Michael Milner: Blog https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Michael Milner (Michael Milner) Tue, 28 Apr 2020 21:36:00 GMT Tue, 28 Apr 2020 21:36:00 GMT https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-12/u788657030-o52074575-50.jpg Michael Milner: Blog https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog 120 67 North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 21) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-21 Day 21 – 7/18/19

My North By Northwest adventure was at the end. All I had left to do was drop off the bike at the shipper and get myself home (courtesy of Delta Airlines). Thursdays are running days for me, but one look outside and at my weather app told me I’d be stuck on the treadmill.

With the running in place completed, I geared up and had a quick and uneventful three-mile ride to the shipper (Classic Motion).

Krista inspected the bike for damage, we did some paperwork, and then I was heading back to the hotel in an Uber. The Alaska Aviation Museum looked like it had some interesting exhibits, so I contributed some more to Uber’s annual earnings and got a ride over there. The Museum is adjacent to Anchorage International Airport, as well as Lake Hood, which has floatplanes taking off and landing almost non-stop.

They also have a restoration shop for aircraft that visitors can wander through.

With my visit to the Museum complete, I figured Uber’s investors could use a little more of my money after their underwhelming IPO and got a ride back to the hotel. I had an overnight flight to Atlanta and then a connection to Jacksonville. As I write this entry, my bike has just arrived at the dealership and will go in for 6,000-mile interval service and new tires. Oh, and a new clutch lever.

Final Thoughts: With the exception of my GoPro Hero Black, all of my gear performed very well. I wish I’d had hot-weather gear for the first week, and if I do another trip crossing multiple climate zones, I’ll ensure that I have comfortable hot- and cold-weather gear. I don’t want to suffer through extremely hot and humid conditions in Gore-Tex again.

The bike was flawless and did everything I asked of it in a variety of challenging conditions. I was able to see most of the planned points of interest along the way. That said, one could easily spend six weeks doing this trip instead of squeezing it into three, and there were certainly times when I felt pressure to keep moving forward.

I got to discover and experience a lot of hidden and not-so-hidden history. Unfortunately, the witnesses to this history continue to fade away over time, and I believe all of us have an obligation to help carry their stories into the future. Even more important is the need to remember history’s lessons and the people who helped support, preserve, and defend our freedoms, particularly the people who weren’t permitted to enjoy those same freedoms. So, go out and take the big adventures you’ve been thinking about, and find ways for them to be more than just sightseeing. And when you get back, share your stories… and theirs.

Grand total mileage: 6,185

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-21 Thu, 29 Aug 2019 15:42:45 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 20) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-20 Day 20  7/17/19

Readers with an affinity for tie-dyed garments will appreciate my comment that the music never stopped overnight. And by music, I mean the nearly constant racket from trains coming and going and train cars connecting and disconnecting. Needless to say, I didn’t have a good night’s sleep. When I walked outside, though, the blustery wind shocked me into full consciousness.

I previously mentioned that there isn’t much to do in Whittier, but big cruise ships do pull into port for passengers to get on the Alaska Railroad to points north and south. In fact, one of the ships had arrived overnight, and there was a steady stream of passengers walking across the street to the train. Fortunately, the nice crossing guard let me go through after a brief delay.

Yesterday’s visit to the Buckner Building was the first of two historical points of interest for me in Whittier. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel would be the second, and getting to see it was inevitable if I wanted to leave Whittier by land. This 2.5-mile tunnel, the longest combined rail and vehicle tunnel in North America, is the only vehicular way into or out of Whittier that doesn’t involve a ship or aircraft. The US military constructed the tunnel during World War II for trains to carry supplies and troops from the port. It was later modified to allow vehicles as well, but its one-way only configuration means specified times for each direction of travel. And trains have priority all the time, which can cause disruptions to the posted schedule. The Alaska Department of Transportation has a whole section of their website focusing on motorcycle safety in the tunnel. Motorcycles go through after all the cars, trucks, and RVs and must ride between the train rails. It’s also wet and slippery in the tunnel, and powerful ventilation fans at either end can cause “turbulence” issues for riders. Sounded like fun.

I was the first one at the tunnel staging area for the 7am scheduled westbound departure. The wind had picked up even more, and it took me a few attempts to find a position where I could park the bike without fears of a tip over.

After a few minutes, a long line of vehicles, led by a DOT pilot truck, emerged from the tunnel heading into Whittier. The DOT driver came over and gave me an overview of what to expect in the tunnel, which was a rehash of what I’d read online. He said to wait for the green light for my lane and then proceed into the tunnel. Remember how trains have priority? One came through the tunnel into Whittier and delayed the 7am departure by several minutes. It was traveling in reverse, and I assumed it was linking up with the rest of the cruise ship passengers’ train.

A few vehicles had arrived at the staging area, and they got their green light to go in. Finally it was my turn, and I headed towards the entrance. The first literal hurdle was to get across the outer rail at the proper angle and avoid wiping out. With that accomplished, I pointed my bike in between the rails and went into the tunnel at the posted speed limit of 25mph. 

It felt more like riding in a long and narrow hallway. I didn’t have any problems with the big ventilation fans, although I imagine they could surprise a rider if not prepared.

Keeping the bike between both rails did require some concentration, but I emerged safely from the tunnel after about 10 minutes. The scenery on the other side looked like a painting.

At the end of the Portage Glacier Road, I turned left towards Seward. I didn’t have much of a plan other than riding down there for the sake of seeing another part of Alaska.

Heavy smoke from the wildfires was causing some disruptions on the other side of the peninsula, so I backtracked north with a detour for the Exit Glacier visitor center.

I would have liked hiking to the glacier, but I didn’t want to do it in riding gear and boots. Yet another item for the return trip to Alaska. I stopped for lunch at a scenic viewpoint and discovered that even Alaska has some rules.

I continued north to Portage, where I’d been earlier in the morning, and then proceeded west to Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm. The smoke was still noticeable up here and likely inspired many Deep Purple jokes from those in the area.

I’ve visited a lot of former Nike Missile sites across the country, but Alaska has some that were unique in design with missile launchers stored above ground in concrete bunkers; almost all of the Nike sites in the lower 48 states had underground storage. Three sites (Bay, Point, and Summit) were located in and around Anchorage. Site Summit has been mostly restored, but it’s only open for tours on a few dates, and none of them corresponded with my time in Alaska. Site Bay had some remaining structures, but looked like it was difficult to get to with unpaved roads and its location on the other side of the Knik Arm. That left Site Point, located near Anchorage International Airport, as the one for me to visit. It operated from 1959 to 1971 and like many former Nike sites, was redeveloped into a park. Kincaid Park is about 1,500 acres and has lots of outdoor activities, including jogging, hiking, cross-country skiing, soccer, and archery. All four of the original missile bunkers remain intact and have been repurposed.

The sign on one of the bunkers indicated that it should have been open for tours, but the doors were locked. After looking at the bunkers, I rode down the street to the archery area, where the radar control site used to stand. It was quite a complex in its heyday, judging from this historical photo.

Now, both main buildings were razed to the foundation, and I couldn’t see anything remaining from the radar towers.

As I walked around, I tried to imagine what it was like here when the site was operational during the height of the Cold War, and Alaska was a prime target for the Soviet Union. It must have been a busy and intense experience for those Soldiers. Veterans of the Alaska Nike sites have contributed stories and photos to a website, which I found helpful and informative.

I finished up at Site Point, got back on the bike, and rode to my final overnight lodging in Alaska. I’d shipped a duffel bag and backpack that I’d need for my flight to the hotel ahead of time, and the items were there when I checked in (albeit with a fresh coffee stain on the box).

Daily portrait challenge: Volunteer Ann prepares her group for their hike.

My flight home wasn’t until tomorrow evening, which left me with some time to kill in the morning. I planned to drop off my bike with the shipper shortly after they opened at 9am, and then I’d look for a museum to visit. Given the smoky conditions in Anchorage, I didn’t think I’d be running outside.

Total mileage: 242.9

Lodging: Staybridge Suites, Anchorage, Alaska

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-20 Mon, 26 Aug 2019 01:02:17 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 19) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-19 Day 19  7/16/19

Most people would already consider me a morning person, but on this trip to the Great White North, I found it even easier to get going early. There’s something about looking out the window at 5am, seeing the sun shining (or trying to break through the clouds), and feeling a boost to get moving. That was the case this morning even with the low clouds as I loaded up the bike.

I made the quick ride to the ferry terminal, checked in, and parked in my assigned lane. I saw two fellow adventure riders who were on stand-by and hoping to get on this ferry.

The ferry can usually accommodate a few extra motorcycles, and these two got the thumbs up to board when their lane was called. I’ve had some experience riding onto ferries, and it’s always a little tricky with the steel ramp and slippery surfaces. After a minor wobble negotiating some wood planks at the start of the ramp, I didn’t have any issues getting on and parked.

A crewmember kindly helped me tie down the bike. He got excited when he saw my Georgia license plate with Glynn County, because that’s his hometown, and he still has family and property there. I asked how he found his way to Alaska, and he said he came out to help a friend fix their car and never left.

The ferry departed on time at 7am, and the captain gave us the good news that we’d be skipping the scheduled stop at Tatitlek because no one needed to get off. I assumed they had a way of knowing that no one needed to get picked up from there either. With a direct route to Whittier, we’d arrive about two hours early. I went out on deck to get some photos, though it was a bit brisk and windy.

I walked around the ferry and made several trips outside for the scenery, which was pretty spectacular once the clouds lifted.

I'm told this is the unofficial Alaskan State Bird, hence the reason for an unexpected item in the vending machine.

This guy was trying to get photos of orcas with his Nikon 800mm zoom lens, which costs as much as some nice motorcycles.

I was also hoping to see whales and bald eagles but had to settle for what looked like sea lions in the distance. Some glaciers and small icebergs kept things interesting shortly before we pulled into Whittier.

Riding off the ferry can be as tricky as riding on for the same slippery reasons, buy my new friend from Glynn County offered some advice on which side of the ramp would be best. Fortunately, I didn’t have any trouble, even though it was drizzling.

A few words about Whittier: It’s a strange little town with a population just over 200. Most of those residents live in the Begich Towers Condominium, a high-rise apartment building constructed in 1957. Whittier is noteworthy for playing a key role in World War II with its deep-water, year-round port used for Allied supplies and troops transiting into Alaska. There were two historical points of interest that I really looked forward to seeing in Whittier, one of which I rode to straight away from the ferry terminal, and the other I’d see in the morning.

You can’t help but notice the Buckner Building when you’re in Whittier. This enormous concrete structure was a “city in a building” designed to house approximately 1,000 US Army Soldiers during the Cold War. It was phased out of use in the 1960s and now sits abandoned and decaying. There’s a fence around the entire complex to keep out curiosity seekers, which is a new addition since the Google Maps street views from 2011.

The rain had stopped, and the winds were momentarily cooperative, so I got my drone airborne for some photos and video.

After I returned home from this Alaska, I found out that the TV show “Mysteries of the Abandoned” had recently done segments on the Buckner Building and the Pyramid of North Dakota (see Day 8). I wonder if they’re looking for a motorcycle-based correspondent.

I retrieved my drone and headed down the street to my overnight lodging. There’s really not much to do in Whittier, and the main reason I’d booked a room here was the scheduled late-afternoon arrival time for the ferry. So, after backing up my media and charging gadgets, I went for a jog that seemed uphill with a headwind the whole way.

Daily portrait challenge: The Mustache gets it done.

Tomorrow would be the unofficial end of this long riding adventure, with a trip down to Seward and maybe Homer before heading to Anchorage. As I settled into my room for the night, I was concerned that I might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, based on my close proximity to the railroad tracks and rail yard about 300 feet away. I’m sure they don’t operate those noisy trains at night. That wouldn’t be good for tourism, right?

