Sunday, May 29, 2016

On the Way Home

On Sunday morning, we headed back to Fairbanks from Talkeetna. This was a rest stop roughly an hour north of Talkeetna Junction. The mountain in the background is Denali. Below is a digital zoom taken from the same location. There were a lot of bikes on the road heading to the Alaska Veterans Memorial. Most of them were riding up from Anchorage so once we passed the turnoff, the number of bikes dropped significantly.

We did pass the aftermath of a motorcycle accident. I won't speculate on what happened but it looked pretty bad. The ambient temperature was around 70°F for most of the day. No liner needed! By the time we arrived in Fairbanks, it had cooled down to the mid-60s. We had a nice  a tailwind on the ride south but that turned into a headwind for the return trip. This is reflected in my gas mileage with an all time high of 36 mpg on the leg from Cantwell to Talkeetna Junction. On the trip back, my mileage dropped by about 4 mpg.

This picture was taken from the Parks Highway Monument just outside of Fairbanks. I wanted to check the head temperature at the top of a long uphill grade using my IR thermometer and compare it with the CHT. The temperature compensated temperature was about 425°F on the CHT and the IR thermometer indicated ~365°F. This matches my previous checks where I noted that the CHT is about 60°F high.

The owners manual states that the normal operating range of the engine is between 356°F and 428°F. The highest CHT temperature I've seen since the engine rebuild has been 475°F which would be about 415°F. The day before the engine failed, the CHT had risen to over 525°F on a long grade. And that's with an air temperature well below 0°F... 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Talkeetna USCA Campout - Part 2

Another clear day from the campground. This is the Susitna River and one of the jet boat tours that run up and down the river. It was about 82°F this afternoon and is finally starting to cool down. 77°F at 9:30pm. Lots of people in town for the free concerts, softball tournament and other activities. 

On Saturday morning, several got out their stoves to make coffee including an old Primus and a newer Jetboil. Both worked well. I didn't bother getting out either of my MSR stoves until this evening when I made dinner. 

There was a pretty good turnout with four Urals, a couple of BMW GS/DMC rigs and a Yamaha Venture. Non-sidecar equipped bikes were two Yamaha Super Tenere and a BMW F650GS. The BMW was an older one that had the single cylinder Rotax engine and the rider was Justin from the new Ural dealer in Anchorage. In the picture is Doug with his riding partner Echo with the doggles. This is Echo's first camping trip in the Ural. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Talkeetna USCA Campout

Today we rode 275 miles from Fairbanks to Talkeetna. It started out overcast and around 46°F. Once we past Cantwell, the clouds were gone and the temperature climbed up to 75°F. No heated gear needed. In fact the liners were shed, gloves switched out and zippers opened up. This is the view from the South McKinley (now known as Denali) viewpoint. Nice cloudless view of the mountain.  

We got to Talkeetna around 5:30pm or so and went to the city campground on the far side of town next to the Susitna River. We had dinner at the Denali Brewing Company. Delicious food and a nice porter. And even though the town is packed, it wasn't that long of a wait for a table.  

This is just one of the many artsy gift shops that are typical of this town. BTW, this year there is tons of LTE signal on both AT&T and Verizon. GCI only had edge so that was a fail.

Artsy moose. There are about four sidecars, Bridget's Prius, one tent trailer and one solo bike here. Three people from Fairbanks, three people from Anchorage, and two from Wasilla. Not a bad turnout.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

4th Annual Alaska USCA "Rally"

Not really a "rally" in the traditional sense. No one makes money, no organized events, no vendors, no admission. The initial mailing list came from the United Side Car Association and this will be the fourth time we are meeting at the city campground in Talkeetna, AK.

Talkeetna is a very touristy town that is some ways seems to be a leftover from the 60's. Lots of arts and craft shops, tie dye items, and over priced dust catchers catering to the tourists shuttled here from the cruise ships by bus and train. The Alaska contact for the USCA is an avid soft ball player and there is a large tournament here with games being played well into the night under the light of the midnight sun.

We are headed down on Friday morning sometime. Bridget was originally going to ride in the sidecar but she needs to bring her two dogs along. So they will be driving down instead. First road trip for the dogs. JedR will be riding down with me on his 2015 Patrol as he did last year except this time it's well broken in. Last year, it was brand new and on it's first road trip.

I've been using my homemade air box ever since I came back from my trip last summer. So I think that it has proven itself and I have the carburetor jets dialed in pretty well. This will be the first real trip with the plastic fence post air cleaner housing. AKA Leftka-3, named after the SovietSteeds individual who came up with the design.

