Ex-Superbike roadracer and FOM (Friend of Motorcyclist) Thad Wolff has long been one of the industry's most reliable action models, both for OE advertising and for enthusiast magazines. He dropped by a few months ago to ask for a bike. See, at long last, Thad had a vacation plannedand a purpose. He'd never been to Alaska. Coincidentally, Motorcyclist had a Suzuki V-Strom 650, which, under the tutelage of Editor at Extra Large Dexter T. Ford, wasn't exactly racking up big mileage. (Doing some battery-discharge testing, Dex?) So Editor Boehm said, "Sure, take Dexter's V-Strom."
As Wolff said, "Starting from Portland, Oregon, I was gone for 19 days. I rode for 17 of them for a total of 9000 miles, 1500 off-road. On the way to Alaska I rode through British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, crossing above the Arctic Circle in Canada and Alaska. I went solo and enjoyed doing my own thing. With time limits in mind, I wanted to hurry up and see it all!" The result is a 12-page article in the February 2005 issue of Motorcyclist, most of it photos. We are including Wolff's complete account here along with several dozen of the photos we couldn't fit into the magazine.
I've had this dream of going to Alaska for most of my life. When I was racing motorcycles I crisscrossed the lower 48 states and have been to every one. My wife Jody and daughter Kelly and I have vacationed in Hawaii. But going to Alaska by way of motorcycle has always eluded me. You see, part of my job includes riding new bikes for OEM advertising. Typically, the new bikes for the year start arriving from Japan in late spring and early summer and we work straight through to the end of August to get ready for the September dealer meeting. The window of motorcycling in Alaska always closes in on me , so I began thinking of riding up there after I retire. Well, for some reason this year most of the bikes came early and we went to Dallas for six weeks to get ready for the bumped-up dealer meeting at the end of June. All of a sudden I started seeing a window opening up for me! I asked Mitch, Editor of Motorcyclist magazine if I could borrow a bike, and he set me up with a Suzuki V-Strom 650 with the Givi accessory hard saddlebags. Beautiful! I got an AAA map and started planning my route. Actually, my plan was to hit whatever motels I could find at the end of the day and see as much of Canada and Alaska as I could in about three weeks. You could probably best describe my plan with just two words: Wing it!
I stashed the bike in the corner of my trailer and went to Portland to shoot for Suzuki for a week. When we were done working, I was on my own. Monday, July 19, after looking at the film we had shot, I drove across the Colombia River to leave my van and trailer at my friends' Rick and Theresa Chance's house in Battleground, Washington. My high school friend Lauren and I are responsible for getting those two together in 1976. I say goodbye to those guys and Rick pretends to hit the stopwatch. I peel out wearing only Levis and a T-shirt. I've heard Alaska has been having unusually hot weather and have visions of warm, sunny days of riding ahead. In the back of my mind, I'm a little bit skeptical of that thought.
I've officially started my journey. I was getting tired of reading my moto-journalist friends' articles about where they have ridden. Yes, Jamie Elvidge, now I'm going to Alaska. yeah, Clem Salvadori, I know you've been everywhere on a bike, but now it's my turn! So I get a late start out of town, but if I hurry maybe I can get past Seattle before the northbound traffic hits. A cop pulls me over before Tacoma for slicing through traffic. Rememberyou can't split lanes in Washington. But officer Wiley is a biker, and after writing my info down he gives me a Washington map and shows me the cool sportbike roads. Man, they have some stealthy undercover cars. You have to be on the lookout, but I'm in a hurry to get to Alaska. It's the most beautiful day you can imagine in Seattle, but things begin to suck because I hit tons of traffic north of town. I guess there has to be a little hassle starting a trip like this. At least I don't have a ticket in my pocket...yet.
