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* * The Grey Grizzlies return from Alaska

The Grey Grizzlies are home from their epic motorcycling journey to Alaska.

It’s been said that motorcyclists are just like everybody else, only more so. As one myself, I know that motorcyclists consume life in big, hearty gulps. Three men “of a certain age,” rode their BMW motorcycles to the Arctic Ocean and back, and met me to talk about it.

Jim Burger is a retired Forestry professor at Virginia Tech, as is Richard Kreh. Jim lives in Blacksburg and Richard in Patrick Springs. Don Edmonds, the youngster of the group at age 62 is retired from Volvo and lives in Riner. All three men had been with their employer for over 30 years.

Burger spawned the idea. “Alaska had been on my ‘bucket list’ for a long time; I’d never been. Richard and I had gone out west to British Columbia two years ago and that gave us a taste. I was ready for another big trip. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.” 

Richard said Jim had been subtly urging him to go to Alaska. “He casually planted little seeds of maybes and what-fors and casual hints that stirred me up. He was talking about it on that trip all the way from Alberta (Canada).”

That trip was 31 days. The Alaska trip was 50.

Jim invited Don along, but “I had to ponder it for awhile. I thought it was a neat thing to do, something I always wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t do it, whether I’d have another opportunity. Sometimes you don’t.

“It wasn’t something I wanted to do myself. So you want to go with guys you’re interested in.”

Richard added, “I’m 77 years old. I had an anxious moment about whether I could make the trip. So I decided to drive a pickup and tow a camper trailer with my bike on it. I could provide support to Jim and Don and ride when I wanted.”

They put a date on the calendar and started making plans.

They attended a BMW rally in Tennessee, and then kept on going. In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, they changed from street tires to knobby tires, in anticipation of the dirt roads to follow. From there they went to Dawson City, and into Alaska on the Top of the World Highway, the most northerly international border crossing in the world, then into Fairbanks. While Richard stayed in Fairbanks, Jim and Don rode to Deadhorse at the Arctic Ocean, nearly 500 miles on a dirt road.

From there, they rode the Old Denali Highway south to Denali National Park, and then to Anchorage. They explored the Kenai Peninsula, then the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which according to Jim is the largest national park in America, “Larger than Switzerland with higher mountains.” Then they rode through British Columbia, eventually to Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Jim said he’d done lots of research on Alaska, but, “I was delighted by going north from Fairbanks northward over the taiga and into the tundra, watching the landscape change. The wildlife was amazing; we saw grizzly bears, musk oxen, and caribou. You’re never adequately prepared until you see it.

“The other thing that surprised me is that there is more human infrastructure. There are lodges everywhere. Unlike the Yukon and northern British Columbia which are more wilderness, I (thought) that Alaska would be the ultimate wilderness.”

Richard agreed, “The changing landscapes are quite dramatic. What hit me was evidence of climate change. When we arrived in Fairbanks, it was 91F! Imagine, 91! We saw depleted glaciers, melting away. Fortunately, there weren’t many mosquitoes.” They took head nets but didn’t use them.

Don said, “It was fascinating and beautiful. On a motorcycle, you smell the smells, from flowers to dead carcasses. It’s very different than being in a car. It’s more challenging. We dealt with heat and rain and wind.”

Jim said, “I don’t think motorcyclists every really outgrow their love for it. You’re a motorcyclist until the day you die, even if you have to give it up beforehand. If my wife, who is not a rider, wanted to go, I’d drive a car and accommodate her. But I’d never want to go on my own any other way.

Richard echoed, “It’s risk-associated. To some of us, that’s desirable. It tunes your skills and tunes your perceptions. You’re always looking and reacting. Curves give me a rush.”

“You ride every mile,” Jim said of their 12,500 miles, “with a high level of awareness. Eight hours (riding) is about all guys our age can do in a day.”

Next year? They’re talking about riding to the Canadian Maritimes. I hope I can go with them.

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