Atlanta to the Arctic Ocean & back:

69 days & 16,614 miles on a motorcycle


TLDR;

During the summer of 2019 I embarked on a motorcycle road trip from Atlanta, Georgia to the Arctic Ocean and back. My trip spanned 69 days and 16,614 miles, traveling through varying terrain across the United States, Canada, and its territories. I had no firm plans aside from my destination and I had no set schedule aside from my allotted time. All of this allowed me to travel at my own pace, exploring to my heart’s content.

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While I was on the road I began to collect some of the more interesting sentiments that folks would share with me after their learning of my trip. I was 14,628 miles and 58 days into my trip, somewhere in Montana when I heard my favorite: “Good for you, someone participating in life” - delivered by an elderly couple on the side of the road.

Someone participating in life” - even since I’ve been back, those words have stuck with me and been at the front of my mind. It brings me thoughts of where I was before the trip - where I was in life, and what the underlying inspiration was to do something like this. I was experiencing a quintessential “quarter-life crisis” with the typical signs: I had ended a relationship, I was working a job that wasn’t happy with, and just had an overall sense of feeling lost and was slowly starting to go crazy. It’s funny, I’ve often found that a good cure to feeling lost is to then actually get lost; run away. And that’s exactly what I decided to do. 


So how did I do it? Well for starters, I quit my job. While it was liberating, it was also a terrifying decision to make at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 though - I now recommend anyone to quit their jobs and travel, it’s a remarkable feeling. I already had my plan - the Arctic Ocean via the Dempster Highway. Where I went along the way didn’t matter much. Next, I readied my bike - a 2007 BMW F650GS, a single cylinder is truly all you need. After that there wasn’t much left to do besides pack my bags and hit the road, leaving behind life in Atlanta and trading it for one hell of an adventure.

My first few days on the road were pretty uneventful, aside from the nonstop rain, sleet, and hail storms I encountered while riding through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. I was 5 days and 2,000 miles in when I got my first real sense of adventure. The barren desert of northern New Mexico turned to greener mountains the further in elevation I climbed. The dry desert air began disappearing as storm clouds rolled in, bringing much colder temperatures with it. And then, just like that - snow. I had put fresh tires on earlier that morning, and was now very glad that I did. I had just pulled off of highway NM-4 and into the Valles Caldera National Preserve when I was met with a drastic change of weather. On the horizon were clouds of more snow quickly making its way towards me. Winds were picking up and visibility began dropping, however I was still comfortable with riding, so I continued on through the park and enjoyed the surprise snow storm.

I met two friendly park rangers who were surprised to see me, especially on a motorcycle. “You’re our first visitor all day! You picked the wrong week to travel, usually it’s warm and sunny!” We got to talking and they shared how unusual the weather was for the time of year, the random snow storms that kept coming around. We continued chatting about the park itself, our collective travels, and recommendations they had for riding in the area. NM-126 was suggested, an off-road mountain pass that also offered a shortcut on my route. “It’s gorgeous, beautiful views. There’s a couple spots that may be a little tricky, but for the most part it ain’t too bad. Totally worth it.” I was sold.

At first, the rangers were right - the route wasn’t too bad. I began climbing the twisting road through the alpines with decent road conditions. The dirt wasn’t too loose, but wet from the recent snows. But then, the further I climbed in elevation, the worse it got. The dirt road eventually became snow covered, frozen in some parts, with barley any traction.

Beautiful views and challenging terrain are a tough mix when you want to sightsee but can’t take your eyes off the road. I was nearly halfway through the pass when things started getting muddy. Like really muddy. Like incredibly muddy. The road eventually flattened out and was now like river of mud. I’ve never been in road conditions that bad or challenging before. I continued riding through it, breaking a sweat in 30 degree weather, fighting the bike through the mess. I thought about turning around, but felt it was a better idea to continue through it, though unsure of how much further I actually had to go.