Total mileage: 3.0

Lodging: The Inn at Whittier, Whittier, Alaska

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-19 Fri, 23 Aug 2019 23:50:06 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 18) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-18 Day 18  7/15/19

I had a long day of riding ahead of me, so I wanted to get on the road by 7am. But first, there was the small matter of that not-so-small hill. I’d done my due diligence with scouting the best line down and around the hazards, and I felt confident that I could get this done safely.

Less than a minute later, everything had played out according to plan, and I was turning left onto Parks Highway. Clouds were clinging to the tops of the mountains, and I had some intermittent drizzle for the first half hour. Even though I was intent on making good time, I had to pull over to get some photos of the natural beauty all around me.

I’d read about Igloo City, a failed hotel venture with a unique design from the 1970s near Cantwell, and I was happy to see it still standing. It was never completed, though a gas station did operate at one time on the site. Concrete blocks in the parking lot entrance prevent cars from coming in, but motorcycles can fit through easily. I didn’t see any “No Trespassing” signs, so I rode in for a closer look. I’ve been to a lot of ghost towns and abandoned places, and Igloo City’s vibe ranks up there with the spookiest.

Another 45 minutes of riding, and I stopped by the Alaska Veterans Memorial, located within Denali State Park. It’s a very impressive tribute and includes several memorials for specific incidents during peacetime and war.

The central area of the Memorial has a statue of two Alaska Territorial Guards and 20-foot concrete panels for each branch of the armed forces. Some personal tributes had been placed at the foot of the panels.

After stopping for gas near Willow, I noticed a floatplane airport just off the road and decided to check it out. No one was flying at the moment, but it was still interesting to see.

Just past Wasilla, you can head south towards Anchorage or east towards Palmer. I pressed on through Palmer, and even though I wasn’t quite halfway to Valdez, the amazing scenery kept my mind off of the miles still ahead of me. I stopped along the way to eat my lunch and for a few photo opportunities.

I pulled into Glennallen to top off my gas and get a snack. When I walked out of the grocery store, I saw three fellow adventure riders sitting at the picnic table. I chatted with them, and it turned out they had ridden all the way up from Mexico and were heading home. They’d already successfully traversed the Dalton and Denali Highways and were putting in some big mileage days. Adventure riding can be done with varying levels of challenge, and these guys were at the top end of the “Big Challenge” range.

I got back on the road and turned south at the Richardson Highway, the northern segment of which I’d ridden from Delta Junction to Fairbanks on Saturday. It didn’t take long for me to get to the first really big area of roadwork for the day. I’d dealt with some smaller work crews earlier, but this was the full-blown alternating traffic and tricky loose gravel variety. Normally, motorcycles are allowed to ride in front of the cars, RVs, and trucks due to the dust those vehicles kick up. I had the misfortune of arriving at the tail end of the already moving convoy, so I ate some dust as I bounced over and through the gravel. With that mini-adventure behind me, I continued south into even more amazing mountainous scenery. I had to wait about 15 minutes at the next big work zone, but I was at the front of the pack when the pilot vehicle gave the go-ahead to proceed. This was a particularly tricky downhill through loose gravel and then back uphill with some mud thrown in for good measure. Needless to say, I was happy when it was over.

The “stop sign guy” on the work crew had suggested that I swing by the glacier viewing area just past the roadwork. It was cold and windy but worth the quick detour.

The Richardson Highway continued to work its way between big mountains on either side and then winds up and over Thompson Pass. On the way down, it began to rain a bit, which became a steady downpour into the outskirts of Valdez.

The last part of the ride into Valdez was just stunning. Even with the rain, I had to get some photos.

The Richardson Highway from Glennallen to Valdez is definitely on my Top 10 list, and I highly recommend it, especially on two wheels.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: After getting gas, I rode to my overnight lodging and unloaded my stuff. I changed out of my wet gear and walked into town to pick up some supper and snacks for tomorrow at the grocery store. I do wish I’d spent some time exploring downtown Valdez, but it was drizzling and I was beat from being on the bike for over 9 hours.

Daily portrait challenge: Marvin wanted to trade rides. I opted to stick with horsepower over pedal power.

Now I could finally say with certainty that my long rides on this trip were all done. Most of tomorrow would be spent on the ferry to Whittier, and I was happy to let someone else do the “driving.” Even though I have a confirmed ticket, check-in time for the 7am ferry is 5:30am, which means an early wakeup. Fortunately, the ferry terminal is only about a mile away. That said, actually riding a motorcycle onto a ferry isn’t as easy as one might think. What, me worry?

Total mileage: 464.2

Lodging: Airbnb (Compass Rose), Valdez, Alaska

 

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-18 Thu, 22 Aug 2019 02:07:08 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 17) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-17 Day 17 – 7/14/19

My plan for today was to spend some time in Denali National Park and after yesterday’s frustrations, do something other than riding. There are several ways to explore Denali, but getting into the Park’s interior (other than by airplane or helicopter) requires paying for one of the tour bus options. In the interests of limiting vehicular access during summer, privately owned vehicles aren’t allowed in beyond 14.8 miles. The thought of sitting on a tour bus all day, even with the spectacular scenery, didn’t sound appealing. I’ll come back to Denali someday for a more in-depth visit, so today would involve a hike and looking at a few points of interest closer to the Park’s entrance.

It was chilly when I woke up, and I wished I’d brought some gloves other than my riding ones.

First up was the hike. Those who know me know that I don’t usually do relaxing hikes; I like to push myself and enjoy the challenges presented by a strenuous hike. The Mount Healy Overlook Trail seemed to fit my desired criteria. I also wanted to see the sled dog demonstration at 10am, and the free bus to the kennels would be leaving the Park’s visitor center at 9:20am. This didn’t leave much time for the hike, which the National Park Service suggested would take 4 hours for the round-trip. I thought that was an overly conservative estimate and figured I could probably get it done in half the time. I took the courtesy shuttle from my lodging to the Park and arrived at the visitor center around 7:15am. I hustled over to the trailhead and began the hike.

It was a strenuous and steep hike for some portions, but I was able to finish it under my goal of two hours.

I did have to jog for the last few minutes to get to the bus depot just before 9:20am. When I got there, the bus driver said we’d be leaving in 10 minutes. Insert shrugging emoji.

The shuttle bus deposited my fellow tourists and me at the sled dog kennels, where some of the dogs were out and about before the demonstration. Disclaimer: I did have concerns going into this visit about whether the sled dogs were treated well, given what was essentially a “forced labor” environment. After seeing the dogs, facilities, and staff, I can say without reservation that I think the dogs enjoy what they do and have happy and fulfilling lives. The dogs are born and raised in the Park and are usually put up for adoption when they turn nine. Of course, they much prefer the cold northern climates, so you won’t see any retired sled dogs in the Deep South.

After the sled dog demonstration, I took the shuttle bus back to the visitor center complex and grabbed some lunch at the Mono Grill ahead of the crowds. Then I walked down to the train station to await the arrival of the next passenger train.

I think exploring Alaska by train would be pretty cool, and I’ll look into it for my next trip. I walked around the visitor center for a little while and called for the courtesy shuttle back to the cabin in the early afternoon.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reviewing trip photos and videos and looking at the route for tomorrow. After supper, I walked down the hill and picked what I thought would be the best line for the morning ride to the main road, visualizing the control inputs and avoiding the hazards. Expert riders would likely call this overthinking, but I just wanted to feel prepared and confident. Tomorrow was going to be a long day, and I had no intention of starting it with another riding mishap.

Daily portrait challenge: Sled dogs love love.

This day off from riding was exactly what I needed. The finish line for my adventure was in sight, and I had one guaranteed tough day ahead of me. I hoped the scenery along the way would take my mind off the miles.

Total mileage: 0.0

Lodging: Denali Crow’s Nest Log Cabins, McKinley Park, Alaska

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-17 Mon, 19 Aug 2019 17:31:45 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 16) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-16 Day 16  7/13/19

The rain and overcast conditions in Tok had helped keep the smoke from dissipating overnight. I was glad that I had the Buff to cover my mouth and nose, but I couldn’t do that with my eyes, which were stinging a bit.

About 15 minutes outside of Tok, the visibility became almost zero from the smoke. I turned on the high-beam headlight and slowed down well below the speed limit. Vehicular encounters with moose or other large nature friends on the Alaska Highway happen all-too-frequently in good driving conditions; this smoke was creating a circumstance with very little reaction time should they choose to cross the road. I did everything I could to mitigate the risk, other than not riding at all, which wasn’t an option.

After what seemed like forever (but was closer to 45 minutes), I was through the heavy smoke. As I approached the Gerstle River, I saw a sign for the Black Veterans Memorial Bridge, another fitting tribute to the African American Soldiers who helped construct the Alaska Highway.

Thirty more minutes of riding, and I was in Delta Junction, where the Alaska Highway officially ends and the Richardson Highway begins. I stopped for gas and then rode over to the visitor center, just in time for a tour bus to disgorge its many passengers.

I started on the Alaska Highway four days ago at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, and here I was at Mile 1,422 in Delta Junction. Although it’s not as rough, unpredictable, and quagmire-like as the Dalton or Dempster Highways, I felt like I’d gotten more adventure than expected on the Alaska Highway. I do recommend making the journey, stopping for the scenery, and learning its history.

I continued past Delta Junction on the Richardson Highway for almost an hour and started to see signs about the Eielson Air Force Base airshow. In all of my research for this trip, I completely missed anything about an airshow happening on the very day I’d be passing through. Airshows mean crowds and traffic, but thankfully, most of the vehicles were approaching from the opposite direction to enter the gates. The line must have been at least a mile long.

I couldn’t ride past North Pole without stopping for a photo.

The clock and my stomach told me that it was time for lunch, so I started searching on my GPS for possibilities in Fairbanks. I’d enjoyed my last Tim Hortons grilled cheese yesterday, and since they haven’t invaded Alaska yet, this left Starbucks as my second choice. I navigated to one in town only to discover that it wasn’t a standalone store, just a mini-location in a Safeway. As I stood next to my bike in the parking lot, contemplating what to do, a man approached from the vehicle next to me. You’ll recall the different types of motorcycle conversations I have with strangers. This was the “I have a motorcycle” one; he actually has the BMW R1250GS, the latest version of my bike. He noticed my Georgia license plate and was curious about the trip. And here’s where he saved me from making a huge mistake with my route for the day after tomorrow. He asked if I was taking the Denali Highway between Cantwell and Paxson on my way to Valdez. I said it appeared to be the shortest route, and Google Maps had also suggested it first. He then explained to a surprised looking me that the Denali Highway is 134 miles of mostly dirt and gravel and very challenging for heavy adventure bikes with road-biased tires (i.e., mine). The alternative route would add 112 miles to an already long day.

I thanked him for this information and rode across the street to Taco Bell to reflect on my choices. Ok, there really wasn’t a choice, and I would have to do another big mileage day to stay on schedule for the ferry in Valdez on Tuesday morning. Even with all the planning and research that went into this trip, I managed to miss the part about the Denali Highway not being a suitable route for me. The same thing had happened with not knowing about a potential traffic meltdown from the Eielson airshow. I’d put so much effort into figuring out how I’d get to Alaska and what I’d see along the way, the part about riding around in Alaska became a bit of an afterthought. Another lesson learned.

Back on the road and now heading generally south towards Denali National Park, I began to see the mountains ahead in the distance.

I stopped for gas in Healy, just north of my overnight lodging in McKinley Park, and also took some photos of the Neana River next to Parks Highway. Heartier souls than me like to tackle these rapids in big rafts.

As I made a left turn on Crow’s Nest Road for my lodging, I was greeted by a steep, curving, and banked dirt road with lots of gravel and potholes. Here's the view from halfway up the hill looking down.

I should have parked the bike and walked up the hill to get a better sense of what was around the bend and to make mental notes about the road hazards. But impatience caused me to just press on up the hill. As I rounded the curve, I saw that the hill was still going up, but I’d lost some speed. Enough speed that the engine bogged down and stalled. RPMs get too low for the gear you’re in, the bike stalls, and you can usually just restart the bike while coasting. Unfortunately, bikes tend not to coast up steep hills, and I came to an abrupt stop. My brain reflexively sent a signal to put my left foot down, but the ground wasn’t level on that side. Those of you who have tipped over with a tall bike know the terrible feeling when the bike goes past the point of no return. It happens in slow motion, but there’s nothing you can do, and you’re just along for the ride. So, over we went. The good news: The bike didn’t land on top of me. More good news: The engine guard did its job and protected the engine. The bad news: The hand guard didn’t fully do its job and rotated up, exposing the clutch lever at impact, sheering off the end.

The side case reflector was cracked, and the bottom of the case got pushed in slightly from its expanded position. I learned later from a BMW service advisor that the clutch levers are designed to sheer off at the end, because if too much breaks off, they’re unusable. No clutch lever usually means you’re done riding until it’s replaced. Mine had plenty left to be completely functional.

Before I even had a chance to think about getting the bike upright, two burly young men who’d witnessed my pratfall from a nearby pickup truck came over to help. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, though, now sitting on the bike but precariously stopped on the hill. I started the engine, rolled on the throttle, and synchronized my brake release and clutch release to get moving forward. I parked the bike and hauled my stuff into the “charming” cabin where I’d be staying for the next two nights. Regarding the cabin, let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected and certainly not worth the exorbitant amount I’d paid. It was very cramped, not especially clean, and the floor wasn’t level. So much so, that the water almost spilled out of the shower. 

Daily portrait challenge: How many tourists can fit in the Alaska Pipeline?

I walked down the hill to pick up supper, already fretting about having to ride down on the bike in two days. I was also upset that it would be a very long day due to my poor planning. And I was angry and embarrassed about the bike mishap. I’d managed almost 5,500 incident-free miles during 16 days, and I fell over trying to ride up a hill to my cabin. Well, my bike now had some “adventure scars,” and BMW will happily take my $100 (plus labor) for a new clutch lever. It was indeed fortuitous that tomorrow would be an opportunity to decompress off the bike, surrounded by the natural beauty of Denali National Park. Maybe I’ll even go for a relaxing hike first thing in the morning. How about the Mount Healy Overlook Trail?

Total mileage: 325.3

Lodging: Denali Crow’s Nest Log Cabins, McKinley Park, Alaska

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-16 Mon, 19 Aug 2019 01:26:36 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 15) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-15 Day 15  7/12/19

I woke up to a smoky morning in Whitehorse. I know that sounds like the opening line for a country song. I couldn’t really tell where the smoke ended and the low clouds began, but the net effect was somewhat limited visibility of the mountains around me.

All reports I saw indicated that the Alaska Highway was still open through the wildfire zone around Beaver Creek, so I wouldn’t have to take the northerly alternate route through Dawson City to the Alaska border. Based on the news, wildfires were also threatening the Klondike Highway near Dawson City, so my original route was the best option.

I could see the outlines of mountains as I pulled into Haines Junction for gas, and I’m sure that it would be a very scenic area on a clear day. I stopped for a few photos on the other side of Haines Junction at one of the Alaska Highway’s trademark gravel turn-offs. I even managed to keep the bike upright when the ground was a bit lower than my left boot thought it should be.

The landscape really opens up to some stunning views as you approach Destruction Bay, which earned its name from the brutal winds that knocked things down during construction of the Alaska Highway. Kluane Lake is the large water feature here, and my iPhone photos don’t fully capture the majesty of the area.

Just past the “beach” parking, the road crosses Kluane Lake in a spot that seems like it would produce a wind tunnel effect between the mountains. I saw a sign that warned of very strong crosswinds. The sign was accurate. The unpredictable and uneven wind gusts made the relatively short journey across the lake challenging, to say the least.

A few more minutes of riding put me at the parking area for the Soldier’s Summit trail. As I’d mentioned previously, this is the site of the dedication ceremony for the Alaska Highway in November 1942. I pulled into the parking area and decided to stay bundled up (minus my helmet), due to the strong winds and cold temperatures. When I was getting my hat out of the tank bag, I noticed that the tank bag’s lower straps were much looser than they should be. A quick inspection revealed that the retention clips had come unhooked, probably due to vibrations from the rough (or non-existent) pavement over several days. Fortunately, it’s an easy thing to remedy by removing the seat. I discovered later that my GoPro Session was still running while I was getting things sorted out, providing indisputable visual evidence of my problem-solving skills on the road.

The trail is about .6 mile round-trip, somewhat steep, and has nice views and interpretive signs along the way. It culminates at a historical marker and flagpoles for both the US and Canadian flags.

The ride to Beaver Creek was going to take about two hours, but it started raining steadily not long after I left Soldier’s Summit, and I slowed down accordingly. The rain and lack of shelters at the pull-offs forced me to delay eating my picnic lunch, over the objections of my grumbling stomach. The rain also created a muddy mess in several construction zones. Marble-sized gravel on its own is bad enough, but combine that with mud, and you’ve got some difficult and unpleasant riding.

Once through the roadwork, I saw temporary warning signs for reduced speeds associated with the wildfires. It was very smoky, but the fires close to the road were out, and traffic was moving through the area. This had been a serious wildfire, and I could see why they’d closed the road intermittently during the past week.

I stopped in Beaver Creek for gas and a late lunch. The rain was taking a brief hiatus, but the bugs didn’t get the memo and remained on the hunt for blood. My DEET-infused spray held them off long enough for me to finish lunch, and then I was back in the rain heading for the border. The Canadian Border Services Agency checkpoint for inbound vehicles is actually about 18 miles inside Canada, as opposed to being co-located with the US CBP checkpoint at the border. I stopped for a photograph at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign in the rain and then got back on the bike for the short ride to our CBP station.

I provided the correct answers for the border crossing quiz and continued on my way into Alaska. I thought the road situation would improve in Alaska, but plentiful potholes and frost heaves greeted me. There were also a lot of freshly poured sections of asphalt that looked slippery. I gained an hour due to the time change and pulled into Tok amidst the smoke and rain.

Daily portrait challenge: When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m with him and his Unimog.

What more can I say about today? It involved many miles, some heavy rain, sketchy road conditions, amazing scenery, and historical points of interest. All the ingredients necessary for adventure riding. Tomorrow, I begin to discover our 49th state.

Total mileage: 389.5

Lodging: Almost Home B&B (VRBO), Tok, Alaska

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-15 Sat, 17 Aug 2019 20:44:12 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 14) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska Day 14  7/11/19

After a few challenging days of dealing with roadwork and loose gravel, I was looking forward to a relatively short day. Getting to Whitehorse wouldn’t take too long, and I reminded myself that I needed to stop and enjoy the scenery more than I had been. On the Alaska Highway, that’s easier said than done sometimes, because there aren’t as many good places to pull off the road as one might like. And when you do find a rest area or pull-off, it’s usually dirt, gravel, mud, or all three and not necessarily bike-friendly with the flat terrain preferred for parking.

It didn’t take long for me to encounter some more loose gravel and fast big-rigs creating massive dust clouds and kicking up projectiles.

Remember when I said that I was done with British Columbia? Well, British Columbia wasn’t done with me, and the Alaska Highway took me back through there on a 45-minute incursion. The scenery was nice.

Approaching the town of Teslin, I crossed the Teslin River for the first of two times today.

About 30 minutes down the road, I saw a rest area at the start of the famous Canol Road and pulled in to take a look. Some intrepid adventure riders do set their sights on traversing the Canol Road, and maybe I’ll tackle it one day with a lighter bike and a fellow rider; I don’t think I’d want to try it alone. At the rest area, they have an odd collection of abandoned and rusting trucks, along with some interpretive signs. I was pleased to see one about the African American Soldiers’ role in the Canol Project and Alaska Highway.

Around the bend on the Alaska Highway after the rest area, I crossed Teslin River Bridge No. 416, which I’d just read about.

I stopped a few more times for some photos, including the blue bridge across the blue Yukon River.

As I got closer to Whitehorse, I could definitely see smoke clinging to the mountains.

I rolled into Whitehorse and stopped at Tim Hortons for a late lunch. Looking at the route for tomorrow, I didn’t notice any Tim Hortons between Whitehorse and Alaska, so I grabbed a sandwich to pack in the cooler. Their grilled cheese sandwiches had powered me through Canada and would now get me to Alaska.

It was only about 2pm at this point, but I called the hotel to ask about an early check-in, and they said that would be fine. I topped off my gas and was at the hotel in a few minutes.

On the way into Whitehorse, I saw a large steamship that had been turned into a museum, and it looked like an interesting way to spend part of the afternoon. I unloaded the bike, changed out of my gear, and walked down the street to the S.S. Klondike.

My weather app confirmed what my eyes, nose, and throat were feeling.

Even the short walk to and from the S.S. Klondike was unpleasant, so I opted for a treadmill run after I returned to the hotel.

Daily portrait challenge: “Alaska? That way.”

Tomorrow would take me into Alaska and accomplish my “50 before 50” goal. Recent rain seemed to have helped contain the wildfires threatening passage through Beaver Creek and the border with Alaska, and more was in the forecast. Although I wasn’t looking forward to riding in the rain, it was better than dealing with a road closure or an alternate route well to the North.

Total mileage: 274.1

Lodging: Coast High Country Inn, Whitehorse, Yukon

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska Sat, 17 Aug 2019 01:10:53 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 13) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-13 Day 13  7/10/19

The theme for today would end up being gravel. Lots of loose gravel. As anyone who has traveled the roads in Canada can tell you, summer is the time for roadwork. The extreme cold and snow take their toll on roads, and it’s a constant struggle to maintain them. Much of the Alaska Highway consists of chipseal pavement, which can be somewhat rough even when it’s in good shape. During periods of roadwork, you’re likely to encounter roads with loose and unpredictably deep gravel before it gets sealed, and that can prove very tricky on a motorcycle. It’s also hazardous to vehicles’ windshields.

I didn’t see any Tim Hortons locations between Fort Nelson and where I’d want to stop for lunch, so I picked up a sandwich before leaving town.

The ride towards and through Stone Mountain Provincial Park really delivered on the scenery, and unfortunately, loose gravel and roadwork as well.

I stopped in Toad River for a quick break and picked the worst possible time to ride through this parking lot: right after a fresh load of gravel had been deposited and before it was evened out. I managed to keep the bike upright, in spite of a few tense moments.

I also saw a pair of well-equipped adventure riders whom I’d cross paths with a few times on the road today.

Back on the road towards Muncho Lake, I noticed what appeared to be low-hanging smoke up ahead. I wasn’t aware of any wildfires nearby, and it turned out to be massive amounts of dust in the air from vehicles driving through all the loose gravel.

I stopped for gas in Muncho Lake and found a nice bench to sit on and eat my lunch. While I was there, a relic from the past caught my attention.

Several miles north of Muncho Lake, there was a major construction zone, with alternating one-way traffic. Unfortunately, I was about a minute late for the northbound group of vehicles and would have to wait about 15 minutes to get through. While I was there, I chatted with another adventure rider, who was on his way home to Anchorage.

After getting through the work zone, I rode for about 100 miles and felt like I could use some time off the bike. I saw a sign for a rest area and dirt road that led down to the Liard River. It was a scenic spot with rapids and large piles of timber and definitely worth exploring more if I’d had the time.

I was on my final push to Watson Lake and crossed into the Yukon, albeit rather briefly, before crossing back into British Columbia. Another 28 miles, and I was back in the Yukon, leaving British Columbia behind for good. The 60th Parallel sign was a nice reminder of how far I’d traveled since the 45th Parallel in Wisconsin.

And some more large wildlife.

Watson Lake is a fairly small town, but it has achieved outsized fame due to the Sign Post Forest, which owes its origin to the Alaska Highway construction. An information sign there tells the story: “Carl Lindley started the Sign Post Forest in 1942 when he was a homesick soldier from Danville, Illinois. While working on the construction of the Alaska Highway, he added his hometown sign to an army mileage post. A tradition of adding signs gained momentum and the single signpost grew to a forest. People from all over the world continue to add signs connecting their faraway homes to the town of Watson Lake.” I read that there are now over 80,000 signs, and I believe it.

I explored the Sign Post Forest for a little while, then topped off my gas and headed to my overnight lodging. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but the rooms have been renovated, and I even got VIP parking. 

After unloading the bike and getting out of my gear, I ate a ClifBar and walked to the Watson Lake Recreation Centre for a workout. 

Daily portrait challenge: “Don’t even think about it until I say go, Mr. BMW Fancy Pants.”

I had been monitoring the wildfire situation in Alaska and the Yukon, and I expected to encounter some smoky conditions in and around Whitehorse tomorrow. I can deal with smoke; active fire zones are another story. Let’s hope the forecast for rain in that area is accurate, and the road stays open.

Total mileage: 321.3

Lodging: A Nice Motel, Watson Lake, Yukon

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-13 Fri, 16 Aug 2019 18:25:38 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 12) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-12 Day 12 – 7/9/19

Astute readers will have noticed an absence of drone photos since I crossed into Canada. The reason is that Canada implemented new drone regulations in June, and they don’t offer reciprocity for FAA Part 107 certifications (the US requirement for commercial drone operations, which I have). Canadian citizens can take an online exam for “Basic” drone operations, but they also need a Flight Review for “Advanced” operations. Foreign drone pilots like me would have to request a Special Flight Operations Certificate well in advance of planned flights and identify specific dates and locations for these flights. Unfortunately, I just didn’t know when and where I’d want to fly during my several days in Canada, so this wasn’t going to work. In other words, no drone photos until I get to Alaska.

The morning weather forecast proved to be accurate, and it was cold and rainy when I loaded up the bike.

Given these adverse conditions and with the Scale of Risk foremost in my thoughts, I decided to wear my high-visibility vest. On the way out of Grand Cache, I saw some large wildlife on the side of the road, a bit too close for comfort.

I also noticed a huge power plant and a sign that explained why the locals thought I’d rolled into town like I owned the place.

After about 15 minutes, the fog and rain limited visibility to about 100 feet all around, and I was very glad to have my neon yellow vest.

There were several stretches of roadwork, but I didn’t encounter any significant delays. My timing was actually good, since most of the new pavement appeared to be very fresh, albeit potentially slippery in the rain. The low clouds and rain persisted for the entire two-hour ride into Grand Prairie, where I stopped for gas and some hot chocolate to warm up. Another hour on the road and I was clear of the rain as I crossed into British Columbia.

Thirty more minutes of riding put me in Dawson Creek, famous for being Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. I took the required photos of the two Alaska Highway markers and stopped for lunch at Tim Hortons.

A brief pause for some background about the Alaska Highway: I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that most Americans probably haven’t heard of the Alaska Highway, also known as the Alcan. Of those who have, fewer still are familiar with its history and significance. The idea for an international highway connecting Canada and the US had been around since the 1920s. The enormous cost of actually constructing such a highway, though, proved to be an insurmountable hurdle during the Great Depression. All of that changed with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the threat they posed to Alaska and Canada, and the need for an overland supply route and link to airfields. Construction of the 1,387-mile Alaska Highway began in March 1942, and incredibly, was officially completed in October of that same year. 

The construction itself was an engineering marvel, but I think a lesser-known aspect of the project resulted in a more far-reaching and enduring legacy: Of the nearly 11,000 US Army Corps of Engineers Soldiers working on the Alaska Highway, about 1/3 were African Americans in segregated units. You’ll recall from my Tuskegee Airmen visit that the US armed forces were segregated at the time, predicated on baseless beliefs about African Americans’ fitness for duty and ongoing discriminatory practices in the country. Soldiers in these segregated units, most of them born and raised in the Deep South, were loaded onto trains and sent to Alaska and Canada with limited information about their final destination or mission. In the months that followed, they overcame unthinkable hardships, inflicted by nature and man alike, and proved the doubters wrong. While researching the story behind the Alaska Highway, I came across this triumphant photo of the north and south construction crews meeting in the middle.

The New York Times reflected on this event in 2012 with a callback to their contemporaneous reporting in 1942:

“Corporal Refines Sims Jr., a Negro from Philadelphia, was driving south with a bulldozer when he saw trees starting to topple over on him,” the account said. “Slamming his big vehicle into reverse, he backed out just as another bulldozer, driven by Private Alfred Jalufka of Kennedy, Texas, broke through the underbrush.”

It continued, “Immediately after this Yukon version of driving the golden spike, Sims and Jalufka turned their bulldozers around and began widening the opening.”

The story captured the public’s imagination. The Engineering News Record called it “two races, working together to build a lifeline to Alaska’s beleaguered defenders amidst the most spectacularly rugged terrain and horrendous weather conditions imaginable.” The Army even promoted the story in Yank, its magazine for the troops.

When the highway was officially dedicated, Corporal Sims, Private Jalufka and two other soldiers, one black and one white, were there to hold the ceremonial ribbon.

I was looking forward to visiting the site of this dedication ceremony at Soldier’s Summit in a few days. And as I began my trek on the Alaska Highway, I thanked all of the Soldiers, especially those in the segregated units, for making it possible. For a more in-depth look at the Alaska Highway’s construction and the African American Soldiers who worked on it, I recommend the book We Fought the Road.

About 20 minutes outside of Dawson Creek, I took a minor detour to see the wooden Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge, which was a permanent structure to replace the temporary crossing built by the Army for the Alaska Highway. It remained in service until 1978 when the Alaska Highway was rerouted to a new bridge, but you can still ride across the old wooden one today. So I did.

Continuing with the bridge theme, Canada has many open-grate steel bridges, which can be nerve-wracking for those of us on two wheels. I got to ride across an especially long one at the Peace River near Taylor and also saw a very large pipeline crossing off to my right.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, with the now-familiar mix of rain and roadwork.

I pulled into Fort Nelson and checked into my hotel, taking note of the house rules posted outside.

After a pleasant jog, I picked up some supper down the street and turned in early, having no trouble falling asleep.

Daily portrait challenge: The Tim Hortons trio on their way to Alaska.

It was a long, tough day on the bike, but my longest day was now behind me. No more 400+ mile days on this trip; at least, that was the plan.

Total mileage: 476.7

Lodging: Lakeview Inns & Suites, Fort Nelson, British Columbia

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-12 Fri, 16 Aug 2019 17:25:37 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 11) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-11 Day 11 – 7/8/19

The forecast called for cold and cloudy conditions, and it was certain to be even colder at the higher elevations I’d be riding through today. I debated whether to bring my heated jacket liner and gloves on the trip, but decided that the fleece jacket I was already packing for non-riding activities and my heated grips would do the trick. For sustained riding in cold conditions, you can’t beat the heated gear, but I didn’t really have the space to pack it, and the wires and controller can be a pain to deal with if you’re getting on and off the bike for photos and points of interest. A quick look at my weather app confirmed that it was a bit brisk outside.

My plan to follow a vehicle out of the parking garage worked fine, and I didn’t have to deal with stopping on the steep ramp to activate the automatic door. Within a few minutes, I was on the road to Banff, and the early morning clouds were hanging low over the mountains and producing some light drizzle. I purchased a daily parks pass for $7.49 that gave me access to both Banff and Jasper.

I bypassed the actual town of Banff just to avoid the conflagration of tourists, and I opted for the alternate scenic route (Bow Valley Parkway), which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway. I’m glad I did, because the clouds were lifting, and the scenery was great.

I’d planned to stop by Lake Louise, but a lighted sign indicated the parking lot was full and directed drivers to a satellite lot for bus transportation. I didn’t have time for that kind of arrangement, so I skipped Lake Louise. I found out later that they have special motorcycle parking in the main lot, and riders can always find a place to squeeze in. Lesson learned for next time.

You hear a lot about Banff, and for good reason, but the real surprise for me was Jasper. The Icefields Parkway winds its way through the mountains and past glaciers in the distance.

The scenery proved too overwhelming for some drivers, who just couldn’t wait a few minutes for a proper parking area. I’ve noticed this phenomenon in parks across the US and now in Canada as well.

The temperature had dipped into the low 40s, but the fleece was doing a pretty good job of keeping my core warm. The heated grips and Gore-Tex gloves were working well for my hands except the fingertips. That said, I could get some warmth if I alternated pressing the fingertips into the grips like I was playing the bass guitar. Or at least pretending to play the bass guitar like Danny Bonaduce did in the Partridge Family.

A quick observation about Banff and Jasper in July: The number of tourists in the parking areas and on the road was just astounding. I do think later in the season would be the ideal time to visit this area, unless dealing with masses of humanity and their RVs is your thing.

More amazing scenery and roads led me to the town of Jasper for a lunch break. It’s a nice little town, but finding a parking spot proved challenging with all the tourists. I finally lucked into one down the street from Tim Hortons, where I got my sandwich to go and then sat on a park bench to enjoy a relaxing lunch. After topping off my gas, I was back on the road for about 45 minutes and through some roadwork until I left Jasper Park. Another few minutes, and it was time to turn left onto AB-40, which the sign told me was the “Scenic Route to Alaska.”

What the sign failed to mention was the road's terrible condition with frost heaves, huge potholes, and crevices. I quickly decided that the road was too dangerous for a motorcycle at the posted speed limit, so I slowed down and let the big-rigs and pickup trucks go around me. Hitting one of the aforementioned road defects at anything close to high speed would likely cause a bent rim, flat tire, getting thrown from the bike, crashing, or any combination of these unfortunate outcomes. Once again, I was reminded of the Scale of Risk and did what I could to offset the risk as much as possible. After a half hour of dodging the hazards, I stopped at a rest area for a quick breather. The horizon was getting dark with storm clouds, and it started raining hard shortly after I was back on the road.

It rained most of the way to Grand Cache, where I was staying overnight. After getting gas, I checked into my modest hotel and took advantage of their offer of covered VIP parking.

Old-school room key in hand, I did my post-ride routine, got some food, and settled in for the evening.

Daily portrait challenge: Kahlua seems suspicious of the guy passing through from Georgia.

Tomorrow would be the “big day” with about 475 miles to cover, a circumstance that resulted from distances between towns and lodging choices. I was mentally prepared for the challenge, though I wasn’t looking forward to riding in rain for most of the morning, as the weather forecast predicted. While I was slaloming around the potholes on the “Scenic Route” earlier today, it began to feel like the real adventure had begun. The remoteness, vast open spaces, poorly maintained road, and severe consequences of a mishap all combined to produce that feeling. I had many miles still ahead of me, most of which would include these elements of adventure. Onward to the start of the Alaska Highway.

