Saturday, September 29, 2018

North To Alaska with Nestor - Part #4 Alaska Ferry Ride

After the last several weeks of riding all day, camping every night, 
the slop, mud, muck and mess of the Haul Road, resulting in busting the frame in Coldfoot...

Time to pour a glass of red wine, put on comfortable slippers, kick back in the deck chair and relax with a fine cigar. Let's watch the world slide by from the deck of the MV Columbia. (Nestor thinks they misspelled the name of the ferry, it should be MV COLOMBIA, not Col-U-mbia.) This is the Alaska Maritime Highway ferry that will carry us from Haines down to Bellingham, Washington. Three days and four nights on the ferry with stops in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. Cost is $1540 for one person and one motorcycle.
 (Note: they charge by the length of the vehicle so motorcycles with trailers 
pay more than a solo motorcycle.)

With the bikes secured on the lower level, it's time to enjoy the cruise. 

The shipping activity one sees in the narrow channels from the ferry deck is fascinating. From tugs with their barges, to cruise ships, to whales, to float planes, to dolphins, to fishing vessels...  
A daily parade of shapes, colors and purposes...

There are no roads in this part of Alaska. Everything from your morning Cherrios to rocks to diapers comes via water to where you live.

 A lone fishing boat slides across early morning waters returning with his daily catch.

What is relaxing is we are cruising between the mainland and numerous islands along the Alaskan and Canadian coasts.
No open water or rough seas here. Smooth sailing all the way.

Fading sun falls away as the ferry cruises down the calm Chilkoot Inlet channel.  
More wine, please. Any cheese with those crackers...?

What about the sleeping arrangements you ask? No, we did not pay the extra for a cabin.  
First of all, the ferry cabins are quite small, only furnished with bunkbeds. The space is confining. You really can't see much from them, but you have privacy.

To me, the ideal and my preferred way of travel on this ferry is to camp out in the Solarium section of the open deck with forty of my closest strangers... as Mark Twain commented, strangers are friends I haven't met yet. 

Roll out your sleeping bag, bring a bag of snacks and drinks.
You are sheltered on three sides from the wind and by a roof from the rain.
Too cold? Ask the steward to turn on the overhead heaters.
No matter what time of day or night you are awake, you can watch the world slide silently by. 

A warm sunny day? Simply drag your deck chair out into the open area. 
Raining or cold? Drag your chair back inside.

To me, the huge plus of the Solarium is you have a 180 degree of fresh air (like on a motorcycle) plus have a great view of the world from the aft portion of the ship. The people who choose to camp in this space are usually gregarious, friendly and respectful.  By 9 'o dark,  all is quiet for sleeping.

On the ferry we meet Steve and Phyllis from Medina, Texas who are traveling across the country, north, south, east and west on the red Goldwing you saw parked next to my rig in the first photo.
They are enjoying their retirement as one should.

Actually of the four motorcycles on the ferry, three were from Texas and Nestor's from Colombia. We also met Nick from Georgetown, TX who is tent camping on a lower level of the ferry. There is a protected area out of the wind for those who want to put up their tent on the ferry. It is not under the Solarium heaters as that would be a fire hazard.

Phyllis, Steve, Nestor and your unpaid scribe.

First morning, a bright sunrise turns the water golden as it greets the day... a small fishing boat works the water's depths.

...  further down the coast the sun disappears behind a wet fog bank making the numerous small islands look mysterious and forbidden.

Too wet and too cold to relax out on the open deck, a lonely chair is abandoned.

Being a smaller vessel than the huge tourist ships, the ferry Capitan can thread his boat between the smaller islands with deep channels.

We spotted several whales, tails flipping as they dive deep.
One whale breeching, blowing a cloud of mist.
Unless one has the camera on, focused with the correct settings and... be facing in the right direction, you will not get a good photo of a whale. I tried... blurry images... !

As the trees slide by so close, one feels they could reach out and touch them.
How calm and quiet the waters are... more wine?

Second morning sunrise, a double sun???  Sun is on the right behind mountains and clouds. A few rays found an opening in the fog to brightly reflect off the water on the left creating 
the unusual double sun affect.

Carlos from Madrid, Spain tried camping on the open deck the first night. Was cool but pleasant he said, but by mid-morning a cold constant drizzle and strong wind forced him to move in.

Tomorrow we are back on the bikes heading south, taking a wandering route east along the Columbia River, then northeast into Idaho before turning south toward Nevada. 

Securing our gear, saying our goodbyes at the Bellingham terminal loading area are
Nestor, Nick, Phyllis and I.

The wine bottle is empty, time to ride. See you on down the road.

More to come in the fifth and final episode of Nestor's ride to Alaska.


p.s. Truth be told,  drinking alcoholic beverages on the ferry is not allowed. But it was a pleasant and relaxing thought for three days.

Monday, September 24, 2018

North To Alaska with Nestor - Part #3 Busted in Alaska

Early Saturday morning we cross over into Alaska, the final state in Nestor's epic journey from the southern most tip of South America north on his Vstrom650.

The international border is wide open tree-less swath for anyone to wander across. Of course here in the oft frozen north, not many persons are actually out, casually wandering around.

The sign makes it official, we are in Alaska.  
Nestor is really getting excited about completing his quest. 

On the back of the Welcome to Alaska sign are numerous stickers, notes and writings. So...
 we document our travels as well.

Thought this was a curious sign.

Particularly this part of the sign....

What does a suspicious plant look like? 
Shifty eyes, gold tooth, crooked smile, thin mustache? 
Talks with a heavy Russian accent? What? 

Alaska is too PC.
Canada makes it easy to identify...   anything or anybody.

Leaving the policing of suspicious plants to the highly trained professional botanists, we ride on.

Luck is with us, before reaching Tok, we catch a glimpse of the mighty Denali peaking through the heavy cloud cover. 

Only moments later, like a cancan dancer flashing some skin,  she is gone.

Denali's peak is just above the far mirror.

Put the telephoto lens to work to get this shot.

The further north we go the trees get shorter and skinnier. Explained this phenomenon to Nestor when he asked why the trees looked so different in Alaska.

In Delta, AK we locate the official ending sign post for the ALCAN Highway. Of course the road doesn't end here, but splits. Go straight to Fairbanks or turn left and head down to Glennallen and Anchorage. 

Coming into Delta I heard a clacking noise from the rear drive of the sidecamper. Could not pin-point the source. Concerned that it might be the rear wheel bearing again (like what happened in Canada last year) as it sounded familiar. 

Reached out to friends and contacts to find who could help us in Delta. Then remembered that the URAL dealer in Anchorage sold out and moved to Delta a couple of years back. I met Mickey Sherfield 4 - 5 years ago when I rode a URAL sidecar to Alaska from Key West, Florida.

A few phone calls were made and we found Mickey. He and his wife Muriel each rode their URAL sidecars over to the state park where we had stopped in downtown Delta to check out my rig. Not sure of the source either, Mickey offered us free camping in his front yard plus the use of his tools and workshop to trace down the clicking noise.

A typical modern Alaskan log cabin, Mickey and Muriel's home with us in their front yard.  Neighbors didn't seem to mind us sleeping out there. Pretty laid back group of people. 

After thoroughly dis-assembling the rear end of the bike, nothing wrong could be found. Bearings are smooth and firm. No loose bolts... no kinks in chain observed...  counter sprocket tight... hmmmmm
On re-assembly, the noise was gone... mystery.  Well, at least we had a bathroom, laundry and a shower to use for two days while working on the bike.

From Delta we head straight to Fairbanks and the Haul Road leading north. The sky is cloudy but no rain. The weather app says slight change of rain. Since it has rained for the past three days and more coming in the next several days, we decide to ride north as far as we can while we have a break in the bad weather.

