Sunday, April 21, 2013

Uraling to Alaska - Day 15: Watson Lake to Haines Junction

I woke to sunny skies, no snow falling and a brisk 5°F in Watson Lake, YT.  The plan was to wait a bit, hope for a rise in temperatures and leave around 9:00 AM for an attempt to get as far as Whitehorse.  I just looked at the SPOT track hoping to see a start time, not sure what timezone is set up....hmmmm.

Had about a 30 minute delay when Valencia's battery wasn't able to crank the engine on.  Tried for a bit, no luck.  Tried one set of jumper cables from a fellow hotel guest, no go and he had to get going.  Then, with a different guest's car, I tried the ones I carry but this time with a different grounding point and it worked!  The theory is that the battery was just too cold.  I guess I'll see tomorrow morning though it's not forecast to be as cold here tonight.

Anyways, I stopped briefly at the famed Sign Forest for pictures.  Quite the place, it was however full of snow so I didn't linger long.  The temperatures had soared into the low teens so it was time to hit the road.

 Sign Forest in Watson Lake, YT

The roads were clear going out of town but soon turned to snow-covered two lane highway.  It was slippery stuff at times but I was going at only 40 mph and ended up using 2WD in the slicker parts.  I was really glad to have that 2WD, 1WD was OK but there was a tendency to fishtail on the slick stuff, only slightly, but it's the kind of thing that gets your attention.

I did see a small group of Caribou between Watson Lake and the Junction with BC37.  Three young males were licking the road ahead of me far enough that I was able to slow down safely (I am on snow at this point), beeped the horn several times, they finally notice me and they meandered back to their group of friends at the edge of the woods.

Mountain peaks along the Alcan Highway between Swift River and Whitehorse

About sixty fun-filled miles of snow-covered road riding later, the roads started getting better.  First it was a single cleared track, then wider tracks and finally, oh finally, it was clear bare roads!  I almost had myself "a moment" when it became clear that I was rid of the snow-covered slickness.  You know, it's a bit different riding on strange roads, thousands of miles from home, on snow; than it is riding on snow for fun near home.

Also, the roads slush and the cold temperatures contributed to heavy buildup of ice on the undersides of the rig, never had so much ice build up on her before.  I would spend several minutes at rest breaks, with my cheater bar, whacking at the built up ice.  At the last break after the roads cleared, I must have left ten pounds of ice chunks where I had parked the rig!  The ice had built up under the fenders enough that there was little clearance between the ice and the tires!  I even found the sidecar's propshaft covered in ice...we're talking about a part that rotates as one moves, it was covered in about a half inch of ice!

The only really major concerns were when the road went downhill, engine braking was my friend at that point as touching the rear brakes is not a great idea and even thinking of touching the front brakes is an awful idea, oh and damn sure don't downshift!  There were times when I was thinking that outfitting skis onto Valencia would have been fun.  For it felt like one was skiing down some of the hilly portions, no idea how the cagers and trucks didn't seem to slow down.

I rolled through 3-4 bridges that have metal grating as flooring.  There's signs before the bridge warning motorcyclists about the "shakiness" they would encounter.  Let me tell you, I was so glad I was on three wheels!  I felt like the rig was on the grooved pavement from hell at times!  The rig's front end "wandered" a bit.  I can't even imagine what it would feel like on two wheels.  On the last bridge, I made the mistake of peering through the grates and slightly freaked myself out looking down at the frozen water under the bridge.  Fun times.

The scenery along the Alaskan Highway, which is what I was riding all day towards Whitehorse, is quite scenic in spots.  It's a very nicely paved highway too and very little traffic.  I don't think I was passed by more than ten vehicles the whole day, of course, everyone is going like bats out of hell...snow or no snow.  I can't understand that.  Oh well, they gave me wide berth and I made sure to wave them onwards when they neared me from behind.

Getting gas at roadside stations each proved an opportunity for snow fun as the storm had deposited several inches on the ones close to Watson Lake.  Folks seemed quite surprised to see my rig, especially as I engaged 2WD to move about.  I was asked three times if folks could take my picture on the rig, one of them said he's using me as "a sign of spring".

Temperatures continued to soar throughout the day, eventually settling around 34°F around the Whitehorse area!  It was almost balmy!

I got to Whitehorse shortly after 4 PM, after the local motosport shop closed.  But thanks to the efforts of RichardM, I was able to retrieve the new inner tube I'd asked him to get for me.  Since I wasn't going to arrive till after they closed, they stashed it under a ramp near the store.  Thanks Richard!  Now I've got a spare tube and more peace of mind.

 Mountains on the way to Whitehorse, look how clear the roads are!

The S.S. Klondike in Whitehorse.

The pusher tire is looking worn down but I think there's enough to make it to Fairbanks, possibly by late tomorrow evening.  I am within 500 miles of Fairbanks now, staying in the small settlement of Haines Junction.

