skierd SuperDork
7/20/17 3:33 a.m.

Five years ago I made the life changing decision to leave everything behind and ride NORTH to Alaska in search of a life on the road and what I expected to be the start of a never ending ride around the world. I came to Alaska with little more than a job, a duffel bag, and a WR250R turned X.

I'm still in Alaska, but the ride hasn't come anywhere close to ending!  I've found myself something resembling a career, a great wife, a nice house, a good dog, and an awesome daughter that already has her eyes on a PW50. My poor WR250X however has been mostly neglected however, only seeing a few hundred miles a year compared to the few thousand a month I used to do. 

A small change in my work schedule this summer and a couple other bits of good timing, and I found myself with a pair of long weekends in June with the family out of town or otherwise occupied.  It's time to shake the dust off the old girl and take a good long ride around Great North again! 

But where to go?  I live in Fairbanks, so there are a pair of roads I've been wanting to ride and another I've been meaning to take the WRX on: the Steese Highway to Circle, the Elliott Highway to Manley Hot Springs (and maybe even the Road to Tanana), and Chena Hot Springs Road to... Chena Hot Springs.  And I happened to have just enough time to make it back for my second Dust2Dawson. 

I've got tires to wear out and gear to get dirty, let's go for a ride and see where it takes us! D2D2017web-744660010005

Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett MegaDork
7/20/17 12:12 p.m.

In reply to skierd:

Back in the saddle!

skierd SuperDork
7/20/17 12:24 p.m.

One of the things I love about riding in Alaska is it's incredibly hard to get lost.  There's only a couple major highways, and so long as you keep yourself pointed in the right direction you'll find your way to the correct place eventually. I didn't take many photos on the way out of Fairbanks because... well because time.  Between taking the kid in to town and farting around getting the bike loaded, I found myself in a bit of a time crunch.  I was technically still working, so I had to be somewhere with cell phone service around 3pm so I could put orders in (i'm in sales) and I had to make it to the border on the Taylor Highway by 8pm... because it closes for the night.

In any event, I don't personally find much of the highway between Fairbanks and Delta Junction to be particularly scenic save for a few overlooks and twisty bits near the river. And to be perfectly honest I was still getting reacquainted with riding a small motorcycle on the highway.  At the start of this trip my trusty crusty WR250X had a solid 44,500 miles on her and I really didn't take any time to prep the old girl for this ride other than making sure there was enough air in the tires, cleaning the chain, and finally cleaning the air filter after a couple seasons. Not that there's much to worry about as she still runs great; with the stator recall completed several years ago and never having had a lick of fuel pump trouble nor has it ever burned a drop of oil there really wasn't much needed get things ready.  Just toss on the Alaska leather sheepskin, fill the fuel tank, and ride!

Shortly after noon I departed Fairbanks and watched what counts for urban sprawl up here through the kitsch that is North Pole, through Salcha, and in to Alaska's special and peculiar style "rural sprawl": long stretches of mostly empty roadsides with muddy two track stretching out in to the wilderness on either side of the highway every couple miles. I decided to be alone with my thoughts when I left town instead of distracting myself with music.  It had been long enough since I had done a long solo ride so proper attentiveness was better and besides I haven't had a chance to really be this alone with my thoughts since well before my daughter.

I rolled in to Delta around 1:30pm, feeling great!  The weather was a little cool for June but partly cloudy and not terribly windy.  The skies heading east looked threatening but hey, I had brought my rain suit so I figured that was a solid bet against rain.  After gassing up and checking my email for work, I headed out again with just earplugs to continue the morning's meditations.  It was the slow, playful, enjoyable descent in to madness that I was looking for.  I switched between babbling to myself, asking questions about the universe, and singing the nursery rhymes from my daughter's favorite shows on Netflix at the top of my lungs for the next 100 miles to Tok.

skierd SuperDork
7/20/17 12:26 p.m.

