Alaska – Day 4

Talkeetna to Fairbanks – 270 miles

Have I ever mentioned that I dislike riding in the rain?  Well, this may have been the day that cured me of that.  Actually, I used to find riding in the rain a bit scary.  Over the course of this summer, and especially this trip, I have had little choice but to push through the fear and keep moving forward.  Maybe that’s been the best thing for me.

As we left Talkeetna the skies were cloudy and before we were out of the city, it was raining.  I keep a riding journal about my trips and on this day I said “I was most surprised when it wasn’t raining.”  That’s the best description I can give you!  We rode past Denali which I was so excited to see but we were surrounded by fog.

I didn’t take a single photo on this day because it was just rain and fog all day and I decided it just wasn’t worth it.  We spent a little time at the Denali National Park visitor’s center and had lunch plus learned a bit about the history.  I also hit up their sticker section so I can add another one to my bike.  I have decided my rule on bike stickers is that I have to have ridden in that place, whether on a rental or with my Sassy.  I have friends who are more strict and will only place stickers where they have been with their bikes, but I decided this works for me.  What’s your take on this or does it even matter to you?  I’m always curious to hear what other folks have decided!

Our tour guide told us that this first part of the trip was the most boring.  I tend to agree with that now that I have finished the trip.  I promise you that the posts become much more interesting from here on it.  I would even go so far as to say that there is something coming you won’t expect.  I certainly didn’t . . . until next time, thanks for reading!

Alaska – Day 3

Anchorage to Talkeetna – 167 miles

This was the group’s first day of riding together and as we gathered in the parking lot at the tour company, I could feel the nervous energy.  This made me even more glad that I had arrived early and  had a day with my rental motorcycle.  It was the same BMW F700GS that I own and ride at home, but every bike has its quirks.

On this morning we took off and soon the nerves started to dissipate.  We rode maybe 20 miles away to Mirror Lake and stopped for water, gear adjustments and just breathing.  It might sound funny, but it’s amazing how the group energy affects everyone.

Our next stop on this gorgeous day was Independence Mine State Historical Park near Palmer.  The views from this old mine were stunning and I’m sure my phone photos don’t do it justice.  We had some time to explore the area, stretch our legs and have a snack.

Independence Mine

View from Independence Mine area

After this we headed toward Wasilla and a date with some puppies!  I had no idea there were puppies on this tour, but we had a planned stop at the Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters in Wasilla.  Apparently when these folks have puppies, they like people to stop by and spend some time with them so that the puppies become socialized to many different people.  Say no more, here I am to help with that mission!

Once we had our fill of snuggling puppies and watching the older dogs run, we got back on the bikes and headed for Talkeetna.  The ride from Wasilla to Talkeetna wasn’t super exciting, but we did see a group of photographers on the side of the road in time to determine they were photographing a moose!  Since we were riding, I didn’t get a good look at it, but it would end up being the closest moose sighting I would have on this trip.

Once in Talkeetna we had a little time to kill before we needed to head over for our airplane ride!  It has started to rain a little as we walked toward the air strip and while we had reservations to land on a glacier near Denali, I knew it was a long shot, due to the weather.  Everyone was disappointed that wasn’t going to happen but the kind folks there explained that Denali had been socked in clouds the past several days.  Instead we had a grand tour of the south mountains and so many glaciers that I lost count.  I do love to fly so this may have been the highlight of the trip for me!

After our flight, we went back to Talkeetna for some adult beverages and food before walking back to our hotel.  I’m pretty sure I was asleep within moments of arriving and that is the last I remember until the alarm went off the next morning.  It was a full first day, but a very enjoyable one as well.

 

 

 

Alaska – Day 2

All around Anchorage!

When planning this trip, I intentionally came in the day before the tour kicked off so that I could have some time to take the bike out and explore Anchorage a bit.  Our group was scheduled to meet for dinner that evening and I wanted a little extra time to settle in and adjust.  After arriving so late the night before (or, so early that morning), it ended up being a great decision.

At the time I made all my arrangements, I had no idea that a friend from the PNW tour last summer was also on this trip.  We discovered each other a week prior in the private social media group that had been set up for the members of this tour.  Being in early allowed us to spend some time catching up and we even had time to ride a bit together!

During the PNW tour the year before I had told my tour mates about the Tour Of Honor and so my friend joined me in visiting a couple of sites in Anchorage.  I’d thought about doing these at the end of the trip, but finally landed on the day before.  This ended up being another wise choice and I’ll explain that in a future post.

After we hit up the two Tour Of Honor sites in Anchorage, we took Alaska Highway 1 south until we were ready for lunch.  We stopped for some photo ops and kept saying wow, we’re in Alaska!  We had a lovely ride along the coast of the Cook Inlet.  We’d hope to travel all the way to Hope, Alaska but sorting out the rental bikes took longer than anticipated, but was time well spent.

Alaska Highway 1 south

View of the Cook Inlet

That evening the entire group came together for the first time.  There was a lot of laughter and speculation about what we’d be seeing in the week ahead.  After dinner we all headed back to the hotel to catch some sleep and prepare for the adventure the next day would bring!

