In the previous articles I did my best to explain the chaos that has led to Rach and I being in Alaska with a pair of Honda C90s. Ahead of us is a two and a half-year trip to the southern tip of Argentina — via the width of Canada — which we’ll be doing over the course of the winter.
Alaska is an 18 hour flight from England and since I can’t leave my bike behind and the price was right, we flew the pair of C90s too. It cost us $2000 for both bikes, which was a steal compared to the $2500 charge for a single hefty adventure bike. Every time my little C90 saves me $1500 I love her a little more.
Which leads me nicely to a question that I get asked a lot: “How can you afford to ride around the world?” Well there are three guidelines that Rach and I follow:
- Work hard before leaving and earn as much money as possible. We both worked 60-hour weeks in the UK.
- Don’t buy shiny things. I’ve lost count of the amount of people who ride $20,000 Adventure machines and say they can’t afford to go anywhere on them. Then I tell them that our two-year trip will cost us $18,000. It’s funny watching the pin drop.
- Live cheap. Our budget for this trip is $20 per day. This means camping almost every night, and eating cheaply. A tent and pasta every night is still better than a day in the office in my opinion.
With bikes built and gear packed we headed north and through the blur of jet lag, started the routine of riding during the day and then looking for a wild campsite before sunset.
In the wilds of Alaska this is pretty simple to do but to find a wild campsite still requires a bit of off-roading. I’m quite at home with this, but Rach had only ridden off-road a few times before, so our campsite exploring often resulted in some form of a woopsie. Luckily, it’s almost impossible to hurt yourself on a C90, as Rach was finding out.
We had decided that if we were going to ride the Americas top to bottom, we might as well start at the most northerly point: Prudhoe Bay at the Arctic Ocean. This required riding the 414 mile off-road James W. Dalton Highway, which has a fierce reputation, so much so that it was even featured on the BBC series ‘The world’s most dangerous roads’.
As you would expect, we set off a little cautious about what was ahead of us, but as I’d ridden another so-called ‘World’s most dangerous roads’ in Nepal in 2012, — and had a brilliant time — I’d learnt to take these stories with a large pinch of salt.
The Dalton alternates between tarmac, gravel and mud, and as long as long as you ride at a sensible speed and pay attention when the surface changes, it’s actually quite a pleasant ride. The weather was being very kind to us too and the perfectly smooth mud proved to be sometimes nicer than the rough tarmac.
On the first day we crossed the Arctic Circle and took the obligatory photo before making camp. As anyone who has ridden the Dalton Highway knows, you have to be sure that you can make the gaps between fuel stops. Our bikes only have a range of 100 miles on our 3.7 litre tanks, and the next fuel was 240 miles away. Luckily we’d each bought a 7.4 litre fuel can from Walmart, taking our range to 300 miles, result.
Not far into the Arctic Circle we rode past the tree line and the road was now either gravel or bad tarmac. The gravel was deep in places but as we were happily plodding along at around 70 km/h, it didn’t present any real danger.
The scenery eventually turned completely flat and after 414 miles we made it to Prudhoe Bay, and treated ourselves to a night at the hotel. Now at $125, this cost us a week’s budget, but the price foolishly included unlimited food, so we did the sensible thing and ate six day’s worth of food and “resupplied” our camping supplies before waddling off to our room.
The next day we opted to take the tour bus to the Arctic Ocean, so that we could dip our toes in, before the official north to south, ocean to ocean conquest of the Americas. With our faithful steeds now carrying their own weight in biscuits and sandwiches thanks to the unlimited buffet the night before, we started the ride back the way we had just come.
Our return leg was marked by rain, which gave us a chance to see if the Dalton can be as bad as people say it is. Granted, the mud did get slippery but being a mixture of mud and gravel, it never gets that bad.
In fact on our light, manageable bikes we were having a great time. With only eight horsepower it gave us the chance to do doughnuts in the road. And our thin tyres cut through the surface mud to the stones beneath to give us more than enough traction. We did get a bit dirty though.
And after the second lot of 414 miles we made it to the beginning of the Dalton once more and back to civilisation again.
