An Alaska Triop
Two old guys on vintage bikes set off to Alaska - mostly for the adventure and some of it to recapture the spirit of old bikes going back to places they had been before - long before we were old enough to buy them. Hyder Alaska is the southernmost town accessible by road in the state.
The bikes: Jerry Hale rode his 1961 R69S from San Ramon California that he had just ridden few thousand miles to visit family and friends before our trip up to Alaska. I rode my1969 R60US with less than few hundred miles on a newly rebuilt engine. I started my ride in Salem Oregon.
The ride: I took off to rendezvous with Jerry in Yakima Washington after witnessing the total solar eclipse on the 21st of August. How cool to see something that will not happen for many years to come! We camped at the Yakima Sportsman State Park off of US 97. From there we rode north into Canada, crossing the border at Osoyoos Lake. We were stopped for background checks at the border with another gray-haired biker – apparently we looked like serious trouble. We continued on Canada 97 up to Penticton to another big beautiful lake and a root beer float break on some of the best back roads to be had. Another campsite, then on to Canada 97C over the pass to Canada 8, which had super great back roads perfect for older bikes, to Canada 1 along the Frazier River. We passed their golden spike monument for the 1915 trans-Canadian railway – a significant place in Canadian history.
As in any great motorcycle trip a little rain and hail must fall, along with thunderstorms and smoke from major fires that were still smoldering as we passed through. We took shelter at the 70 Mile House hotel, and headed out in very cool conditions with morning clouds still looming up to the 100 mile mark on Canada 1 for breakfast at Smitty’s - one of Canada's family restaurant chains - and later another root beer float break when the skies cleared (it makes it so much easier to get on the bike and go for a few more miles after a float). Next stop at Prince George, where looming low clouds and a threat of rain once again took us to a hotel where a warm dry room and pizza awaited. Another wet cool morning greeted us as we turned left onto Canada 16 towards Hyder Alaska, our destination.
Rain In the morning cleared up later to a cold but great ride to New Hazelton, passing through Smithers where we had our first nice views of glaciers on the north face of the mountain. The hotel was nice and they gave us a beer for checking in - how great is that! In the morning moderate rain was falling, so we decided to wait awhile before heading out late in the morning - only 165 miles left to Stewart and Hyder via Canada 16 onto the Cassier Highway (Canada 37). It was cool and lightly raining again, but cleared somewhat before we got to Meziadin Junction for what seemed like a long ride; stopped for fuel and a bite of breakfast. At Meziadin, we turned onto the Glacier Highway (37A) to Stewart and Hyder. We stopped to take in some great scenery of the glaciers visible along the south side of the road. I had been here only nine years ago and the glaciers had retreated far from where they had been, but were still very cool to see.
Jerry and I then headed to Hyder Alaska - our goal – and took pictures to prove the feat. We met a guy at the border crossing between Stewart BC and Hyder who took the picture of both of us. His job was to clear brush on the border for twenty miles in each direction. Apparently the contract gets transferred every ten years Canada then the USA. We headed up the road to the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site to see bears fishing for salmon as only they can do it. The US Forest Service has an elevated viewing area to protect stupid people from becoming bear fodder, which also protects the bears. We were very lucky - we were gifted with three bear sightings, one of them a grizzly. After a few hours viewing the bears, we headed back into Hyder proper and Jerry decided to get “Hyderized” – which consisted of drinking a mystery shot of liquor and getting a card signed by the server. Come to find out its grain alcohol. I passed - some things I do not need to do. We crossed back over the border into Canada and stayed the night in Stewart at the Prince George hotel.
We checked the BC ferry schedule that evening to plan out our return trip home to California. It just happened to work out that the ferry from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy (Vancouver Island) departs every other day, and if we left in the morning we could take the ferry south the following day. So, we packed up and said farewell to Alaska. On our 6 hour ride south in warm dry weather, we encountered a small ferry crossing that uses current (no engine) to ferry cars back and forth to the community across the river. We took the ferry ride there and back again, and the captain knew all of the passengers except us by first name. On the return trip, he checked out our bikes and we had a nice chat, before saying our goodbyes and heading off to Prince Rupert.
