Trip To Alaska

Alabama To Alaska And Back In 12 Days

By Rick Brown May 26th 2003

Two weeks before taking off on my journey, the jitters started setting in. I was finding it harder and harder to sleep at night thinking about all the things I was hoping to see and do many many miles away from my little home here in Lanett Alabama.

Never in my 40 years on Gods earth have I taken on something of this magnitude which would take me further from home than I have ever been. The thoughts of my journey became more and more predominant as the day for "lift off" as I had started calling it came closer.

Thoughts of family, friends, work, and my life experiences till this point came to mind now and then because so many things could happen on this trip that might go astray and could make it my last.

I wondered about the "unknowns" and "what ifs" in other parts of our country. Yeah, I was a little worried to say the least.

My original plan was to jump on my 1990 Goldwing 1500 SE and head west and making my first stop of the journey at Meteor Crater in Arizona, then go to the Grand Canyon and then over to Hoover Dam. After this, I was going to ride through Las Vegas and take a few photos and then head north west to the coast of California and ride it up to Washington where I would spend two days with a friend in Tacoma.

After that, I was going to head east into Minnesota and then go up into Canada and over the Great Lakes and then drop back into the states in Maine and take in some sights from the east coast. I have never seen a real light house. I also wanted to see some of the fishing towns in Road Island and maybe even talk someone into letting me tag along on a fishing trip.

After doing all this, I was going to start making my way back south and then home to Bama. I was to do the whole thing solo. Well, things don't always go as planned.

After making these plans and routes and about one week from "lift off", I emailed Raymond (in Tacoma) and told him that I would be coming through there in about 10 days or so.

He later emailed me and said that he and his son Steven, would make a trip to Williams Arizona and meet me there so that I would not be alone the whole trip. We would then do the things I wanted to do and then ride the coast up to Washington together.

Shortly after talking with Raymond, his brother Stan who lives here in Lanett, said that he would also tag along with me the whole trip.

GREAT!! Now I would not have to worry about being all alone so far from home in case something went wrong like being robbed, kidnaped, having my bike stolen at gun point by bad guys out west or being abducted by Aliens from another planet when I rode through Arizona and New Mexico. That's where they are ya know!

Well, a few days before the big day, I had posted a message on the GWRRA General Message Board, about the Alaskan Hiway and asked how long it was and if it was paved all the way. Alaska had not been in the plans and I really had no intentions of actually going all that way.

Well, later that day someone from Kelowna BC. (Rich Sopel) emailed me and said that if I wanted to go to Alaska, I could take another route that was paved and that I could also stay with him and his family a few days and then he and his wife would ride their Goldwing with me to Hyder Alaska if I was interested.

Well, I was interested! Course now I had to make some changes to my plans. I decided that being that I am going all the way to Alaska, I would not want to nor have the time to go all the way east to Maine and do all the other things I had in mind. Ok cool, that's fine. Alaska is to me, more impressive than Maine. Heck I can do Maine anytime!

So, the changes were made and I told Raymond and Stan about them. I had told Rich that there might be 4 of us coming. He said that was no problem and it would be fun.

So.....a date was set!

05-26-03 LIFTOFF!

Stan and I met at Spectrum in Huguley at 5:00 am. Huguley is in Lanett's jurisdiction and where I live. We left from there and hit I-85 south with fire coming from our exhaust systems. Well, not really but you get the picture! I set my cruise control at 75 mph. Yeah, the speed limit is 70, but who does that?

We then hit I-65 for a few miles and then hit Hwy 80 and filled our tanks after 132 miles. We went through historic Selma Alabama and on to I-20 just before the state line of Mississippi for the long ride across Mississippi, Louisiana and into Texas. We stopped to get more gas at 283, 441, 627, 781 and 926 miles which had us in Abilene Texas where we spent the night in a Motel 6. By the way, for those who like to travel or those who are thinking about traveling, Motel 6 is the place to stay if one is in the area. Very nice and clean rooms and their rates are reasonable. Plus, they leave the light on for you!

