“It must be hard to ride a motorcycle around the world? What do you do after you have ridden around it four times?”
A 61 year-old lady who had never been on a motorcycle before I met her was asking me these questions. Trying some bravado, I answered, “It’s not so hard. When I made my first global loop there were less than 100 of us who had done one. Today, with the Internet and ease of getting across water, there are probably 200 riders out there right now claiming to be riding around the world. All you really need is time and money. I am done with all that now, retired. I will probably do what others have done, write a book, maybe give some talks or multi-media shows, bask in what some think is glory.”
“Would you do it again?”
My answer was quick. “No. I do not have the money and I need some time to make some more. My next project is to ride a motorcycle around the moon and I figure that is going to cost me a bit more than any of my last four rides.”
Then she hooked me with her next question. “Would you take me around the world, on the back of a motorcycle, before you ride around the moon?”
I looked at her, thinking, “Is she crazy? She must be. She does not know the difference between a cam chain or drive chain, likes the comforts of fine food and four star hotels, and has Parkinson’s Disease with a capital P. She can not even close a chinstrap on a motorcycle helmet. How would I manage her around the world on the back of a motorcycle? Strap ourselves together with bungi cords?”
My interest was piqued though. Just how much of a challenge would it be? I had hooked up with some lady travelers before. Most always I found their riding lifestyles unlike mine and often ended up foolishly pandering to them like a normal junkyard dog does when he gets through the fence.
The lady and I spent some hours talking about how I travel, hunt roads, and manage my life on the road. She seemed more excited as I tried to make a global ride sound more difficult. In the end we struck a deal: if we planned a trip around the world, tagging the furthest points north and south we could ride on the continents, and if we could get it done in less than a year, and if we could do it on a median budget, and if we could do it in legs or sections, with time off for me to catch-up on writing assignments, and if her Parkinson’s did not get too bad, maybe we could do it.
There were a lot of other “ifs” but the biggest was “We’ll do the tagging of Ushuaia, Argentina, the furthest point south on the South American continent, ‘if’ you can survive the first leg, tagging Deadhorse, Alaska, the furthest point north we can ride on the North American continent.”
In the back of my mind was a couple of other nagging ‘ifs.’ The first was “if you and I can survive each other.” I felt like my long-lived lone wolf lifestyle would become gelded if I took on the responsibility of someone else, especially a woman, on the back of my bike. I was also thinking, “This adventure could end up more like being castrated before turning me loose in the Playboy Mansion while Hef was away.”
I also had a plan. I did not mind making another ride to Alaska and Prudhoe Bay. The run up North America’s furthest northern road can sometimes make hardened bike riders turn around and go home with their tails between their legs. That road, the Dalton Highway, is one of my favorite roads in the world, because it can be tough, dangerous and changes daily, therefore is always interesting. I also wanted to get my ‘round the world Kawasaki KLR 650 out of retirement. It had been resting for nearly two years after finishing a 20,000-mile ride and I wanted to see how well it would do with two of us on it. Here was an opportunity to have someone share some of my costs up to Deadhorse and back and it would only take me a month of time. I may have also been thinking that if I made the ride as I usually do, a little bit on the rougher side with some off-road riding mixed in, my passenger would see how hard a ‘round the world ride like I make them might be and we could call the rest of the trip quits.
I told her, “OK, we’ll do it. Up and back we’ll see everything we’re likely to see down through South American and across the Andes to Ushuaia. If you can manage Deadhorse, we will start making plans for the second leg.” Secretly I thought I could beat her up enough she would be glad to halt what she thought would be her ultimate journey, thus not embarrassing both of us if I failed.
Our first real “test days” were out of Anchorage with a small group from the American Motorcyclist Association and Kawasaki, five great guys who were in the area for a week. They let us tag along to Homer. Half the day was in the rain, so my passenger got wet. Then once we left the AMA team at their hotel, she and I headed to the Homer Spit where we put our tent up in the rain. We had discussed camping on our trip around the world, which I was against because of the space needed for all our gear. Our first night, sleeping on the wet rocks and making her a “Spit Rat,” pounded one nail in the camping coffin.
When we awoke in the morning at 4:00 AM it was still raining, and she had been wet most of the night from two or three trips to the toilet, a nocturnal adventure required by her medication. A budget breakfast at McDonalds warmed her up some, but seeing the five hotel-guys all fresh and dry after their pampered night between the sheets, she cooled back down. A couple of morning hours of riding in the rain added some more chills. When we arrived back in Anchorage she was ready for a hot shower and warm restaurant food.
Before leaving for Deadhorse, my passenger spent a few days touristing in Anchorage while I went off and played with the AMA/Kawasaki team. It was the first trip to Alaska for several of them, so for me great fun to see the wilds of the North through their eyes. We did some riding which would have been difficult for me had my passenger been on the back and I think she would not have had fun because I would have undoubtedly dropped her on the ground a few times. And like boys do when riding, we did some bonding, genitalia scratching and chest thumping after conquering some fun off-road tracks. We also saw some places I had missed on previous rides into Alaska, adding to my knowledge of motorcycling in this huge state. After over 20 visits I had managed to miss what they saw on their first ride. With less than a 20% chance of seeing Mount McKinley on any day because of clouds, we managed to pass it on a day when the sky was crystal clear. I could not have made a more perfect day for them, and hoped they knew how lucky they were.
I split off from my riding pals back in Anchorage and picked-up my now refreshed passenger. Dried and shopped-out, she was ready for the next phase of her journey on two wheels.
We spent some hours visiting local motorcycle shops in Anchorage and I made time to visit with BMW/Indian/Kawasaki friend Don Rosene, owner of The Motorcycle Shop. Don had always been good for stories about motorcyclists and their adventures in Alaska and again filled my notebook. This time he told about crashes, bears and some movie stars that had been through the week before on probably what was the world’s most expensive motorcycle ride, complete with their film crew and grips.
After leaving Anchorage I passed Mount McKinley for the second time in a week, but this time stopped and took a short tour of Denali National Park. We had to park the motorcycle and ride a bus into the park. It was again with great luck that the sky was clear. At a distance of 20 miles, seeing the tallest mountain in North America (20,320 feet) tower above the surrounding mountains that were at least as high as the tallest in Colorado, was as sign we were going to have good luck on the rest of our ride to the top of the world.
We made a quick stop in Fairbanks for a visit with another Alaska motorcycle personality known world wide, BMW shop owner/rider/sourdough George Rahn. He had owned The Trails End BMW shop before most of the suits who run the BMW motorcycle division were born and had always welcomed me as a long lost friend, except for the first time I met him. That was in the early1970’s, a day when he ran me off his property because I showed up when he was closed. 10-15 years later I returned, but this time I met the other side of him and we have been friends since. He sends me photographs of the pet moose and her baby he has wandering through his parking lot at the shop, and I send him customers who stop in to say “Hi” and carry messages from me throughout the year. George was his social and entertaining self again this trip and I think pleased that I had included a photo I had taken of him last summer in my new book.
Both Don and George had some good bear stories and I noticed my passenger was listening intently as they spun the wild tales that breed grins from the locals and nightmares from the “outsiders” as those from the “Lower 48” are called.
Later that day we were at the start of the Dalton Highway. She was still wearing her rain gear, expecting more cold and wet, but I tried to tell her the next 400 miles of mud, dirt, gravel and possibly snow, would be fun, that she would be warmly laughing the whole way, having as much fun as me.
The 414 miles up the Dalton Highway can be filled with adventure, ranging from bears hunting people for food to ice on the road, even in July. When my passenger looked over my shoulder and saw the speedometer at some number well above the posted speed limit of 50 mph, I told her it was because I had changed the gearing on the bike. As we slid through turns she seemed to have bought that story like a trout sometimes goes for the fake flies I toss at them with my fishing pole.
We reached the Arctic Circle where it was cold enough to keep the mosquitoes away. She needed to use the public toilet and I told her to “do your business quick or the mosquitoes will eat your back end like flies on raw meat.” What I was trying to tell her was that when it was as cold as it was the mosquitoes liked to congregate in the protected space below the long-drop outdoor toilet. As she walked away she said, “What mosquitoes?” Rather than go into a long explanation I just shouted, “Oh yeah, but watch out for the bears.” She was back in record time. The bear stories from the days before had grabbed her attention.
