Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 17

Summer of 1896, along the Klondike River, north of Dawson City, way up in the Yukon Territory, three men discovered gold. When word reached the States, it started the Klondike Gold Rush.

People from all over the United States, and even some in other countries, heard that gold was so plentiful in the Klondike, it was like picking up nuggets off the ground. At that time, Americans were hitting on hard times and news of easy riches sent them packing for the Klondike Gold Fields.

The problem was that getting to the Klondike was difficult. There were no roads there, no railroad, no stagecoach. The only way was to take a boat from San Francisco or Seattle north to Skagway Bay.

Once at Skagway Bay, they could either land in Skagway or Dyea. At Skagway, you took the White Pass Trail north, while at Dyea you took the Chilkoot Trail north. Both landed you at the headwaters of the Yukon River, and from there you took rafts for 500 miles to Dawson City.

They were called "Stampeders", because they caught gold fever, and feverishly stampeded up through mountains of ice without realizing the harsh winters that awaited them.

Stampeders arriving at Skagway, AK

And when they got to Dawson City, they discovered that every square inch of land in the Klondike Gold Fields had already been staked. There wasn't even a spec of gold dust a stampeder could lay his hands on. Several of them turned right back around and headed home. But many others stayed in Dawson City and helped build it into what it is today. They constructed railroad tracks that lead south to Skagway. They helped build the river boats, install electricity, started businesses of their own, and at the time built Dawson City into one of the largest cities in all of Canada.

And once the railroad opened up, the town of Dyea died, while Skagway's future was secured.

Today, the stampeders continue to arrive into Skagway by boat. Except they're stampeding for souvenirs, photographs, fine dining, and entertainment. And they're still making the long journey up to Dawson City, except by tour bus.

Funny how things change but still seem to remain the same.

Having spent my day in Skagway, I understand how closely tied it is to Dawson City. Neither city would be what it is today if not for the stampeders.

Today, stampeders still arrive at Skagway by boat.

It rained all night long at Dyea Campground, and it poured. The region around Skagway is mountainous, and the tall mountains force the ocean air high upwards where it cools down, condenses, and forms clouds. And these clouds seemingly have nowhere to go, but rain back down on Skagway.

Next morning, I thought about waiting out the rain inside my tent, but realized that was a bad idea. Still pouring down, I packed up my camp, and headed back into Skagway on my Honda ST.

The fuel gauge said I only had 30 miles left in the tank. I asked a local on where the gas station was. She pointed me in the direction. As it turns out, Skagway has only one gas station, and that station has only one pump. I mean, hardly anyone drives around here; 90% of the people are from cruise ships, another 9% are locals who just walk everywhere, and the other 1% drove vehicles in from out of town.

In fact, considering the hordes of people walking through downtown Skagway, parking is plentiful. You can find a parking space just about anywhere.

I had breakfast at a cafe called "Corner Cafe". There I ran into a couple on dual sports I had met several days ago at Big Creek Campground, off the Alaskan Highway. We updated each other on our travels, and then bid each other farewell.

Corner Cafe, Skagway, AK, 4th Street & State

I managed to walk through the entire town, and made good on my promise to buy my wife a souvenir.

It was still raining hard, and the temperature felt like mid-40s all day long. I tried to warm up at a Starbucks shop, but they wouldn't accept the Starbucks Card as payment. I thought that was ridiculous. I mean, why have a Starbucks Card if some stores are not even going to take them? So I walked out on them.

I was told the public library has free Wi-Fi. So I went there. I found about 15 people crammed into a small room set up just for Wi-Fi users. I tried to get on, but for some reason my netbook couldn't communicate with the library's network.

So I left town, and headed back to Whitehorse.

Downtown Skagway, in the rain


In Skagway, you can buy bacon-flavored toothpicks


A taxidermy grizzly watches over the Corrington Museum of Alaskan History


"I don't always smoke, but when I do, I prefer salmon"


Stampeders placed these harnesses over their dogs to carry their supplies.
Originally they used horses, but horses could not endure the frost.
Pack dogs became so valuable, stampeders stole them from each other.


Jewelry is the hottest commodity in Skagway.
Every second or third store in Skagway is a jewelry store.


You can buy all five Alaskan Harley dealer t-shirts in one place.


I don't know why, but this building seemed strange.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 16

The Klondike Highway, labeled as Highway 2 in the Yukon Territory, connects Whitehorse, YT to Skagway, AK, running about 100 miles in the process. I had totally forgotten about Skagway, AK, but this afternoon it dawned on me that I could easily ride down there.

In fact, this afternoon I had finally gotten a word from Mike. He and Paul had reached Deadhorse, AK, the furthest north on the Dalton Highway, the Arctic Ocean. Except when I got the word from him, he had already made it back to Fairbanks, AK. He and Paul were planning to head back to Canada, but do the Top of the World Highway into Dawson City, YT.

So instead of riding further east on my own, I decided to kill some time and let them catch up to me in Whitehorse. So today, I decided to take this trip down to Skagway.

Highway 2, the Klondike Highway, towards Skagway, AK

But before doing so, I managed to hit up the local Wal-Mart in Whitehorse, and buy me a new digital camera. I also visited the local Honda dealer to pick up a bottle of antifreeze. My Honda ST seems to lose some coolant for several thousands of miles.

The road to Skagway takes only about a couple of hours, which means I actually had plenty of time to remain in Whitehorse and visit the local brewery, Yukon Brewing. But their tour didn't start for another hour. So I rode my motorcycle around and found Yukon Harley-Davidson, the local dealer.

I suppose being a former Harley rider, I still can't help noticing every dealer and licensed store I see. And Yukon H-D is no different from the hundreds of other Harley dealers, tons of t-shirts, logo-branded junk, and people who think they're just too cool.

But I happened to meet a few riders from Colombia. They actually had their Ultra Classics shipped from Colombia to Key West, Florida. Then they hopped on them and rode them out this far. Their ultimate goal was Deadhorse, AK. After that, they'd ride them down the Pacific Coast, through Mexico, Central America, and back into Colombia.

I could barely understand their English, but somehow we all managed to understand each other. I actually figured out enough to learn that previously they had ridden their Suzuki V-Strom 1000s from Colombia to Argentina. I wanted to tell them that they should have brought those to Deadhorse, AK instead, but I was having a difficult time trying to talk to these guys as it was.

Carlos and Carlos, both from Colombia, not pictured was a third guy, Julian.

I got back to Yukon Brewing, and found the tour lasted only a measly 10 minutes. But at least they gave me tastings of every beer they made. From what I could tell, their Yukon Red and Midnight Sun Espresso Stout were the best they had. Interestingly, a guy there said that Canadian IPAs are far less hoppy than American IPAs, and certainly Yukon Brewing's IPA tasted nothing like the IPAs I was used to in the States. It was almost like they forgot to add the hops altogether.

After hanging out with them, I took off for Skagway.

The Klondike Highway starts off like most other highways in Alaska and Yukon, lots of straight road with some very wide curves. It's quite boring riding. But as you get towards the mountains, the scenery becomes quite beautiful to look at. And when you reach the US/Canada border, it gets somewhat twisty, with some 30mph curves and a couple of switchbacks.

Along the Klondike Highway, at the US-Canada border

Except you can't really enjoy the road because there's too many tour buses getting in the way. That's because Skagway is major destination for cruise ships. The cruise ships all offer side trips to Whitehorse and Dawson City, which is why the Klondike Highway is chock full of buses.

Skagway is a very touristy-looking town, with it's 1800s era gold mining theme. If you're familiar with San Diego County, imagine the town of Julian, but only 20 times larger.

I actually got there around 6:00pm, and right away I wanted to find a campground to stay the night. I pulled into the National Parks Service visitor center, who recommended Dyea National Historic Park.

Dyea used to be a town that served the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, it's now long gone, except for a cemetery, a campground, and some roads the National Parks Service uses to run tours. The road to the campground is 3 miles of pavement, and then 5 miles of hard-packed dirt. I met the camp hosts, an elderly couple, who seemed very friendly and generous.

