How NOT to pack:
I do NOT suggest you pack like I show, above...because...the photo was supplied with my 'packet' for those
going on tours with me. This was done to show how NOT TO pack your motorcycle, and how NOT
TO dress. The photo shows me with POORLY SELECTED riding clothes. I wore my usual long distance
touring clothes when I left, NOT the clothes shown! Does this mean you must have an Aerostich outfit, or
BMW outfit: NO!...in fact I don't own such fancy touring clothes. In the above photo, bungees are
shown holding the various luggage items, which were NOT used on the actual trip, although I carried a few bungees
& some parachute cord. The
not-recommended bungees in the above photo were exchanged for high
quality straps before departure. The use of quality straps is far more secure against loss, create less
height; are not nearly so messy for anything on the rear rack (rack is invisible in the photo).
The license plate can't be read in the above photo, but I was an active pilot, & it was IFLYU2.
Notice the bungee at the REAR of the bags, that go from tour bag cover to tour bag cover. There is a
similar one on top, between both Tour Bag's inner cover. The purpose is to make sure the bags can
NOT fly off & be lost AND to give a bit of added support to help avoid bag mounts cracking . I DID use
bungees for that purpose in 1997, not straps, because my straps would not fit the bungee-buddies
mounted to the bags. These days, I might do the same; or, better, use very thin stranded steel
cables with a tiny size of carabiner ends with tension adjusters.
Many folks carry excessively large luggage loads; this is certainly shown in my
photo, above. I spent a lot of time condensing my gear, so the above did not happen, at least
not for ME...because the more the size of the load grows, the more it affects bike handling; &
there is a tendency for large multiple piece loads to 're-arrange' themselves on a long trip.
You also need to consider weight. Use of lighter weight back-packing gear, selected carefully
for ruggedness and purpose, IS A VERY GOOD IDEA.
My bike in the photograph has a Day-Long brand of saddle; dual-plugging, side-tanks, oversize rear tire (120),
& a custom-made headlight cover of high impact plastic that replaced the factory tunnel-glass. The side-tanks give 2 extra gallons, total. A 110 size rear tire would be a
better choice, and I did change to that at replacement time. A hard-to-see modification on my bike is to the rear fender, making wheel removals much easier. Those
who have Monoshock or Paralever BMW's will have an easier time & tire repairs to tubeless tires are easier.
Some have used tubeless tires withOUT tubes, in tube-type Snowflake wheels. There is an article on that
subject on this website:
http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/section6.htm. The stock tire for this bike is a 4.00, which is also perfectly OK. You do NOT have
to have dual-plugging, NOR side-tanks, NOR oversize tires. Some have used metal guards over
the headlight; I prefer a fitting polycarbonate piece that replaces the stock glass. Almost all of my fellow riders to Alaska have had fairings & windshields, some few just
windshields or fly-screens. Some use rear trunks. DO NOT overload the bike, & DO NOT have
excessive rear weight!
The tank-bag (I am a BIG fan of large tank-bags) is a personal favorite, the BMW Multivario. I put some of
my heavier items in the tank-bag. I also have paid attention to the possibility of the tank bag touching the
KILL SWITCH in tight turns. Notice the Airheads belt buckle, the ventilated black leather jacket, jeans, etc.
I am old-fashioned in many ways, & have never liked pricey fancy riding suits (I am also CHEEEP)...but the
clothing as shown is not the best for an Alaskan trip. If you can afford it, a proper 1 piece waterproof, or
highly water resistant riding suit is an excellent choice! AGAIN, note: this photo, and my clothing, are what I told my group riding partners NOT TO DO. At the very
least, if you insist on jeans, wear leather chaps....lest the road pebbles smite your legs. As previous noted,
you also would be best advised NOT to stack your baggage like the photo, not use bungee cords, & not
stack so high either.
Border Crossing Requirements:
This is VERY likely to change over time. DO NOT use this section without checking for
the latest information!!!
Crossing the border is more complicated than it was as recently as 2011. For U.S. Citizens, as
as far as I know, you will need a Passport, or an 'Enhanced' drivers license or
'Enhanced' I.D. card. Some States offer these for a low fee, check with your local department
of motor vehicles. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, you may need a Visa, unless you are
Canadian-born. If you are bringing someone under 16 years old with you, they need real proof
of citizenship. Be sure to check several sources, but particularly your State's motor vehicle
department, for the rules, costs, etc.
As of early 2016, this is the list of where the enhanced document, called EDL/ID, is available: Washington State;
Persons with a felony may be denied entrance into Canada. If you have been convicted of some non-felony
crimes in the United States it may be considered a felony in Canada. A Driving While Intoxicated conviction
(D.W.I.) (in the USA this is often called a DUI, Driving Under the Influence) is considered a felony in Canada. Visit http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/index.asp for more information.
Border crossing (and return, in some instances) has changed at irregular intervals. Here is
information provided to me in July, 2015:
If you are staying on the ground, a border card from the State Department will do. If you get injured
or have a major medical problem and need to fly, you need a US Passport. Yes, that does, if you think
about it a bit, seem strange. You should consider having both. If you have a DWI/DUI arrest you
most likely are not going to get into Canada; & if you pay the $$$$ it costs to enable going to Canada,
you aren’t going to drive. The border authorities don’t like short guns nor switchblades. Long guns
cost $50, EACH. There is a way to get handguns through, but you have to get it approved by RCMP
in Ottawa & every Provence you will be going through. LEAVE YOUR GUNS AT HOME.
While most travelers never have any problems, besides maybe a surly customs/border person (USUALLY on the USA side!!), some motorcyclists are quite concerned...so, I assembled a bit of a list for places
you can contact for information:
Due to problems with some browsers & some links, & the hidden code (not just common cookies)
these folks all use to track you if you go to their site & do not do it directly, I have removed those as links. Do a Google search for these names. If you are REALLY security concerned, use duckduck or similar non-tracking search engines.
U. S. Customs and Border Protection
Department of Homeland Security
U. S. Department of State
U. S. Department of State – Visa Requirements to enter the U. S.
Canada (due to problems with some browsers & some links being re-addressed, I have removed links.
Do a Google or duckduck search for these names):
Canada Border Services Agency
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Citizenship and Immigration Canada – Visa Requirements to enter Canada
Citizenship and Immigration Canada – Overcoming criminal inadmissibility into Canada
Below are two links, they should work.
Washington State Department of Licensing/ Enhanced Driver License/ ID Card
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Traveling partners, compatibility, & other considerations:
Some people like to travel solo, some prefer to travel with a passenger. Some like to ride with a
small group....and some like to ride with a larger group.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you do NOT ride with
a passenger, unless using a sidecar rig, due to handling changes, luggage space, & seating
problems. I further recommend that you do NOT ride with a large group (can be VERY annoying,
& the more riders, the less likelihood of compatibility, & the more likelihood for problems of all
sorts. Assuming you will be riding with a group, I suggest you determine well before your trip
that you are all compatible with each other. Like other folks, I have found a large increase in compatibility
problems, on a steep curve, when over 4 riders are in a group. My suggestion is to go in a group
between 2 & 6 bikes, and NOT solo. MANY years of long distance travel have proven this advice
to be good.
Ideally, all the Members of your group have ridden with each other before.
Some people like to ride fast & cover big mileages every day; some want a day or two at a place
along the way now & then; some want to be in a motel every night; some may want to use the
ferry system, some only want to eat in restaurants, some are early risers, some like to party half
the night. Be sure you are all reasonably compatible. Compromises should be reasonable for all. DO NOT OVERLOOK THIS ADVICE.
Be sure you will all have the TIME to do the trip, although allowances could possibly be made for
those having less time. On two of my tours we had two riders meet us part way & do the rest of
the trip together. I suggest you do not travel with anyone without at least 10,000 miles on
motorcycles within the last few years. Can everyone pick up their bike if it falls over? Repair
tires? Know basic maintenance & repairs? Can ride on hard-pack & occasionally some slippery
gravel & not freak-out? Are your proposed fellow riders SAFE drivers? Are your fellow riders
truly capable of minor repairs & doing tire repairs? Have they ACTUALLY done such things?