Alaska – Day 1

Day 1 – travel from Denver to Seattle to Anchorage

Once I booked my Alaska tour and the trip had enough people registered to be locked in, it was time to think about airfare.  I knew it was a long trip and would be expensive, but I didn’t know just HOW expensive!  I finally settled on a flight with a layover each way to make it more affordable for me.  As I was heading for the Denver airport, a text came in that my flight was now leaving 30 minutes later than scheduled.  My layover was only 60 minutes in Seattle.  Gulp.  I started to question my choices in saving money on the flight.  As we sat on the runway in Denver, an announcement from the pilot: there was too much traffic coming into Seattle and we were going to delay our takeoff another 20 minutes.  Oh boy, 10 minute layover now!  Yikes!

I tried to put all of this out of my mind and just relax for the flight.  Nothing I can do anyway, right?  I can’t fly that plane and the pilots were doing the best they could to get us to Seattle safely.  As we started to prepare for landing in Seattle, the woman across the aisle from me asked the flight attendant about connecting flights.  It turns out she was on the same flight I was scheduled on into Anchorage.    What annoyed and amused me about their conversation was the passenger asking if the connecting flight would be held since we had left late and then been delayed again.  The flight attendant looked at her and said of course not, it’s not OUR fault.  Now wait just a moment here!  I could only shake my head at that.

Upon leaving the plane, we found there was no airline representative waiting for us in Seattle.  The lady across the aisle looked at me and said is that good or bad?  I had to assume it was a good sign that we were not all rebooked.  Regardless, my suggestion was we make a run for the next flight and cross our fingers.  Within minutes there were 10 of us from the Denver flight sprinting to the next gate.  I was surprised to find the flight there and the door still open when we arrived despite it being only about 1 minute to the scheduled take off.  As more and more passengers came on the plane, I learned there were at least 25 people on the flight from Denver that were on the same flight to Anchorage as me.  Ahhh, now that is enough people to make an airline hold a flight!

I was so grateful to be on the ground safely in Anchorage, but it was nearly 3 AM in my time zone.  I had been awake for 21 hours and I was feeling every minute of that.  I guess the chaos of the day had finally caught up with me because I found it nearly impossible to sleep on either flight.  Luckily my suitcase came quickly and I called the hotel shuttle for a pick up.  A few minutes later, there was the shuttle and I was on my way.  Oh, but you knew it couldn’t be that easy, right?

The shuttle brought us to the hotel and I remember thinking hmmm, this isn’t quite what I was expecting for the big pile of money I paid.  Then I chided myself for being so judgmental and decided to just get some sleep.  Except the front desk had no record of a reservation for me!  A few more questions and we realized that I was at the wrong hotel!!  Aggghhhhh!  The “correct” hotel has a similar name and was just a short drive away.  The very patient shuttle driver assured me this happens all the time and she insisted on driving me to my actual hotel.  In my sleepy brain I was eternally grateful for her kindness because I’m not sure I could have navigated those streets on my own at that point.

Once I had my room key at the correct hotel I vaguely remember dragging my suitcase in the door, texting the group that I had arrived and that was it, I was asleep at last.  The real adventure would begin the very next morning!

Alaska!

At long last, my dream of riding in Alaska has become a reality and in fact, I’m back home now and even unpacked!  Well, I should say the clothes are unpacked.  The rest of the unpacking is going to take a bit longer because Alaska is everything and nothing I expected it to be.

I suspect that as I start to pull it all apart and write the posts about the days of my trip it will reveal even more.  Rather like the layers of an onion.  I have unfinished business with Alaska now and at some point will return to close that chapter.  But I feel pretty confident saying that it won’t be right away.

This was a very emotional experience for me, and not just now in hindsight.  There was a moment on the trip that I came around a bend and stopped overlooking a meadow full of fireweed and greenery, a river and in the distance a mountain and glacier.  I was so in awe that my jaw dropped and tears sprang into my eyes for several moments.  This was when it hit me that I was in Alaska!  I could not have known in it that moment, but this was going to be a pivotal day for me.  It sounds cliche to say the trip changed my life, but I know that it has.

I learned a great deal about myself and a few things about human nature on this trip.  In both cases, some positive and some not so positive.  I reminded myself often that I can only change myself and that’s where my focus will be going forward.  Out of this experience I will become a stronger, more confident rider.  Also a different rider than before.  Sometimes change is hard, but I am ready to do the work.

I’ll be back, Alaska.  But first, I want to soak in the experience of my first trip there a little while longer.

Overwhelming Gratitude

Recently I was hit by a tidal wave of emotions.  A blast of gratitude so strong that it overwhelmed my ability to process it for a few minutes.  That in itself is an amazing gift, but when I started to look at everything behind it, I was actually in tears – happy ones of course!