Probably no posts during the weekend as last year there was very poor AT&T signal and no Verizon at all. I will be taking down a GCI phone this time. Maybe it'll actually work...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Heading Home

Shortly after takeoff from Barrow when we turned south, I noticed some open water. As in open water all the way to the coast. In Barrow, the ice was still locked to the shore so this was a surprising sight. I believe that this is Elson Lagoon, the body of water just south of Point Barrow. In contrast to the last two weeks, this morning was bright and sunny. Especially noticeable at 1 o'clock this morning with all of the north facing windows in the hut.

I then started noticing all of the lakes in the tundra. Some of them, I'm assuming the shallow ones, were starting to thaw. Some of them that were almost thawed had a lime green color. Normally it's either pretty overcast or dark when I'm flying over the area north of the Brooks Range. Or else I'm sitting over the wing.

I'll be home for a bit before heading back on June 5th. Next week is the Alaska meetup of the United Sidecar Association in Talkeetna, AK. Or at least that's what I'm assuming. I haven't heard anything from the Alaska contact. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Barrow - Part 3 of ??

The weather forecast promised some sunny weather so I headed back out to the BEO Control Shed late morning. At the time, I wasn't too sure as snow was blowing around. But by the time I was ready to head back the sun had come out (sort of). It was a pretty nice walk out and back but I am exhausted right now. The snow was soft and it feels like you are walking through sand. I liked the way the snow was peeling off of the side of the building. Last week, this window was almost completely covered with snow.

Quite a few of the power poles have these small bird houses. None appeared to be occupied. The only birds I've been seeing around here have been geese. So I'm not sure what kind of birds these houses are for. Hopefully, something that feeds on mosquitoes. With all of the water around here, it must be a great breeding ground for mosquitoes.

This is just some typical scenery during the walk. Actually, I just needed an excuse to stop and pulling out the camera seemed to be convenient. At this point I'm about ½ way between the road and the Control Shed. What it does show is how much water is actually out here. No drought here... Or pollen.

And no weird food pics either.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Barrow - Part 2 of ??

I had another package of fishy snacks from Japan and these had little red dots on them. At first glance, I just assumed that they would be spicy. But upon closer inspection, they look more like fish eggs. The flavor was about the same as the other bag of snacks that I had posted about last week. Kind of sweet, a little "fishy", very crispy and crunchy, and delicious. This package was also ¥600 but I think I purchased both of them in an overpriced airport gift shop. We needed to use up our Japanese currency.

On Tuesday afternoon, I borrowed the gas card to fill up the truck I've been using. The gas price is set when they get their barge shipment of fuel and I believe that it was last September sometime. Driving is expensive up here. And with the potholes and deep muddy trails that make up the roads this time of year, anything smaller than the F250 crew cab would get beat up pretty badly. These trucks work well but probably go through a lot of gas. Sean, the logistics planner, mentioned that the current price of $6.50/gal is less than it was last year. I rarely fill up the truck as it usually has a full tank when I picked it up. This time it was less than half full.

This is the coast early Wednesday morning with the sun shining on the ice. The temperatures are still only in the mid-20s (°F) but the forecast for the next couple of days is sunny afternoons. I had originally planned to walk out to the Control Shed again on Thursday but a research group is sending me a replacement radio for one of their instrument towers on Thursday. So I'll plan on a nice walk on Friday.

I had posted graphs from this site before as I think it provides useful information. The orange line shows the track of the sun today and the green line is the summer solstice. The sun dips to about 3° above the horizon at about 2 am. You can also see that the sun never gets much above 40° above the horizon and when you are here, it feels like the sun is just circling around. So, if you know the time, it's really easy to determine compass directions. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Not Enough Snow

We got a little bit (a very little bit) of snow this morning but it was determined that there isn't quite enough snow to run snow machines over the tundra. So I walked out to the BEO Control Shed. The walk out was pretty enjoyable. It's been a while since I last walked over the tundra to the Control Shed from the road. One of these days I'll try it without the snow and ice. I had picked up a pair of rubber boots at a local sporting goods store with my $10 off coupon. It made them very reasonably priced and perfect for summer in Barrow. It's kinda fun splashing through the water. I don't think I've had a pair of rubber boots since I was a kid.

I had gone out to install a small directional antenna pointing back towards the SledShed. I put it about ½ way up the tower and removed the panel antenna that I had asked another group to install last month. The panel just wasn't able to get enough signal to lock on. The small dish locked on almost immediately with four bars (better than -62dBm). I still need to work out spanning tree to fail between the three radios to allow an automatic backup connection.

While out there, I also checked on another instrument a little further down the boardwalk that wasn't sending data. There was plenty of WiFi signal at that location but the little wireless bridge wasn't passing traffic. I believe that they are sending up a suitable replacement. Hopefully it gets here before I leave on Saturday.