I pressed on at about 5 miles an hour, often having to stop to pull mud off, as it was engulfing the bike and beginning to harden. It was literally everywhere, I think the only visible things were my rotors - everything else was completely caked with mud. The riding continued like this for the next 5 miles, which took almost an hour to complete. I eventually finished the mountain pass and was never happier to see pavement in my life. It was good timing too, NM-126 ended up throwing me into the small town of Cuba, NM, just as the sun was setting. The sky turned a warm purple over the snow capped mountains; a fitting end to an exhausting past few hours of riding.

I awoke to the sound of thunder. I poked my head out of my tent, only to find strong winds and frigid rain. I was now two weeks into my trip, now in Moab, Utah - one of my favorite places to ride in the United States. I had planned to spend a few days there and the forecast called for some lingering storms. The rain eventually passed, and without hesitation I was off in search of some desert riding towards Canyonlands National Park. I hopped on Potash road, a route that runs through the bottom of the canyons alongside the Colorado River. Incredible dirt riding amongst the giant desert monuments are what make this place one of my favorites. 

Ideal riding conditions continued as I left Moab for Capital Reef National Park and continued west through the state. Blue skies welcomed me as I rode through more desert, red rocks, and sand, avoiding as much pavement as possible. I climbed further in elevation and the hot desert turned to cold mountains. I found myself nearing Fishlake National Forest as I saw signs that warned of avalanches in the area and thought “there’s no way that could be true for this time of year”. I was I wrong. There had been some snow on the ground as I rode through the mountains, but then found myself staring at a 7ft wall of snow engulfing the entire road and surrounding area. I had no choice but to turn back and find an alternate route.

The next few days took me further south through Utah riding all the dirt and forest roads I could find. I stopped at the Kolob Canyons of Zion National Park and spent some time off the bike, hiking and taking in some incredible views that the orange Utah desert had to offer. California was on my mind as I continued onward. More days passed as Utah turned to Arizona, then to Nevada, with a quick visit to Lake Mead - a huge body of water, seemingly an oceans worth, sat amongst a barren landscape in the middle of nowhere.

I was 11 days and nearly 4,000 miles in when the heat had finally returned and wow, had I missed it. I was in Glamis, California standing atop a mountain of sand, overlooking the Algodones Dunes - an infinite sea of sand dunes. It was unlike anything I had seen before, it truly felt like a foreign land. This was the furthest south I would be on this trip and it was now time to continue further north. I passed along the Salton Sea on my way up to Joshua Tree, a national park I had yet to visit, and wow was I blown away. The desert landscape, rolling mountains, rock formations, and the Joshua Trees themselves were exceptionally beautiful. It was incredible. I continued riding through the park, picking up dirt trails wherever I could.

I eventually made it to the California coast as I neared the 5,000 mile mark. I found myself in Cambria, CA and in need of a break from riding. After traveling across the states, feelings of being out west started to kick in. I’ve always wanted to be cowboy, I mean who hasn’t? I decided to channel some of those feelings and thought horseback riding would be fitting, so I traded my iron pony for a real one. I saddled up a majestic and GIGANTIC Clydesdale, and spent my afternoon exploring the miles of coastal mountain trails, trotting along and taking in the serene views. Yeehaw!

In need of a place to stay that night, I hopped back on the bike and headed further north for Big Sur. Riding along the Pacific Coast Highway only got better as golden hour started to set in. I soon pulled off of Hwy 1 and ended up climbing a ridge road that twisted through the mountains and high above the clouds. I quickly set up camp just in time to catch the sunset - and wow, was this one of the most amazing sunsets I had ever seen. My vantage point was unreal and so was the campsite itself. Situated along a dirt road, I got settled on a small turnout that overlooked the mountains and ocean below. As the sun set, the horizon turned from a warm orange to a cool blue and eventually to pitch black as millions of stars filled the night sky above. This word is often overused, but it was truly epic.

As I neared 3 weeks on the road, I met up with my friend Max. We rode together from northern California through Oregon, and up into Washington state. We found ourselves on Fidalgo Island, in the small town of Anacortes. Everywhere I go, I always ask locals for recommendations - they know best. We stopped for coffee and ended up chatting with the barista. Our conversation lead to him pulling out a map and giving us some recommendations for off-road riding. We downed our coffees, thanked the barista, and were off in search of dirt. What we found was better than what we could have ever hoped for: lush, dense greenery filled with golden light from the nearing evening. The trails were well maintained, yet exciting and varied in difficulty - miles and miles of routes to choose from.

