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2010 Deadhorse Alaska Trip

'Tuesday June 1st, 2010 10:00'
This ride is over.

I just haven't had the kind of time I've wanted lately to write or think about writing. Riding with new people who have very different styles makes that kind of introspection challenging ... my apologies in advance.

During a very different kind of motorcycle trip earlier this year, Duncan, Bruce and I met Phil for the first time at Deal's Gap. We were sitting at breakfast talking about how the three of us were becoming known as "those BMW riders". A group of guys had just called over to us "Are you them BMW riders? You sure look like BMW riders." when we saw a BMW R1200RT pull up being followed by a Suzuki 'Busa. "You don't see that too often.", we commented.

Shortly thereafter, we noticed the guy who rode the BMW walking in. He surveyed the room and headed straight to our table introducing himself. His name was Phil, it was his first time here and he was from Boston. We got to talking. He was very outgoing constantly telling stories and making a strong impression. His friend, Geo, was more reserved and didn't say much initially. As it would turn out, we would spend most of our Deal's Gap trip hanging out and riding with those two.

Over the next few days, I watched Phil simply and boldly approach people left and right. He would survey a scene for a few seconds, choose a target and then lead with some appropriate, or as the case might be inappropriate, opener to get a conversation going. We had been at the Gap for a few days. Within hours of arriving, Phil already knew more people there than we could possibly hope to ever meet.

It was through Phil that we met Mike and Angela, who he had just met hours before. Mike had been having some trouble with his Triumph and as soon as Phil heard this he was on the phone making connections. He had a few friends who were bike mechanics and was trying to line up help as quickly as he could. I saw him draw on connections he had several times during our time there.

I remembered thinking, at least at that time and probably still to this moment, I would /never/ approach or talk to someone like Angela at a place like Deal's Gap, or nearly anywhere else for that matter. It's a Toxic Belief of mine. I could only imagine the kind of attention she was getting there and would have thought she would probably just want to be left alone, like a pretty woman sitting a few seats down from me at a bar. "You're too nice.", Phil would say. But Phil, Phil's got none of these concerns. He just barrels through and the next thing you know Mike and Angela are at dinner.

I thought a lot about that and how many memories that I am very fond of I would not have if it weren't for Phil barreling through and bringing these people into my life. There's a lesson in there that I attempted to learn early on in my trip, which I now think about as I've been texting Angela planning the next trip to Deal's Gap in the fall with her and Mike.

"This guy is a natural born networker.", I found myself thinking, "I can learn something here." He was constantly meeting people, figuring out how and where they fit, what he thought about them. His mind was always working.

Honestly, I think one of the reasons my trip was not nearly as lonely as I feared was because of some of the things I learned by watching Phil's example. It's extremely rare that people who are that outgoing would prefer to spend time with someone as reserved as myself. It's usually oil and water, but there's alot more to Phil than the first impression he makes.

I forget at what point it was, but sometime after he heard about my planned trip to and from Deadhorse, Alaska he wanted to stay in touch. We did.

He had invited me to join him up to Nova Scotia at the tail end of my trip. I was tempted to go. Phil had been a professional sailor racing in the America's Cup. He's been involved in almost every capacity in the maritime industry. He's done crossings. He's delivered boats from San Diego to Sydney, Australia. He had a very unique and very different view of the world than I did.

"Different is good.", I thought as I considered joining him.

Because I spent more time in Fairbanks, Valdez and especially Prince George, I no longer felt like I had the time to join him up and back. I was going to head down to Salmon, Idaho as a random redirection when he sent me a message saying he was going to scrap his plans, ride out West to meet me somewhere around Thunder Bay, Ontario and join me on part of the last leg of my journey.

He had sent me several emails and text messages during the trip to check in and offered a number of times to help me get parts, information or even, if need be, a truck to haul my bike somewhere. "Very cool.", I remembered thinking. Phil was always trying to help.

I didn't really know Phil well at all beyond the time we spent in Deal's Gap, but he seemed to really want to ride with me a ways. Since I'm out here to See and Think differently, my thought was it would be good to hang out with Phil for a few days. I was sure the time would be filled with all kinds of new faces, ideas and perspectives.

That was not something I could easily say no to. I've done a lot of riding alone on this trip. It would be good to ride with someone else for a while, even though Phil's riding style is very very different from my own.

So I scrapped plans to go to Salmon before I really understood what had been set up and made plans to head East across Canada. Sorry to the folks in Salmon. I hope to make it by that little town on the next trip.

A number of days have passed now. One thing about riding with someone else is there's little time to write or to think about writing. So I now have a little down time as I sit in a Best Western in Michigan on Lake Superior to see if I can capture some of the snippets from the last few days. Where as normally I spend my time riding being internally focused, during this time I've had to be externally focused. Phil rides faster than I do and in a style I'm not used to, so the simple act of riding takes more effort, more concentration.

