"Bear in camp!" When someone yelled those words my head snapped up, eyes opened and I let go of the bottle of beer I was holding. Forgetting the spilled swill, I quickly grabbed my cameras and ran from my campsite to the one across the road, hoping to get a picture. I had been in Alaska for nearly two weeks and had yet to see a bear. As it turned out this was the only bear I would see.
It was a 300-400 pound black bear that had decided to paw through the cooking dishes on the table of the campsite across from mine. The sound of crashing cookware awoke the attractive woman in her mid-thirties sleeping in a small tent at the site. She became vocally hysterical as she tried to get out of her tent and snagged the door zipper making it impossible to open. The bear stopped its search for food on the table when she screamed, dropped to the ground and shifted its search to trying to open her nearby ice chest.
I ran over to the tent, forced the zipper back, then forward and the woman zipped out, knocking me over. The bear was less than ten feet away and I was lying flat on the ground, half-beered and fumbling. I scrambled upright and followed the running woman as she scampered across the road to the safety of my campsite. I did not want to be bear food anymore than she did.
We got to my campsite at the same time, both of us winded and panting like we had run a mile instead of 40 yards. I was panting from the run, she from hysteria. What a pair we made, both of us standing there, she flapping her arms and trying to speak, me frothing as my evening beer tried to come back up the way it had gone down.
With a combination of thrown pots and pans, whistles and camera flashes, I chased the bear from her camp. An hour later the woman had calmed down, but refused to return to her tent. I told her she could spend the night in mine. She chose me over the bear, but might not have had she known I had been on the road for weeks without having shared the pleasures of the night.
Deep in Alaska bush country.
This was my first trip to Alaska since I had written my book, ALASKA BY MOTORCYCLE. The publisher had decided to do a second edition, so I spent nearly two weeks doing research while wandering around Alaska. It had been interesting to see the changes, but after some twenty-two trips to the "Last Frontier" some things had not changed.
Moose and fish were still plentiful. The roads seemed to be in better condition but traffic had become more congested making the travel time between points about the same. I noticed that Alaska roads had become filled with motorhomes and travel trailers, nearly all having been driven from the Lower 48. I also noticed a huge increase in the number of motorcycles that had either ridden the ferries or roads to Alaska.
Ten years ago I rode all day without seeing another motorcycle traveler. This time I usually saw several riders each day, sometimes as many as 10. They were traveling on everything from heavyweight Harley-Davidson's to BMW R1200LT's, Honda Goldwing's, Suzuki's and numerous dual-purpose bikes like Kawasaki KLR's and BMW F650's.
A pretty new motorcycle being taken home by a pretty Alaska Native.
From the equipment I saw on the motorcycles some riders had spent thousands of dollars preparing for their Alaska adventure. Some had expensive extra large gas tanks or had added spare gas tanks costing hundreds of dollars, thinking they might not find gas. These seemed to have been foolish expenditures, especially when I thought of the wallowing behemoth motorhomes and trailers on the highways, some getting as little as 5 miles per gallon. Thirty years ago when I first rode to Alaska gas was a commodity of concern, but not this time. Gas was plentiful, but sometimes expensive, often costing a dollar more per gallon than in the Lower 48.
This 1985 BMW K100 RS owner managed one day up and one day down on the Dalton Highway. Rather than waste money an expensive aftermarket fuel cell, he spent $5.00 on the plastic five-gallon gas container. He said when he got back to Fairbanks he would give it away. The longest stretch on the Dalton Highway without gas was 240 miles from Coldfoot to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse).
It was surprising to see how little many tourists knew of what to expect once they reached Alaska, which many perceived as being some pre-1900 frontier. In the small town of Wasilla, just outside of Anchorage, there was a Wal-Mart store that was identified as the busiest Wal-Mart store in America. This Wal-Mart was such a local attraction, some local couples got married there. In Anchorage I found shopping malls and food stores that rivaled those I had seen in Los Angeles or Seattle. The big difference between shopping in Alaska verses shopping in the Lower 48 was the prices were much higher in Alaska. For the $30.00 per night I paid in Oregon for a motel room I was quoted $90.00 in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
A broken BMW F650 – electrical problems. There were good motorcycle repair shops in Anchorage and Fairbanks, but for the long distances away from those points the rider needed to depend on his own wits and skills to keep the motorcycle running. A "tow" from Coldfoot back to Fairbanks was quoted at $1,200.00 to $1,500.00. It was surprising to learn that numerous motorcycles came back into either Fairbanks or Anchorage paying that price.
