November 3, 1999

Hi -

Because you are one of my favorite people I am including you on the list to receive the recap of my fun Alaska motorcycle ride this summer. This adventure is one of the highlights of my life and certainly the most recent. I feel compelled to share it with you. If it gets too detailed or drawn out for your reading style, please feel free to skip over any part(s) you wish.

Until early this year, I had never thought about nor considered riding a motorcycle to Alaska. As you know, I have had some exciting experiences like  trying to become a Flat Track Motorcycle Racer on the 1/4 mile Gardena Speedway track in Los Angeles at age 19, and sailing a 14 ft Sunfish sailboat from Sausalito to San Leandro on San Francisco Bay. So, the idea of riding a motorcycle all the way to the Arctic Circle wasn’t too much of a stretch for my thinking. But, since I did not ride motorcycles between 1960 and 1998, and even though I successfully completed the Motorcycle Rider’s Safety Course in April 1998, my riding skills were not what you would call expert. Nonetheless, in January this year I decided that I would do the Alaska thing and I talked to Jim, my brother and riding compadre, about going to Alaska instead of (as we had previously discussed) around the perimeter of the contiguous “lower 48” United States. In truth, I didn’t give Jim a choice - I pretty much dictated that we would do this thing and he graciously accepted the change without asking too many questions.

The following is my personal journal of the trip. I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading about it. I am happy to share another small part of my life experiences with you.


Hal ForAlaskaer  

This is my personal journal of the ride from El Paso, Texas to the Arctic Circle and back between the dates of June 6, 1999 and July 20, 1999. I have written in narrative, first person, singular (mostly) form. I recorded a daily mileage log that is available if you are interested, but it is not included in this journal. I hope you enjoy sharing the adventure.


Me and The "Blues Chaser"



  Originally I had an idea to ride around the perimeter of the “Lower 48” states with Jim, my brother, riding up the west coast, across the Canadian border states, maybe dipping up into Canada occasionally, thru Niagara Falls, New York and extending the ride up into Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador; then down the East Coast across the panhandle of Florida and back to El Paso.  I hope to do that ride someday and include the Florida Keys. Sometime later the Alaska idea spawned and it seemed like a good idea to go as far north as possible and to do it this year. I reasoned that Jim is 67 yrs old and he may not be up to the rigors of an Alaska ride in the future, and I may not be either (I’m now 63 yrs). The trip became an adventure of going north to the Arctic Circle and maybe on to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

I requested info from many sources - the Internet, Magazines, etc.,  about Alaska in general, specific towns and places in Alaska, the Alaska Marine Highway System (ferry ship system), fishing in Homer, etc and I pored over all the material numerous times. I mentally traced possible routes, then looked at the maps to confirm my ideas. I began to read BMWMOA (BMW Motorcycle Owner’s Assoc.) and IBMWR (Internet BMW Riders) postings on the Internet, books about people who have ridden a motorcycle to Alaska, and magazines with ride reports on Alaska. I bought a copy of “The Milepost”, the bible for Alaska Highway travelers, and checked and re-checked info about a hundred details that came to mind.

The itinerary for the trip was quite a challenge, so I approached it by starting with the Calif. dates of the graduations I wanted to attend and worked backwards in time. This gave me a June 7th start date from El Paso, and two nights on the road before arriving at San Jose the day before Jeff’s graduation. After that, I noted Katie’s graduation Saturday the 12th, the Sunday party that Janet was planning, and scheduled a tax appt. with Al Farnum in between. Also, I had the SJSU dedication and lunch on Friday the 11th,  and other social things to fit in. From there, I simply worked my way up to Bellingham, WA and the June 18th sailing date. In early March I made reservations on the Alaska Marine Highway ship Columbia from Bellingham, to Haines, Alaska, and that’s when the Alaska portion was born! Because no cabins were available we would have to sleep in a tent on the deck of the ship - so, I shopped for and bought a tent, sleeping bags, and air mattress pads over the Internet. Also, I bought a myriad of items for the motorcycles, camping, personal wear, etc.