Here is an example of the walkway that I had to follow. It wasn't very far from the road to the Control Shed but there just enough snow to make it difficult to find bits of the walkway. Once you spot another section, you head out in that direction. The nice wooden walkway only exists for part of the way through the tundra. Much of it was on black plastic grid resting on the swampy ground. In many places, the upper surface of the plastic grid was under water (ice). At least most of the puddles were still frozen though I did break through the crust quite a few times. It makes for slow going. My watch says it was 1.13 miles each way at the blistering pace of 2 mph.

It has been overcast just about everyday that I've been here. Pretty hard to get a nice midnight sun time lapse video. Oh well, plenty of opportunities this summer.

Tuesday Morning Update - Since I had brought the panel antenna back with me, I checked it's configuration closely and found two typos! Either one would have caused the radio not to establish a connection. Now I feel like an idiot for not checking it more closely before sending it out with the research group.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Almost Like Riding

On Thursday afternoon after lunch, I went out to the  BEO (Barrow Environmental Observatory) Control Shed to try and get my redundant wireless connections up and running. I had an Action Packer of stuff that needed to be hauled out sometime for future use and this is a whole lot easier than carrying the stuff out walking on the boardwalk. I had brought my old motorcycle gear to use as it's waterproof enough and I probably wouldn't be using it back in Fairbanks.

This is the Control Shed. It really does look like a shed but it has power, heat and Internet. What more does anyone need? (Plumbing would be nice) When we got there, the inside temperature must have been around 80°F or at least that's what it felt like. I put up a small parabolic antenna on the tower in the background and roughly aimed it at the BARC. It has a very small field horizontally and vertically and aiming it while on the tower is very difficult due to the bright sun washing out the LED signal strength indicators. There is a very tedious and time consuming procedure for aiming the antenna with multiple reconfigurations and restarts of the radio. Kind of a hassle when you are hanging off the tower.

Just moving around the shed was challenging due to the deep snow drifts. I need to check an experiment out on this boardwalk but before heading out there, I want to find out where I'm allowed to drive the snow machine. I don't want to trample on someone's experiment. The wooden boardwalk is built like the small removable docks used on some lakes. During the summer, you are supposed to stay on the boardwalk to avoid disturbing the ground. There is a long history of climate studies in this area since the BEO was created back in the 1940s.

This is the group that led me out there. They all work for UIC Science, the science logistics provider. They came by to check up on me before heading back to the BARC making sure that I felt comfortable getting back on my own. If not, one of them would have come back for me when I was ready to head back. I promised to call once I arrived back at NARL. The only challenge was 50' from the BARC, I needed to go over some large drifts and after the right ski sunk in a hole, it was hard to hold the machine upright. I slowly went over on my side. No pictures so did it really happen?

I'll need to go back out again. Hopefully there is still enough snow on Saturday morning when I plan on heading out again....

And since the food pic in my last post generated so many comments, here is the new entry for the unusual-food-of-the-day. How about some home-made habanero pickled muktuk. Sweet, hot and very tasty. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Barrow - Part 1 of ??

When I was packing things up before flying up to Barrow, I ran across some snacks that I had picked up while we were in Japan. Even though they may be kind of stale, I went ahead and threw them into the Action Packer for the trip up. They are not stale and very tasty. The snack bag was about 600¥ which is about $5.50. No idea what it was but I guessed that it was some sort of dried fish with teriyaki. Close enough as that's what it tastes like. Not really stale and very tasty. Too tasty… In fact the bag is almost gone as I shared them with some of the logistics staff.  

Here are a couple of pictures that I took on Wednesday evening from the other side of town. You can see open water in the distance and in the lower photo, one of the the whaling crews has their flag flying which means that they were successful. One of the logistics staff took off yesterday afternoon to help her dad with the work associated with harvesting a whale. Most of the staff have been out as crew members.

Today has been a brilliantly bright day almost to the point of getting a headache when outdoors too long. I had attempted to make a time lapse video but it has been too cloudy to the north. I'll keep waiting for a nice sunny day but until then, there is this video taken a few years back by the UAF Sea Ice group using the web cam co-located with their ice radar. In case you are ever interested in looking at the view from the top of the bank building, here is the link.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Almost Summer

This is the view from the dining room window of my hut in Barrow. There are two more sets of windows to the right so it's a pretty nice view of the Chukchi Sea, the marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean west of Point Barrow. There is open water out there but from the height of the hut, I can't quite see it. Since Alaska Air cancelled the direct Fairbanks - Barrow flight, the Barrow arrival day means a lot of time sitting in airports. I left the house at 7:30am and arrived at the hut at about 6:30pm with stops in Anchorage and Prudhoe Bay. And that's with a very short wait for luggage.

