Saturday, October 26, 2013

100th Post of Wanderings - South Dakotans don't like me

Today is a special day, because it is the 100th post in my blog. I started out blogging in 2010. Just a simple idea to share a little bit about my adventures and predicaments I seem to find myself in.

Today, I am reflecting and sharing with you what the blog ride has been like.

I have posted on this site 100 blogs since 2010.
The number of posts per year has increased consistently since then:
  • 2010 yielded 17 posts
  • 2011 yielded 26 posts
  • 2012 yielded 29 posts
  • 2013 will yield 30+
Most of my posts have been about traveling, and most of those travels are by motorcycle. The two most popular posts have quirky titles that, I suspect,drive traffic accidentally to my site:

Sex, Motorcycles, and Leather (Most popular post)
Would you like some cleavage with your cappuccino (Far second most popular)

Most popular motorcycle adventure ride/locations are:

Montana's ride to Glacier National Park
The ride to Inuvik (Northwestern Territories, Canada - first attempt)
The audience/readers are mostly US readers who live in the western half of the US.
I have visitors from every state in the US but 4 (South Dakota, Arkansas, Alabama, and Vermont).
I have been visited from all over the world, Canadians being my largest, Indonesian second.
The post views for the last year are about 12,000.

Blog traffic for the last year of Bohemian Gypsy

What's next?
I'm going to keep blogging!
In my head I still have our recent travels to Manely Hot Springs.
I leave for French Polynesia in less than 2 weeks..
And next year is filled with plans!

I am also finally spending some real time and effort on my website. I have been busy building new categories, and add content. Still a rough gem, but when it is ready, I will start bloging there.

Although Blogspot has been a good free ride, I'm moving to the next level.

Thanks for being a reader!
Please provide me with feedback on what you want to see more of in the future!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Your zipper is down and I can’t help but smile

(a post-trip blog: the Denali Highway, Alaska)
I love Talkeetna. It is such a quirky Alaskan town. Aside from having a cat for a mayor, good taste in beer, and priorities consistent with mountain climbing, the people just know how to enjoy life. I have always thought if someone wanted to get a sense of Alaskans you should study their footwear, and Talkeetna always offers up the best of the best!

Talkeetna-grown "bumper" sticker of the Denali Dames Social Club

A local explanation for how beer is created...
Talkeetna beer line with all the boots made for drinking!

Our last day on the trip was going to be extra special. I have wanted to give the zip-line adventure in Talkeetna, Alaska a try since I heard about them last year. Here is what their website states:

“Denali Zip-line Tours offers a thrilling and educational way to experience breathtaking natural scenery and awesome wilderness.  From our “South side” perspective the panoramic views of the Alaska Range, and Denali National Park are amazing and the opportunity to see it from a tree-top platform with the boreal forest at your feet and Mt. McKinley at your brow is unbeatable. Our zipline canopy adventure tour is Southcentral Alaska’s first world class and farthest north canopy tour in North America!” 
It is 3 hours long adventure with 9 separate zip-lines, several rope bridges and platforms, and one small rappel.

Rope bridge leading to platform

Jaz was not up for zip-lining in a downpour, so we had breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse and bid her farewell.  I was having second thoughts, not because of any fear or apprehension towards heights or zip-lines, but because it was raining so bad and the tickets were so expensive ($150/person). I wanted my trip to afford a view of the largest mountain on the continent, and rain was dampening that experience.
We checked into the office and found the tickets were non-refundable – it was settled – zip-line in the rain. The group was very friendly, and informative. I was worried that my poor hearing would get in the way of critical instructions, but it became apparent that these folks were safe, relied on hand signals for the distances, and very thorough. They suited us up in interesting harnesses (more elaborate then climbing gear), helmets, and special gloves with heavy duty leather patches over the palms.

Me all suited up in rain and safety gear so I can swing through the trees

Our group size was only 6; on account of the platform size between lines, 2 were employees.
The ride was exhilarating! I do have a fear of heights that always makes my knees knock whenever I confront it, but even so, the ride was spectacular. The canopy was so thick, that even if it was a sunny day, all would only see a strip of blue at the tops of the trees. It was more like racing through the trees and forest than anything else. There is one small lake you cross, and Mt. McKinley can be seen on a clear day, but otherwise, this was a fast and furious through the trees. The lines get longer and faster as you go, so you get to work-up to not being scared shitless by the time you get to the fastest line. I say this, because unlike the zip-line I tried at Park City, Utah, this one is totally controlled by you.  You were responsible for your speed, stopping, and falling short of the platform.

