The Doctor's Notes

Text: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier • Photography: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier

The simple act of looking at a world map has inspired nearly all of my long adventure tours. One such map has been on the wall next to my bed for 20 years - the last thing I see at night, the first in the morning. Around my house and in my workshop I have other maps of the world hung and a couple of globes, but each are used for reference, memories or reminders, not as touring igniters.

My current Alaska expedition began ten years ago. I was reading Alaska Sourdough: The Story of Slim Williams, by Richard Morenus, about the first ride on motorcycles from Alaska to Washington State. Two men started out from Fairbanks, and neither of them knew how to drive a motorcycle. One motorcycle died on the trip. The section over the Telegraph Creek Trail in Canada was completed with the remaining BSA only because it was being pulled behind one of the accompanying packhorses. These motorcyclists were true two-wheel survivalists, living off the land during their ride, eating berries and the game they shot, and carrying everything they thought was needed to survive. The story of their six and one-half month ride left me thinking about following their route on a newer, more dependable motorcycle.
As I put the book down and reached for the light near my bed, I looked at Alaska on the wall map. My dimming thoughts as I drifted into sleep were about their route, the food and spare parts I might need and how to carry enough gas so I wouldn't have to sit on my motorcycle while looking at the north end of a southbound horse.

From that night forward my Alaskan adventure began with research and planning. A budget had to be prepared and then money found. Time had to be carved out of the work schedule. A motorcycle had to be acquired and outfitted. Gear and motorcycles needed to be tested.

The planning phase also threw me a curve when I learned that riding along some of the original route could not be replicated due to environmental restrictions. Another bump in the road was the discovery that I couldn't follow their border-crossing route from Alaska to Canada either. In 1939 the regulations regarding passports, security checks, customs clearances and gates along the border were far less stringent. In all likelihood, these two motorcycle bush travelers slipped through on a dog trail or merely chatted with the border officials to enter Canada. In 2009, I was going to have to make a lengthy detour to go through proper immigration and customs procedures.

I made a short ride in Alaska, including some off-road sections, to test my gear, abilities and motorcycles over what I was going to experience later over a much larger distance. The test ride was an arduous undertaking in itself. Far into the wilderness, at least two days walking distance from pavement, I found myself stranded with a dead motorcycle after an unsuccessful stream crossing. Another incident bogged me down so deeply in black tundra mush that I had to dismantle the motorcycle to free it.

Back home, the project took another unplanned turn when work obligations limited the amount of time I had available. My proposed thirty-day ride was trimmed to fourteen days. The goal remained the same though, to complete a serious solo motorcycle expedition off pavement, in Alaska, without a support team or safety net. Time, money and environmental problems presented a challenge. Each night when I looked at the wall map different options and routes surfaced. It reminded me of the time I was trying to enter Brazil without a visa, when I kept looking for different routes that would let me sneak through unnoticed.

Frustrated during my planning, I would console myself by imagining what kinds of preparation went into the 1939 ride on the BSAs, and realizing how much simpler my journey should be in comparison. Gas was reasonably plentiful on my route, and only occasionally would a long jump between stations be necessary. Maps indicated where I needed to go, not remnants of dogsled trails. I would not have to carry a gun and be a good enough hunter to eat squirrels or birds, because if the right route was selected the longest I would be away from a general store for provisions would be three or four days.

After much equipment testing, my focus shifted over the years. Apart from the venture itself, a larger concern revolved around securing the financing for a large enough motorcycle to carry me and my supplies that wasn't so big and expensive; in other words, one that wouldn't be easily mud-stuck or too technical for me to work on in the bush. Like the BSA riders, I settled on something simple and light. Another major shift in directional planning was the change from a "Go south, young man" focus to "Go north by northwest." I would aim for the Bering Sea instead of Washington State.

Many modern-day riders cannot travel without a GPS, cell or satellite phone, a laptop, a chase vehicle to carry their luggage with a mechanic and spare parts on board, and in some cases even handlers and a physician too. My proposal eliminated all of those frills and gizmos. I had a new motorcycle ($ 5,000), and so far the early phases of my tour planning had shown that I could eventually pay for the whole expedition with the money saved by unplugging myself from the Internet, electronics, and assuming some personal risk by deciding I could manage on my own without an expensive safety net.

One synonym for adventure is risk. For nearly ten years, I had been planning this journey; and in fact, without moving an inch, I had been taking some risks all along. One had been to postpone satisfying some pre-arranged obligations in lieu of stashing the money in the bank. My 14-day "escapade" entered its tenth year in 2009, and it should be over by the end of the summer. Looking back at the start, I thought of that old wall map and the night I was reading about the two newbie motorcyclists who started me on it, Slim Williams and John Logan. Back when I was researching their ordeal for inclusion in my book Alaska by Motorcycle, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Logan. When I asked him if he would do it again, he quickly and firmly said, "No."

My next question made him laugh. I asked, "When did your adventure begin? Was it when you first got on the motorcycle in Fairbanks, never having driven one before, or once you got away from the city and into the bush?'

He chuckled and said, "My adventure began the day I decided to leave home and go to Alaska."