Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day 23 - Return to Tok

This post is a continuation of my Alaska trip in 2012 for anyone reading my blog for the first time.

From Valdez to Tok it's 255 miles, maybe I could make it with one tank, I had filled the gas tank back in Valdez and that's always a good thing in Alaska.   There's a saying in Alaska, "never pass gas" and it's so true as I encountered lots of gas stations like this one, closed or abandoned.  I did find gas along the way.

A little later I see a bald eagle flying around and quickly stop the bike for a few photos.  I zoomed in but the eagle kept flying in circles and getting further away with every circle, after a while I gave up and continued on my way.

130 miles from Valdez I took the Glenn Highway - Tok Cutoff and quickly pass Gakona Lodge and Trading Post stopping again when I reach the Red Eagle Lodge.  Looked like a decent place to camp or rent a cabin but I was set in returning to Tok, after a few pictures I continue on my way.
Red Eagle site

Somewhere on this beautiful stretch of road I was doing close to 90mph on my speedometer, actual speed around 85mph, when I see a white car in the distance.  I should mention I had seen very few cars along this road and hardly any police the whole time I had been in Alaska.  I had taken my radar detector out and stashed it in one of the bags while still in Canada where they are illegal. As the car approached the last thing on my mind was police until it was too late and I saw the blue and red lights on top of the car.  I hit the brakes hard as he passed, didn't see the lights go on and after looking in my rear view mirror and not seeing his brake or the police lights go on, I continued on my way.  About three minutes later I glance at my rear view mirror and see a white car approaching with flashing lights, oh crap, I pull to the side as he approached and immediately stop and remove my helmet.  A very young officer gets out and the following conversation ensues:
Officer:   Hi there, do you know how fast you were going?
me:        I'm so sorry officer, yes I was speeding, it's such a beautiful road and I'm trying to get to Tok
             so I can call my wife which I haven't seen in almost a month, I wasn't paying attention.
Officer:   You were doing over 85mph, I see you from NJ, do you know what the speed is in Alaska?
me:         65mph? I haven't seen a sign on this road.
Officer:   speed limit in Alaska is 55mph
me:         oh, I'm so sorry, please don't give me a ticket.
Officer:   don't worry, I'm not going to give you a ticket but can I see your license?
               you not running away from anyone are you? or done anything bad?
me:        (with a surprise look in my face) no officer, just returning back to NJ.
              Thank you for not giving me a ticket.
Officer:   okay, I'm going to run your plate and drivers license, just hold on.  (goes back to his car)

I couldn't believe my luck, no speeding ticket.  What a nice young officer.  He comes back, hands me the license back, didn't even ask for registration or insurance.  He starts chatting, interested in my trip, wants to know where I've been, where I'm going next and what made me come to Alaska by motorcycle.  I simply make a hand gesture to show the scenery around us and say "I'm here to see this, who wouldn't like to visit this beautiful state?", he agrees with me and as a parting comment says:  "ride safe so you can return with your family".  I thank him again and continue on my way while he makes a u-turn and continues south.

More abandoned buildings, I see lots of this in Alaska

As I approach Tok I see a sign for the Little Tok River, I wondered if there's a "Big" Tok River.  Someone had used the sign for target shooting.

I stop at the visitor center in Tok and call my wife while this guy gives me the suspicious eye.  I see a small supermarket across the street and head there for supplies.  After buying something to eat, I stop at the gas station next door and fill the gas tank again, never pass gas.

I already knew where I wanted to camp, I had read so many motorcycle blogs and reports on the ADV site, I ask for directions at the gas station and head to the Thompson's Eagle Claw campsite.  I meet Vanessa, the owner, and she quickly gives me the lay of the land.  Vanessa mentions the campsite has no running water, electricity or Wi-Fi, she lives off the grid, but they have tent sites, a tee-pee, wall tent with cots, 4-person bunkhouse, a cabin for 2 and we just added an old ambulance that sleeps two, she adds.  An ambulance? I ask.   Yes, she says with a smile, but it's already booked by another rider.  The best part, it's only $10 per rider, you can't beat the price.  I quickly setup camp and start preparing my dinner.
Thompson's Eagle Claw campsite

Preparing dinner, can of soup, Chef Boyardee Big Beef Ravioli, 2% milk for after dinner coffee and next morning first cup of coffee and fresh water.

These are some of the other accommodations at the campsite, I would have liked to stay in the tee-pee but it was reserved for another rider that hadn't yet arrived.