The woman at the border waves me right through after I tell her I have no firearms or explosives, but not before she tells me it's going to take four days just to get to Alaska. I ask her if she wants to bet, but something tells me there's a long road with a lot of riding ahead of me. A couple of hours into British Columbia, and it's some of the most beautiful country anywhere. It's starting to get dark as I make it into Hope for the night. A burger and a couple of beers and the trip feels like it's got off to a good start. A couple of cups of motel-room coffee, and I'm on the road.
North out of Hope, I'm in and out of sprinkles all morning. I'm not getting too wet, and it is great riding. By early afternoon, it looks like it's time to stop and get the raingear on. Yep, just in time. It really starts to pour. I back off a notch when it looks like I might start hydroplaning, but now it starts hailing big and hard. Time to back off another notch because the ground is starting to look white and I don't want to find out how fast is too fast the hard way, especially because my visor just instantly fogs up. I can see just enough to start to worry a little. There are gnarly lightning strikes all around me! I don't like to have to worry about things that are out of my control. Twenty minutes later I can see again and it starts to dry out. I tell myself it's all part of the ride and just keep going. Twenty more minutes and I see my first real animal sighting. This moose makes me look like I'm 10 years old on my Honda Mini Trail. So I think of the lady I talked to in Portland that told me not to hit a moose. I told her, "OK," but now I'm really starting to think about it and I stay in the middle of the road, far away from anything that might want to jump out. I get into Dawson Creek late in the afternoon to take pictures of mile post 0, the start of the Alaskan Highway. I've ridden for almost two days, and now the ride really starts.
Day Three, a.m.: Cold, drizzly, and dreary. The Tour de France is on but it's 7:30 and time to put the rainsuit on and go! It's probably 14 hours to Whitehorse. For hours the road is straightish as it meanders through rolling mountain forests. It seems to go on forever. I think a lot of people take adventures to find themselves. I guess I'm lucky I found myself a long time ago, but it's beginning to feel like a big place up here to get lost, if that's what you want to do.
They cut the trees back 50 to 100 feet from the road here, so I don't worry about crazy animals jumping out. I lay on the tank bag with my left hand gripping the gas tank cowling just behind the left fork tube. Cruising speed is now a comfortable 140 kph. Passing everyone on the road is no problem and I don't see any mounties almost all day. The first half of the day is pleasantly boring, just watching B.C. go by. Early that afternoon things change. I get into the real mountains and find the road surface getting worse. I get into my first major construction zone. They grind the pavement and now it is soft with ruts. That's no big deal, but then it starts to rain hard. Ten miles of getting squirrelly and I just keep telling myself it's all part of the adventure. I just make it to my next gas stop and I hover over the open gas cap to keep out the pouring rain. The rest of the days' ride is great but I'm not going to make it to Whitehorse. I am going to stay in Lake Watson. I want to see the sign post tree and carve Jody's and my name into something. There's 5 million signs and plaques from everywhere in the world. I carve Thad and Jody and Kelly into a sign from San Jose. I like the idea of leaving my mark at this far-away place.
It's 4:30 a.m. when I wake up. I figure I'll get an early start today. I'll take Harry Hauss' advice to ride early in the morning to see the wildlife. Harry was the helicopter pilot with whom I have done most of my filming. He's retired now and rides his Beemer everywhere. He told me about Alaska and said, "Don't camp, you'll be able to find a room." Well, each night when I stop that's what I worried about the most. It seems as if I'm always racing into town to get the last room. Each night I relax and have decided to do more than just keep notes, but to write more of a journal. I wonder what my moto-journalist friends will think of it? I think most of them respect me for my riding ability, but figure I couldn't write my way out of my own way. Well, I guess I'll give it a shot, but I figure it's going to be best to stick with what I do bestride.
