Like many of us that share this obsession, I love getting lost in a good map. Detailing the possible routes that cross our world has helped me squander countless hours. At some point early on I discovered how large Western Canada and Alaska are and this began my focus in that direction. I knew that one day I would see my interests investigated with a trip to those long stretched highways.
A few years back my wife and I had some friends over for a midsummer garden party. This get-together ended up being the start of a number of great adventures. Guests included Remus (of previous fame) and Jeff. I spent the afternoon talking big about the day I planned to ride to Alaska. They were the perfect audience, delivering all the right questions and none of the negative disbelief. Designs that lurk in the unspoken expectation of my "things-to-do" list were now being spelled out as if every plan was made in advance (or at least enough to convince my listeners). By the end of our conversation Jeff, a non-rider and just turned 40, asked if it was too much to think that he might learn to ride and take the trip with me. My answer . "yes, if you put your mind to it".
Sure enough Jeff did put his mind to it and started his education with a trip to Hermy's, my BMW dealer in PA, for the purchase of a year old F650 GS. From that point on Jeff became the ideal student, acquiring the Aerostitch riding gear and signing up for rider education classes. I knew he would make the grade when he showed up at my home early one winter morning with temperatures below zero and a smile on his face.
Coming along with us for the ride north would be Joe, a LD riding partner that, among other challenges, rode the 50CC ride with me. He purchased a KLR for the trip and proceeded to add the typical improvements that keep the aftermarket industry in business.
I too started looking for the right ride. I put out word that I was looking for a R100GSPD, and before too long I got a call from a friend. He was getting service done at Hermy's and told me that my dream bike was in. It was a 1992 GSPD in turquoise/black and in fantastic condition. Sure enough that bike fulfilled all my expectations and I purchased it that week. What was weird about the situation was back in 1991 I had picked up some BMW brochures (I still have them) with this bike in this same odd color combination. It must have been my destiny. I installed a Parabellum windshield, tank bag, aux lighting and throttle lock. All three of us installed CB radios and aux fuel cells as well as a variety of other comfort items like fur seat covers.
Much advance planning was made. We searched the Internet for every bit of info on riding a motorcycle to Alaska that we could find. Most information would have us believe that we would be on our own in the middle of nothing with the possibility that anything could happen. In addition the literature made it sound as if finding a place to stay or even camp near a shower would be impossible without advance reservations. And so we picked through every mile we would be traveling and plotted a course with overnight stops and a room to stay for each. We also planned our tire and oil changes. In so doing, I struck up an e-mail conversation with a BMW repair shop up in Calgary, AB. Dave Anderson, a Munich trained mechanic, runs Anderwerks there - a small but technically proficient shop specializing in all things BMW, but most of all the R100GSPD.
The debate went forward as to when we would be on the road. My first impression was that the end of June, which holds the longest day, would be the most interesting. As things worked their way out between the three of us it turned out that July 3 would be our launch date. We planned 22 days on the road, with 20 of those intended for travel. One of the biggest lessons we learned was that on a trip like this all the planning in the world does not make for a flawless itinerary, and perhaps that's the way it should be.
July 3rd started out being a beautiful day for a ride. Jeff and I had practiced packing up our bikes and that morning we had all things stowed away, including for me a spare set of tires mounted on top of my fuel cell. Joe had a tuff time getting his rhythm at the start and end up arriving (riding up) a bit late for our start time only to have to undo his packing for a more comfortable mounting. The day before, our buddy Dr. Pete offered to ride out for a piece with us, so we started our ride by picking him up a few miles down the road. He stayed with us all the way across Pennsylvania. As he turned to go back we could see that we might be heading into some rain down the road. By the time we were well into Ohio the rain began its thing and by Chicago the water was coming down without sympathy. My most focused memory of that part of the ride was at one of the many tollbooths in Illinois, where I handed an attendant a hand full of wet coins. The look on her face was to kill. Why that state can't eliminate half the tolls and double the remaining booths fees, I'll never understand. That night we drove out of the rain as we approached Madison. Our GPS read +925miles. Having never ridden a Saddlesore, Jeff questioned Joe's and my motivation behind stopping 75 miles short of the magic number. When I explained to Jeff that the ride documentation would have required a signed witness at the start along with gathering gas/mileage receipts, he found the whole explanation fishy and proceeded throughout the ride to remind me how he had been robbed of the prize (all in good fun, of course). Truthfully, what Jeff had accomplished in a year and a half deserved a prize of some sort.
The next two days were eventless other than my high beam switch and the low beam on my head light both going out. This made for some nocturnal miscommunications on who should lead the pack. To get any light other than my aux running light, I had to keep my thumb pressed down on the high beam switch. The tendency was to let me lead and no matter how many hand signals I made to get one of the guys to ride alongside me, I repeatedly got the thumbs up and 30 seconds later Jeff and Joe would be riding behind me single file, once again giving me the lead. Oh, and at that time my CB was not working because of what I found out afterward was an unplugged cable. On these 2 days we did 810 and 750 miles respectively.
Riding To The Arctic Circle in Two Locations