Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Arctic Circle

Last January I posted a short list of moto-goals and I can finally check one off of the list. While I was in Barrow last week, the weather here in the interior was clear and dry. With "dry" being the key word. On Sunday morning, three of us decided that it would be a great opportunity to ride to the Arctic Circle. Keith on his new-to-him R1200GS, Rick on his new Triumph Tiger and myself on my R100RT Airhead. I also invited fellow Airhead Bob with his R100GS. All dual sport bikes except mine. We left town at around 9:00am.

After topping off at Hilltop Truck Stop (excellent pies!), we headed north on the Elliott Highway. There was a little road construction but the roads were pretty good all the way to Livengood. The gravel I ran into a couple of weeks ago was apparently due to the construction. The Dalton Highway starts just two miles north of Livengood and it was mostly gravel with short sections of pavement. We reached the Yukon River bridge (shown in the snapshot) with its 6% grade and wooden deck and the view was fabulous. Unfortunately, you aren't permitted to stop while on the bridge so no pictures. We filled up again at the bridge ($5.39 per gallon!) as we've come about 140 miles and I, for one, didn't have enough range to go another 130 miles before getting back to the bridge.

The road north from the bridge was mostly gravel until about 5 miles south of the Arctic Circle. There were occasional water trucks running up and down the road. I think the idea is that the water will cut down on the dust but it really makes things incredibly slippery. You feel like you are riding on oil and I found myself looking for gravel for the additional bite between the tires and the road surface. There were several long grades with names made famous by the History Channel TV show such as the Beaver Slide and the Roller Coaster as well as small rivers such as No Name.

At about 2:00pm, we finally made it to the Arctic Circle and they had this cool sign that we were able to pose our bikes by and an Australian tourist offered to take our picture. For at least three of us, this is the first time we've ridden on the haul road and it has whet our appetite to go the rest of the way to Prudhoe next year. If we had a little more time, it was only about another hour to Coldfoot, the last gas stop between here and Deadhorse.

Up here, fall has definitely started as the trees were showing their Fall colors ever since we left Fairbanks. There were several areas such as Finger Mountain to the south that were high enough to be above treeline. We loitered here for about half an hour before heading south again to have a late lunch.

We stopped at Finger Rock, which is on top of Finger Mountain, and I won't go into the origin of the name (should be obvious). As you can see, there are no trees and only a little vegetation. The last time I was through here it was very windy. Today, there was only about a fifteen mph cross wind but it was blowing me around until we got into the White Mountains north of Fairbanks. I don't know if it's over confidence but you really get used to the dry gravel and speeds aren't much different from the paved roads. You do slow down for the curves a lot more. On the wet sections, the bike is continuously dancing around. The Heidenau K60's that Bob and I had may have worked better than the Metzeler Tourances the others had in the slimy mud. Though the continuous fishtailing in the mud did get a bit unnerving at times.

We finally stopped for lunch around 3:30 or so and we were all starving. I was told that the Hot Spot Cafe had some awesome burgers and, sorry Bobskoot, I forgot to take any food pictures. Take my word for it, they were great. After a wonderful food break we headed a short ways back to the gas station at the bridge and I picked up another $10 of gas. This was only about 1.8 gallons which didn't fill up the tank but ensured that I would have enough to make it back to town. I only had one scare on the trip, on one of the super slick wet sections, the road was about 8% grade downhill and there was a sharp right hand curve. I came in a little hot and coming up the hill was one of those oversize loads just starting into the curve. No problem though I had to lean the bike a lot more than I felt comfortable with in the slimy mud. The tires actually didn't slip much and are probably much more capable than I'll ever task them with. I got back home around 7:00pm. Pretty low average speed but I finally was able to mark one of those things off of my New Years list! Now I probably should wash the bike as I can't see through the windshield at all.

Total distance according to my GPS was 399 miles with a moving average of 50mph. Here is my attempt at posting the route from Google Maps. Note the lack of a nice loop, towns, etc., just up and back again. The Google car must have traveled up the road as they do have StreetView enabled. Take a look at the Yukon River from the bridge.

View Larger Map

Friday, August 26, 2011


One of the best things in Barrow has to be Osaka's restaurant. The quality of their sushi and sashimi is easily some of the best I ever had. Not just in Alaska but anywhere and I've tried a lot of places. This is the small sashimi plate and the chef added a salmon skin roll. The roll isn't even on the menu but is turning out to be one of my favorites. The salmon skin is lightly roasted before being rolled with the sushi rice so it is warm and crispy. Absolutely wonderful. The sashimi is very fresh and the flavor is incredible. I also received a scoop of rice with sesame seeds and seaweed sprinkles and a wonderful seaweed salad. The sushi chef brought that by after I had started to dig into this wonderful meal so it's not in the picture. This meal is kind of extragent but I think that having it once in a while it is a real treat. If you are ever in Barrow, be sure to try Osaka's.

