Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alaska- The Last Frontier

Nice doggy

Again, its another easy-peasy border crossing into Alaska and am quietly relieved as I'd hoped the warrant for my arrest from my unpaid Arizona stop sign ticket hadn't been processed yet. We'd met Ramey in Canada and he'd offered us a spot to pitch our tent at his house in Fairbanks. To be honest, We'd have quite liked a hotel room as we were pretty shattered but after phoning a few hotels, they were all well out with our budget so the tent it was.

Alaskan border

Ramey's place was a few miles outside of town but luckily he'd drawn me a pretty good map so it didn't take too long to find the place. No one was home but we knew it was the right place. Ramey is a friend of Karl Bushby (http://goliath.mail2web.com), the British guy who has been walking from Punta Arenas to Alaska via the Darien Gap, and just crossed the Bearing Straits by using the ice flow, with the final goal of getting to the UK, via the Channel Tunnel and will take something like 14 years, walking every step of the way! He is now part of the way through Russia but has been experiencing visa difficulties and has been using Ramey's place as a base so when we saw the sheer volume of equipment and camp food rations, we knew this must be the place. There were some cd's lying around the house including one entitled 'Bearing Straits photos for mum'. I could just imagine it- “Yes, that's very good Karl, now come and eat your dinner”. I'd read his book a while ago and was really looking forward to meeting him but unfortunately they were down in Seattle and Vancouver doing some promotional stuff. So we spent the following day doing fun stuff like oil changes and the like in preparation for the trip up north to our final destination- Prudhoe Bay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prudhoe_Bay). I bought a bunch of dried food to take up with us on the 3 day journey including beer as it's totally dry up there! The road up there is just under 500 miles from Fairbanks and turns to dirt at the start of the Dalton Highway. Enroute, we crossed the Arctic Circle and naturally stopped for some photos. While there, a family on holiday insisted we join them for sandwiches and beer- couldn't really refuse!

Arctic Circle celebrities

On day one, we made it as far as Galbraith Lake, just over 400 miles from Fairbanks so not a bad effort really. It's really quite beautiful up there despite having a great big bloody oil pipe running alongside the road. On day two, we got up to Deadhorse, despite me getting a puncture only 20 miles from Deadhorse (easily fixed), my GPS giving up the ghost (only temporarily as it turns out) and finally, running out of petrol as we pulled up alongside the place for the oil field tours. Somehow, we'de made it all the way from Ushuaia at the very bottom of South America to Prudhow Bay in Alaska, 8 months and 18 days later. My starting milage was 62,831 and by the time we made it to Prudhoe, it was reading 91,926, a fraction under 30,000 miles.

"Clunk, click on every trip"-
you can never be too tooled up on a bike ride

Confused GPS- Alaska's f%cked up sunset/rise times

Midnight sun

GS shadow

The Deadhorse oil field is as far north as you can drive yourself. To actually get to the Arctic ocean, a few miles further north, you actually have to go on the oil field tour which costs $38. The blurb on the place goes like this: “Commercial oil exploration started in Prudhoe Bay in the 1960s and the field was discovered in 1968 Atlantic Richfield Company but production did not begin until 1977 when the Alaska Pipeline was completed. Production peaked in 1988 at about 2 million barrels a day, but had fallen to below 1 million barrels a day by May 2005, or roughly 300 million barrels a year. Total production from 1977 through 2005 has been 13 billion barrels. As of December 2005, it is estimated that only 3 billion barrels are left (recoverable), which is roughly 10 years of production at the current rate. In terms of recoverable oil, the Prudhoe Bay field is the largest in the United States, more than double the size of the East Texas Oil Field, the second largest”.

Anyway, we finaly got to dip our toes in the Arctic ocean under the watchful eye of the oil field security guard, all these months and miles since doing the same thing in Ushuaia. With hindsight, I think I'd have liked to have started the trip in Alaska given that an oil filed camps generally aren't the most beautiful of places compared to the lovely national park down in Ushuaia.

The Arctic Ocean- We done it!!!!
(hmm, think I actually prefered the Carribean...)

Well never mind, somehow we made it and it has by no means been an easy trip. Very briefely, we've both had lots of ups and downs throughout the trip but somehow, no matter what the problem was, there has always been a way out of it and a bed at the end of the day. Looking back on my photos of this trip just makes me smile and want to do it all again to be quite honest though my bank manager might disagree!