While at the motel, we called Raymond on his cell phone from our cell phone and he said that they would meet us in Santa Rosa New Mexico where they had already had reservations at a motel. At that moment, my trip took its first turn for the downside. Because I had already planned my route (which was going through Santa Rosa) I knew that it was only about 350 miles and several hours away from us. This meant that a lot of day light was going to be wasted sitting in a motel when we could still be riding. I did not say anything at the time, but when we came across Raymond and Steven who met us about 45 miles south of Santa Rosa, I made the decision that I was going to keep on riding.

Steven is a bit younger than me and he also wanted to see the Grand Canyon. I told him that he could go on with me, but he decided not to because he had already done several hundred miles that day. He has a Honda 1300 which is a bit like one of those Crotch Rockets. It is not a bike to go long distance in comfort like the Goldwing is.

Stan was not feeling well, so after spending a little time with them at the motel, I filled the tank and hit I-40 west. I had been 1,175 miles so far on the trip and only 360 miles that day.

260 miles later, I was in Gallup New Mexico where I called a friend, who last year on my trip coming home from Yellow Stone National Park, assisted me when the motorcycle I had then (1986 Goldwing Interstate) broke down 25 miles north of Gallup out in the middle of nowhere at night.

Anyway, I spent about an hour with him and his family. He then got on his Goldwing and rode with me to the Arizona state line which was only about 20 miles from Gallup.

149 miles later, I was 5 miles from Meteor Crater which is close to Flagstaff. I spent the night in my tent at Meteor Crater RV and Camp Site. 769 miles that day. 1,695 miles total.

The next morning I went to the crater. I had been told by many folks that all it was, was just a big hole in the ground. Yeah, I knew this, but I wanted to see that big hole in the ground for myself. I have seen it on TV all my life and now was the time to see it for real.

The web site for the crater is here.

I spent about 30 minutes looking at the big hole and reading about it in the Museum. Really amazing what happened so many years ago. All the info can be read on their web site.

I then took off to the Grand Canyon. 128 miles later, I was there. It is 1,823 miles to the Grand Canyon from Lanett Alabama.

I was also told by folks that all the Grand Canyon was, was just a big ditch. Yeah, I knew this too! Yep, you guessed it, I had always wanted to see that big ditch. Now was the time! YES....it was big. Very big!! I was amazed!!

I spent about 30 minutes there taking pictures of the Canyon and other people who like me, traveled many many miles to see this wonder of nature. When you are at a tourist attraction like this and others, there are always folks taking pictures and its just something you do to offer to take pictures of them with their camera in exchange for them doing the same for you in return or just do it out of kindness. I do both!

I also spent a little time at the gift shops. Course, when you are riding a motorcycle on a long trip, room for souvenirs is a little problem. I had enough clothes to last the trip, rain gear, two jackets, one leather riding coat, one leather riding vest, one tent, one sleeping bag, one half and one full cover for my bike, tools, two oil filters, one atlas map, two towels for cleaning my windshield, windshield cleaner, two pair of gloves, one GPS receiver, two cartons of smokes, cell phone, a new alternator, and one pair of tennis shoes. I wore boots for riding.

Needless to say, my bike was already stuffed!

It was getting pretty warm out that way. In fact, when I left the canyon it was 99 degrees. When I got to Hoover Dam, it was 118 degrees. No clouds and lots of sunshine. It was so hot that it was hard to keep my hands on my handle bar grips. They were HOT! Gloves did not help.

It was 246 miles from Grand Canyon to Hoover Dam. You cannot go directly from the canyon to Hoover Dam. You have to drop back down to I-40 and take it west and then go back north west on a hiway.