I heard today from one of the project managers that the barges are just about done unloading. There is an incredible amount of equipment up here with what looks like miles of drill pipe. Someone must be planning on a lot of activity over the winter. No labels on the trucks but they are all yellow so maybe Shell? They've been having public presentations and some are rather upset with their use of the word "exploit".

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Inupiat Heritage Center

Zero motorcycle content in this post...

I needed to come up to Barrow to show some folks the IT (Information Technology) infrastructure that I have installed as part of my grant. After a very full day going over drawings, server specs and the IT history of the facility, we had about an hour left to visit the Inupiat Heritage Center in Browerville. The folks doing the review were from out of town and had never been to Barrow before. The Heritage Center had a wonderful display on whaling showing the history, process, traditions and tools used. And why it is such an important part of their culture. I had never realized before today that this facility is part of the National Park Service.

This is the shell of a "skin boat" just like the ones outside Brower's Cafe next to the whale bone arch. Just this one is in much better shape. Here, I am sort of focused in on the harpoon. There was quite a bit of history on the tools including how the harpoons have changed over the years. Even with the advent of modern tools, the modern hunter still use many of the traditional tools and methods for hunting including human-powered "skin" boats.

There was a roughly life size model of a whale suspended from the ceiling in this beautiful facility. In addition to the whaling exhibit, there were bird exhibits, art and carving samples, and a whole section where individual villages on the North Slope got to show who they were and what did they consider significant. Even with all of the visits I've made to Barrow, I never spent any time going through this facility. For the grand opening of the BARC science building 5 years ago, the Heritage Center was rented to host the dinner and eskimo dancing. But I never had a chance to look around at the exhibits.

The weather here is feeling pretty fall-like and the locals say that it isn't too early for the shallower ponds to start freezing. This evening, the Alaska Airlines jet barely made it in due to the fog. At 5PM, there was blue sky then by 7PM it was like this. Fog with pretty low visibility. Yesterday, I drove out the gas line road to just past the radio tower to test out 700 MhZ wireless network and it had turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. Blue skies and temperatures all the up into the 40's (°F). I went out about a mile past the KBRW transmitter and was still getting reasonable Internet speeds. In fact, I am currently using one of the 700 MhZ clients to do this post as the cable modem doesn't seem to be working.

Friday Morning - A beautiful morning! This is taken from the north side of building 360 looking to the East. The overhead structures are the above ground utilidors carrying water, sewer and natural gas.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Beautiful Morning & K60 Review

It looked like we were getting a little reprieve from the rain and even though it was a bit chilly (41°F  5°C), it seemed like too good of a morning to not go for a ride. I turned left out of the subdivision instead of right and went out towards Chena Hot Springs. At 6 mile CHSR, I took the newly paved, nicely curvy Steele Creek Road back to the Steese Highway. Last Tuesday on the group ride, we rode downhill on this road and this is where I felt "rushed". Today, I rode uphill and felt much more "in control" plus there was no one right on my back tire. I then took Goldstream Road back into the University. It made for a much more interesting commute. Fifty miles to go five seems about right...

Old photo from back in July
when they were new
I think that I am finally used to the new Heidenau K60 tires and Troubadour and Charlie6 have asked my thoughts about them. I mentioned the installation difficulties in an earlier post due to the stiffness of the sidewalls. Shawn from Adventure Cycleworks said that you can almost run them flat at low speeds due to their stiff sidewalls. I did air the rear down to 15 psi (half of normal) and tried it up and down the street and they do flatten out a little for more surface area but at the speeds I was going, you couldn't really tell that the pressure was low. Normally, I could feel tell if they are 5 psi low. You would do this for better floatation in soft stuff. I tried out my CyclePump compresser and it refilled the tire very quickly.