I'd just love to be back down in South America though, where it's just so different and diverse. To my eyes anyway, the people there seem to be generally a lot happier with what they have and never seem to be chasing some impossible dream like the rest of us in the more developed parts of the world. I miss seeing whole familes stroll round the plazas of an evening, the utter lack of globalisation and the same old bloody chain shops seen almost everywhere else in the world, the incredibly varied and stunning scenery, the corrupt cops, whole Mexican villages coming out to watch the building of a speed bump, potholed main roads, and for us anyways, low relatively cost of living and no doubt lots of other things that will come to me over the following weeks.

Hmm, I really don't fancy having to wash that!

As as for us and the rest of the trip, we still don't know where we'll be shipping our bikes from but a ferry trip down the inland passage and Vancouver are next on the list.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Oh Canada

The wee border to Canada is surprisingly easy. So easy in fact that the immigrations girl forgets to stamp our passports, only briefely though. Its nice to be back in Canada, I've been here a couple of times before but not to the parts we'll be riding though. En route to Calgary, the fan on the KLR decides to stop working, though it turns out to be only a blown fuse and easy to fix, phew!
I'd briefly met a canadian guy in Baja who'd offered a place to stay in Calgary so this was where we were headed. It also turned out that the Calgary Stampede was starting the following day so some entertainment was guaranteed at least. We went into town on Friday morning to see the Stampede parade, catching erm, at least the last 20 minutes of it. I've honestly never seen so many 10 gallon hats! We also managed to get tickets to watch the rodeo in the stadium, as we'd heard it was a bit of an event by all accounts. It was pretty much a full house in the stadium as we settled in to watch mad people trying to stay on totaly mental horses and even bulls. I think the idea is to stay on for at least 8 seconds and if you stay on longer you get more points for looking like a rag doll getting shaken about in the mouth of a rabid dog. Impressive stuff to say the least!

Preparing to leave on monday morning during the first rain for quite sometime, we were loaded up and ready to go when (surprise, surprise) the KLR didn't start. After a bit of investigation, it turned out the battery was bone dry. Luckily our host had a charger so we gave the battery some much needed water and a bit of a charge and lo and behold, it started. Right, off the bike shop for a new battery I think! Whilst there, I picked up a new pair of Continental TKC 80s as mine are looking slightly knackered but I won't put them on till I see canvas showing through on the current ones.

We got to Lake Louise in the early evening and as usual in a National Park, it was chock full. So after allowing ourselves a quick look at the lake (nice, not many tourists) we decided to stock up on supplies and keep riding until we found another campsite when we bumped into Jim and Sandy on their Harley. They have a tent already set up and while chatting, we cheekily ask if we can share their pitch. They were such nice people and had no problem as long as the campsite ranger people were ok with it. Unlike the American campsite rangers, these guys couldn't give a shit. Jim and Sanday wouldn't take a penny for sharing their site with us so we agreed that if they were ever in Edinburgh or Oz to get in touch. Actually, that might be sooner than I think as Sandy's dad is from Nairn of all places.

We get to see Lake Louise and Lake Moraine the following morning in all their touristy RV-like glory. The night before, I was wondering what it would be like if all the carparks were actually full. Well now I know. Next on the hit list was the scenic Icefields Parkway (http://www.icefieldsparkway.ca/) in Jasper National Park, the road of which runs through a pretty valley containing several glaciers. We stopped at the Athabasca Glacier, which is 6km long and 1km wide and easily accessible though not if you have a lisp. It was pretty nice but I still think that Perito Moreno glacier is the best I've seen on this trip. There were signs as you approach it indicating where the glacier had extended to over the years and it is thought that it is now retreating at a rate of around 5m a year.

Near Jasper are some hot springs and seeing as we probably going to be getting a shower for a while, it seemed rude not to go and see them. With 4 outdoor pools, 2 hot and 2 cold, it was hard to leave but with the number of mozzies about, we finally extracted ourselves and got back on the road to a small campsite near Hinton. As it doesn't get dark till after 11.30pm, the kids were up to all hours screaming away, the wee buggers.

The next few days were a blur of trees, trees and er, some more trees where we averaged 450 miles a day and hit nearly 500. We're also on the Alaskan Highway, which has the proud boast of being the 16th Engineering wonder of the world. This 1400 mile long road was built during the WWII as a military supply route to prevent the Japanese invading and was completed in a speedy 8 months. Filling up the bike twice a day was certainly making a dent in my wallet as I was spending up to $40 a day on gas alone, bringing the daily cost to around $60-70 per day. At this rate, the monthly sum I pay into the account I use will run out very quickly indeed. As the end of the trip is also so near and after 8 1/2 months on the road, I really feel the need to cover greater distances now. Watson Lake, Whitehorse and Beaver Creek flash by and suddenly we're in Alaska!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The National Parks and some other places

I'm the fire starter

In order:

Zion Canyon- Saw it first thing in the morning so the light was quite nice. You have to get one of the free shuttle buses along the canyon due to the volume of traffic in the summer.


