Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to make your woman happy: a four-step guide

Step 1.

Step 2.

Step 3.

Step 4.


I really like this bike! I picked it up yesterday at Morton's BMW in Fredericksburg, VA and rode it 50 mi back home for the big surprise. Even though I was keeping it below 4k rpms for the break in and riding the whole way on the 95 (I had to get back quickly before my cover story wore thin!), I had a stupid grin on my face the whole time. The motor just purrrrrs along. The shifting is really smooth. Nice pep, GREAT sound coming out of the pipes, and my oh my oh my is it a gorgeous shade of red.

Miriam was QUITE pleased. She's upgrading from an F650 classic (aka a "Funduro"). Great bike, but she was ready to move on. Too bad the weather stinks this weekend, but I suspect we'll be out there anyhow!

Oooh, OK, one more pic. The caption for this is "ooooh, electronics!"

The amount of gadgetry on this bike is crazy! (In stark contrast to her carbureted and very, very analog Funduro!) It puts on a pretty impressive light show when you turn the key.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Fall of Freedom 2007 tour! Boston to Alaska's north shore and back.

Click on the links below for the story,
or click the map for an interactive look at my route.

Heading home

Day 25-26: Ferry to Prince Rupert

Well, Day 25 fell on October 1. Well past the date when the mountain passes of the Alaska Highway became impassible to motorcycles without studded tires. That left the ferry. Not a bad option: it passes among the islands of the Alaska shore, making it a scenic break from riding. And Oct 1 marks the start of the off-season, so it was substantially cheaper than during the summer.

My bike. After taking this picture, I spent some time securing it to those pipes and ladder with some string. I'm glad I did:

The water started getting rough. The ferry ship was tossed. If not for my strong digestive fortitude, my pancakes would be lost. My overpriced pancakes with side of bacon from the ship cafeteria would be lost.

I lost count of the lighthouses along the waterway.

Misty mountains and fjords.

One of the many stops along the way. These towns are only accessible by ferry or small plane. Note the glacier in the background.

Finally, where I slept:

Just unrolled my sleeping bag on one of the deck chairs and slept under the roof here. I think I slept for nearly 12 hours. Which is just as well, because there is absolutely nothing to do on these ferries. I spent a good bit of time nursing a beer, chatting with the bartender, and staring out the window. Also read Cormac McCarthy's The Road in pretty much one 8 hour sitting. What a book.

Day 27: Prince Rupert, BC to Jasper, AB

No pictures. It rained almost the entire day. Lovely.

Day 28: Jasper to Great Falls, MT

Critters and mountains in Canada's Jasper National Park:

Day 29: Great Falls to Denver, CO

After getting rained on for much of the previous day, I fought some serious winds crossing through the Wyoming plains. Probably the most tiring day of my entire trip. And I got stuck with a speeding ticket. 85 in a 70 in middle of nowhere, Wyoming. Grumble, grumble.

Day 30-32: Resting in Denver

Took a break at my dad's place in Denver area. Did some much needed drying off.

Also replaced my rear brake pads and disk and changed my oil.

Day 33: Denver, Co to Gary, IN

1110 miles that day! Woohoo!!! And my butt wasn't even particularly sore.

Day 34: Gary, IN to Lansdale, PA

778 more!

Day 35-38: Hanging out with family in Lansdale

Back to Lansdale, the town where I was born and raised, to hang out with family and old friends and go to a cousin's wedding. A good way to end.

Day 39: Back to Boston

The Lansdale-to-Boston trip? I remember when that 300-odd mile trip seemed long. HA! I was back home before I knew it.

>>>DONE! Thanks for reading. Back to my main page>>>

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Days 22-24: More southern Alaska

Day 22: Exit Glacier to Copper Center

Southern Alaska is still wet. Nothing like waking up to find that your tent is in the middle of a two-inch-deep puddle.

Probably not the smartest place to camp, granted, but I got back late after the glacier hike and didn't realize that my campsite was in a depression. Ah well. Shove the whole mess into the side cases, have another granola bar, and move on.

Turnagain arm, again.

Hm. Well, at this point, it's taking me forever to finish this ride report. So I'll dispense with most of the narrative and stick with pictures. This is probably the right approach anyhow, as my words cannot do southern Alaska justice.

Day 23: Down to Valdez

Valdez is the southern terminus of the oil pipeline. The road to Valdez ... it is hands down the most beautiful road I have ever traveled in my life. Mile upon mile of this:

And this:

And finally, this:

Day 24: Valdez to Haines

No pictures from this day, as I had a good 700 miles to make in order to reach Haines, AK in time for the ferry, which was scheduled to depart early the next morning.