To reach this sign at the Arctic Circle was pretty easy. Many motorcyclists turn around here, knowing that what is ahead is largely unknown and often tough. Some camp here in the quiet public campground in the background, satisfied in knowing they had reached the “Circle Sign.” I checked the back of the sign for stickers or carved initials from friends I have met around the world and saw several.
One of the stickers I saw on the back of the sign was this one, obviously from some all-knowing global motorcyclist with a well developed sense of humor, the kind of a guy who would likely ride a motorcycle to the Playboy Mansion when Hef was away, offering free rides.
Our next stop was Coldfoot, the last place for gas/food/telephone and motel for the next 242 miles up and over the Brooks Range and into Deadhorse. We stopped while the lady used the last water-flush toilet and ate some warm food. I filled our extra 2-½ gallon gas tank, knowing that my regular gas tank would run out about ¾ of the way. As we left Coldfoot the manager of the tourist center wanted to take our picture. He said he had seen plenty of motorcyclists riding up and down the Dalton Highway, but we were the first he had ever seen with two people on one motorcycle! Usually motorcyclists do this run solo, some wisely leaving their luggage/wife/girlfriend/passenger in Fairbanks waiting for their return.
Near the summit of the Brooks Range (and Continental Divide!) we met another group of motorcyclists coming down from Deadhorse. On the right was tour guide/owner of Alaska Rider Tours, Phil Freeman (www.akrider.com). I met him the summer before and spent some time with his 2003 tour group, meeting some very nice people. On the left was one of his 2004 group riders, Johnny Goodwin, from Virginia, another super guy. “Super” because Johnny had my book, ALASKA BY MOTORCYCLE, with him in his tank bag and wanted me to autograph it. There was a strange feeling I can not explain, being near the end of the earth, in the middle of nowhere, and someone pulls out a copy of a book I had written. I say to people who tell me they have read some of my works that I greatly appreciate that they have, and that they read, but finding someone carrying my book with them on their trip was special, as if I was making part of the trip with them. In exchange for those special feelings Johnny gave me I wanted this picture with both of them “so I could have some proof I really did ride a motorcycle up the Dalton Highway.” Usually I am taking photos of other people and my bike, seldom of myself, so wanted at least one up here near the top of the world. You will note that at this point the weather was still very nice and we were having fun, fooling around, laughing and telling lies about bears. Tomorrow my photographer and I would be in snow and freezing weather at this same spot on our way back down to Fairbanks.
In July it stays light most of the day up above the Arctic Circle and sometimes warm enough to forget where you are. Warm, wet and tundra with plenty of daylight means a perfect home for mosquitoes. 100 miles south of Deadhorse the swarms were so thick that when we stopped we would often inhale them up our nose unless careful. It was one of the few times my passenger said she could wait another hour to “make water.”
25 miles out of Deadhorse I stopped to take this photo showing the snow on the cliffs in the background. It was a quick shot and I only suffered from four or five mosquito bites. The next day two riders on Hondas had to spend the afternoon here because of a flat tire. I think they were bug food.
Mission halfway complete – reaching Deadhorse, Alaska, where the road (to the public) ends. Deadhorse is also known as “Prudhoe Bay.”
Reaching Deadhorse (population 50, plus from 3,000 to 5,000 part-timers) has always been for me a “catch my breath” stop. I know there is gas, food, and a telephone here, none of which is closer than 242 miles south. Everything in Deadhorse is expensive. A bed is at least $90.00 in a shared dorm room. If I need a tire for my motorcycle it will have to be flown in, making it about three times the price for the same tire in the Lower 48. It is also a dry town, meaning no beer. I suppose there is some bootlegger around, but I would bet a $1.00 bottle of beer would be like gold up here.
The smart money for the bike rider on a budget is to tag Deadhorse, then get out of town. Some are known to pull-in, gas up, hit the $20.00 all-you-can-eat buffet, stuffing their pockets with all they can carry out of the restaurant, then quickly turning around and getting out of town, heading back south.
