Panini Tour: Alaska Stage
Barbara Kenedi and partner Peter’s adventurous round-the-world trip on their two KTM 1190 ADVENTURE Rs continues onto its next stage through the far north of the American continent.
The 4,000 km journey to Alaska via British Columbia and Yukon in Canada took us through amazingly vast landscapes: huge, expansive and unexpectedly diverse. In the tremendous scenery of Banff-Jasper National Park, just after Calgary, with its turquoise glacial lakes and rugged mountain vistas, we soon encountered our first moose and countless mountain sheep.
The Alaska Highway begins in Dawson Creek, Canada and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska – after 2,300 kilometres. This long-since legendary road was built during World War II by up to 11,000 men in only nine months (!). Quite incredible.
We’re riding almost the full length of the Alaska Highway. The sides of the road are lined with fireweed, the rosy national flower. Everything’s abloom in summery pink. At first, farmland can still be seen, but then only forest after forest after forest. The timber industry predominates, with oil wells and gas production facilities popping up time and again in between.
The countryside has plenty of water in all colours and variations to offer – dark lakes, deep green swamps, electric blue streams, turquoise glacial lakes – one picture postcard after another. And loads of wildlife, which leaps in front of our bikes and cameras: bison, moose, chamois and caribou. Pure nature.
Every now and again we find hot springs for a warming pit stop. Or mercilessly long roadworks (the summer is so short here!), where you have to ride behind a “safety car”. One of the top tourist attractions waits us in Watson Lake – a curious forest of traffic signs, with over 60,000 signs from all around the world. And the mighty Yukon River accompanies us, sometimes to the left and then to the right, forever on our way.
The Yukon and Klondike rivers flow into each other in Dawson City – clearly visible, due to their different colours. The site of the legendary Alaskan gold rush is not far from here. The first gold was discovered at Bonanza Creek in 1897, where today only huge, disused floating dredgers lie at anchor. The consequence back then was a stampede of fortune hunters. People here are very proud of their gold-digging past. Old log cabins are lovingly maintained and there are plenty of adventure stories about countless places and early settlers.
We enter Alaska on the “Top of the World Highway”, a panoramic gravel road above the tree line, which leads along a mountain ridge. Although the landscape is so remarkably extensive, most towns are really small. Chicken Downtown consists of three old wooden buildings: café, saloon and general store with petrol pump. What more could we ask for? In contrast, Fairbanks with its 30,000 inhabitants seems like a megacity. A city tour can still be completed in a few hours, including an interesting exhibition on the history of Indian settlement.
Fairbanks and Anchorage are connected by the relatively new Highway Number 3, which also has plenty of highlights to offer. In Denali National Park, we see bears for the first time, but not the last. Moreover, we catch a short, cloud-free glimpse of Mount McKinley – North America’s highest mountain – from the south side. A winding gravel track over the Hatcher Pass is a “must-do” tip from a local KTM fan (thank you Chris!).
Just for a change, we explore Anchorage by bicycle. One peculiarity is the busy take-off and landing strip for seaplanes in the city centre, watched from the shoreline by the inhabitants, sitting in full open-air cafés, soaking up the few rays of sunlight.
Iditarod is the “Dakar” of dog-sled racing, with the journey across Alaska taking nine days. At the headquarters, we admire the winners’ trophies, allow ourselves to be sniffed by Alaskan huskies and try a lap of dog-sled driving – in summer, naturally, with wheels rather than skids on the sledges, and much faster than we’d expected. Definitely something cool, this endurance test through the snow-covered Alaskan wilderness.
Late summer is salmon migration season. Thousands of the huge fish swim from the ocean up the rivers, sometimes using salmon ladders built especially for them to overcome obstacles. One or two of them also end up in the jaws of a bear. Finally, the salmon fight for the privilege of using the best spawning grounds in the streams of their origin. An impressive natural spectacle, especially when seen from close quarters. Besides which, fresh salmon can be found on every menu in Alaska!
In North America’s largest cohesive glaciated area in the south of Alaska, the glaciers flow up to the edge of the road – or even up to the bows of the tour boat, where they then break up and crash loudly piece by piece into the sea. Glaciers need water, so you mostly have to accept a good deal of rain and cold in exchange for the great impressions. And the water also contains wildlife: sea otters, puffins, sea eagles and even whales can be observed.
With short ferry connections between numerous kilometres of road, several places can be combined together well: Seward, Valdez, Haines and Skagway – as similar as they are different, from authentic to tourist trap, all of them surrounded by stunning mountain scenery.
Alaska natives (“born and raised in Alaska” they call themselves proudly) are in the minority compared with Alaska immigrants, many of whom come for a summer and stay for ever. Those who live here are a little more independent, a little reclusive and very in touch with nature. Hunting, fishing, collecting mushrooms and berries and the woefully long, wretchedly cold winter – they all love it here.
Mosquitos? No problem! Dark days prompt people to do some painting, carving and handicrafts. Everyone owns an ATV and a snowmobile. The widely separated houses are surrounded by piles of scrap and junk; simply no value is placed on certain things here: tidy garden, chic clothes? Who for? Why? In return, you enter all the more quickly into friendly, inquisitive conversation with the locals – and you can leave your keys in the ignition without thinking twice, anytime and everywhere, when you take a break.
Northern North America – an extra-large, intensive motorcycle and natural experience. Entirely recommended.
Photos: Barbara Kenedi
Info: Around the world – Panini Moto Tour
Barbara Kenedi, a KTM employee in Mattighofen, and her partner Peter are on a round-the-world adventure tour. Why the mysterious name Panini? Because that’s the name of the couple’s cat, which is naturally placed in good hands while they’re away.
The keen travellers, who have been on tour with two KTM 1190 ADVENTURE Rs since March 2013, are completing the round-the-world trip in stages, rather than all at once. The first major stage led from Austria to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Then they continued the trip on the Australian continent, starting in Darwin. This was followed by New Zealand and, as the first port of call in North America, the crossing of Alaska.
The marathon pleasure trip, entitled “Around the world – Panini Moto Tour” can be followed on Facebook, although only after prior registration.