What we were most looking forward to was spending some time riding on Vancouver Island before we split up and I continued on to the Arctic. It was the 27th day of the trip when Max and boarded our ferry from Washington into Canada, a nearly 3 hour journey filled with amazing views of mountainous islands and plenty of wildlife. Over the next few days, we spent all of our time exploring the island and elected for some riding on the Trans-Canadian Adventure Trail. We took the the trail through the middle of the island, headed west towards the coast, and hit the Pacific Rim National Park. We made our way to the beach and took time to enjoy sand in our toes and the cool sea breeze.

We stopped for gas on our last day on the island and riding together when out of nowhere my kickstand broke clean off the frame, toppling the bike over. Literally as it happened a man had walked past and said “oh no, what’d ya break?” Turns out he was a motorcycle mechanic and had a shop about five minutes down the road - just my luck! We followed him down some dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, leading to a huge shop that sat on acres and acres of land in the woods. $30 and 30 minutes later, a quick TIG weld had the kickstand back on and as good as new. Max and I finished up our riding and called it a day. We shared dinner and talked over our time spent together and wished each other well before going our separate ways. The next day, I boarded a ferry headed to Horseshoe Bay, British Columbia, Canada with my sights set on the Arctic.

I was now over 7,000 miles and one month into my trip when I found myself in the middle of British Columbia. The further north you get, the less options you have when it comes to routes to the Arctic Ocean. There are really only two roads that will continue to take you north through BC - the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway. Since I was going up and would eventually have to come back down, I elected to take the Cassiar up, and the Alaska down.

After a few days of trekking halfway through British Columbia, I had reached the start of the Cassiar Highway. Over the course of the next few weeks I would be making my way north through the rest of BC, into Yukon, through the Arctic Circle, into the Northwest Territories, and eventually hitting the Arctic Ocean. Though it’s said that the Cassiar Highway is more scenic than the Alaska Highway - I wouldn’t know. My entire ride up was filled with bad weather and cold downpours with little breaks in between. This, in conjunction with the inability to really stop anywhere, made for a very tough ride. Services are few and far between on this road and it’s even recommend to carry spare fuel. The overall remoteness of this road was starting to sink in and feelings of nervousness crept over me. The bad weather continued for the next few days along the Cassiar as I eventually crossed over into Yukon and broke 8,000 miles.

The sun still high in the sky at 10pm as I pulled into Dawson City, YT. I had finally caught a break in the bad weather and could now appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, one of the coolest things being the midnight sun. Such a strange phenomenon and that made falling asleep in a tent a bit tricky with just how bright it was. I couldn’t complain about the good weather though, after I’d been through a lot of bad weather. I was to embark on the Dempster Highway the following day and spend 4 days total getting to the Arctic Ocean and back, and the weather forecast continued to looking promising.

The Dempster Highway is nearly 600 miles of dirt and gravel. It takes you from Dawson City all the way to the Arctic Ocean, riding through the rest of Yukon, the Arctic Circle, and eventually, to the top of the Northwest Territories where the road ends. This was obviously the most northern leg of my trip, but also the most remote, and most incredible section as well. It’s hard to describe, really. It’s an isolated dirt road that runs for over 500 miles in the literal middle of nowhere. You’re on your own out there. Gas is nearly 250 miles apart at the longest, and thats really all there is. There are a few small villages and populations of First Nations that can be found off of this highway, but that’s about it. I have trouble putting it into words what it was like to ride this highway. It was otherworldly; photos don’t even begin to do it justice. Yukon’s motto is “Larger Than Life” and that’s been the best way I’ve found to describe it, with expansive mountain ranges that span hundreds and hundreds of miles in every direction. It truly felt like another planet. The road itself varied in condition - from rough shale passes, to loose gravel climbs, I took it slow and was cautious. This was literally the last place I wanted to get stuck or run into issues.