It went like this:
You had a harness on with two hooks. When it was your turn you stepped up on a log and hooked onto a small cable skate, then sat down to put your weight on the cable. You put one gloved hand in front of the skate, and one behind. This kept you from leaving the platform before it was time.
When it was time to go, you put both hands on top of the skate. Gravity sent you down the cable. At some point, when you needed to apply brake, you put your left gloved hand on the cable behind the skate and used friction to slow yourself down. The harder you squeezed the cable the slower you went. If you stopped short of the platform, you need to hand-over-hand pull yourself the rest of the distance.

Sounds easy, right? It was easy in theory, but if you aren’t the most coordinated person, it takes a little practice. The cables were wet, so they were faster; your body could easily spin clockwise or counterclockwise, so you needed to be careful. But it was a blast! I highly recommend you do this when visiting Talkeenta, rain or shine. It made us giggle like children and it was well worth the money!

My philosophy – I would rather slow down too much and have to hand pull myself the last couple of feet than slam into a tree (apparently this has happened; it is simple operation that relies on you paying attention – no auto-stop here). 

It was a wonderful way to end the trip. Aside from a sheet of water hitting me in the face (when I was the first to do a long cable line that that still had a lot of water on it, the zip-line was perfect. We road back to Anchorage uneventfully, the rain stopped about 45 minutes outside of Anchorage. 

The entire garage was filled with drying gear for two days.

I woke up in a trailer...

(a post-trip blog: the Denali Highway, Alaska)
It was cold the night before… the campground was filled, tons of hunters roaming (and shooting) on the landscape, and the overall wet conditions prompted us to look for shelter.

Diane's bike - we were covered in mud from head to toe (Photo - Diane Mead)

The RV shelter in campground had a little trailer available for rent, the kind you would pull behind your pickup truck. It was cozy enough for 3 to dry out and the campground had hot showers… SOLD!

The morning after... waking up in a trailer!

We woke up with in a very relaxed state, repacked and ate breakfast out of the rain. The rain did not let up the entire trip, until the last hour back into Anchorage. Today we were going to split from Diane, as she was heading all the way into to Anchorage, and Michael and I were heading to Talkeetna for another night. Jazz was riding up from Anchorage to meet us for beer and dinner.
We packed up and headed out. It always amazes me how light Michael travels… and organized. I always look like a tornado went through my living space. It doesn’t matter if the space is small or large, or if I am coming or going… I just don’t have the discipline he does for order. This translates to… I never know exactly where anything is… and I always end up opening at least 2 or 3 bags looking for something.

Michael's pile of motorcycle gear is on the left... my stuff is everywhere else.

We hit the road; visibility was minimal, the rain was relentless, and idiot drivers were trying to kill us (with the down pour and visibility, our speed dropped from 65 to probably 55mph – too slow for folks in a hurry). We stopped at Mary’s McKinley View for lunch and bid farewell to Diane.
We pressed on to Talkeetna in the rain. Michael’s heated gear was no-longer heated. (It turns out that he had so much mud caked over the radiator; the air-flow was clogged, causing the fan to run most of the time. Between the fan running most of the time, the heated gear, and him charging his IPhone, it depleted the overall voltage and maxed out the alternator. The gear just wasn’t heating up properly with those conditions.) By the time we reached the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge we were ready for a beer!

Lobby of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge

We checked in, a little odd to move from a campground to a luxury hotel, but we were not complaining. You know it’s a first class place when the hangers actually come of the bar in the closet! The lamp shades came in at a solid 3 (on a scale of 1-5, 5 being best). 

Lampshade grade 3... nothing special

We waited for Jazz in the bar; talking about the interesting things we saw and heard on this trip. I enjoyed the stream crossings the most. I have never had good luck crossing water. I can think of two times in the past when I have dumped a motorcycle in or near a stream. They always make me nervous. Fortunately on this trip, we all had success with water.  Not so for all; the night before sitting in the Sluice Box drinking coffee, the bartender told us about a group of guys that came through a few days earlier and tried crossing Valdez Creek unsuccessfully.  He said one rider headed straight across and hit a sudden drop off (invisible due to the murky water color). The front tire dropped suddenly and the entire rider and bike disappeared momentarily. The bike resurfaced with the rider on the side. The bartender said the saddle bags actually acted like floatation devices on the bike. Both rider and bike were salvaged. This story is my greatest nightmare with water crossings.  Now I have more information to rattle around in my head the next time I am approaching a water crossing.