Speaking of luggage, Alaska Air does allow three bags (free!) when flying within the state if you live in AK and sign up for their Club 49 email list. This allowed me to bring up some groceries to partially offset the high cost of food. On this trip I'll be here for almost two weeks but I didn't bring that many groceries. Sunset tonight is at 2:03am with sunrise at 3:06am. So no spectacular sunset/sunrise photos. Note that first light and last light are the same. I suspect that in a couple of days sunset and sunrise will also be the same.

Welcome to Summer in the Arctic!

Monday Morning Update - According to, last night was the last sunset in Barrow until the beginning of August.

Monday, May 9, 2016


On Mother's Day, I participated in the UAF graduation ceremony at the Carlson Center. I was told to be there around 12:30 and that they would have appropriate academic regalia waiting for me. Since I wasn't faculty, the assumption was that I wouldn't have such stuff lying around. They are correct. They had us line up between the group heading for the podium and the PhD students and their advisors. Before heading in, there was a dance group from Tanacross. They are the ones pictured in this photo.

They had us wait at the door after the podium group (university regents, university president, UAF chancellor, vice-chancellor, college deans, etc.) I think that it was kind of interesting seeing them up there as I have known many of them for years when they were in other entry level positions and, in a couple of cases, students. A couple of the faculty came up to me in the waiting room and commented that it didn't seem that long ago when we were the new kids on the block. We were seated in the front row.

This is at the end of the 3 1/2 hour program. I had missed pulling my phone out when most of the blue/gold balloons came out of the ceiling. Near the beginning of the ceremony, they called up the Emeriti present to present us with a certificate declaring that. I'm told that it is rare to have staff Emeriti as it normally reserved for the academic side of the house. While sitting in the airport, I ran into one of the former university staff governance presidents, and he mentioned that staff emeritus is a relatively new thing as he was involved with it's implementation.

After the ceremony, the faculty were let out first and they lined the corridors to cheer their now ex-students. Not having participated in my university graduation (I opted to ride my bicycle to Baja), this was my only university graduation experience. Kind of cool. 

This is Libby, she was the other staff Emeriti for this year and had retired last year as the Registrar. I've known her a long time through a variety of positions within admissions and records and it was great to see her again. They is now traveling around the country in their RV but returned just for the ceremony. I think the only purpose of the blue/gold sash was to have something besides the basic black robe. We both opted to dispense with the mortarboard. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Ride

On Friday morning, JedR and I headed south on the Parks Highway towards Anchorage. During a coffee stop in Nenana, we saw a Ural pull into the gas station. That is Buster on the left with his 2014 Gear Up. He had picked it up from Mickey last year and at only 1400 km, he had to pull the engine due to a crankshaft problem. It was rebuilt in Washington presumably by Ural. He now has about 4K km on the rebuilt engine and is very happy with how it runs. We were parked by the side of the gas station and he wanted to take a picture. JedR's 2015 Patrol is in the middle.

The weather wasn't great and I dragged out the heated gear for the ride down. There was headwind north of Healy down to "Glitter Gulch", the touristy region just north of the entrance to the park which was our destination for the day. I just needed to deliver some mail to my son who is working at one of the hotels in the area. They weren't open for business yet but he's been working there since early April getting the facility ready. It was mostly overcast so no good mountain views and we even had a bit of rain on the trip back to Fairbanks.

Even with the headwind, the Ural got 31.7 mpg on the trip down and 33.7 mpg on the way back. That gas mileage, by the way, is based on the Ural odometer. Using GPS miles the return gas mileage is almost 37 mpg!  I had just renewed my Spot subscription so I figured that I may as well try it out. 241 miles for the day.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Motorcycle Parking

Moto parking is once again available on campus. For some odd reason, the moto parking spaces are all dated May 1 through Sept 1. The weather has been decent though there still aren't very many bikes on the road (commuting). This morning, there was a brand new, nicely farkled F700GS here but he must've taken advantage of the beautiful weather for a lunchtime ride. There really aren't that many moto spots on campus and even though they are marked and have red painted curbs, cars still park in them all the time. In one of the moto parking areas next to campus security, one of their staff parks there all the time comfortable knowing that she won't get ticketed.

I spent the afternoon checking things over for the first "longish" trip since the engine overhaul. I have about 850 km on the engine since the rebuild and I'm starting to feel comfortable going at highway speeds. I changed the oil and filter and there was very little swarf on the magnetic drain plug. The oil still looked like new, with a little bit of aluminum powder floating on the surface of the drained oil. And there is a lot of oil. Refilling the engine took just shy of 3 quarts. Just about 50% more than the stock engine. I like the deep sump oil pan for the additional capacity. I also torqued the head bolts, adjusted the valves and checked the carb balance. All looks good. 

Tomorrow, JedR and I are heading down to the Denali Park area. I'm dropping off some physical mail to a family member. Doesn't that sound like a good reason for a ride?