It felt quite good to complete my second ‘world’s most dangerous road’ and even better that Rach had a brilliant time too. My respect for the Honda C90 grew even more when Rach finished the Dalton with a smile on her face.
I’m still a bit confused as to how so many bikers manage to crash and seriously injure themselves on it each year. A little research into each case almost always brings up the same factors; too much speed, a heavy/tall bike, and a sudden change in road surface. Seems to me that the C90 proves itself once again.
We were now heading south and exploring as much of Alaska as possible before heading into Canada. In total we did just over 6,000 Kms in Alaska, most of it was on tarmac with a little off-roading each night.
The days and miles rolled by, every night brought a new camping spot and a new mini adventure. Whether it was the search for the spot, or at the spot itself, we always had fun. I was often thankful for our limited budget and the situations it handed us. For most of my Malaysia trip I stayed in budget $10 hotels every night, and didn’t have half the fun I did when camping with Rach.
We spent so long touring Alaska that summer left while we were still there, and we were found ourselves touring in autumn. All the other bikers and RVs had long since left, which meant we had the roads to ourselves to enjoy the colours of autumn, which were simply gorgeous.
Another advantage of touring in the off-season is that all of the locals became EVEN friendlier. Now Alaskans were already very friendly, but once the tourist crowds had disappeared, they were even kinder.
We were forever being given free places to stay, and one of our hosts even took each of us up in his plane.
By now, autumn had definitely set in, and it was time to start heading towards the Canadian border. Despite the encroaching winter, we had decided to traverse Canada rather than riding straight through it to the States (and the warm weather), like sensible people.
This presented a problem through as winter takes a while to settle in properly. So the plan was to ride to temperate Vancouver while the roads were still clear, and prep the bikes and ourselves for the wintry ride ahead. We could also leave our summer tyres behind and use our ice-prepared tyres in the bad conditions.
This seemed like a perfect plan … until one night in the Yukon we went to sleep in autumn, but when we woke in the morning, it was winter.
We had no choice but to ride to Vancouver on ice and snow with our cut-slick road tyres. Luckily a Honda C90 is one of the few vehicles that can actually manage this. The low weight, centre of gravity, and thin tyres mean they’re actually quite fun on snow.
Of course when the snow turns to ice, there’s always a chance of playing an impromptu game of bike-bowling. I was first up and was riding and filming one-handed to get a nice camera angle of our slick road tyres coping with the ice. Of course, I eventually tempted fate too much, but learnt my lesson and kept both hands on the handlebars from then on.
Quite a while went by before Rach had her go, and it was quite impressive. The snowploughs (or snow polishers, as I call them) had taken the top layer of snow off and exposed a rutted and streaked icy highway of chaos.
At about 40 mph, Rach’s rear wheel broke free from traction and managed to overtake the front one. As that happened, the bike low-sided, but Rachel refused to let go. As the bike hit the verge arse first, it high-sided, catapulting Rach off the bike and through the air. She landed in a soft heap of snow, laughing.
As we got to Prince George, we realised that although bike-bowling was a lot of fun in the Yukon, due to the amount of traffic in B.C., the risk of getting run over in the process was just too great. It was while discussing this quandary in a restaurant that an awesome guy called Paul popped his head up and offered us a lift in the back of his pick-up. Almost all the way to Vancouver!
We’d always heard that Canadians are tremendously friendly (and you’re known worldwide for it), but this was something else. We decided that it was better to be safe than sorry and took Paul up on his offer.
Four hundred miles later, we unloaded the bikes at his friend’s house, where we stayed for the night before heading to Vancouver in the morning. We were now in a different world and when the sun rose in the morning we were amazed to be riding at temperatures well above freezing.
It was good to be warm once again, and over the next few days we would be able to start preparing the bikes for our cross Canada winter adventure to Newfoundland.
In the next update we’ll go over the adaptations required for this grand adventure, and starting the Canadian winter leg of this journey. For the moment I’ll leave you with our Christmas themed modifications that we carried out while in Vancouver. We’ve all heard the phrase “to be safe you should light your bike up like a Christmas tree”. Well I think Rach and I went a bit too far.
See you next time folks!
Ed and Rach and a pair of C90s
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.