Should you ever find yourself in Tok, Alaska, I implore you to make a stop at Fast Eddies.  They literally saved my life in my ride to Alaska in 2012.  See, I rolled in to Tok after nearly a month on the road with about $5 to my name with the temperature outside at a balmy 5*F.  On the promise that I had someone to call in the morning in the lower 48 who could pay, they fed me dinner, gave me a motel room, and fed me breakfast.  I am forever indebted to them for their generosity.  Today, fortunately, I money to buy myself a lunch before heading out of town with about 4 hours to get my sorry hump over the Taylor Highway, through Chicken and the border, and get myself to Dawson. 

I have a bit of a confession: I love traveling with a film camera.  Damn the convenience of an iPhone and digital, I love tossing one of my rangefinder's in the tank bag and capturing the world one frame at a time.  My film shots on this trip were taken with an Olympus 35 RD and were shot on Kodak Ektar 100, processed by the "Film is Not Dead" aka FIND Lab in Utah. 

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The Taylor Highway was about what I remembered from my 2012 ride.  Incredibly remote, rolling through the hills of the Fortymile region pell-mell style, switching between bad asphalt, bad chip seal, and surprisingly decent hard pack gravel at will until just before the town of Chicken.  I stopped in Chicken to stretch again and to fill up for the push to Dawson and while getting gas I looked down at my front sprocket... hmm... something doesn't look right...

Holy crap my sprocket nut is loose and almost falling off!  And holy crap my chain is eating the heck out of my chain slider!  Where did all of those kinked links come from?  I opened up my tail bag and dug out my tool kit only to find that my 27mm wrench wouldn't clear the skidplate and shifter enough to turn the nut at all.  I resorted to tightening it down as much as I could with my hand and peening the tabs back down with a screwdriver and tent stake mallet and said a little prayer that it would hold on to Dawson.  Checked my watch after getting everything back together... uh oh, it's 6:45! YA MULE, YA!

The hard thing about trying to travel fast on Alaskan highways, even ones as remote as the Taylor, are the RV's and heavy truck traffic you inevitably encounter.  I don't know what possesses people to drive a four door long bed dually pulling a 30' travel trailer over some of these highways but damn it's dangerous to catch one of those bastards coming at you with an octogenarian behind the wheel barely in control of their rig.  At least the construction trucks drive the roads daily but they're rough to pass or having coming at you to. 

I make it to the border with about 10 minutes to spare and after a few questions am welcomed in to Canada.  The Top of the World highway really lives up to it's name as it winds along the ridges of the mountains for most of it's route.  I often wonder where some of the trails that drop off the side go, and how much I'd like to be based out of a nice campsite with lots of gas and go exploring one of these days...  I also often wondered where the hell summer went as it was maybe 50*F for most of the 1.5 hours it took to get from the border to the Yukon river ferry.  I was too cold and too saddle sore to take pictures at this point unfortunately because the evening light really is magical and uncanny. 

The only thing open in Dawson was Diamond Tooth Gerties where I was able to talk the doormen in to letting me in to buy a slice of pizza without paying their cover charge, then stumbled back to the campground, set up camp, and passed the F out.

skierd SuperDork
7/20/17 12:29 p.m.

I managed to rig myself up a sleeping mask to keep the midnight sun out of my eyes through about 7am, figuring it was time enough to go find coffee and victuals to start the day.   Not much is open in Dawson in the early morning hours.  Eventually I found a café on the riverfront and watched the riders from around the world come and go and get their rigs ready for the day.  We motorcyclists are an odd and varied lot, especially those who choose to come to the top of the world relatively unassisted, and it was fun to watch how everyone prepares for the day when the day includes a couple hours of good rides and biker games and other shenanigans. 

I spent most of the morning trolling the shops downtown looking for a scarf.  My neck was chafed and windburnt from being on the bike all day for the first time in a long time but unfortunately nothing available in town fit the bill.  I also found another WRX riders who happened to have the proper socket to fix my front sprocket nut (thanks again!) so I was at least mechanically in good shape for the ride. 

I finally got my E36 M3 together enough to roll around just in time to make the first checkpoint on the poker run as they closed.  After some small talk and complaining about my neck (Thanks again to Jim Kohl for letting me borrow his schampa neck tube, and for getting great photos all weekend, I hit the roads out through the goldfields of Dawson in search of the last checkpoint and hoping to catch some of the riders as I was probably the last one on the Poker Run.