Motorcycle travel.  I’ve written a great deal already about my summer riding and the amazing trips I’ve been blessed to experience this year.  There is still another to come and I can’t even describe how excited I am for Alaska.  That has been a dream of mine for over five years.  The bonus for me in all of it is that after I found my beautiful Sassy last year, I feel like I have the best bike possible to travel on.  Sassy doesn’t travel to every destination, but renting the same or a similar bike has made all the difference in how I enjoy motorcycle travel.  Also having put a good bit of miles on in the last year has helped build my confidence and my skills.  When I look back to the beginning of last summer I can’t believe how terrified and unprepared I felt.  Or maybe I should say that I am grateful for all I’ve learned and how the miles and people who have been patiently teaching me made such an impact.

Dear, dear friends.  To me, there is no substitute for a trusted group of friends who you know will have your back and you have theirs.  Some live farther away, but each of them is a treasure in my life.  I’ve always been a person who values a small group of close, trusted friends over a large group that I know less well.  In the last couple years I have been fortunate to add some new friends to my world.  I am grateful for the joy that each of them brings to my life.

Best riding partner, ever!  Yes, he is also a dear friend, but I feel like he deserves his own category.  We literally met on the side of the road and rode together the very next day.  Our riding styles are compatible, we learn together and from each other and have grown to trust and lean on each other.  It is a joy to ride with someone that you know so well you can anticipate how they are going to handle most situations.  When we get it wrong, we talk it out and make adjustments for next time.  I can and do ride by myself, but the miles I’ve put on with my riding buddy are some of my favorite and I always look forward to our next adventure!

Cool job.  It isn’t just my job, it’s the company I work for, my boss and my colleagues.  I prefer to focus on the positive so I’m going to say that this job is what I have dreamed of for many years.  I feel valued and heard.  We treat each other like adults and everyone values their work life balance; that isn’t just a phrase on the website to apease HR.  My boss appreciates what I bring to the team and actively encourages me to grow in my field.  He asks which direction I want my career to go and how he can help me reach those goals.  When I request time off he always approves it right away and then makes a point to ask how my trip was when I return.

Decent finances.  Yes, these trips cost and I realize I am fortunate to have the means to afford them.  I had plenty of years of working two jobs just to pay the rent and support myself. Thankfully those days are gone and hopefully never return.  I also worked a ton last year and took only one week off because I had no paid time off or holidays.  This year I am reaping the rewards of that and I appreciate every paid day off that I have!

After this incredible summer, I’m not sure what I will set my sights on next.  At this point I am trying to be open to whatever adventures may come my way for next year.  I know that this will be one to remember for a long, long time.

Rethinking Group Rides

This is a topic I’ve been considering writing about for a while.  I was hoping that more time and experience would help me make an informed decision one way or the other, and I think it finally has.

When I was a new rider, group riding was intimidating to me.  I worried about keeping up.  I was anxious about riding my own ride in the midst of people much more experienced than me.  How do we handle being split up?  What happens when the rest of the group wants to go faster than you do?  What if you have just had enough and want to bail out on the whole situation?  Is that rude?  Is it smart?  Does it even matter, since my responsibility is to ride my own ride and to do so safely?

A few weeks ago, I went on a group ride with some people that I know and some I don’t.  I had never ridden with any of them before.  I soon found myself riding sweep with a group of guys and I thought hmmm, this is interesting.  Did I end up back here because they think I’m slow?  I’m pretty sure that is why and they ended up with a big surprise!  What actually happened is that a rider in the middle of the group was very, very slow.  Painfully slow.  As in going around curves in first gear and looking terribly uncomfortable slow.  Being behind that person was frustrating for me.  I imagine it was for the other two riders also behind this person, but I don’t want to assume what they were thinking.

When we stopped, two of the riders between the very slow person and me decided to head out on their own.  They said they lived nearby and it was more convenient for them.  I ended up wishing I had done the same by the time this day was over.  Afterward some people said the slow rider should be in the back.  I admit that initially I agreed.  Then, as I thought about it more, I realized the faster ones were not really slowing down for this person, so wouldn’t that mean he/she would have been left behind by them?  I’m pretty sure it would and that’s not what group riding is about.  That leaves those behind this rider frustrated and those in front of that person counting their lucky stars.  It probably leaves the slower rider feeling uncomfortable as well.  Surely they know they are slower than the front group and are holding up those behind them.

I’ve found myself in the opposite situation as well and that is equally uncomfortable.  When the group leader says don’t worry, we will ride at the pace of the slowest person and then takes off like a shot and leaves you basically on your own.  That’s no fun either. I was the slower rider in that group and found that it was difficult and very frustrating.  Yes, I could see them, way off in the distance, but I sure couldn’t catch them.  I didn’t do any group riding for a long time after that because I didn’t want a repeat of that experience.  So, it was strange to me that when I was part of the “faster” group, how impatient and frustrated I became being “stuck” behind a slow rider.  Where was my compassion, having been in their boots?

I don’t have a clear solution right now, but am leaning toward no more group rides.  A few exceptions may be riding with people I have ridden with before and know well.  Obviously going with my riding partner but I don’t consider the two of us a group.  It makes me sad to think about saying no to all group rides, but the frustration I felt on that recent day amounted to a day I don’t care to repeat.

What is your stance on group rides?  If you enjoy them, how have you found a compatible group?  What happens when you feel it isn’t working?  Do you politely bow out?  I look forward to hearing how other riders handle this!