If you do not know well ALL those in your group, ask questions...likes
& dislikes, riding experience, style of riding, comments on long trips, camping, etc. Do they like
to get up quite early in the morning & get on the road early? Do they like to party into the wee
hours?Are your traveling companions (and YOU!) the types that tend to be self-sufficient,
independent, can be in some situation & not freeze-up? Do you depend nearly entirely on
cell-phones or credit cards, or other electronics...or even dealerships ...for 'emergencies'...???
Does everyone actually really know how to use their tire repair equipment they will be taking
along? HAVE THEY PRACTICED? On the bike they are taking?
Your trip is going to include LONG stretches of possibly boring highway. You may have a
section or two of many miles of hard-pack, rather than paved. Paved sections may have mild
hoop-de-do's (frost upheavals). You are likely to experience some rain...how are you with
riding in the rain? Got good rain gear? How are you on wet slippery roads? What if that
road had some slippery muddy sections [wait until you've experienced some roads with
the calcium crap they use to keep dust down ...it gets slippery when wet...and cakes your bike (and engine!) with something sort-of like cement.
The days are long in the North in biking weather...by that I mean that the period of having a
lot of daylight is lengthy; that, surprisingly, often needs some getting used to. If you do not
wear a wrist-watch, I suggest you either do wear one, or have some sort of clock on your bike
or in your cell-phone. Otherwise, you may find that you have not the slightest idea of what the
time is, ...& also if it is day-time or night-time, or anything in-between for that matter. For many,
this upsets their daily routines rather considerably, particularly on the more northerly portions
of the trip. This is NOT funny!
In some areas radar speed detectors are illegal. If you have devices that need charging, and want to do that from the bike battery while you are traveling, be sure all your adaptors, cords, etc...really do work. I have run into problems. Did you know that the common USB to USB cords do NOT work with Garmin's later GPS units for charging? Only Garmin's cords will work, and only the proper Garmin cord. These cords contain one or two resistors connected to an otherwise unused pin at one connector, to 'tell' the GPS that a proper cord is connected. Garmin Express program is sensitive to these things.
Fuel: Gas-up before you run out! Places that used to sell gasoline may have closed. It
might even be prudent to phone ahead!! Consider carefully your fuel capacity & REAL miles
(and/or Kilometers) per gallon with the loading & speeds to be used, on roads that suck up
Start, before your trip, in thinking about Kilometers per liter, rather than miles per American
Gallon. This requires more thinking than just miles per hour and kilometers per hour, and
both are usually shown on your BMW speedometer face. Using a double conversion,
Kilometers per liter, makes you THINK, and absorb more knowledge, and get familiar with metric
fuel amounts & usages. You then add the third item, reading maps in Km. You need very little
else, except a modest familiarity of Canadian currency; and, perhaps, some knowledge about
ATM's and credit cards usage. Even though I am very familiar with these things, & can easily
change values in my head (approximately), I start ahead of my trips, and every time I think about
going someplace, or am refueling car or bike, etc....I think about using metric values!!! My advice is, then: when you fill-up in the Lower 48, begin thinking in terms of liters, mileage, etc,
that will help when Up North. When you fuel your car or bike, a month+ before leaving, calculate
the liters, notice the kilometers per hour indication on your bike speedometer (most have dual
scales, miles and km).
Some consider purchasing cheap plastic fuel containers before some particular long gasless
stretch of road, then abandoning them after their use. I haven't, but my bikes almost always
have had built-in extra fuel, either from a larger fuel tank, or side-tanks.
You likely will
NOT get the same fuel mileage as you get in the smooth-paved lower 48. Distances can be
vast in some areas between availability of gasoline, especially on the Haul Road. You might
really want to think about carrying extra fuel for just that particular road.
I view fuel as
MUCH more important than carrying extra tires.
Weather and travel months:
Temperatures shown below, unless noted, are in degrees Fahrenheit for your convenience.
This is what you can expect. I suggest you pay a LOT of attention to this information!
Contrary to what many seem to think, the far North can have surprisingly mild temperatures.
The interiors of BC, Yukon Territory, & Alaska, are generally protected from harsh Arctic winds.
Temperatures tend to be steady, the sun shines a LOT of hours per day (granted, it may not be
directly overhead). The temperatures are quite comfortable normally, in June, July & into August. Kamloops temperatures can be 85 during the day, & both Whitehorse & Fairbanks can be that, or
higher. The elevation of the passes is rather low compared to the Rockies & Sierras. The
peninsula will have cooler temperatures, more wind, more rain.
The arctic itself, say around Barrow (I am NOT suggesting/recommending that you go there)
can be COLD, 40's & 50's, sometimes 30's, 24 hours of sunlight, windy, foggy, little rain...& quite
bitingly cold at night. I don't get into deep discussions about Barrow, Prudhow, etc., in the rest
of this long article....but I DO have a few things to say about them.
Weather can be hot, or chilly, rainy or dry, so pack accordingly. YOU MUST bring rain clothes!
Temperatures tend to be steady & the sun shines for many more hours compared to the lower 48.
Fairbanks averages nearly 19 hours of sunlight in May & about 59°; in June about 21 hours & 70°;
in July 21 hours & 72°; in August 16 hours & 66°.
No matter what various weather charts & other such things say, instead of 20+- hours of "sunlight",
you will find that for practical purposes it is light outside for more like 24 hours in mid-June. For
some, this takes getting used-to, for sleeping, etc.
Both Whitehorse & Fairbanks CAN be in the 80's
or even 90's.......or, a lot cooler. South-Central Alaska, including Anchorage, is typically in the 50's
to 70's. Be sure you have appropriate clothing for all conditions. I cannot over-emphasize the
idea of making clothing do double & triple duty. You have limited packing room (if you are smart
you don't stack your luggage too high). If you do not have really good clothing & equipment,
remember that such is only a fraction of the total cost of an Alaskan trip. This does not mean you
must have $$$ gear; you CAN use some of your common ordinary clothes. Just select what you
bring along, carefully.
Late May, June, & July are the best travel times. I make that recommendation by taking into account weather, tourist population, availability of accommodations, campsites, restaurants, etc.
Because of weather changes & for other factors, which I will discuss, LATE MAY TO EARLY June
is a good time to cross the border from the USA going into Canada. Leaving a bit later in June is
also OK, & you may be able to have more choices of Rallies to attend on the way, if so inclined.
Departure date can be of more importance than you may initially think. Canadian campgrounds
usually open on Victoria Day...May 25th or closest prior Monday. I generally like to cross the
USA-Canada border late May to the first week of June.
April in the mountains is generally NOT a good time to be there. It may be OK in the Calgary area,
& lots of motorcyclists will be on the roads there, but the mountainous areas will have ice, & you
could run into a week-long snowstorm, with an impassible or closed road being a problem. May &
June are better... & better yet is July & August; & September is usually still quite nice. This is why
I suggest crossing the border in late May or early June.....assuming you are not trying to do a "2 week
wonder-tour". I have specific reasons for liking a "June 1st" crossing, & get into this some, later
in this article.
I have received weird questions about "The Arctic". The Arctic Circle in Summer is NOT the North
Pole! The Arctic Circle can have very mild temperatures. BTW...it is nothing more than a line drawn
on a globe of our planet, indicating the furthest south latitude where there is 24 hours of sunlight,
for at least one day, during the Summer. That date is, of course, usually June 21st, give or take a day.
The sun will dip down a little below the horizon in the Summertime in the far North, so expect June &
July to have quite long twilight periods. Thus, you likely will NOT see the Aurora Borealis!
If you take the CW (clockwise) route (explained previously & more on this later), & go up the West
side of the continent & return via Banff, etc., ...you will probably have a better chance at the Going-To-The-Sun Highway (Glacier N.Pk, Montana) being open. That routing direction MIGHT work out better
to be at the Solstice bikers celebration at TOK on June 21st. Never heard of TOK? Time for
you to get a map of your routing, at least start looking at an Internet or mapping service map.