The ambulance is a weird place to spend the night but it's all part of the experience at the Thompson's Eagle Claw campsite.  If you look careful on the second photo you will see a 5L wine container on the counter, it was supplied by Vanessa, the wonderful hostess, for all the campers to use.  I had wine with my meal in a plastic cup, it tasted really good.  She has water containers, cooking equipment and other necessities available for all to use since there's no running water. The door to the left is the restroom, a hole in the ground but everything was clean.

All the tables have a flower pot with different kinds of flowers.  Overall it was a very pleasant experience and a campsite I would love to visit again.

A German couple was camping on the site next to mine and we chatted for a while about their trip and my adventure.  They had shipped their bikes to the USA and had done the trip to Prudhoe Bay, they were on the way south too.  There were a few other bikers at the campsite but no one I knew.  I really enjoyed my stay in this very quiet campsite far away from the road.  I felt I was in paradise and didn't want to leave Alaska.

Tomorrow I will ride about 90 miles south and I will be back in the Yukon, I feel sad I have to leave this wonderful place.

To be continued......

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 23 - Ride to Valdez

This post is a continuation of my Alaska trip in 2012 for anyone reading my blog for the first time.

I left Copper Center early in the morning, planning on riding to Valdez, about 150 miles, and have breakfast or lunch there.  I will then turn around and head north passing Copper Center again on the way north to Tok, another 255 miles.  There's only one road to Valdez, the Richardson Highway, but it's one of the most beautiful rides in Alaska.  The views are stunning, the snow capped mountains surround you most of the way and there's a constant fog. Valdez is a small city of about 4000 inhabitants but has one of the most important ports in Alaska.  It is also the end of the oil pipeline that starts in Prudhoe Bay, the place I had been just a few days earlier.

The vistas are stunning along the Thompson Pass, it's mid July but the mountains are still topped with snow and the fog is a constant along the way, it made for a very cold ride.  I had my scarf wrapped around my neck, had to put and extra layer under the jacket and the grip heaters were on maximum setting.

About 30 miles before Valdez you pass the Worthington Glacier.  I stopped at the state recreation site but did not walk all the way to the glacier.  The sign said it's unsafe to walk on glaciers without special equipment due to the danger of falling in a crevasse, the last thing I wanted after having ridden over 6000 miles so far on this trip was to break a leg by falling through a crevasse.

As you get closer to Valdez you go through Keystone Canyon, carved by the Lowe River, where you get to see lots of beautiful waterfalls.  It's a narrow Canyon and I encounter almost no traffic, at one point I stop the bike and I'm able to stand in the middle of the road to capture a few pictures.

The air was cold, mid 40's, colder than when I was further north and colder than Prudhoe Bay but I was enjoying myself just admiring the beautiful scenery and the low fog.

I arrive in Valdez, located at the head of a fjord on the eastern side of Prince William Sound, head straight to the ferry terminal and ride my bike onto the pier, luckily for me the ferry was not in and there was no one at the terminal.  I had envisioned this moment multiple times in my head and found a perfect spot on the empty pier.  Right across from where my bike is parked is the oil loading terminal.  No one is allowed to go near but I didn't need to, the view from this side was amazing, I stood there for a while simply enjoying life.

Below you can see an oil tanker on the other side.  These two guys were leisurely going by on their canoe.

Valdez is also a fishing port, I head next over to the fishing area and find the port full of all kinds of fishing boats, commercial and for sport fishing.  You can read all about Valdez here

These guys were having fun picking the bones of leftovers from the fishing boats and seeing them eating remind me that I needed to eat too, I tend to forget when I'm having fun.

I find the perfect place for breakfast at the Totem Inn Restaurant.  The place was packed and that's a good indication the food is good.  I look through the menu looking for the typical, two eggs and bacon but instead find two eggs and "reindeer" sausage.  I had never had reindeer sausage and didn't even know they existed.  I ask the young waiter if they are good and she tells me they are the specialty of the house, that was enough for me, I'm always ready to try anything.  I can attest they were really good.

The view from outside the restaurant.

I couldn't leave Valdez without one last stop by the pier.  I pull out the zoom and manage to get a closer view of the oil terminal.  Since I was there, might as well get another photo of the bike.

With one last look, I turn around and head out of Valdez and back on to the Richardson Highway.

On the way out I stop at the old railroad tunnel, cut by hand into the solid rock, never completed because the workers from competing mines fought a gun battle which interrupted progress and the tunnel was never finished.

I continue my return to Tok where I plan on spending the night at a famous motorcycle campsite.

Luckily there's only one route to follow back to Tok because my WorldNav GPS was having problems locating itself.  I never figured out what the problem was, it had the maps for Alaska and had been working fine further north.

To be continued.....