Total mileage: 323.4

Lodging: Grand Cache Hotel, Grand Cache, Alberta

 

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-11 Fri, 16 Aug 2019 17:24:37 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 10) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-10 Day 10 – 7/7/19

Today was going to be my longest day so far in terms of miles covered and probably time on the bike. As we saw yesterday, short days don’t always translate into easy, so I was hoping this long day wouldn’t necessarily be hard. I had an early start and got back on the Trans-Canada Highway, which is where I’d be riding the whole day. After about an hour and a half, I left Saskatchewan and crossed into Alberta.

I encountered a few roadwork crews in action with lane closures, and I got used to lots and lots of wide-open and sometimes colorful prairies.

Many of these small agriculturally focused towns along the road are difficult to distinguish from one another, with the exception of the town name on the grain elevator and road signs.

Passing through Medicine Hat, I saw an interesting display on an embankment with a very large “3 CMR 175” and the Canadian maple leaf. I thought the alphanumeric combination could refer to a military unit, so I looked it up later. Sure enough, it’s a monument to honor the Third Canadian Mounted Rifles and the 175th Infantry Battalion for their service during World War I.

I pulled into the town of Brooks for lunch at Tim Hortons, a solid and reliable choice that I recalled fondly from my 2013 Labrador Loop Adventure. The YETI cooler had been doing a good job of keeping yogurt and other items cold, and I was very glad to have it with me for my meal supplements.

You never know what you’ll see in a Tim Hortons parking lot, a literal example of “bring a trailer.”

I hadn’t seen many other BMW bikes since I left home, with most riders looking more like this nice fellow. Everyone on two or three wheels gets a wave from me.

As I approached Calgary, the now-familiar outline of storm clouds appeared to be in my path. I rode through a brief shower, but skirted the heavy stuff as the storm continued to move away from Calgary.

I pulled into a gas station on the other side of Calgary to top off my tank, and I encountered a chaotic melee of vehicles trying to squeeze into the parking lot. I should note that the parking lot was unpaved and had more potholes than an Iraqi airfield after a cluster bomb attack during Desert Storm. I had enough gas to get me to my final destination in Canmore, so I carefully navigated through the manic weekenders and plentiful potholes to the exit as quickly as I could.

The mountains were visible in the distance and livened up the ride into Canmore.

Helicopter tours seem to be a popular way to see Banff. I noticed quite a few coming and going.

I stopped by a much less crowded gas station in Canmore, but still had about 15 minutes before I could check in to my Airbnb room at the Blackstone Mountain Lodge. The Canmore Fire Department was practicing down the street, so I watched them do their thing for a few minutes.

Parking was in an underground garage with a very steep ramp that might be a little tricky in the morning if I have to stop and wait on the incline for the door to open. I’ll try to time it so I’m leaving right behind a car that can trigger the automatic door. One thing to keep in mind if you’re heading to the Banff area during peak tourist season: Be prepared for some sticker shock with lodging prices. Even Canmore, which is about 20 minutes from Banff, will likely set you back over $200 per night.

I walked into town to pick up some supper and noticed these little critters hopping around. They seemed pretty domesticated, probably thanks to generous tourists.

Daily portrait challenge: John is riding home to British Columbia with a heavy heart after having to leave his riding partner in a hospital in Labrador following a serious crash.

It was a long day, but I wouldn’t classify it as an especially hard day. Tomorrow’s route was going to take me through some breathtaking mountain scenery, if the weather cooperated. Forecast: Cold and cloudy.

Total mileage: 394.5

Lodging: Airbnb (Yuki & Charlie), Blackstone Mountain Lodge, Canmore, Alberta

 

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/8/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-10 Fri, 16 Aug 2019 17:24:02 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 9) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-9 Day 9 – 7/6/19

One must always remember that a riding day with less ground to cover doesn’t mean it will be an easy day. My first minor challenge of the morning was a reverse trip from yesterday on the gravel and dirt service road between my hotel and the “highway.”

With that off-road adventure successfully completed, I headed towards Regina, home of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy “Depot” Division and Heritage Centre. It was just over two hours of uneventful riding, though once in Regina, I had to adjust to more vehicles on the road, traffic signals, and the other trappings of a city. I arrived when the Heritage Centre opened at 11am, but decided to eat my lunch before beginning my tourist activities. They have a Sergeant Major’s Parade at noon on Monday through Friday, but unfortunately, my schedule put me here on a Saturday. Even without a parade, there are lots of interesting exhibits at the Heritage Centre.

Not that much to see on the tram tour of Depot, but I still recommend it for a behind-the-scenes look at their Academy.

As I was gearing up to leave, I noticed some very threatening clouds on the horizon. I stopped for one photo on the way out.

Sure enough, I was just outside of town when it really started pouring. Visibility got bad very quickly, and I saw an occasional lightning bolt that kept things interesting. I wanted to find some overhead shelter, but there was nothing around but a few fenced-in warehouses and industrial areas. The road surface would have been rough in dry conditions and was especially treacherous with standing water and invisible potholes. One of the nice features on my bike (and other late-model BMWs) is having ride modes for different conditions. I selected Rain mode, slowed down to a speed commensurate with the hazardous conditions, and just concentrated on the task at hand. I stacked the Scale of Risk as much as I could on my side.

I finally turned onto the Trans-Canada Highway, and the surface was much smoother, with less standing water than the secondary road I’d been on for the last 12 miles. After about 20 minutes, I was through the storm.

I didn’t envy the few riders pulled over on the opposite side of the road donning their rain gear before heading into the big storm. Kudos (again) to my riding gear for keeping me dry and the electronic nannies on my bike for keeping the rubber side down.

Once I got past the rain, I had about two hours of riding until Swift Current. The hotel was in an area with lots of traffic and no sidewalks, so I had to settle for a treadmill run in a very stuffy fitness room.

Portrait challenge of the day: "Back in my day…"

Today was a good reminder of the fallacy that a short riding day will be easy. Tomorrow was planned to be a long riding day from the prairies to the mountains, covering a lot of ground. Would it be easy or hard? Stay tuned.

Total mileage: 279.2

Lodging: Coast Swift Current Hotel, Swift Current, Saskatchewan

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-9 Wed, 31 Jul 2019 02:02:34 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 8) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-8 Day 8 – 7/5/19

This was going to be a pretty big day in terms of miles covered and activities, and I wanted to get an early start. I noticed that the air pressure in my front tire was just a bit below spec, and given the fact that I’d be in rural areas once I left Grand Forks, I decided to get some air at the gas station around the corner. Have you ever tried to use one of those long air compressor wands on your spoked motorcycle wheels? I managed to let out more air than I was putting in, and I was about to break out my small electric-powered air compressor but decided to give it one more try. Pro tip: You really have to thread the wand through the spokes at the correct angle to get a good seal on the tire’s valve stem. With both tires filled to the proper cold temperature PSI, I headed northwest to the tiny town of Ardoch (population 67).

While researching ghost towns, I came across some photos of the old grain elevator in town. It was on the way, so I stopped by for a quick photo opp.

Ardoch is one of those towns where they could almost have the welcome sign on the other side of the goodbye sign. I’ve seen a lot of our country on my motorcycle, and these isolated postage stamp-sized communities are in every state I’ve visited. I often wonder what brought people there and what keeps them living there. Maybe it’s a family connection to the land. Maybe it’s a distrust of the outside world. Maybe it’s just the inertia that comes from being in the same place for decades. Someday I’ll have the time to engage with the residents of “Small Town America” and fill in the blanks.

Next was a trip to a mostly forgotten chapter of Cold War history, the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, formerly the lynchpin of our Safeguard anti-ballistic missile program. The genesis of the Mickelsen Complex dates back to the 1950s, when the US was desperately seeking ways to defend against Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Of particular concern was the threat to our own underground ICBMs deployed throughout the country. Advances in radar and missile technology paved the way for the Mickelsen Complex, which consisted of five distinct sites: the Missile Site Radar (MSR) with Spartan and Sprint nuclear-tipped missiles in Nekoma and four Remote Sprint Launch (RSL) sites between 10 and 20 miles away. I’d read that RSL #3 was now under private ownership and open for tours, so I went there first. I arrived at the advertised opening time of 10am, but the gate was closed and locked. I waited about 10 minutes before calling the number on the sign, and the owner, Mel, said he was on his way. He arrived a few minutes later and opened up the site. 

Mel said he purchased the RSL #3 site through a government auction in 2013 for around $64,000 and spends his summers working there. The tour starts with a movie about the Safeguard Program and Mickelsen Complex and then transitions to the missile control bunker and Sprint missile field. After the movie ended, a family arrived for the tour, and we all walked to the bunker together.

Shortly after I’d arrived, Mel mentioned some “breaking news” about a submarine conflict occurring near Newfoundland. I consider myself a news junkie, even when traveling, and I hadn’t heard anything about this potential Red Banner Headline. Mel said his news source described the events as an Israeli-orchestrated effort to provoke a submarine war between the US and Russia. I began to have concerns about Mel's worldview that were affirmed later when he mentioned conspiracy theories involving Sandy Hook, Parkland, and 9/11. I’d already spent much longer at RSL #3 than I’d planned, and I was trying to politely extricate myself from the discussion. Fortunately, his cell phone rang, and I had an opportunity to say goodbye. Although I applaud Mel’s efforts to preserve Cold War history, his InfoWars-fueled conspiracies are divorced from reality, and as we’ve seen in the past few years, can become dangerous when unhinged people act on them.

The primary Mickelsen Complex and MSR site was about 30 minutes southwest of RSL #3. Sometimes called the “Pyramid of North Dakota,” the MSR is visible at ground level from at least six miles away. The Spring Creek Hutterite Colony of Forbes purchased the site in 2012 for $530,000, and the Cavalier County Job Development Authority purchased part of the site from them in 2017 for $462,900. I wasn’t able to find any information about it being open to the public, so I parked down the street and used my drone for some aerial photos and video.

A few final thoughts on the Mickelsen Complex and the Safeguard Program: There are two competing positions on whether it was a colossal waste of money or whether it served as an effective deterrent and forced the Soviets into arms limitation treaties. In reality, I don’t think it’s as simplistic as this binary choice. The Mickelsen Complex represented a tremendous outlay of financial resources (approximately $6 billion at the time) and was only fully operational for between 24 hours and several months, depending on what source you read. But the overarching Safeguard Program was the catalyst for new manufacturing and electronics technologies used in later military and civilian applications. Many factors contributed to the eventual demise of the Safeguard Program, including questions about its effectiveness, inter-service rivalries between the Air Force and Army, and shifts in the geopolitical landscape. In 2019, we find ourselves with plenty of fodder for more in-depth philosophical debates about the Safeguard Program and an incongruous pyramid on the North Dakota prairie.

I backtracked north to the small town of Langdon to gas up and have a late lunch. The gas station was my first of many encounters with gravel parking lots, something I’d been dreading on the big bike. But I remembered my fundamentals, steered clear of the huge potholes, and didn’t have any trouble.

I was originally planning to stop for lunch at the International Peace Garden, which straddles the US-Canadian border next to the port of entry. Based on photos, I thought it would be more interesting than one of the non-descript border crossings. But by the time I got there, I was well over an hour behind schedule, and I didn’t feel like shelling out $20 for what would be a very quick loop through the greenery. I lined up behind other vehicles waiting at the border, answered the usual questions about weapons, tobacco and alcohol products, and pepper spray, and rode into the Great White North.

The secondary roads were in very bad shape, and I felt like I was going through a slalom course trying to avoid some huge potholes and crevices. I started to get worried about my fuel level after not seeing a gas station in the hour since I crossed the border. The distance from my last fill-up to the hotel was going to be about 240 miles, and that’s what my range usually shows with a full tank. This was a rural and remote area with nothing but vast prairies and farmland. My GPS listed two gas stations coming up soon in Reston, but they ended up being cardlock controlled and unstaffed. I had 55 miles of indicated range with another set of gas stations listed 28 miles ahead in Redvers, which looked more promising than Reston’s offerings. The good news: The first gas station in town was a traditional staffed one and accepted credit cards. The bad news: It had a tricky gravel parking lot. But no issues with the gravel, and I got back on the road for the final push into Carlyle.

