|This article tells the tale of a great ride. The ride shows what our motorcycling passion is all about and why we do what we do. It also shows the durability, trustworthiness and versatility of our Nighthawks. Read and enjoy, then sit back, close your eyes and imagine that you were there to experience it with Russ.|
|Summary: Russ completes a SS1000 on his '91 750 Nighthawk||The road stretches on forever, the thin white line, your friend, and the sun that never sets is a blessing, the mindset, the goal, the end.
"Why?" asked my best friend when I told her I was going to do a SS1000. Because it's a personal challenge I responded. Because I bought the bike to ride it. Because I need to understand what it's like to ride for hundreds of miles without stopping.
Why? Because it's there.
This trip had been in the making for a while. I'd done the initial warm-up trip, made some adjustments and added some accessories and knowledge and felt ready to do it. I'd spent hours planning, poring over my copy of The Milepost, considering options and routes and finding gas stations. I knew a significant portion of my ride would have to include the Alaska-Canada (AlCan) highway and gas stations can be few and far between and with the limited range of my bike logistics would be the biggest challenge. Two lanes with shoulders is a luxury I would seldom encounter.
As always though, my trip would start with a ferry ride. Saturday would see me boarding my friend from the last trip, M/V Taku. Different crew this week, no small talk or chit-chat and I needed my sleep any ways. Work the night before had been hell-on-wheels with several late airplanes (I work for Alaska Air) making for a short night. Sleep would be a precious commodity and I needed to get as much as possible. Four and a half hours before packing to get on the ferry and three hours on-board would prove to be the bank on which I would draw for the next 24 hours.
Arriving in Haines at 11:30am (my start and end point for this trip) I drove down to the police station and met with the officer on duty with whom I had made previous arrangements. When I explained what I was doing he said, "Oh so you're doing a race huh?" I very carefully explained that it was an endurance run knowing that I might need their help again one day.
|Noon was my targeted starting time and I managed to hit it almost right on and I'm off. My goal was to average 55mph for each leg of the trip, leaving myself an hour and a half of cushion at the end just in case. The road out of Haines is initially twisty but quick and the six miles of dirt road encountered last trip had had it's initial paving. Clear Canadian customs and it's Warp time. I've added a throttle lock since last trip and there's no bike race coming at me so the miles move by very quickly. This time I have the luxury of being able to notice the scenery around me and as I approach Three Guardsman Pass I am stunned to see the difference from last trip. What was gray and white before is now green! All the plants have decided to sprout and grow and the change is amazing. The road is more easily traversed this time as familiarity make for less stress and wondering what lays beyond the next corner.
And the first major critter is spotted for the trip, a brown bear grazing on the grass in the ditch along the side of the road. The tourists standing next to their van taking pictures not 20 feet away makes me shake my head and wonder if I'll find roadside kill here when I pass this way again.
|Ten minutes ahead of schedule. Time for gas, Gatorade and a Snickers. Pump, guzzle and swallow. I need to use the rest room but there's a line so I decide to wait for Beaver Creek, my next stop and 183 miles away. As I climb back on my bike a Wing driver with a trailer asks me which way I'm going. "North," I say. He smiles, shakes his head and says good luck. I wonder why, but I've gotta go. 10 miles later I find out. Road construction. Pilot car type road construction. Dang. And as I discover throughout this trip I have excellent timing; I will always pull up just after the pilot car has left. I end up three for three in this category. :)
This seven miles of construction and the ten miles of construction I encounter shortly after the first is, as always, uniquely a mess. Detour here, detour there, old road, mud, gravel, ruts and swallow-your-bike-whole potholes. The first one I hit makes me go "ooof" and leaves me wondering how much shorter my back is. Dodging potholes is a wonderful experience of playing the Guessing Game. "Do I hit this one, or that one?" And, of course, it's almost impossible to look further than 30 or 40 feet ahead because you're so worried about which hole is next.
Next is Destruction Bay. A very large lake and the road follows every beautiful curve doing a wonderful job of taking the corners off the tires. Jack mentioned once that making the conversion from kilometers to miles was an exercise in "whoops, through that corner, to late to figure it out now." Me, I hit them as fast as it looks possible and end up braking in the middle of a few. Bad technique, not a huge crisis, as I don't drag stuff any ways, but it keeps me alert and on my toes.
