Day 54, Anchorage to Whittier and back. 154 miles
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
I knew I could jam one last city into this trip. Whittier sat only fifty miles or so from Anchorage. Up at six and off by seven, even with 'rush hour' traffic, getting there proved to be easy.
Except the tunnel.
Twice people warned me, "Watch that tunnel into Whittier." Huh?
The tunnel extends over two miles, straight as a string through rock. But one must ride between the railroad tracks, on a steel deck. I think the most intimidating thing was riding through a dark, creepy tunnel, the end a tiny bright dot in the distance. It smelled of wet and the ghosts of thousands of trains. An occasional train still uses the tunnel to bring supplies and tourists to town.
Six minutes later I erupted into light, cold and wind as I rode into Whittier. Another harbor town, of course, Whittier mostly acts as the stop for the ferries from Seward and Valdez. Stopping near the boat ramp, I met Gary from Milwaukee. He rented a bike from the same outfit, a Triumph 800. We compared stories, and last week Gary was with his buddy on the haul road to Prudhoe when he saw him fall asleep and crash. Gary spent a few days in Fairbanks staying by his friends' side and then continued his adventure alone. We enjoyed breakfast together; mine an egg sandwich with reindeer sausage.
After a fine meal and fellowship, I headed back to Anchorage.
In town, I stumbled onto Earthquake Park, a local one that documented the event of 1964. Alaska suffered a 9.2 quake, one of the most violent ones recorded. A section of the park slid downward over sixty feet that day, and you can still see signs of damage. Between the earthquake, aftershocks and the resulting tsunamis, the damage was horrific. I hate earthquakes, but this one, holy smokes. I've been
in quakes that lasted twenty seconds, but this occurred for four minutes, an eternity.
I headed back to town, cleaned up the bike and returned it, grateful the only change to it was the mileage.
And now, a few reviews:
(PP!)THE BMW GS 650
Overall, I was really happy with the bike. With fuel injection, starting took only a simple push of a button, and it provided a strong and torque power band. It's geared a bit high, as one must feed the clutch carefully and the bike goes... well, I won't say how fast, but it could be geared a bit lower. Freeway speeds are comfortable, however, with little vibration that single cylinder engines usually provide.
The overall ergonomics are a bit small, and my legs got sore from folding them up below the knees.
I thought the bike was sketchy in gravel roads with a lot of head shake and it was so, but on reflection realized the tires are more for street. A more aggressive off road tire would fix this I'm sure, but since 80% of the riding was paved, the tires were appropriate.
Overall, a great bike. I cannot comment on its dependability or serviceability based on a week's use however.
Also the panniers worked awesome. They look ridiculously cumbersome but provided excellent storage and stayed out of the way except for getting on and off the bike. They sealed tight, were waterproof and dust proof, and locked to keep valuables secure.
(PP!)Alaska Motorcycle Adventures
You know me, Mr. Cheap. I thought $130 a day was overpriced. Shoot, you can rent a little crappy car in Vegas for $29 a day, right? Yes, but this is Alaska, so no fair comparing that. Plus the bikes are expensive to buy and maintain. Couple that with allowing almost any idiot to ride them (they did rent it to me!) and it's easier to understand the price. I believe in value too. Did I get value for my money? Absolutely yes.
No additional fees either. They quoted the total price, ran the card and that's it. They
provided a great bike, a ride to and from the airport, and very valuable touring advice. Excellent service and I would recommend them to anyone. Now a few things I would do, a bit better.
Arriving at the airport, I exited to the ground transportation spot. Who or what am I looking for? Two phone calls later I knew to find Nancy in her black SUV. They could have done that better. People are insecure upon landing in a strange town, so take every step to ease the discomfort.
They provided the bike with a gallon or so of fuel. So when I first took off, I had to find gas. I would prefer it rented full and I returned it full. Just my opinion, no problem.
Finally, they ask that the renter return the bike clean. I found a car wash and bought a jug of (PP!) ArmorAll and spiffed it up. If I owned the company I wouldn't do that. While I personally didn't mind cleaning the bike, (I respected it for doing such a great job) I think most people are on vacation and just want to have a good time and don't want to work on a bike.
But that's it. They provided great products and service.
What an awesome state. With a population of a million souls and 500 million square miles of country, it is vast and untamed. The Last Frontier. I like Alaska's genuineness. No frilly 'I'm pretending to be a charming little seaside town.' It is a little seaside town, and you're free to visit.
Much of Alaska feels like a third world country. Plenty of blue tarps over roofs, broken down cars and buildings. People struggle to survive here, enduring horrendous winter weather. I learned Glennallen is called 'the arctic of Alaska' with its forty below temperatures and seventy mile per hour winter winds. People live here year 'round, but just get through the winter months.
But the utter beauty of green forests, crashing waterfalls and snowcapped mountains exceeded my very high expectations. Not to mention the wildlife, with hunting and fishing opportunities too.
Alaska celebrates freedom in many ways, like for instance its travel. Most highways
provide quad and snowmobile access, and this state leads the nation in planes and seaplanes per capita. Don't forget airboats, kayaks and boats of every other type too.
Alaska isn't for everyone. If you like master planned communities with neat yards and houses in a row, it isn't for you. Your neighbor could have fallen trees; beat up cars and the inevitable blue tarps in abundance.
But it is real.