North to Alaska
May 29-30, 2004

(Click on the thumbnails for larger images)

Ready to go at 4AM. Littleton, CO.

Cloudy, but very scenic. Banff NP, Alberta.

Snow flurries, 37 degrees F. Banff NP, Alberta.

Even the gas stops are scenic. Sascatchewan River Crossing in Banff NP, Alberta.

Can you believe 180 miles of this scenery through Banff and Jasper NPs?

Almost there. Kitwanga Junction, B.C.

We made it! The border at Stewart B.C. - Hyder, AK.

The trusty steed (1997 Kawasaki Concours). Hyder, AK.

The famous Sealaska Inn. Hyder, AK.

Saturday May 29, Littleton, Colorado, to Calgary, Alberta. 1130 miles.

Sunday May 30, Calgary, Alberta, to Hyder, Alaska. 940 miles.

Randy Bishop's Iron Butt Association SaddleSore 2000, May 29-30, 2004

"North to Alaska", "The Klondike Gold Rush", "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon", "The Alcan", and other similar phrases have enticed many a traveler to points north. Way back in 1975 I started considering a trip up the Alaska Highway when it was still a long, rough, unpaved road. At the time I had plenty of military leave but not enough money. The dream never left my mind and finally in 2002 my wife and I had the funds and the vacation time, bought an Xterra and a pop-up camper and took a 28-day, 8500-mile trip up the Highway, to the Arctic Circle, around the Kenai Peninsula, to Dawson City, and returned via the Cassiar Highway. It was the best vacation trip we'd ever taken.

Meanwhile a second plan had been cooking too. In 1997 Hyder, Alaska, was a bonus location on the Iron Butt Rally. At the time I found the little town on a map and decided if I couldn't drive the Alaska Highway I could at least ride my motorcycle to Hyder just to say I had finally been to the 49th state. Wouldn't you know that even after our trip to Alaska in 2002, the idea of riding a motorcycle to Hyder was still floating around. Then I thought that since Hyder had become so famous with folks in the IBA maybe I should make it a part of an Iron Butt ride. Streets&Trips indicated that Hyder was 2048 miles from our home in Littleton, Colorado, perfect for a Saddle Sore 2000. More plans and preparations were made, including rolling up a Bun Burner 1500 for practice and installing HotGrips and HeatTrollers on the Concours in anticipation of cool, wet weather. My friend Terry Todd and I set the date for May 29, 2004. We were ready to go.

That Saturday morning at 0400 saw us getting our IBA witness forms signed and gas receipts obtained. My gas pump didn't provide a receipt. Fortunately I was able to use another pump and charge another 8 cents of gas for the needed receipt. Then we buzzed onto C-470 (Terry on a BMW R1150RT and me on a Kawasaki Concours) with the temperature at an unusually warm 60 degrees, but just north of Denver rode through a cool front into temperatures in the low 50s and were glad for our electric vests and heated grips. The miles started to roll under our wheels. The mind began to wander. In Cheyenne we passed the Frontier Days arena where each day's rodeo runs nonstop for 3 hours. At Chugwater I wanted to stop for some of their famous chili. The Laramie Mountains provided a scenic backdrop to the west. We crossed the Powder River and others well known in the history of the 1880s West. Along the way we stopped for gas in Kaycee, Chris LeDoux's hometown. I love the wide-open spaces in Wyoming!

North of Sheridan and the Big Horn Mountains we crossed into Montana and traveled through the beautiful land along the Little Big Horn River. At Billings we stopped for fuel and a quick bite for lunch at Arbys. We then headed north through Big Sky country to Roundup (a great name for a town in Montana) and then through the Judith Basin where there are always mountains on the horizon and huge skies full of white, gray, and black clouds. We were bucking some 25mph headwinds but we were under clear blue skies, with wild black clouds still off in the distance. After stop-and-go traffic in Great Falls we turned north again and knew it was just a matter of time before we hit rain. It finally started coming down just south of the Canadian border.

We were quickly through customs, even getting a grin from the customs agent when I replied that the only thing I had brought to leave in Canada was money. Just up the road I wanted to stop for a photo at the welcome to Alberta sign but it was raining too hard to make that a fun thing to do. We pressed on, carefully watching the itty-bitty blue kilometer numerals on our speedometers. Just trying to be respectful visitors and somewhat legal. At a construction zone on the four-lane I crossed into the right lane, dropping off the layer of new asphalt in the left lane. As soon as I did that I remembered David Hough's admonitions in MCN about "edge traps" and knew I was stuck in the right lane for the length of the repaving project. We only came up behind one car and the driver was considerate enough to move over onto the paved shoulder so we could safely pass. At Fort McLeod, in the rain and the dark, we stopped at a gas station under an awning to put on more clothes and to gather our wits a little. Pressing on northward we passed the 1000-mile mark at about the 15 hour point in the trip, and finally broke out of most of the rain as we approached Calgary.

We arrived in Calgary around 9:30 p.m. (1123 miles and 17 hours from home) just after game three of the Stanley Cup playoffs had ended. The Flames had won and their fans were going wild. Standing in the medians of the busy street waving flags. Flying Flames flags from both rear windows of their cars. Honking horns. It was crazy and we were glad to be experiencing all the enthusiasm that only Canadians can express for hockey. After checking into the motel we walked down the street to Denny's and were just about the only customers not wearing red Calgary Flames shirts.

Morning came early with a 5 a.m. departure from Calgary. After the previous night's celebrations, the streets were quiet and empty and we quickly made our way out of town and headed west past the site of the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Around 6 a.m. we topped a rise where the Canadian Rockies suddenly were big and spread out across our whole field of vision from left to right. The dawn's early light was just hitting all those fresh snow capped peaks with a rosy color. Hardly a more beautiful sight on earth. On that Sunday morning I was reminded of a Bible verse (Romans 1:20) that tells of how we all recognize God's creation. It was a special moment in the middle of a long trip and a great way to start the day's riding!

We had planned our departures from Littleton and Calgary so we would arrive at the entrance to Banff National Park soon after dawn so we wouldn't miss any of the scenery. So there we were at 6:30 a.m., right on schedule. We headed north into Banff NP on a road that we had almost all to ourselves, quite a contrast to the last time I was there in a mid-June with thousands of other tourists. Even a few snow flurries and 38-degree temperatures couldn't keep us from enjoying all the impressive mountain scenery and empty roads as we continued on into Jasper National Park. Right after a gas stop in the town of Jasper we saw 4 black bears crossing the road right in front of us, one with a cute little cub. Then in all the miles of the forest-lined road to Prince George we pulled out to pass at most a dozen cars and trucks.

The temperature in Prince George was in the low 60s (Fahrenheit), the warmest we'd had since leaving Denver. That and the sunny skies were much appreciated. After a quick stop for gasoline and a lunch of fast food, we continued west through forest and mountains, along rivers, and through the towns of Vanderhoof, Endako, Tintagel, Houston, Telkwa, and Smithers, eventually arriving at Kitwanga Junction. There at the Petro Canada gas station is the famous sign: "North to Alaska, Stewart 237 km, Hyder 240 km". A must-stop for photos. Less than 150 miles to Hyder!

After traveling almost 2000 miles, another 150 didn't seem like much at all. The road we were traveling north from Kitwanga Junction was the famous BC-37, the Cassiar Highway that travels through some of the most beautiful, and most sparsely populated land in North America as it winds it way to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. We carefully rode along the fairly narrow road, watching for wildlife as the day was heading toward a late dusk. We sure didn't want to hit something or run off the road so close to our destination. Even though Terry and I are very alert, defensive riders, it's funny how conservatively we were riding.