The ferry ride to Port Hardy is a great relaxing way to go south and see some great sites on the Inland Passage. The ferry has many good food options, places to sit, stand and look out or go out on deck and hang for a while once under way. Lots of great scenery, fun people to talk to, and a nice way to make miles and relax. We had great weather - the best all summer according to the boat crew. They helped get our bikes tied down and called the first officer to come down - apparently he is a BMW aficionado. We got a good breakfast and later on had BBQ wild caught salmon.
We made a reservation for a hotel in Port Hardy, and arrived there a little before midnight to get some sleep after disembarking from the ferry. It rained all night. Next day headed south on Hwy 19 through Fort Campbell, and stopped a little south of Duncan. Next morning off to Victoria BC to catch the morning ferry to Port Angeles Washington and on to US 101 south. Great weather coming south - cool in the morning, and it warmed up enough for people to swim in Crescent Lake. We had great views of the Pacific all the way down the coast of Washington, unlike the usual fog and rain. Crossed over the Astoria Bridge into Oregon - you know you’re getting closer to home, the miles are getting easier. We stopped frequently to take it all in, including a quick stop at the Tillamook cheese factory for some cheese curds. Continued on US 101 down to Depoe bay and just south we got a campsite at Beverly Beach State Park. This was Friday of Labor Day weekend and they were full, but after looking at our old bikes, they managed to squeeze us in.
South of Depoe Bay, we saw smoke from the fires on the coast starting at Reedsport, and it got thicker the further south we got. We stayed at the Stone Lagoon little red schoolhouse campground just south of Orick California for the last night on the road. Again, the proprietor told us there weren’t any sites available, but our old bikes prevailed – who can say “no” to old motorcycles, especially ones coming back from Alaska? We met some guys on new BMW GS’s who shared their beer, good conversation, and we swapped a few great motorcycling stories. In the morning we continued south and parted ways in Leggett. Jerry stay on Hwy 101, I went down Hwy 1 along the coast, turned left to Sebastopol and home again.
I personally can't think of a better trip than one on an older bike. I do not know if it's the fact that both feet are firmly planted on the ground while seated on the bike or that there is nothing that I can't fix on the road with a few tools and a little common sense. On this trip Jerry was a victim of Internet headlight wiring instructions gone wrong; we fixed it by changing two wires and Jerry got his headlight back. In the morning at Prince George it was raining all night and in the morning while running down the road a few miles out of town my bike started to not run on one side. Turns out I got some water in the fuel, so I pulled the main jet float bowls, dumped out gas and water, put float bowls back on and down the road again – just makes me love old technology. Both bikes performed well. Each had the stock four gallon tank and we only went on reserve once before a fuel stop on the ride from Hyder Alaska to Canada 16 on our way to Prince Rupert. My bike first aid kit contained the following: spare tube, coil, carb floats, condenser, points, sparkplug cap and head gasket, with the stock tool kit. One can fix most problems and then it just adds another story to the trip - after all, what's a trip without some great stories.
I do not know what exactly moves me when I get on a vintage bike and ride down the road a ways. It just feels right and the more miles the better it gets Time slows down and you start to see more, each turn seems to be just as exciting and comfortable at the same time after a while the bike just feels like an old friend. And when you stop people just want to talk to you and take pictures of the bike - some think you’re nuts and others won't say it but I think secretly they envy your sense of adventure.
Jerry rode a little over 3,500 miles, I rode about 3,100. The most miles on any day was the first trying to get north for the eclipse on the 21st of August. After that it was a reasonable amount for any day - less than 330 miles. Road speed varied between 45-65 mph, and we took frequent breaks - root beer floats when it was warm, hot chocolate/coffee when cooler. As with any trip it’s time in the saddle which I enjoy, stopping to take pictures to show later to friends and for memories. This was not a hard ride. The time needed for this trip was two weeks for a comfortable ride and not feeling rushed. Would I do this again? Yes, in a heartbeat. Jerry and I have talked about doing this again, and we may go all the way to the Arctic Circle north of Fairbanks. It would be the same trip up to Hyder, then farther North and more miles and time plus more great stories and of course adventure. But it will have to wait until 2019. In September 2018 I will be riding in the Cannonball motorcycle endurance race on my 1926 R42 BMW. If you are interested in going along for any part the trip north on a vintage bike in late June 2019 contact me at email@example.com
Jerry Hale kept a log of days of travel and miles: