Grinning at the glow of my screen, I read a message—from a complete and total stranger—that went like this, “All right, operation rescue moto dog is about to get underway. It’s roughly ten hours from my place to Whitehorse. We should have you to the mechanic in Anchorage in two days time if all goes well. Regarding ‘thanks’—this is Alaska. We look out for each other. Just pass it on when the opportunity presents itself.”
It was a theme I would hear over and over—Alaskans look out for each other. It’s less about payback, more about simply doing what’s right.
Motorcycle-sidecar loaded onto the trailer, I settled Baylor into the back seat and hopped up front with Alaska motorcycle icon, Jack. Gray hair the only sign of Jack’s age, his eyes shined bright with knowledge and mischief. Something of a legend in the motorcycle community, he’s known for riding the roughest mountain passes—in the winter, on a Goldwing no less. He’s covered more miles than most of us can even imagine, but you’d never hear him brag about it. He simply travels for the love of it.
After a pit stop for some of the best homemade pie I’ve ever enjoyed, we headed southwest from Tok en route to Anchorage. The road was rough, full of potholes and unexpected dips, but I hardly noticed as I stared at the mountains to my right. Turning to the left I gasped, the water sparkled magically against the lowering sun. Rugged mountains ran up to the edges of the bay and gave way suddenly to endless ocean views. Surely one of the most beautiful sites I’d ever seen.
In Anchorage we unloaded the motorcyclesidecar into another stranger’s driveway. Tom is known for being able to fix any and all KLR650 problems. And what’s more, he was willing to teach a novice like me a thing or two about fixing bikes. Which is how I found myself spending days in the Anchorage metropolis diagnosing, wrenching, taking apart, and putting back together. He was the wise master and I was the willing grasshopper. Bolt on, bolt off.
Now if I were you reading this, I’d be tempted to think this kindness and connection was a fluke or perhaps an anomaly of the motorcycle community. Truth be told, that’s what I thought as I left behind the big city and rode south into the Kenai Peninsula. I thought surely my friendly good luck had been used up. Until I arrived in the tiny town of Hope, which is made up primarily of the Seaview Cafe with its large wooden deck and ability to seamlessly shift from morning cafe to nighttime bar. Live bands transform the sleepy town of Hope each weekend. Guides from upriver came to town, Anchorage city folk filled the patio, motorhomes lined the streets, and locals mixed and mingled.
Cruising slowly down the packed dirt road, I looked at the Seaview on my right, the glistening bay and towering mountains up ahead and I just knew. I needed to spend a few nights here.
Camp spot secured, tent erected, I chatted with passersby. Within minutes, Baylor and I became enveloped into the community with offers of meals, whitewater-rafting adventures, and a place on the community softball team. Most memorable of all, though, was a chance encounter with a true Klondike character.
Seeing the rusted pickup truck pull in next to me, I looked up. A man climbed out and pointed as a dog leapt out behind him. “This is Jake the snake. He’s half coyote,” he said.
Tools spread about, I took a break from my mechanical chores to smile, say hello. He nodded quickly and turned back to the truck, cracked open two beers, handed me one, and started setting up his camp chair. “Can’t say I’ve ever sat and watched a lady work on her motorcycle before,” he said as he settled in to do just that.
Gray beard, gold-mining history, a sporadic cough that belied years of packing and smoking an antler pipe, Curtis was the real deal. We entertained each other for the morning—him with his quick wit and endless array of old-time stories, me with my wrenching and motorcycle-problem solving.
Had I purposefully planned it all out, I never could’ve organized meeting so many interesting people, but that’s the magical thing about road tripping. The open road brings an unmatched freedom and connection.
A fact that’s doubly true in Alaska. As I would continue to be learn time and time again. Heading farther south “to the end of the road” I was met with welcome arms while staying at the familyoperated Camp Homer, fishing for salmon, hiking to glaciers, and soaring high above the wilds in a tiny two-person airplane.
I think about all this as I sit with my faithful canine companion at the top of Hatcher Pass. As I remember the meals shared and the stories told. The laughter and the friendship.
Starting out I knew Alaska would be filled with wild places and rugged views, fully expected to see some of the most breathtaking wilderness North America has to offer. But I never imagined the people of Alaska would become my most beloved memory of the Great Land. Their kindness, generosity, and good-natured ease changed the entire scope of not only this journey, but also my life.
Resting my chin on the top of Baylor’s head, I watched a bright orange sky dancer dip down, float out of site. Filled with an unexpected longing, I looked around. I hadn’t even left yet and already I couldn’t wait to return.
Alaska grabs you by the heart strings. Tugs at you to settle in and discover more. Someday I’ll be back, but in the meantime I take Alaska with me everywhere I go, each time I interact with someone new. As my wise Alaskan friend Jack once said, “We’re not strangers, just friends who hadn’t met yet.”
Mallory Paige is a storyteller, adventurer, and creator of the popular Operation Moto Dog adventure blog (operationmotodog.com).