landing and head up to Beaver Creek our next fuel/rest stop.  The terrain is a little more rolling hills here and we press on.  Up the road we do take a break and encounter two young men on bicycles laden heavily with camping packs and gear.  The wind is contrary to them and making their lives miserable.  One young man has taken shelter from the wind behind the outhouse at the pull out, not my favorite location but the only shelter available.  His  friend, who obviously has lagged behind him, is walking his bike up the road and arrives while we walk our road legs off.  They ask us what lies ahead in terms of places they can camp for the night.  Unfortunately we don't have encouraging news for them.  Maybe 36 km up the road there is a nice campground, but in this wind, this late in the day, that is far, way too far. They look discouraged.  As they talk with us, one of their bikes which is leaning up against one of the outhouses, gets pushed by the wind and rolls down the steep bank spilling some of the bags into the brush.  They quickly retrieve their stuff and we feel awkward not being able to offer them any real help in getting to a suitable location to camp for the night.  We wish them well and power on to Beaver Creek.  I  think to myself, I am thankful William Harley and the Davidson brothers attached that little one horse motor to their bicycle 114 years ago.  

Despite the wind, the weather remains nice and the temperatures have improved some so our finger tips never numb and the midnight sun remains strong.  We are a little concerned as we approach Beaver Creek that we will be able to find some dinner and wonder if the US border remains open all night.  We find the sole gas station that dispenses premium fuel still open which we prefer.  The clerk, an immigrant from Croatia is a very upbeat and energetic young man.  He tells me he has just arrived from Ontario for his summer adventure to make more money for school.  He arrived just the day before.  He directs us up the road to "Buckshot Betty's" for food as it is the only place that is still open in town.  For  the first time in Canada, I pay for my fuel with my credit card.  We thank him and head out the door.

Buckshot Betty's is a nice place.  They have a restaurant, rooms and a campground.  We are ready to sit and eat.  There are several other patrons enjoying their dinner as we enter.  When the waitress arrives to take our drink orders, I ask, "are you Buckshot Betty?"  No, Betty has just left for the day, she is going home to enjoy the fruits of her labors.  I am disappointed, I wonder if "Buckshot" looks the part of a frontier personality.  We order our meals, mine is the club sandwich which arrives on thick homemade bread.  I can't even begin to get my mouth around it. I tell the other two men, "this is part of my fitness plan, I plan on fittin' this all in my mouth."  They are only mildly amused.  The water is self serve and only 5 feet away in a 2 gallon stainless steel dispenser.  Before we are done with our food, we drain the whole thing.  

It is 120 miles to Tok, about 30 to the US border where we will submit our passports one last time in order to get home.  It is about 8:00 pm and Klukwan feels another world away.  Were we really there earlier today?  It seems unreal.  With at least three hours of riding ahead of us, we resolve ourselves to get with it.  

The US border is a welcome sight.  We are less than 100 miles from Tok now.  The lone customs agent lets us through with no hassel.  I notice the very nice accommodations they provide for the agents in this remote place.  It looks like a really nice, modern neighborhood with playgrounds for the kids and all.  The road surface immediately improves to a much  smoother surface but there are the frost heaves to deal with now.  Honest, some sections of the road are so whoopty-doo'ed you can't go faster than 45 mph.  Regardless, we press on and the road eventually flattens out and we are up to speed.  We take a final rest stop at the Northway cutoff.  The warmer temperatures have enabled the mosquito hatch to take place and they don't take long to find us.  The front of our bikes are bespeckled with their bodies which adds to the road warrior grime covering all surfaces of our bikes by now.  

We pull in to Tok Assembly of God around 10:00 pm.  It is still light but the town is quiet and we try to sneak in without waking everyone but it is hard to sneak on a big bike.  We know the drill and go to our rooms seeing the towels for showers have been set out for us again. So nice.  Pastor Jason comes over from next door to greet us.  We are dog weary from the longest day of our trip and look it.  We make plans to meet in the morning for breakfast at Fast Eddies.  Pastor Jason shows us the switch to flip in the morning to make coffee and it is all set up.  What a guy.  This night I sleep without moving.




Saturday, June 3, 2017

Memorial Day Ride - 2017 Part 5

A New Highway Experience

Surprisingly, I didn't sleep solidly through the night.  I slept but with intervals of tossing and turning. Jack tells me my sleeping bag "sounds like a hurricane" when it brushes against my cot.  I tell him it is my most unfavorite bag.  I think it is his too.  Finally, I can't stay in bed any longer so I am up and I shower letting the warm water sooth my aching shoulders.  I am soon packed and haul my stuff down to the Harley.  Wade and Jack are there doing the same.  The morning is cool and to the north there are dark clouds but to the south, the way we are headed, there is blue sky.  

