Since I had to get from Alaska back to the lower 48 for another year of CTY, I figured I should do it the exciting way. My last big motorcycle trip was from Grand Rapids, Michigan to San Francisco, California with Nate back in 2009, and I learned a lot about myself and about life on that trip. I was curious whether this trip would be the same.
In many ways this trip was the same as the last one, but in one big way it was different: money. I wasn't poor as dirt this time like I was last time. The reason Nate and I got to learn so much and experience so many new things on our California trip was because we didn't have a dollar to spare so every meal and place we stayed was courtesy of someone's generosity. Don't get me wrong, I received a lot of generosity on this trip from friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. But the difference was that this time if I wasn't able to find someone to help me out, or didn't have time or energy to do it, I could afford to just get a hotel or go to a restaurant. In many ways I wish I had been poorer like I was in 2009. I've been thinking about that more and more recently.
But on to the details of this trip. I flew my motorcycle in air cargo to Anchorage Thursday evening and I came in Friday morning after sleeping through my alarm and almost missing my flight. After getting a new chain put on at a local shop I set out hoping to make the Canadian border on that first day. I did have to stop to take one nap break, but mostly rode pretty consistently. I stopped in Glennallen around dinner time to buy some food at a grocery store and was able to score some free chicken nuggets from the girl who was closing up the hot foods section. I ended up making it into Tok by about 10:00, and although there was still plenty of daylight left, I was freezing cold and tired of riding. I ended up getting a hotel room. I can't help but wonder whether I robbed myself of a chance to meet someone cool or have an awesome experience.
The next day I got up and headed across the border. Despite having slept in a bed, I was very sleepy and had to take several power nap stops. It is only in the last few years that I've gotten accustomed enough to riding a motorcycle that I'm able to start nodding off while riding. Luckily, in most cases, a quick twenty minute power nap will recharge me enough for several more hours of riding. By evening I had made it to the city of Teslin, Yukon, and decided not to be wimp and pressed on. I rode for roughly another hour before the sky started looking really black in from of me. When it started to rain I turned around and rode a few minutes back to the last tiny town (gas station, motel, RV park) I had seen, only to find it abandoned, so I set up my tiny tent next to an abandoned front end loader and stashed my bag under the loader to keep it dry as the rain began.
The next morning I woke up to a dead phone. It turned back on successfully and had charge left, so I guess maybe it turned off because it got wet from condensation inside the tent, but that is just a guess. Since I was in Canada and didn't have cell service my clock was not automatically updating, and I wasn't sure whether it had kept time while it was off, so I had no idea what time it was, but I was far enough north that it was light out. After hearing a few cars on the road I got up and got going. I rode for over an hour before stopping for gas, and discovering that I had gotten up around 4:30.
After another day of riding, stopping occasionally for gas, taking four different nap breaks, and passing through Muncho Lake Provincial Park, the most scenic part of my journey, I arrived in Ft. St. John, BC. I filled up on gas at a local gas station and the attendant told me there was a camp ground about fifteen minutes down the road in the next city of Taylor, BC. I pulled in and started to set up camp when a guy named Wayne came out of his trailer. He made a suggestion for where I could set up my tent, and invited me to hang out by his bon fire. So after setting up, I went over, and he offered me dinner, and some bottled water too. As we hung out around the fire an he was throwing back beers which I politely declined, he became more generous and eventually ended up giving me a tarp, and pocket knife, and a days worth of packed food. By the time we were ready for bed he offered to let me set my tent up next to his fire to stay warm. It was soooo much warmer than the previous night by the front end loader. This was probably the best stop on my trip.
The next day I finished off BC stopping briefly in Dawson Creek to take a photo of the official beginning of the Alaska highway. It was then that I realized my phone hadn't charged the previous night, and was spontaneously resetting. I knew that wasn't a good sign but hoped maybe it had something to do with being damp in the tent. As I was going through Edmonton, I started to hear some banging noises that I initially mistook for pinging. Luckily I quickly noticed that t only happened when I hit bumps so I decided it must be something less serious. Although I was still beginning to have doubts about whether the bike would survive the trip. I powered through Alberta stopping for dinner at a family restaurant just an hour from the border. Being a rich wimp I decided to check into a hotel again, but found out that there was no water service in the whole city. I decided to move on to Lloydminster, a city right on the border. The next hotel I was trying for closed at midnight, so I had to make the trip quickly. Amazingly the fast go down the highway didn't feel as cold, and it was nice to ride without shivering for possibly the first time on the trip.
Waking up the next morning I discovered that my phone had still not charged and would not take a charge I tried several chargers that the hotel owner let me use with no luck, so I used my last 2% charge to write down the rest of my directions and send a message to everyone who would be expecting to hear from me that they may not for a few days. Right before I left I tried one final charger that would intermittently work if I held the cord at a funny angle. I didn't want to waste daylight holding a phone charger for two hours while my phone possibly charged, so I took off hoping that charger would work at the next stop. The rest of the day was spent cruising through Saskatchewan to the border crossing. The banging noise seemed to get worse throughout the day, but never sounded quite as distinct as it did when I first noticed it in Edmonton. Shortly after crossing back into the United States, I stopped at Rough Rider camp ground in Minot ND. The owners gave me free firewood so I could again sleep by a fire and stay warm. I also thawed out in a warmish shower. Before going to bed I secured a place to stay the next two nights in Minneapolis and Chicago. But as I pushed my bike to where I had set up my tent I heard a grinding sound and had serious doubts about whether it would be able to complete the journey.
The next morning I discovered what I had missed for several days. The new chain on the motorcycle was very loose. It had about 5cm of freeplay instead of the 2cm it is supposed to have. The grinding noise was probably the chain rubbing the frame. And the banging was probably it slapping into the frame over bumps. I went to a local shop and had them tension it and everything sounded way better. I continued on the Eden Prairie MN just outside of Minneapolis and stayed with Mark and Leslie Swiggum, Rachel's parents. It was awesome to have people to hang out and chat with, and they even hooked me up with an awesome dinner, shower, and bed.
The next morning I noticed that my chain was once again getting really loose after just one day of riding, but I pressed on. After blowing through the open road lane on the Illinois tollway, I made it to Chicago where I would stay with Anne Fennema and Emily Arkus just in time to hit rush hour traffic. I spent an hour on the brakes and illegally splitting lanes to try to get to their apartment downtown. Part way through the grind my rear brake stopped working so I had to engine brake putting even more stress on the chain. I thought the adjustment bolt had fallen off the rear brake connecting shaft because I had adjusted all the way back after the chain was tensioned, but when I finally made it to the apartment, I discovered it was still on and didn't know what was wrong with the brake. The chain was also back to the point of being very loose and rubbing. I began to wonder again if the bike would survive the rest of the ride, but tried to assure myself it was just a short ride in to Ohio the next day.
The night in Chicago was fun and filled with catching up with old college friends. Of course Anne and Emily were there, but I also got the see Sarah Fennema and Jake Christiansen. We had dinner and a bon fire together. And I went to an adult kickball game with Emily.
The next morning I pressed through the last several hours back to Huron Ohio on a limping bike, but we totally made it. Dad and I spent the evening working on the bike, and after taking two links out of the chain, changing the oil, and replacing the bolt that holds the rear brake drum stationary, it seemed to be in good operating condition. It was a crazy but very fun ride.