Shanghai Dreaming?

IMG_2429It’s 4:30—Wake Up…

I press the electronic dimmer for the window from my seat on Air Canada’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I’m on flight 25 and the pilot just announced we’d be landing in Shanghai thirty minutes ahead of schedule. As the window magically brightens we descend through the low lying clouds, water beads dot my window.

I’m  not dreaming. I’m minutes from China and one of the largest cities in the world.

“Has your adventure started?” a friend texts me. “Yes,” I respond. It started in early April when I packed up Doc, my motorcycle, and sent it to China.

Doc arrived here in Shanghai on April 25th. It’s been hanging in purgatory since.

IMG_1470

Exploring Vancouver British Columbia

I arrived in Vancouver on May 15th. And until about 13 hours ago, the future of “Doc”, riding any motorcycle in China and this television project has been in question.

I’ve wanted to get to know Vancouver for many years, though didn’t think I’d be forced to wander the city for three weeks in a state of wonder. Not that I wasted time there. I worked with the production crew almost daily discussing strategy, tactics and route options. Late nights spent with our executive producer communicating with China—during its business hours.

And I’ve reconnected with a number of friends, many I haven’t seen in years. Stephen Buckley lived next to me in the “pad of altercation”, as we called it during my days living on Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula. He’s a film animator, having spent more than five years living in New Zealand while working on Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, in Malibu while working for Sony Pictures, and now in Vancouver working for Digital Domain on a number of Hollywood blockbusters.

 

IMG_1694

Connecting with Wolfgang back in Canada years later.

IMG_1743

Laughing and sharing as if we’d seen each other yesterday, legendary Stephen Buckley

IMG_9372The last time I was in Vancouver, I was riding “Doc” and on my way to Alaska—on the journey that inspired my book “FORKS”, and on my way through the vast and large province of British Columbia, vibrations from the rough roads caused one of my keys to spin off its keychain. The uniquely German Touratech GPS mount used a very unique key—one that I couldn’t find in the bustling BC city of Prince George.

My only key was lost. No duplicate, no backup. And no exact blank. This was a challenge Anne, a local locksmith, accepted and handled with ease—creating a new key from scratch. While she crafted her magic, I chatted with her partner, Wolfgang. Though I spent just a few hours with Anne and Wolfgang, the connection sustained—through my trip and beyond. I hear from Wolfgang who now lives in Vancouver. We reconnected over great sushi, beer and conversation. Sadly, Anne was sick and couldn’t join us.

Vancouver surprised me again when just the night before my flight, I connected with Johanna, founder of the Travel Eater blog—we connected during my Kickstarter campaign after she wrote a very nice overview of “FORKS.”

IMG_2441

It’s wet in Shanghai. News here is there is no way I’m going to see or ride “Doc” in China. Perhaps with a fat bank account and closer connections to government and customs officials I could trim the more than five weeks process it would take to legally temporarily import “Doc”. So we are buying another motorcycle. It will be cheaper and faster, and we can begin filming this show.

“WongDoc” is a 2006 BMW F650GS Dakar, the same as the right, or original, “Doc.” I am on the way to inspect and, if all is in order, pick it up today. While we are waiting for the new license plate, the local BMW dealer in Shanghai will help me service the bike and outfit it the best we can for my Chinese adventure.

 

Walk With Me Around A Chinese City:

I will replace the stock BMW side panniers with Mosko Moto 35L Backcountry Panniers, soft bags. Sadly, I will not be able to use the best hard luggage in the world, my aluminum Jesse Luggage Odyssey Bags. Thanks to the good folks at Mosko Moto and Happy Trails, I received racks and luggage just yesterday.

The soft-bags will serve me well in China, especially with Mosko’s superb waterproof design with its removable dry bag and compression and expansion features. Mosko panniers can attach to many different soft and hard luggage racks, but the Happy Trails SL racks are custom designed for the F650GS, are light and easy to install. This experience proves to me that every adventure rider should have two sets of panniers in their arsenal: a solid hard bag system like the Jesse, and a soft-bag system such as Mosko’s Discovery.

IMG_9522.JPGI’ve practiced incredible patience over the past three weeks, and I refuse to dip into angry bitterness over the situation. I’m not sure where “Doc” will go next. I’d like to get the bike to Vietnam or Cambodia to use for the next episodes of the show. We are trying to sort through the logistics of moving the bike from the Chinese port. Perhaps later today, I’ll have good news.
In the meantime, I’m happy and ready to roll. I’m inching closer to Shanghai and see the massive modern skyline through the grey mist and haze. I’ll start my adventure there, on foot; Shanghai, like many Chinese cities, forbids motorcycles.

It’s true. I thought by now, I’d be beginning my last week of adventure in China. Feeling a bit shaggy, my first stop might be a Chinese barber and then perhaps a crash course in Mandarin. Shanghai calls, but I’m yearning for the countryside.

The Chasing China Challenge

chinese-flag-300x2001Not long ago China, comfortable hiding behind its wall of isolation, for the most part, closed itself to foreign visitors—and most everything else. In 1949, Mao Zedong, after conquering Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Civil War, formed the People’s Republic of China. In the process of socializing the country, foreign investors were kicked out and land owners were forced to redistribute land for communal use by peasants and farmers, yet land ownership was prohibited.