The hotel's fitness center did have some rather interesting furniture.

Daily portrait challenge: Cold war chills in an old missile control bunker.

As I expected, it was a long day, but I got to see some interesting things and the temperature was in my comfort zone. Tomorrow, another short day and some quality time with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Total mileage: 363.5

Lodging: Ramada by Wyndham, Carlyle, Saskatchewan

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-8 Tue, 30 Jul 2019 19:41:18 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 7) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-7 Day 7 – 7/4/19

Taking a long-distance motorcycle adventure means signing on for some tough days, and yesterday certainly checked that box. I was ready, both mentally and physically for a shorter and easier day. Fortuitous scheduling meant that I’d have fewer miles to cover, and I was guardedly optimistic about an uneventful ride to Grand Forks, North Dakota.

When I planned this riding day, I identified two possible points of interest on my route. One of those was the former Wadena Air Force Station, which closed in 1970. The site was sold for civilian use, and the buildings have been repurposed into a drug and alcohol rehab facility. As curious as I was to see some Cold War relics, I figured that the staff and residents didn’t want a guy on a motorcycle poking around. So, I scoured the Internet last night for another interesting stop and came across the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum in Perham, Minnesota. I was happy to avoid I-94 as much as possible, and this would put me on a parallel route to Fargo. I thought the Museum might be closed for the 4th of July, like many other establishments, but their website indicated they’d be open. With that as my first destination, I left Saint Cloud and found myself racing freight trains throughout the morning. I hope this one wasn’t trying to tell me something about my sense of direction.

A pleasant and welcome thing happened on the way to Perham: Historians studying this adventure will note that at 9:42am Central Daylight Time, the temperature was cool enough for me to close the vents on my helmet for the first time since departing Georgia.

When I arrived at the Museum, I was disappointed to see a handwritten note on the door with apologies that they were closed and would be open the next day. No worries. It was 72 degrees, and I kept a positive attitude and got back on the road heading towards Fargo.

I planned to stop in Fargo for lunch and a quirky attraction. Fargo has really embraced its eponymous movie, even though the majority of the action takes place in Minnesota and involves embezzlement, kidnapping, and grisly murders. At the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center, located just off the highway, one will find the actual wood chipper used in a climactic scene, along with other memorabilia.

There’s also a Walk of Fame with concrete impressions left by celebrities across a broad spectrum of fame and notoriety.

I finished up at the Visitors Center and headed down the road for lunch, living up to the cliché about BMW GS riders and Starbucks.

I did have an unpleasant discovery when I was taking out my fairly new earplugs: The stem on the left earplug became detached, leaving the actual earplug in my ear.

Fortunately, I was able to pull out the earplug without having to call for the Jaws of Life and used my backup pair for the rest of the day. After lunch, I had just over an hour’s ride on I-29 north to Grand Forks and was able to check in to the hotel a bit early. Although it was 80 degrees outside, there was no humidity to speak of, and I went for a comfortable afternoon jog. The remainder of my 4th of July was quiet and relaxing, which was just what I needed.

Daily portrait challenge (x2): Follow the sound and smell to the popcorn.

Kirk makes a special delivery to Starbucks.

Tomorrow, more Cold War history and making a run for the border.

Total mileage: 265.9

Lodging: Hampton Inn, Grand Forks, North Dakota

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-7 Mon, 29 Jul 2019 17:57:00 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 6) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-6 Day 6 – 7/3/19

Yesterday’s decision to detour to the EAA Museum in Oshkosh reminded me of one reason I like doing these motorcycle adventures solo: I call it the “Committee of One.” I get to make all of the decisions about when to leave, when to stop, what to see, and where to stay overnight. The downside is I also have the burden of dealing with problems by myself that occur on the road, which can be especially tricky in remote areas. On balance, though, I still prefer the solo option.

I had a somewhat ambitious agenda for the day, probably too ambitious given the potential for pre-holiday traffic, roadwork, and the persistent heat. I took I-39 north for the short ride to Wausau, where I was going to swing by the Visitor Center to become a member of the 45x90 Club. Technically, you’re supposed to visit this geographical landmark at the exact center of the Northwestern Hemisphere first and then sign the book at the Visitor Center and get your commemorative coin. That would have been a lot of backtracking for me, and the staff graciously allowed my deviation from the normal practice. At this point in my life, I have all the trinkets, souvenirs, and tchotchkes I need or want, but the 45x90 coin is very cool.

The 45x90 Geographic Marker is about 30 minutes west of downtown Wausau and is carved out of farmland through an agreement between the landowner and the county. The parking area and sign are located just off the road, and it’s a 10-minute walk on a gravel trail to the marker.

The weather was good, so I got some drone photos.

default default default

I stopped for gas and lunch (in that order) in Chippewa Falls and enjoyed the air-conditioned break from the road. I had an uneventful ride on I-94 west towards Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with a few slow-downs for roadwork.

My next stop was the former Gopher Ordnance Works south of Saint Paul near Rosemount. Construction of the Gopher facility began in 1943, but it didn’t start producing smokeless powder for our armed forces until January 1945. With World War II ending several months later, there was no need for the facility, and Gopher Ordnance Works closed in October. My research found that numerous remnants of the facility were likely still standing, and Google Maps imagery (current as of 2012) showed that a road into the site was publicly accessible. When I arrived, though, I found a locked gate blocking the road. The good news was I had the benefit of a drone to get aerial photos and video, and the area was well outside of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport’s restricted airspace.

Another area of the site with rows of T-shaped walls is across 160th Street, which was pretty busy.

The future of the former Gopher Ordnance Works is unclear. As with many of these World War II era industrial sites, environmental contamination is a formidable obstacle to redevelopment. The University of Minnesota has been leading an effort to determine how best to proceed, and I hope they get the support they need from the state government and Army Corps of Engineers.

By the time I packed up the drone and was ready to leave, it was somehow already 3pm. Anyone who’s traveled by motorcycle knows that everything takes longer, whether it’s a simple stop for gas or to see a point of interest, or a more involved activity like drone photography. When I checked Google Maps on my iPhone for live traffic, it was showing a lot of red (meaning bad traffic) around downtown Minneapolis and several detours for roadwork. The Committee of One decided to skip the planned points of interest downtown and head towards my hotel in Saint Cloud. When I entered my destination in Google Maps and the Navigator V GPS, Google Maps had a much different route and an arrival time of an hour later than the Navigator V. After a little more digging around, I found that there was a complete road closure for construction on I-94 between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud, and Google Maps had a detour on secondary roads through some small towns. I was surprised and disappointed that my in-depth planning hadn’t alerted me to this situation.

I had no choice but to join the pre-holiday gridlock getting around Minneapolis and then around the roadwork. The heat, stop-and-go traffic, and fatigue had pushed me close to my breaking point, and I was thoroughly spent when I finally got to Saint Cloud.

I worked off some frustration in the hotel’s fitness center and then shifted my focus to what I hoped would be a shorter and cooler ride into North Dakota the next day.

Daily portrait challenge: Miranda said I look like I need a drink.

Did I mention that the new GoPro Smart Remote wasn’t doing any better turning on the Hero 7 camera?

Total mileage: 349.3

Lodging: Homewood Suites, Saint Cloud, Minnesota

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-6 Sun, 28 Jul 2019 23:10:21 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 5) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-5 Day 5 – 7/2/19

Today had the potential to be a monotonous day, with only one point of interest at the very beginning and lots of highway riding, although I had the option of a one-hour detour to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My decision point would be Madison, so I had several hours to think about it.

First up was a quick ride into downtown Lincoln to see an object of curiosity that I’d read about online: a phone booth on the roof of the Lincoln Fire Department. Yes, you read that correctly. A phone booth on the roof. At one time, it was used by weather spotters (possibly the most junior firefighter) to warn about severe storms approaching. Newer technologies have made this system obsolete, but the phone booth is still up there due to its historic significance, and possibly its ability to pull in tourists like me.

As I approached downtown, I recognized the surroundings from Google Maps and quickly spotted the phone booth. I stopped for a few minutes for some drone photos and video of the phone booth and historic Logan County Courthouse across the street.

default After a very brief amount of time on the old Route 66, I spent the next few hours on the superslab heading towards Madison. And yes, it’s roadwork season everywhere.

There’s one toll before leaving Illinois for Wisconsin, and Craig the toll collector opined that I should ditch my BMW for a Harley. 

I stopped outside of Madison for lunch and a break from the heat and ordered the GoPro Smart Remote for in-store pickup that afternoon at the Best Buy a few miles from my hotel. The weather forecast showed some possible rain around Oshkosh, but I was feeling good and decided to make the detour to the EAA Museum. I’m glad I did, because it’s a great facility with unique and interesting exhibits.

The best or worst time to visit the EAA Museum, depending on one’s perspective, is late July when they host a huge airshow, now known as the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. I read that the estimated attendance in 2018 was 600,000, along with more than 10,000 aircraft. I’m glad I was there without the huge crowds.

I finished up at the EAA Museum and saw that the sky looked a bit threatening. I did ride through some rain for the next half hour, but it wasn’t too bad.

I made a quick stop at Best Buy to pick up the Smart Remote, topped off my gas, and checked into the hotel.

Daily portrait challenge: John points out the best things to see at the EAA Museum.

The Smart Remote worked fine with the GoPro Hero 7 while stationary in my hotel room, but tomorrow would be the real test on the bike.

Total mileage: 383.1

Lodging: Hampton Inn, Plover, Wisconsin

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-5 Sun, 28 Jul 2019 18:04:56 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 4) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-4 Day 4 – 7/1/19

With almost 1000 miles in the saddle over the past 3 days, my body was getting readjusted to spending all day riding. Although it requires a high level of continuous mental engagement, riding long distances is basically a sedentary activity. Taking regular breaks is good for the body and mind and helps prevent fatigue (See: Day 1, Scale of Risk). Additionally, I do recommend maintaining some kind of wellness and fitness regimen on the road. Here's my routine: After I unload my stuff from the bike and get everything into the hotel room, the first thing I do is get out of my riding gear. This signals to my brain that the riding day is over; shedding that literal and figurative weight allows me to transition out of “riding mode.” And now comes the hard part: forcing myself to do some physical activity. I’ll eat a ClifBar, drink some water, and then get moving. It doesn’t have to be a Crossfit workout or wind sprints, but even walking around the block or getting on the treadmill will help. Many hotels also have dumbbells for strength conditioning, but if they don’t, old-school calisthenics can do the trick.

After checking out of the hotel, I stopped by the gas station next door to top off the tank and then got on I-65, yet again, heading north towards Indianapolis. After bypassing the big city, I switched to US-31 and stopped for gas and a stretch. Did they know that I’m looking for a post-retirement job?

My first point of interest today was the Grissom Air Museum, located adjacent to Grissom Air Reserve Base near Peru, Indiana. The Museum and Base are named for Lieutenant Colonel Gus Grissom, one of the Mercury Seven (also known as the Original Seven) astronauts, who flew on Mercury-Redstone 4, Gemini 3, and perished in the Apollo 1 fire with Ed White and Roger Chaffee in 1967. Gus had been my favorite astronaut for as long as I could remember. I was born near Cape Canaveral, Florida, where my father was a NASA public affairs contractor supporting the Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab programs, and I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, close to NASA’s Langley Research Center, where the Mercury Seven did their early training. Our local library was even named after Gus. As a high school senior, I’d advocated for a better display there to honor him, which was unveiled the following year.

