ALASKA HAS BEEN a popular adventure motorcycle destination because it is stunningly beautiful and is just far enough away to be reached within the
typical constraints of an extended vacation. Nevertheless,
the terrain is not always easy to negotiate and riding conditions can change on a daily, even hourly, basis. Melting
permafrost or rain can make the Alaskan Highway all
but impassable at certain times, so you really need to
plan your trip carefully. Gas stations can be few and far
between, as well, and there is limited cell phone service
and even more limited 911 services. The formula we
used to plan our trip to Alaska has served us well over
the years, and we had an awesome adventure despite
several adverse conditions. Here’s the gist of our method:
Time for Some Miles
Once you’ve decided on your destination, it helps to break
out the maps and get a view of the bigger picture of where
you’re going. Whether you’re a paper map kind of person or a
Google Earth junkie, looking at the lay of the land from several
angles will help your overall plan enormously. The first—and
most basic—thing you need to do is make a rough calculation
of the mileage involved against the amount of time you can
allow. Personally I prefer paper maps for this, even if the entire
day-to-day plan will eventually get loaded into a GPS.
“Enough time” is a relative thing; if your back is in agony
after 200 miles of riding and your planned schedule dictates
that you’ll have to ride 400+ miles each day in order to be back
to work in time, chances are you won’t have an enjoyable trip.
There’s no point in pushing your limits every single day—that
gets old, plus, it will eventually become a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, you don’t want to end your trip thinking it
was unsuccessful because you didn’t get enough time in the
saddle. On our ride to Alaska, Edward and I were coming from
very different places as we pre-negotiated our daily mileages.
I’d spent the prior seven months riding solo from New York to
Argentina, while he was at home getting daily updates about
my adventures. I was weary from traveling while Edward was
jonesing for his next big trip. Our compromise for the Alaska
trip; no more than 300 miles per day.
Here’s where the fun begins (or at least it should because
planning the trip can be as fun as the trip itself.) You need to
know the mundane things (average temperatures, local weather
conditions, distance between gas stops, where the campgrounds
or hotels are) and mirthful things (where the best hamburgers
are served, where the optimal photo opportunities are, what
local highlights you want to see). Information is power, and it
doesn’t add any extra weight to bring it along.
International trips require their very own form of research
into things such as insurance, border crossings and their attendant paperwork, international driving licenses, etc. And you
can’t get to Alaska overland without riding through Canada,
so you’ll need to know what’s required of travelers. Short on
time? Shipping your bike and riding one way can be a good
option. So can taking a ferry as a shortcut. Perhaps you want
to ride up to Alaska on one trip, and take another trip home in
the future. This, too, requires some advance planning to know
what your best options are for bike storage. You could also
fly and rent a motorcycle in Alaska. All are good choices, and
only research will tell you which one fits your sensibilities,
schedules and your wallet.
When we rode to Alaska we endured, er, enjoyed eleven
straight days of rain. If you don’t have motorcycle gear that’s
proven waterproof, it’s time to start shopping. Perhaps it’s time
to pick up a second pair of gloves, too, so one can be “drying”
while the other is getting wet. Same goes for your motorcycle luggage. If it isn’t weather-proof, perhaps it’s time to start
searching the forums to find out how to make it so. Or, if you
are planning a trip to arid climes, perhaps you want to look into
mesh gear and dromedary bags to carry extra water. In all cases,
know the climate and be prepared for everything, not just what
the weatherman says.
Overview-Highlights of the Ride
Many people plan their trips around special interests. For
instance, Edward is a fan of anything space and defense related.
He starts his research months ahead of time and our trips always
include public-accessible air force displays, historical places,
submarines and such. A great place to look for the weird and
wonderful is RoadsideAmerica.com.
We have friends that are do-it-yourself history travelers. They
plan their trip around visiting all the historical places of interest
along the way. These places then morph into the reason for their
ride, giving it a theme, so to speak. When Edward and I were
Trip Planning and Preparedness
by Alisa Clickenger, photos by Edward Wilkinson
Above: Canada’s Yukon Territory is vast and quite picturesque.
Beautiful desolation: Valdez Creek, off the Denali Highway.