I stayed at Hoover Dam for about two hours. I took the tour of the dam and basically hung around in the air conditioned shops hoping that it would cool off abit before heading to Vegas. When I went back to my bike, a couple was getting ready to get on a Harley that I parked next to. We talked about how hot it was and the fellow said that they had rented the Harley in Vegas and wished that he had rented a Goldwing. He said that both his and his wifes legs were getting burnt from the heat of the motor. That plus the 118 degree heat outside was not a good combination. I told him the engine heat was not a problem with my Goldwing. He said that he could have rented one for about the same price.

Well, it did not cool off. I think it was around 5:00 pm their time when I left. I went on into Bolder City and stopped at a A&W Restaurant. Ya know....A&W Rootbeer? Well it seems that out west and north and even in Canada, these restaurants are everywhere. We don't have them in my part of the world.

I stayed at the restaurant for about an hour. I had to force myself to eat something. Being so hot outside, I just did not have an appetite.

Until that point, my plans had me going through downtown Las Vegas and taking some photos. I had no intentions at all of gambling. Taking some pics was all I wanted to do but I was so miserable I just stayed on the big 8 lane hwy (95) and continued northwest towards the California line. I finally had enough of riding that day and stopped in Tonopah Nevada for the night. 617 miles that day and 2,312 miles total. By the way, it was well after dark when I stopped for the night. It was still 104 degrees 45 minutes after the sun set.

The next morning I was loading my bags of clothes (one in my trunk and one on top on the luggage rack) on my bike when a Deputy Sheriff on a motorcycle (a Harley) pulled up behind my Wing and was looking at it. We talked for about 15 minutes about my trip and what all I had done to that point and where I was going. I asked him where folks with motorcycles out that way go to have a good ride.

I told him I wanted to head northwest and into California. Well, he had the perfect roads in mind for me to take. He told me to take Hwy 6 over into California which took me right next to Boundary Peak which is the highest point in Nevada. 13,140 ft. Shortly after that, I hit the California line and later turned onto Hwy 120 in Inyo and Sierra National Forests.

I will tell you now that those hiways were a bikers dream. Plenty of twists and dips. I even had to turn around one time and do some of them again it was so much fun. In some areas, I was up in the snow covered mountains with snow all around me yet the temps were still in the lower 60's. Much better than the 100's I was in the day before.

I finally made my way out of the mountains and Forests around Yosemite which by the way was closed for some reason.

I then found my way to I-5 in Sacramento California and headed north into Oregon where it started raining.

I had been running all day and so I started looking for a motel just inside Oregon. I found out real quick that hotels and motels are not as cheep out that way as they are in other parts of the country.

The area I was in is a hot spot for tourist. I finally found a rinky dink motel that wanted $49.00 for a room that had no remote TV or phone. I got it for $40.00. Not as good as what I had been paying, but it was dry and had a comfortable bed and clean rest room. It bothered me that I could not see my bike from the room. I have a habit of waking up at night and looking out to see if she is still where I parked her. I do lock the handle bars and cover her up with my full cover, but I still worrie. 734 miles that day and 3,046 total.

The next morning I started looking for a good route to the coast. I took I-5 up to Roseburg Hwy 42 to Coos Bay and then hit Hwy 101 which runs along the coast. It was breath taking! I saw my first light house and lots of sand dunes. The sand dunes out there are very big. There are lots of places that rent Dune Buggies for folks to ride the dunes.

This was the first time in my life that I have seen the Pacific coast. I actually saw several light houses. I did not take any tours, but now I wish I had. I saw Sea Lions on the rocks next to crashing waves.

As I said, Hwy 101 runs along the coast. At some times the ocean is right next to you and other times it is right next to you but hundreds of feet below. Missing a curve would ruin your day!

After taking in the sights of the coast, I headed back inland and found I-5 again in Portland and went on into Washington.

I rode to Centralia which is about 45 miles below Tacoma and spent the night in a good ol Motel 6.
Miles for the day 435. Total miles 3,481

The next morning I knew I would be in Canada by the end of the day. Rich had given me some directions to his house. It was estimated that it would take 7 hours to get there from Tacoma. Well, it took longer than that. The directions took me on up I-5 to Hwy 530 in Arlington and then follow Hwy 530 to Hwy 20. This took me through North Cascades National Park, Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest and Okanogan National Forest. It was a beautiful ride until I ran into more rain just before hitting Hwy 97 which took me to the border of British Columbia Canada where Rich met me.

It was nice to have him there because I had no idea what to expect once I crossed into Canada. Actually, I passed him where we were supposed to meet about 2 miles south of the border and did not see him. I had no idea how close I was to the border and next thing I knew, I was there. So, I had to go through customs to get into Canada because I could not turn around, then go around the building and go through customs again to get back into the states to go find Rich. There is one thing I can say about both customs. They need to be a little more people friendly. Not that they were buttholes, but rather kinda on the rude side.

Anyway, I found Rich and we talked for about 15 minutes and then it was time to cross the border one more time. After about 40 minutes of riding, we stopped at a restaurant and drank some SWEET tea. For those reading this and don't know, once you head west and get about midway across the USA, sweet tea is no longer an option. All restaurants just about west of Mississippi serve only un-sweet tea. Yuck!!! However, Canada still serves it and I drank two glasses full while Rich and I chatted some more.

While at the restaurant, I realized that I had a problem. I only had US currency. I needed to exchange some US cash for Canadian. It was kinda neat doing so. I exchanged $180.00 US and got back something like $230.00 Canadian.

After leaving the restaurant, we rode on up to his home in Kelowna BC. We arrived there around 4:30 PM.
Total miles for the day 463. Total 3,944 miles. This was Saturday 05-31-03. It took me 6 days to get there from Lanett.

I stayed with Rich and his wonderful family till Tuesday morning.

While there, they took me all over Kelowna and showed me the sights including two Wineries. The first one was Mission Hill and the second one was Summer Hill Pyramid Wines. I have never been a big fan of wine, but seeing how it is made and also getting to drink a few glasses for free was worth it. I even found out what those folks are doing with glasses of wine I see on TV when they hold it up and look at it, stuff their noses in it and also what they are tasting for and how to taste it. It was interesting!

Kelowna is a beautiful city! It sits right next to Okanagan Lake which is 100 miles long and has its on version of the Loch Ness Monster which the locals call the "Ogopogo Lake Monster".

Something I noticed about Kalowna and Canada in general was that the people are extremely nice and polite. One thing that Rich told me just before I walked into his home the first time was that in Canada, there are two rules. #1 you ALWAYS take your shoes off before entering someone's home unless they tell you otherwise. #2 You ALWAYS say "your welcome" when someone says "thank you". You don't say things like "sure thing" "no problem" or "ah hhh".

Rich's wife Susan was able to take a few days off from work so that we could all go to Hyder Alaska. They have a 1985 Goldwing 1200 Aspencade. They also have a CB 750, but it stayed home.

We left Tuesday morning and headed to North to Alaska. That song played in my mind over and over! We rode 436 miles that day to Prince George BC and stayed the night with their friends Larry and Shelly. They too were wonderful hosts and fed us some huge steaks cooked just right. Larry is a construction supervisor and can also do wonders with wood. Shelly works for a company in Vancouver that makes TV commercials. She had a dummy in her house that was used in a Degree commercial where an android gets blasted. It was played during the Super Bowl. I had to get a picture with it. Total miles 4,380

Larry And Shelly

Next morning, we hit the rode again and 451 miles later we rode into Hyder Alaska.

During the ride, we went through Vanderhoof BC and stopped for breakfast at the OK Cafe. I tell ya, these kind folks know how to make breakfast. I suggest strongly for anyone passing through to take a break and stop in for some good grub. Tell Wanda that the crazy nut on a motorcycle from Alabama sent ya!

By the way, all the roads we took were two lane with the exception of long passing lanes. Many had sharp curves going through some beautiful mountains. Therefore it took about 11 hours to get there. I think we left Prince George around 8:30 am. and arrived in Hyder at 9:21 pm. Total miles 4,831

Between Prince George and Hyder, we some black bears. It was a thrill to me seeing them on the side of the road, but it eventually got to the point that they were as common on the roads as deer are here in Alabama. I took what I thought would be a good picture of one, but it ended up being too far away to even bother putting on this page.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that even in Kelowna, I noticed the first morning that the sun is a lot higher in the sky at 8:00 am. than it is here in Alabama. 8:00 am there looks like 9:30 or so here. In Hyder it was more. It was also still light outside at 11:30 pm local time. Cool!!

Anyway, remember at the start of my story where I said something about wondering about paved roads? Well, we had paved roads all the way to Hyder, but once we crossed the border into Hyder, the paved roads ended. Hyder has nothing but dirt and gravel roads.

Also, the roads go nowhere! You cannot go further than Hyder. One way in and one way out. Population is 100 in winter. 131 in summer. There was no Customs to go through into Hyder Alaska, but to go back into Canada, you had to go through one. Go figure!

Hyder has no police. No sheriff. No law enforcement except the locals. Everyone knows everyone. (Reminds me of Lanett) but there, if someone has a problem with another, then they all get in and take care of business whether they like the person in trouble or not. Hyder folks never have problems with each other. They all know what is acceptable and what is not. The only problems they have is with the occasional tourist.

We stayed at the Sealaska Inn. Click here to go to their web site. It had a bar on the bottom floor that reminded me of the bar in Crocodile Dundee. This is where I got Hyderized. To be Hyderized, you have to drink a shot glass of something that you are not allowed to smell or taste before downing it. I wont tell you what it is, but I will say that I don't want to drink anymore. As you can see, I was a little more hesitant than Rich and Susan. You can also see that my face is totally sun burnt.

We stayed there one night. There was not much to do other than hang out in the bar and drink. I don't drink too often and after that shot glass and a beer, I was bout tipsy. Shortly after that, I hit the sack and slept very well.

Next morning, we got packed and went to a few souvenir shops and bought a few trinkets and shirts for our families. One of the places we went into was Boundary Gallery & Gifts owned by Caroline Stewart. She was extremely nice and full of information. I strongly advise anyone visiting Hyder to stop by and chat with her and buy some goodies. Her web site is here. Her store is the first one you come to as soon as you cross into Hyder.

Caroline Stewart

By the way, don't give her any lip! She had arms bigger than my own. Seems that all the women in Hyder are pretty strong. They have to shovel 36 feet of snow every winter.

Caroline was also the contact for Ron Ayres who in 1998 rode 48 states plus Alaska and BC from Maine to Hyder in only 6 days and 31 minutes on a motorcycle. Ron was in Hyder 4 days before we arrived and left a few of his books at Caroline's shop. I bought one that he has signed.

Hyder was the last stop for one of the Iron Butt motorcycle rides this year that ended the weekend before we arrived. One of the riders was a 71 year old woman. We past many motorcycles that were in the Iron Butt during our trip to Hyder that were going back to where ever they were from. One day, I want to do it myself.

I was going to send a post card home, but I figured I would make it back before it got here. I would have been correct! In Hyder, the mail is taken out two times a week by air. Yep, a float plane comes for the mail.

Hyder was really a neat little town. It lays in between two snow covered mountains. The longest road is about 30 miles and ends at a glacier. We were told it was very beautiful, but we did not want to go that far on our Goldwings. Remember, gravel and dirt roads with lots of pot holes.

After doing some shopping, I reset my trip meter and we took off back to Prince George at 10:10 am. We spent another night there and the next morning, we said our goodbyes because I was going to head for Alabama and Rich and Susan were heading back to Kelowna.

It was kinda sad to leave them. They were so nice to me. I know I will have friends in BC the rest of my life. I can't explain how good these two people are. Thank you Rich and Susan! Yall are great!!!

