Fruita man heads out on Alaskan highways on Suzuki
Fruita’s Don West called it an adventure, and it’s difficult to imagine a more appropriate word to describe his two-month, solo motorcycle trip from Grand Junction to the Arctic Circle.
After leaving Grand Junction earlier this summer aboard his new Suzuki V-Strom 650 purchased at Grand Valley Powersports, West returned a couple weeks ago with about 10,000 miles on his motorcycle, having traveled Alaska, the 50th, and final, U.S. state for him to see.
West, 73, said he wanted to take this trip to show himself, and others, that age isn’t an excuse to stop challenging oneself.
His words proved prophetic as he continually encountered people who, upon learning what he was doing, would say, “I wish I could be doing that,” said West, who operates West Gait Equine Learning Center with his wife Maria.
He could hear the resignation in their voices and see the longing in their eyes for adventures they wanted to take but will never muster the courage to try.
“It says a lot about people not getting enough out of their lives,” West said.
The opportunity to ride solo gave him a reason to strike up conversations with new people. He stopped where and when he wanted because he had no hotel reservations or itineraries.
“I rode as long as I wanted and took naps on the side of the road if I needed,” West said, adding that twice passers-by kicked at him while he was napping to make sure he was alive.
On the way to Alaska, West stopped at several hot springs and Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada, which boasts of the Lehman Caves and Wheeler Peak.
Once he got to northern Washington in early June, West boarded ferries to get to mainland Alaska.
Inclement weather for most of his time in Alaska — “It rained all the time” — kept him from taking photos of the sweeping panoramic views.
The weather broke, however, when he got to Denali National Park and Preserve in interior Alaska.
“To see Denali was a high point,” West said.
He continued to Fairbanks and onto the remote and rugged James Dalton Highway, a nearly 400-mile stretch of relatively primitive road oil field truckers take north of Fairbanks toward the Arctic Ocean.
“I literally drove every major highway in Alaska,” West said.
Aspirations of reaching the Arctic Ocean were cut short, however, when West realized how remote the Dalton Highway truly was.
A medical emergency or minor motorcycle hiccup — one couple he met hit a pothole that dented a tire — could truly be dangerous or expensive to rectify.
He turned around after crossing the Arctic Circle.
“My inner voice said, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” West said.
He saw moose, grizzly bear, coyotes, bison, caribou and one lone wolf in the wild, he said.
West returned to Fruita via western Canada and Yellowstone National Park.
As for his next adventure?
“I haven’t cooked up anything yet,” he said. “I’ve never been down to the tip of Baja (Peninsula.)”