We woke up this morning foggy and really tired (as usual) after the previous evening’s festivities, but we have a plan. We head over to the BMW dealership, and par for the course, even though it takes way too long (almost 4 hours) to get our oil changed and other minor repairs, it was a fantastic stop. Justin and the folks at BMW were great to slide us in, and he even set us up for our stop later in the day with some great info.
We had really regretted not getting a picture with George at Trails End BMW on our first night in Fairbanks, and while we’re sitting at the dealership, guess who shows up? George and his Airedale, Rosy. Awesome. Also, we had been told earlier in the day that we couldn’t stay in the hotel that night, so we were procrastinating figuring out what to do, and while sitting there, the hotel called with two rooms for us. Sweet! We’ve decided that we’re much more effective when we don’t do anything. We’ve entered a very Zen state of being.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, we met one Brian Cook, esq., from Raleigh, North Carolina who climbed the Haul Road yesterday on a Harley. Great guy – even gave me a Miami Sweet to suck down later. The friendliness and immediate generosity of fellow travelers is always inspiring.
So, today’s plan. Last night, Brenna, the bartender at the Big I swore up and down through all my doubts and contradictions that there is a road leaving Central, Alaska leading to Circle Village that enters the Arctic Circle. No where else is there any information about this magical place. In fact, when we arrive, I expect to be met by a clan of Amazonian women ready to cater to our every need.
The big question at this point was, who’s dumb enough to ignore everything they’ve read on the Internet, everyone they’ve talked to including motorcycle experts, adventurers and locals to follow the directions of one enigma of a bartender in Fairbanks? Well, us. Duh. We get suited up and start our ride to the mystery road entering the Arctic Circle in the illusive Circle Village.
We may be dumb, but the ride was so worth it:
We had about 120 miles of dirt before Central, Alaska where the turnoff to Circle Village was supposed to be. After riding about 25 miles of dirt, we hit construction where they were paving 3 miles of the road. Now, we’re not from here, so there may be a reason for this paving, but from an outsider’s perspective, this appeared to be a federally funded goose chase of epic proportions. This stretch of the road seemed to be randomly selected for paving as dirt is on either side of it, and it ends at Circle, Alaska – population 80. No, I did not forget any 0’s there. 80 people. It’s 125 miles of dirt road that they’re paving. Like I said, perhaps I’m missing some critical information as to why they’re doing this (Circle is on the Yukon, so perhaps there is a need I can’t see), but building a road that has to then be maintained in remote Alaska to a town of 80, well, it seems a bit, um, how should I say it, well, totally, completely fucked up. I love this country, but wow, is our two-party, legalized corporate bribery system a mess. When I run for president, I’ll fix all this (AND get us on the metric system finally, I mean, seriously?).
One highlight on our way up was riding next to a bull moose running next to me. I was somewhat afraid that it might turn left unannounced (they’re known more for their brawn than brilliance), so I kept it behind me a bit as this magnificent creature lumbered along 20 feet from my right shoulder. Surreal experience that sent my heart rate sky high, but I was far enough away to be able to crank on the accelerator should the need arise.
About 20 miles outside of Central, I had another experience that sent my heart rate climbing – almost to the point of sheer panic, and Brad is ENTIRELY to blame. We were driving through some of the most spectacular scenery we’d seen – a nearly lunar landscape above the treeline – when I lost sight of Brad behind me around one of the massive turns circling a mountain. I slowed down, still no Brad. Hm. We were both really, really tired, so maybe he decided to take a break knowing I’d come back. I made the turn and started back down (we’d climbed to about 3600 feet from 500), and I came around the big turn, and guess what, no Brad. Now I’m starting to freak, and my mind is racing, going places it really shouldn’t. Where the hell could he be? Did he fall asleep and go down the cliff that was just off the road and offered no shoulder to speak of? It would be easy to do in these darkening skies and stiff, cold wind.
As I’m riding down, now fully alert and wondering how the hell I’m going to blog Brad’s demise, I see a yellow road marker snapped in half, and my stomach nearly exited my mouth. Shear dropoff, forever. I turned around, jumped off the bike, and now I’m convinced – I’ll be climbing down to see if he’s alright. There’s nowhere else he can be! I can see down the road forever in both direction, and it would have been impossible for him to have passed me. Hard to be subtle in an 1150 GS! I jump the rail and start climbing, but I can’t see anything. Making my way down the cliff, I am about to start yelling, BRAAAAD! BRAAAAD!, when up ahead, I see the three-light pattern of Brad’s GS coming back down from where we’d gone. What the hell?! How’d he do that? My relief is massive, and I almost barfed in my helmet.