This morning is cold, but the bike is covered with dew instead of raindrops. It's time to break out the special wool socks hand-woven by Oulaug Loftesness from Bergen, Norway! I say hello to two 50-ish women in a Chevy Yukon. They're headed to Fairbanks from Bremerton, Washington. I push the bike away from the other sleeping guests to start it in the street. I try to be a good motorcyclist. I'm riding at exactly 5 a.m., but the two women get the holeshot. At 5:10 I hit a bird and at 5:16 a black bear jumps out onto the road right in front of me. He sees me coming and wisely decides he's no match for the small but mighty V-Strom and he turns tail. Yep, Harry was right about the morning wildlife. I'm colder than I've ever been on this ride and I'm sorry I didn't put on the electric vest. An hour down the road I honk and wave when I pass the Yukon on the side of the road. My hands are pretty cold so I ride with my left hand down next to the motor. It's a little trickier with your throttle hand down there because you have to use your left hand to hold the throttle and steer the bike. I'm going a little slower doing that whensurprise!I'm startled by two headlights in my mirror. What? It's not a mountie, it's the Yukon. Well, no one had passed me since the start of this trip and I'm not about to be passed now! I wick it up.
I'll be darned if they didn't keep up for the next hour. When it's time for a gas stop, they follow me in. They are really nice people and we get coffee and a pancake together. After making small talk they finally tell me they are bikers themselves. One has her own Shadow 600 and the other rides on the back with her husband. I think we all agree that most riders have a lot in common. We talk about how everyone on a bike up here waves to each other. It doesn't matter what kind of bike you're on, unlike back home where a Harley guy won't wave to a sport bike and vice-versa. We say our goodbyes, and this time I get the holeshot.
The rest of the day is uneventful. That night I get to a neat old Western town called Dawson City, where they have dirt streets and wooden sidewalks. I snag one of the last rooms at the Downtown Hotel, and the owner wants to shoot the breeze about bikes. He rides a BMW and tells me I have to go up the Dempster Highway. I wasn't going to go that way. My plan was to go north from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay through the Arctic Circle. But if I take Dick's advice I can go into the Northwest Territories and add that feather to my cap, uh, helmet. Dick calls and makes sure I have a room in Eagle Plains and I go to bed thinking about hundreds and hundreds of miles on dirt roads into the Arctic Circle. I guess Alaska is going to have to wait.
The next morning, Day Five, I wake up and, like every morning, wonder what the weather is outside. I open the blackout shade and, oh, no! It's socked in big-time! This isn't the way I wanted to start this Arctic Circle assault. When I get on the bike wearing all my gear, electric vest plugged in, I'll have to admit that I was a little nervous with apprehension. It's not too often in my life I get butterflies about riding a motorcycle anymore, but I know that feeling makes you really know you're alive. It's going to take a full tank of gas and a rented gallon can filled to the brim to make it. An elderly German couple are interested in my route, so I explain what I'm going to do. He tells me, "Slow down for zee curves!" And I say, "I'll take that advice." That's when the wife says I must be an experienced motorcyclist. I just winked and said, "Yep." We all wave goodbye, and after I take a picture of the sign going in I say a prayer and take off up the trail, trying just to see through my wet, foggy visor. A half-hour later, the sun is peeking through and I'm heading into an area that is so beautiful it's hard to properly describe.
My remote gas stop is coming up in maybe 5 miles when I see the dirt turns a little lighter in color. I slow to about 55 and, guess what? After some 250 miles of hard pack, this dirt is soft as a pillow. The front end digs in and turns. The bike starts to swap back and forth more and more. It gets so bad I think I can see the saddlebags out of the corners of my eyes. My feet are off the pegs and I'm figuring it's going to be real bad. But after about 100 yards (no lie!) I gather it up and save it. I can't believe everything is OK. I work through the pain of a huge cramp in my right butt cheek. I'm sure I used up all of the luckand then someof the penny I found the day before. Another hour and I'm taking my picture at the Arctic Circle! Might as well go another hour and a half into the Northwest Territory. I have been to most of Canada's providences and want to see them all. This one is the hardest to get to, so it's worth it to keep going to the sign at the border to take the picture. Talk about the middle of nowhere.