There is some is some confusion about the towns of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay. In the early 1960's a trucking company called Deadhorse Truckers had the contract to supply the needed gravel for a new oildfield airport near the Arctic Ocean. This land near the Prudhoe Bay oil exploration area previously had no name, so workers began to refer to it as Deadhorse. As the oil companies developed the wells in and around Prudhoe Bay, they referred their area as Prudhoe Bay. A group decided that it was hard to attract workers to come to a place called Deadhorse, as really the work was in the bay area. They pushed for a name change. Up until the year 2000, both areas were mentioned on the census reports, but starting in 2000, the census only refers to Prudhoe Bay, leaving Deadhorse in the dust bin of history. 

Today the name Deadhorse lives on in the world of tourist bureau marketing departments and adventure riders.  Who wants to pay a lot of money to go visit a bay that could be on the Puget Sound somewhere, when you could claim fame for having been to DEADHORSE... much more romantic and adventuresome sounding.

So you see, Prudhoe Bay was just a marketing gimmick by Big Oil... 
Deadhorse, like Coldfoot, is where the real Alaska frontier lives on...
if only for the Haul Truckers and in the minds and imagination of the adventurous.

The Haul Road snakes along the Alaska Pipeline all the way to Deadhorse. 
The further north we go the road is getting wet, sloppy and very slippery. 
No sun to dry out the road, too much rain for the graders to fill in the numerous potholes.

Since the Haul Road is the main and only supply route for the north slope oil fields, it is constantly maintained. But not much they can do with grading and filling holes when mother nature rains for days on end.

Getting closer to our goal, we reach the Arctic Circle sign in a soft drizzle.  
Only one more day of riding to reach Deadhorse.

We gassed up in Coldfoot, the mid-point of the Haul Road, for the final push tomorrow to Deadhorse. By nightfall we're camping in the Marion Creek campgrounds, a few miles north of Coldfoot. The campgrounds has picnic tables and raised platforms for tents. Nestor is glad to not be sleeping on the cold wet soggy ground.

As I prepare to set up the camper rig for the night, I notice it is sagging badly.

Checking under the camper, I find the middle cross member that supports the tub has snapped in two. Only the front and rear cross members are holding the sidecar together. Not good losing one third of your structural frame when on rough roads.

Nestor commented that he heard the sound and saw the rig fly up high when I hit a water-filled pothole just before Coldfoot. 

Assessing the situation, we agree it is too late to do anything tonight. We carefully ride the Beast the few miles back to Coldfoot in the morning. Maybe a welder there can patch it. 

Next morning at the only truck repair shop in Coldfoot, I spot welding equipment sitting against the far wall. Great! 

But the only man working there says he doesn't know how to weld, says it was left there by the previous employee. Said if we knew how to use it we could... we don't.

Glancing down at the maps on the tub, am wondering if this is the end of the line for the Beast. 
No more adding state stickers?
No more long distance exploring?
No more taking the road less traveled?

Not quite ready to abandon the Beast on the Haul Road, I rummage through my parts and tools. Pulling out two lightweight one inch ratchet straps, we think maybe they can be used to lift the sagging tub.  By hooking on the front cross member, across the top shock mount and hook on to the rear member, we try wrenching up the tub. It come up some. Now most of the tub weight is bearing down on the shock tower, on the wheel side frame near where the crossmember snapped. Hmmmmm.

After watching our struggle with the small straps,  a friendly trucker offers a heavy duty three inch cargo strap which I eagerly accept. This stronger strap we run under the tub, securing the ends on both sides of the tub. Now the weight is supported both front to back and side to side. 

Okay, good.  Now, where do we go...? 

