Riding Motorcycles at the Kennicott Circus
- Start location: Camping Along the Denali Highway, Alaska
- End location: Chitina RV Campground, Chitna, Alaska
- Miles: 391.4
80% of the pictures I took with my cell phone didn’t really serve justice. Just take my word for it it was beautiful.
We survived a night camping out on the Denali. It definitely got the coldest here that night. We were prepared though with lots of warm clothing (and worst case, our motorcycle gear). By the morning the clouds rolled in and we couldn’t see much. So, after a light breakfast we begrudgingly broke down camp.
The plan for the day? We decided to take the advice of the riders we met the day before and head for Kennicott. But what we didn’t know was that it was going to be one of the longest days of the trip…
I was almost sad leaving the Denali highway. The views were beautiful at each turn and we couldn’t get enough of it. Soon enough the clouds parted enough to let the sun peek through. We thought it was a good opportunity to take a few pictures so we stopped and did just that!
After the picture party, we continued to truck east (and sadly) found the end of the Denali highway. We hung a right onto the Richardson and aimed for Glenallen.
Tip: There isn’t much of any type of civilization on the Richardson. There are a few gas stations that carry only 87 octane on the way so be prepared. Always carry extra gas!
Tip: Not bringing a gas canister? Think again. Always carry extra gas.
At around 15:18 (about 4 hours of riding from the Denali) we hit our first gas stop in Gakona. We had ridden 203.2 miles and there was some concern about our range. We knew better quality gas was not to far so we only filled up with 1.5 gallons and got back on the road.
Just about 30 minutes later we made it to the Spoke of Alaska: Glenallen. We pulled up in the gas station to find a myriad of vehicles waiting for gas. We picked a line and stuck to it. (Unluckily for us, it was the weekend so the gas station was busier than any of the other times we had passed through there.)
Once we got to the pump we filled up with 90 octane and pulled off to the side to eat and plan. We had no idea what Glenallen had to offer (turns out not much) but we did encounter our first food truck of the trip parked right next to the gas station. It was a Thai food truck and we were glad, at first, to see it. Gregg ordered the Pad Thai and I ordered the green curry with chicken. We dug in and soon realized that this wasn’t San Francisco Thai food. I kept eating as Gregg slowly gave up on his meal. You win some you loose some I guess. (Soon to be the motto of the day)
After refueling our lives, we were heading south again on the Richardson. As we continued down, we soon found ourselves facing one of Alaska’s still active volcanoes: Mt. Wrangell.
Again, my picture does not do this beautiful landscape justice.
It was pretty exciting to see considering I thought all the beautiful views were in Denali. Luckily, this is Alaska and there was always more to come.
We came upon the Edgerton and swung a left. We rode for about 8 miles to find a quaint little gas station in Kenny Lake. Did we stop? No. Should we have stopped. Yes.
Tip: A cardinal rule for motorcycle trips is to fill up, even if you’ve used a couple of liters ( or quarts – what ever tickles your fancy), at every gas station. (unless you have a GSA with a 7.9 gallon tank) You don’t know what’s down the road so it’s better to be cautious with a full tank than to be panicking with an empty one.
We continued down the road. Pushing toward our destination. We knew we still needed to get to Chitina but we also had to combat another 60 or so miles of gravel road to Kennicott. (Keep in mind we already had done 70 miles of gravel on the Denali only a few hours earlier) Gravel is taxing; it is slow going and most of the time not fun.
We arrived in Chitina about an hour later. Gregg saw something and pulled over. “There’s a moose in the water!” “Whaat?!” (Earplugs still in) “There’s a moose in the water!” “Oh!”
It was the first moose we had been able to capture on camera. He must have been hungry because what ever he was munching on probably wasn’t too tasty.
We hopped back on our bikes and continued to roll down the road. We passed through a one lane “tunnel”, followed by some twisties adjacent to a rock face to the left. The view then opened up to a larger body of water sprinkled with fishing wheels. I didn’t quite realize what those little machines were or what they were doing at the time but they looked cool. (Reminded me of oil pumps)
We rode up a hill now adjacent to a rock face on our right overlooking the river. “This place is pretty.” I thought to myself as I found myself wrangling my handlebars. We had found our old friend, gravel. It seemed to be worse at the beginning of the ride to Kennicott but got less irritating as we continued to ride further in. We managed to stick to the ruts in the road created by cars trying hard not to deviate and get mucked by a dastardly pile of rocks.
