Day 9 – Talkeetna, AK to Denali National Park to Fairbanks, AK

Distance: 270 miles / 435 kilometers
Time on bike: 9:00am – 4:30pm
Temps: Low of 5 celcius (Denali National Park)/ High of 15 (Fairbanks)

When I got up this morning I figured for sure it had stopped raining. Nope. Still going. After I packed up the ‘packing gods’ smiled down on me and gave me about 10 minutes without rain to get everything situated on the bike. Then, it started raining again.

I zipped back down the highway on the Talkeetna Spur, a little jut of land that it sits on, to the first gas station on the Parks Highway that leads to Denali.

The original plan today was to visit Denali park, do some walking/hiking, explore, see the visitor’s centre then jet off to Fairbanks on the Old Denali Highway. Well, with the weather being as nasty as it has been for the past day and today riding a gravel road that has no services and is not well traveled didn’t seem like a very good idea. I elected to stick to the Parks Highway for the whole day.

Not ten minutes into the ride I notice a bike coming up behind me that looked familiar. Yep, it’s Jason (Seattle dude), and he’s heading in the same direction. We rode together for a while then would leap frog each other with stops along the way.

After several hours of intensely bitter wind, heavy rain and cold temps for riding (only about 5-8 degrees celcius) we decided to find a place to warm up and eat. Jason asked an attendant at a gas station just inside the Denali Park for suggestions on where to eat. We ended up taking his recommendation and going to the Creekside Cafe. Delicious food, excellent service in a small cozy little log style a-frame building. Yummy homemade two bean veggie burger with an excellent tomato spiced soup. Perfect to get the core temp. back up.

Our next stop was the Denali Visitor Centre and Park. No sign of the mountain anywhere it was veiled in a thick soupy mist and rainy clouds. A bit disappointing to have this happen after riding all this way but I knew that many a day in the park there is no visibility of the mountain. Hard to believe that it’s about 90 miles long and none of it was visible.

Upon entering the park I noticed a friendly park ranger at the park sign. He, rather she, was waiting right at the sign for me. An enormous momma moose with her calf in tow. They were dining on the local greenery around the sign. Just when I got ready to take a picture some jackass walked right up to them, only meters away, and scared them off. No picture from this perfect opportunity. Ugh! I was feeling vexed and still had no pictures of wildlife.

I met Jason at the Visitor Centre and wandered around for about 45 minutes inside. It’s a relatively new facility with excellent educational information and presentations. There’s even a large theatre showing videos about the park – they were excellent.

Jason was going to hang around a bit longer and being cold and wet I figured it was time to venture on towards the day’s destination.

I felt a little dejected about the moose incident. On the way out of the park, kinda bummed out, I approached the park gate again. Only one vehicle there but someone is trying to take pictures. Jackpot. The moose are still there! I sprung into action and got some excellent pics (to be posted later).

I can’t believe how stupid some tourists are. A few potential Darwin awards winners were nearly touching the moose. It was over 6 feet tall and must have weighed about a ton. Oh yeah, and it had a baby hiding behind it. Can you say recipe for disaster?

A few kilometers outside of Denali National Park the rain finally subsided. Finally, a break from the rain. It was overcast and cool but at least I could finally dry out a bit.

I pushed on ever closer to Fairbanks. Then, I made one of those stupid mistakes. Looked at a gas station, check my fuel range, kept riding. In hindsight this always looks like a bad decision. Well, it was. With only 10 kilometers left in the journey I ran out of gas. Damn! I couldn’t believe it – so close.

It’s a heavy bike so I pushed started it and got it going for another 2 kilometers. Then it died again. Double dog damn! Uh oh. Now what?

I remembered reading online about how the KLR has part of the tank drooped over the right side of the frame where it won’t be able to move into the petcock and be used to fuel the engine. If you lean the bike right over on it’s side (left) you can get that last morsel of gasoline out into the useable side of the tank. I took off all the bags and gear (it’s darn heavy), tilted the bike and crossed my fingers. Triple flip damn! Still won’t start. Luckily the final few kilometers are all down hill into Fairbanks. I let it roll until I got up to about 20 kilometers an hour – still not starting. One more try and it sputtered but still won’t start. I began my usual tirade of expletives at myself for being so stupid. One more try I thought. Got it up to speed again and she fired right up. I made it to the first gas station where I filled it up. I had only about 500 ml of fuel left in the tank. Crazy, but I made it.

I looked around for hotels. Tried a few but $150 a night to stay in Super 8 like accomodation – crazy! I went to a motel I researched online – The Golden North Motel. $85 a night is more than what I’d like to spend but it’s basically half the price of the others. It’s old but clean, has wireless service, TV and fridge/microwave. It’ll be perfect for a two day rest.

My rear tire is getting to the point where it’s likely unwise to continue to ride and the front has plenty of life. I’ll head over to a dealer that’s right around the corner tomorrow and see if they can set me up with tires for the trip up to Inuvik.