It had been far too long since I had been able to just let my mind go and braaaap the hell out of my bike and rally hard on some good gravel roads.  If you've never had the pleasure of a supermoto bike with knobbies on dirt, you really must.  So long as you don't hit super slick mud or deep sand, they really do bob and weave and bounce and chuck around like the do on pavement, but with more dust and roost and fun  I hammered hard to the top of the dome to get my second card and FINALLY remembered that I had a camera in my tank bag:

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Just in time to catch Justin from Trails End BMW showing off the new GSA

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I am in front of a few people, good! GKAHSTTT web-744660020009

My humble steed by comparison GKAHSTTT web-744660020008

java230 SuperDork
7/20/17 12:39 p.m.

Following along!

skierd SuperDork
7/20/17 12:41 p.m.

Coming down off the Dome I decided to really let the WRX fly. I started catching riders, in single and in large groups, and braaap'd past them all, probably a little more rudely and loudly than I should have but hell I was only having the most fun I've had on two wheels in a long time. Having the safety net of know there are other riders out there with you who will notice if you ball things up on the side of the highway is great for the confidence meter after all and it was so cathartic to just let her rip a while.

The poker run winds in and around the active gold fields near Dawson, then runs back to town to the top of Midnight Dome.

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Zen and looking up river GKAHSTTT web-744660020011

A small sampling of the bikes GKAHSTTT web-744660020016

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C.R.E.A.M. GKAHSTTT web-744660020019

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skierd SuperDork
7/24/17 1:01 a.m.

Riding down from the dome felt like decompression. The poker run let out a long pent-up need to do some care free aggressive riding.

Wandering through Dawson over the previous 24 hours or so made me wonder about the future of the north.  There's something palpably different about the feel of Dawson this year compared to 5 years ago, but maybe it's my own bias from living up here now.  Several of my old favorite buildings were still around GKAHSTTT web-744660020023

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Overall the whole town just seemed... quieter, like it's slowly fading away.  Maybe it was just me.

The Dick and the Dawson Fire Dept put on a wonderful steak dinner again like they always do, with lots of cool door prizes and a proper tribute to the friendship that created this event 25 years ago.  Check out the D2D sign up thread in the Alaska Forum for the full story...

After dinner and clean up, there's not much more to do than wait for the posting of the bikes at midnight and earn your sticker, right?  NOT!  There's still plenty of good times to be had under the midnight sun because after all, in Alaska and the Yukon in the summer, you're not allowed to go to bed before the sun goes down. It's always a lot of fun checking out the hardware and modern day Quixotes that wander their way north. 

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Some on steed's smaller than others... like the Ruckus and rider from VIRGINIA, and YES he rode the whole damn way.

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While other's just make a hack job of it

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While others just have to roll the bones and see where things lie... GKAHSTTT web-744660020032

...for the Biker Games are about to begin!

crankwalk Dork
7/24/17 2:37 a.m.

Fast eddies in Tok is a great spot. Decent burgers and beats anywhere else in town for being an actual restaurant. (With a salad bar too.) we did Talkeetna to chicken last month.

Can't say I'd be excited about actually getting in the hot springs in summer, winter though is marvelous. Broke some hair off last Christmas at chena.

Have fun!

skierd SuperDork
7/25/17 2:59 p.m.

Any fool can go fast, but how slow can you go?

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more than a few try their hands at the biker games GKAHSTTT web-744660030004 Always try to get the best view!

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There's a couple events: slow bike race, the ever shortening slalom, the blindfolded hit the spot, and then the tandem events, the balloon toss:



And the hot dog bite Hot dog!

Locals and tourists alike show up to watch, by any means GKAHSTTT web-744660020038

Finally, after all the games, around midnight or so, you finally earn the most important badge of honor possible:


Some have more than others of course, but every year's event is a new experience.

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Lord help up, it's late! After midnight on Solstice, this is as dark as it gets GKAHSTTT web-744660030006

After the posting of the bikes and the sticker gettin', most every headed back to their tent, their hotel, or to Gerties to try the luck one more time.

skierd SuperDork
7/25/17 3:09 p.m.

In the morning, most people get up relatively early and head out to avoid the ferry traffic getting back across the Yukon River, or join the group headed to Eagle for the rededication of Jim's tree.  Myself, I dallied around, slowly packed up camp, and meandered back to Fairbanks.

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I hit the border with the group going to Eagle I think, and except for a bit of heavy rain waiting for the crossing and a little bit more outside of Chicken the ride home was fairly uneventful.  At Fast Eddies again, I noticed my chain was extremely loose so out came the tools again to tighten things up... as the lone big Eeyore rain cloud dumped down on me and the town of Tok, surrounded by sunshine.  Oh well... 

By the time I hit Fairbanks and turned for home in Ester, I was ready to be off the bike for a while.  Fortunately I had two weeks to recover and consider before the next portion of the ride began. Stay tuned!

wheelsmithy Dork
7/26/17 9:53 a.m.

Spectacular story!

skierd SuperDork
7/27/17 1:46 a.m.
crankwalk wrote: Fast eddies in Tok is a great spot. Decent burgers and beats anywhere else in town for being an actual restaurant. (With a salad bar too.) we did Talkeetna to chicken last month. Can't say I'd be excited about actually getting in the hot springs in summer, winter though is marvelous. Broke some hair off last Christmas at chena. Have fun!

I don't normally like going to the hot springs in the summer either. They're definitely best when it's a calm clear night, about -10*F, with the northern lights and very few tourists out. One of these day's I'll get to Tolovana Hot Springs, but probably not any time soon.

skierd SuperDork
7/27/17 2:46 a.m.

Times fun when you're having flies.  

Summer time and especially solstice is rarely an easy time for someone in my line of work, which is heavily based on the tourism and hospitality industries, to get a pair of free weekends.  My wife took our daughter out of state for some family business that I was unable to get time off for, but that still left me a free weekend at the beginning of July.  I watched the weather and had some heated internal debates about the wheres and hows I should spend those three days, but as often happens the weather and work conspired to make my decision easier.  Rain was in the forecast and instead of taking a half day on Friday I ended up working overtime so my three day trek turned in to two.  All was well, I don't like camping in the rain anyway and it's a lot easier to pack for.  

Saturday dawned bright and sunny.  After feeding the dog and myself, I checked over my quickie chain adjustments from the two weeks prior, changed the oil, and gave the girl a good once over.  Declaring her fit to ride another day I headed out for the bustling metropolis of Fox to fuel up for the haul... EAST to Central, Circle, and ultimately Circle Hot Springs, Alaska on the Steese Highway.

This is my kind of Harley.  The rider shipped it over from Austria... to Argentina, and rode it all the way north!  Heck yeah! Spotted getting gas in Fox. IMG_4129

Fox is notable for having the northernmost commercial brewery in North America (Silver Gulch) and being the crossroads of the two major highways that go in to the Interior of Alaska: The Steese and Elliott Highways. Once you leave Fox, it's a very long way between... anything. Cell service, at least with Verizon, fades to nothing pretty quickly leaving town and the next gas station on the Steese is in Central, 100+ miles away. I've driven a good bit of the Steese, and ridden to the first big pass (Cleary Summit) a few times, but never made the trip all the way to Circle.

One place I've been meaning to stop is Chatanika and the eponymous roadhouse which is basically all that remains in what was once a fairly active mining district. One of the metal monsters of the north still lurks in the hills and mazes of tailings, a Giant Gold Dredge, still moored to the banks, floating in a pond of it's own appetite and destruction:

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Sadly this old queen of the North burned up a few years ago due to vandalism

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On and on the Steese rolls through the hills of the Chatanika River's draining, past and through old mining camps, massive water moving projects like the Davidson Ditch, and dozens of smaller scale placer mines that still dot the region to this day.  The was built to connect the mines to Circle on the Yukon River and Fairbanks on the Chena and Tanana Rivers after all.  About 80 miles out of Fairbanks, the road climbs steeply again and crosses Twelvemile Summit.