So, visiting this Museum was a pilgrimage of sorts for me, and it didn’t disappoint. Both the exterior and interior exhibits are great.

After exploring the Museum, I wanted to see if I could get close to the old alert facility at the Base. Technically known as the Readiness Crew Building, but more popularly known as the “Mole Hole,” these facilities were constructed at Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases around the country during the Cold War. Aircrews would live in the Mole Holes for several days at a time, ready for the klaxon to sound, indicating the need to immediately launch their aircraft. They never knew if it was a drill or a real-world nuclear attack, so they had to hustle by foot or vehicle to the aircraft parked on the “Christmas Tree” tarmac. You can still see the remnants of Mole Holes and Christmas Trees at several former SAC bases, and Google Maps satellite images indicated both present at Grissom Air Reserve Base. The question was, how close could I get?

The answer was, not very close. I tried two potential access points, and they were both closed, so I snapped a photo of the Mole Hole through the fence.

After the minor disappointment of not getting to see the Mole Hole, I made my way west towards Illinois and a return to the Central time zone. My destination was the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, which was in operation from 1917 to 1993. I think Chanute was one of the most historically significant Air Force installations, based on the many thousands of Airmen who cycled through there for various technical training schools. Most people don’t know that it can also be considered the birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen: The original cadre of support personnel trained there before establishing units in Alabama. My research suggested that Chanute’s roads are accessible to the public, with several buildings repurposed for commercial or industrial use. Others have been plagued by environmental hazards such as asbestos and are now being cleaned up as an EPA Superfund site. Another attraction on the Base, the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, closed in 2015, and its aircraft went to other museums or were just scrapped.

I rode around for a little while and then got some drone photos and video of the huge hangars and runways. It was sad to see how much Chanute had deteriorated in the past 25 years, with so much history lost forever.

default Compare the flight line and hangars of the Cold War days of 1964 in this USAF photo with the decaying state of affairs now.

default I packed up my drone and headed west for an hour and a half, finishing the day in Lincoln.

Daily portrait challenge: Chaka and Amy keep things sparkling at the Hampton Inn in Lincoln.

I decided I had no choice but to get the new GoPro Smart Remote, because nothing else was working. I’ll order it for in-store pickup at the Best Buy near my hotel tomorrow. All in all, a good day filled with interesting history.

Total mileage: 362.8

Lodging: Hampton Inn, Lincoln, Illinois

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-4 Sat, 27 Jul 2019 19:51:19 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 3) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-3 Day 3 – 6/30/19

Today would feature four states and (much to my surprise) another time zone. The first stop was the former Tennessee State Prison about 120 miles due north on I-65 and just outside of downtown Nashville. The Prison had been in operation from 1898 to 1992 and featured prominently in such classic films as Ernest Goes to Jail and lesser-known features like The Green Mile. Research suggested it was in a state of disrepair, and I hoped to get some drone photos and video. Everything went well, and I was pleased with the results.

I got back on I-65 for the one-hour ride to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the National Corvette Museum. Corvettes have long been aspirational cars for me, but I haven’t taken the leap yet. The Museum is an amazing facility, with a world-class collection, as you would expect.

In February 2014, a 30-foot sinkhole opened up and swallowed eight Corvettes. The Museum staff has cleverly turned this disaster into a large exhibit, with some of the cars left in their damaged state.

Chevrolet has a neat option to take delivery of your new Corvette right at the Museum. I’ve seen videos of this on YouTube, and they really make the customer feel special.

As I was taking some exterior photos of the Museum, I found what appeared to be a wheel center cap from a BMW. Feeling a bit subversive, I placed it in the middle of the Corvette brick “coat of arms” roundabout. I wonder how long it took for someone to notice.

By now, it was getting into the early afternoon, but I still planned to swing by the former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant just across the Ohio River from Louisville. My GPS and iPhone were both showing an arrival time that seemed way off based on the distance to cover. Well, I forgot that half of Kentucky and most of Indiana is in the Eastern time zone, accounting for the perceived discrepancy. I’d get the hour back tomorrow crossing into Illinois.

The Indiana Army Ammunition Plant was actually three facilities built between 1941 and 1944 and manufactured smokeless powder and rocket propellant for the armed forces, with peak production during World War II and the Korean War. The last facility closed in 1972, and efforts were undertaken to repurpose or remediate the land and buildings. From Google Maps satellite imagery, it looked like there might still be some relics of the Plant, and my intent was to get as close as possible and take some drone photos and video. Unfortunately, traffic and roadwork on I-65, combined with sweltering heat, sapped my motivation to explore the area. I did make the detour to the site and rode around for a little while, but I couldn’t see anything resembling the Plant still standing. It’s possible that there are some remnants tucked away from the publicly accessible roads, but I couldn’t find a way back there.

I worked my way over to I-65 (again) for the estimated 30-minute ride to my hotel. I tried to make it quicker because of some very threatening clouds in that direction. As I exited the highway, the clouds looked even more menacing, like something you’d see in a storm chaser video just before the tornado began to form.

My routine is to gas up at the end of the riding day, but as the wind and lightning arrived, I decided to go straight to the hotel. There was a gas station right next door, so it would be an easy stop in the morning. About one minute after I parked under the hotel awning, the storm hit, and I was glad the Weather Gods had given me a pass this time.

The GoPro Hero 7 was still behaving un-heroically throughout the day. The only thing that seemed to work (most of the time) was to manually turn on the camera before riding, turn on the remote, and then just keep it on. That’s fine for about two hours until the battery runs down. I had a spare and could swap in the fresh one, but it’s not a great way to operate. The mounting position of the camera relatively close to the front fairing and bodywork prevented me from running a USB cable from my outlet to the camera for constant power. My last resort would be getting a new GoPro Smart Remote to replace my old two-button model. I’d give it one more day before gifting GoPro with any more of my hard-earned money.

One final photo for today, along with its backstory. I’d met renowned photographer and all-around amazing guy Jim Krantz on Day 12 of my Finding Trinity adventure in 2017. Jim has been a source of encouragement and inspiration with my drone photography, and he challenged me to step out of my comfort zone by taking photos of strangers on this trip. Challenge accepted.

Portrait caption: I ran into John in Bowling Green, and he said that he longs to return to Adak, Alaska.

Tomorrow, a museum and a ghost town (of sorts).

Total mileage: 340.9

Lodging: Hampton Inn, Scottsburg, Indiana

 

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-3 Sat, 27 Jul 2019 11:03:01 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 2) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-2 Day 2 – 6/29/19

My first stop for the day was the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Alabama, about an hour’s drive from Columbus. Alabama is in the Central time zone, and the Tuskegee Site didn’t open until 9am, so I was able to get a slightly later start than I usually do. Most people associate the term “Tuskegee Airmen” with the African American pilots in the Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces during World War II, but there were also many support personnel responsible for administration, maintenance, logistics, and training.

The US armed forces were segregated before and during World War II, and the success of the Tuskegee “experiment” was a watershed moment that dispelled myths about racial inferiority. It also contributed to the push to desegregate the armed forces, formalized by President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981 in 1948.

Even with a later departure, I still arrived before the indoor exhibits officially opened, so I walked around and took some photos and video of the exterior exhibits.

At 9am, I began my tour of the interior and was able to see everything on display in both hangars and the old control tower.

Even more impactful than the aircraft and historical artifacts are the interpretive and narrative features. As I read the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, I was reminded of my experience at the Manzanar National Historic Site in California, where thousands of Japanese Americans were forcibly interned during World War II. An estimated 33,000 Japanese Americans supported the war effort by serving in the US armed forces, even though many had family members detained in internment camps. Likewise, nearly one million African Americans served, while subjected to second-class treatment at home and abroad. The takeaway for me is that these people of color were true patriots supporting, defending, and dying for a country that didn’t necessarily return the good will. And they really made a difference:  All of us are the beneficiaries of their selfless service and push for equality. I encourage you to go to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, read their stories, and find ways to honor their legacies. 

Next up was the 40-minute ride to Montgomery, one of the epicenters of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Several museums, historical markers, and other sites are there to commemorate the heroes and events of the movement, including the Rosa Parks Museum, Rosa Parks Bus Stop, Freedom Rides Museum, and the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as the “lynching memorial.”

Walking through this last site is a powerful experience, one that I think will affect anyone with a moral compass and sense of justice. If you have the time, you can also visit the interpretive center across the street, which does require an additional entry fee.

Retracing the Selma to Montgomery March in reverse, I left Montgomery and headed towards Selma, with a minor detour to the former Craig Air Force Base, a pilot training base from 1940 to 1977. After its closure, Craig was converted to a civil use airport, with the old facilities repurposed or seemingly left to decay in place. Some of the former base housing has been sold and turned into a subdivision and has “Private Property” signs posted prominently. There’s not much to see at Craig, but I wanted to ride through the areas I could and stop by the old control tower, which appears to still have its vintage paint.

It was about this time that my GoPro Hero 7 started acting up. The remote control wasn’t turning on the camera, and with its mounting position on the turn signal stalk, I couldn’t reach forward to turn it on manually. This issue caused me to miss some video shots that I really wanted. The Hero 5 Session was set up for manual control on the handlebars, so I was at least able to get rear-facing footage.

I made my way towards Selma and crossed the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, the location of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. On that date, Alabama State Troopers and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and its posse violently confronted between 525 and 600 peaceful civil rights marchers. It was one of the major flashpoints in the civil rights movement and eventually spurred Federal intervention to protect future marchers and legislation to ensure voting access for racial minorities (Voting Rights Act of 1965). 

I’d intended to get some drone shots of the bridge, but when I parked the bike, I was really suffering from the heat and humidity. I took off my jacket, found some shade, and rehydrated for a few minutes, which gave me the energy boost I needed to get flying.

I stopped for gas and a late lunch before working my way to I-65 on back roads heading towards Birmingham. It started to rain off and on and eventually became a steady downpour. The good news was that it cooled things off a bit, and my waterproof gear (except for my non-waterproof lightweight gloves) kept me completely dry. I was going to stop in Birmingham to see the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, but with the heavy rain and some major road closures around the downtown, I decided to skip it. But for the rain, I had an uneventful ride into Decatur for my overnight stay. The rain stopped just as I arrived, and I went for a jog on a waterfront route that led me through a rather noxious smelling “agribusiness” industrial area.

More back and forth with GoPro tech support that evening, and they were confident that the issue was resolved. I didn’t share their cockeyed optimism.

Total mileage: 329.7 

Lodging: DoubleTree Hotel Decatur Waterfront, Decatur, Alabama

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-2 Sat, 27 Jul 2019 00:52:54 GMT
North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure From Georgia to Alaska (Day 1) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-1 hom·‚Äčage  noun – expression of high regard; something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another (Merriam-Webster)

 

About the trip:  Riding solo from Saint Simons Island, Georgia, to Anchorage, Alaska, with 19 riding days and 1 planned down day at Denali National Park. This would be a one-way trip on the bike, and I was going to ship it back and fly home. The superficial goal of this trip was to visit my 50th state, Alaska, before my 50th birthday in September and to celebrate my impending retirement from the Federal government. But the more profound goal was related to the common themes in my motorcycle adventures: discovering history all around us, hidden and in plain sight, and paying homage to those who made positive contributions to our nation. One of the through lines in this trip was the contribution of African Americans during World War II and their struggles before and after to achieve equality. I think we have an obligation to learn about history and from it, even if the topics are challenging, and to ensure that history’s lessons don’t fade away with the witnesses to these events. So, please come along for a ride through history, as well as stops at my usual assortment of informative, visually stunning, and offbeat destinations.

 

About my bike:  2016 BMW R1200GS Triple Black, low suspension, with BMW Luggage Grid in place of the passenger seat

 

About my gear:

- Shoei GT-Air II helmet with integrated Sena SRL 2 Comm System

- Rukka Energator jacket and pants

- Forcefield base layer long sleeve shirt

- BMW Cool Down vest

- SIDI Armada Gore-Tex boots

- Held Airstream II gloves (for warmer temperatures)

- Rukka Imatra Gore-Tex gloves (for colder temperatures)

- Buff UV neck cover

- GoPro Hero7 Black camera (with two batteries and double charging station)

- GoPro Hero5 Session camera (with charging cable plugged into USB outlet)

- GoPro Karma Grip (powered gimbal)

- iPhone 10Xs Max (with charging cable plugged into USB outlet)

- RAM Mount Universal X-Grip holder for iPhone, 3-inch arm length, M8 screw mount

- GoPro Remote (attached to GoPro handlebar pole mount)

- King Biker GoPro turn signal mount (for Hero7 Black facing forward)

- GoPro gooseneck mount (for Hero5 Session facing backward, attached to GoPro handlebar mount)

- DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone (with three batteries, quad charging station, and car charger plus battery tender/female cigarette adaptor), CrystalSky 7.85” monitor, and PolarPro case

- 1 SanDisk 128GB and 6 SanDisk 64GB micro SD cards

- Apple MacBook Air

- Western Digital 1TB My Passport SSD hard drive

- BMW Hella DIN plug to dual port USB charger

- Anker 40W 4-Port USB wall charger

- BMW Navigator V GPS

- SPOT Gen3 Tracker

- Vario side cases (with Kathy’s waterproof inner bags)

- Compression bags for clothes and snacks/miscellaneous

- Wunderlich subframe bag set

- Vario top case

- Dynaplug Pro tubeless tire repair kit

- Adventure Designs micro tire pump

- Kryptonite Keeper disc lock (for overnight security)

- YETI Hopper Flip 8 Soft Cooler (with one YETI ice pack) mounted to top of left side case with ROK Straps

 

Adventure Hacks:  These are some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the course of my three previous adventures and this most recent one:

- Do a test pack of (all) your stuff ahead of time to ensure it fits in your cases. Once you find a packing configuration that works, take a photo, and re-pack everything the same way each day.

- Ensure your bike is in tip-top shape, preferably with no required service or tire replacements during the trip.

- Ensure that you have all necessary paperwork for your bike (i.e., current registration, US insurance card, and Canadian insurance card).

- If you’re visiting a few National Parks or Federal Recreational Sites, buy an annual Parks Pass. It’s economical and saves you time at the entrances.

- Have a plan for roadside assistance.

- Bring at least a basic set of tools, zip ties, multi-purpose tool, tire pressure gauge, and first aid kit.

- Test all your gadgets in their “final” mounting locations and configurations before the trip.

- Remember all charging cables, and bring spare batteries if you’ll be using a gadget frequently.

- Bring coins and small bills for tolls, and research what the tolls are ahead of time.

- If you’re visiting a point of interest on a controlled-access facility (i.e., military base, National Park, etc.), do your homework on access/parking. Google Maps isn’t always accurate with the roads it picks for you. The same goes for information on the facilities’ websites. Call them and ask about the access.

- Print hard copies of your daily route, planned points of interest, and lodging name/address. Having the hardcopy is a good backup in case of GPS issues or lack of cell coverage.

- Another comment about navigation: I used both my Navigator V and Google Maps on the iPhone. The benefit of Google Maps is its dynamic routing around traffic, accidents, and construction, while the Navigator V has my pre-loaded points of interest and lodging locations. It’s also amusing to imagine the iPhone and Navigator V arguing with each other about the best route.

- On my bike gauge cluster, I like displaying Range and TPMS. I think these are the most important data points to see during my ride. I get my speed from the GPS. 

- Bring gear that will keep you reasonably comfortable in all expected environmental extremes. That’s a tall order because space is limited (unless you’re towing a trailer), and some compromises must be made. Decide what your comfort thresholds are on either end of the spectrum.

- Try to break-in your riding gear before the trip. Brand new gloves, boots, and helmet can be downright painful. I’d worn my new helmet for a total of three hours before this trip, so I don’t always follow my own advice.

- If you’re a “Special Needs Eater” (Read: Very Picky), bring snacks and some camping meals, and replenish on the road when needed. Consider bringing a cooler, which I did for the first time on this trip.

- Ziploc sandwich bags and large freezer bags have a lot of uses. I always bring quite a few.

- If your bike needs mid-level or premium fuel, don’t assume that you can find it everywhere. When I got into North Dakota, I began filling up with premium instead of the recommended mid-level; my logic (perhaps not completely rooted in computational fluid dynamics) was it would mitigate the expected rare instances of having to get a gallon or two of low-octane when needed to top off the tank.

- If you’re recording video at high resolution, bring plenty of SD cards, as well as a backup drive. Before the trip, I set up folders on the drive for each day, with sub-folders for each source of media (Drone, Hero, Session). This expedites and simplifies the daily backup process.

 

A Few Words About My Riding Philosophy:  I’ve been riding for a relatively short period of time (seven years). That said, I’ve done several long adventure rides, and I’ve tried to take a thoughtful approach to riding, influenced by my friend Yermo Lamers, creator of Miles-By-Motorcycle, who has been riding far longer than I have. I believe that motorcycle riding brings with it a level of inherent risk, and there are a number of other factors that can affect this risk:

- Wearing the right gear all the time

- Riding at a reasonable speed for the conditions and minimizing aggressive riding

- Riding a bike that’s well-maintained with the latest electronic safety aidsSlowing down or not riding in adverse weather

- Not riding in darkness

- Not riding when fatigued

I like to visualize this as an old-style balancing scale, a “Scale of Risk,” if you will.

All of those individual factors add to the risk of motorcycle riding. But even when one removes them from the situation (to the other side of the scale), the scale is still tilted by the inherent risk of riding, meaning that some factors are beyond our control as riders. That doesn’t mean we should avoid riding if it’s something that brings us enjoyment and broadens our cultural and educational horizons. Rather, it’s an admonition to promote constant situational awareness and defensive riding and a reminder of how much riskier you make things by choosing not to remove the individual factors.

 

Intended Itinerary:

6/28/19 – Saint Simons Island, Georgia to Columbus, Georgia

6/29/19 – Columbus, Georgia to Decatur, Alabama

6/30/19 – Decatur, Alabama to Scottsburg, Indiana

7/1/19 – Scottsburg, Indiana to Lincoln, Illinois

7/2/19 – Lincoln, Illinois to Plover, Wisconsin

7/3/19 – Plover, Wisconsin to Saint Cloud, Minnesota

7/4/19 – Saint Cloud, Minnesota to Grand Forks, North Dakota

7/5/19 – Grand Forks, North Dakota to Carlyle, Saskatchewan

7/6/19 – Carlyle, Saskatchewan to Swift Current, Saskatchewan

7/7/19 – Swift Current, Saskatchewan to Canmore, Alberta

7/8/19 – Canmore, Alberta to Grande Cache, Alberta

7/9/19 – Grande Cache, Alberta to Fort Nelson, British Columbia

7/10/19 – Fort Nelson, British Columbia to Watson Lake, Yukon

7/11/19 – Watson Lake, Yukon to Whitehorse, Yukon

7/12/19 – Whitehorse, Yukon to Tok, Alaska

7/13/19 – Tok, Alaska to McKinley Park, Alaska

7/14/19 – McKinley Park and Denali National Park, Alaska

7/15/19 – McKinley Park, Alaska to Valdez, Alaska

7/16/19 – Valdez, Alaska to Whittier, Alaska

7/17/19 – Whittier, Alaska, to Anchorage, Alaska

 

Day 1 – 6/28/19

I only had two planned points of interest for this first day of riding, the main reason being that I didn’t want to overdo things at the outset. I should mention that I’d ridden a total of about 200 miles in the year and a half before this trip, and 180 of those were the round-trip to get the bike serviced in Jacksonville in May. I knew the first several days might be a bit uncomfortable until my body got used to being on a bike all day. There was also the acknowledgment that my riding skills would be a little rusty. As one would expect in the Deep South, the temperature was already climbing, and the humidity was sticky in the early morning hours.

As I left the house to formally begin the adventure at the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick, I questioned my decision to wear my heavier Gore-Tex riding suit for the entire trip. The first week was certain to be hot and unpleasant, but the majority of the trip would be in cooler climates with greater risk of rain. If I could gut it out (or more accurately, sweat it out) until North Dakota, I’d be fine. In hindsight, I should have worn my summer-weight suit and shipped the Gore-Tex to North Dakota, where I’d make the swap. Lesson learned for the future.

My route would take me through Douglas, where the airport hosted an Army Air Forces flight training school during World War II. It was an uneventful two hour ride on roads I’d traveled before, and I was soaked from sweat by the time I arrived at the airport. A small World War II Flight Training Museum is in the barracks of the former flight school, but, unfortunately, my schedule wasn’t going to align with its opening at 11am. I did take a little time to explore the campus on foot and imagined what it was like when the flight school operations were in full swing, with aviation cadets participating in the nine-week program. I'll come back sometime in the future for a proper visit.

After rehydrating, I hopped on the bike and headed north towards Robins AFB and the Museum of Aviation, which bills itself as the second largest museum in the US Air Force. It is an impressive facility, with several large buildings for exhibits and a number of aircraft outside on static display. I was disappointed that a few areas were closed for private Air Force functions, but I understand that retirement ceremonies and changes of command have priority.


Students of history will recall that a variant of this aircraft, an EB-66, was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1972 and set in motion the events memorialized in the book and movie Bat 21. The tremendous cost of this rescue operation in terms of aircraft and lives lost caused the Air Force and other branches of service to rethink their approach to high-threat combat search and rescue.

After exploring the museum for a while, I rode west towards Columbus and arrived at my hotel about an hour and a half later. I was really worn out from the heat and hoped that the next several days wouldn’t be this grueling. The weather forecast, though, didn’t show any relief in sight. I had used my BMW Cool Down vest over my base layer and under my jacket in the afternoon; it’s soaked in cold water to produce an evaporative cooling effect. But the concept relies on airflow, and my jacket’s vents weren’t large enough to provide sufficient airflow over the vest.

One thing I was reminded of as I retrieved the gear from my bike at the hotel: Motorcycles serve as a conversation starter for strangers approaching you anywhere you’re parked. The topics are almost always focused on one of the following:

- I had a motorcycle.

- I have a motorcycle.

- I want a motorcycle, but…

  -- My significant other won’t let me, or

  -- I’m too old, or

  -- I can’t afford it.

Three separate men initiated chats with me under the hotel awning, and all three chats touched on one of those topics. So, if you don’t want to talk to people, don’t ride a motorcycle.  

I had to do some tech troubleshooting that night on my GoPro Karma Grip powered gimbal, because it wasn’t turning on and controlling my Hero 7 camera like it should (and had when I tested it previously). I’d checked for firmware updates before I left, and none were showing up on the GoPro app or website. After going back and forth with GoPro tech support for a while, the GoPro app finally listed a firmware update, which I installed. That seemed to fix things, and I was once again a satisfied GoPro customer, a feeling that wouldn’t last through the next day.

Tomorrow, more history, heat, miles, and perhaps some drone photos and video.

Total mileage: 293.7 

Lodging: Hampton Inn Columbus-North, Columbus, Georgia

 

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(Michael Milner) https://michaelmilner.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/north-by-northwest-a-solo-motorcycle-adventure-from-georgia-to-alaska-day-1 Thu, 25 Jul 2019 02:59:42 GMT