We meet in the middle of the road, and he looks at me a touch sheepishly, but more mischeiviously, and says, “Oh, dude, did you think I went off the road?” Yea! No shit I did! Well, up ahead there was a turnoff that would take us to Eagle Pass, which is the road that Justin had told us about, and he had taken it after trying to wave me down unsuccessfully. “Dude, it’s awesome up there! Want to go up?” he says. “Hell yea, I want to go up,” I say, “to kick your ass!” Well, at least I’m awake now.
And it was absolutely amazing once we got up the boulder-strewn almost vertical pass that my car would not have a prayer on. It was awesome. Sort of like skiing moguls uphill.
The views at the top were staggering. Above the treeline, views of the Brooks Range, the tundra, and yes, we were only 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and we were looking deep into the circle. It was a precious moment. We weren’t standing in the Arctic, but we had a better view of it than being there.
Our trip took on a new dimension while were standing up here at the top of the world looking deep into the Arctic Circle to the Brooks Range and never-ending tundra. Brad stopped and pulled out a photo of his son, Sam who’d passed away this spring, that he’d been carrying with him for miles on end. He said, “Well Sam, we didn’t make it to the Arctic, but maybe you will. This is a good place for you.” As Brad set down the photo under some rocks, I think we both knew that the Alaskan winds would blow Sam into the Arctic, and the immense wild beauty of northern Alaska would bring him a long lasting peace. We soaked in the silence for a while, for it was more powerful than any fumbling words, and I think that maybe we realized that this was our destination all along. The winds were now howling, the temperature dropping, and our exhaustion running deep – it was time to roll back to Fairbanks. Rest in peace Sam.
We rode down the steep track to the road, and as we began the long dirt ride back to town, I realized that the Arctic’s hold over me was fading away like a short Alaskan winter’s sun, and it was replaced by the gorgeous freedom of interior Alaska’s beckoning twisting roads. It came over me all at once – I was content, happy, rolling between the raindrops on a perfect dirt road above the treeline in Alaska.
We decided to not head all the way to Central – the construction had taken an extra hour to get up, the weather was changing, and I was nearly delirious with exhaustion – not a recipe for a successful motorcycle pie. Central was still 20 miles away, and then there was “supposedly”, according to one rogue Fairbanksian bartender, another 50 miles of dirt to make it to 66 33’ 44”. That would be another 3-5 hours of intense riding just to get back to Eagle Pass and begin the 3 hour decent back to Fairbanks. As it was, this “short” day was already 7 ½ hours of riding, and we were both content and satisfied with our decision. Eagle Summit was our destination, and we’d arrived and experienced it in a very singular, special way.
On our way down, we had the great pleasure of meeting Loretta, another of the fabled flaggers throughout the north. You see, all the construction up here has to use a flagger because when they do construction, they have to close one lane since there is no where to detour anyone to or from.
The folks are either the friendliest people on the world loving where they’re at, or they are so starved for conversation from hour upon hour alone in Alaskan splendor that when you start a dialogue, there is almost no turning it off! As our pilot car arrived, we almost just stuck around for another lap to hang out with Loretta from Boulder now living in the Kootenai Peninsula south of Anchorage for a while.
On our way down, we had the great fortune to stop at a mountain store and see a petrified walrus penis the store clerk had bought for her father. Like I said, these folks are all about sharing, everything. And the penis? Breathtaking.
Now completely spent, we pulled into Fairbanks and stopped at the first restaurant we found, which happened to be Mexican. Thankfully Anna from Moldova was our server, and made some mean margaritas. It didn’t hurt that she was about as cute as they come. One more evil seductress crossing our path… The dangers are great, the risks many, the rewards huge (but not tonight).
Ah, almost forgot, we heard from Mike and Alex today via Facebook (perhaps the only redeeming quality of Facebook – great way to keep in touch with people traveling). They made it to the Deadwood! So awesome, and I’m so happy to hear that. They had the right tires, the right bikes, and the right mindset, and they made it all work. Way to go guys.
Exhausted, we passed out in our rooms with plans to sleep in a bit the next day. We have a lot of spectacular riding ahead of us as we begin our second leg. First, through the interior of Alaska including 132 miles of dirt on old Hwy 8 after leaving Denali, and then luckily, the only road we have to double back on the entire trip just so happens to be the best riding we had on the long road up. I love it when a plan comes together. Then off to western BC and possibly some flyfishing, who knows, who cares…
No self portrait today. Shit. Forgot. But, I have two of La Gigante: