Riding into the sunset sounds alluring, romantic and paints a seemingly scenic word picture, however the reality of such an activity on a rocky, dirt and sandy road is far from the wonders and thrill of an Alaskan motorcycle ride especially after riding a long 6 hours on the same road.
Riding the same road twice sends a particularly disdaining emotion through my nerves particularly when there are only a handful of roads in Alaska and I aim to ride as many as possible. But there I was riding into the sun tempting fate on the wheel bobbing and jerking rocks when pulling my left hand off the bar to shield the sun from my eyes. The occasional wind, car or truck would cast a fog of dust which filtered the sun into beaming and blinding streams of light.
Yet with all this complaining the beauty still surrounded me. Fields of fire weeds, these beautiful purple flowers, lined the road and as the road once again twisted through Eagle Summit I gazed to my right to see this stranger following me. Mimicking every move I did yet absent of detail, emotion or clarity. Who was it? The shadow crept along side of me as the sun made its move. My shadow. A stranger or my intimate friend. The further I rode, the larger it grew until it became larger than me. Bigger than life. Who is that? And why is he following me?
When I walked into the bar at Chatanika Lodge some 130 miles from my chance meeting with Dick Hutchinson, the utility entrepreneur and northern lights photo kingpin of Circle City Alaska the sun was gone and the sky was a murky and dusty grey. My body sore, eyes weary and muscles tired. Too things were on my mind. A beer and a bed. Food wouldn’t be bad either.
I explained to Carol, the owner of my misfortune and crazy wrong turn that sent me on a 300 mile goose chase to the Chatanika Lodge see sympathized. But unfortunately every room was occupied by the construction crew that has been working on the road for the last month or so. But a beer was no problem and while the cook had already taken off his apron and was ready to belly up to the bar for his own beer, he tied the dirty cloth back around his waist and asked “whatever you want?”
It had been Mexican Night at the Chatanika Lodge. I had recognized the pattern earlier in the trip as I made my way into smaller and smaller settlements in the wilderness. With typically just one cafe or restaurant in each town, the menu is diversified through ethnic nights. Chinese night. Mexican night. You get the idea. A burrito and a beer sounded good to me. Done.
Carol suggested that I ride another few miles down the road and see if a room was available at a neighbor lodge. But seeing the despair in my face when the thought of hopping back on that bike she offered to let me crash on the couch in the lodge’s living room. I accepted.
That’s when Buck Smith and his son walked into the bar. With a round and disarming face, Nearly 70 years old, clad in leather, wearing deerskin gloves he slams his fist on the bar and in a confident voice asks “you serving whisky in here?”
The short female bartender who had been showing off her custom personalized billiard cue stick pushes her face toward his and says “depends on what you’re looking for?”
Buck grabs the bar with both hands looks straight into her eyes and says “Give me a diet coke!” His short stuffy fingers leafed through his wallet while I sensed confusion and bewilderment as he rifled through the bills. He pulls out some cash and lays it on the bar.
“I think my mom’s been into my wallet again,” he says shaking his head. He shows me his 1500cc cruiser, a Suzuki Intruder, that he converted into a trike. Shiny, clean and a monster it’s the antithesis of my bike. But the two bikes standing next to each other with the respective owners in contrasting leather and high-tech fabric riding suits we are still of the same ilk. We love to ride.
“I better get going now,” he tells me after chatting for 15 minutes. “Before my mom worries about me.”
I chuckled at the thought of a 70 year old man who’s mom borrows money out of his wallet and who must be home before curfew. Then I thought to myself. It’s time I call my mom. I’m sure she’s wondering about me.