Alaska: From Whitehorse to Deadhorse and Back

Riding a Motorcycle in Alaska: From Whitehorse to Deadhorse and Back
“Somebody will pick you up at the airport and drive you to where the bike is, about 30 kilometers outside of town. Bring cash.” Those were more or less my instructions for a loaner bike I somehow found by pure luck, combined with a healthy dose of trust. I’m sitting in my last airplane of a 20-hour journey wondering if I’m going to be at the bottom of a pit in a basement rubbing lotion on my skin by the end of the day. My only comfort is knowing my riding friends are expecting me and know of this unusual plan.

Whitehorse is the capital and only city (population less than 25,000) in the Yukon Territory (population less than 34,000). It’s the “Gateway to the Yukon,” and that refers to the river which gold prospectors used to launch into the wilderness. The airport is modest, and as soon as I step off, Saskia’s warm smile catches my attention. The Dutch-expat is my main contact. After introductions and a few jokes, I feel less stressed about the whole arrangement. “People are inherently good,” I keep telling myself. Fast forward an hour, and I’m standing in her garage in my underwear … putting on my riding gear (where did you think this was going?) and looking out over a lake. What a gorgeous view, I think, and then Saskia snaps me out of it by showing me the bumble bee. My loaner for the six-day marathon ride to Deadhorse and back is a 2008 Suzuki V-Strom 650. It’s well worn-in. A visual inspection reveals the rear tire won’t make it the whole trip, and the chain has all sorts of kinks in it. On my way into Whitehorse to meet the group, I get a second opinion from the professionals at Yukon Yamaha and make arrangements to pick up a replacement rear tire in Fairbanks, but I’ll chance it on the chain. After all, no risk, no fun!

Riding a Motorcycle in Alaska: From Whitehorse to Deadhorse and Back

Whitehorse to Dawson City – 330 miles

Lyndon is riding his BMW R 1200 GSA, so he’s our fuel camel if the need arises. Dennis rides an F 650 GS, while Ted and Martin each ride a Yamaha Super Ténéré. Bruce is piloting a shiny new Honda Africa Twin. Ted has been all the way north before, which makes him our guide and pacesetter for most of the trip. Both good enough reasons for attempting the whole 2,295 miles from Whitehorse to Deadhorse and back trip in just six days. It’s a tight itinerary.

Riding a Motorcycle in Alaska: From Whitehorse to Deadhorse and Back

Not far north of town, Yukon 1 East takes almost all traffic the main way toward the Alaskan border. The six of us seem to be the only ones taking YT-2N to Dawson. My first impressions about the Yukon are in line with what I thought it would be like. Endless expanses of trees, lakes, streams, and not a soul in sight. Well, that last part is rather obvious because, with 183,288 square miles, the Yukon Territory has only 0.2 inhabitants per square mile.

Motorcycle & Gear

2008 Suzuki DL650

Helmet: Shoei Neotec
Jacket: Klim Badlands
Pants: Klim Badlands
Boots: Sidi Canyon GORE-TEX
Gloves: Held Warm n Dry
Luggage: Wolfman dry duffel (medium)

Our spirited pace comes to a halt when a “traffic jam” appears in the form of a poor cinnamon bear cub (first time I’ve heard of this variety) who must have been playing with a porcupine, because a muzzle full of quills has him down on his luck.

The only other vehicles we encounter are RVs, so we’re definitely on the tourist route. And since road selection is limited, we meet the same people over and over again, especially other riders. We keep passing the same ones, meet them at the gas station, and then usually at the same hotel, too. The wilderness may be grand, incredibly vast, but the world can seem uncommonly small, too.