I had dinner with folks who invited me to join their table after we'd chatted briefly at the motel parking lot.  Renee and Glen were great dinner conversation too; they're on the way to Haines so Glen can take the ferry to Bellingham, WA.  Renee gave me some good intel on good spots to take pictures from and places to visit in southern Alaska as she lives near Homer.  Always best to get this kind of info from the locals eh?  (See, talking like a Canadian now)

Haines Junction has a beautiful range of mountains right next door. You can understand why I elected to stay here instead of motoring another 90 minutes to Destruction Bay even though there was still lots of daylight left.

 Approaching Haines Junction

Oh, and in case you're thinking it's about time nothing went wrong...I almost lost the main brake light's red lens!  Somehow, both screws had come off and it was just lying there, caught in the rear cargo rack, when I stopped to take a picture.  Sheeesh, but, I'll take this kind of trouble any day.  A little duct tape later, it's all good, will pick up some new screws from a hardware store.  :)


Canajun said...

Dom - Not sure why you picked this particular time of year to head north but I have to admit the snow makes for some spectacular scenery.

redlegsrides said...

Canajun, well, the contract I was on ended two months was supposed to finish end of May. So, the "free time" became available sooner. I am finding, April in Canada can be "interesting".

Most if not all campgrounds are closed still so must start exploring the concept of camping in rest areas...everyone I've talked to says its OK to do.

redlegsrides said...

Canajun....or, I could just have said that I wanted to "beat the rush", getting ahead of the annual lemminglike migration of motorcycles to Alaska.... :)

URALs need all the headstart they can get.

Martha said...

Yep, Valencia is a pretty thing posed against the white snow, and she like her owner, seems to do better with fewer people sharing the road.

To go to Alaska in June/July is a vacation.
To go in April, is indeed proving to be the adventure your mind, body and soul was in need of.

And you know what? Hard to become bear bait when the bears are still in hibernatin, eh?
Love ya!

Mark said...

Dom Great going! Your blog is very entertaining, being a 2nd year Ural owner i find your experience and travels on your Ural exciting. Thanks for the Tid-Bits On Ural maintenance. Go forth and enjoy the fresh air. Mark-CT/USA

Steve Williams said...

Dom- A 5F morning is pretty cold to set out for a day long ride. I'll have to pour through your posts to remember what it is you're wearing on your feet and hands. Even at only 40mph that's cold.

Glad this day was a bit more compliant -- no huge mechanical failures. 500 miles from Fairbanks is still a long way on a URAL even with clear roads. I'll keep my fingers crossed that the weather moderates and you can spend more time enjoying the scenery.

Ride safe.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Unknown said...

Amazing trips you have.. I found your info the other night,,, I work night and around 0100 I surf net to stay awake.. I have been planning Alaska ride yo while.. have a goldwing.. like cool weather also.. not much into snow.. am following you on SPOT as well.. I use ham radio APRS to trak my trips.. not as good but works.. be safe..Joe

Unknown said...

Awesome trips toy have been taking.. this one I would love to be on as well.. love cold/cool weather.. not sure if my goldwing would like it though.. planning same trip but in August. what kind of work do u do.. i am contract nurse.. work nights.. follow you on web page and SPOT,, be safe.. Joe

Unknown said...


somehow reading your words is like you talking beside me. I am feeling like I am right there and it was making me feel the cold, the vibrations on the grated bridge and snapping your photo at the Sign Forest.

Our ice/snow is a bit different than what you have in CO. Your dry snow still lets you ride in colder temps. Not here. Even in a car we get buildup under the wheel wells. You get no grip in our slush, only slippage.

Glad you made it safely, take it easy. Slow and steady is the way. Hope your tire lasts . . .

Your snow photos are beautiful, meeting new friends is priceless and gives you a break from loneliness

Riding the Wet Coast

redlegsrides said...

Mark, glad you're enjoying the postings...they are different beasts aren't they?

ScooterInTheSticks (Steve), yeah, at 5F it was "brisk" but with the sun out....I have heavy deersking gloves with thinsulate liners, heated grips and on top of all that are the grip covers which are just ATV grip covers....not as nice as Hippo-Hands but then again, not as pricey. As to the feet, nice heavy boots, they're well insulated so they're too hot in the summer. I thought I would need electric socks but so far, have ridden in the single digits with no major issues on the feet.

redlegsrides said...

Bobskoot, oh we get some slick stuff as well in Colorado but yeah, the stuff I rode through near Watson Lake was definitely something to ride carefully and slowly in....which is why I am so amazed at the lack of caution displayed by the cagers and truckers. Still, I didn't see them in the ditch further on.....

redlegsrides said...

jt lee, joe: I do contract work as a network engineer....kind of burned out on it right now. You should do just fine in August with your Goldwing....thanks for visiting and commenting.