And combine that with the fact that I'm running on iffy brakes and a broken, albeit patched, exhaust, and there's not so much time to think about the written word. There's also the sleep schedule issue which is becoming somewhat of a problem. Between being three timezones over now and getting up 3 hours earlier than I'm used to I haven't slept much these last several days. So much so that Phil started getting concerned about it as well. But I managed to get some sleep last night finally.

Back several days ago, I was stuck at the Westwood motel in Ignace, Ontario. My exhaust system had split completely. One of the header tubes was separated from the muffler completely and the bike sounded like some kind of sick Harley. And as I had mentioned, in this shape the bike could not be run. To make matters worse, there were no parts available in Ignace and the nearest town was 150 miles away. Towing the bike was going to cost over $780 and by the time we got there it would a 4 day holiday. All in all things were not looking good.

When Phil read the report of my problems, he had already been on the road for a day or two. He offered to stop by Canadian Tire to pick up exhaust header tape and other materials needed to patch up the exhaust so the bike could be ridden. I had thought he said he was only 400 miles away. As it turned out Phil rode 740 miles through holiday traffic and pouring rain to reach me. He arrived at the motel around 10:30.


I believe that is the longest day he has ever ridden. He was sore, tired and in need of food. I had secured him a room and had gotten him some food. He mentioned he was an early riser so he crashed and I returned to my room.

I felt bad that this guy, essentially a stranger, who had put himself through so much hardship just to help me out. He rode 250 miles more than I've done on any day of this trip and he did it essentially cold turkey. That's even harder.

I couldn't sleep and early morning came too soon. I heard his bike start so I got up. We went to breakfast. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I was a little concerned about what this guy would think about my emotional and introspective posts. "I mostly skip over the mushy parts.", he said. "Whew.", I thought.

We went on to talk at breakfast and I began to get a sense there was alot more to this guy than I had initially thought. "The way you are able to describe internal states is impressive. I could never do that. You're a phenomenal writer and I agree. You should write a book, not that you'll ever make any money off of it, but it would give you something to have.". I was floored. Phil is kind of what you would of as a "tough guy.". Very Boston. Very maritime. But also intelligent, insightful and surprisingly complex.

He also knows more about motorcycle mechanics than he believes he does. After breakfast and my fifth cup of coffee we got to work on the bike.


It was a good thing he was here. I had never done this kind of repair to an exhaust system before. He brought bailing wire, tin, snips, header tape and other materials. He showed me something he learned from working on sailboats to tie the broken headers together.


He jumped right into help. Instant teamwork.


Exhaust header tape is a temperature resistant tape with an epoxy that melts as the exhaust system heats up sealing up cracks. Unfortunately the break and cracks on this exhaust were just where the four tubes go into one so all that could be done was wrap it best we could hoping that the wrap and what we stuffed between the tubes would provide enough back pressure to prevent cylinder #1 from frying itself. This process had to be done with the exhaust system warmed up. I was prepared to burn my hands when Phil produced a pair of mechanics work gloves.

I was feeling very fortunate. The sun was obscured by clouds so it was not too hot.


To finish off the repair, Phil suggested that we cut and bend some tin and hose clamp it to hold the tubes together. The problem was the tin needed to be formed into a roll so it would more easily fit around the exhaust tubes.

"Aha!", Phil exclaimed as he started using a fence post for this purpose.


It did the trick.


The final patched result didn't look too bad. The exhaust leak could still be heard but the popping and cracking that had been happening before was minimized.


The problem is that if I use the engine to brake as I normally do especially at highway speeds, it will pop and backfire. So Phil suggested I change my riding style to no longer use engine braking at all until the exhaust system can be replaced.

What this means is that if I'm passing and then need to decellerate I can't just go off throttle. That'll cause a backfire. I have to instead either pull in the clutch so the engine is not being dragged by the bike or I have to do what's called "Trail Braking" which is where you pull in the front brake and then slowly reduce the throttle. This was the engine is always pushing and not being dragged.

We packed everything up and then got onto the road.


Getting a handle on not using the engine to slow the bike down took a while. Eventually I gave up on the "using the clutch" method and just started using the front brake and then slowly turning the throttle down. After some practice it got to be second nature. With the broken exhaust and the iffy brakes and not wanting to slow Phil down I opted not to snap photos unless we were stopped.

We headed towards the bed and breakfast in Rossport where we were originally supposed to meet and crossed the Eastern Time Zone boundary.


There was an older couple that we asked to snap a picture. Phil had been using the "This guy over here just came back from Deadhorse." opener to get people talking. When he said that to this couple they responded, "Yea.". You just never know. It turns out they had just ridden their Goldwing on a tour roughly as long as the one I was in and were intimately familiar with Canada and Alaska.


We laughed as Phil commented afterwards, "Yea, every single road we mentioned they were like 'yea ,been there, done that'".

The landscape changed again and now we were in amongst the trees.


Phil likes to go at a very good clip, actually much faster than I am comfortable with. I like to keep things no more than 20 over whatever the speed limit is.

At my request we stopped at an overlook.


The scene over this vast lake was beautiful.

There was also a tribute to Terry Fox, the Canadian who lost a leg to cancer who ran from one end of this vast nation almost to the other. The statue marked the point at which he could no longer proceed because the cancer had returned. He ran missing one leg 26 miles a day day after day.


"Now that's a real Nightmare.", I said to Phil. I felt very small and moved by what I saw. It was not only the thought of this young man whose fate had been sealed but despite that was doing something meaningful, helpful and deeply moving with the last days of his life, it was the way Canadians reacted to him. The gas station attendant at the gas station where we filled up mentioned to me, "You know the Terry Fox monument is up around the corner. You should go see it.". He said it in a reverant tone. There's something to being Canadian, I think, something deep and compassionate. There's a pride, but not boastfulness. There's an honor without conceit.

"All Nightmares are relative to how you react to them.", I recently told a friend who was surprised to hear that, in her words, I had it so much worse than she did. "I don't know about that. And I don't think it matters. It's not what happens to you that matters, it's the lessons you learn from them. Sometimes you learn things that are toxic to you, as I have."

But I was humbled by the statue and the tribute. I'm rarely moved by such things, but this one seemed so honest. There was no spin, no posturing. It just honored a man who did, with the last days of his life, something meaningful that touched and inspired many lives.

On the way back to the parking lot, still moved by what I had read, we ran into a guy who was on a trip to BC. I think his name was Jeff. He had done long tours before including riding out to the Coast road outside of San Francisco and down through the West.


He was doing this on a cruiser. Phil told him about my trip and I mentioned the blog. "I'm writing articles for a new travel magazine. I saw the articles in there and thought to myself 'I can do that.'", he mentioned.

"I am so envious of your trip!", I exclaimed easily revealing my enthusiasm. Incredulously, he said, "No, I envy your trip!'.

"My trip is in the rear view. I too envy my former self. He did not know how good he was going to have it. But I envy your current self and the adventure you're about to have. I do wish I could turn around and head back that way with you.", I said letting my mind wander for a moment West and North over the mountains ... so envying my former self.

He seemed to get and appreciate what I was saying. I do envy him and wish him well on his journey.

There were pretty flowers in the parking lot.


Yea, I know.

At every chance Phil told stories and I listened. Phil talked about sailboat racing, about rigging boats and cranes. About running a sailboat services company and the thought and energy he had put into that. He talked, without being really aware of it, about his deep insights into human nature. In his current and former occupations, he dealt with every strata of society from top level politicians and CEOs of major corporations, to lawyers, accountants, doctors, to blue collar workers, trucker drivers, mechanics, laborers, to the shadier side of life. He talked at some length of the psychology of gangs and the types of people drawn into them. For each observation he had a story, often a funny story. Phil has led a more interesting life than he realizes, I think.

I mentioned to him the influence watching his outgoing nature had on me at Deal's Gap. "I think I had a desire to change but watching you gave me the tools. I think maybe it's because of meeting you that I was able to change my perspective and meet all those people along the way.", I explained. He seemed really complimented by that. We talked about openers and about engaging people in conversation. I talked about symbols and the way people decide whether or not I'm someone they want to talk to.

Phil is a very outgoing guy. He often crosses lines I don't think I'll ever cross, but he's got a compassion and an open mindedness to him that if you didn't take the time to see past the first impression you might miss. I was often very surprised how non-judgemental he is, especially when it came to conversations about my Nightmare, things that have happened and how I reacted to them.

He stopped at another overlook to have me snap a photo.


He rolled up next to me joking, "Now, as your next exercise, go up to that pretty woman and get her to talk to you", as he pointed to an attractive woman who had just stopped to walk her dog. I bust out laughing as I considered, "Yes, Master Obi-Wan" and I could just imagine him say "Remember your training!". It was too funny

No, of course I left the poor woman alone.

I think it's going to be a while yet for me, my thoughts on that subject being elsewhere now very far away.

The landscape changed again and the hills returned.


And we finally made it to Rossport to the Island Shores Bed and Breakfast. Phil is a master planner and researcher. He found this place. It was inexpensive and was by far the nicest place I've stayed at in the entire trip.