Right after the K60s were installed, they felt really "squirrely" as it took very little counter steering pressure to initiate a turn. Now that I think back, it was the old tires that really took a whole lot more pressure due to the squared off cross section. It's been a while since I've been on tires that still have a round cross section. They now have over 1000 miles on them (the majority of that has been in the last week) and I love the handling. Especially on loose surfaces. Last Sunday on my trip up the Elliot Highway, there were quite a few stretches of loose gravel most of it wet and muddy. You can still feel the bike dance around especially if you give it a little too much throttle coming out of a corner but you don't feel out of control. With my old tires, you could tell that the front tire was sliding sideways on the gravel and I never got that feeling with the K60s. On the highway, they do generate some noise and you can feel a little vibration at lower speeds and in corners. I have no idea about how long they are going to last. They are heavier than the stock tires and you can really feel that weight when braking. It takes more force on the brake lever to slow down at highway speeds. But I would classify this experiment a complete success.

Museum of the North just across the street.
Still a nice day in the afternoon

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Finally Getting a Little Riding In

After not being able to ride for the last week, I just had to ride somewhere, anywhere. There was a church activity at the Chatanika River campground off of the Elliot Highway north of town. It wasn't the best weather for riding as shortly after I left the house, rain was coming down by the bucket. The rain started to lighten up around Fox which is a settlement about 15 miles north of town. I hadn't been up the the Chatanika River campground for over 20 years so I knew about where it was. I used to go up there in the late Fall to spear whitefish. In the dark, you wade through the river carrying a Coleman gasoline lantern. The whitefish are attracted to the light and you spear them. Much more efficient than using a fishing pole. When I was a graduate student, this was a great way to get a little more protein in the freezer. Maybe it was a bit too efficient as whitefish spearing was shut down for a while.

I passed the entrance to the campground and decided to continue north since I had plenty of time. Around Livengood, the rain had picked up again and there had been several sections of loose gravel and mud. At this point I decided to stop and take some pictures but discovered that I didn't have my phone with me. I turned around and headed back to the Chatanika River. This is near the beginning of the Dalton Highway which heads north to Deadhorse.

Wednesday afternoon - Yesterday turned out to be a beautiful day and I went on the Tuesday evening ride. I had been receiving emails of these rides all summer and this was the first time I was actually able to go. It was a small group, all BMWs (R1200GSA, two F800GS's, R75/6 and my R100RT. After a short discussion we headed out on a circuitous route north of town and ended up at the Pagoda in North Pole. This is probably the best Chinese restaurant in the area and was even featured on the Food Channel (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives). I'm not sure which category this place fit in but the food is great. The company was great but I really don't like riding in groups. Most of the time, I felt "rushed". Maybe it's just me. Thank you to Justin Kleiter at The Outpost/Trail's End BMW for setting up these rides. Including the evening ride, I ended up riding 250 miles just running around or going nowhere in particular.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ukpiaġvik aka Barrow

I've taken very few pictures of the village of Barrow over all the years I've been coming up here and some of the comments reflected some interest in what the village is like. It's pretty barren of greenery but overall, it's a pretty nice community. This is looking towards the center of town and showing the current hospital, the Presbyterian church, the ASRC (Arctic Slope Regional Corporation) headquarters and the bank (maybe I'll try and add labels onto the picture.) The water in the foreground is open to the ocean behind me.

I've used this whale bone arch for my header a couple of times. This is the view from the other direction looking towards Brower's Cafe and the surrounding homes.

The boat frames would be covered with skin of some sort.

This is on the road from the airport towards Browerville, a suburb of Barrow, showing a little bit of green grass below the above ground utilities. The lake to the right is where much of the town's drinking water comes from and is shown in the next shot.

The new hospital still under construction is on the far side of the lake. I believe the intent is to seal it from weather by the end of this summer then start working on the interior through the winter. I was told that it wouldn't be completed until 2013. The comment from some of the residents is nice new facility but the same old doctors. Many people are flown to Anchorage or Fairbanks for anything serious.

I've mentioned going to a very good Japanese restaurant here in Barrow called Osaka's. Here is the front of the building and the ocean is visible just behind the building. The owners mentioned that when they opened the place it was about a 50m walk to the water. Now it is practically at their back door.

Just down the road from Osaka's is this playground. Again, no grass and today no one using it. There have been many times I've gone by when it is really busy. Today, there is a 35mph wind so it's starting to feel like winter is just around the corner. The pile gravel and sand on the left is a berm to keep out the ocean during storms. During bad weather, equipment is running 24/7 rebuilding the berms to keep out the storm surge. This road and the road out to NARL has been washed out many times.

The football field is being prepared for the upcoming season. It's looking pretty good but I'm not sure when their first game is scheduled. At the far side of the lake is one of the DEWline stations (Defense Early Warning). There was also someone working on the electronic scoreboard.

