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North to Alaska

October 24, 2010
By Michael Gassett, Journal Sports Writer

A few years ago one of Rick Christiansen's friends suggested he come up with a bucket list - a list of things he wanted to do before he died.

Not that Christiansen has any plans of leaving this earth anytime soon. The Larson/Allen accountant in New Ulm is an avid traveller and there are just some things he's wanted to do.

One of those things was go to Alaska, but he wanted to do it in a unique way, so he jumped on his 2006 Yamaha 1100 and headed North.

Article Photos

Photos submitted by Rick Christiansen

Rick Christiansen stands next to the sign marking the Arctic Circle in Alaska.

"I always wanted to go and I decided if I didn't do it this year, it wasn't going to happen," Christiansen said.

He asked several friends to come with but the schedules never matched up quite right. He also didn't want to make the trek alone.

"If nothing went wrong you would be fine," he said. "But if you had trouble out there, a few days later, they might find the bike but they'd never find the body."

His wife wanted to go to Alaska but not on the back seat of a motorcycle, so she decided to fly instead and met him in Anchorage.

But he did find a pair of travel companions in his niece Ann and her husband Keith Burnett of Kasota.

"At my mother's funeral, we were having dinner at the Kaiserhoff and I asked them, 'how would you like to go to Alaska?' He said 'yes' immediately," Christiansen said. "He always wanted to do it and they are used to taking long trips on the bike."

It also worked out good because Keith is a mechanic, so if anything did go wrong, he would be able to fix it. The Burnetts hauled a camper behind their bike and also hauled a cooler.

"He had to change his tire three times on the route. I never had any problems with my bike," Christiansen said.

The trip took 22 days, they left on July 2nd and came back the 23rd.

They started out on I-94 to Jamestown, N.D. There they headed north to Estevan, Saskatchewan then the group headed west to Edmonton, Alberta. He was surprised by the quality of roads on the way to Edmonton. All were four-lanes and posted speed limits of 110 kilometers per hour.

At Edmonton, they headed northwest to Dawson Creek, British Colombia where they got on the famed Alaska-Canada Highway.

The US Army constructed the road during World War II to connect the contiguous US with Alaska through Canada. The ALCAN starts in Dawson Creek, BC and continues 1,390 miles to Delta Junction, Alaska, which is 99 miles south of Fairbanks.

"Up there it is 24-hour daylight and it was just amazing," Christiansen said. " It was July but I wore my long underwear most days. It was great riding weather."

On Day 7, they headed north to the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway. Which has gained noterity as the haul road on 'Ice Road Truckers' on History Channel.

"We did about 250 miles on gravel on that. It wasn't built for a street bike," Christiansen said.

Because it was light almost 24 hours up there, they drove until midnight. Slept in a makeshift hotel then continued on their way the next day a few more hours until they reached the Arctic Circle. They stayed a few more hours there before they turned around and headed back to Fairbanks.

"People say it's an imaginary circle, but it was such a sense of accomplishment to be there. You are up on the tundra, it's just amazing," he said.

From there, they headed to Anchorage where he met Gwen and split with the Burnetts.

Riding until midnight wasn't unusual on the trip, Christiansen said that most days they rode for about 500 miles. Some days the drove up to 600 miles.

Everything up there got hauled in on the back of trucks and is modular construction units and everything is run off of generators.

The hotel that they stopped at on the way to the arctic circle was also made out of these modular buildings pushed together.

"The bathroom was in a separate unit. So I got up in the morning, went outside to brush my teeth and there was a black bear right there. "

He took a satellite phone along because if something happened he figured he wouldn't be able to get a signal on his cell phone.

"They don't have cell towers out there," he said. "I took it along thinking it was a great insurance policy but I could never get it to work out there. I tried it every night but I couldn't get it to work.

"I told [his wife] that when we were going through Canada, especially, I wouldn't contact her because they had international roaming rates. I told her I would call her when I get to Alaska. I have nationwide calling, I couldn't use it in Canada but it worked fine in Alaska. The other problem was the time difference. I would get to bed at 11 p.m. or midnight and it was three or four in the morning."

To prepare for the trip, Christiansen read several stories and blogs on the internet by people that have done it before.

"I felt like I was living their story as I read those things and I thought 'I want that too,' there is such freedom riding on that bike. There aren't phones, nothing. Even when you ride with someone, you are still in your own world. You can figure a lot of things out when you ride your bike all day.

"It is so sensory. You see everything, you smell everything. You feel the wind and all of your senses are working when you ride the bike."

He couldn't pack much and he had to carry everything he had on his bike. He brought a big backpack that stood up on the rear seat of his bike, which he says made a nice backrest. He also had two saddle bags on each side of the bike.

"You really have to think about what you were going to take. There was no room to take a shaver. I wore boots every day and a pair of tennies for the night. And I carried a can of gas on the back too, for insurance."

When his wife flew out, she had to fit everything into a backpack too and bring a helmet.

For most of the time she was with him, they parked the bike and rented a car. But on the day he took her back to the airport for her trip home, they had to pack all the gear on the bike.

"That was a sight to see, it was quite cozy," he said. "I had gear hanging out the back of the bike, we had a bag between us and one on the gas tank. Luckily it was only for about three hours that way."

After dropping off his wife at the airport, he met back up with the Burnetts and headed home. This time they went through Montana and the Dakotas.

"Everyday was more beautiful then the day before," he said. "I would like to go back but my back took a pounding so that made it a once in a lifetime adventure."



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