Getting away from the tourists was harder than five years ago. I finally managed by taking some extreme riding trails deep into the interior. One of those left out of Petersville and wandered into the southern part of Denali National Park. To get there I had to make numerous stream crossings, some with fast flowing deep ice water.
This is the trail that got me into bear country and up to the border of the Denali National Park. It was slow going for a few hours in and out, but I was able to get away from the tourists in jeep caravans or on bicycles. I did not see another person for two hours up this trail.
Crossing one stream I was hit by a fish. The clean glacial stream was about one foot deep and fifty yards wide. Near midstream my focus on the rocks and water ahead of me was shifted quickly to what looked in my peripheral vision like a log moving upstream towards me. Before I could analyze what I was seeing it ran right into my front wheel with a "thunk." Then it started to thrash around in the water. I was so surprised I forgot to put my foot down to steady the motorcycle and both the Kawasaki KLR 650 and I flopped on our sides in the water.
A 30-40 pound King salmon swimming rapidly upstream towards its spawning ground had run into my motorcycle. While I thrashed around in the water trying to keep my cameras from getting wet, the salmon got its bearings right, and swam around the downed motorcycle and on upstream. It was so close I could have grabbed it had I not had my dripping cameras in both hands.
Once I got the motorcycle righted I could not get it to start. When it fell on its left side it had been running, so sucked water into the engine through the air intake port, killing the motor. Water had also gotten into the electrical system. I spent the next hour on the stream bank trying to get it to run, and slowing killing the battery with each unsuccessful attempt. After an hour I was reaching a high stress point because I realized it was salmon spawning time and I was on the bank where bears liked to eat their catch.
As I had entered the area earlier in the day two miners on ATV's were coming out. One asked me, "Do you have a gun?"
I said "No."
The older of the two said, "I wouldn't go up that trail without a gun, and I sure as Hell wouldn't go alone. We just came from up there and seen some huge bears."
So there I was, with no gun, alone, and stranded on the bank of Bear-All-You-Can-Eat-Alaska-Salmon-Café.
This was where the salmon hit me and swam off.
Eventually I got the motorcycle dried out enough to start, repacked it and hurriedly left the area. As I rode down the road following the stream towards civilization I started to feel better. Finally I was able to laugh at my situation, and myself knowing I was probably the only motorcyclist in the world who had been knocked off a motorcycle by a fish. As foolish as the Guinness Book of Records was, I thought maybe I would petition for a record based on my fish story. Given what I had seen over the years that Guinness gave records for, like the most nails up your nose, my fish episode qualified.
The salmon that ran into me was 10-20 lbs. bigger than this one. The guy had chased his upriver for over a mile before he was able to finally able to catch it. Notice the gun on his left hip. He said it was for bears and asked me why I did not have one. I told him I scared bears off with my singing.
A quick run up the Dalton Highway showed just how different the weather could be on this treacherous road to Prudhoe Bay. Before entering the Dalton Highway I saw a flashing state highway sign that said the Dalton Highway was closed due to forest fires and thick smoke. Fifty miles later I was riding through orange burning trees, coughing from the gray smoke.
Once I reached the Arctic Circle sign at the 115 miles marker the fire and smoke had been replaced by rain, which continued to Coldfoot. 100 miles further north the rain had turned to snow in the Brooks Range.
At the Arctic Circle sign. Here it was only lightly raining, keeping the dust down on the gravel road. The thing that I had forgotten was how the mosquitoes loved this area. I did not put on mosquito repellant and paid a high price to have this photo taken.