Lastly is a shot of a tug pushing a small barge to the beach for unloading. I think they are waiting for the wind to die down as it would be a crosswind coming into the beach. The weather for much of the week has been pretty foggy and cold. I was waiting for a nice sunny day to go out and get some pictures but for now, these will have to do.

Monday Morning - The Barrow Whalers football team won their game against Delta Junction 78-3. I guess their doing pretty good.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Another Walk Around NARL

Last year I had a post about a walk around the NARL campus. There isn't a whole lot to do in the evenings beside work. The stitching program didn't do too good of a job.

Arctic Ocean on a Calm Day

I'm finally feeling better about working here in Barrow this week than I did last Saturday. Not really sure why. Maybe I'm feeling the summer slipping away and I haven't been able to take a motorcycle trip. This evening was sunny and warm (shirt sleeve weather) so I took a walk around the NARL campus. They are in the process of unloading several barges and since there is no deep water dock, the large barges are unloaded onto smaller barges to bring the shipping containers to the beach. Once on the beach, fork lifts stack the containers on the beach.

Here is a shot of my lodging for the week. It is a quonset hut built somewhere in the mid 1940's made of sheet metal and, in this case, there is an extra layer of insulating foam sprayed on the outside and painted. New, vinyl clad casement windows have replaced the original double hung windows and modern natural gas heaters have replace the original drip oil models so they are actually pretty nice inside.
The shape and construction of the huts remind me of the ones used in an old TV show Gomer Pyle only those looked a lot newer than these. Here you can see the original corrugated metal used for the construction and the foam sprayed on to try and add a bit more insulation. The small round thing is the exhaust/intake port for the gas heater. Exhaust in the center of a double wall pipe with intake combustion air on the outer portion. The combustion air gets heated by the exhaust gasses.

Right across from the hut towards the ocean, there is the remains of a playground. And this is also the location of the inaugural high school football game played on the sandy soil with lines literally painted onto the dirt. The novelty of a football game in Barrow was sufficient to attract ESPN and they televised the game. I think that was in 2007 2006. Now, they have a proper field complete with blue artificial turf and an electronic scoreboard. All courtesy of a donor in Florida who saw the television broadcast and felt sorry for the kids.

I'm told that the sunsets these days are spectacular as the sun is actually dipping below the horizon. I'm not sure I want to stay up 'til 2AM to see it though.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tanana Valley State Fair

It turns out that yesterday (Friday) was "Family Day" at the Tanana Valley State Fair which meant that admission was reasonably priced. On Friday morning, it had rained during my morning ride in and was cold and windy for much of the rest of the day. Perfect weather to attend the fair.

We arrived late in the afternoon and went in search of the "best" fair food we could find. Most of it was the normal burgers and dogs or deep fried whatever. Nothing really stood out. I finally settled for roasted corn and a Navajo Taco and managed to resist the deep fried Pop Tarts and dill pickles soaked in red Kool Aid. The Navajo taco had plenty of fresh veggies and beans on fry bread. Probably a little closer to my diet. After wandering around for about four hours, I think we managed to see just about everything including all the animals, produce and commercial exhibits. As with any fair, the Midway was a very popular place and maybe I'm showing my age here, but the only thing that interested me was their generator trailer. I saw many familiar faces, as you may expect in a small town fair. We didn't watch any of the shows but heard that the sword swallower was the only thing worth seeing.

Lots of artsy stuff on display and for sale. In this camera phone snapshot, you can barely see the flames coming out of the mouth of this rusted dragon but it looked pretty cool. I don't remember seeing it before but my son said that it was here last year. The weather earlier in the day probably discouraged folks from coming but it cleared up by the end of the evening.

Today (Saturday), I'm heading up north for the week. I got a call from one of the pastors who is planning to ride the Denali Hwy next Friday and Saturday. That would've been a great trip....

Location:Fairbanks, AK

Saturday evening - Contrary to their advertisements, Alaska Airlines took significantly more than 20 minutes to get my checked bags off the plane and into my hands. Maybe that's because the flight was really full and everyone must have checked a mountain of boxes, action packers, ice chests, etc. And for some reason during the flight, it felt like I was sitting in one of those busses you see on TV navigating mountain roads in some third world country. The only things missing were the chickens and people riding on the roof. It was hot and humid and I couldn't understand any of the conversations going on around me. Even when the pilot was talking, I couldn't understand a word he mumbled into the microphone.

It is a beautiful evening up here in Barrow with lots of blue sky and fluffy cumulus clouds. No wind and the ocean is dead calm. This is a screen capture from one of the webcams we have on the roof of the BARC. The hut I'm staying in is surrounded by shipping containers from the barges so no nice views out of the windows. 