China began to slowly open up in the 1970’s when a number of events brought about evolutionary changes, from the historic visit of US President Nixon to the formal end of the cultural revolution and the death of Mao, China ushered in economic reform policies including the ability of local provinces and municipalities to invest in industry and manufacturing. These reforms paved the path to the further opening of China and the explosive growth that transformed China into the country I’ll be exploring soon.

Soon? I hope so. Though I’m learning that China as open as China has become since Mao, it’s still may not be open enough to let me bring in my bike.

We crated and shipped my motorcycle “Doc” in early April and it arrived in the port of Ningbo (south of Shanghai) on April 27, 2015. Since we shipped the bike QE Productions personnel have struggled with Chinese customs officials and clearing agents to get Doc released. With nearly a month of negotiations behind us, it appears China is open to my visit, but is less open to the temporary visit of my motorcycle..

There is no question that the Chinese require visitors to follow certain procedures, processes and formalities; just as any other country I’ve brought my motorcycle. However in China, the reasons that Doc hasn’t been released to the QE Productions office in Ningbo keep changing. First, we were told that it could not be released until I secured a proper Chinese driver license. International Drivers Licenses are not recognized there. So, I will take a test, in Chinese, upon my arrival in China next week. Next, we were told that the vehicle is too old. At barely ten years old, our executive producer, Randolph Paul Kelman, sighs in disbelief at the hypocrisy of the situation as he looks out the window of his office where he sees old motorcycles and cars zip by every day—many which should have been taken off the road twenty years earlier.

Then customs officials informed us that the bike should have been inspected before shipping to China, yet it is unclear as to where in California I could find a certified inspector

I contacted my friends at BMW North America who connected us with BMW corporate officials from both Germany and China. BMW China worked through no less than three clearing agents who all failed to get authorization to release “Doc” from the port, including a plan to reroute the bike to Yunnan province or Vietnam, and temporarily import the bike from there. This will not work.

A local Israeli expat who owns a Ducati in China found a possible solution that would require us to refuse the shipment at the port and re-route it to Hong Kong where a Chinese company would register and secure the necessary paperwork and permits—at significant cost. Sounds good. So just as we were ready to the pull the trigger and choose this option, we were informed that it would take 35 days to get the bike to Hong Kong (no more than a few hours away by ship), and it would take another 10 days to process and get the bike back to mainland China.

Time is money. And in movie and television production, time is exponentially money. At this point we’re burning it and not getting anywhere.
jialing600

We are exploring the possibility of borrowing a bike from BMW China, renting a Chinese dual-sport motorcycle (Jialing JH600), or finding a preowned BMW dual-sport that is already legally imported into the country.

So the adventure in China has already started and I’m still sitting in North America.

Hanging in Vancouver, British Columbia british-colombia-flag

 

afk-flies-droneMy time in Vancouver has been somewhat productive, however, enjoying great food with the family of co-director and producer Panayioti Yannitsos, cooking Ethiopian food using a recipe from my book “FORKS—A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection” and testing production and motorcycle equipment from the Phantom 2 drone, to SENA communications equipment, and my new custom molded in-ear Westone ES60 earbuds.

But I’d rather be in China—riding and shooting this new television show.

I will. Soon. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

What’s Next? WorldRider On Television?

“What’s next?” My friends and family asked when I returned from my original WorldRider journey several years ago.

I’d come to a fork in my road. I asked myself the same question, often.

People also asked, “Was your trip a life-changing experience?”

Sure, circumstances surrounding one’s life always change and evolve. Yet deep inside, I believe, we return from journeys not changed, but rather, we come back awakened, energized and feeling alive. Travel awakens our spirit and ignites our soul. Always inside and part of us is the essence of who we are, and those things that bring us joy and happiness, and where we hope to find purpose in our lives, are rooted early in life. The beauty of travel is its ability to bring back to life that which has been dormant.

For me, I choose not to dwell on problems or what’s wrong in our world. Sure, we can always improve and better ourselves and our relationship with others, but deep inside all of us is the essence of humanity. We are born with a curiosity to understand everything — especially each other—though as we age, we tend to lose, or forget that. It is our humanity that guides us–makes us good, compassionate. So when I travel, I look and see what’s right and beautiful. And you? Look for beauty, you’ll probably find it, too. It’s a choice we all can make.

forks-backer-print-2308-3135277544

Back in the USA, I soon realized that the lessons I learned, the deep connections I made with the people I met, and the incredible beauty of our planet and its humanity were too much for me to keep to myself. I felt compelled to share. By day I supported myself by consulting with clients on digital marketing and branding, at night I scribbled and scratched and dreamed of ways I could share my journey and lessons and make it relevant to anyone.

With plenty of experience in delivering presentations and speaking to groups, large and small, I slowly transitioned myself from a “marketing and branding guy” to a “professional speaker.” I was confident that “what’s next” was clear: To get in front of audiences and share these stories, the beauty and the world and its humanity. It took time, and, for the first time in my career, by applying a bit of my “marketing guy” experience to work for me, I built a reputation and business based on speaking and storytelling—-sharing.

forks-cover-art-high-resWhile I love speaking as much as the audiences with whom I share stories, I realized that it could take thousands or more speeches to reach all I feel would benefit from hearing my stories. So I started work on my book “FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection.” Ironically, it took me nearly as long to write FORKS as it did for me to travel around the world on my motorcycle. Yet, last summer I finally published the book that truly captured the essence of my journey in photos, stories, and recipes from each of the 35 countries I traveled.

