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ADV RidesAnswering Alaska’s “Call of the Wild” From the Seat of a KLR650

Answering Alaska’s “Call of the Wild” From the Seat of a KLR650

Finding America's Last Frontier on the Alaska Backcountry Explorer Adventure.

Published on 12.28.2016

I arrive in Anchorage, weary from the long mainland flight. It’s my first trip to Alaska, and the view from the plane—while beautiful—is not quite the rugged moose-laden landscape I was hoping for. Phil Freeman, my guide and the founder of MotoQuest, picks up on my disenchantment. “Don’t worry, this is not Alaska, this is Anchorage. Alaska begins where the city limits end.” We share a laugh. Anchorage is a city after all; A beautiful city, but not what I have come to see.

I came to experience the last frontier the best way I could think of, from the seat of a motorcycle. A number of different Alaska motorcycle tours exist, some more adventurous than others. But the 8-day Alaska Backcountry Explorer Adventure Tour by MotoQuest promised to do just what the name implied; take riders on a journey into the heart of a countryside rarely seen by human eyes. THAT was the Alaska I wanted to see.

After a hearty breakfast, I climb aboard my ride for the week, a Kawasaki KLR650 and we begin to head east. True to his word, Phil’s ride route reveals beauty the minute we leave the sprawling urban metropolis. The first day of riding takes us by massive glaciers, so large they boggle the mind. Dense forests and countless wildlife sightings dot the terrain (the bald eagles are so plentiful they border on nuisance, according to locals), and every other street sign warns of crossing beasts.


Alaska motorcycle tours riding glaciers

Alaska motorcycle tours riding glaciers

We make our way to Copper Center, a small town that was once an outpost for prospectors in the early 1900s. Our bed & breakfast stands along the Klutina River, its glacier fed water so brilliantly turquoise it defies the eyes. For the next two days we practice off-road riding technique, receiving instruction and tips that will help us manage the rugged terrain ahead. We spend the afternoons exploring, taking rides to nearby riverfronts where locals fish for salmon. At night we collect in a cozy dinner hall, sharing photos and stories from our day of riding.

We leave Copper Center and head North, stopping to see the Salmon as they swim lazily toward their mating grounds. The sight alone makes the trip for me; so many red and copper colored fish that one might walk atop them from shore to shore.

Alaska motorcycle tours salmon spawning

Soon we turn west, taking on the Denali Highway. We stop to photograph a lone Caribou, posing on a picturesque landscape. An hour later we see our 100th Caribou. “This is the main drag,” our guide says. “In 1957 it was the first road ever to access Denali National Park.” He points at a mountain, 100 miles away, and still it is a dominating sight. “Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. Tomorrow we’ll get into the backcountry, and you’ll get an even better view.”

Alaska motorcycle tours Mount Denali

Alaska motorcycle tours Mount Denali

Alaska motorcycle tours Denali National Park
The durable Kawasaki KLR650 proved to be a perfect match for the rugged terrain we encountered on our Alaska Motorcycle Tour.

We pull in to Gracious House, a small hunting lodge near the center of Denali Highway. We’re tired and wet, the weather offering a steady mix of sun, cold and drizzle. The proprietors take my damp riding gear and stow it by the fire. They look me over and declare, “You seem like an honest sort,” and lead me to their bar, a single-wide trailer loaded with libations. “Here are the keys,” they say with a grandiose handover. “The cash box is over there, you and the group drop a few dollars in for each drink you have, ok?”

Alaska motorcycle tours party in the trailer

The next day finds us standing at a massive lakefront, a vast body lined with rocky shores deep in the Alaskan wilderness. As I approach the water, hundreds–THOUSANDS of frogs leap away from my boots, seeking shelter in the frigid water. The region is empty of human life, save for our small group of Adventure Riders that have braved the trek. “What do you think?” our guide inquires. “Is it what you thought it would be?”

“I feel like I’m the first person to stand here,” I say with wonder. “I would say this was the most beautiful spot I’ve ever seen, but I think the phrase is getting worn out on this trip!”

Alaska Motorcycle Tours lake

All too soon, our journey is nearing its completion. In our 8 days of travel on this Alaska motorcycle tour, we have ridden over a thousand miles of incredible terrain and viewed some of the most remarkable landscapes and wildlife available in the state. The unspoiled beauty of the Alaska Backcountry is everything I had hoped for and then some.

Alaska Motorcycle Tours bumpy road

Throughout it all, my trusty companion, the KLR650, never let me down, happily chugging along through all sorts of challenging terrain. The feeling is bittersweet though, as we roll into Anchorage realizing this unique adventure is coming to an end. As newfound friends we enjoy a final meal, exchanging photos and contact information, with promises to embark on more adventures together in the future.

The Alaska Backcountry Explorer Adventure is one of the many Alaska motorcycle tours offered by MotoQuest. It is designed for riders that wish to see Alaska the way few dare; challenging terrain both on and off the asphalt. Check out the MotoQuest website for more information.

Photos by Shawn Thomas, Brenden Anders and Phil Freeman

Author: Shawn Thomas

For more than 13 years, Shawn has been immersed in the motorcycle industry and in particular, Adventure Riding. What began as a “temporary job” selling BMW motorcycles evolved into a career in media, tours, and off-road instruction. On behalf of BMW Motorrad USA, he has traveled the world coaching thousands of riders on the nuances of managing “big” bikes in the dirt, and has become an ambassador to those looking to begin or improve their understanding of adventure motorcycling.

Author: Shawn Thomas

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Answering Alaska's "Call of the Wild"...
December 28, 2016 11:44 am

[…] Riding the Alaska Backcountry Explorer Tour – One of MotoQuest's Alaska Motorcycle tours that takes you deep into the heart of the America's Last Frontier.  […]

January 4, 2017 12:04 pm

Fantastic article…especially as it features the mighty, mighty KLR and Alaska…two things I’m very fond of. Well done, Shawn!

Shawn M Thomas
Shawn M Thomas
January 4, 2017 3:25 pm
Reply to  Danny

Why thank you sir!

January 15, 2017 6:43 am

All these rides are calling me, as I really like the BDRs, just did the first 2400 miles of the TAT, and Alaska is now seducing me! I just clicked on the MotoQuest website….. Great article Mr. Thomas!

April 13, 2020 8:30 am

My nephew, brother and I purchased 3 KLR’s and hauled them to Alaska in 2015. We rode the Dalton twice, Fish Hook Road, Denali Highway, road to McCarthy, and several other roads. We put the KLR’s in storage and in 2016 and 2017 went back to Alaska and rode many miles of dirt and gravel roads. In August 2018 we flew back to Anchorage and after putting on new tires, and serviced the bikes, we headed south toward Georgia and road mostly back roads home to Southeast Georgia.
Great adventure!

Shawn Thomas
Shawn Thomas
April 13, 2020 8:54 am

Excellent, Tim!


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