The rest of the road to Beaver Creek is beautiful with wide open vistas of mountains and mountain ranges, dropping into river valleys to cross old steel bridges. The AlCan is slowly changing; being redone from the old two lane, easiest way through the land for the least amount of time and money, to two and sometimes three lanes with wide shoulders straight as a surveyors line minor highway. This stretch of road is still the old road and until progress catches up, patching is the order of the day. Canadians believe that patching roads is best done by removing all the pavement side to side for as long as necessary and filling it in with something that is easily traversable at a reasonable speed. 'Loose Gravel' means slow down, no pavement. This is good, for while there is a lot of patching on this stretch of road, I can keep the speed up and it looks like I might make Beaver Creek on time.
Then, rain. Weather reports called for it, satellite photos showed it, but hope springs eternal. Not today, I'm going to ride some of this trip wet. So far it had been very warm, low seventies (all is relative remember) and it was time to close the vents on my jacket and hunker down. The good side of this? It washes the bugs off and I've collected my share of those, but it means mud as well so I slow down and really jump on the brakes when I hit the nonpayment areas.
|Beaver Creek arrives and a good thing too, I switched to reserve ten miles back and man do I gotta go. In a sense, that need has been a good thing because the irony of the term "Saddle Sore" has not been lost on me. Stand up, sit down, slide side to side, forward and back, put my feet on the highway pegs, hang my feet over the highway pegs, any and every combination I can think of to ease the pain in my butt. Buying a new seat has moved right to the top of my list. I'm playing and will continue to play mind games with myself in a effort to keep my mind off the one thing that is driving me crazy.
But that's not the really important thing here, gas is. I get gas and try to figure out if anyone will be open when I come back through at O dark thirty in the morning. Card lock systems (credit card operated pumps) and 24 hour stations are non-existent this far away from anything. This could be the one place that sinks my plans for completing the ride, if I can't get gas here when I come back through then I'm screwed as I can't make the ride from Haines Junction to Tok non-stop and they're the only places open 24 hours. The gal at the counter points across the highway and tells me to try over there, otherwise, no joy. I scoot across the road and sure enough, there's a card lock system. A little different than I'm used to; go inside a shed, swipe the card, pick a pump, gas, swipe the card, get a receipt; but it'll work. It doesn't dawn on me until I'm 50 miles down the road that the shed door might be locked when I get back, but there's nothing I can do about that.
Clear US customs ten miles down the road and I immediately discover the difference between Canadian road construction and Alaskan road construction. When it says 'Loose Gravel' in Alaska they mean it, as in, deep enough to swim through with your bike, gravel. But unless the damage to the road extends all the way across, only the area that needs repair is patched. This is a good thing, because much of the patched areas can be avoided with some judicious riding in the other lane. Most of the problem areas are near the border and as I approach Tok the riding becomes easier. Warp speed becomes possible and I can relax some. The last 300 miles have been very tense and my body is telling me that by how sore I am. Knowing that I'll have to ride back through all of that doesn't make me very happy, but there's nothing I can do about it.
As I ride, I notice that I'm paying less attention to the land around me and focusing more and more on the road directly ahead. This road is to bad for my auto-pilot to kick in so my focus narrows. An extension of my personality you might say, the more demanding the task, the more focused I get. But even with this small bits and pieces of the world around me get through. I am amazed my the huge areas of flowering fireweed in the forest burn areas. Fireweed is the one flower many Alaskans judge their seasons on. It starts flowering from the bottom to the top and when all the blooms fall off summer is over. I've been watching the progress of the blooms as I move further north and the blooms are getting closer to the top.
|The legs between Beaver Creek, Tok and Delta Junction are the shortest of my trip. Combined they total 218 miles which is right at the ragged edge of my range. No wanting to push that envelope, Tok becomes my next stop. This is the junction between the AlCan, which continues on to Fairbanks and the road to Anchorage so that qualifies it as a major stopping point for traffic.
Gas, guzzle, snack and go. It's 108 miles to Delta Junction, my halfway and turn around point. This is easily the fastest stretch of road, looong straight stretches that just beg to be run at higher speeds (my version of higher speeds are not anywhere near Gerlach speeds). Amazingly enough, I only pass one car and one motorcycle going the other direction the whole way, but I'm passed (twice) by a Honda CRX doing what must be 100mph or more. I'm so used to passing everyone this trip that my mirror scanning has slacked off and I never even see this guy till he's by me and gone. It's then that I notice that my mirrors are so far out of alignment that I can see my knees in them. Oops, I wonder which pothole did that? :)
Interestingly enough I see my first, and last, moose of the trip on this leg. All of them though are hightailing it back into the woods when, or just after I spot them. Could it be that some noise my bike makes a 5000 rpm and 75mph makes for an effective moose whistle? A grin crosses my face as that thought and the Warchild deer story cross my mind at the same time. That grin quickly goes away at the thought of actually hitting a moose at any speed and my attention returns to the road.