I mean this place is just beautiful. They were also very motorcycle friendly and had two paver covered areas under the deck where we were allowed to park the bikes.

And of course, there were more flowers.


I call this one, "Phil, the Fixer, with Flowers".


The inside was very nice. There was an open kitchen and sitting room.


Once we got settled in we headed over to a Cafe for dinner. It was very nice albeit very warm. I had steak and a greek salad.


The place was packed. They had a trout special that I had wanted, but unfortunately it came breaded. I had asked whether it could be done without the breading, having to deal with my silly diet again, and the waittress said that normally they would be able to but that the kitchen was backed up. "Ok, no problem, I'll have the steak.", I replied.

Phil seemed bothered by this and afterwards said, "I wish you had insisted and gotten the fish.".

As I've said before a few times, it's not important to know yourself. You know who you are alone in the dark. What's important is to understand how who you are and what choices you make are different from those around you. Phil is very different from myself along an axis I haven't been aware of before. I am conciliatory and attempt to find consensus with people. I seem to have an empathy for the context that people operate in and am perfectly willing to abandon my wants to find something that will work for everyone, even if that person is someone I am paying, like a waittress at a restaurant or even an employee or partner.

Phil has a wider range of approaches. Sometimes concilliatory, sometimes forceful he is entirely willing to convince others to see things his way. If he had wanted the trout special instead of simply taking no as an answer and moving on, he would probably have managed to game his way back into the kitchen to talk to the Chef himself if need be to get what he wanted. This ability of his serves him well in the line of work he is in. Essentially, he's a Fixer. He fixes problems both big and small that occur in his company regardless of what they might be. Usually they are lawsuits, but often times they are also problems in operations, or machinery. He's been known to use his maritime skills to pull boats off the beach or move garages. If there's a problem he fixes it, but in order to do that he has to have the ability to convince others to comply with his needs and wants.

Someone with the ability would have been incredibly beneficial to me during the practical aspects of my Nightmare and I told him as much. "Yea, I can see. I could have really helped.", he said to that. And I believe he could have helped and I am also completely convinced he would have bent over backwards to help.

Phil is drawn to the water. If there's ship or something having anything to do with the maritime industry he's immediately drawn to it. He saw a Hinckley boat docked at a nearby marina. Drawn to it, he walked down and I followed him.

There was training sailboat there. We talked to the owner for quite a while. Phil, being a seasoned professional sailor with an incredible depth of knowledge, talked to her about crossings. He would later laugh that she did not know what she was getting into attempting to cross the Atlantic in a 38ft boat. "I've been hit by waves on 200ft boats that were 38ft high. A fish hit the windshield so hard it cracked and we had to work to keep the instruments dry during a gale.", he would explain. (I can't quite capture Phil's speech patterns so the quotes are a bit off. He's got a Boston accent and an 'all over the place' kind of speaking that has many interruptions and redirections ... )

One of the students walked out.


Mr. Kelcher, FROM ACCOKEEK!!!!

For those who don't know, Accokeek is a small town southeast of Washington DC in the state of Maryland where I grew up. I spent my first 18 years there. My mom still lives in Accokeek.

No one is from Accokeek.

A few hours ago Phil called from downstairs. He had, while I was writing, rewrapped the exhaust. The exhaust system on my bike is in sorry shape. The cracks are getting worse. Basically it's falling apart. It was really cool of him to take the time to do that to let me write. I just didn't have the time to put the kind of effort into this article that it really needed. There's so much more to say, so many stories, insights and perspectives to share from these last few days. The maritime museum we went today where Phil's real depth came out. It was interesting to watch his reaction to the Edmund Fitzgerald Bell and the stories of ships that went down. "It kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.", he would say. Of riding these roads. Of stories, so many stories that really bring out this complicated character.

But, alas, there is no time for me to write about it all, so for today this will have to suffice.

Phil called. Bike repair finished. "Time for you to meditate. The wrap instructions say the bike has to be ridden for a half hour.", he said.

So off I went for a half hour alone to meditate while riding my machine ... and the odometer turned 66666.


Phil's friend, Charlie, has shown up on a Harley. From here we are going to do three moderate days to make it to Boston where Charlie, a professional mechanic, has offered to let me use his garage to bolt on the aftermarket stainless steel Remus exhaust I ordered today. I managed to get one of the last two aftermarket exhausts available for my bike in the country ... my return will be delayed for probably a week as a result. Phil wants to ride up to a cabin in lower Maine over next weekend. There's also mention of a possible evening sailing trip sometime this coming week.

As improbable as I think it is, if you know anyone who you think might enjoy this blog please send them the link.

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