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It of course started raining on the way up to the summit, and the flies were terrible, so I kept my helmet on.


Hmm... I wonder where that bit of track goes... GKAHSTTT web-744660030015 GKAHSTTT web-744660030016 by David Dawson, on Flickr

Turns out it's the original Circle-Fairbanks trail!  The Steese follows a different alignment that doesn't follow the ridges as much, and accesses the Davidson Ditch and mining areas more directly for heavy traffic.  Either way, I plan to come back some day, the hard way...

Overlooking the modern highway GKAHSTTT web-744660030018

skierd SuperDork
7/27/17 3:15 a.m.

The highway continues on to the next big hill, one of the highest passes in the state, at Eagle Summit

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And a short while later, after wandering through more gold camps and river access points, I eventually found myself in Central and at Central Corner for gas and a bite to eat. Central really was a great, quaint, and really pretty little town.  After lunch I explored the local mining museum, which was excellent, then headed out the back of town towards Circle City and the Yukon River.  It's only about 35 miles, but the highway here is only a "highway" by cartographic measures.  Even leading in to Central calling it a highway is a stretch, but it's at least wide enough for two cars to pass with ease.  After Central, it's more of a meandering 1.5 lane well graded gravel track through the birch and black spruce.  

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The road more or less dead ends in the middle of a town circle/boat lauch/beachhead on the Yukon River.  There were a few small shops, houses, and a large boarded up building on the river, but not a whole lot going on.  This bloke was also over from Europe, but on a CB500X with the Rallye Adventure fairing package.  He seemed quite pleased with his bike and setup, though I would have preferred he not parked his bike in front of the damn sign for an hour while he wandered about the town...

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Feet in the River IMG_4149

Busy day on the waterfront IMG_4148

It's hard to believe that this was once one of the largest cities in the state. Not much remains, but it's fun to try to picture a riverboat pulled up to the muddy banks, cargo rolling off it's deck being replaced by gold or sourdough's giving up on their claims to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

I could really use a soak! Headed back to Central, and in town turned off to take the road to Circle Hot Springs, about 8 miles southeast of Central and not near Circle really at all.

Eureka! GKAHSTTT web-744660030037

Alas, it was not meant to be as I was about 10 years too late. The hotel that houses the soaking pools has been closed for some time and while it's rumored if you know who to ask you can get in, I wasn't really in the frame of mind to go knocking on doors. Next time?

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C'est la vie

I turned and headed back towards Fairbanks, stopping in Chatanika Lodge for a Dredge Burger and some wifi to check in with the wife so she could mostly stop worrying for the night.



Turned and burned for home, let the dog out, then crashed on the couch with sore bones and saddle, with a solid 360 miles on the day.  Maybe tomorrow, I'll get to soak...

skierd SuperDork
7/29/17 12:15 a.m.

Yeah, I'll get a gooood soak in today!

I woke up to a nice steady rain at the old homestead, but was ultimately (barely) undeterred by the prevailing dampness of the day. The weather said it should let up by noon, and the forecast for a couple sites along my route were supposed to be clear all day. Good to go...

I did manage to forget that the dirt road I live on was covered in pottery slip the last time they decided to grade it, so it was a rollicking sloppy muddy awful mess trying to get out of the neighborhood.


Hmm... still raining in Fox.  Supposed to have been clearing up by now... 

Today's ride was to the other end of the road system: Manley Hot Springs at the end of the Elliott Highway, and if fortunes favored I'd ride the newly constructed pioneer road to Tanana all the way to the Yukon River as well.  Unlike the ride to Circle however, there is no gas or any other services once you leave Fox until you get to either Manley or the native village of Minto, which is only about 30 miles closer than Manley overall but a significant detour off the main highway.  Let's do some napkin math here... ride is about 150 miles, fuel range is 155 miles (without the pair of MSR bottles I always bring)... which means I have until I get to Livengood before I am committed to going all the way.  Cool.

It's supposed to stop raining.