I’ve happy and humbled by the attention FORKS has received from readers and the media. While I never expected such a positive reaction to my book, I have always been confident that the stories, messages and lessons from my travels are important and relevant and could resonate as well have impact on most anyone’s life — in our relationships in business, through our personal lives, and in our communities.

With FORKS and a national book tour complete, many more people are asking me that same old question: “What’s next, Allan?”

Over the past several years, I’ve thought hard about getting back on the road. Sure, I’ve made several trips since returning from the journey that inspired “FORKS”, but to places I’ve already traveled. But I’m inspired by both the new and the unknown.

I’ve also thought about producing a documentary based on “FORKS.” Several producers contacted me during my Kickstarter campaign, proposing to script, produce and otherwise collaborate. After “FORKS” hit the shelves last year, several production companies contacted me with the idea of developing a television travel series. They asked me, “are you ready to travel the world with a television crew?”

nostrangersTo be honest, I like to travel alone. This is how I’m able to connect with people; I like to move at my own pace, take time. Even in my photography, I often desire to “wait for the light.” So the idea of having a film crew follow me and potentially upset my rhythm or interfere with the experience is unsettling

Yet, I love the idea-—IF it could be done with a small and intimate crew, one that could move and act swiftly and be invisible as possible.

After several in-person meetings, phone and Skype calls, email messages, I quickly realized that most of these companies move slowly. I also learned that some of these companies take direction from and pander to the desires of the television networks. Understandably, someone needs to pay for the programming and if a show cannot find and retain an audience, then there’s no chance for success. However, as an adventurer, entrepreneur, and speaker, I’ve always stressed the importance of stepping outside the comfort zone, to take chances and accept risk. This is the only way to innovate and see possibilities.

There was no way I wanted to compromise my trip, book or philosophy and turn them into a mockery or some formulaic reality television show concocted to the spec of a television network.

forks-backer-print-2315-3135280593To be sure, if I’m getting on my bike and traveling to the ends of an earth with a film crew shadowing me, the show must be of the highest quality—as I aimed to do with FORKS—and it must strive to pushes limits—even, with a dose of passion and persistence, strive to possibly redefine travel documentary television—taking FORKS to the next level and beyond.

To do this, the production company would have to be willing to take a chance, accept risk, and step outside the comfort zone. Remember? That’s the only way to realize the possibilities.

While I continued my conversations with several productions companies and they continued looking for a gimmick, or on my mother’s birthday I received a message—a mention—via Twitter.

The Twitter message crossed the border of Canada into California and caught my eye.

twitter-tweet-pan

Over the next few days I learned that Panayioti (Pan), the sender of the message, worked as a director and producer for a Canadian production company, QE Productions. Over the next few weeks and a several long telephone conversations I learned that he and QE Productions’ executive producer, Randolph Paul Kelman, were looking to create a unique travel series. They had a concept and idea, but they were lacking a host, or character, who could help them realize their vision for a new travel documentary television show.

Pan shares the story of how they came to find and decide up on me in a recent blog post. Or, if you want to watch a cool, quick video of the team’s first trip to meet me, watch this.

QE-production-crewFor me, it didn’t take long to agree to explore the possibilities with Pan and QE Productions. It was clear that we both wanted to create something great: a program that would allow me to immerse and connect with people and their cultures without the overhead of an in-your-face film crew; a program that would be shot cinematically, yet still have the rawness of an adventure into the unknown; a program that would allow us to beyond borders and deeper into exotic locales beyond the usual tourist zones; a program that would change the way we look at travel on the television or computer screen.

Key to the new program will be my motorcycle, Doc, of course. The motorcycle is character in our new show. It allows me to travel where and when I want. Plus, the motorcycle is the perfect metaphor for how we should all travel: to be open and to let yourself experience a place using all your senses: see, hear, feel, touch, and small. For me, the motorcycle opens the world, me and the audience to the possibilities and the connections I will make. Also, true to my original journey, I will most always be with camera in hand, capturing the world through my lens, while Pan and the production crew will capture the entire interaction and experience through its lens.

To make this show work, I knew I’d have to connect with the crew. So, we’ve spent many days together as they traveled from Canada and stayed with me at my home in California. We’ve cooked together, spent hours laughing and strategizing. Our conversations continued as walked the beach; brainstorming and sharing ideas. We talked enough about technology, music and photography and production gear that would make any geek jealous or put most others to sleep.

We unrolled maps of China over my dining table while Dar, my ever present feline friend, walked across the map spanning the 22 provinces and 7 provincial-ties, or regions. We pored over guide books, Chinese language websites and the occasional blog post of recent travelers through China, searching for unique places far off the beaten track that might interest viewers and give me a chance to connect and tell revealing stories of the people and their culture.

