It was raining as I started my descent, the wind violently whipping water across my visor and making it difficult to see. A hidden beach with an unobstructed view of Kachemak Bay’s snow-capped peaks and glaciers beckoned, but first I had to make my way to the bottom of the plunging road ahead of me. “Road” might actually be too generous of a description for this dirt trail, made up entirely of narrow, rocky, and steep switchbacks. Navigating this treacherous terrain on a motorcycle, I found myself holding on for dear life while questioning the life choices that led me to this point.
Making it down to the remote beach, with its red sand and monumental views, was an exhilarating feeling. My hands were shaking—from adrenaline or terror, or perhaps a combination—but I felt immensely accomplished. I forced myself to enjoy the moment and soak up the views rather than immediately start worrying about how to make it back up to the top again.
It was my second day of riding a motorcycle through Alaska, and it was just a tiny taste of what was to come.
It all started in early 2021 with a cryptic Instagram message: “Alaska, July?”
The message came from Bree Poland, North American marketing lead for motorcycle maker Royal Enfield, and before asking any further questions, I immediately responded with an emphatic “YES.”
Riding a motorcycle through Alaska had been at the very top of my bucket list for some time, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, my urge to escape to the Last Frontier had become visceral, almost physical. But with the Canadian border still closed, I had no easy way of getting there on my own bike. When I received Bree’s message, and pulled myself together enough to request some more details, I realized this was the answer I’d been looking for—and the opportunity of a lifetime.
Royal Enfield was putting together an appreciation trip for some of its customers and brand ambassadors. As the owner of a 2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan adventure bike, I ended up on the list with five others from all over the U.S. We would have our bikes—all Himalayans—shipped up north, fly into Anchorage, and spend 11 days exploring Alaska on both paved and unpaved roads. We would also have a camera crew and two support vehicles—a pickup truck and an RV—for carrying our gear, snacks, and spare parts for the bikes.
I had met Bree briefly a few months earlier, but I didn’t know anyone else in the group. Six perfect strangers riding motorcycles together through one of the most rugged states in the country for nearly 2 weeks—what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, almost everything went right—and it was an experience far above and beyond my expectations.
Blue, white, and green
On the day of our departure from Anchorage, the group gathered for a photo before heading south toward the Kenai Peninsula. Within moments we were cruising down the Seward Highway along the incredibly scenic Turnagain Arm waterway, our first taste of Alaska’s magic.
Struggling to describe the experience in words, a quote from Kristin Hannah’s novel The Great Alone popped into my head: “She hadn’t been prepared for the wild, spectacular beauty of Alaska. It was otherworldly somehow, magical in its vast expanse, an incomparable landscape of soaring glacier-filled white mountains that ran the length of the horizon, knife-tip points pressed high into a cloudless cornflower-blue sky.”
Aside from the sky being anything but cloudless—even though we’d been lucky enough to start our trip on a morning with no rain—it was as close to describing the surrounding landscape as I could ever get.
The color scheme of Alaska in the summer is blue, white, and green: blue lakes and skies, white mountains and clouds, and everything else is green, green, green. The reason for this lush greenery became apparent after only a few hours on the road: It rains in Alaska. A lot. It would be days before we were dry again.
The edge of civilization
Despite the more or less non-stop pouring rain, riding through the Kenai Peninsula was an incredible experience. We took a detour to a tiny town called Hope (population: 192) that felt like the end of the world. We visited a wildlife refuge and met the most adorable baby musk oxen. We saw our very first (but not our last) bald eagle; it slowly flew circles above us while the group gaped in awe. We hiked to the shrinking Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park in soaking wet motorcycle gear during a brutal day of rain. And after a long day of riding, we rewarded ourselves with a drink at the Salty Dog Saloon, an unlikely dive bar at the end of the long, skinny stretch of land known as the Homer Spit. Through all of it, we were surrounded by postcard-perfect views of the ocean, lakes, glaciers, snow-capped peaks, and a sun that never set.
After three days of exploring the Kenai Peninsula, it was time for the real adventure to begin.
At this point, the group had started to grow closer together. We had figured out a rhythm for traveling together. All six of us came from vastly different backgrounds and places, and the only thing we all had in common was our love for motorcycles and adventure. It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy riding 2,000 rugged miles on 411-cc motorcycles—but here we were, enjoying (almost) every second of it.
After making a big circle north from Anchorage to the eastbound Denali Highway, and then south along the Richardson Highway, we arrived at the outskirts of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. At 13 million acres, it’s the biggest national park in the U.S., covering an area that’s the size of Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and the country of Switzerland combined. Naturally it would be impossible to see more than a tiny fraction of it from our motorcycles, but that didn’t stop us from trying.
A 60-mile dirt road led us straight into the park, before ending at a footbridge across the roaring Kennecott River. The bridge was too narrow for cars, but on motorcycles, we were easily able to get across. And on the other side was our home for the next 2 days: the tiny, eccentric village of McCarthy (population: 28). If Hope had felt like the end of the world, it was nothing compared to the feeling of reaching McCarthy. This was truly the edge of civilization. We were surrounded in all directions by mountain ranges and glaciers, and the only way out was by air or by going back the way we came in: across the footbridge and the 60-mile dirt road.
Despite its remoteness and negligible size, McCarthy is a tourist destination in its own right. It sits right next to Kennecott, a ghost town with a rich mining history. The old Kennecott Mine is a National Historic Landmark managed by the National Park Service. We signed up for a hardhat tour that took us through buildings that appeared to be literally falling apart—I couldn’t believe visitors were allowed inside them. Later in the afternoon, I had one of the most overwhelming experiences of my entire life: a flightseeing tour of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
I’m not necessarily the most emotional person in the world, but I cried a lot in Alaska. Sometimes I cried because I was hungry or tired, or because I felt lucky to get to experience it all. Once I even cried because my best friend sent me a text telling me she landed her dream job and I was just so happy for her. What can I say, it was an emotional trip.
But seated inside the tiny Cessna 206 bush plane, soaring high above this spectacular landscape completely untouched by humans, I cried because it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I felt tiny, insignificant, and in complete awe of Mother Nature. From our aerial vantage point, we saw glaciers, waterfalls, icebergs, volcanoes, neon blue lakes, rivers, rainbows, and mountain goats. It humbled me and took my breath away.
Before I went to Alaska, people kept telling me that it’s a place that changes you, but I didn’t understand what that meant until I got to experience it for myself. That plane ride changed me, and so did the riding, the friendships, and the struggles. Some parts of the trip were easy and some were difficult—but that’s the glory of road trips. Overcoming the tough times makes you appreciate the rest so much more. And at the end of it all, I knew that Alaska would forever hold a piece of my heart. She’s a tough broad and I can’t wait to visit again.