Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring Shakedown Ride

There's a joke in the corner of the country where I live: "What do you call two days of cold, windy rain that follow immediately after five days of warm, beautiful sunshine? A weekend." All last week, I would get up in the morning, put on my motorcycle gear and commute to work, just barely resisting the temptation to call my boss en route and tell him that I wouldn't be in today. He would understand; he rides, too.

Last Thursday was the worst. My daughter had a field trip to Kenai, and I had the day off so that I could help chaperone her trip. We left Anchorage at 6:00 a.m., driving along the scenic Turnagain Highway into the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula. I had considered taking the Wee since I was going to be driving my own vehicle, and Kylie (my daughter) wanted to ride the bus with her friends. The Wee gets much better gas mileage than my Nissan truck, so the bike would be a lot less expensive to ride on the 300 mile round trip. However, the temperatures on my ride to work in the morning had been in the mid to upper 30's (F), so I was concerned about being too cold on the way to Kenai, since we would be leaving even earlier and would be riding through the mountains. Furthermore, I had been through Turnagain Pass yet this season, so I didn't even know if the pass was ice-free yet. Consequently, I wimped out and took the truck. Needless to say, it was a picture perfect day -- not a cloud in sight, and I spent the entire day in the truck wishing I was on the bike, although that's arguably better than being on the bike, wishing I was in the truck ;)

All day Friday, I was eagerly awaiting the weekend. Saturday morning, I was going to get up early, jump on the bike, and head back into the pass on the Suzuki. Although the roads were clear, there was lots of snow on the ground in the pass, which I thought would make for some cool photos of the Wee. The light, when we stopped in the pass on Thursday, was fantastic, so I planned to get up early on Saturday morning and be in Turnagain Pass by about 7:30 a.m.

I actually left Anchorage about 9:15.

With only a half tank of gas.

Under grey, gloomy, overcast skies.

As I passed Girdwood, about 30 miles south of Anchorage, it was raining and I was down to a third of a tank of gas. The Wee gets pretty good gas mileage, the pass isn't that far from Girdwood and, having other engagements later in the afternoon, I was becoming pressed for time. Consequently, I decided not to stop at Girdwood as I had planned when I left Anchorage. By the time I reached Portage, another ten miles away, I was down to one bar of gas on my gauge, I was cold and I was frustrated. The pass looked socked in, meaning I wouldn't be able to get any good pictures anyway, so I pulled a U-turn at the turn-out to Portage and returned to Girdwood, heated grips turned up to max, and huddled down over my gas tank to minimize wind resistance. After topping off the gas tank with 4.9 gallons of $4.49 gasoline (meaning that I had almost a gallon left -- more than enough gas to get to the pass and back), the ride back to Anchorage was uneventful. At Potter Marsh, I took the "international route" back home, going up the seriously fun switchbacks of Potter Heights Drive, before crossing Finland, Portugal, Romania and Bulgaria ("-Drives," lol) en route to my Anchorage home.

Fortunately, with the exception of Romania, the "international route" is composed of gravel roads that are more like lower-48 fire roads than residential city streets. Finland, in particular, is a rough, pot-holed gravel road, often with deep puddles from snowmelt and run-off, and Portugal...well, Portugal scared the crap out of me the first time I took this route home. It's a steep curve across the saddle overlooking Potter Ravine Park. Like Finland, Portugal has run-off flooding the road at the low point of the saddle, which eventually dumps into the creek that carved Potter Ravine.

Although the weather in Turnagain Pass looked to be pretty miserable, I managed to snap some photos of the bike on some of the international roads:

The ride didn't turn out quite the way I had planned, but it was still a great way to kick off the riding season.

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