September 14, 2013, Category: Alaska, Travel

How do you prepare for a motorcycle trip to Alaska. I had no idea. Mike and I wing it.

Planning for Alaska

Check out the novel: Trudge On, Soul

The icy wilderness of Alaska is the perfect place to lose yourself. But Warren doesn’t want to lose himself. He wants to lose someone else.
The book, Trudge On, Soul, is the result of three long years of late nights, critique groups, and editing. If you haven't read the blog, I'd suggest you stop reading and at least click here to read the preview chapters of the book. The blog and pictures have spoilers and the book is a much better read. Think of the website as a documentary, and the book as an engaging movie. Triumph Motorcycles did an article on my Adventure here. A Photo Album of the trip is available here. Click here if you want to jump to the start of the blog with an index of each day.

The Adventure Continues...

alaskaAs many as five of us originally talked about riding motorcycles to Alaska. Life, jobs, and kids dwindled the numbers and by January 2013, it was down to just Mike and I. Mike had a special purpose for going. Recently his father had passed away and riding to Alaska had been on his father’s bucket list and Mike planned to take his father’s ashes to Alaska. I thought it was awesome he added something with such deep meaning and purpose to our trip and I was glad I could be a small part of it.

Mike and I tossed around ideas, started buying gear, and continued to plan the planning the trip. We even got together a few times in the Spring to plan but in the end, we didn’t get very far. We were caribou in the headlights, two tiny dots against the entire land mass of Alaska. Trying to plan anything immediately felt overwhelming.  In addition, our experience riding was limited to local day trips. I’d never ridden over 400 miles in a day, or motorcycle camped, or even done a long multiple day trip. We talked about doing quick camping run but just didn’t get around to it. Going into the final weeks the only solid thing on our planning sheet was “Go to Alaska on Motorcycles.”

mike with tiresAs the summer rolled on, I found myself wishing the day was further out. This wasn’t anything like my other trips and I didn’t feel ready. Could we postpone a year? No, for a lot of reasons. Foremost, I’ve been talking about this for years and couldn’t wuss out and put it off. For myself and for my ego. I didn’t even float the idea past Mike. But I constantly swayed from feeling excited to wishing it was further away. We got together a Saturday or two before and put new Anakee 3 tires on our bikes, which took 5X more time than I expected because I couldn’t get my bead to set. New tires was a last minute decision and a really good move. Not just for the new tires on our bikes, but for the experience of changing them ourselves. Thanks to another friend, I’d recently learned how to change dirt bike tires, but the Tiger was more of a challenge. I learned that tire grease works tons better than WD40 for setting the bead.

Despite the fact that we didn’t have a hard itinerary, we had both been reading trip reports, looking over packing lists, and I had the latest Milepost Guide. Denali was on the top of my list and the Top of the World highway on Mike’s. We also tossed around Prudhoe bay, the Dempster highway, the Arctic Circle, Homer, and Fairbanks. In the end we tossed out the trips to the far north because we only had 3 weeks and would need different tires and gear. Mike decided we needed to throw in a ferry to really experience it right, and I agreed. We decided to start with the ferry because we really didn’t know what day we would be returning and we settled on the Bellingham to Haines route. This three day journey would throw us right into Alaska, show us some gorgeous scenery on the inside passage, and we could see a few of the coastal cities along the way. We also decided to camp on the ferry to save money and because it sounded more adventurous than hiding out in a tiny cabin. We read you can set your tent right up on the back of the ferry and I’ll give some good pointers when I get to that point just in case you are thinking of doing this.

I started to pack several weeks prior to our departure, which was good. It was a long, slow, trial and error process. In the end, I had more than I needed. Mike did a way better job than me, light and tight. During our trip we met a lot of people and multiple times heard comments like, “You are the guys on bikes? We saw you out there, man, one of you is really loaded down.” Yeah, that was me.

tigerFor you non bikers out there, my bike is a Triumph Tiger 800XC, what is known as an adventure bike. It’s a big enough bike for long trips yet able to handle the off road. It isn’t made for racing on the MX track, although my buddy Jason has jumped one 30 feet. I see it as a motorcycle SUV, the Land Rover of motorcycles. Cruisers (think Harley) and Sport bikes can be extremely difficult to handle on gravel, let alone off road.  Even a big Adventure bike can be tough out in the sticks. I’ve had a lot of different bikes over the years and this one matches my personality perfectly. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure that out.  For the trip, I added 3 pieces of luggage; a top box and two side boxes (panniers). I also bungeed a large waterproof duffel bag (dry roll) on the seat behind me and another smaller bag on top of the gas tank (a tank bag) to haul all my stuff.

Up until midnight the night before we left, I had felt confident and that my bike was solid. I liked my gear and how I had packed everything. Then I stumbled across a small detail about my hard luggage, each piece was limited to 20 pounds. I weighed mine and found them all in the low 40’s. This made me sick to my stomach. My biggest worries were how the Givi racks would hold up to my overloaded panniers, how my bike would perform off road, and how my tires would wear. I tried, unsuccessfully to lighten my load. I did some research online and, apparently, everyone overloads their luggage. That helped, but didn’t totally appease me.

I weighed the gear on the back of the bike, 188 pounds (which includes the cases). I researched how to adjust the suspension and made some changes before going to bed stressed at 2am. The bike could handle an extra 188 pounds, no problem, but could the racks? I had visions of them spinning down the road spewing all my stuff into the air (and Mike trying to dodge it from behind me). These images haunted me for the first two weeks of the trip. And every time something went wrong during the trip, it was doom and gloom for me. Suddenly in my mind the whole bike was falling apart. I worry too much. It’s amazing I ever get out of the house.

Our trip started off with me stressed about my luggage and only one hard coded destination, Bellingham to catch the ferry. We figured we’d get on the boat and have 4 days to talk to people, review the Milepost Magazine, and figure out what to do when we got to Haines. I can thank Aubree and her choice to backpack through Italy, France, and Spain for teaching me that you don’t always need a plan to have a good time. Despite the stress, I was excited. The adventure was finally about to begin!

For those of you interested in my gear load out, here you go!

Or, click here to skip the loadout and jump right to Day 1.

Thanks for reading about my travels. To read more of my adventures, click here to visit my travel page.

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5 thoughts on “Planning for Alaska

  • By CharlestonADV - Reply

    WOW…188 is one hell of a lot of gear for a trip like this.

    • By Warren - Reply

      Agreed, I rode too heavy. Not everything would make the trip with me again. The 188 pounds includes the weight of the Trekkers, a fair amount of photography gear, more tools than necessary, and about 15 pounds food that got lighter as the trip rolled on.

  • By Emmit Moak - Reply

    Made the trip on my 885 tiger, Dalton Haul road to Deadhorse, met the most excellent German girl at Hope, learned to avoid the tourist places, there’s always a Wal-Mart at the end of the day for stuff, UPS extra unneeded stuff back home, BMW dealers for tires, rely on yourself.
    Prep for the trip to Russia, western Asia on a Russian Ural sidecar motorcycle.
    No worries, just do it!

  • By Michille - Reply

    Do You have any ferry information we are trying to plan a trip and do not want to go through Canada

    • By Warren - Reply

      Wow, somehow I missed this comment. I’m probably too late for your trip, but yes. You can ferry directly to Valdez, Whittier, or Homer. Check out the Alaska Marine Highway:

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