We mapped several routes, considering contingencies as the Chinese government must approve and know where we will be traveling. In a short few days we were like buddies preparing for a new adventure. This one where we together aim to create a new travel show that will disrupt the genre, inspire viewers, and let audiences ride along and connect with the people and culture along the way.

For the pilot episode, I will spend the more than a month with these guys—most about half my age. As I travel I will be alone and riding at my whim, as always. They will try not to get in my way, yet when it comes to the incredible landscapes, fascinating faces, and curious culture of China, together we will cast our lenses, creatively capturing the the colors, textures, and sounds of the environment–the experience—so we can share it with our future audience-—and you!

In short, it’s serendipitous that Pan (producer, co-director), Izaiah (co-director and director of photography), Jamie (sound designer and recordist), Paul (executive producer), and I have connected. This is one of those cases where I know “it was meant to be.” We all get it. Our goals and vision for this show are in perfect alignment, harmony. I can feel it. We are going to create something great.

FORKS-Allan-Karl-ADVmoto-39The premise of the show is simple, positive, and intriguing. Plus, it picks up, in many ways, where my book FORKS left off: After significant changes in my life at home, I take off on my motorcycle to explore the world. I aim to learn more about the world and its humanity. Always curious and I am eager to connect with people and understand what brings them joy, what makes them happy, and where do they find purpose in their lives. I earn their trust and capture their essence and culture through the lens of my camera. From the most remote settlements to the busiest cites, I connect with people, often over food or by helping or participating in those things that give them purpose or bring them joy: fishing, farming, arts, entertainment, sports, public service and so much more. It’s making these connections with people and their humanity that bring me joy, and, in many ways, by giving them a global stage from where they can share their story, I happen upon my own purpose.

Each one-hour episode takes place in a different country. I will explore that country from border to border, in just thirty days and with limited resources–perhaps just $1,000 for the month. We start with the pilot in China and hope to take the show to Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bolivia, Greece, Macedonia and beyond.

As I bang out these words, my motorcycle, Doc, is on a boat heading to China. Next month we’ll all meet in China and begin the adventure. I’ll be blogging here as I travel, as well as posting updates on TwitterFacebook and Instagram, when possible.

I am overwhelmed with excitement, and of course, the possibilities!

What do you think about this new show? What would you like to see?

 

QE Productions & Allan Karl

 

 

The Icefields Parkway – Glory to the Gods!

Staying at the Lazy Bear Lodge here in Cranbrook which sits in BC about 50 miles North of the Idaho border. I pulled into this town thinking I’d have a better shot at a hotel room. I’ll have to retrace about 20 miles in the morning to get closer to the border crossing into Montana as I hope to ride through Whitefish, Glacier National Park and then onto Missoula to finally get this bike looked at by a “proper” BMW dealer

The road from Jaspar to Banff in Alberta is called the Icefields Highway. It winds along the continental divide and some of the most stunning icefields in the world. Every couple miles I wanted to pull over and take photos. But the bike and its poor running condition continued to irk me and my journey along this spectacular landscape was perhaps quicker than I’d like.
No matter what, it’s impossible to drive fast down this winding mountain road that links Canada’s most amazing national parks: Jaspar, Banff and Lake Louise. I’m tired and anxious to get moving. This time I’ll let the photos tell the story.

—————-
Stats:
Jaspar, AB to Cranbrook, BC 8-22-05
Moving Average: 55 mph
Maximum Speed: 80.5 mph
Moving Time: 5:52:06
Total Miles: 322.6

Prince George to Jaspar – Warmer Weather?

“This is my loader,” he waved his cell phone in front of me, happy to show me pictures of his truck, his loader and the El Camino he was restoring.
I returned the infamous Starbucks where I traded words, philosophy and frustration with the Brazilian girl weeks earlier. This time I shared coffee with Dag.
“You don’t want to go to Jaspar today,” he cautioned motioning to the dark and looming clouds outside. “This is not good motorcycling weather.
In his 60’s, tall, muscular and with a set of kind eyes and a slow drawl of a voice that dragged just enough you had to lock in his gaze to follow the conversation.
“Everyone has a broken back in Prince George,” Dag asserts referring to the primary industry and the toll it takes on the labor force: logging. “Go to the doctor’s office and you’ll see,” he assures me, “we work hard here. BC is a hard life. We work hard so you American’s can by good wood cheap to build your houses.” His talk is confident, yet slow.
“NAFTA. There’s nothing free about it.” He goes on to tell me about an injury he sustained during a logging operation in his early twenties. He fell and got caught on a crane the force ripped his muscles beyond repair and bruised or injured his brain stem. “In my bosses report he wrote I tripped and fell.”
In the US you pay for your medical care. And you get what you pay for. Here it’s free you don’t get anything except a couple aspirin and pass to go home.”
“Sometimes the pain was so bad, I’d get tears in my eyes. But I had to work. What else could I do.” Nearly 40 years letter he is still appealing his workers comp claim trying to get better medical care.
“Since I had neurosurgery I can’t ride a motorcycle. Used to love to ride. Now it’s bicycling.” Sitting on the table next to his cell phone full of pictures was a bicycle helmet. Dressed in bike gear he tells me, “I saw you last time, I remember.” Must be his regular stomping grounds. While trying to impress upon the Brazilian with her puppy that money isn’t the root of her particular whims or lack thereof, Dag was simply sipping coffee and taking in the show.
He offered his house and his garage for my motorcycle for the evening, suggesting I stick the weather out and continue our conversation. Good idea, but now my next move was just to find someone who could look at my motorcycle and get it running right. With Glacier National Park high on my list, I made a goal of the BMW dealer in Missoula Montana — still more than 1,000 miles away.