The night spent at Eagle Plains, on the top of the world, is cool, and at 2 a.m. the picture I took of the sun peeking out of the clouds well up in the sky was strange. The sun just swirls around up there and dips down near the horizon at night. The next morning is the warmest it's been the whole trip. That's weird. I took a few minutes walking around checking things out. You know I've heard the mosquitoes are real bad in the summer. Well, I don't see a single mosquito. No, they are all married with millions of kids! One hour later down the trail and I have to stop to put most of my cold weather gear on. The weather can change in an instant and it always does.I stop in for lunch with Dick and tell him thanks for pointing me in that direction, then jump on the ferry across the Yukon river. The road goes out of Dawson City over the Top of the World Highway, a must-see. It starts raining, then hailing. The bike and I could care less after all we've been through already. As long as there is no lightning, no problem.
Next stop, Chicken. It's too small to be called a town, I guess, but you have to stop in the saloon. It's more than 100 years old and every inch of wall and ceiling is covered with stuff. Hats, business cards, junk, and blown-up women's underwear. You'll just have to go there to find out why. When you do, sit on the first barstool and look straight up. I told you before, I like to leave my mark. As I drink my coffee, I feel good to finally be in Alaska. Now I've been to all 50 states.
A night in Tok, and I hit the road early. More beautiful country going by when I'm startled by my first glimpse of a massive glacier-topped mountain. Going over the Thompson Mountain Pass to Valdez where the Alaskan pipeline ends is incredible. I can't decide what place I've been to is the most beautiful, but this is one of the best. On the way out I stop to hike up to the Worthington Glacier. A tourist takes my picture in front of the crack in the glacier that is a brilliant color blue.
From Valdez to Anchorage the mountain range is amazing, with glaciers spilling out all over the place. At a gas stop a waitress tells me to go right through Anchorage to a funky little ski village called Girdwood. She tells me I could get a room at a hostel for $15. Never stayed at a hostel, but the price is right. Everywhere else is real expensive around there. I didn't realize Anchorage is so big. I might as well be in Bakersfield. I was so glad to cruise right through. I'm starting to come across Harley dudes going the other way, guys with no helmets that don't wave. After riding for about a week and being in only real small towns I don't like the feel of this place. Following the directions to this hostel takes me down narrow muddy roads, and I find this little house with only a black cat with white paws there. It's open and the sign says put $15 in the drop box and take off your shoes. Me and Mr. Snowshoes have the place to ourselves for the night!
The next day I explore the whole Kenai peninsula in the rain. Light rain, pouring rain, and every kind of rain in between. The neat little fishing town of Homer is at the end of the road and is where much of the chartered fishing is. I make sure I take my picture with about 10 huge halibut hanging there so I can lie to Adolf from Z Leathers about catching them all. He told me he's always wanted to go to Alaska to fish. I don't know why I want to tell a fib and make him jealous, but I do. I also get about 30 feet from a bald eagle for a nice photo op. The animal life is so cool up here.
I'm tired of riding in the rain, but the last half-hour I've had to battle the gnarliest wind I've ever ridden in. It was gusting back and forth and I felt like I was in the ring with Mike Tyson. It hit me with a left, right, left. I held on with white knuckles, tucked down on the tank bag as low as possible, watching the trees and bushes, trying to anticipate when the next punch would connect. With the ground wet and slippery, I probably had to dab my feet down 10 times as I went from one side of the road to the other. It felt good to pull off the main road and putt my way down the muddy streets to relax with Mr. Snowshoes. But to my surprise, the driveway is full of cars! There's a strange hippie kind of a guy that says he is paying his dues in Anchorage all next week. A young couple from the Bay Area are sitting on the floor playing guitar and singing Arlo Guthrie's "City of New Orleans." Another young couple from Scotland and two more girls from Australia. It all seems pretty trippy, but there's one bunk left for me and my only option for the night. I slept terrible because the hippie snored like a chainsaw.
I took off early to beat morning traffic in Anchorage singing "City of New Orleans." I'd been feeling little earthquakes, and heard the volcano near Anchorage that blew its top and covered the city in ash back in the early '90s was becoming active again. Seemed like my timing to get out of there wasn't so bad. It was a nice ride through the Denali Park, north to Fairbanks. The only bummer was I didn't get lucky and see Mount McKinley. It's only visible about one day a week in the summer. I pulled into Northern Powersports' dealership and those guys treated me like Jeff Gordon at a Daytona pit stop. Some new rear rubber and an oil change and I was out of there to find this B & B for the night.
The weather seemed good to me as I thought about going all the way up to Prudhoe Bay, 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, as far north as you can go in the Northern Hemisphere by vehicle. I fell asleep wondering what I'll be writing about in my journal tomorrow night.
It's now the morning of day 9. It was T-shirt weather last night, but now it's a little cold, cloudy and drizzly as I ride north out of Fairbanks. Some 500 miles with little pavement, one gas stop in the middle. You have to remember this is a haul road trucks use to supply the oil fields, and I've been told they own it. Well, I'd just like to borrow it for a couple of days, thank you very much. At least one thing I don't have to worry about is getting a ticket on the dirt roads, I think. I am going way over the speed limit a lot of the time, although on gravel roads. What are the chances of seeing a trooper out here? Who knows?
It's going pretty good for the first half, and there's another photo op at the Arctic Circle about 200 miles in. At the gas stop in the middle it's getting real cold and the weather ahead looks more and more ominous. I start up the Atigun Pass over the Continental Divide and it's getting worse all the time. I have to ride with my visor open a little because it's fogging and raining more and more. I figure I can go 125 miles, half a tank, and decide if it looks too bad and turn around to make it back to the halfway gas station. Well, if you know me, I just hate to backtrack, so I push on, going slower and slower. I have to try to stay in top gear and keep my speed up, otherwise I'll run out of gas. It starts snowing and sleeting and there are potholes the whole way now. I hit a rock I never saw and almost crashed. The rim got bent, but not too bad. They had been working on the road in places, and all of a sudden you would hit soft gravel, and the front end kept sliding out so bad I had to keep dabbing my feet down. Sometimes the wind was so strong it would push the bike into a slide and my feet kept going down.
Now it was getting so cold my fingers were numb and my hands could hardly work the controls. A big 18-wheeler came the other way at about 70 mph and spit up a rock that hit me in the knuckles of my throttle hand. I swear I thought it broke a bone, but I was too cold to know for sure. I was just holding on for dear life with probably 60 miles to go. That seemed to take hours. My shoulder and neck muscles were so tense they were killing me. The road would get a little better and I would start going faster. Then, sure enough, a bad spot would appear and in the blink of an eye the front end would be going away. Total concentration. There was hardly time to blink an eye. I was riding in a world that I started to feel like I just did not belong in. Out of the corner of my eye, out across the flat, frozen tundra, off in the distance, a polar bear? Man, now I'm sure I don't belong here. But within a half an hour, I can see some signs of civilization. It's Prudhoe Bay! Thank God, I'm going to make it. They tell me the trucks that haul ass back and forth make it in 12 hours, one-way. I did it in 9 1/2 with bad conditions. I guess my goal was to hurry up and get this part of the ride over. I suppose I just wanted to say I've been there, done that. I had a long time in the saddle that day to contemplate if it was worth it. Hopefully, in my future, I will think it was.
When I get to the hotel it looks like I'm pulling up to Ice Station Zebra. The temperature is in the high 30s; with the wind chill factor and the speed of the bike it's well below zero. They told me it was almost 70 degrees here yesterday. I told you the weather changes fast, especially up here. I'm seriously just thankful to be alive. It's a strange industrial kind of hotel with great food, cafeteria style. All you can eat for the guests and workers alike. That night I hardly slept at all, wondering how I was going to get my butt back to Fairbanks. There were some mileage markers along the way and I was trying to remember all the hazardous spots by connecting the two.
They post the morning weather report at 5 a.m. It's 26 degrees, socked in and the wind is howling. You could probably do the math with the wind chill factor and imagine what I was thinking. If my mom knew what I had done yesterday she would have killed me. If she knew what I was going to do today she would really kill me. That morning the workers wanted to tell me all the motorcyclist horror stories they knew. After thinking it over for a while, I figured discretion was the better part of valor and I checked into throwing the bike on a cargo plane and hopping on another bound for Fairbanks. It turned out to be a nice, safe flight back and I got a chance to see Mount McKinley after all. It was going to take an extra day to get my bike there, so I found myself driving away from the airport in a Ford Focus. I felt humiliated.
When I was gassing up in Valdez, a guy asked me how I like the V-Strom. He had just got one from Northern Powersports, and after talking for a while he gave me his card and offered a bed for the night. I called and took Pat and Fermina up on the offer. They fed me the halibut he caught in Valdez for dinner and a nice breakfast, said my thanks and goodbyes, and drove 60 miles to the Chena hot springs. I think I deserved a little R & R. Back in town that afternoon I checked out the University of Alaska's museum. It's rated number-one in the state and was really interesting.
When I was getting my tire changed two days earlier, Dan at the shop offered me a place to stay for the night, so I took him up on that offer too. He lives with Tracy, and they turn out to be really cool people that I get along with great. Tracy cooks a fine steak dinner, while Dan and I hang out in his shop. In his spare time he's the premier custom chopper builder in Alaska. We have a lot in common and I feel thankful things happen for a reason and I'm there.
They both like to fish and hunt, so when I ask about the moose antlers out back Dan offers to box up a pair and send them to me. What a cool Alaskan souvenir. He gives me a ride to the airport in the morning and we find the bike strapped to a couple of wooden pallets just the way I left it up in Prudhoe Bay. We cut it loose and the bike and I are reunited. It's a nice, clear day and I'm out of there and on my way again. I head back toward Anchorage and hang a left at the Denali Highway. After doing this 150-mile dirt road I will have seen about all of Alaska you can see by vehicle. I do the Denali Highway in two hours flat. I think it's a new state record and I'm feeling like I have this motorcycle adventure touring stuff dialed. Now I'm officially on my return trip home, but I've already gone almost 6000 miles and I know there's still a lot of riding ahead of me.
Day 13: I make a detour down the Haines Highway to the town of Haines. More beautiful scenery and the best fish and chips I've ever had. I jump on a cruise ship/ferry for a one-hour ride to Skagway, a cruise port. I find a room and check out this really old and cool little town in the morning. A great breakfast at the Sweet Tooth Cafe, then I head over the White Pass and back to the Alaskan Highway. Incredible scenery and lots of rain and wind. I find a room at the same place I stayed at coming up from Watson Lake. A funky German guy owns it and you have to take off "zee shoes." I leave early to go down the Cassier Highway and it's just as good as anyplace so far. There's a side trip to Stewart and Hyder where I ride 23 miles up a little dirt road to go up to the Salmon Glacier. It's unreal and I take a bunch of cool pictures just as I see the rain coming up the valley. I get all my raingear on as it hits, and now have a 23 mile ride back down in the pouring rain and mud. It was well worth it.
In the evening the bear come to a spot in the river where there are thousands of salmon spawning. There's actually a viewing platform where you look down on the bear going for it. I hang out with Dan from Sweden. He's traveling all over the world on a Honda African Twin. We're buddies just like that and go to the local bar in Hyder to get Hyderized. It has something to do with Everclear.
The next morning I sleep in a little, and when I open the door there are no clouds, the mountains are spectacular, and bald eagles are flying around all over the place. Leave it up to the locals to tell you where to eat, and after a killer breakfast I'm on the road by 9 a.m. on one of the most beautiful days on the trip. As I try to stretch my last gas stop, it looks like I'm really going to get poured on. I just coast into the station on fumes when a big storm hits. I'm lucky because this station is covered. Most pumps are out in the open with no pavement around. A guy in a pickup who also rides suggests I stay there in Prince George. It sounds like good advice considering the weather, and he says the next stretch of road is dangerous in the evening because of the animals.
