In August, Johnny & ICON rode the Alcan 5000 on two Triumph Tiger 800XCs on an epic adventure from Seattle to the Arctic Circle and over into Alaska.
Race Day Seven
Day seven was a big deal. We were to headed to the Arctic Circle. The weather in the morning was already brisk and a bit foggy, and we were headed north. With more cold ahead, we bundled up and hit a twisty 60 mile pavement stretch to take us to the Dalton Highway, aka “The Haul Road”.
This highway has gotten a lot of press for its rough conditions and hostile truckers. Stretching out through the wilderness, this nicely-groomed dirt highway shadowed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system. I’ve heard about this pipeline all of my life, but finally seeing it in person, I expected it to be larger. That sentiment was echoed by the rest of the team. She seemed modest and well-maintained in person. The pipeline itself is blocked off by imposing gates and barriers with signage that warns of FBI prosecution of trespassing and more.
We stopped at one of these gates hoping to roost a hill just beyond the barrier. The group saw the signs, shrugged our shoulders and decided to proceed down the highway. As we were leaving, Mikey Levin pointed out a sign with a clear exemption for off-road vehicles under 1500 pounds. We were open for business! For the next 6 hours we rocked the dirt highway, jumping off into the pipeline area when it looked promising. We hit some killer two track, water crossings, a couple of jumps, and in general had a blast riding off-piste. For me, riding the pipeline track was a similar feeling to the first time I rode a stretch of beach in Baja. I felt like I was getting away with something and the conditions were just superb. For my money, those are two of the sweetest nectars that life has to offer in one cocktail.
We got into Fairbanks late and missed the evening riders’ meeting for the sixth straight day. An upcoming break day also meant enjoying the same bed for two nights in a row. The gang went to bed on a high looking forward to the ride to Valdez in two days time.
Race Day Eight
Day eight began with yet another route choice. We could either do 300-ish miles of scenic, two-lane highway from Fairbanks to Valdez, or we could take the long way. That consisted of 400 or so total miles, part of which included a 130 mile stretch of dirt known as the Denali Highway, which ran through the Denali National Park.
The morning was cold and wet. As a result, several participants chose the shorter route. Team Raiden/Triumph/Motoworks charged straight into the cold rain towards the Denail highway, This proved to be a wise choice. The highway section in the morning was a bit rough. Temps were low, as was visibility and the rain was coming down. Our gear held up nicely and got us through the worst of it.
Our cold, wet dash had been worth every mile. The Denali highway was treat. It went from paved, to groomed dirt, to slick-rutted dirt, to live-groomed dirt with the groomer cruising down the road ahead of us leaving fresh tracks. The sky was massive, the vistas grand, and frankly this was the way I had envisioned Alaska. We were nestled in the mountains. The road was sloppy and the rain was coming down, but the road led us to a killer stretch of tarmac. That road surface was superb. Taking us through the Thomson Pass, it was the highlight of the day, especially for Ernie.
The crew took our time heading into town, riding a bounty of roadside trails along the way. Spirits stayed high pulling into Valdez late, and we were all looking forward to the ride back out the pass tomorrow. With just one race day left, the adventure had gone by in a blink. We’d had a blast. The Motoworks-prepped bikes and ICON-supplied gear had served us faithfully and kept us comfy. The plan for that last race day was to take our time, enjoy the ride, and bring it home. The 33 motorcycles, 11 cars, and dozen volunteers all seemed to be enjoying the ride.
Race Day Nine
Day nine looked to be an easy wrap up to a great adventure. We left Valdez behind the ohter rally participants, as we didn’t want to get in the way of the TSD section. We’d also planned to explore some the mountains that the Thompson Pass offered up along the way. The total route was essentially to backtrack out the 120 miles of pass that had brought us into Valdez the night before. We’d then hang a left and head West 200 miles to Anchorage.
The day kicked off early, with time control closing at 4:00 PM in Anchorage. We spent our early morning tooling around the side roads and getting up close and personal with the glaciers. We crossed a raging river that neither Ernie nor I would venture into, yet Sanders was confident it was crossable. The water was moving quickly and Ernie and I were concerned it would take hold of our bikes and take us with it.
Keep in mind at this point rally truck support is in front of us and we are on our own if we were to suck a gallon of water into the engine of our Triumph Tiger XCs. Matt squared up to the river and charged it, crossing easily. I went next, with Ernie and Mikey making it across behind me. With that challenge behind us, we had an otherwise lazy morning, stopping for shots along the pass and enjoying a sunny day.
The whole trip had been much warmer than we’d expected. The weather had been all over the place, with high temperatures anywhere from the 60’s to the 80’s. While we did encounter rain every day of the trip, we had sun everyday as well.
We stopped in Glennallen for our final fill up of the day and some Thai food from a local food truck. We had our lunch in the sun on bright pink picnic tables behind the food truck. As always, our spirits we’re high. The trip had just been a treat for all parties. With so many miles behind us, the remaining trip felt like just a handful of miles, We had just 200 miles to bring her home.
Outside of Glennallen the beaten and abused clutch on Ernie’s bike finally failed completely. We stopped next to a stream and spent the next two hours changing out the clutch. Unfortunately, the steel clutch plates I’d brought were not correct for the bike. Ernie was a champ though, and saw a solution. Ernie got elbow-deep in the clutch, and after an hour of taking the pack in and out trying to make the steel plates work, he improvised and used the new friction plates with the old steels. Everything went together and we were off again.
As it was almost every other night, we were the last team in, arriving at the hotel after everyone else had already left for the awards banquet. I showed up myself three hours late to receive the “Bear Claw” award. Almost everyone was still at the event, and having a great time. We said our thanks and goodbyes and went back to the hotel. We were finished. We’d done it.
It’s hard to sum it all up. The Alcan was such a great adventure. We had a few scary moments, sure, but the team always kept their cool and pushed on. Our ICON/Motoworks-prepped machines completed every single mile of the rally and then some as we went “off piste” in search of locations to shoot every day. I can’t say enough about the ICON / Empire Team of Manny, Matt, other Matt, Mikey, and Ernie. These guys are real deal motorcycle folks that are at the top of their game. These guys had shown me so much.
Truth be told, it was exhausting just keeping up with them for 10 days. They’d get up early, ride hard, and be relentless in their pursuit of “the shot” and still make time to goof off and drink beer after. Between the Mexican 1000 and the Alcan 5000, we’d spent 18 days on the road together this year. With all that road and trail behind us, we ended our Alaska trip as pals for life.
The next challenge would be to adjust back to life at home, as the charge North was all that had mattered in the world for the last week and a half. In my already charmed life full of great adventures, this one ranks at the very top of the list. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to all of the folks that made this possible:
• The whole team at Motoworks Chicago
• The Alcan 5000 Organizers
• GE Capital
• Rally Raid UK
• Continental Tires
• Woodys Wheels
• and many many more.
Our four Triumph Tiger 800 XCs traveled over 17,000 combined miles without incident on the Alcan. We’d burned through 8 rear tires, a clutch, and a few fork seals, but the bikes were champs thanks to the prep of Motoworks’ own Jonathan Castello and Daren Wayne Pothoven. Looking back, I’m just have so much gratitude. I cant believe I get the opportunity to do this stuff.
The North is special, and I’m just so grateful for this experience. It fed my soul on a number of levels. Yet this is just the end of one adventure. There are more stories to come — more adventures to go out there and make. Thanks to all my pals, my colleagues, our team at the shop, and my babe for the support that makes this all possible. This is a team effort that I am fortunate enough to be the face of. You guys are the ground crew that makes it possible for me to fly.