We need to fuel and to eat.  I am chosen to lead for the day which I readily accept.  I am looking forward to a new adventure going down the Klondike Highway to Skagway, Alaska. I have never been on this highway before.  The church in Whitehorse is located at a prime location, an intersection of two main roads through Whitehorse.  To the left, you are headed downtown.  I decide we might want to avoid downtown and find something out on the highway heading south.  The decision was based on an assumption that didn't pan out.  We had to leave the road we were on and head back into town almost all the way back to the church.  In the same block we find a gas station and a McDonalds.  Out comes my bag of Canadian coins to pay for my fuel.  At McDonalds the kid at the counter thanks me for all the quarters I have paid with as he was out. I tell him I am just glad to help out. Fueled and sated, we wind our way back through town and out to the highway we came from.  Only 20 miles out of town is the turn off to the Klondike Highway.  

Soon enough we make the turn and head directly south to Skagway.  The day is brilliantly sunny and dry.  I am loving it.  There are beautiful lakes and scenery along the way.




Several miles in we come to the small, quaint community of Carcross.  Just before you get to town, you encounter "The World's Smallest Desert".  Really.  It is the Carcross Desert.  Just Google it.  It is fascinating.  We don't need fuel so we aren't planning a stop really but something about the place raises my curiosity.  There is a turn off from the highway to the community which I decide to take.  What a pleasant surprise.  We arrive just as the little shops and railroad station are opening their doors.  The White Pass Rail Road still operates through this station.






There is a train trestle over the river that drains one lake into another.  The thing that catches my eye is the little general store.  It is the oldest surviving, continuously operated store in the Yukon Territory.  I enter it and find it is a virtual time capsule.  Everything inside is original.  It has original display cases, shelving, gas lighting hanging from the ceiling and vintage merchandise.  The owners also sell modern stuff like handmade dolls, fur hats and the like, but the old stuff is what gets my attention.








Calendars from 1936, 1950 and 1964 still hang on the walls, vintage advertising for .22 bullets, boxes and boxes of "Pride of the West Fine Work Shirts" are stacked on the shelves.  "Big Boy Cut Plug Tobacco" fill upper shelves in their bright red cans.  Vintage fishing tackle, bundles of tea, traps and buck saws hang suspended where they have for decades.  For a collector like me, it was too much.  It was a good thing I had no room on my bike for more stuff.  

We have our shortest day milage wise today so we are in no particular hurry.  We do have to make the Alaska Marine Highway ferry by 3:30 pm but we have lots of time.  Reluctantly we leave Carcross and head up the Klondike Highway.  We ascend in elevation following the highway that winds around pristine lakes blue and dark, hemmed in by steep mountain slopes that sometimes tumble their rocks onto the highway.  We pass two different black bears emerging from the roadside brush.  This is a magical place.  Easily for me the best part of the trip.  Since by the end of the day we will be heading back in the direction of home, this day will be the highlight of the entire journey.  

As we travel higher and higher, the forests disappear and shorter, scrubbier vegetations take their place.  Soon, nothing but barren rock, icy ponds, lakes and snow.  It is so beautiful but the chilliest temperatures we have encountered so far.  It may be in the freezing range, but I don't care as the road is dry and the vistas are breath taking.  At the top of the White Pass area, we skirt the very small community of Fraser which has an obvious mining history from the turn of the previous century.  Canadian customs are located there but since we are in Canada and wanting back into the US, we need not stop.  We press on.  

Before very long we are definitely descending in elevation.  As we pass over a crest in the road there is a pull out with a sign announcing we are entering the US and the State of Alaska.  I pull over for a rest stop, to take some pictures and warm our fingers.



It is cold here.  The terrain is very steep and a chasm opens beside the road which we will follow alongside into Skagway not many miles ahead.  After pictures, we mount the bikes again and I enjoy one of the most fun series of curves down the canyon I have ever enjoyed. 

We stop at the US customs, answer the questions and continue our descent into Skagway.  From this point the temperature is obviously rising significantly.  Fingers warm, faces warm, the sun soaks black leather coats and chaps with heat.  The foliage is lush, green and fragrant, something we haven't experienced for the whole trip.  This is definitely a new land we have discovered.  The steepness pretty much turns to level as we follow the Skagway River right into town.  

