Here is the situation: You’re a 31-year-old woman living in New Jersey, you’ve just finished your Master’s degree, your new job doesn’t start for a couple of months and your boyfriend doesn’t seem too friendly. What to do? Get on your motorcycle and ride to Alaska. Good choice.
That is what Karen Larsen, author of Breaking the Limit, decided to do, and write a good book about her trip. As a woman traveling alone, she had her own particular concerns when it came to loutish males approaching her, but the good guys she meets more than made up for it. She obviously took copious notes along the way, which is the key to good travel writing, as her descriptions of the roads and places are excellent.
Her mount is, of all motorcycles on which not to take a long trip, a pre-rubber-mounted Harley 1200 Sportster with the small tank. I’m not very partial to those earlier rigid-mounted bone-shakers, especially with the limited range, but that was her bike back in New Jersey, and Lucy would do. Lucy, the name Larsen gave the Sporty, came with a pair of saddlebags, and the rest of the gear would be bungeed on.
Since little money was in her account, this would be mainly a camping trip. While she had the sleeping gear there was no room for cooking stuff, so camp meals consisted mainly of opening a can of something…like spinach. A bit austere for someone like me who must have a hit of caffeine before putting the key in the ignition, but some of us are tougher than others.
She headed west in not a particularly straight line, crossing into Canada at Niagara Falls, back into the United States at Detroit, across the Mississippi on U.S. 52 into Iowa, and over the Continental Divide on Independence Pass in Colorado. The Mighty Miss and the Rockies are two natural barriers that every traveler thinks about.
She develops a bit of an attitude in places, like Aspen, Colorado, which she considers too hoity-toity to accept motorcycle travelers. I would have to disagree, having stopped in Aspen a number of times myself, thinking she may have been a bit overly sensitive about how she looked when the helmet came off after a hard day’s riding.
Two themes run alongside the travel–one is the reaction that so many people have to seeing a lone woman on a motorcycle, most of them admiring. Especially from fellow motorcyclists, and motorcycle shops. She often gets a little extra service when the wrench knows who is riding this bike. The other is that she is going to see some blood relatives for the first time. She was adopted, and has happy and loving parents, but like any adoptee is curious about the real mother and father, and the meetings provide a nice counterpoint to the freedom of life on the road.
She crosses Nevada on “The Loneliest Road,” U.S. 50, and angles through California and the northwest, eventually fetching up at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, where she takes the ferry up to Skagway. Soon Alaska, and the inevitable turn-around. Some writers lose interest at that point, but not Larsen, and her return to the Lower 48 is as much fun to read as is the first half.
This is good armchair traveling, and a reminder that all it takes to get to Alaska is the volition.
For more information: Breaking the Limit by Karen Larsen, 358 pages, hardcover, is published by Hyperion, New York, and is available through any bookstore for $23.95.