Downtown Skagway, AK, Broadway Street

After I pitched my tent at their campground I rode into Skagway to take in the local brews. Skagway Brewing was my first stop, and I had four of their brews, and found them all excellent, actually much better than Yukon Brewing, but then again I'm partial to American microbrews.

Even their fish and chips were excellent.

Then I stopped at the Red Onion Saloon, which was a brothel in its earlier days.

By 8:00pm, the town seemingly became empty. The bartender at the Red Onion Saloon said that most cruise ships pull out of town around this time, and the town goes completely dead. But it comes back to life around 9:00pm, when the locals wander out. And sure enough, by about 10:00pm, the Red Onion Saloon was rocking.

The Red Onion Saloon, around 10:30pm, after all the cruise ship people left

I asked the bartender if she knew of any places in Skagway with Wi-Fi. She said only the public library. Otherwise, internet access is way too expensive here. Even the Starbucks here doesn't offer it, and interestingly, the Starbucks closes at 7:00pm.

I finally left the Red Onion Saloon close to midnight, and managed to ride my motorcycle back to the campground. I found myself doing 30mph on the dirt road, whereas earlier in the evening I was only managing 20mph. I guess I had gotten used to it already.

And guess what, as I sit here typing this blog entry, I can hear rain hitting my tent.

Three Harley riders from Colombia making their way up to Alaska


Barrels of malt at Yukon Brewing Company, Whitehorse, YT


These signs are all over the Yukon Territory


The Yukon actually has sand dunes, off the Klondike Highway


Tagish Lake, Yukon, off the Klondike Highway


The Yukon Suspension Bridge is a pedestrian bridge over the Tutshi River.
They wanted $18.50 to walk it, or see it. Pictured here is merely the gift shop.
They have wooden fences put up so that you can't see the bridge from outside.


US-Canada border crossing, Klondike Highway, entering USA


Tour buses at the US Customs Check, heading into Skagway, AK


Skagway Bay, and the road leading to Dyea Campground


Skagway Brewing, Blue Top Porter


Too bad I wasn't going to be able to stick around for the Whiskeydicks

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 15

Thus far my experience with Canada has been in small towns out in the middle of vast expanses of undeveloped land. Based on that, Canadians seem to be friendly, helpful, courteous, and honest.

Whitehorse, Yukon presents itself as a big city, with its large downtown buildings, big box stores like Staples, Wal-Mart, and all the fast-food chains that permeate the Great North. Because it's the capitol city of Yukon, it grew this way. But it only has about 25,000 people. So, you get all the amenities of a metropolis, but without all the traffic, the noise, and the cops.

The Yukon HOG chapter is based in Whitehorse, and they seem have an influential presence here. They created this "Motorcycle Friendly" campaign all over the Yukon.

Whitehorse, Yukon, a busy sidewalk cafe amidst the railroad depot.

Basically, they went to every gas station, restaurant, bar, and hotel in the territory and asked them to sign for up their "Motorcycle Friendly" policy. Signing up was as simple as coughing up some cash and paying it to HOG. In exchange, the business gets an orange placard saying "Motorcycle Friendly - Proud Member" to hang on their wall. Then when the Yukon HOG does their annual rally, riders are encouraged to patronize only these businesses.

I chatted with the owner of a FasGas service station about it. "Actually, I don't really care if someone rides a motorcycle or not, it's all the same money to me", he said. "But it brings in a lot business during the rally".

It turns out lots of businesses have these placards on their buildings.

Many businesses in Yukon carry this sign

If you want the best eats in Whitehorse, go to Klondike Rib & Salmon Barbecue on the corner of 2nd Ave and Steele St. I had their "Wild Muskox Stroganoff". I mean, where else are you going to get Muskox? Wow was it good! Very tender chunks of muskox in a wine-based gravy with mushrooms over wild rice. They also have Elk Stroganoff too, and Caribou Stew. All their beef comes from Alberta-grown cattle.

But the Klondike Rib & Salmon Barbecue accepts only Canada-based credit-cards, or cash. I asked if they accepted US currency and they said "yes". I was saved!