For the next two hours I braved the cold and the rain and pressed on. Construction at one part of the road awarded me with about 50km of stripped grooved pavement. This stuff always throws me and gives an uncertain and uncomfortable feeling as I ride through it.

Later sitting in Becker’s Gourmet Restaurant looking out at the Canadian Rockies and the Continental Divide, I had hoped to stay here at Becker’s but they were sold out for the night. I resolved to stay at some dump in Jaspar but took in the great river front view and food of Becker’s.
I’m feverishly trying to get caught up with my writing as I’m still behind from my nearly two week separation from my Mac. My biggest task is self-inflicted as I try to write more than just a laundry list of my day. Rather to bring in appropriate photos, create character studies and weave a story that is fun, engaging and interesting. How am I doing?
The wind is blowing as I write this and clouds moving in rapidly. My guess is the storm I rode through a few hours ago. Staring at the trees as the waitress sets my salad on the table. Looks like a 7 mile ride back to my motel will be in the rain. Ahhh. This is living.
—————-
Stats:
Prince George, BC to Jaspar, AB 8-21-05
Moving Average: 61.0 mph
Maximum Speed: 87.6 mph
Moving Time: 3:58:47
Total Miles: 242.6

Prince Rupert to Prince George – Home Again!

The road from Prince Rupert to Prince George is yet another spectacular motorcycle riding experience. At least if the your bike was running smoothly. Mine? Even pulling off to refuel demands more attention to keeping the engine running which leaves equal less attention to keeping your eye on safety. Perhaps I’m exagerating a bit, but the fear of that bike stalling in the middle of a turn with the load I’m carrying consumes me as I roll into a a small town riddled with lower speedlimits, stop signs and red lights. Constantly having to keep the throttle cranked up to 2500 rpms to keep Doc from stalling.
More anger for that damn Anchorage dealer.
But the road winds along this river with 100 foot waterfalls splashing scenicly to the road side. Chilly and battling the on and off of rainfall I cast my eyes up sheer cliffs of rock to spot the source of these waterfalls. Lush green vegetation and tall trees add to the scenic beatuy.
Rounding a corner at a nice steady 50 mph I spot a black blob on the side of the road ahead of me, slowing as I approach I see its a huge grissly bear nearly twice the size of my bike. Our eyes lock as I creep past him and though I don’t stop I slow watching his movements in my rear view as he watch mine. Not a car in sight. Just me and this grizzly. I contemplate a quick u-turn to just to gaze at this massive creature once more, then my bike stalled.
More anger for the damn Anchorage motorcycle dealer.
I could see the Grizzly in my rear view. Perhaps the silence the consumed the small area we shared caught his curiosity. But for me it was shear panic. Not that I had food nor was there any reason he’d attack me. But I was simply scared and without the safety net of throttle and drivetrain, I was caught. It took a few moments to start that damn bike. But seconds that seemed like minutes I bid my grizzly good bye and cruised onto Prince George.
Arriving in Prince George this time I felt a sense of familiarity – and old friend. After nearly three weeks and 4,000 miles I was back. I settled into a small motel as the rain pelted by helmet and gear. Wondering if the storm would pass overnight, I unloaded the bike and wandered into town to have dinner at the Waddling Duck. Here I met three local couples. Though not sporting motorcycles they are avid riders and readers of the ADVrider website.
“You know Glenn Heggsted?” he asked me when I walked in. It was a question I hadn’t expected. There were no bikes parked in front and everyone at the table were attired in “civillian clothes”. We’ve been following his journey. Now they would be following mine.
A nice meal, live sultry jazz and a cold beer. Prince George, my friend.
—————-
Stats:
Prince Rupert, BC to Prince George, BC 8-20-05
Moving Average: 59.6 mph
Maximum Speed: 85.1 mph
Moving Time: 7:35:19
Total Miles: 452.4

Stunning Scenery – Bad Bike – Yukon to USA

Today was my longest day riding since I’ve been keeping records. Though after a quick review of my journey this leg wasn’t much longer than the jaunt from Fort St. John, BC to Watson Lake, YT.

But I was committed to making this ferry that leaves from Haines at 1:15am (actually Thursday morning). For the most part, I repeated the ride along Kluane Lake and Park and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Monument. Still as beautiful as it was a couple weeks ago, but what I noticed most was how much the trees had changed color and how fast the sun was going down.

Getting an early start from Glenallen’s Caribou Hotel a gentlemen on a Harley came over to ask about my journey. We got to talking and it turns out he rode his Harley to Prudhoe Bay the day I was coming back. Even more coincidental or ironic is that as I was telling him the story about these insane guys on Harley’s riding to Prudhoe without helmets and only sunglasses and bandannas, he tells me those are his two riding buddies. He wore his helmet but his buddies were the insane riders I saw passing me that day coming back from Prudhoe. That’s the thing about riding where there are so few roads. But I never thought I see those guys. They pulled up moments later and I gave them a wrath of shit for being such lunatics. They didn’t care. Just revved those noisy beasts and pulled onto the road.