The Arctic Ocean is eight miles away, but because it is through the private pipeline company property, you can not ride there (some have, but no more). Instead, you pay $30.00-$40.00 and take a guided tour in a mini-bus. They show you an interesting video of how the wells, pumps and pipeline work, then pop you into a mini-bus which takes you through the security gate and on up to the ocean. It stops there and you can walk out on a spit and touch the water. I have never taken the full package, which included towels and a swim, but this year I came close, about as close as I am going to get with my fear of sharks.
That was me, standing in the Arctic Ocean. I was wearing Aerostich pants and jacket, plus their Combat Touring Boots, some of the toughest motorcycling gear in the world. Still, I was worried, wondering if the gear was tough enough to protect me from the sharks I was sure were swimming only feet behind me. For me, sharks have always been a phobia, as are snakes, but up here I was not worried about snakes. While I was worrying about sharks my passenger was worring about bears. She had been listening to road tales (tall tales) about bears and the mini-van driver had told us on the way to the ocean that grizzly bears were often in the area, as were polar bears (in the winter). I have never seen either kind of bear in the Prudhoe Bay area, but then I have never seen a shark either. If I see one or the other, that means there might be snow snakes too, and Santa Clause has a factory just over the horizon with a deer named Rudy.
Up at 5:00 AM and my passenger was still seemingly happy. We had spent the night in a shared room, ate hot food, and dropped about as much money for the combination as I would on a wedding ring if I were to make that stumble again. She was actually smiling as we checked out. I was growling, thinking, “OK, I guess that lazy run up here yesterday in perfect weather was pretty easy. Today I will test her mettle! We will hit Fairbanks, 500 miles south, by Happy Hour.
As we stepped out into the cold morning drizzle I smiled. I knew if it was wet and overcast in Deadhorse, it would be really ugly over the Brooks Range, and might even be snowing. I would make a “splash and dash” stop in Coldfoot, then smoke it on into Fairbanks, where we would put the tent up, eat cold supermarket food, then make a one day run to Anchorage. I thought that by Anchorage my passenger would be screaming “Airport, train station, bus, boat home and tonight a hotel.” Then I would be free, the rest of this ‘round the world ride would be a forgotten dream, and I could go back to the plan of doing talks, selling copies of a poorly written diary, and think about the moon.
My plan failed. When we hit Anchorage my passenger was still on the back of the bike, smiling!
We had just knocked down some pretty tough roads to reach the Arctic Ocean and then returned to Anchorage. The motorcycle was a $4999.00 Kawasaki 650-cc single cylinder KLR model that had already made a complete ride around the world. I claim no fame as a butt hardened rider and hold no world records for foolishness or tough stuff, but here, after pretty well beating the passenger up, and myself, she appeared to still be smiling. I was beginning to think the chemicals she was taking for Parkinson’s might improve my personal outlook on life.
This adventure did not end in Anchorage. I have been trained to thrive on motorcycle tough, and knew I had a bit more in me before my personal scale topped. This included a 950-mile day from Seattle to my house in Montana, followed the next day with a 500-mile shot down into Denver. When we stopped in Denver, our final destination, I was rummy. My upper back felt as though someone had stuck an old wooden tent peg in between my shoulders. Both my knees were ready for surgery. My hands were numb up to my elbows, and I think I was drooling when I talked.
There, on the back of my motorcycle, was my passenger. I had tried as hard as I could to shake her off, and failed. I hung my head, a failure. Not only had I not shaken her off the back and out of her dream, but we had not seen a single bear.
As I helped her off the back I thought maybe she felt the same way, that we could halt this journey in ultimate foolishness.
I said, “I’ll call you next week.”
She smiled, like someone who had just had his or her first motorcycle ride, and said, “Good, then we can talk about South America.”
The KLR did its job. I am now prepping a different bike to take us to the southern end of the earth, Ushuaia.
Between now and our departure I will lick my wounded ego, try to figure out how I can afford the next leg of our journey, and thank who or whatever gives a person like my passenger the spirit to live life. Her name is Donna and you can follow her ride around the world at www.ultimategloberide.com. That is, unless I give out first. She has raised three children and is now a grandmother. Grandma vs. Greg….and I have a feeling she might be able to outride me.
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