Alaska's Wild Beauty
Skirting northeasterly around Denali National Park, I was hit with countless chevrons of snow-capped mountains in Interior Alaska. It was a sweet spot that seemed like the very acme of Alaskan wilderness allure. For us, it was the final frontier—the beginning of the end of a four-and-a-half-year road trip.
Along the way, the benefits of social media connected us with the Fishhook Fatties, a gregarious biking group from southcentral Alaska whose ethos is “work hard, play hard,” at least during the short summer months when daylight hours, although practically uninterrupted compared to those during the protracted winter, are in high demand. The Dust to Dawson (D2D) motorcycle event was just around the corner, so upon invitation we jumped at the chance of joining them in June. It was perfect timing before our final push up to Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost place you can reach by navigable roads in the U.S.
Like day one usually goes on any motorcycle jaunt, my expectations comprised no more than finding my stride in the saddle. Little did I know what lay in store—an Alaskan’s Alaska astride two wheels. I’d always wanted to explore the 49th state; to my mind, I knew if I met a good bunch of locals, they would show me the real Alaska.
When the clouds are not obscuring it, Mount Denali will do anything but disappoint when passing it on the George Parks Hwy. As North America’s highest peak, it towers above all else at more than 20,000 feet. Ensconcing ourselves in the dirt biking bliss that led us onto the Denali Hwy, rapture cartwheeled out of my body, going headlong across the tundra.
Free from the feeling of captivity you sometimes get in cities—a necessity for a quick resupply in Fairbanks—we continued to scoot northwest up the Elliott Hwy. It became our starting point for the 156-mile munch to Manley Hot Springs via an old gold rush route, which bestowed views of the vast Minto Flats while making us earn every sloppy mile.
I looked up and gave the sinister sky a slit-eyed appraisal. Dark clouds loomed overhead as the weather cooled down, turning the world to a raw gray. They hammered rain down on us the entire way to Manley Hot Springs. Like riding on snot-covered marbles, we trudged our way through the calcium chloride with some artful slides thrown in for good measure. On high alert, with the backside muscles poised for a long cardio workout, I felt the bottom dip temporarily out of my world.
What was I expecting, with luggage-laden Pearl—my trusty BMW F 650 GS—who weighed in at 530 pounds? I scrabbled, lost control, and groused, watching my wheels spray mud everywhere. I should have long ago embraced the concept of “light and tight,” where size always matters off-road.
Having located a drier section, I shelved the dampened spirits and smiled like the sun was coming out. It wasn’t, but I went for it with a handful of throttle. Failing to realize we had reunited with the squelchy malevolence of the mud, I scared myself silly at 60 mph as I squirmed mid-corner in a mire. “What the….!” I cussed, careening horribly toward a ditch—my brain unable to gauge the speed at which enthusiasm superseded skill. “Oh my GAWD, I forgot who I was!” I took a moment to stop my heart’s wild drum solo.