After 36 random days on the road I coincidentally ended up reaching the Arctic on the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice. It was my second day on the Dempster Highway and earlier that morning I had crossed into the Arctic Circle and Northwest Territories. The further north I continued, the more the terrain had started to change. Mountains soon disappeared and turned to lakes and trees as I entered the heart of the Arctic Tundra. It was nearing the middle of the day when I reached Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Previously, the Dempster Highway ended in Inuvik. However, in the fall of 2017, the final stretch of an all weather “road” was completed and now lead from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk and ended at the Arctic Ocean. The final leg is nearly 100 miles long and consists of mostly just loose gravel. Having a fully loaded bike, I had to be extra cautious when navigating this stretch as any turns and climbs in the road could be a spell for disaster.

It was around 8pm that evening when I finally reached the Arctic Ocean. It’s hard to describe how I felt upon arrival. I had been on the road for over a month, surpassed 9,000 miles, and made it to the “destination” of my trip (the journey is the destination and the destination is the journey). I felt a sense of accomplishment and disbelief, it almost didn’t feel real. The Arctic Ocean honestly didn’t look too much different from any other ocean - blue skies and sandy beaches. I decided to sit and rest for a while, taking in the views and sense of accomplishment. Before long it was after midnight, with the only indication being that the sun had simply dropped close to the horizon,  only to rise back and circle the sky as the morning continued on.

Now that I had made it to the Arctic, it was time to turn around - and only because there was nowhere further to go. After finishing the Dempster Highway and arriving back in Yukon, I decided to head west for Alaska. After crossing the Yukon River via ferry, I embarked on the Top of the World Highway - another incredibly scenic, mostly dirt route that climbs in elevation and provides amazing views of the surrounding mountains, giving the feeling of being on top of the world. Along this highway exists the most northerly land border crossing in the United States, which enters in Poker Creek, Alaska. I had good luck with the weather when traversing the Arctic, but since returning and heading west, the weather had turned cold and rainy once again. 

I spent the next few days exploring parts of Alaska, continuing to ride amongst the mountains and look for any dirt or trails I could find. I had now surpassed 10,000 miles and 40 days on the road when I found myself crossing the border back into Canada. My sights were set on Southeast Alaska, which from where I was, required entering back into Canada, crossing through Yukon and British Columbia, eventually making it back into Alaska. This pocket of country was surprisingly some of the most beautiful paved riding of the trip. I took the Alaska Highway headed southeast towards Haines Junction, passing through Destruction Bay and alongside the Kluane National Park. Incredibly massive peaks and vast lakes adorned the road as I continued onto  the Haines Highway and headed south back to Alaska. The ride into Haines was unreal. At a certain point it becomes almost moot to try and describe it, as there are only so many ways to put into words just how incredible the scenery really was. Haines is a small coastal town situated on the Chilkoot Inlet, which feeds out into the Gulf of Alaska. I had planned to take a couple days off from riding, enjoy the scenery, and knock out some maintenance on the bike - and Haines was the perfect place for this. From hiking costal forests and seeing glaciers, to an abundance of bald eagles, my time spent here was amazing. After some rest, relaxation, and wrenching, it was time to continue on and head back into Canada.


Upon nearing 11,000 miles, I continued back on the Alaska Highway in its entirety for my ride south through Yukon and British Columbia. It’s unfair just how good the riding was up there. Twisting roads, incredible scenery, and tons of wildlife were all encountered along the way. I saw herds of bison, grizzly bears crossing the roads…the Alaska Highway did not disappoint. I continued on this route over the next week as I passed from small town to small town, enjoying local museums, restaurants, and everything else that was to be seen. I eventually reached Dawson Creek, British Columbia where the Alaska Highway begins, or in this case, ended for me.

I re-entered the United States through the northeast corner of Washington state near 50 days on the road. I really didn’t have a plan at this point in the trip of where to go, so I got into the habit of completely improvising each day - I’d wake up unsure of where I was going to end up that night. This way of freestyle traveling continued as I made my way into the Idaho panhandle, riding along backroads and winding countryside, eventually entering Montana. I had gotten some recommendations to visit Flathead Lake, one of the largest natural lakes in the state. With good weather on the horizon, I decided to carve out a few days to spend camping on the water and exploring the surrounding areas.