Early the next morning I listen to the weather. That's the sound of me pulling open the curtains. It's foggy, but no rain. I'm getting sick and tired of rain. I've ridden in way more rain on this trip than I have in my whole life. In an hour I'm out of the fog and it turns out to be a great day. I was hoping for that because of where I'll be going. You see, this whole trip has been the main course, and instead of going back south the same way I came up, I'm going east through Jasper and Banff for dessert. I think I'll go for a second helping and go through Glacier Park in Montana on the road to the Sun Highway. Karel Bruckner-Marino, a childhood friend of mine, lives there with her husband Jack and two children. I'm planning on spending the night, and that's what my grandpa Mac called ridin' the grub train.
The ride through the park is epic. I even took time to hike two miles up a glacier for another great picture. I've seen so many awesome glaciers now that it's almost no big deal anymore. I plan to stay in Canmore just south of Banff, but it's time to put on the raingear again. The rain stops just before town and I find a cool place to stay. I check in and go through my evening ritual of oiling the chain just when the big storm hits. And do I mean big! So, I sit on the porch and watch it rain as hard as you've ever seen. What was really spectacular was the unbelievable lightning show with thunder that made my insides jump. Ninety percent of the time my timing is right on. The other 10 percent you learn to be ready for it and deal with it as it comes.
The next morning proved to be as good as they get. I was so happy to not see rain, as this was going to be the last real scenic day of riding. Up over the Canadian Rockies and down into the foothills of southern Alberta; I had gone this way years ago to do some Suzuki television commercials and knew I would enjoy it a lot more on a bike instead of driving my van and a trailer. Across the border back into the good ol' lower 48 and I'm headed for a place I've never been before, Glacier National Park. It's a very scenic and nice place, but after all I have seen in the past two-and-a-half weeks, it somehow didn't seem as special as I imagined it would be.
After going over Logan Pass and stopping to take a picture of a mountain goat from 20 feet away, I saw what looked like a pretty big rainstorm coming up the valley. I'm so tired of taking my raingear off and on, I just say the heck with it, I'll get a little wet. Well, I got kind of lucky. It really didn't rain much, just hailed like crazy for about 15 minutes and then it was gone! The rest of the day was nice and I looked forward to staying with an old friend. We spend the evening talking about good old times by candlelight because of the electrical storm and power outage. We take pictures of ourselves together, and I take off on my last day's ride to get back to my van and trailer in Washington.
Through the foothills of Montana by Flathead Lake, I get to Missoula and Interstate 90 westbound. It seems strange to be on a big freeway. What are all these hundreds of bikes doing going east? Oh, yeah, Sturgis is next week. Hundreds of bikes is an understatement, and it's still a week away? Man, that little town must just get packed. It would be too much for me. I like the idea of where I've been better. I wave to everyone like I've been doing for weeks. Some don't wave, but most do. It gets hotter and hotter in the plains of eastern Washington and the final ride following the Colombia Gorge west, just like Lewis and Clark, toward Portland was nice and relaxing.
Wow! This adventure is almost over! I miss my family and home and still want to keep riding. You can't have both. I see other riders going north and I almost want to wave through my van window. Where are they going? What thoughts are going through their minds? What adventure is in store for them? I hope for their sake they are going to have as good a time as I have. The more I drive, the more I realize how fortunate I am. It was a dream come true to be able to do this. The entire wingin'-it-style adventure went perfectly, without so much as even a little speeding ticket. I rode 9000 miles, at least 1500 of them off-road. All I had to do was lube and adjust the chain. I got exactly 50 miles per gallon. The worst thing that happened is I lost my Suzuki hat in one of those windstorms, so now I'm sportin' a cool new Alaska hat.
You know for all the riding I've done in my life, this was the first real big adventure I've ever done. It makes me feel like I'm more of a real motorcyclist. I really love that feeling.