Today the ride from Haines Junction, YT to Haines, Alaska was the most spectacular of the journey. With massive bulbous clouds, the majestic snow capped mountain peaks and perfectly banked sweeping curves winding from alpine forests to lush rain forests below.

Known as the Haines Highway, the route was the originally carved out by Jack Dalton during the Klondike Gold Rush, charing enterprising gold seekers to use the route for a faster corridor to the North. The 151 mile trek from Haines Junction to the town of Haines was built in 1943 as an alternative to the Alaska Highway for transporting troops and materials during WWII.

Here I pass through Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Provincial Park and the southern side of the Kluane-Wrangell-Elias UNESCO World Heritage Site which is home to the largest ice fields in the world outside the polar ice caps. Climbing the 3,493-foot Chilkat Pass my teeth start chattering and I try to keep warming squeezing my knees closer to the engine and behind my tank panniers hoping to steal a little warmth. Just before the US Border I’m greeted with a few of the Jarvis Glacier.

“You must have the best border post in the entire country,” I told Mike McClure the border guard outside Haines. “That road was amazing, but a bit chilly, no?”

“Was it snowing up there?” he smirks. “Then it wasn’t cold.”

This was the first time crossing a border that I was asked to take off my helmet. I switched the engine off, pulled my earplugs out and went through the motions. The conversation quickly turned to the bike and my journey.

When he waved me on I started the bike and it wouldn’t start. Tried again. Started then mumbled and stalled. Another try. Same result. Then I did something BMW explicitly advises against, I used the throttle while starting. Revving Doc up a bit I pulled out of the border post. The road continued to amaze me as I pass the Porcupine Mining District at the Klehini River. Soon I’m cruising along the Chilkit River and the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve which hang in the shadows of the Takhinsha Mountains.

Seeing a bald eagle land near a rock, I pull over to grab pictures of this amazing wilderness. And that’s when I knew something was seriously wrong with Doc. When I slowed to the turn off the engine didn’t idle down. It stayed revved at a noisy and irritating 3,500 RPMs. I cranked the throttle up and back thinking it was sticking. No such luck. Did it again. Nothing. I finally turned the engine off. My fingers numbed quickly as I shot pictures sans gloves. Several miles later another photo session and the Doc acted the same way. This time when I tried starting, the bike wouldn’t idle. Just stalled.

This became a royal pain as I entered the town of Haines. With a little bit of light at 10pm, I rode along the inside passage to the ferry terminal just outside of town. Eager to secure a cabin that I was unable to reserve due to lack of availability, I wanted to get here a few hours before departure to get on the waiting list. The alternative for my 2 1/2 day odyssey through the Alaskan Inside passage would be pitching a tent on the top deck of the ship. Working with the ship’s porter, I was able to secure a bunk with a window. But tonight, the ship would be leaving a few hours late.

I kept thinking about my 9 hour day waiting for my bike to be serviced at the The Motorcycle Shop in Anchorage and how the worse thing to happen is to have your motorcycle run worse than it did when I brought it to the dealer. A call to the dealer didn’t yield much help other than “maybe something fell into your air filter?” I was thousands of miles away from a BMW dealer. I suspected something with the fuel injection, which is something that no “regular” dealer can service since it’s all run by a MotoTronic or somehow computer on the bike. And only authorized dealers have the ability to plug into the bike’s computer. I was nervous and questioned the safety of riding a bike that wouldn’t idle. Thank god I was boarding a ferry for a couple days. Give me time to think. As my blood boiled in anger at that dealer in Anchorage.

During my quick dinner at the Bamboo Room and mini-mart stop for supplies, I met a young couple, both who are physical therapists and will serve a 4-month assignment at a hospital on the island of Ketchikan. On the ferry I also met a 60-something year old man traveling with his 22 year old daughter – both on Harley’s. That will be a trip she’ll remember for the rest of her life.

—————-

Stats:

Anchorage, AK to Glenallen, AK 8-17-05

Moving Average: 61.98 mph

Maximum Speed: 89.7 mph

Moving Time: 11:27:57

Total Miles: 592.5

Leaving Watson Lake (Trying To Anyway)

For the last two days I’ve been cruising my motorcycle across forests, muskeg, mountains and waterways on the Alaskan Highway — also referred to as the Alcan. This road was built by two teams of U.S. Army engineers starting in both the North and the South on March 9, 1942. The road was built largely as a result of the Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands and designed to connect the Alaskan Territory with the lower 48 states. Two months later a small pilot road was open to Army vehicles and within a year a permanent all-weather road — then called the Alcan Military Highway – was completed between Dawson Creek in British Columbia and Fairbanks Alaska. After the Canadian portion of the Alcan was handed over to CAnada in 1946, the Alaska highway was graded, widened and opened to unrestricted traffic in 1947.

The early days of the Alaskan Highway were legendary for the toll it took on those travelers brave enough to tackle it. Today, the road is largely paved and many of the crooked parts and to take on the Highway today is not such the task. However that doesn’t discount the immense beauty, amazing wildlife and the vast wilderness that stretches for more than 1,500 miles to Fairbanks.
Leaving Watson Lake I got caught by a few fellow drivers outside the Gateway Motel looking to strike up conversation about the road and about my WorldRider journey. Then a quick tour of Watson Lake’s infamous Signpost Forest. This is a massive collection of town signs – perhaps the largest collection in the world.

Apparently a G.I. on the crew responsible for building the great Alaskan Highway in 1942 was given the responsibility for repainting the road’s directional sign. He added the direction and mileage to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. And since then more than 40,000 other signs have been added to the collection with town signs, license plates, posters, pie tins, gold-panning pans, mufflers, driftwood and even flywheels stating where the contributor is from and who he or she is. And the forest keeps growing.

“I really admire what you’re doing,” he said while gnawing on a toothpick. After fueling I took a brake to down a hot cup of coffee.
Then Dick Van Dyke approached me. “Do you work?” he asked curiously.
“This is my job,” I replied with all seriousness. “I write, photograph and am an ambassador of good will.”
Not the Dick Van Dyke famous from television’s early days. Nope. This was Dick Van Dyke from Reno.
“That’s really great… good for you.”
Over the next 500 miles Dick and I would exchange smiles and waves as we both meandered down the Alcan. Driving a powerful pick up and carrying a “fifth wheel” trailer, I ran into him and his son at the Yukon River several hours later. Walking over to me with his camera he took a picture. “I gotta tell people what you’re doing.”
A mile or so outside of Watson Lake I realized I was riding without my earplugs. On the side of the road I pulled my helmet off and realized oil was running down the side of my tank, onto my panniers, pants and boots. You might want to call me the absent minded rider with the several bonehead moves I’ve made over the last week or so (wallet in toilet, broken foot, keys rattled off my ignition key ring, etc.) but this time must get the jackpot: I forgot to tighten the oil cap after checking the oil. Fortunately, I pulled over to put my earplugs in otherwise I might have ridden more miles and created more mess. Yet another delay trying to get out of Watson Lake.
Several hours later arriving in Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, I buzzed by the old riverboat the Klondike, toured the center of town, grabbed a quick espresso and filled up my tank. Compared to everything I experienced today, Whitehorse wasn’t appealing to me. Just a town along the Yukon with tourist offices, restaurants, coffee shops and I’m certain a rich history. But I was focused on moving on to the more exciting Yukon and Alaskan experience. So onward to Haines Junction.
A Harley rider from Ohio packing up his gear outside my hotel room this morning warned me to “Watch the construction outside Haines Junction,” I could sense the fear and anger in his voice. “It’s real steep and they wet the roads. I told the flag girl I don’t think I could make it. I just went real slow… she told me one or two bikes go down every day. The mud is two or three inches deep and it goes on for several miles.”
I was apprehensive about this all day, but arriving after the construction crew had punched out for the day, the steep hill was still wet but I just waded through the mud and kept my speed and my nerves in check and at the end of the construction zone, I pulled over to gander at the vista unfolding before my eyes and to just relax and breathe. It wasn’t that bad.
That is until I tried to start my motorcycle. You see I turned the bike off at the end of the long stretch of construction. But throughout the several miles of construction I had my electric vest on high, my heated hand grips cranked up and my PIAA auxiliary lights on and of course my GPS. And without the high RPMs of my motor my generator failed to deliver enough juice to my accessories that it started to drain the battery. Top that off with the fact when I hit the kill switch at the end of the construction I failed to turn the key off so for several minutes my accessories were rapidly draining the minute battery of my GS.
The solenoid just rapidly clicked. There was no juice to crank over the started. And the section of road before me was a slight incline. So I stood fifty miles from Haines Junction with a dead battery and a broken foot.
Just than Dick Van Dyke pulled up. “You okay?” I yelled to him my problem. He pulled ahead and he jumped out as I was just starting to paddle my motorcycle up the slight incline. The 60 + year old man from Reno got behind my bike and pushed me until I popped the clutch and engine purred. “I’ll follow you to make sure you’re okay.”
We waved goodbye in Haines Junction as I pressed on toward Beaver Creek and Kluane National Park.

Welcome To The Yukon

I’ve never been so moved by natural scenery in my life, but as I followed the road to Beaver Creek with the massive Southwestern Yukon Mountain Range that creates the border for the massive Kluane National Park.
Less than an hour outside Haines Junction I climbed a long hill and when I reached the top the sun beamed down columns of light through the light grey clouds that hung tight to the mountain peaks and lit up the stage of Kluane Lake. I had to lock up the tires, pull to the side of the road and gape in wonder. The shining shafts of light streamed through the clouds and created patches of deep dark blue like a fresh coat of paint, shiny, wet and awe inspiring on the surface of this serene lake.
Named the UNESCO Heritage List in 1979, Kluane National Park in Yukon Territory Canada along with its adjacent neighbor in the United States, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Monument are recognized for the spectacular natural ecosystem, unique vegetation and wild animal population including the largest single concentration of Dall Sheep, grizzly bears and the largest non-polar icefield sitting proudly among the world’s most spectacular glaciers.

I tried to capture this scene through the lens of my camera, but nothing could capture the feeling rushing through my body as I sat on my silent motorcycle at the top of this hill watching mother nature light up the most amazing natural stage I’ve ever seen. Soon I was shuddering in excitement as the peak of Mt. Logan, Canada’s largest mountain towered above me amid a mass of snow-capped peaks.
I slowly putted around the lake being careful to pilot my bike around the cliffs that dropped steeply into the lake. As I moved toward the northern part of the lake and with the glaciers to my back I was greeted by the eastern mountains of this park glowing in the sun as it peaked out from behind the ominous clouds.
There are no roads into this massive wilderness park, but not only does the Alaskan Highway wind its way around the park, but next week I will ride along the southern perimeter of this park as I make my way to Haines to take the ferry to Prince Rupert.
I rode my way through the Northeastern wilderness area of Kluane and thanks to longer Yukon days managed to roll into the tiny, tiny settlement of White River Crossing just after 11pm as the last of the sunlight hid its face.
“Could I buy a beer,” I asked wandering through the dark gift shop. I was sure I woke the woman, but when I guy needs to sleep, he needs to sleep. She showed me the showers, laundry and finally my meek cabin which had two beds, extra blankets a small refrigerator but no bathroom.
“Nope. Sorry we have no restaurant and don’t sell beer. Where you coming from?”
“Watson Lake.”
“Wow. That’s a long ride.”
As I performed the nightly ritual of unpacking the necessities for the evening the bike the woman returned with a cold can of Budweiser in her hand.
“Here,” she said as she handed me the frosty can, “this one’s on me.”
Never was a can of Budweiser so tasty.
Stats:
Watson Lake, YT to White River Crossing, YT
Moving Average: 55.9 mph
Maximum Speed: 81.1 mph
Moving Time: 9:26:53
Miles Traveled: 528.2

Late Nights In Watson Lake

Committed to making it to Watson Lake I blew through the town of Fort Nelson stopping only for refueling. Happy to be adorning my electric vest, I looked at the map and quickly realized that I had another 325 miles to Watson Lake.
But here’s where the riding got better. Just a few hours from the legendary Yukon Territory (YT), I was graced with majestic views of the Northern Canadian Rockies with its mountain peaks, glacier lakes, mountain streams and provincial park after provincial park I soon found myself scooting along the legendary Liard River. I have to admit that riding past Summit Lake, Muncho Lake and the Liard River Hot Springs I was blown away by the vast wilderness, and scenery straight out of a picture book. With the bike riding smooth and a nice pace, my long journey to Watson Lake was rewarding and exciting.
The brooding clouds created drama and accentuated the massive peaks of the northern Rockies. The rain kept hammering me though. Rain, rain and more rain.

But I was rewarded once again by wildlife roaming the rocky cliffs of Summit Lake. Stone sheep practically fearless roaming the highway and as I made the last stretch toward Watson Lake a massive herd of buffalo including one of the biggest bulls I’d ever seen just huddled together on both sides of the road just North of Muncho Lake. Even with the rain that peppered my ride and caused a bit of anxiety, just hanging out with the goats, elk and buffalo made the trip worthwhile. I could turn around now. But I won’t.
When I arrived in Watson Lake after nearly twelve hours and 552.9 miles I was dismayed when the restaurant staff told me they ran out of food. I had already unpacked my bike, adorned myself in civilian clothes and exchanged my thigh high boots for casual shoes. “You should go to the Watson Lake Hotel, they’ve got a barbecue special tonight,” the waitress strongly urged.
Great. The last thing I want to do is hop back on that motorcycle and ride to another hotel for a beer and dinner. I contemplated calling a taxi but resolved my insane thinking and rode to the hotel.
Halfway into my beer and dinner an estranged motorcyclists walks in. It’s Dave, the guy with the Suzuki I met just north of Fort St. John. He tells me that he and Gene had pulled over just north of town to get out of the downpour that I caught myself in and upon returning to their bikes realized that his rear tire had worn all the way through to the threads and belt. If it weren’t for the rain this guy might have tried to go on to Whitehorse risking a disastrous chance of a blow out.Dave laments his bad tire.
“You were right about my tire,” Dave said. “I can’t go on and it’s Saturday night in Watson Lake and the chances of finding a tire are practically none. Soon Gene shows up and it’s all business. Either Gene will need to run to Whitehorse, find a tire and return. Or they wait until Monday and find a mechanic in town who can find a tire. Perhaps there’s a junkyard in town where they could find a tire that would at least get them to Whitehorse that night or the next day.
I suggest finding someone to throw the bike on the back of a truck and getting a ride to Whitehorse. Soon Gene is at the local gas station and convinces a trucker to throw the bike on. He’ll even take it to Anchorage. After finishing our beers the two went in search of tie downs and a plan to make it to Anchorage to find a dealer to install a new tire. They’d spend a few days in Anchorage and then turn around and head back to Minnesota.
I woke up the next morning wondering what happened to my new friends. I hope they made it to Alaska and home safely.
Photos: (1) Buffalo roaming Alcan south of Watson Lake, YT; (2) Brooding skies packed big rain for me today. (3) Dave contemplating rubber deficiencies and getting to Anchorage; (4) Legendary Gene from Minn. quick to solve problems and find a truck to haul Dave’s bike north.