I rode back north to Anchorage, then east into the Yukon Territories. Revisited the stunning Kluane Lake and its soaring mountains, and I again got to enjoy the impromptu roller coaster of the larger ice heaves.

Then to Haines Junction, YT. Had a tense dinner as I watched the clouds gather and the darkness fall. The final 150 miles to Haines would take me through some remote mountains, and snow was a serious concern.

This road is supposed to be phenomenal during the day. At night, illuminated by a near-full moon, the immensity of the silhouetted mountains rolling past me was in no way diminished. Again, I was just struck to the core by my surroundings.

Eventually, I'd descended enough that the mountains gave way to the boreal rain forest of the Alaska coastline. And fog. Thick, thick fog. Also: rain. Slowing at times to 20 mph, I crept along. Eventually crossing back into the States. Found a small park at a pull-off, and unrolled my sleeping pad and bag onto a picnic table under a rickety roof. 5 hours of shut eye, then early wakeup to head into town for the ferry. I still got wet from the rain blowing in sideways.

>>>NEXT: Heading home

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Days 20 & 21: Anchorage & Seward

Day 20: Anchorage

Southern Alaska is wet. I'd learn, later on, that much of it is technically rain forest. But the night of Day 19, lying in my tent at a pull off that the signs told me was -- on clearer days -- a southern Denali viewpoint, all I knew was that it was raining. No complaints: I'd had spectacular luck with the weather so far, hitting rain only once or twice in the roughly 7000 miles I'd traveled thus far. With a little luck, it would stop by morning.

Another lovely view of mighty Denali

Or not. Woke up to still more rain. In what would soon become standard operating procedure, I didn't bother to fold up my wet tent, instead just stuffing it piecemeal into my side cases, however it would fit. Neatly rolling up the tent and fly and fitting them into the stuff sack requires more dexterity than my fingers could muster in 35°F rain.

Fortunately, I was only a little more than 2 hours north of Anchorage at that point. Even more fortunately, Anchorage is full of awesome people. Many of whom own motorcycles. (Alaska has the highest per capita motorcycle ownership rate in the United States.)

My first destination in Alaska was Alaska Leather, home of the sheepskin buttpad and other motorcycling delights, and something of an Alaskan motorcycling institution. I almost made it, but wound up sidetracked by the Glacier Brewhouse. Ahhh, nothing like a hearty bowl of soup and a pint of good porter to fend off the cold and wet. Anyhow! -- brew & stew break complete, I headed for Alaska Leather. Met the owner, Barb, and she gave gave me some references for local riders and shops. She also let me use the "courtesy computer" in her shop to type up the previous update. Continuing my extremely positive impression of Alaskans.

I headed over to the local REI to meet AKDuc, one of the local riders that Barb referred me to. (AKDuc is his screen name on He very kindly invited me to crash at his place after he got off of work.

With some time to kill, I hung out at a bookstore for a while, then headed over to another local brew pub. Lots of them in Anchorage, apparently. As I pull in, a family waiting for a table greets me. Apparently they ride too, and the son is AlaskaZman -- yet another ADVrider! So I have a beer and dinner with them, and we swap some motorcycle stories. I'm really liking Anchorage!

Eventually I meet back up with AKDuc and go for an evening ride around the hills above Anchorage. And I crash there for the night. The only downside to this Anchorage experience is that AKDuc's dog Comet almost killed me. Not that he was vicious; we're talking about a cute little terrier here. But MAN did he set off my allergies. And all he wanted to do was say hi to the stranger and hop up in my lap. Poor Comet. He only wants to love.

I take a few shots of my asthma inhaler and hit the sack. Ahhh, it was good to sleep in a real bed!

Day 21: Seward and Exit Glacier

On AKDuc's advice, I set out the next day for Seward, AK, a coastal town on the Kenai peninsula, which extends into the Pacific south of Anchorage.

The trip to Seward was spectacular.

A shot of Turnagain Arm, a bay off the Gulf of Alaska. I was told that it had the second most extreme tidal flow in North America, with the incoming and outgoing tides sometimes advancing as six-foot-tall walls of water. I didn't have the luck to see that, unfortunately.

(And in case you're wondering, the most extreme tide is supposedly the Bay of Fundy, abutting Nova Scotia. Not sure if that's true, but that's what I've been told.)