BTW... I prefer to ALSO have old-fashioned paper maps. Some of you may prefer a GPS with maps installed. I prefer my ability to pencil notes onto large paper maps. Yep, real old-fashioned. Maps don't require battery or bike power & I have yet to have an electrical failure with paper maps! :-)
There may be some of you contemplating taking a sidecar or trike or pulling a trailer. I have no
objections. I plan to do my next trip using my sidecar rig, that will be a first time for me.
In Dr. Frazer's book ("Alaska by Motorcycle"), he has certain comments I do not necessarily agree
with, or only partially. For example: He makes some comments about wheel-to-wheel distances
not matching up with road rut distances. I am not nearly so negative, & anticipate no real problems for anyone. The last time I did a
rather full tour to/from Alaska, there were still some unpaved areas on the Cassiar Highway....maybe
only 40 miles or so; & on the UNpaved Hy 2-Dawson-9-5-Tetlin route. These were easily passable by
any bike or trike or sidecar rig....
FURTHER, the Cassiar Highway is now almost, or is, fully paved.
"The Pipeline Road, aka Haul Road (Hy 11, "The Dalton"; the James Dalton Highway)":
Because so many have heard so many 'stories' about this 400+ mile stretch of road, and so
many want to use that road, even just for getting one's photo taken at the Arctic Circle sign,
I thought it best for my comments to have its own section.
Many riders want to go to Deadhorse for a variety of reasons....perhaps pride, ego, photos, challenge,
whatever. There are NO SERVICES for rather long distances, although certainly much better than
back in the old days. Usually a few gallons of extra gasoline is all that is needed, if that. I'd suggest
you NOT be doing it on marginal tires. More later in this article on that subject. The Dalton Highway
was constructed in 1974,
and has been worked on ever since. It is parallel to the oil pipeline that sends
oil 800 miles to the port of Valdez.
Prudhoe was almost a slang word, the original name was the tiny town of Deadhorse. The Dalton
name came in 1981. Deadhorse remains Deadhorse, but is most often called Prudhoe Bay. Confused?
The Alyeska Pipeline folks constructed the highway at not quite 30 feet across, made of a few feet of
gravel on top of a plastic foam insulation over the frozen tundra. The road was lengthened & improved,
to Deadhorse, in 1995. "The Dalton" is both hard packed gravel & some goodly part of it is paved, more
every year, especially when approaching Deadhorse. The Arctic Circle sign, that most want their
photos taken at, is just a bit over 100 miles from the southern place you will start at.
You can camp
at the Arctic Circle sign area, but there is a public campground about 5 miles further. Wiseman has
basically nothing. There is a visitors center, motel, post-office, gas, phone, repair shops & restaurant
at Coldfoot. Back in the early 2000's, the next gas was over 200 miles...so think about this!! Check
into the actual situation and conditions when you are ready to get on this road. Be prepared!
There really isn't much sense in going to Prudhoe Bay...not much to see or do, it is flat, barren, cold,
windy, sometimes foggy...& you won't appreciate the night cold. Accommodations at Prudhoe are
very limited, if even available. Very expensive too. If you are going to attempt to stay there, arrange
to arrive in the numerical morning. If you do plan on going to Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay), take the bus
tour, & have a buddy along to take a photo of you taking a dip in the Arctic Ocean....it is not as cold as
If you insist on going to Deadhorse,
stay at the Aurora Hotel, right in Deadhorse,
telephone them at (970) 670-0600. This is a very nice place, but not like a hotel or motel you
may be used-to. It is also LARGE, with 400 or so rooms, & was built for the oil workers & mostly it is
full of oil workers. http://www.theaurorahotel.net/
Call ahead...maybe quite a bit ahead. You want to be sure a room is available for you. If you can
deal with bathroom down the hall type of accommodations, you can save money over a room with
such. This is not a luxurious place, but is quite adequate. MEALS ARE INCLUDED in the room
price; you can get food 24 hours a day;
the food is FAR better than you might expect!...really VASTLY
better...& very good, indeed! It has been compared to some fine restaurants in the lower 48.
I am not sure what prices will be, but, as I write this update in late 2014, I'd expect $150-$250 a day.
If you travel this far north, stay there. Report back to me if you wish. ((I checked the link, above, 05/02/2016, but it was under construction)).