|It's finally here, the halfway point. I fill up and go inside to pay. There is a certain ache and tiredness inside and the thought of having to ride all the way back knowing what's waiting is almost more than I can take. But there is work tomorrow and the thought of explaining to my boss why I won't be at work on Monday is not a pretty thought. :) But I also promised the woman that I love that I would be careful and I take an inventory of what I have left inside. Decision time, I'm nine and a half hours into this with plenty of time to take it easy if need be and the resolve hardens. "Suck it up, buckwheat" comes to mind and I'm out the door. I decide to grab some hot food, for night is coming, and I know I'll need the calories (yes, I do remember my lessons). Walk next door to the cafeteria and order just before they close. Wolf down my food and I'm gone.
Warp 2 back to Tok. Night is coming and the more miles I get done now means less to do when there's little light and slower speeds. Gas mileage is unimportant too, it's but 108 miles to the next stop.
Somewhere along the way I notice the smell of the land around me. Every place I go in this world seems to have a different smell linked in my mind. Florida, rotting vegetation; Nevada, dusty loneliness, Oregon, drippy wet wood; California, tangy redwoods; Montana, grassy sagebrush and suddenly the smell of this place consumes me. I can't place it, it's almost a sweet sagebrush, the hint of sugar and wildflowers, but yet a touch of pine. A scent, that if bottled or put in a candle, would be bought by those wanting a touch of the warm outdoors. I marvel at the intrusion into my senses of this smell and take a mental picture of the land around me.
|It's now that the concern about finishing the ride on time, let alone finishing starts to set in. The light is starting to fade and while it will never get completely dark, twilight is the most difficult time of day for me. I've had the PRK surgery and one of the effects was a reduction of my night time light acuity. As the light fades major features of the road ahead start to disappear. It's then that I decide that since I'm apparently the only person driving at this time of night that the whole road is mine. Once past customs I won't see another vehicle or person for four and a half hours.
The center line, when it's visible, is my guide, and when it's not, I'm driving between the edges of the road.My mental vision narrows to signs, 'Loose Gravel', 'Dusty Conditions Ahead', 'Dips', 'Frost Heaves', 'Gravel Patches Next 3 km" and more. Orange flags on wooden stakes come to have their own language; a single flag on each side of the road marks the edges of non paved areas, crossed flags mark narrow strips of gravel and long thin black and orange diagonally stripped signs demarcation between pavement and nonpayment. Braille for the road, you might say, each flashing in my peripheral vision telling me what lies ahead without having to look up and consciously think about it.
|Worry has been building since leaving Tok. Will the shed door be open? Will I be able to get gas? Or will I have to sit and wait until someone opens to fill up? I don't dare not wait here and get gas. Continuing on and hoping for the best is simply not an option. While there may be places beyond Beaver Creek to get gas, none will be open and running out in the middle of nowhere is a truly scary thought. Doing the Iron Butt hotel out here could get one a rude awakening of a cold nose wondering if you'd make a nice midnight snack.
But, heavens be praised, the door is open and I fill up. When I go back to swipe my card and get a receipt the machine tells me the printer is out of order. Damn. Ok, write down the amount of money, gas and the time and hope that the certifying committee will accept a copy of my credit card statement. There's nobody around in this one horse town at this time of the morning and I'm certainly not about to go knocking on doors.
My body is starting to betray me. My left elbow is really sore, my left hand is cramping, my right knee is burning and it hurts to move my neck. We won't talk about how my butt feels at this point other than to say I think the bones are poking through. Mentally I'm doing fine. I'm alert and awake and my brain is saying go, go, go, the quicker you get done the easier it'll be. I do some calisthenics and add another layer. I've been riding in the rain since before customs and the temperature has really dropped.
Shortly after leaving Beaver Creek the rain stops. The road ahead is either a lighter or darker stripe through the darkness and wilderness. The cool damp air has left ghostly, dreamy wisps of fog lacing through the trees and over the road forcing me to run with the lights on low trusting to that light or dark strip to lead me on. At times I ride above it, most times within and even a couple times below when I drop into a river valley that retains some warmer air. The whole experience is a little unearthly and sometimes I feel disembodied from the whole experience. The girders of the steel bridges I cross flash by like some strobe like discoesque image. My whole being is focused on riding and the few times I look up I see nothing but dark shapes contrasted by white fog and clouds and once the thought, "Am I dreaming?" jolts me back to reality.
