Pack Light is My Greatest Lesson from Riding the Alaskan Highway
There were a few Alaskan Highway lessons learned by me, a few things I did right the first time, and a tip or two if you're considering the ride of a lifetime... Motorcycle Touring the Alaskan Highway.
Oh Crap! Too late to grab the binders... and you manage to thread through the 6" hole where they almost come together... only to spot, as you're still moving at 45 mph... the frost heave just as you come through that "hole"... You heave yourself up on the pegs and nearly jump the heave...
Just as your butt is Almost settling back on the seat, grinning and thinking; "The Old Man can still RIDE!"... the second frost heave... the one you didn't see throws the bike... that you didn't pack light... up in the air to SMACK your butt like a kinky girlfriend!
Ah... The Alaskan Highway! Suh-Wheet! :)
It's mostly all good... but there are still, like from just past Burwash Landing to the Border of Alaska... a few rough patches. :) and maybe even, that, 175 miles of glorified, paved goat path is gone now! :)
So... take your time, pack light, pay attention... and ENJOY the Freedom You're riding in!
I tend toward minimalism when it comes to motorcycle touring. Yet on my ride to Alaska, I still packed too dang heavy. Though, not near as much as some I saw that had so much gear piled on the backs of their bikes you couldn't see the rider from behind!
One of the problems with packing too heavy is that; you're going to be rolling on roads that often aren't in the best of condition. You may need to be able to maneuver quickly. Your scooter is going to handle a lot better... if you don't have the contents of half your house, piled on the tail rack.
Even though I've always believed in going light I did not Pack Light enough.
What was the main thing I'd leave behind on a second ride up the Alaskan Highway? Clothes... Lots and Lots of Clothes. :)
Though I may still ride a naked motorcycle, I'm not advocating riding naked! But, what Can I say? I figured; "You're goin' to the Yukon fool! and the Alaskan Highway! You better make sure you've got everything you need!"
So I took too much...
Guess what? Pack Light! They've got laundromats! Even in the Yukon... so carrying 7 to 10 days clothes... was...
That's right... Dumb.
There's no other way to say it. I screwed up. I didn't pack light. I packed way to heavy... and after a bit, all that crap is just a major PITA. Alaskan Highway Lesson learned.
Something else they have in the Yukon, is trash cans. So... it is possible to correct your transgression quick and easy if so desired... and I did that a time or two. My load lightened up a bit as the road stretched out in front of me. :)
Whether you're Motorcycle camping or making a motorcycle tour by motel, Pack Light. Pack for 4 days... do a fast load of laundry every four or five days, and keep on rolling with a LOT lighter, and less bulky load. Another benefit being that your laundromat time will be in and out, quick and fast!
On my more recent Black Hills ride I carried what I would carry to Alaska the second time around... 'bout four days worth.
I don't know how much lighter it was... but droning the mantra I'd learned on the Alcan; "pack light, pack light"... I did.
The bulk was probably 30% less junk... It fit on the motorcycle far easier, and as a consequence, I was more comfortable... right up until my cell phone died. ;)
On the Alaskan trip I also packed redundant jackets/sweaters. Not sure what I was thinking. For some reason I carried an extra jacket to wear when I wasn't wearing the Leather Jacket I ride with.... UH... DOH! Why? I wore the leather everywhere I went... so another piece of unnecessary bulk. And why a sweater AND a sweatshirt? All I ever wore was one or the other for another layer on colder days. Never Both, and I had some rides in pretty chilly weather.
The fact was I rode perfectly comfortable with my jacket liner zipped in and fleece jacket under. I did wear my long john pants a time or two on the coolest days. Once or twice I added my rain gear on top as another layer, which almost took me to, too warm.
So again... what part of Pack Light, did I not understand? :)
Tools? I suppose this one is really open to argument. I saw a few busted bikes along the way...
One, a Harley that had an exhaust pipe where the bolt had backed out, and the pipe was threatening to come loose and fall off... There were two bikes sitting there, and between 'em, they had enough tools to overhaul the Cummins in my truck... well, except for that ONE wrench they needed to fit that exhaust bolt.
The other broke bike was actually a custom trike... He blew some sort of axle stabilizer underneath. He wasn't gonna get that fixed, no matter what tools and parts he'd packed... unless he had a fully equipped chase vehicle shadowing his ride.
A third guy was doing a tire replacement on a dual sport in the middle of nowhere... Now... I'm not carrying a third tire, anywhere... so...
... my option; uh... pack light? ;) a very small tool kit for tightening minor things that might rattle loose, and an emergency tire sealing kit w/electric compressor in a small, shaving kit sized case... along with a "Towing Service" card that has no mileage limitations (Good Sam)...
That service costs me a $100 bucks+- a year, covers my Motorcycle... and... is GOOD IN CANADA as well as Alaska... No matter WHERE I break... they come and get me... cost to me? ZERO, beyond my membership.
They recently towed my truck, 120 miles in Utah... charge to me? ZERO) ... and they renewed my service three months later... so it's not like they're gonna cancel you for actually using it. (That's the third or forth tow with them, in I think ten years)
If I broke BIG... they'd get me to the first, certified repair shop, no matter HOW FAR it was. I'd just have to walk far enough to get to a phone to make the call. :)
My Camera... I had to take my P80 Nikon, 'cause we had a accident, just two weeks 'fore I left, with the smaller, S8000 Nikon (Pocket Camera) I'd actually bought to make the trip with...
