After two and a half years riding many parts of the world, this traveler lost her heart to Alaska
Story by Lisa Morris
Skirting northeasterly around Denali National Park, I was hit with countless chevrons of snow-capped mountains and gigantic glaciers that did anything but disappoint – my hunger for wild lands was going to be well nourished here. I’m a wilderness seeker in lifelong pursuit of natural beauty; although nowhere on my moto radar did I expect my heart to be stolen at first sight by Alaska.
The beginning of the end of our two-and-a-half-year road trip started with the Fishhook Fatties: a gregarious biking group from south-central Alaska whose ethos is assuredly “work hard, play hard,” at least during the summer months where daylight hours are in high demand. They also love big adventure bikes – the women riders being no exception – and all prefer dirt to pavement, ourselves (my partner, Jason, and me) included. That said, I remember screaming the maracas off my F650GS just to keep up with them from Wasilla to Dawson City, Yukon, and back to Fairbanks.
With the full-throttle eagerness of two Alaskan road-trip newbies, Jason and I jumped straight onto the George Parks Highway from the Fishhook Fatties’ base located on the northern point of Cook Inlet in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. As day ones go on any impromptu motor-
cycle journey, my expectations comprised no more than finding my stride and settling into the saddle. Little did I know what lay in store: an Alaskan’s Alaska astride two wheels.
Out of the captivity that can be felt in cities – Alaska’s second-largest city being no exception – we all but raced out of town, northwest up the Elliott Highway. Our starting point for the 240 km munch to Manley Hot Springs via an old gold-rush route that gave us views of the vast Minto Flats and, on rare occasion, North America’s highest peak, Mount Denali,
at 6,200 metres; otherwise known as “
the Great One,” 320 km to the south.
Having fallen out of favour with Lady Luck, the rain drizzled relentlessly the entire way to Manley Hot Springs. We trudged our way through the calcium chloride sludge with some artful slides thrown in for good measure – it’s like riding on snot over marbles. I was on high alert, with backside muscles poised for a long cardio workout and my lips set to pursed.
What was I expecting on Pearl, my hefty F650GS, laden at 240 kg with luggage? I scrabbled, lost control and groused watching my wheels flinging manes of spray everywhere; I should’ve long ago embraced “less is more” on a bike ride from Argentina, where size matters off-road.
Having located a drier section, I shelved the dampened spirits for a sunny interval and went for it with a handful of throttle – I admit, I was amped. Failing to realize when we’d reunited with the viscous malevolence, I scared myself silly at 100 km/h as I squirmed in a mire mid-corner. “What the *@&?!” I cussed, careening horribly toward a ditch – my brain unable to gauge the speed. Language disappeared, and for a split second I prayed in a soft high-pitched lament any human listener would’ve termed a yelp. “Oh my God, I forgot who I was!” eventually emerged, exhilarated as much as frightened. That’s the problem with Lady Luck: she can turn her back at any hairy moment.
Those paired to my intercom roared in recognition of the self-induced blunder. It gave me a lift somehow. It’s mysterious how comfort arrives; the guys riding with us had calmed my shaken spirit. That’s the Fishhook Fatties for you: full of enormous energy that pops up to inject hilarity every mile of the way.
Kicking the side stands down and now caked in mud, we observed a charming Post-It Note-sized village on the banks of the Tanana River. Just outside of Manley Roadhouse, a fine-eating establishment and roofed accommodation, we pegged the Dome Sweet Dome on a public campground (near the bridge over Manley Slough) to a regiment of twin-engine skeeters rushing to meet and greet us at full tempo. Having ditched the motorcycle gear, our newly exposed skin must have looked ripe for the feasting. With a smooth Alaskan IPA in hand, we jumped straight into the spring-fed baths, keeping the winged assailants at bay and our muscles set to soaking.
The next dawn brought a win in the road surface lottery and a pleasant morning accompanied by lovely swaths of afternoon…