I stop at one point to add my final layer. Bike idling, I step off and start to open my pack when movement in the corner of my eye catches my attention. I look up, and staring back at me is a lone wolf. He's pacing back and forth, across the bike from me about twenty feet away. Occasionally he'll stop and we stare at each other, me in amazement, he in obvious unconcern wondering I know not what. I take off my jacket, add my vest and put my jacket back on. I remount the bike and pull away and as I do so he runs along the road beside me until I accelerate and pull away leaving him in the darkness thinking to myself, "Loners, brothers, traveling swiftly through the night."
For each mile that I travel now the sky is getting brighter. It has never really gotten totally dark, for this is the land of the midnight sun after all, but I am grateful none the less for it. Destruction Bay arrives and I have to stop and put on my sunglasses for the sun is starting to poke over the tops of the mountains. It is here that I discover that my left hand has gone numb. Not asleep, not non-functional, just numb. I can look at it and command it to move and it does, but unless I look, I don't know if it does. This, needless to say, make shifting interesting. Say to myself, "squeeze", look to make sure I have, shift, say "release", look to make sure I have and continue.
Somewhere in the construction just before Haines Junction I hit the pothole from hell. I slam into it so hard that it shifts my Plexi 3 fairing down and towards me so that the handguards are pushing the brake and clutch levers in. The chin protector on my helmet slams into the fairing and my magnetic tank bag, which hasn't moved the whole trip, gets bounced up into my chest and ends up half off my tank. The pilot car will just have to wait. I stop and readjust and make sure I haven't broken or bent anything. When the pilot car passes back by I explain what happened and she tells me to continue on but be careful. Sigh, I thought I was.
|My favorite gas station once again. They're just opening as I pull up, so I fill up and go inside to pay. I also take time to use the rest room, not only for personal relief, but also to wash the bugs off my visor. Word to the wise for those running the '02 Rendezvous, if you're planning on just being able to fill and go, or to go long distances without filling up, you'll need to figure out some way to clean off the bugs. Even in the rain in the dark of night I was still killing bugs at a prodigious rate.
But the last leg is here and there's a certain euphoria of knowing you're on the home stretch. I'm actually going to beat my planned time by almost an hour baring any unforeseen problems. The bike is running like a clock and hasn't missed a beat even with the punishment it's been through. Part of all this is tempered though by the feedback of pain from my body. My back is starting to hurt from all the washboard and potholes of the last few hours, I'm starting to gimp around from the punishment my knees have taken standing up riding the washboard and my left shoulder is killing me, probably jammed from the pothole-from-hell. But, too, this is a blessing as it takes my mind off my sore aching butt. All of this pales though compared to what lies ahead an hour down the road.
I've done a lot of long distance driving in my car. 1000 miles in 18 hours in a car? No problem. 800 miles non-stop twice a week for three months to work two jobs? Been there, done that. But the one thing that stops me cold is THE WALL. Personally, I know I can get through two of them, and I have on this trip by simply opening my visor and letting the cold air blast in, but the third? Ho boy. And I've hit it.
NOOOooo! I'm screaming to myself. Not this close! I start singing (enough to raise the dead ;), yelling at myself, standing up and sitting down, varying my speed, but nothing is working. I can beat this! But then I remember a promise I'd made before I left. "I'll be careful," I told her, so I pulled off on a side road leading to a campground and stop. Found a place in the shade, set my watch and pushed it up under my helmet next to my ear, closed my visor and bunched up my clothing to keep out the mosquitoes and crashed. Half an hour later I woke up to the beeping in my ear and got up and continued to ride. Not much better, but enough.
Rolled down the pass and into customs to a lady who wanted to chat. I looked a mess and I'm sure I was raising red flags, but I didn't have many places to hide things so she eventually let me leave (thanks mom for teaching me good manners :). And then Haines.
|Pulled into the gas station to get my last receipt and handed my card to the same lady who had helped me 21 hours earlier. She looked at me kind of funny, but didn't say anything although I suspect she wanted to. Off to the police station, where the only officer on duty was the Chief. The dispatcher was kind enough to ask him to come back and sign my witness form and he too looked at me funny. When I explained what was going on, he just shrugged and said OK and have a nice day.
Couldn't get much better.
21 hours 10 minutes
Average speed - 52mph
Max speed - 85mph (guesstimate)
0 performance awards
|Epilogue||I drove my truck to work today. There's a certain amount of shame but also a certain amount of reality in that. My butt still hurts, my shoulder is still very sore and I've got feeling back in most of my left hand. The whole experience is still a little unreal, but I'm glad it's done, although it may be a while before I try it again. :)|
by: Russ Pagenkopf
'91 750 NH "Robin"