And on to Seward! After the picturesque ride down, I was rewarded with the equally lovely Resurrection Bay, on which Seward lies.

After lunch in Seward (delicious fresh fish!), I headed to the nearby Exit Glacier, which spills (slowly) down from the icefield that dominates the Kenai Peninsula. Approaching the glacier, I was greeted by signs marking its extent in the past: the first, marked for 1860 or so, was well over a mile from the current base; the span between later signs decreased, reflecting the increasing rate of melt. Apparently the glacier has recessed by nearly 1000 ft in the last decade alone. No doubt about it: part of my motivation for visiting Alaska was to see it before even more disappeared.

The Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield from which it flows were the highlight of the trip for me. Words cannot describe, and my pictures can't really capture. Here are some pictures from the hike up to the icefield.

Looking back down into the valley. From the signposts, I figure that the glacier used to fill this entire expanse, down to the base of the distant mountains.

Black rock; white ice; blue sky.

Finally, I reached the top. This is an arduous hike, ascending roughly 3500 ft in the course of 3 miles. Near the summit is a cabin that serves as an emergency shelter.

Like most back country huts, this one was covered with good-natured graffiti by the many hikers who had passed this way. Some observed the time-honored tradition of carving their names and dates of visit into the wood ("Izabelle was here"); others, words of love ("Tim [heart] Julie"). Some, no doubt moved by the beauty around them, wrote words of inspiration ("Carpe diem!") or Biblical verses (John 14:6). No one, however, quite captured the mood of the steep and rocky hike as well as this poor bastard:

Amen, brother. Amen.

The view from the top:

And a 360 degree panorama of the same:

For some scale, you can see another hiker in the top photo. The Harding Icefield is vast, extending far past the horizon in the above images.

The rule in the bottom left of the map indicates 10 miles.

Everything is overwhelmingly beautiful up here. Even the textures and colors of the crumbling volcanic rock are mesmerizing. The rocks...

... and the ice ...

... and the places where they collide ...

Shadows growing longer, it was time to descend back into to the valley, down to the glacier-fed Resurrection River.

Got back down to the base about an hour after sunset and made camp at the nearby tent site. Too tired to go back into town, my dinner was a couple granola bars and an orange. Ah well, I'd had a big lunch.

>>>NEXT: Days 22-25: More southern Alaska

Monday, October 8, 2007

More details soon!

Sorry for the long hiatus in updates! Between being away from fast Internet connections and just being plain lazy, I haven't yet uploaded my photos from southern Alaska and the ride back to civilization. But I'm back, more or less: I'm typing this from my father's house near Denver. I've been here for a couple days resting -- enjoying a real bed, home-cooked meals, and jumping on the trampoline with my dad's stepkids.

Tomorrow I head back to PA for my cousin Nancy's wedding. The plan is to do it in two days: here to South Bend, IN tomorrow, and then to Lansdale, PA on Wednesday. Long miles, but I'd rather just get it done. Then: a real update, with pictures. Southern Alaska was absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Day 19: Denali

Well, Denali National Park, anyhow. As for Denali itself, it's no closer than 40 miles to any major road, and it's frequently surrounded by clouds and fog. When I passed through was no exception: it was raining off and on all day. Here's my only shot from within the park in which blue sky was visible:

I think I might have been able to see Denali.

I'm pretty sure Denali is that white rise behind the clouds and closer peaks. What impresses me is not just its height (20,300 ft), but its rise above the surrounding land: this picture was taken from no more than 2500 ft above sea level. As its Wikipedia article points out, Denali has a greater relative rise than Everest.

Well, I was disappointed by the whole Denali experience. Until I tried to leave. (Look on either side of the road, a ways away.)

Oh crap. This would be incredible ... if I was in a car. Much less cool on a motorcycle. The sign at the park's entrance read: "Any wolf that is not afraid of people should be considered dangerous."

They were loping along the road away from me, looking back over their shoulders every so often. Great. The lighter wolf ...

... ducked into the brush. (That photo is on max zoom, right beforehand.) The black one held its ground on the left side of the road. Which left me little option but to go between them. Staying put seemed a mistake, as I could no longer tell the lighter wolf's position; for all I knew, it was flanking me. So I gassed it. Blew past the black wolf, which continued to hold ground, about 10 ft away when I passed it. I could very clearly see the color of its eyes. Yellow. I kept on the gas for a few good miles.

That was Denali. I rode another 100 miles and called it a night.

>>>NEXT: Days 20 & 21: Anchorage & Seward