The Bigger camera is simply a lot more cumbersome and inconvenient on the bike. As compact as that P80 is, compared to a DSLR... it's still too large to carry in a pocket... or in a belt pouch.
I wish I'd had the S8000 or one it's competitor siblings. The hassles of photographing the ride would have been greatly reduced if I only had to pull a good camera out of my pocket, and not dig it out from where it was secured in a bag.
So... What's the advice for cameras? ... Yup... ya'll guessed right... Pack Light! :)
Now, on to how I'll pack light for cooking and eating in my next motorcycle camp on the Alaskan Highway...
Up there in much of British Columbia as well as pretty much all of the Yukon and Alaska, us two legged varmints ain't at the top of the food chain any more. If you're traveling in a car or RV, you've got a "Hard Side" vehicle to lock up your groceries, shaving kit, utensils, anything with a scent that a Bear might think would make a good snack.
Let me say here; my leather saddlebags, and even your fiberglass bags... are not to be considered "Hard Side" enough to turn a Bear. Of course, some might argue, neither are the flimsy fiberglass walls of most RV's, or the beer can doors of a Subaru!
The point being... Pack Light. Only carry enough groceries for the next meal. Pick it up at the last place before you intend to pull off the road. Many actually stop at a roadside to prepare their suppers, and then ride on for another hour or so before making camp. That way the scent of their cooking is not even in the camp. Something to consider if you're at all concerned with being Bear Bait! ;)
At night I had a small kit bag, about 6" square and a foot long that I put whatever I might have for breakfast the next morning, as well as my mess kit, utensils, shaving kit... etc. in. I had a good length of parachute cord with a weight on the end. I'd sling that up over a branch of a tree... a good long ways from my camp... and pull all that possible Bear Gathering stuff, something better than 10 feet off the ground and out better than 4' from the trunk.
In the end, not if but when I make the ride again? I actually think I'll pretty much blow off cooking at all, and eat just about all my meals in a cafe along the way...
I'll carry only a pair of my military canteens and their canteen cups. I'll keep my lil' backpack stove, for a cup of coffee in the morning maybe, to get the blood pumpin'... but otherwise? I'm lookin' to Pack Light ... uh ... er! ;)
I think the socializin' and warmin' up in the cafe's and Road Houses along the way makes for a much better Motorcycle Road...
I'll still have to "Tree Cache" what scented things remain... but... it would simplify things a lil' more.
Get up in the morning, roll up that ribbon of highway for an hour or two. Stop for Breakfast... Lunch along the way... supper before I pull up in the afternoon... and only a cold beer bought at the last stop before I pull into a camp.
That's the Groceries change I'll make for my second Alaskan Highway ride.
Motorcycle Luggage or bags. I started my first motorcycle ride on the Alcan with a tank bag.
One more thing to have to worry about and secure. And, one more thing to leak when the sky busts open... which was the way I rode for 3000+ of my 9000 mile run... under a badly leaking sky.
I forget where I was... but... when the map I'd secured in that leaking Tank Bag got hard to read from getting wet... and disintegrated when I tried to pull it out from under the clear plastic top of the bag... that bag went in a dumpster... and it's contents relocated to saddle bags or the gear bags I had strapped on the back.
The gear I'd thought met a "pack light" requirement just got lighter!
Fuel; I carried four, quart, MSR fuel bottles I got at REI. They rode in the outside, net pocket of my REI daypack, sitting on the tail rack. I only used them once, which also turned out to be unnecessary... but... considering the distance between fuel stations, That extra fuel is something I'd not do without.
Knowing you've got that extra gallon or so, when your fuel gauge is gettin close to zero, and you're not Totally sure how far that dot on the map is away from where you are, is a comforting part of your load.
Other than that, I did pretty good.
I had a small inverter plugged into an auto plug to keep phone/camera/lap top batteries charged.
I carried a good bottle of Bug spray I seldom used... I guess it rained so much that the Skeeters without rain gear stayed home. :)
The most used and possibly the most valued gear on my ride was; My Motorcycle Rain gear.
The outfit I used is a light weight set from Frogg Toggs, made especially for Bikers. It's got reflective beading sewn into the seams. It Stuffs into a small bundle easy to stuff into an accessible spot in a saddle bag or gear bag, for quick access to get on in the face of an approaching squall.
To my surprise, considering the "Breath-ability" of the Frogg Toggs design, I even wore it on chilly days, because it added a light but noticeable layer of wind cutting ability.
Along with the Frogg Toggs I wore boots that had a "Gore-Tex" type inner liner. Keeping your feet dry on wet roads goes a long way toward keeping the rest of you warm and comfortable. Truly waterproof boots eliminates the hassle of trying to get on and out of some sort of waterproof "Bootie"...
When I hear "Bootie"... My mind is goin' entirely, somewhere else! ;)
The last and MAJOR suggestion I'd make... and how I WILL do it next time is carve out enough time to do it right. I had to squeeze my ride into 29 days... That's just too short and keeps the pressure on you to make miles.
Next time I won't start with any less than six weeks time available... and hopefully more. I know it's sacrilege but... there is more to riding the Alaskan Highway than Riding. You really need to make the time to actually stop and SEE more of what you're riding through.
So, if ya'll are planning a Motorcycle Touring Ride to Alaska... or anywhere else for that matter. Pack Light. You'll be glad you did.
and did I say pack light? Just in case I didn't... Pack Light! :)