At Meziadin Junction we turned west on BC-37A for the final miles into Hyder. As we descended toward the coast the vegetation became thicker and greener, hard to imagine after all the thick, wet forest we'd already seen. After riding past Bear Glacier we rode into Stewart, BC, then passed under the "Welcome to...HYDER, ALASKA" sign at the Canada - USA border at 9:30 p.m. Then it was just a matter of riding down the short gravel main street, turning left, and pulling into the parking lot in front of the Sealaska Inn.

Ron Ayres' HyderSeek had ended the day before and we had seen lots of GSs, FJRs, STs, etc., heading south during the day so there were only two motorcycles still parked out front. We dismounted, gathered our IBA witness forms and went on in. As expected, Ron and a few other guys were still there. The Sealaska cashier fixed us up with receipts with the necessary date/time stamps. Ron was gracious enough to check our odometers and to sign the witness forms. He even signed a copy of his book "Against the Clock" that I had taken along just for that reason. (Thanks, Ron!)

So there it was. We were north in Alaska, the Great Land. About 2100 miles in about 42 hours, an IBA Saddle Sore 2000. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, Alaska. Wide open spaces, wind, rain, hockey celebrations, Canadian Rockies, empty roads, bears, sunshine, forests, big rivers, snow capped mountain peaks, and a glacier. A motorcycle ride we won't soon forget.

The Long Way Back Home, May 31 - June 5, 2004

On the way back we looped around to Prince Rupert. Again, great scenery with mountains on either side, and either the Skeena River or it's wide channel off the sea along side the road. Another empty road, 150 miles of sweepers and scenery. Is British Columbia great or what? From Prince Rupert we headed back to Prince George, then south to 100 Mile House where we started on a route recommended by Dave Owens (a COG guy in Prince George). Hwy 24, a winding road through the forests and past some pretty lakes. Hwy 5 south to Kamloops along a river. Hwy 1 east to Revelstoke (pretty scenery but lots of traffic and road construction). Hwy 23 south on fast sweepers for 48km to the ferry crossing, which we reached just in time to zoom aboard. Then a very relaxing and scenic 20-30 minute crossing of Upper Arrow Lake. Then on down 23 along the lake with views across the lake to snow-capped peaks. Then 31A along a river and a couple of big lakes to Balfour and another ferry ride. Then 3A along Kootenay Lake (Dave calls it the "giggle road" of BC), 50 miles of curves, lake and mountain views, no traffic. :)

On down in the states we took a 200 mile loop east from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, so we could ride the 50 miles along the west shore of Lake Koocanusa. No traffic, curves, curves, big grins in helmets! On down in Idaho we left Becky's Burgers in Orofino (a humorous place you just have to stop at!) about 6pm and had the 100 miles or so of scenic US-12 mostly to ourselves up to Lolo Pass. After that it was various back roads down through Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, not hitting an Interstate until Silverthorn, 60 miles from home. I went ahead and took I-70 while Terry took a slightly longer route over Hoosier Pass and US-285 so he could reach home (3200 miles from Hyder) without ever riding on the Interstate.

Sure was a great 8-day, 5300 mile ride!

-- Randy Bishop, Littleton Colorado

The travel log:
May 29 - 1131 miles - Littleton, Colorado to Calgary, Alberta
May 30 - 942 miles - Calgary, Alberta to Hyder, Alaska
May 31 - 286 miles - Hyder, Alaska to Prince Rupert, British Columbia
Jun 1 - 652 miles - Prince Rupert, British Columbia to 100 Mile House, British Columbia
Jun 2 - 467 miles - 100 Mile House, British Columbia to Creston, British Columbia
Jun 3 - 648 miles - Creston, British Columbia to Missoula, Montana
Jun 4 - 549 miles - Missoula, Montana to Montpelier, Idaho
Jun 5 - 560 miles - Montpelier, Idaho to Littleton, Colorado
8 days - 5234 miles

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2004-08, Randy Bishop
Last modified: February 12, 2008