I continued my tradition of asking locals for recommendations and it did not disappoint. I was at a gas station when I was approached by an older gentleman who asked me where I was headed. Unsure of where I was going, I told him that I had no idea, to which he responded with “Good! Do you have a map?” It’s times like this that I always try and travel with paper maps. I pulled out my map of Montana and he began telling me where to go. “From Columbia Falls, keep heading north towards the back entrance of Glacier National Park. Get off the pavement and continue on N Fork Rd, a dirt road that runs along the edge of the park, providing some great views and even better riding. Make sure you stop in Polebridge, a real gem of a place with good coffee and better pastries. If you keep heading north through the woods, you’ll eventually hit an old border crossing thats no longer operational - about 20 years ago a flood washed out the roads on the Canadian side. You won’t be disappointed.” With no plans and the promise of another adventure, I was excited to follow his instructions, which ended up making for a day of riding that was better than I could’ve expected.

I was closing in on 14,000 miles as I continued on south passing through Bozeman and Big Sky, spending more time riding the great open roads of Montana. I was nearing Yellowstone when I made the decision to circumnavigate it. Having been previously, I decided to ride back into Idaho and take some less traveled dirt roads along the west side of the park, which ended up giving me some amazing views of the Grand Tetons. The mountains and greenery soon turned to desert as I continued into Wyoming, with my sights set on Colorado next.

I’ve ridden through parts of Colorado previously and was truly blown away - and since then I had always wanted to return. My favorite area I had visited was the “Alpine Loop” near the small towns of Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. The Alpine Loop is a place that feels like another planet - Alpine Tundra thousands of feet above sea level with mountains climbing way above the clouds.


I was closing in on 14,000 miles as I continued on south passing through Bozeman and Big Sky, spending more time riding the great open roads of Montana. I was nearing Yellowstone when I made the decision to circumnavigate it. Having been previously, I decided to ride back into Idaho and take some less traveled dirt roads along the west side of the park, which ended up giving me some amazing views of the Grand Tetons. The mountains and greenery soon turned to desert as I continued into Wyoming, with my sights set on Colorado next.

I’ve ridden through parts of Colorado previously and was truly blown away - and since then I had always wanted to return. My favorite area I had visited was the “Alpine Loop” near the small towns of Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. The Alpine Loop is a place that feels like another planet - Alpine Tundra thousands of feet above sea level with mountains climbing way above the clouds.

This time around, I had planned to spend a week camped out in Silverton, the center of what I believe is some of the best riding in the United States. I headed south, crossed the two month mark, passed 15,000 miles, and arrived in Silverton, Colorado. Silverton is a magical place with a near idyllic landscape - a dirt road small town, situated at the base of the San Juan Mountains, with a bad view nowhere in sight. A short ride out of town quickly leads to some of the most challenging and exciting terrain there is - mountain passes at elevations over 12,000ft, glacial lakes and river crossings, and walls of snow towering the sides of the trails.

I had set up camp just outside of town as my base for the week and found myself in a routine of near perfect days. I’d awake each morning to a beautiful sunrise and devise a plan for that day. Once I knew where I wanted to ride, I’d pack the bike and head into town for a quick coffee and bite to eat before hitting the trails. Riding in this area is the closest thing to an “out of this world” experience that I can imagine, which is one of the reasons why I bought a dual sport motorcycle. I have always had a love for traveling via motorcycle, but this specific type of riding has exposed me to things and taken me places that I never knew existed. It is an incredibly visceral and exhilarating way to travel and I am so thankful for the opportunities it has given me.