Jaz arrived… time for beer.

Diversity in beer - Michael, Me, and Jazz

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Trail of Tipped Bikes

(a post-trip blog: the Denali Highway, Alaska)
It rained all night long. In the morning, I put all my heavy motorcycle gear on under the boughs of a tree. This was an attempt to minimize how wet I would actually be when I was finally riding down the road. Even though I had heated gear, it was cold. The temps dropped to the low 30s at night; we had frost on the bikes. 

The valleys along the Denali Highway are created by 3 river drainages
I slept cozy in my down bag, silk liner and knit hat, but riding all day in the rain was how the day was panning out. I did have trouble putting on my contact lenses. The rain was bad enough that any chance of getting them in correctly was non-existent. I rode with my eyeglasses to the first stop and took care of the contacts in the restroom. Eyeglasses add an extra surface for potential fogging when cold.

The first few miles of the Denali Highway are paved (from the Paxson side) and the road is mostly flat for the entire distance
We made it to the Maclaren River Lodge for more hot chili and bread. I purchased a beer glass from the bar with the intention of packing it home, but I left it on the table. The lodge was filled with people in warm gear and hats, mostly hunters taking refuge from the rain. We saw several successful hunters throughout this trip with Caribou parts tied to their vehicles for the long ride home to the freezer.

Lunch in the Maclaren River Lodge
The view was clouded over in the distance, but the shades of red were apparent in the tundra close by. We pulled over to take a snap shot of the fall scenery and Diane became tip-over #2 on this trip. She had parked on a slanted section and didn’t realize the bike was still in neutral. Between the uneven ground, the extra gear weight, and the bike not in gear, she went over. It took only a second to right the bike.  Both Michael and Diane looked at me and told me I was next. I made sure I was extra careful where ever I parked for the rest of the trip.

Although it rained the entire weekend, the fall colors across the tundra were beginning to show.
Cold and wet with a little bit of fog describes this trip well

The road is relatively flat and even with the rain, not much of a challenge. I knew there would be one section of glacial silt on the highway, but other than that area, the Denali would give us a scenic but non-technical experience. Knowing this would be the case, we planned to explore the Valdez mining roads near the Susitna River. If I am planning to ride around the world, then every opportunity to increase my technical skill is a good thing. All of this rain had flooded the secondary streams and  smaller trails north.  I did not think we could get back too far from the main road before we ran into the black mud that acts like grease (the same mud I ran into on the way to Inuvik the first time). If someone knows the story on this mud, please leave it in the comment. Either way, we were planning to only go so far up Valdez Creek area.

We started up with plenty of opportunities to test our water crossing skills, we all did fine.  Michael and I were riding tires a little bit more aggressive than Diane, but she did pretty good with her road tread in the mud (she slipped a little in the glacial silt on the main road later in the day, but still they did okay, and these were pretty wet conditions).

While out in the middle of nowhere, sure enough, we get pulled over by a cop. This time it was an Alaskan State Trooper. He was concerned we were illegally hunting while using a motorized vehicle. We chatted with him for a while, and when he realized that we had no intention of tying a caribou trophy rack across our handle bars waved us on.

Alaska State Trooper determines if we are a participating in illegal activity
No sooner did we leave the nice officer when we ran into a few gentlemen, we think, were trying to hunt. We weren’t sure. It probably started out as a conversation in a bar over beers and went something like this:

"Well, we can't take 4 wheelers into that area to hunt, and if we are successful it might be pretty tough to get the dead caribou back to the truck" and then another fellow says "lets build a cart that looks like it came from the Middle Ages and load it up with all our gear, including pedal bikes" and then, the last person adds "Great idea - we can then drag it out into the middle of nowhere so that when we kill the animal we can load it up and then push it for miles..." and finally "Oh and make sure we remember to bring coolers full of beer too"...

It looked like this:

The "Beer-Deer" cart (actually Beer-Caribou, but that doesn't sound as nice)
 We found lots of water to practice on...

Me riding my red KLR through a river that has flooded the trail
 Diane takes on another flooded area:

We topped off the water riding with a stop at the Sluice Box Bar for hot coffee... at Gracious House.