Just as we enter town, I spot the local Assembly of God church.  I pull off the road so quickly that Jack, who is second in our procession misses the fact that I turned.  Wade who is third sees me and also pulls off.  Jack motors on into town as we inspect the church.  We are both pleasantly surprised at how presentable the church is.  The outside is as neat as a pin.  The building has recent paint, the grass is mowed,  flower beds weeded and tulips grace the borders.


I am entirely impressed.  There is obviously a lot of local pride and ownership in the building.  To our surprise, the front doors are open and we enter.  The inside is more of the same.  Neat as a pin.  I sit in the sanctuary and enjoy the presence of God I sense there.  It is a bit of a 1970's time capsule with rust carpet and matching pews, hymnbooks in the racks, the chancel arranged with traditional pulpit and chairs for the pastor.  Not a video projector, can lights or computer in sight.  It is clean and nice.  

Jack eventually discovers he is alone and calls Wade to find out where we are.  Jack eventually joins us and we meet the pastor who lives in Skagway about half the year supplying the pulpit.  Brain Blanchard is a nice man and one who loves to serve the Skagway church.  He vows to continue to do so as long as he is able or until a permanent pastor can be found.  The half of the year he returns to his home in the states, the members take over and keep the doors open.  We are all pleased there is ministry going on in such nice fashion in Skagway, Alaska.

I haven't been in Skagway in probably 35 years.  It too has changed much.  The once gravel streets are now paved.




The few local businesses have been replaced with jewelry shops that are well financed by outside interests and manned by people who are obviously not local.  At some point in its past, the city fathers decided that they would make the most of the opportunity afforded them by the cruise ship industry.  The tiny town I once knew is now beautiful and modernized beyond my ability to recognize it.  I do spot a couple or three original buildings I know from days long ago.  

Having asked Pastor Blanchard for a recommendation for lunch, we find the place he indicated.  It is clean and nice, run by a local family just a block off the main drag.


They serve all kinds of food but specialize in Greek-Italian.  A couple next to us is eating a gyro and it looks fabulous.  I make up my mind this is what I will have, Jack and Wade agree and we all order gyros with a green salad, probably the most healthy meal of our trip (no bacon).  It was excellent.  We thank the nice owner / waitress and tip her generously.  

We find there is a Harley-Davidson apparel shop in Skagway and we must pay homage.  It is at the top of the main street.


I pick out a baseball cap with "Skagway Harley-Davidson" stitched on the back and Jack picks out a long sleeved T-Shirt.  We pay way more for our items than we should, but hey, it's the Skagway Harley Shop. I tell Jack "HD stands for hundred dollars." He chuckles.  Wade who rides a Kawasaki is not interested.  

We wander around town awhile and I purchase a coffee and cookie, $12.00 US.  I try not to look too wide-eyed when the clerk tells me what I owe.  I wish I could use my bag of Canadian coins here.  The rest of the shops are pretty much jewelry and art stores and such that we have no interest in so we head to the ferry office to check in.  The ferry is the M/V Fairweather, the "fast ferry".



This beauty is a twin hull design and the most modern ferry in the fleet.  It is a fast mover.  After about an hour of waiting we board.  We strap down our bikes with the tie downs we have brought just for this purpose.  We take the stairs up and sit down looking forward to the ride to Haines, Alaska and on to Klukwan where we will spend the night.  

We are seated and the ferry departs Skagway.  Before we realize it, we have arrived in Haines.  This is a fast ferry.   We clamber back down the stairs and unstrap the bikes.  I think, "all that weight to carry for just 30 minutes?"  The pastors of the Assembly of God church, Wayne and Jane Cowart greet us at the Haines ferry dock and escort us into town.  They invite us into their home and offer us coffee and tea.  The view from their home is beautiful looking out into the bay that Haines is built around.  We go to dinner at a local place that is quaint and nice and enjoy a delicious meal.


Pastor Wayne gives us a tour of Port Chilkoot and Ft. Seward which is packed with people from out of town for the annual Beer Festival.  It is odd to see grown people in swimsuits covered in soap suds sliding down the green on plastic tarps on a makeshift slip and slide.  It looks too chilly for my participation.  

We head on to Klukwan where we will stay in the church / parsonage recently vacated by our missionaries, Otis and Debra Ganey who have been there over the past year refurbishing the place.  It looks great and we are shown to our rooms, again we each receive our own room and with actual beds.  There are also showers.  I look around a little bit, go over the three sets of notes I have selected for preaching in the morning, choose one and set it aside.  It has been by far our shortest day of riding but very long in other ways.  I am exhausted.  I lay on the bed and sleep the sleep of death for the first time on the trip.