What are our options? We are 250 miles of gravel road with more potholes and miles of washboard from Nestor's goal of reaching the northern most point of the Pan American Highway. We can try pushing on to Deadhorse, but if there is no welding service up there available (Remember all workers and companies up there work solely for the oil businesses), we would then have to ride another 500 miles back to Fairbanks. Am not sure the Beast can survive 750 miles of potholes and washboard with only a couple of ratchet straps holding it together. If another frame member breaks, the Beast will have to be abandoned on the spot. Then pay a small fortune to recover it. Plus Nestor's vstrom cannot carry his gear and me both if we break down. 

Reluctantly I must conclude, I am busted in Coldfoot. My ride to Deadhorse is over.  The only sane option is to try to return to Fairbanks for a proper patch weld. Nestor says he will go with me to Fairbanks to make sure I arrive safely.  

After explaining there is only one road going north to Deadhorse, it is impossible to get lost. I encourage Nestor to finish his ride without me. No need to rush, he has all day to reach Deadhorse. However it is 250 miles without any services, no houses, no business, nothing.  He will have to cross one last mountain range and then miles and miles of open tundra. Take enough gas, food and camping gear (just in case) and go. There is a motel reservation waiting for us in Prudhoe Bay. 

Nestor finally agrees. He will ride on alone. 

 I will slowly limp the Beast back to Fairbanks to find a welder who can repair the break 
so we can ride back home to Texas.

Reluctantly Nestor heads north, as I point the Beast south. It will take two days of riding south to cover what we rode north in half a day yesterday. 

Stopped the Beast again at the Circle Sign for a photo. 
One can see how the sidecar frame is sagging. This is with the ratchet straps in place.

Near the Yukon River the campgrounds are a muddy mess, trying to find a half-way dry spot for the night.
Place a jack under the rear cross member to help stabilize the rig while camping.

August is one of the rainiest months up here. The mud, calcium slop and water-filled potholes everywhere. Beast has no problem getting thru and around, slipping and sliding, but everything is messy and dirty.

On the way back to Fairbanks, the engine temperature gauge starts flashing RED...
Oh oh, the engine is overheating.

Coasting to the side of the road and shutting the motor off, I discover the radiator is completely clogged with mud. There is zero cooling air going thru. Tried to clean it with a stick, but the calcium mud is baked hard! Sticks break.  If I use a steel blade to clean the soft aluminum cooling fins, there is a risk of a puncture. What is needed is water and a high pressure car wash spray. Fat chance of finding that on the Haul Road.

The only alternative is keep an eye on the temperature gauge and stop when it flashes RED to let the engine cool down.

While the engine cools, check the ratchet straps. They are holding in spite of the slippery mud... Thank you Mr. Ice Road Trucker!

A large RV who had passed me the day before looks like he got too close to the soft edges and lost it. Well almost completely lost it. While he saved the rig, that will be a very expensive towing recovery.  Nothing is cheap up here and two wreckers coming all the way from Fairbanks will be very costly. Hope that is not a a rental RV.

Every year several motorcyclists are killed on the Haul Road. Conditions can quickly change from dry and smooth to wet and slick within miles. The shoulders of the road are very soft and unforgiving. A US State Governor several years back found that out the hard way, breaking his leg when the Harley he was on got too close to the edge.

Motorcyclists riding north are more cautious as they learn the road and the conditions. Seems they get overly confident when returning south and ride faster than the road conditions warrant. Maybe that is what happened to the RV driver. He was heading south.

Finally made it to where the gravel ends and the pavement begins, only seventy more miles to Fairbanks. Looks like a good washing is in order before any welding starts.

After taking two days to get back to Fairbanks, the first night finds the Beast and I camped in the Walmart parking lot surrounded by many other RV's, campers and  trailers. 

Around midnight, I hear Nestor's voice. While it took me two full days to ride the 250 miles back, Nestor rode the 500 miles from Deadhorse to Fairbanks in one day. He had made it to Prudhoe Bay the same day we parted. Then early this morning he gassed up and rode the 500 miles only stopping for gas in Coldfoot.

