North to Alaska – Planning the trip

Jul 26, 2011 View Comments by

If you’ve been following my RoadRUNNER blog you know that over the past couple of years I’ve begun to realize that I’m getting older, which is more than just marking off days on a calendar. Even though I don’t feel it, I’m coming up on my 62nd birthday, and the sad fact of the matter is that the amount of time left to take those epic adventures that I’ve been putting off is running short. So I decided that it was past time to realize one of my long held goals – a trip to Alaska on my motorbike. The original plan was to gather a group of friends and plan a four-week trip from Southern California through Canada to Alaska, and return. A number of my regular riding buddies were very excited about the idea, but over the months they’ve all dropped out, and in May I decided that I’d just go alone. I’ve never taken a long solo trip before, and committing to and planning for such an adventure has been a little intimidating.
Prior to leaving I’ll share some of the pre-ride planning and equipment selection and testing I’ve done. I hope you might get some ideas that you find useful and encourage you to take your own epic adventure.

The Planning:
The first step was to figure out the scope of the trip. How much time, and money, would I have? What was a realistic trip within those constraints? What equipment should I take? Should I take a commercial tour or plan my own trip? So many decisions to make, and you can never be sure about any of them. All you can do is research, listen to others with experience, and then ultimately make your own decisions and just shove-off.
Of course my goal was to see Alaska, but how much was the question. One of the first things anyone planning a trip to Alaska should do is get a copy of The Milepost (available on-line at As they say, the Milepost is “since 1949, the bible of north country travel”, and for once the hype isn’t overstated. Literally every mile of all the major roads in British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, as well as Alaska, are clearly described. Ferry schedules, accommodations, fuel, tourist attractions and almost anything else you could possibly need to know is in this thick paperback book, (which is also available in an on-line version and as a downloadable PDF file). If an Alaska adventure is your goal- by car, camper or motorbike- before you do anything else I recommend you purchase a copy of The Milepost.
Using The Milepost, the many excellent trip articles available in the RoadRUNNER on-line travel archive, and the various web newsgroups and forums, a plan began to take shape. One parameter, since I am traveling alone, is to stick to paved roads. The risks of long solo runs up secondary dirt roads are too great. I understand that there will be portions of my planned route that will be “under construction” and dirt roads don’t bother me. My BMW F650GS/twin and skill set are capable of handling graded roads, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to plan long sections off the pavement. This, of course, eliminated the Dalton Highway and Prudhoe Bay (which didn’t interest me anyway) but also took other potentially interesting routes out of play. Oh well… one can’t do everything.

Using my Garmin MapSource software, I charted a route from my home in Los Angeles, through Nevada and Idaho into Canada, with my first goal being to ride up the “Ice Fields Highway”. I have been to BC and western Alberta several times, and knew this was both a great ride and very a beautiful area. Picking up the Ice Fields highway north of Banff, visiting Lake Louise and staying in, or near, Jasper. Continuing north I’ll eventually pick up Canada Highway 97 (CN-97), and CN-1 to Whitehorse, heading into Alaska and Fairbanks. I intend to camp in Denali National Park where I’ll have some time for exploring. Leaving Denali I’ll head south to Anchorage. I may explore the Kenai Peninsula but ultimately it’s over to Whittier where I’ll take a ferry across the Prince William Sound to Valdez. From Valdez it’s up the Richardson Highway then down to Haines, AK and the short ferry ride to Skagway. From Skagway I’ll head north to pick up the main highway and then south CN-37 and into Stewart and Hyder. From the Steward/Hyder area I’ll head back out on CN-37A to CN-37 to CN-16 and Prince Rupert, where I’ll pick up an “inland waterway” ferry to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. From northern Vancouver Island I’ll go to Victoria, BC and cross over to Port Angeles and then down Washington, Oregon and home. All in all, about 8,000 miles. After selecting this route I decided that four weeks probably wasn’t enough time, so I was able to extend the trip for another week and give myself some unscheduled days to explore as the opportunity arose.
I suppose this is a good time to say that I haven’t made any hotel reservations, booked any ferry tickets or done anything else that would constrain where I go and when I get there. Although I’ve planned the route, the actual schedule will be seat-of-the-pants. I will, of course, have to book ferry tickets and as I know exactly when I’ll be where I plan to do so. Besides, the only ferry ride that might be problematic is the long trip down the Inland Passage run from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, so I’ll try to book that about a week in advance. If it doesn’t work, I’ve an alternate highway route planned.
One benefit of traveling alone is that you don’t have to take anyone else into consideration. If I decide to say in Fairbanks for a few days I can; if I decide to head home early I can do that as well. Since I plan on camping about half the time I have the flexibility of picking my accommodations and/or changing my plans as my mood, the bugs, and the weather dictate.
In the next blog post I’ll discuss the equipment I’ll be using. One piece of gear that I’ve selected for this trip is a Spot Tracker. Not only does this allow anyone interested to follow along as I ride, but provides emergency services if there is a problem, including emergency evacuation coverage for up to $50,000. I will post links that will allow you to follow my Spot Adventures route as well as view photos and videos taken as the trip progresses.
If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them, so leave a comment or send me a Facebook message.

Tags: Categories: Destinations, On The Road

About the author

I have been road riding for many years but am fairly new at the "Adventure" side of our sport. Not a real dirt boy most of my "off-road" experience has been on road racing tracks but mostly I love touring and exploring new places. When I plan a trip I try to stay off freeways much prefering the 2 lane back roads, the road less traveled.