I was mapping some way points for a possible motorcycle rally up the Dalton Highway, the Deadhorse Endurance Rally. Had it been run this year the riders would have had one day to ride the 414 miles through fire and ice. The upside would have been that since it was early July, sunset was near 3:00 AM and two hours later was sunrise, so riders would have had nearly 24 hours of riding in daylight.
The Dalton Highway paralleled the Alyeska pipeline south from Prudhoe Bay. I knew that the oil in the pipeline was heated to make the flow easier between pump stations when it was cold, like deep winter when temperatures dropped. At Coldfoot records had been set with 179F degree temperature differences. The low had been –82F, and the high +97F. On my Dalton Highway day I walked over to the pipeline and put my hand on it. Even though it was close to +70 F that day, I could still feel the heat coming through the protective outer shell of the pipe. Then I realized that in the winter animals probably gathered around the 1,000's of miles of pipe to keep warm. I wondered if the environmentalists who fought the pipeline when it was originally built appreciated that the heat pipe was keeping animals from freezing in the winter?
The top of the mountains behind me were being peppered with snow, and this was July 1.
I finished my last days in the Kenai area, stopping to take a photo and make a record of my having reached Anchor Point, the furthest point west one can ride on the North American continent. A night in Homer, eating fresh halibut that came from a 200 pounder caught that day nearly caused me to deviate in my travel plans. For $100.00 the captain of the boat told me next day I was 90% guaranteed to catch a halibut, and I pictured myself pulling in one of the giants. That evening the rain fell and wind started to howl. Camped on the Homer Spit I felt as if it were mid winter in Montana, which I try to avoid. I packed up in the morning and headed back to Anchorage.
BMW riders Ken and Deb White (left) share road stories with Don Rosene, owner of The Motorcycle Shop in Anchorage. Don was full of humorous tales of riders making their first trips to Alaska, which included some wild encounters with animals. He had not heard of anyone else being knocked over by a salmon.
Ahhh, back to civilization and a go-go girl car wash.
Several days before a local guide had taken me out for a night on the town. After a pleasant dinner with friends, he piloted four of us to what some call the "best lap dance club" in Anchorage. We only stayed a short while, but my time in the woods, days on the road and nights sleeping in a one-man tent seemed to require a return visit.
The Great Alaskan Bush Co.2 Show Club may have lived up to its reputation but I missed casting my vote. As soon as I walked in I saw another motorcycle traveler I had met a week before on the Denali Highway. He had been riding a KLR similar to mine. We spent the next hour at the bar, paying for over priced beer and trading road stories about our travels in Africa, South America and Asia. Realizing our pocketbooks were getting hammered we decided to go back to my campground, stopping on the way at a super market for beer supplies at a far more favorable rate. At the grocery store we paid one-fifth of what we had been paying in the bar trying to ignore naked go-go girls and jabbering about life on the motorcycling roads around the world.
In the campground we spent several hours more comparing our tales of adventure and those of friends. By 11:00 PM he decided it was time for him to ride to his motel. After he left I sat down to sip the last four bottles of beer in the gray twilight of the cool and quiet evening of the Anchorage Municipal Campground.
I was reflecting on my weeks in Alaska, the roads and trails I had ridden, people I had met and friends I had made. They had been long days filled with some of my best motorcycling in the last six months. Then I thought of how I had missed the one thing I had been thinking about for the last days, the go-go dancers at the Alaskan Bush Company. I remember that as my friend and I had been talking at the bar several of the ladies had nestled and rubbed against us attempting to sell us lap dances, and in the mirror it was hard not to look at the reflection of the topless-bottomless dancers on the stage. Then I closed my eyes, picturing one lady that had exceptionally nice muscle tone and body movements.
Both my hands were holding the beer bottle between my resting elbows on the picnic table. My head drooped and my chin rested on my chest while my mind replayed xxxx rated pictures of her dancing, an erotic memory that heated my juices. Then someone yelled, "Bear in camp!"
One of the true "characters" of the North, George Rahn, owner of Trails End BMW in Fairbanks. In the 1950's George rode his BMW to Alaska and liked the country so much he never went back.
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited