Monday, 5 September 2016

Off to Alaska!

Most adventure riding overseas requires a little preparation and stress.  After retiring from Ural Australia management an adventure ride without too much organising was attractive. Alaska sounded like an out of the way place, a bit of an unknown quantity. Regular tourists follow the Inland Sea Passage, Anchorage and Denali while much of the rest of Alaska has few roads, towns and people. We did little research and set out to ride it as we found it, taking 5 weeks to knock off 7,000kms down to Oregon.

 With another couple we ordered two Urals to be ready for us in Anchorage. We chose the current cT model for its simplicity and lower cost and we chose new 2016 models because they are undoubtedly the best bikes to come from the factory yet. We added a trunk mounted luggage rack, a sidecar screen, a 10 litre jerrycan mounted on the trunk and we  purchased a spare tyre and tube to carry. A basic tool set and one of Rocky Creeks beaut electric tyre pumps saw our preparation complete. I had purchased a blue plastic lunchbox from Bunnings and mounted it on the rear fender rack. I carried it as hand luggage on the plane and the airline hostess thought I had brought my own packed lunch.

Tracey Harmon in the Anchorage Ural dealership had everything ready to go. When asked about the wildlife he suggested avoiding any Moose (cos they are untrustworthy - like a jersey bull), and also to talk to any bear that you have surprised as this calms them more than trying to run which cranks up their appetite! Tracey also mentioned we might not succeed changing a hard walled sidecar tyre with a tyre lever on the side of the road, but then he hasn’t met many Aussie farmers.
Meanwhile while we were organising our bikes, the local tourist information centre had put a real fear of bears and moose into our girls, so Bob and I had to calm them a little before leaving town with the bear spray they had acquired. Fortunately we left it unused with friends at Whistler near the end of our trip.
Our luggage stowed easily and took only a few minutes to take indoors each night and reload in the morning. We had chosen not to camp. We excused ourselves from camping quoting the "girls and bears" thing, but in reality there was plenty of accommodation to be had with comfy beds for old folks, even in peak season July.

We soon settled to a nice easy pace around 85 to 95 kmh and only late in the trip did we crank up to 100kmh or more on the motorways back into the States. Our wives find the sidecars are great for snapping photos as we travel and between the Ipad and camera we have some great pics. The sidecars are really easy to pull off the roadside with and when we were in town there is always room to park a sidecar. Two sidecars fit nicely nose to tail in a single carpark as well. In one full carpark they were turning tourist cars away, but waved  us in to park in a small gap beside the rubbish bins. I don’t think there was anything sinister in that!
The greatest advantage was the “Ural Delay Factor” (UDF). There are more passers by stop to talk to you on a Ural than pretty much any other mode of transport. We met some great characters from all over the world who were informative and entertaining.  This was a constant highlight of our travels.

The adventures started early when a piece of Rob and Marg’s luggage containing their passports fell off their bike. Fortunately a following motorist spotted this and stopped them a couple of miles later to inform them. Luckily when they rode back, the little package was still there in the middle of the lane and intact. A couple of weeks later I failed to lock the lid of my Bunnings lunch box and a big truck passing us sucked the lid open. Our big map flew out and five trucks ran over it before Rob and Marg could rescue it - now in smaller and more manageable pieces .
We followed the road to Fairbanks up North and on Independance day we joined a street parade with some friendly motorcyclists who invited us to join in. We put some good old USA flags on our bikes and tooted and waved our way for 2 miles around the streets of North Pole.

We rode across to Tok and then up the Taylor highway to Chicken which is a kind of crazy mining village attracting tourists. The ‘Top of The World Highway”  from there is a gravel road to Dawson City on the Klondike Loop. This took us over the border into Yukon.  It was raining lightly and was cool, but importantly the abrasive glacial sands on the road surface eroded our rear brake pads to nothing in a short space of time. Being new brake calipers they were a little stiff still and the pads were still brushing the disc after releasing the footbrake. The abrasive slush was adding grinding paste continually until the pads were eaten away. We avoided the rear brakes then for another 800 kms to Whitehorse where we had new rear pads sent to our hotel by the ever helpful Ural parts department.

The Klondike loop takes in the goldrush area of the 1890’s. Inadvertently we had stumbled onto this magnificent historical trail with the mighty Yukon river as its centrepiece and Dawson City as a living treasure from the past. From there all the way to Skagway we kept crossing parts of the Klondike Rush. There were the Five Finger rapids on the Yukon, the Dead Horse Pass out of Skagway that claimed a couple of thousand miners packhorses lives and many more features of a desperate and dangerous trek made by so many prospectors seeking their fortune. We were all humming “North to Alaska” by the time we had traversed the route of the miners.

In Dawson City we met a group of gents our age (UDF at work) who were in town to celebrate a reunion. As 20 year old graduates they built a log raft and set off in the lakes at the head of the Yukon to replicate the goldrush miners river trip. They actually travelled all the way down the Yukon for the best part of 12 months. The Yukon is around 3,000kms long and the river water which is fast flowing takes more than 3 months to travel from its source to the Baring sea. National Geographic featured their trip in its December 1975 edition.
A few days later we met some BMW riders who were doing a world trip of some 200,000kms on their BMW bikes. They came over for a UDF and Rob exchanged contacts so they could find us on their Aus leg. They came from Brazil and were aiming to go right up to the Arctic ocean from there. They had a lot of gear on board.

We stayed in a cabin by the Teslin Lake and had some interesting conversation with the First Nations lady that owned the cabin on their Klingit lands. She had "status" in that tribe and explained many aspects to us of their situation and their 11,000 year old history. Many of these tribes are successfully managing small towns which service their own needs and the needs of the passing highway traffic. Their magnificent lake out front of our cabin was more than 120kms long.
At Prince George, it was time to change our engine oil and the fuel and oil filters. We checked valve clearances and adjusted brakes, tyre pressures etc.The bikes had loosened up and were now easier to gearchange and could achieve faster cruising speeds on the uphill sections. We were avoiding the Ethanol blend fuels and at times we had a battle with the bowsers and their bowser mounted card payments. Just like the card readers in our shops, we hardly found two the same on those bowsers.
We were in the timber harvesting areas now and witnessed the ongoing massive harvest program to beat the pine beetle which is spreading north and killing the Lodgepole pines - about 50% of all the commercial Lodgepole trees have died so far! The  beetle is native and its progress North is tied to the gradual warming of the climate there. The affected pine species are being harvested before they die where possible and we saw some awesome stockpiles of logs at some of the sawmills.

At Mcbride we spent a night as the only guests in a quite large old hotel. At the nearby railway station we watched and counted as a train with 180 carriages carrying 360 large containers rolled through. The café owner at the station told us there is an average of eight of those trains rumble through each day. The quiet rumble of these passing trains rocked us to sleep at night.
I find the handlebars fitted to the Urals are a little swept back for my best comfort. I have adopted a practice of slipping a length of pipe over the grip while bars are still fitted, and prising them slightly wider. It increases bar width by around 40mm and straightens the alignment through my wrists. I did not tweak them as much when I first set the bike up in Anchorage because Tracey was freaking a little
At Jasper we felt the culture shock of rejoining the tourists in their thousands. The marvels of those high Rocky Mountains with their icecaps are an incredible site and a big money spinner from tourism. We thoroughly enjoyed the Lake Louise, Banff and Corman sections on a cool sunny day. We completed our animal sightings list there with a decently large Grizzly bear at close range by the roadside. We had already found Bison, Moose, Caribou, black and brown Bears and a white Wolf as well as some flighty Deer. Nice!

Our trip turned west toward Vancouver and out of the Rockies. It was very pretty zigzagging through the lakes and crossing them on ferries. It was in this area that we had our first blowout. The cT model has only been around for a couple of years and no one could really predict the mileage we would get from our rear tyre which is always the first to go. We monitored the tyres and rode on knowing we had a spare each. At 6,300 kms with still a millimetre of tread Rob blew his back tyre just before Merrit.

Out came the tools and pump on the side of the road. They are a hard wall tyre and not easy to change, but we completed the effort successfully as a team effort and were soon on the way. A bit of a side story there as a roadside tyre change usually does not have the advantages of a tyre changing lubricant to ease the effort of prising a dry grippy rubber tyre off and onto the rim. Rob had been advised that the best Mossie repellent for Alaska’s legendary mossies was a skin product called “Skin So Soft”. The mossies had not caused us much grief all the way, so there was lots of this greasy fluid left in the bottle and we made good use of it as a tyre lube. I changed my tyre in Merrit at a bike shop for good measure.

The next day as we rode through another mountainous section on our way to Whistler resort town,  Rob had another blowout. The tube we had put in his new tyre was an undersize 3.5 inch and only thin walled. It couldn’t handle the job, but we had a heavy duty spare we carried to replace it and had no further trouble.( I did casually wonder if the mossie lube had eaten a hole in the tube too!!) It was a bit of a drama where we had to repair the flat. The gradient was steep, the road narrow and blind corners above and below us. Our practice the day before saw us do the repair in quick time and that mighty Rocky Creek tyre pump blows the tyre up so reliably and quickly it was all too easy.
Once we rode out of our overnight visit to Whistler it was motorway traffic all the way to the US border. Not having stopped in Vancouver, we had a couple of days to enjoy the beautiful Washington state sights of Whidbey Island and then a trip up Mount Baker.

Portland  in Oregon was our final destination. Rob sold his beloved cT to Paul at Ural Portland and we sold ours privately through ‘craigslist’a couple of weeks later. They had over 7,500 kms up, but both were running well and  just nicely run in and had suffered no damage from their 5 weeks of travel. The new cT models had proved to be a good choice for this ride and they were easy to sell after we finished.


  1. so if you had jawas with drum brakes you might of made the distance

  2. Awesome blog post! Very proud to say I now own one of these beautiful bikes.