As we proceeded on slowly we found a one-lane bridge high above what is known as the Kuskulana River. Even though it said not to stop we slowed and peered over the edge. We were hundreds of feet in the air. Cool.
Not all of the road was curvy fortunately. We were able to pick up speed on the straightaways. They were mostly packed so it made higher speeds possible.
At last we make it to McCarthy, the town just before Kennicott. One of the interesting things about McCarthy is that to get to Kennicott we needed to take a “foot bridge” to get over one of the rivers. We had already heard from multiple sources that it was ok to ride on so, without a second thought, we scurried across the bridge.
The bridge is designed for heavy things. We saw people riding their quads across the bridge as well.
We did come along a second bridge but the water level here was so low we were able to ride on the dirt road adjacent to it. We took a right and cycled down the road past the bridge. We were almost there! Then I saw something. I slowed down to a crawl. It was a baby moose and its mother! Gregg grabbed his camera and got some pictures.
We attempted to get closer but as we inched nearer they both hobbled into the woods and out of sight. Darn.
Just another minute down the road was the entrance to Kennicott. What a cool place.
As you can see in the picture, the Kennicott glacier is off to the left while the old mining town looms to the right. The state of Alaska is slowly in the process of refurbishing the old mining town as it’s becoming a tourist attraction.
Gregg walked up the hill and also got a picture looking down.
The interesting thing about those little mounds is that were formed by the glacier. Overtime with the weather they will erode. At least for now they will be an indicator of what once was.
Tip: I do want to make a point here that the glaciers are really melting. They won’t be around much longer. So take a trip to Alaska before it’s too late!
We go back on our bikes and poked around town. We got to the end of the main road and saw a dirt path. Lightbulb. “Hey we’ve done these before. Lets go!” We got up on the balls of our feet and started riding down the trail. We found a tiny (no railings) footbridge, checked it out, and proceed to ride over it. (no problem.)
We continued to ride along the trail as its width slowly crept toward the sides of the motorcycles. We kept going up until we realized maybe this was a bad idea.
Turns out the left side of the path filled with trees and brush decided to disappear. We were up a semi large hill with no easy place to turn around. (Fun!) We did get close to the glacier so to take advantage of the situation Gregg got some good pictures.
After some panicked brainstorming on my end, (Gregg was mostly calm and collected. I thank him for that.) we decided to pick up the rear ends of both bikes and flip them around. And so, we did just that, unloading our luggage, turning the bikes around and packing them back up.
Easy peasy. We road in the other direction careful not to make any mistakes. We continued to traverse the path we had just blazed minutes before. On the balls of our feet and arms loose taking the bumps as they came. I was the first one to the footbridge. I gave it some gas and at that moment my handle bars cocked. I was heading toward the edge of the bridge. (queue dramatic music)
I came to a brief and dramatic halt. My front tire had landed off the side of the foot bridge tipping the bike to the right side. My wind shield had shattered into a million pieces, I had no front brakes, my turn signal cracked apart and my luggage/rear frame(aggghhhh) seemed to have sustained the rest of the damage. And to top it all off the bike was laying sideways across this stinking bridge. Luckily, injury wise, I managed only a bruise on my right knee.
Tip: Always wear the appropriate gear. There are no excuses.
After Gregg was done watching this mess unfold in front of his eyes, he came over. We put our heads together to think how the heck we were going to get my bike still partially on and partially off this bridge completely off this bridge. It took a little elbow grease but we managed to slide it over enough to get it upright. We rolled it on to solid ground and assessed the damage. Besides the problem with the brakes it seemed everything else, at least mechanically, was in good shape.
Gregg got out the tools as I grievously picked up the shards of windshield plastic from the ground and placed them in my side pannier. The brake problem seemed to be related to one of the hex screws attaching the brake line to the brake reservoir. It only took a slight tightening to get feeling back in my brakes. I then hastily wiped the stray brake fluid that had been leaking from the now tightened bolt and we began repacking up my mess.
Tip: Brake fluid will destroy your paint. Wipe it off quickly or pay the price!
We now had to get out of there and figure out where to sleep. It was already about 20:00 and we knew we only had about 2-3 more hours left of sun.
So, once everything was packed up, we rallied and rode back to McCarthy. We rode over that first bridge and stopped to develop a game plan. We volleyed suggestions back and forth to each other. One of the locals rode by and attempted to help (he knew the owner of the local hostel) but to no avail we were out of luck.
Irritated and aching we wanted nothing more to do with Kennicott. So we decided to ride back to Chitina and figure things out there. So, for the next couple of hours we battled the same gravel we had encountered in the beginning as the sun slowly faded. We met some other cars on the way and followed. We had already traveled 180 miles at this point and the concern for fuel grew. We knew that there was no gas in Chitina. The thought of asking for gas crossed our minds. I knew though that we could at least get to Chitina with what we had in our tanks. So we pushed on to Chitina.
We arrived in Chitina around 00:00 the next day. We were tired, moderately hungry and just need some place to sleep. The town was dark and it felt like as if it was abandoned. No people besides the fishermen we saw a while back were around. I looked into the Milepost and after reading I found that there was an RV park by the airport. The concern about our range was still high (I think Gregg went a few more miles than me at one point) so, for the first and only time of our trip we used one gallon of our emergency gas between the two bikes and pushed on to the Airport.
Just before getting there we managed to ride aside a rather large moose (As according to Gregg. I totally missed it). We pulled in to the RV park and started setting up camp. Our spirits were low but we knew we’d be spending the next day recovering. Were we done with the wilderness? (No.) Were we fed up with each other? (Miraculously no.) Where we going to sally forth and see the rest of Alaska? (You bet your ass.)
So that ends the tale of our trip to Kennicott.
- Always use caution planning trips that involve gravel. They take twice as long and take twice as much energy out of you.
- Always wear your gear. (Always always always always)
- I’m not going to discourage going down random paths (as you may never know where they lead) but knowing something about the area before you go down random single track is highly encouraged.
As for the rest of the night, we settled down to sleep and figure out our next move our thoughts pointing toward civilization: Anchorage.
What kept us safe and warm the most on our trip? Our riding gear of course.
Here’s the run down:
- TCX Infinity GTX Boot
I’ve owned these boots for about 2 months now. They have a Gor-tex liner and have moderate protection for your feet. I feel like they’re a good compromise between protection and comfort. I could wear them all day without a problem. (And did once when I got to work and realized I left my shoes at home)
- Rallye 2 Pants
I’ve had these pants for about a year now. As you already know, they did their job in Kennicott and I wouldn’t go anywhere without them. (even around town)
The cons: the velcro by the crotch zipper often sticks to the fabric around it. They may have fixed this with the Rallye 3.
- Rev’it Sand Jacket
I’ve had this jacket since 2010. It has been a staple of my motorcycle wardrobe since. It has ample protection and does well in the wet weather.
The cons: (they have since fixed this issue) The zippers by the wrists always came undone while riding. I ended up hot gluing them in place and using the velcro in lieu of the zippers. The only problem? The velcro ran out. I plan to remove the bad velcro and replace it, add some snaps to keep the zippers together and unglue the zippers. (Should have done that in the first place…)
- Shoei RF-1100 Helmet
This has been a great helmet. I had a Scorpion before this and it fell apart after normal use. It’s quiet and more importantly, comfortable. (12-14 hours a day no problem)
The cons: This helmet fogs up very quick when the face shield is closed. Even with the vents open I often have to crack the face shield for it to clear up.
- Lee Parks Deer Tours
I received these guys in the mail right before we left for Alaska. They then immediately received a rough 3 week stress test. The result? They’re still holding together great. They still feel fantastic. The only bad? Most of the outer black dye has faded in the high use areas (i.e. pointer, middle finger, and palm) It’s still too early to tell how long they’ll last but it seems like they’re up to the challenge for now.
In summary, I can’t reiterate how important your gear is. It will keep you warm, dry, and protected no matter what as long as you wear it. I wouldn’t go anywhere without it anymore.