Grand Canyon (the less touristy North Rim)- I'd read you need to book several months ahead for this campsite so it was no surprise that when we turned up, the stoney-faced Park Ranger woman on the desk told us they were full with no exceptions. The pitches were all pretty huge but she was adamant that there were no free spaces and the nearest camp ground was the service free National Park site about 16miles back the way we'd come. We asked a couple who were just setting up their tent if we could share it and amazingly they were ok with that. We offered to go 'halfers' with them on the cost but they refused so we ended up with free accommodation. We thought we'd wait till just before sunset to go and walk to the canyon, only 1.5 miles away but by the time we'd finished faffing with the dinner and dishes, it was getting late so we took my bike. We asked a Park Ranger in a car the quickest route and set off out the camp ground. Once on the road, I saw a Park Rangers car behind me so thought it was the guy we'd just been speaking too but my assumption was quickly dispeled when the lights came on the siren bleeped. 'Not again' I groaned as I started to pull over but the voice on the p.a. instructed me to 'pull in at the lodge car park'. The car pulled up behind me in the car park and what can only be described as 'Junior Cop' stepped out, a different one to the Ranged we'd spoken to. Apparently, I'd just gone through 3 stop signs in the campground and speeded on the road outside- just what I need! My excuse that we were in a hurry to catch the canyon before it got dark didn't cut it, neither did my assumtion that if there is no other traffic at a junction, I thought it was ok to drive through. When Junior Cop handed me my ticket for $75 (he'd reduced my heinious crimes down to just 1 stop sign), I said 'fantastic' in a slightly sarcastic tone. Junior Cop didn't like this, turning around like Robocop this time and said 'excuse me?'. 'Er, nothing' I smiled. Anyway, apart from over zealous coppers, the Grand Canyon was amazing and rather large. The next day, we packed up early and rode to some of the empty viewpoints were we had our breakfast without hoards of other tourists.

Its quite Grand, this canyon

Bryce Canyon-In a word 'stunning'. The canyon is full of odd shaped pinacle-like rock formations. We saw it sunset so again the light was pretty good. We have camped at all the parks and at least this one (Ruby's Inn Campground) had a pool to get out the heat again. Lots of Harleys going about the place though but hey, this is the USA so we'd better get used to it. The next day, we did a little hike to see a rock that vaguely resembles Queen Victoria.

Bryce Canyon

Harleys- get used to em!

We then spent a few days in Moab, Utah where we also checked out Arches National Park, but it was really hot and busy. Lots of big stone arches as you'd expect though. Then it was Dead Horse Point Park which has a view to rival any at the Grand Canyon. A bit of bike work on the KLR was required so we used the facilities at Arrowhead. Moab is a bit of a meca for mountain biking and trail riding but the heat was ridiculous so we had to give it a miss, maybe further north though.

We stopped in a small place called Leadville in Colorado, where there's a great hostel - http://www.leadvillehostel.com/. The owner, Wild Bill is a right character, originally from Mississippi and grew up being neighbours with BB King and is also pals with Bonnie Rait etc and blues music naturally flows from the kitchen stereo (check out the music on his 'menu' page). The town is located on the crossroads of the Continental Divide trail and the Trans-Am trail so its full of walkers including a couple of guys who were walking from Mexico to Canada. They'd already covered 900 miles in only 2 months so only about another 2,000 to go guys! When we arrived, we were greeted like old friends and even though it was pretty full, we were given a private bedroom downstairs. Wild Bill does a cracking 'all you can eat' dinner and breakfast which was just what we needed to fill the void left by the stomach stretching of Las Vegas. Leadville, being a former mining town is a facinating wee town too and Bill filled us in on some of the local legends and history. We were really sorry to be leaving only the next day as it would be easy to stay a lot longer!

The very friendly Leadville Hostel

From Leadville, it was an easy ride through some spectacular mountain scenery past Vale and Aspen ski resorts to Boulder, Colorado where we were staying with Chris and Erin Ratay http://www.ultimatejourney.com/ who are legends in the overland biking comunity as they got into the Guiness Book of World Records for a team covering the longest distance on bikes (4 years and 101,000 miles). They were great hosts, putting us up in their beautiful home which as you'd expect, had a garage full of lovely motorbikes. We managed to get stuff sorted out, use their computer for internet (as its getting progressively harder to find any now), repair my leaking Thermarest sleep mat and naturaly, work on the bikes. Chris also showed me the correct technique of how to pick up a really heavy bike like mine on your own, so that only took me 8 months on the road to find that one out! We also managed a couple of nights out on the beers, although embarassingly, we were totaly out of practice!