There are no other riders to chat with getting gas today, so I spent about 15 minutes mentally preparing myself to ride in the rain for the next hour or so until I punch out of the storm.  In theory.  Gear up, kickstand up, and roll in to the clouds heading out on the Elliott Highway.  I passed a few oncoming riders who looked absolutely waterlogged, and judging by their load and rental company stickers were probably coming from the Haul Road.  Hmm... it's still raining.  Harder even.  Sure glad I'm not on the Dalton today...

An hour later, it's still raining.  My rain pants are starting to pass water, and water is wicking up my waist and sleeves and down my collar.  It's also cold, hovering around 55 degrees.  My new mantra is "If it's raining in Livengood, I'll turn around."

"If it's raining in Livengood, I'll turn around."

The road winds through and around the ghost town of Olney.

"If it's raining in Livengood, I'll turn around."

Patches of torn up highway and empty construction zones, lots of active placer mines with gravel on the highway.

"If it's raining in Livengood, I'll turn around."

It's raining harder as I cross and parallel the pipeline.

"If it's raining in Livengood, I'll turn around."

Shortly after I pass the Colorado Creek trailhead in the White Mountains National recreation Area, the skies finally begin to lighten up.

"If it's raining in Livengood, I'll turn around."

About 5 miles from Livengood... the skies clear and turn blue!

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I scanned the skies for a couple minutes, hoping for a sign.  It looks clear enough down the Elliott, so I mount up, turn left, and motor on.

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The Elliott has a completely different feel from the other Alaskan Highways I've ridden. It feels smaller, more remote, like riding down an extremely long driveway that happens to be 100 miles long. It hugs and moves with the land like some forgotten backroads in the Great Plains.

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Well... E36 M3.

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I'm not dodging this one.  The Highway runs right through the middle of those storm clouds that appears to be absolutely dumping rain.  I'm also about 30 miles past my turnaround point.  I debate with myself for the next couple miles but decide to soldier on instead of risking running out of gas on the highway home.  IT POURED for the next forty miles and the temps dropped another 10 degrees going over the passes. Rained and rained and rained and rained and I was alone in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service and no plan if something broke and deer God I don't want to change a flat in this weather and I should have turned around no f--- that stop being a wuss and WHY IS IT RAINING IN THE SUN AND ooooof that mud was deep AND WHY IS IT STILL RA....ining... oh it's stopping!  HOORAY!

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skierd SuperDork
7/31/17 12:29 a.m.

Crossing Manley Slough in to the town of Manley Hot Springs.

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Manley is a pretty little town in the middle of pretty much nowhere. Just riding through I can see the pride of ownership and sense of community is definitely strong here. After all the cold rain I was absolutely exhausted and needed to warm up. Thankfully Manley has just the place:

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Trailered up, but the folks who owned it have traveled together all over the western US with it.  They pulled the hack up behind an RV and were enjoying a long vacation.

After lunch, I searched out the folks who own the eponymous hot springs, paid for my time, and took a quick ride back over the bridge to the greenhouse that holds the springs. My goodness I needed this soak...

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skierd SuperDork
8/10/17 12:06 a.m.

After a good soak it was time to hit the road.  But wait... let's wait for the State to drop a bunch of chip seal on both sides of the only bridge in to or out of town first.  


The weather leaving Manley was great and the dust levels were way down thanks to the afternoon's storms.

Coming GKAHSTTT web-744660010021

and going

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At the crossroads, heading home.

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Shortly after getting back on the pavement, it started raining. Raining hard. Raining all the way back to Fairbanks. I decided I was too tired and too wet to stop for gas so I pushed my fuel all the way... but didn't quite make it and ran out of gas about 5 miles from home. Fortunately I hadn't used my fuel bottles and was able to splash a little gas back in and get home out of the rain.

Nick (Bo) Comstock
Nick (Bo) Comstock MegaDork
8/11/17 8:06 p.m.

Dude. I was super jealous of your cross country trip up to Alaska and now I'm super jealous of your trips while up there. I'm happy to see the old WR still logging miles. Terrific stuff! Keep it coming!

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