Jim and I had anticipated that he would join up with me in El Paso on June 6th, but he was delayed in Wichita, KS. Then, he would meet me in Tacna, AZ, then Fremont, then at our sister Jean’s place in Shelter Cove, then in Bellingham. He did meet me in Bellingham the afternoon before we sailed.

I planned to ride my 1998 Honda Shadow ACE 750 since I didn’t want to beat up the newer 1999 BMW R1100RT, and I proceeded to prepare the Honda for the trip. I bought a new front tire, had the 24,000 mile service performed, a new chain and sprockets, installed a “Stopper” LED auxiliary stop light, installed a polycarbonate headlight guard, etc. But during the week before the start I changed my mind and rode the BMW. Luckily it needed very little  special preparation, but I did install deer whistles to warn deer that I was in the vicinity (I guess they worked - didn’t see a deer the entire trip.), and a headlight guard. Preparation for Jim’s bike was quite extensive, including a new windshield, installed a “Stopper” LED auxiliary stop light, two new tires, a new chain and sprockets, a complete tune-up, and for his personal wear he needed a First Gear jacket and pants, wool “longies”, a good wool shirt, wool socks, cold weather gloves that were waterproof, etc. I tried more than once to catalog all the gear I accumulated but I didn’t succeed.

Resources that were very important were lists of camping and motorcycle maintenance items from IBMWR, other lists posted on the Internet, and in magazines. From those lists I compiled my own list.

During a trip to Anchorage in May, I bought wool long underwear, Pendleton wool long sleeve shirts, wool socks, waterproof bags, and other expedition gear for both Jim and me. All of that came in very handy. I appreciate the advice of Tarja and Ken about what we would need to stay comfortable during the ride in the far north - especially the recommendation for the “longies”.

I began to make some reservations - in Haines, Alaska for the night we disembark, in Tok, Alaska the first night after our first day of riding, etc. My experience is that a smooth start sets the stage for the entire trip.

Two weeks prior to June 7th I began to sort items according to use and need for accessibility. I sorted everything more than once, each time refining my sort criteria. There were a few items I decided to leave home, some duplicates that required a choice (e.g.: I had 4 or 5 flashlights and I chose an appropriate one), and I thought of other things I might need. There was a box in my office at Teramar for Jim and I put things I bought for him there. There were items ordered thru the Internet; I shopped at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Walgreen’s and other places for various items like mosquito repellent (100% DEET), sun block, a hatchet, long tent pegs, plastic tarps for each of us, etc. I placed the clothing items I thought I would need in a plastic tub in my bedroom and I added or subtracted as June 7th drew nearer. I packed an extra pair of boots, thinking I would change every day (I didn’t), and a pair of low-cut shoes suitable for the graduations, the SJSU dedication and luncheon, and any other social function that might come up. The low-cuts were a good idea. I bought a new Olympus Stylus Epic pocket camera that is water resistant, has a zoom, and dates each photo. I replaced the batteries in the handheld CB radio, recharged the battery in the cell phone, bought new batteries for the flashlights, bought a new tiny digital travel clock, film for the camera, found the sunscreen, etc. etc.

I practiced just one time erecting the tent and I was concerned that I wouldn’t do it well on the ship. But, everything worked out OK.

Oscar made two signs, each about the size of an auto license plate, that read “Arctic Circle or Bust.”  The original was of plastic-laminated cardboard and didn’t last through the first day. The second version was mounted on an aluminum plate and went the entire distance. Many people asked about the sign during my trip north - it was a good conversation piece.

On June 5th I packed the BMW with what I expected to take and it fit perfectly. The sign looked good and I felt I was ready.  




1999 Alaska Trip

          Phase One - El Paso to Fremont

          Phase Two - Fremont to Bellingham

          Phase Three - Bellingham to Haines on Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Ship

          Phase Four - Haines to Fairbanks

          Phase Five - Fairbanks to Arctic Circle and back to Fairbanks

          Phase Six - Fairbanks to Anchorage

          Phase Seven - Anchorage to Homer (fishing) and back to Anchorage

          Phase Eight - Anchorage to Sweetgrass, Montana

          Phase Nine - Sweetgrass to El Paso  

  TOTAL DISTANCE RIDDEN:  8,998  miles.


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