Location:Barrow, AK

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Fair" Weather

The rain has finally stopped for a bit though Fall temperatures may have arrived a bit early. The Tanana Valley State Fair starts tomorrow so that means that there is a high probability of rain all next week. Today though, it was too nice of a morning to head straight in to the university so I turned left instead of right when leaving the subdivision. Mid 40s (°F) felt just right after the blistering temperatures on the east coast a few weeks back. Taking the scenic route in was just what I needed as I wasn't getting very many miles on the bike this Summer. Too many trips out of the state, I'm told. This snapshot is from the nice bench next to my building overlooking the Tanana Valley towards the Alaska Range. I tried the "Clarity" option in the Camera+ app. I'm not sure I like the effect but I do like how it brought out the mountains.

I now have about 400 miles on the Heidenau K60 tires and thought I could say a few words about them. When they were first installed, handling seemed way different from what I was used to. I think I was used to old, worn out tires with really hard rubber. On wet or dry pavement, the K60s grip the road really well and are confidence inspiring. What originally felt like really "twitchy" handling is in reality easier steering. It takes very little pressure on the bars to change direction and I just wasn't used to that at all. The tread pattern is really "open" but nowhere near knobbies. I can't feel any additional vibration through the grips or the pegs though you can definitely hear them. Shawn from Adventure Cycleworks mentioned that the sidewalls are really stiff (making them a real pain to work with) so I may want to pick up a set of long tire spoons. He also mentioned that you can safely run the air pressure really low if there was a need. I haven't had much opportunity to try them on gravel. Hopefully we'll get a couple of clear, dry days as I still want to head north aways.

The nice weather brought out many more riders today as evidenced by the number of bikes in the motorcycle parking area. Yesterday, there were only three Beemers. I was really tempted to take the day off especially since I will be working both this coming Sunday and the following Saturday up north. I think others are feeling that Fall is coming and want to get in some riding. I guess I must be getting old as it feels like the riding season had just started. Time is passing really quickly. On my ride home yesterday, I must have passed a couple dozen riders which is way more than usual. A handful of out of state ADV types but most were local.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Some Farkle's

Lite-Buddy on the right
Like many others, I found it impossible to go to the BMWMOA rally without picking up a few farkles. Whenever I've ridden with our little riding group from church, I noticed how much more noticeable the flashing brake lights were on my friends Goldwing. I also noted that my own tail light was burned out and it is the only light on the back of the bike that is always lit. Within 5 minutes after entering the first vendor building at the rally, I saw a booth selling Lite-Buddy's for BMWs. I had heard about these quite a while ago from another website describing a bike very similar to mine (though much cleaner). They are made of eight bright red LEDs epoxied into a ceramic base. I was somewhat attracted to them since they fit completely within the turn signal housings. Even though the turn signal lens is amber, the LEDs show up as red. They are "on" whenever the tail light is on and when you apply the brakes, they flash for 5 seconds then revert back to "on". Not too annoying but I think that they may help make me a bit more visible. To install them, you need to drill a small slot in the reflector to feed the wires through, stick them to the reflector and wire them up. The only thing difficult about the installation was fishing the wire through the tube supporting the turn signals.

I also picked up an adjustable voltage regulator to increase the charging voltage a bit to meet the recommendations of the Odyssey battery I installed last month. The bike still had the original electro-mechanical voltage regulator and it was set for 13.7V measured at the battery at 4000 rpm. I installed the new solid-state  regulator and adjusted it for 14.4V also measured at the battery. An observation on the accuracy of the in-dash voltmeter, it used to read just over 12V and now reads 13.2V. Not very well calibrated but good enough to watch for changes. The documentation that came with the battery recommended a charging voltage of 14.6V but I figured that this may be close enough for now. Removing the regulator to adjust it is a bit of a hassle since it is buried under the tank.

The last farkle is much less functional. The gps I use on the bike is a Garmin 60CSx that I've had for years. It is waterproof, sturdy, has sensitive radios and has street maps installed for turn-by-turn directions. I have been using the Garmin plastic bracket on a RAM handlebar mount and while functional, I'm glad I had looped the wrist strap around something as I probably would have lost the unit by now. It tended to come loose occasionally on bumps. The Touratech mount has a much more positive lock on the unit plus I think it looks kind of cool. Lots of springs and levers to actuate the locking mechanism. At the rally, they were offering a discount AND free shipping on any order.