North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 18)

August 21, 2019

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