Reaching deep into my gear, I pull out a silver flask of the finest single malt scotch that was brought along just for this occasion. That night we celebrated Nestor's accomplishment of having ridden the full 16,000 miles of the PanAmerican Highway from Ushuaia, Argentina to Deadhorse Alaska. Nestor, the Iron Man.

The next day we meet up with Richard Machida who has helped me locate a welder to repair the Beast. Richard also had helped me locate Mickey in Delta. We first met several years ago on the URAL ride to Deadhorse. Richard is also good friends with Dom in Denver. 

The sidecar community is a very small world. Because of our unique mode of riding, the sidecarists tends to stick together and help each other whenever possible. Those who have never ridden a sidecar cannot fully appreciate the benefits a sidecar offers. 

Once a motorcycle has a sidecar attached to it, it is no longer a motorcycle but is now a different machine. It handles different, feels different, reacts different than two wheels. Not difficult to learn but it does require a new skill set to safely drive.  As some say, you drive a sidecar, you ride a motorcycle.

The Karold welding shop opens at eight A.M. Am there waiting at 7:30. By 8:45 they have the Beast repaired and back on the road. Many thanks guys.

Richard and his wife Bridget invite Nestor and I to stay at their house in Fairbanks. Pulling up to the garage, Richard notices the rear frame member and the anti-sway bar on the Beast were rubbing against each other. That may have contributed to the cross member breaking. We make the adjustment so the two pieces no longer hit each other. Thank you Richard for spotting that. 

Here, Richard's Mom, Richard, Bridget and Richard's blue URAL are saying goodbye 
as we start our way south to Haines and the ferry.

We camp another night at Snag Junction Provincial Park. An early morning angler trying his luck.

Most Canadian rest stops were clean, neat with large paved parking areas and a fantastic panoramic view. We did travel with our toilet paper though, just in case. Which was a good idea as was needed from time to time. 

From Fairbanks we are cross back into Canada with Haines, Alaska as our destination. Haines is where we will board the Alaska Maritime Highway ferry for Bellingham, Washington. 

A mother and her young watch as we slow down to take their photo. Seconds later, they have disappeared into the underbrush.

One of the most beautiful sections of road of the whole trip was from Haines Junction, Yukon down to Haines, Alaska. This is a do not miss roadway. Provincial national parks are on both sides of the road, very few houses, no businesses and little traffic.

As we neared the Alaska border going south, a mountain range with numerous glaciers lines the horizon.

Very little traffic, pristine lakes and clean cool air. Life is great!

Low rear tire???

In more than a few towns, people commented that the rear tire looked low. It does, doesn't it? 
Well, it has 36 psi in it. Am running a 15" automobile tire, same as on the front and sidecar. 
It is not wearing down very fast.

Spotted another moose family out munching together. They stayed out a bit longer for a photo.

We finally arrive a day early in Haines to meet the Alaska Maritime Highway ferry going south to Bellingham, Washington. While expensive, $1500 (without a cabin) for one motorcycle and one person, it is well worth it due to the totally different experience and sights one will see from the ferry that are never seen when on the road.

We find a road turn out with space we can share with a couple from Austria, Franz and Yalinda. Rained that evening and all night.

Nestor rigged up an additional cover for his tent and gear, trying to keep stuff dry. Drew upon his experiences in the Colombian military to fashion a cover.

Next day was bright and sunny, an opportunity to hang pants out to dry.

We started with a campfire, though all the wood lying on the ground was wet, so a struggle to keep it going.

Made our typical breakfast, coffee in the JetBoil and granola bars. This unit heats up water fast. Can endorse this product.

The sidecar weld is holding, but have not removed the ratchet straps. Have more confidence to ride faster now. 

Looking out over the Chilkoot Inlet, we rest and wait for the ferry loading tonight.

more to come... the ferry experience.