Now watch and learn- the 'correct' bike lifting technique

Boozin' in Boulder

We stayed about 3 days with the Ratays, but it was time to push on to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks to the north. Grand Teton was yet another very pretty place, in a valley banked by the Teton mountains with Moose and Bison running free. Nice. We got chatting to a group of Goldwing riders in the campsite and one of them gave me a shot on his 1800cc, 900lb machine. Having no insurance, I was slightly nervous as I think he liked guns a lot but I had nothing to fear. It was a bit unwieldly to ride round the campsite although very comfy. He was probably as relieved as I was when I brought it back in one piece! There are also bears in the area (something we'll need to get used to) so the campsites are equiped with Bear-proof boxes for storing food, water, kitchen utensils and even your toothpaste. Slightly paranoid, we filled ours to the brim with our smelly stuff (of which we have a lot) in the hopes that Yogi didn't feel the need to come knocking on our tent.

Then it was Yellowstone, which has a north and south 'loop' roads so we camped in the south to start with. Being a very organised place, the showers were about 2kms away from where we got a pitch and it cost $18 as we weren't allowed to camp in the Hiker/Biker section like we were in Teton which only cost us $5 to camp. The south loop contains a lot of smelly sulphorous pools and of course Old Faithful, which went off more or less on time but for some reason, the one just down the road seemed to be gushing for a lot longer and a tad more spectacularly, oh well! On the way back down the east side of the loop, the road went through a totally stunning valley complete with winding river and herds of Elk and Bison. Despite the bear warning signs, we still hadn't seen one and were getting worried that we weren't going to when we came across an 'animal jam', ie someone spots something from their car and jams on the brakes to take a look, then everybody else does the same. Anyway, assuming it was probably yet another bison or moose, we pulled over and parked up. Walking back up the road, we were relieved to find it was not one, but two black bears having a bit of a forage in the berry bushes down in the valley below. The ranger who had turned up to sort out the traffic warned that if the bears decided to start coming up the hill, we'd all need to leave but they pretty much followed the creek allowing us to get a decent look through the binoculars.

From Yellowstone, our route took us through Bozeman, and finally up to Glacier National Park at the far north of Montana. We weren't going to stop for the night in the park so we stuck to the Going to the Sun road which cuts past a stunningly clear lake where we just had to jump in to cool off. The road eventually starts climbing up the side of the mountians, giving incredible views over the valleys below, definitely one of the bestest roads on the trip. So after a final camp in St Mary's on the other side of the park, the next stop will be Canada, one of my favorite countries.

Sin City

The Glitz.....

The Glamour....

The Reality!

What can you say about Las Vegas? Gambling, the Strip, the Casinos, the lights etc. As all the hotel prices shoot up at the weekends, we timed just right so we arrived on a friday night so we knew it wouldn't be cheap, but somehow we got ourselves a room in the Hotel Imperial for $65.00, right on the Stip. I have zero luck whenever I gamble so we saved that for later, opting instead for a walk about the Stip. It was so hot even at night so we tried to keep the walking to a minimum. The Venetian Hotel is decked out inside to look like Venice with a real canal and gondalears, the ceiling is finished to look like the sky with sunset and sunrise simulated every few hours. $0.99c margaritas at Circus Circus went down well too.

Indoor Venice

The following day, we had planned to leave and camp somewhere to save money but we managed to get into Ceasers Palace swimming pool for free so we lounged about there for a bit to get out of the heat. For reasons still unknown, I thought it would be a great idea to go for a ride on the roller coaster which skirts about on the roof of the New York, New York hotel. All I can say is 3minutes was more than enough time. Thank God, there is a metro line running through the centre as there's no way you would want to walk the length of the Strip in that heat. My GPS thermometer was reading 53 deg C at one point so that might give you some idea. You may have heard of the 'all you can eat' buffets in Vegas, so without any delay, we tried the one in The Sahara hotel which looked like the cheapest at around $12. You pay to get in, then are given a fairly reasonable 2 hour time limit to gorge yourself silly. I was impressed by the sheer volume of food sitting on the tables of some people, obviously a ploy to avoid burning up any of those valuable calories going to and from the buffet table. It was about 7pm by the time we'd eaten more than our stomachs could ever possibly hold and we reached the startling conclusion that there was no way in hell we'd be camping anywhere that night so it was back to the Imperial to check in all over again and enjoy some air conditioning.

Ceaser's Palace pool

Sheer class

Oh, and we also managed to recklessly blow a massive $2 out of the kitty on the one-armed bandits. It was all just so crazy but hey, this is Vegas baby!

Whoa there big spender!