Rich and Susan Sopel

My route back to the states was suggested to me from Rich and Susan. I took Hwy 16 out of Prince George BC to Jasper Alberta to Hwy 93 south through the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I have seen the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, but there is no comparison what so ever to the Canadian Rockies. I rode next to them for 142 miles. Absolutely beautiful!

I also went through Calgary and Lethbridge in Alberta, and then dropped into the states in Coutts Montana where I-15 started. 1,195 miles from Hyder Alaska to the US Border.

I went another 35 or so miles and spent the night in Shelby Montana at a Super 8 Motel. 774 miles that day, 1,227 from Hyder and 6,058 miles total.

Even though I had a wonderful time in Canada, it was still good to be back in the USA. Especially being able to listen to good radio stations again. In Canada, most towns have one or two radio stations that are not too powerful. As you enter each town, there is a sign on the side of the road that tells you where the local station is on the dial. Their programming leaves much to be desired. Even in the big cities, radio stations were few and far between with NO "Oldies" or "Classic Rock" stations. I listened to my 6 cd's over and over and over again that I had in my 6 disk cd changer. Yeah, I have a cd player on my bike too. I also have a AM/FM Stereo/cassette player which had Steve Miller Bands Greatest Hits in it.

Next morning I looked at my Atlas to figure out the shortest way back to Bama. I decided to take I-15 down to Great Falls and take Hwy 87 all the way to Billings where I picked up I-90 and followed it into Wyoming. I-90 runs into I-25 and goes down to Cheyenne, but I was tired and chilly ( it was 42 degrees) so I decided to stop for the night just above Cheyenne in Chugwater. I stayed at a Super 8 Motel. 745 miles that day, 1,972 miles from Hyder and 6,803 miles total.

I did stop earlier that day in Lewistown while still in Montana and changed my oil and oil filter. I had changed it 100 or so miles before taking off on my trip so it had about 6,150 miles on the oil and filter. I use Mobile One 50 weight Synthetic oil in my bike. I usually change it around 4,000 miles.

Next morning, I continued down I-25 to Cheyenne and hit I-80 E which took me into Nebraska. This would be my longest day on the road. I followed I-80 to Elm Creek and then took Hwy 183 south all the way down into Kansas and I-70 E. I stayed on I-70 all the way through Kansas and Missouri where I hit I-64 and went into Illinois to I-57 where I stopped for the night in Mt.Vernon. Well, I say I stopped for the night, but it was actually 4:00 am cst. when I got to Mt. Vernon. Total miles run that day 1,063. 3,050 miles from Hyder and 7,881 miles total.

Next morning was Monday 06-09-03. Two weeks after "Lift Off". I knew I would be back home by the end of the day. I left Mt. Vernon at 10:30 am Lanett time. I took I-64 on down to I-57 to I-24 which took me to I-65 in Nashville. I-65 to Birmingham Alabama to Hwy 280 which took me to Camp Hill Alabama, took Hwy 50 to Lanett and home.

I pulled under my carport at exactly 6:50 pm. Total miles that day 422. Total miles from Hyder Alaska 3,601.

Total miles round trip = 8,432 in 12 days. Remember, I spent two days in Kalowna and did not ride my bike at all until we left to go to Hyder.
Total gas = 226.9 gallons.
Total time spent in rain = about 3 hours. I was lucky!
Hottest temp = 118 degrees.
Coldest temp = 39 degrees.
Highest gas price = $2.59 Gal. in Lee Vining Ca. (I did not get gas there)

I had a wonderul time! I was fortunate not to have any problems. My Goldwing ran like new the whole trip. It did "Hickup" three times, but that was due to some of the altitudes I went through. I put new tires and brakes on it a few days before I left on my trip. In another several thousand miles, it will be time to replace them.

So, that means that I have plenty of riding to do before then. Hmmmm....wonder how much it would cost to ship my bike from California to Hawaii?

Thanks for taking the time to read my story!

Email rick@slugster.com