I was nearing my last few days in Colorado before making the final trek home. It was day 65 when I downed some coffee, hit the trails, and made my way towards the mountains via Stony Pass. I was maybe 1/4 mile from the highest point on the pass when out of nowhere my bike started smoking and immediately began spewing boiling radiator fluid everywhere. I quickly cut the engine and pulled over. My immediate thought was something along the lines of “well…I’m screwed”. Even at the high elevation, temperatures were climbing and there was no shade in sight. Having no choice, I began tearing the bike down to try and determine the issue. There was no visible damage on the radiator or any of the hoses - so my theory was that the initial purge of fluid had been caused by overheating and eventually blowing the lid off of the radiator reservoir. With not many options on the top of a mountain, I knew I had to get back into town. Not wanting to run the bike and risk further damage, I decided to try and roll down the mountain I had just ridden up. I put the bike back together, kicked it in to neutral, coasted 4 miles back down the dirt trails, and eventually limped it back to my campsite.

It was hard to determine what had caused the initial overheating, but my suspicions eventually lead me to a failed thermostat in the radiator or a failed water pump. Thermostat was best case scenario, water pump was worst. From my initial tests, it seemed as if the water pump was still functioning, so my theory was that my thermostat was failing to open and let coolant flow, causing it to overheat and boil over. I decided to pull the thermostat and run it without it, now allowing coolant to flow at all times and ideally keep the bike from overheating. I got the everything back together and tested it briefly in town, unable to get it to overheat. With a bit of confidence, I decided to cut my time short in Silverton and head south towards Durango, CO. This was a bigger city and could be more helpful in the event I got stuck or encountered more problems. Thankfully I had made the hour long ride without any overheating - though it was hard to determine if I had fixed the issue, or if the lack of overheating was due to the fact that the weather had turned and the entire ride was through a cold rain, eventually turned hail.

While on the road, I often try and keep my travels updated on social media. I started posting about my overheating issues, sourcing for any help or insight on the problem. I ended up receiving a message from a guy named Will in Albuquerque who had offered a helping hand and place to wrench if my issues continued…and they sure did. 

I had continued on from Durango, headed south when my motorcycle started to overheat again. I was now back in the New Mexico desert. It was the middle of the day with temperatures climbing to nearly 100 degrees. At this point, both the bike and I were overheating. I decided to reach out and take Will up on his offer. Meeting a stranger from the internet is not something I do too often, so I was definitely a little hesitant at first. Will was about my age, mid 20s, a former motorcycle mechanic, oil field worker, just an all around handy man - and also one of the most outgoing and helpful people I had met on this trip. We got busy working right away. We thought there could be air in the radiator, so we went ahead and burped the system multiple times, trying to remove any air, and there was a good bit of it. After a few cycles, we gave it a test ride. From wide open throttle on the highway to stop and go traffic in city, we couldn’t get the bike to overheat - success.

I thanked Will and left Albuquerque. I ended up calling it a day after a few hours of riding without any problems and stopped in Amarillo, Texas for the night. With a seemingly functioning bike, my new plan was to make a straight shot home towards Atlanta as quickly as I could. I had been on the road for nearly 70 days, I was exhausted and it was finally catching up with me. On day 68 I made it from Amarillo, TX to Memphis, Tennessee. I had ridden for over 720 miles and all without issue. I stopped for the night with the plan of making the five hour ride back to Atlanta the following day.

I awoke before sunrise, hoping to beat the heat and make some good progress in the early morning. It was 6:30am when my overheating indicator came on, after just 5 minutes of riding. My heart immediately sunk as I pulled onto the shoulder of the interstate. This time the bike was quickly leaking from the weep hole, which is a sure sign of bad seals and a failing water pump. I couldn't continue riding the bike in this condition. I felt so defeated. Though I could have tried to source a new pump or possibly find some sort of fix, it was slated to be my last day on the road and I was only hours from home.

It was the 69th day of the trip and also my 25th birthday when I reached the 16,614th mile of the trip in Memphis, TN. Here is where the trip on the bike ended, as I was now finishing in a truck. It was hard to be mad at the circumstances, given everything that I had accomplished on this trip. Plus, driving back in a truck with air conditioning and cupholders for the last few miles was a nice treat. I eventually made it back to Atlanta just after sunset. I had officially completed my journey, and what a journey it was. I was excited to be home and ready to start planning my next adventure.


THE END.


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