In fact, thus far I found that most businesses in Yukon and the rural parts of British Columbia accept only Visa or MasterCard as credit cards. Some places will accept American Express, and very few accept Discover.

I talked to a gas station owner in Haines Junction, YT about the Discover card, because I had seen a Discover card symbol on his store window. "I actually stopped taking it about a few months ago", he said. "Their membership fee is very expensive, and they wanted me to do 10,000 swipes a month to waive the fee. I only do about 170." It seems that's the problem with Discover Card, and probably American Express, in Canada.

Muskox Stroganoff at Klondike Grill & Salmon Barbecue, Whitehorse, YT

I actually did not exchange any currency into Canadian. Well, scratch that. Actually back in Hyder, AK I had to exchange some dollars into Looneys (Canadian $1 coins) because the showers in their campground accepted only Looneys. Otherwise, converting US dollars in to Canadian is probably not necessary, as it seems most businesses here accept US, and the exchange rates right now are almost one-to-one.

But if you do exchange any currency, then get Looneys. The parking meters take them, the campground showers require them, the motel washing machines require them, and most Canadians seem to transact heavily with coins.

Free Wi-Fi seems to be difficult to come by in Whitehorse. When I first pulled into town, I spotted a restaurant called "Kathy's Restaurant" on the corner of Main St and 4th. It had a sign that said "High Speed Internet".

I parked my bike and brought my netbook inside. The place seems to be run by fiery old lady with extreme bucked teeth and thick glasses. I verified with her that she had Wi-Fi. "Nope!" she said abruptly, and then continued on in a tone of voice like Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. "That's the hotel next to me. I don't have Internet!"

The old lady who runs Kathy's Restaurant, Whitehorse, YT

She said free Internet used to be in just about every restaurant, bar, hotel, and coffee shop in Whitehorse. And then people started abusing it. "They'd be online for 8 to 10 hours at a time." she said. "I'd have hotel people next door come into my restaurant and order coffee, and sit here the entire day and not buy anything else!"

Then she put a fist on her hip, and the other hand pointed a finger at me, and she said, "My policy if you want to use hotel Internet in my restaurant you have to buy something once every two hours, or else I kick you out!"

I didn't bother opening up my netbook. She was probably the only Canadian I've met thus far with an attitude.

As for the ride today, it was lovely. Beautiful skies today. It seems the rain storm yesterday cleaned up the air and offered me crystal clear views of the St. Elias Mountains.

Today's scenery along the Alaskan Highway, north of Haines Junction, YT

I mean, if you recall from yesterday, I said I killed my cell phone in the rain and was down to just my BlackBerry for taking photos. And to do that, I'd have to stop the motorcycle, unplug my heated gear, take off the glove, and then take the BlackBerry out to snap a photo. So, I just didn't feel like taking many photos today.

Except, I saw some scenery that was just too gorgeous to pass up. You have to see this stuff in person, in real life, to have your breath taken away. My photos are doing this landscape a gross injustice.

But otherwise, it was a short ride today, of about 180 miles from Congdon Creek Campground to Whitehorse. I wanted to spend some time in Whitehorse and really get a feel for this place. Who knows if I'll ever be back here again.

Leaving Congdon Creek Campground, 6:45am


Along the Alaskan Highway, north of Haines Junction, YT


Along the Alaskan Highway, north of Haines Junction, YT

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 14

Doing a motorcycle camping trip isn't something I'd normally do by myself; I love having the company of friends and it makes me more safe knowing I have people there should something happen.

Having said that, today I left Mike and Paul behind. Both of them were taking their shots at the Dalton Highway, trying to reach Deadhorse, AK, the furthest north you can ride on a street motorcycle. But it's no easy task. It's a rough dirt road, and they say it's very slippery riding in the rain. And of course, the weather reports had called for rain.

I left Chena Hot Springs this morning and did the 60 miles back into Fairbanks. And when I got to Fairbanks, I stopped at McCafferty's Coffee Shop in downtown and sent off a text to Mike just in case he might be in town. After 45 minutes, I got no response.

