ON THIS RECENT ALASKA TREK I found out there’s a learning curve to capturing anything even remotely watchable with a GoPro. There are 100 mistakes to make and I made them all.
Skip to the bottom and take a look, or wade through this preliminary blab if you like.
Steve Lyon, a Los Angeles tech wiz and fellow motorcyclist, advised me to upload the raw footage to YouTube, use their stabilization software to soften the on-board camera shakes, download the stabilized footage, edit, add music, re-upload. So that’s what I did. The YouTube software took the kinetic energy out of the motorcycle and put it up into the clouds and down into the road. It gives the images a surreal quality. Makes it look as if the sky has a heartbeat and the road is pulsing like an artery. An interesting effect! And truthful, really. On a motorcycle you’re absolutely out there moving through the living, breathing world. That’s what it’s all about.
Despite the stabilization, you’ll see the iron piggy go over the occasional monster frost heave that completely unloads the suspension. Those babies’ll crack your back like a chiropractor if you get lazy and stop watching for them.
I recorded both videos in British Columbia, and both while riding up through mountain passes. The first is on the Alaska Highway, headed north and west; the second is on the way back, headed south on the Haines Highway.
The first leads up to Summit Pass, where the Alaska Highway makes its highest crossing of the northern Canadian Rockies. Keep pushing on through the arctic gloom and there’s a nice lake at the top, where I camped that night. Sometimes you’ll see me slow down even on straightaways. You don’t want to go too fast on this stretch, about 60mph is tops. The road’s in rough shape, lots of rocks, loose asphalt bits, hemmed in tightly by trees, lots of critters in the trees… If you get hurt, help’s not coming anytime soon. Slide off out of sight and it’s not coming at all.
Climbing the Haines Highway pass, you’re up out of the trees and riding through a series of wide alpine valleys. Go as fast as you like. Crest the top and you’re back in the woods, headed downhill to the Alaska border crossing at Dalton Cache.
At speed, the internal microphone on a GoPro records nothing but wind noise. You can’t even hear the iron piggy’s big heart drumming. I got rid of that grating static and dubbed in some Creative Commons music I could use without stealing from the working stiff who wrote it. (As a writer who’s been stolen from, I identify.) Without getting too artsy about it, I tried to pick a few tracks that communicate how a day in the saddle feels psychologically. A day after day after day after day in the saddle. How it changes over the hours until the day is old, and you’re looking for a spot in the dirt where Bad Mr. Grizz will let you sleep and recharge for the next day’s ride.
I hope it’s an interesting glimpse into arctic motorcycling. A minute or two of each video will give you the idea.
Summit Pass, in the first vid, is about 400 miles into the Alaska Highway on the way up, more like 1,000 miles into it on the way back. That sounds like big miles but it’s not; it’s the country that’s big. Ride one mile at a time, the one in front of you. Before you know it, an 11,300-mile loop is in your mirrors and you’re wondering how it flew by so fast.
I didn’t ride the entire Alaska Highway on the way back. I picked up the Haines Highway in the Yukon and rode it south through a corner of British Columbia and then back into Alaska; the coastal southeastern part. At the ferry terminal in Haines, the iron piggy and I boarded the boat for Bellingham, WA.
It’s great country! I’d love to go back. If not on the iron piggy, then on a bike that weighs 500 pounds loaded instead of piggy’s 950 or so. Piggy’s game for anything but way too heavy for the backcountry. I did enjoy seeing Alaska from its paved (kinda sorta mostly paved) surfaces. Even on those roads, if you see five or six other vehicles in a 20-mile stretch, it’s a traffic jam. Spot two buildings within 20 miles of each other and you think, damn, what am I doing back in civilization?
The two screens that follow my sign-off are for viewing the videos here at the Nickels. They should play seamlessly for you, but if you end up in buffering hell, try the YouTube links at the very bottom of this page. They may work better for you. Assuming that YouTube doesn’t take the videos down and delete them. Their automated copyright-protection software immediately and falsely flagged both as incorporating pirated music.
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Cheers to all!
Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, August 23, 2013
Click the blue link that follows for the YouTube version of Alaska Highway east of Summit Pass BC
And here for The Haines Highway footage.