For those of you who received my mailings from my last motorcycle ride to Alaska, you might remember me stating that there are a few words I never want to hear in the same sentence again…….gravel, rain, downhill…..and curve.
So please someone, tell me why I voluntarily put myself in that situation Knowingly?
For the Susan G. Komen Foundation to help find a cure for breast cancer, sponsored by Progressive Insurance.
I joined 15 other people, many of whom have had No experience in dirt bike riding (like myself. Zero. Zilch. None), and we left our comfort zone and headed up to Anchorage to become The Dirt Brigade for the Cure! We each took at least 2 days of training. Every time we started feeling scared or uncomfortable we reminded ourselves that this is still better than lying in a hospital bed with chemotherapy. Much better.
SUE, WE’LL FOLLOW YOU ANYWHERE
We left Anchorage on August 5th and got used to our new steeds, graciously donated to us to use for this ride by the Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA and Kawasaki Motor Corp., U.S.A. The 194.9miles to Copper Center on mostly pavement helped us learn our bikes, and the alternate amount of road construction gravel helped us remember our training; stand up on the pegs, turn the bike by pressing on the inside peg and get our weight off to the other side. We camped at the Copper Center Lodge, setting our tents up right alongside the Klutina River. Eldonna and I were the first to follow Sue to the campsite but the last to arrive at the site as we followed our leader who initiated us to trail riding by turning LEFT instead of RIGHT to get to the camp. Suddenly, we were riding single track next to a undulating river and then down a steep incline into a sand pit. Extricating ourselves involved climbing a steep, graveling hill to get back on the main trail to the camp site. Thanks, Sue, for more training. The next day was an amazing ride to Kennicut. 60 miles/120 miles round-trip of gravel and frost heaves (how the constant freezing and defrosting of the ice affects the road). We honed our skills on that ride and celebrated our success by enjoying a beautiful day by the now defunct copper mine. Kennicut has one restaurant and one bus equipped with a stove to make pizza. The young pizza chef, when hearing of our cause turned over her tip jar and donated her $7 that she had received that day. She touched us all with that act of unselfishness. A drive back to our Copper Center tent site and dinner at the lodge waiting for us, and we were all ready for a good night sleep. The next day was an easy ride up to Tok where we stayed at the Eagles Claw motorcycle tent sites. Vanessa, our host, was WONDERFUL. It’s an amazing place that she built. An old ambulance becomes a room for 2. A teepee also sleeps 3. It’s an eclectic mix of shelters put together with bikers in mind! That night the 16 of us shared a good campfire and a bottle of tequila. We toasted to our co-rider, Mike, for his 45th birthday that night. One of our ride guides, Roy (The sweetest bear of man from Apex, North Carolina), set up my little TW200cc bike for my electric clothing! I warned another rider, Shirley, his wife and girlfriend since the first grade, that she better be careful! I’m after her husband!
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
The following day things REALLY got going. We woke, ate, and got ourselves ready for our first real challenge. Top Of The World highway. I remember when I drove through the Yukon on my Honda VTX1300 5 years ago, everyone I passed talked me out of attempting that road. It was high up with no guard rails and MAJOR drop offs. The edge scallops off to the abyss below with the slightest of rain (and if you know Alaska and the Yukon, you know that rain is its ’morning coffee.’ The day just isn’t a day without it) and that bike just wasn‘t the right bike for the gravel and potholes that the road wears proudly. A dual purpose sport bike, ready for road AND dirt was the right machine to challenge it and now I am on that type of bike. And so I suited up with all the padding and armor I came with and rode the 2 miles to breakfast, ready to fortify myself for the journey. But what I ended up doing was fortifying myself against being able to move!
From the waist up I was wearing a silk undershirt, a silk turtleneck (silk is great for the cold), my electric jacket liner, my full upper body armor (which is quite bulky) and my already armored jacket with liner. From the waist down I was better. Silk stockings for warmth, armored underwear sporting padding in the hips, thighs and seat, armored sport bike pants with rainproof liner also armored in the hips and knees and then my electric pants. My hands were ready in my electric gloves liners inside my leather waterproof gloves.
But ready for what? I couldn’t move! I couldn’t get off my bike!
So, after being helped off my bike I tried various combinations of layers and got it whittled down. Drop the liner for my jacket (the electric vest works as such), pull out the armor in the jacket (the full upper body armor was quite strong) and ditch the electric pants (the liner worked perfectly). It’s a miracle! I can walk again!
ANYONE FOR A GAME OF CHICKEN?
So we all rode the 80 miles to Chicken, Alaska and got ourselves ready for Top Of The World. Most of our riders were Sourdoughs, people new to Alaska, so they held no fear for what was to come. Not me. Chicken to Dawson in Yukon, Canada. 187 miles altogether from Tok to Dawson, and 107 of those are, well, how do I describe them………..
Some of the other riders in our group described it as ‘Exhilarating’ ‘Exciting’ ‘Adventurous’. Ok, I’ll take those words and add in ‘Terrorizing,’ ‘Terrifying’ ‘Horrifying’. Ok, any ‘ying’ you can think of. I learned something very interesting about myself on this ride. I am NOT scared of heights. I’m just scared of falling off them. And the Top Of The World Highway is filled with twists and turns, a small shoulder that breaks away with the slightest of rain and claims the souls of many an RV, and just enough gravel to add suspense as to ‘is she going to stay on the road or not?’
We all did! I survived it!!! I was riding behind my group leader, Sue Slate. I focused on her, ignoring the major drop offs that hugged the road, standing on the pegs when she did, sitting when she did. When we got to Dawson, up in the Yukon, everyone was so excited saying things like, “Did you see that overturned RV? Did you see that beaver with the stick in his mouth? Did you see that bear?” Nope. I saw none of it. All I saw was Sue’s butt. I’m going to take a photo of that butt on the bike and caption it, “Marna’s Vacation”
We pitched our tents in a downpour of rain and walked over to the SourDough Restaurant for dinner. Dinner digested and many went to bed. I set out with my tentmate, Eldonna and we enjoyed a 12:30pm show at Gerties, the local gambling hole. Some entertainment, some slot machines, some loss of money to the slot machines, some Yukon beer and we were ready to hit the sleeping bags.
See Eldonna’s online blog for more stories, photos and videos of our ride:
And this is end of part one. Part 2 next time I get internet service
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