Alaska by Sidecar

(from the May 2017 issue)

A woman and her dog, traveling on three wheels, moved by human decency

[by Mallory Paige]


Head on a swivel, I tried to take it all in. Clear blue water tumbling over rocks, winding through emerald green underbrush, cutting a path across the massive valley floor. The hills and mountains piling up, creating a domino mosaic of rugged land. Snapping pictures at first, I eventually gave in to the reality that my images can’t do it justice. A place that vibrates pure wildness seemed sadly flat and one-dimensional on my camera screen. Staring in wonder, I vowed to simply remember it all.

Applying the brakes, I slowed down. Carefully turned off the pavement, immediately began driving straight up. Slowly weaving, bouncing, jostling over the uneven gravel. Reaching 3,886 feet on the top of Alaska’s renowned Hatcher Pass, I pulled off. Made a beeline for the edge of the mountain to see as far as possible. Sky awash in a riot of pink and orange, I checked my watch, smiled in amazement. It was already nine o’clock at night. The locals weren’t kidding. The sun works overtime in the short summer months. The days are long, the nights nonexistent.

Looking to the left I stared in wonder. A flock of paragliders silently danced through the sky. Floating up, circling round, losing elevation and doing it all again. A silent skyward ballet free for anyone willing to venture up the mountain to enjoy.

Climbing onto a rock, I patted the spot next to me. Wrapped an arm around my best friend and copilot, a joyful, downyfurred Labrador retriever named Baylor. Sun lowering in the sky, I thought back to the unlikely journey that led us here. After all, starting out just two months ago I was being told my plan was sure to fail. With little camping experience, no mechanical know-how, or even a motorcycle license, I was simply a routine-loving homebody hoping to become an adventurer. Just a woman with a dream—to drive a motorcycle-sidecar to Alaska, with only my dog for company.

I had a hope of leaving my home in Bend, Oregon, and seeing beautiful places, an expectation it would be challenging at times, but I never imagined the people, the kind and generous strangers-turned-friends. Without them it would’ve been a lonely and difficult journey, without them we never would have made it out of the Yukon and on from there—traveling the continent for more than 400 days, crossing countless borders and logging more than 30,000 miles. I’d gotten my motorcycle license, learned to weld, attached the sidecar to the motorcycle, loaded my furry copilot into the sidecar and made it more than 2,000 miles north, but I was in trouble.

Just two weeks into the trip and we were stranded. Having experienced major engine damage, a mechanical rattle had become louder and louder. Less than 400 miles from the Alaska border, a persistent audio alarm warned me to cease driving for fear of sudden engine failure.

Learning the local Whitehorse mechanic had a backlog that would take weeks to work through—and knowing I couldn’t just sit around waiting—I started looking for other options. I didn’t know anyone in the area, lacked the mechanical expertise to quickly diagnose and fix the issue, had completely run out of ideas or solutions. But I wasn’t alone.

Armed with a weak and intermittent internet connection, I posted on forums, asked for advice on Facebook, and wrote a blog and sent it into the ethers of the world wide web. And then, shockingly and perhaps for the first time ever, I witnessed the internet at its full potential as a tool for education, connection, and good. Which is how I found myself emailing a complete stranger, “If I could cover gas would you have any interest or availability to come get us and tow us to Alaska?”

It was a long shot. I wasn’t even sure how often he checked his messages, let alone that he—a total stranger who had been recommended through the motorcycle forum—would be interested in driving more than 1,000 miles to pick us up in Whitehorse, haul this motley crew across the Alaska–Canada border, and carry us on to the waiting mechanic in Anchorage. I was on the verge of giving up when I got a reply that showed this was the type of person who not only had the tools to make things happen, but the positive attitude to make it fun.

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