Michael and Diane enjoy coffee in a trailer converted to a bar.
After Gracious House, we hit the glacial silty section of the road. The rain made it a little unnerving, but all you can do is just look forward and ride it through. This section is an esker, a sinuous ridge of silt, sand, gravel and cobbles that were carried and deposited by a stream that flowed within the glacier and was confined by walls of ice. When the glacier melted away, these deposits were left as elongated mounds. Eskers along this highway are some of North America's outstanding examples of this type of glacial feature. They are also difficult to pedal or motorcycle through. It is a small section, but be careful.

We had planned on camping at the last campground on the highway, but it was packed due to the hunting season. We pressed onto Cantwell and spent the night there.

Blogging by headlamp on the Denali Highway

(a post-trip blog)
The Denali Highway was the first road access to Denali National Park and opened in 1957. Less than 15 years later, a major paved highway would eliminate the need for this dirt 135 mile dirt road. Today, it serves as access to valleys and mountains along with 3 large river drainages. The road has very little traffic, minimal services are available; the road tends to be washboard and dusty, forcing speed limits down to about 35 mph.

Diane, a friend, was joining us on her Suzuki V-Strom, we were on Kawasaki KLRs. Labor Day weekend is hunting season in Alaska, and this area is prime hunters heaven. We were hoping to ride through the area, explore mining roads, and camp-out without getting shot or running into snow. There are limited services and the weather report was calling for rain the entire weekend, but we knew our riding days in Alaska were winding down before the snow fell.  Finally, I wanted to check out the zip line in Talkeetna – 9 zips and a 3 hour experience; one never knows how long you will be around. With winter looming, there was a sense of acceptance for the bad weather; it will soon get worse.
We packed like we would be freezing: heated gear, winter hats for camp, lots of beer in bubble wrap (bubble wrapped beer is critical on washboard rut roads… trust us… we know). Because I knew it was going to be extra cold, wet and miserable on this trip, I opted to toss in a flask of Schnapps to help blur the edge at camp.*
Bubble wrapped Black Butte Porter to carry in motorcycle saddlebags
Bubble wrapped beer is essential for camping in remote places in Alaska!
We rolled out of Anchorage and made it as far as Sheep Mountain Lodge before the first issue occurred. I was dismounting from my motorcycle with hot chili and bread roll (their bread rolls are a must if you ever visit this way) on my mind, when I see a flash of yellow from the corner of my eyes. I look over and see Michael in a “tuck-n-roll” flying away from his motorcycle; his bike lying on the ground. Michael’s bike was so fully loaded and with the ground uneven, he tipped the bike to far over to pop the kickstand down and the weight took him over. He and his bike were okay, but if he had parked 10 feet more forward, he would have been trapped between a large log and his bike. Not life threatening, but he probably would have gotten banged up. In the process of the tuck-n-roll, he shredded the Bose headphone wires he was wearing.

Motorcycles on the Denali Highway, Alaska
Diane (left) and Michael (right) enjoying the rain on the Denali Highway, Alaska

I purchased a new IPod for the trip. I tend to use my IPhone for music most of the time, but it can drain the battery. Since I wanted to conserve battery for picture taking, I purchased a backup for music. I can charge the devices while riding, but sitting around in camp not on the bike drains batteries. I pulled out my new IPod to turn on (since I had to get a backup set of headphones for Michael), and turned it on. I must have clicked one button too many, because before I knew it my IPod was in Russian! Damn it! Since it was a new device, I was not familiar with all the screens and such. We all stared at my Russian IPod listing Brandie Carlile songs in such a manner I have never seen. Hmmm… It took a bit to figure out what “reset” looks like in Russian and symbols, but luckily we fixed it.

Tummies filled with chili, we rolled out into the RAIN RAIN RAIN, destination: mosquito capital of the Alaska – Paxson Lake Campground (according to the milepost). This is also the campsite where my life long hate of squirrels was born. I was on the look-out for the furry vermin. We made it to the campground and quickly set up the tents. Diane picked some lovely wild blueberries and Michael found the Schnapps.*
Drinking Schnaaps while camping
*Funny… Michael found the Schnapps within minutes of reaching Paxson Lake Campground.
We proceeded to put our tents up in the most miserable downpour possible… and because the trees were so sparse and far apart, setting up any sort of tarp to gather under for shelter and enjoy each others company was made impossible. On top of that, it was a brand new tent - one we were not all the familiar in setting up (we actually ended up reading the instructions in a down pour). We called it early and crawled into the tent just to stay dry. This became blogging by headlamp.

Blogging by headlamp really meant pencil, light, and Write/Rain notebook.