McCafferty's Coffee House, downtown Fairbanks, AK

In fact, I wasn't sure how long it would take for Mike and Paul to return to Fairbanks, could be another day, or it could be a few more days, or maybe longer depending on the weather. And there were other places I wanted to go on this trip.

So I headed down the Richardson Highway, Highway 2, south towards the Canadian border. The Richardson Highway is much like all the other major highways in Alaska. A lot of straight road, no twisties, and lots of construction. Between Fairbanks and Tok, there were places they tore out the asphalt and covered over with gravel. It rained on and off, but the gravel sections were not muddy, and quite easy to ride on.

The Richardson Highway (highway 2) by Big Delta State Historic Park, AK

Arriving in Tok my gas tank was near empty. The Honda ST has a fuel economy meter, showing me what my miles per gallon is every 20 seconds or so. I was maintaining an awesome 52mpg average between Fairbanks and Tok. And by the time I reached Tok, I had done 342 miles on a single tank of gas, besting my previous record of 331 miles.

I checked my cell phone to see if I had received a message from Mike or Paul. None. I sent Mike a text that I reached Tok, and that I would be here to eat lunch, but never got a message.

At Tok, a rider has the decision of taking the Top of the World Highway (Highway 9) north to Chicken and eventually to Dawson City, YT, or take the Alaskan Highway (Alcan Highway 1) south to Whitehorse, YT. The three of us agreed that on the return home we'd take the Top of the World Highway and visit Dawson City.

Except doing this meant having to endure about 79 miles of dirt road with some extremely high elevations. I mean they call it the "Top of the World Highway" for that matter. Earlier this morning I had already checked the weather report for the Top of the World Highway, and it had called intermittent rain, with periods of heavy downpour. That meant 79 miles of mud. And when I reached that Highway, I looked as far as I could see and I saw dark grey storm clouds up ahead. I decided not to attempt it, and took the Alaskan Highway towards Whitehorse.

But the Alaskan Highway would only be a little less worrysome.

The Alaskan Highway (highway 1), gravel section in the rain
It's actually not that bad to ride on.

I got to about 10 miles from the Canadian border when I hit a construction zone. They had tore out the asphalt, and right now it was muddy. A line of cars had been stopped and I stopped my motorcycle right behind them. A flagman ordered me to the front of line, because they knew that in muddy conditions motorcycles needed to maintain speed in order to keep from sliding out of control, and didn't need an RV slowing them down.

But for a rider like me, who has little experience riding in dirt or mud, that only put more pressure on me to stay pace with the pilot vehicle.

We got moving and first there was gravel, and it was well packed. Traction seemed good. But then it turned muddy, and I couldn't help puckering up. I remembered what Mike would say, just to relax, keep your speed, give the bike minimal input, and it would ride itself. And that's what I did. We got to the muddy part, and I could feel the rear end sliding around. I kept my speed between 20-25mph, even gassing it just a tad in some places. Despite the sliding, the bike stayed upright. The construction zone lasted for 2 miles. I was still pretty tense.

But that wasn't the last of my worries. At the border, there was another 5 miles of gravel road. I worried that this would be muddy too. But luck seemed to be with me on this one, it was all dry.

Alaskan Highway (highway 1), 5 miles of gravel at the Canadian border.
Cars and trucks fly by and kick up rocks at you.

But no later than I passed the Canadian Customs check, it started raining. And it poured. It was like someone had grabbed a really fat rain cloud and squeezed it. And it didn't let up for 3 1/2 hours and about 100 miles later.

Even worse, the first 100 miles into Canadian side of the Alaskan Highway is ravaged with really rough pavement. Frost heaves raises up the asphalt and cracks it open. The water gets underneath asphalt, and breaks it apart when cars and trucks drive over it. The Canadian government will slather some temporary asphalt over it, but it's still very bumpy.

And considering it was pouring down rain, I couldn't see through my windshield or helmet visor. I had to lower windshield and lift the visor up enough to watch for these bumps and potholes, which only drenched my face. I slowed my speed down to between 30mph and 50mph just so that I could watch out for the rough spots.

About an hour into the downpour, I spotted a sign saying a Visitor Information Center was up ahead. It said there would be food and overnight stay. When I got there I found an old house inhabited by a elderly couple. There was a sign up top with several words on it, but I only remembered "Koidern".

Anyways, this old couple had been married for 51 years now, and never had kids. They run this visitor information center, and sell knick-knacks. It's not a cafe or restaurant, but the wife will be happy to heat you up a can of soup. As for staying overnight, I think they have a spare bedroom. There was potbellied stove in the middle of the living room. By coincidence, the roof leaked, but leaked directly over the potbellied stove such that when a drip of water hit it, it sizzled and evaporated immediately.

The visitor information center run by an elderly couple,
It doubles as their home and gift shop.

Another elderly couple was there too. They were driving an RV that blew a tire about 17 miles further south. They were holed up in this visitor information center waiting for a tow-truck driver. They told me that earlier today, they came down from Dawson City and down the Top of the World Highway. They saw a motorcyclist down on the side of the road. Several other people were there attending him, apparently duct-taping his broken leg together. I guess I was glad I didn't attempt that road.

The elderly couple running the visitor information center told me that there was a campground about 12 miles down the road with a cabin available for public use. It was one of the public campgrounds operated by the Yukon government. The other elderly couple, the one with the RV, mentioned seeing this campground was closed, with a gate across the entrance. "Nope" said the old man who ran the visitor information center. "It's definitely open".

So I put my helmet back on and rode out to this campground. It was still pouring down rain. When I got there, sure enough it was closed. There was a locked gate across the entrance and big sign that said, "Closed".

Damn it! I continued on.

All in all, I spent 3 1/2 hours riding in the pouring rain along the Alaskan Highway, dodging potholes and bumps. There were even a couple of one and two miles stretches of gravel road, but still offered very good traction. The rain didn't let up until I reached Kluane Lake, and by that time it was just a drizzle. But around 10:30pm in the evening, I reached Congdon Creek Campground, another public campground. It was open! I pulled in and set up camp.

And so I'm sitting here right now typing this out inside my tent. There's no Internet access here, so I'll have to find a coffee shop somewhere to upload it.

Also, it seems I ruined my digital camera. I had left it hanging around my neck in the rain. It won't do anything now. I was still able to salvage the photos that were on it by removing the SD card and putting it into my netbook. Even though I still have my BlackBerry to take photos, I may have to look into buying another digital camera somewhere.

My camp at Congdon Creek Campground, YT


Bacon Cheeseburger at Hungry Bear Restaurant, Tok, AK


Entering Yukon Territory along the Alaskan Highway


Richardson Highway, heading south, about 10 miles north of Tok, AK

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 13

Most motorcycle riders who come into Fairbanks usually have the idea of riding on to Deadhorse, AK. Deadhorse is the furthest north you can ride in Alaska on a street motorcycle. It's basically a 500 mile ride mostly only gravel road, and that's just one way.

And there isn't much up there. There's no hotel and no camping allowed in Deadhorse.

Semi-trucks race to and from Deadhorse all day long, kicking up rocks. The calcite crystals the State spreads over the road is supposed to be great in keeping the dust down, but when it gets wet they say it gets really slippery and cakes up all over your bike.

Yet, a lot of people make this ride up to Deadhorse. It's like a rite of passage for the hardcore rider. Perhaps I'm just not hardcore enough. I mean, I love to ride. But I like to have fun when I ride. This just didn't sound like fun.

A few days ago, when we first reached Fairbanks, Paul decided not to stop. He kept on going north to Coldfoot, which is about halfway to Deadhorse. Coldfoot is the last gas stop, the last chance for help.

Mike and I got rooms in Fairbanks. Mike kept reading the weather reports for Coldfoot and Deadhorse to see if it was raining up there. He didn't want any part of the calcite crystals. Then yesterday, we got a word in from Paul, he had reached Coldfoot and said the road was very rough. We assumed he kept on going to Deadhorse.

This morning, Mike got the latest weather report for Coldfoot and Deadhorse: rain.

Yet, Mike said he would try to ride up to Coldfoot anyways. Time was wasting, and he had to make a decision now.

I opted to ride to Chena Hot Springs instead.

Chena Hot Springs is about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks. You have to take Chena Hot Springs Road to get there, but it's all paved.

Chena Hot Springs Road is much like the other roads we experienced in Alaska, a lot of straight stretches, and some wide curves, so wide that it ain't worth mentioning. As for scenery, it's just millions of trees. The ride is boring.

Chena Hot Springs Road is not very exciting to ride

At the hot springs, water bellows up from way underneath the surface, heated to well above boiling. It carries with it sulfate, chloride, and sodium bicarbonate. It has a surfuric odor, comparable to rotting eggs, but not really that intense.

But the hot springs pool is actually man-made. The water is piped in from the actual hot spring just a 1/4 mile away. But otherwise, the water is real, and it's hot, REALLY HOT. But because the pool is large enough, the water cools down to be tolerable. But you can situate yourself next to the inlet and experience a scalding.

After the ride in, I put on my swim trunks and relaxed in the pool. You can see tiny little metallic and crystal sparkles in the water. They say this stuff is supposed to cleanse your body of toxins and relieve all your aches and pains. But what I experienced is a good deal of sweating, which I think also removes toxins, and the heat relaxes me enough that I stop thinking about my aching back.

There's always a rational explanation.

Chena Hot Springs pool is an average 104 degrees F

I saw several motorcycle riders here, I guess it's a popular place. You don't have to check into a room, just simply pay a $10.00 fee to use the spring which is good for all day. But I chose to stay the night however.

I spent much of my time here hiking. I did the "Ridge Trail" which ascends up a mountain. I walked about a mile and a half up the mountain and it seemed like the trail just kept on going. It actually leads to a pretty cool overlook, but it takes like 8-9 hours to get there. I just wasn't in that good of shape.

At one point along the trail I stopped to listen. I heard nothing. Then I listened more carefully and I heard the sound of tree leaves in the wind. I listened even more carefully, and I heard the sound of flying bugs buzzing. And then I listened even more carefully and heard the supersonic ringing in my head that's been with me for decades. Wanting to hear nothing is impossible. It's like opening your eyes and trying not to see, it just can't be done,

Ridge Trail ascends up a mountain to a viewpoint

I was getting pretty beat considering it was all uphill. So I turned around and headed back. Back down, I found another trail that stayed on level ground, but it was frought with mosquitoes. I kept flailing my arms to beat them away, but those little fuckers were determined.

I finally gave up and headed back to the resort.

So I opted to hang out at the bar. And there I found some decent beers on tap from Alaskan Brewing and Silver Gulch Brewing. They had some really good clam chowder too. Everyone at the bar were old guys speaking Russian. It's like I picked the time when the resort was having Soviet Reunion Day.

Alaskan Stout and my netbook at the Chena Hot Springs Bar

I stopped by at the cafe, where they have Internet access. They tell me it costs $10.00 a day for Wi-Fi access. But I turned on my laptop, I managed to get online without paying. But the three beers I had made me tired, so I went back to my room and napped.

And then I got up from my nap, and checked my laptop. I still had Internet access in my room. Awesome.

Later in the evening, I did one more soak in the hot spring, and then retired for the night.

Tomorrow, I head east towards Canada on my own. I told Mike before he left for Coldfoot that we'd text each other and try to hook up somewhere over the next few days.

These white wildflowers are everywhere along Ridge Trail

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 12

With a full day in Fairbanks, I set out to see some stuff around town. By this time, I had already met several people back in Anchorage and along the highway who recommended places in Fairbanks for me to see.

Several people recommended the River Boat ride. Fairbanks has two river boats, one of them you can ride, and the other stationary inside of Pioneer Park. The one you ride costs $54.00 a head, so I opted for cheaper, stationary river boat, which is free.

The "Nenana", a river boat that once paddled up and down Tanana River

Pioneer Park shows you what Fairbanks was like in the old days, except it's all presented in something that looks like an amusement park. It's similar to like Old Town San Diego, except looking something more like Knotts Berry Farm.

Today I also got the oil changed on my Honda ST. I took it into the Harley dealer to get it done. It's called "Furthest North Harley-Davidson", and they get so many riders coming in from all over US and Canada that they do a lot of business servicing bikes. They even service BMWs.

This BMW rider was snoring on his helmet while waiting for his bike

It only took an hour to get my bike done. The dealer has a set of picnic benches outside where you can wait. I sat there with three other guys, a Harley rider, and two BMW riders. One of the BMW riders was taking a few hours to get his oil changed. I figure the wrench who works on all the BMWs was probably really busy.

I also got to see the Alaskan Pipeline. There's a place just outside of Fairbanks with a visitor center that tells you all about it.

Fairbanks is a lot smaller than Anchorage, but it still has a decent sized downtown area with a lot of bars and coffee shops. But it doesn't have any tall buildings. It's like a small-town downtown.

The Alaskan Pipeline runs just outside of Fairbanks, AK

And unlike Anchorage, where the downtown is more liberal, and outskirts is more conservative, in Fairbanks everyone seems to be mixed together.

A lot of people recommended I visit the Howling Dog Saloon in nearby Fox, AK. They knew I ride a motorcycle, and so they figured I would really like that place. I got there about 5:00pm, and the place only had a few customers in it, but they told me around 9:00pm it would get packed.

The Howling Dog Saloon dates back to the 1970s. It was originally located in Ester, AK and then moved 21 miles to its current location in Fox. Just looking around inside you can tell this place has history. Thousands of one-dollar bills stapled to the walls and ceiling, each one celebrating a moment when some folks shared a really good time together. People stapled their t-shirts to the walls and ceilings as well as caps, bras, and business cards.

The Howling Dog Saloon, Fox, AK

The bar counter itself is frought with people's names carved in. You could spend several hours reading what's on the bar counter.

Interestingly, directly across the street from Howling Dog Saloon is the Silver Gulch Brewery & Bar. The Silver Gulch is the more "trendy" and "yuppie" place, where the families and urbanites so. The Howling Dog Saloon is where all the smelly, dirty, hairy, grungy people go.

So I decided to visit both places.

Around 6:00pm, Mike showed up at the Howling Dog Saloon, and the two of us walked across the street to Silver Gulch. We managed to find a couple of seats at the bar, but we had to wait to get them. Silver Gulch brews their own beer, and it's not bad, but not really that great of beer. While it's a brewery, it's actually a restaurant and bar. There are a many breweries like this, that put more focus on the food, and use the brewery to attract customers.

The Silver Gulch Brewery & Restaurant, Fox, AK

I managed to strike up conversation with a hockey player from Juneau seated next to me. We talked about beer, and life in Juneau compared to Southern California, and bought each other rounds.

And so around 9:00pm, Mike and I left Silver Gulch and walked back across the street to Howling Dog Saloon. It was definitely rocking by then. They wanted to check my ID at the door and hit me up for a $5.00 cover fee. So I paid it, and had one more beer. We still had a good time at both establishments that night, and memorialized the moment by stapling a one-dollar bill with our names on it to the ceiling.

Today I'm thinking of heading up to Chena Hot Springs to enjoy a soak in some hot water. I'm not sure what Mike is going to do. He still wants to ride up to Coldfoot, and possibly even Deadhorse, but right now it's raining up there, and it's mostly unpaved road. He's talking about staying another night in Fairbanks and seeing if the weather is any better tomorrow.

I don't really have an interest in riding that much dirt road on a sport-touring bike, just to say that I went up above the Arctic Circle. I mean, it would be cool to get that photo of me with the Arctic Circle sign, but I'd rather spend time enjoying Alaska.


Inside the SS Nenana are these little dioramas of towns the ship used to visit


Caribou Steak Sandwiches and Reindeer Hot Dogs


A rain barrel inside Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, AK


There's a guy that does carvings out of rams' horns, Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, AK


A very eclectic gift shop in downtown Fairbanks


These "pigs" crawl through the pipeline keeping it clean


The bar at Howling Dog Saloon, yes you can smoke inside.


Female customers sign and toss their bras at Howling Dog Saloon


Across the street, the Silver Gulch is clean and modern


Silver Gulch food and beer, both are ok, but not great

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)