To the Arctic Circle, and back
Published: August 26, 2011 3:00 PM
Motorcycle enthusiasts Leslie Sofarelli and Cheryl Letkeman are known for taking long road trips around North America on just two wheels, but their latest joyride not only allowed them to live out a dream, but give back to their community as well.
On June 29, the women embarked on a 45-day trip taking them from Maple Ridge, up into northern B.C., across the Yukon and into Alaska in order to collect donations for the Autism Community Training charity group. The charity is close to the couple’s heart as Letkeman’s nephew has autism.
The duo recently returned home on Aug. 11 and estimate they’ve raised $5,000 for ACT.
Prior to their journey, Triumph Canada had heard about their charitable trip and lent the women two Triumph Tiger 800 XC bikes as part of an extended road test.
That inspired the couple to mount high definition cameras onto their helmets and bikes so they could digitally record their journey for everyone to experience through an online blog.
The duo never experienced any problems with Internet connectivity while camping in remote spots and were able to update their blog on a regular basis.
Overall, they logged 13,683 kilometres in their effort to reach the Arctic Circle and if they could they’d go back.
“It was amazing. It was beyond our expectations. It’s absolutely stunning and beautiful,” Sofarelli, who’s been around motorcycles since childhood, said.
“The landscape is just incredible. The terrain changes so quickly from alpine mountains to tundra and there are no people or buildings. Just one way in and out roads. It’s just very vast, colourful and beautiful.
“At the same time it can be absolutely intimidating with the weather, but the biggest thing we learned was to appreciate the beauty of rain,” she added.
She estimates 94 per cent of their trip was spent riding through heavy rains with temperatures hovering between three and 16 degrees Celsius.
The weather wasn’t the only aspect of their trip that wasn’t cooperating. The Triumph bikes lent to the couple had stalling problems, which they documented on their blog.
“Overall the bikes did really well. The bikes did have a stalling issue but as soon as we got to Anchorage Triumph took our bikes to get fixed,” Sofarelli said. “They released a statement on Tuesday saying they’re hoping to get the stalling issue fixed as soon as possible.”
“The bikes had stalling issues for a predominant part of our trip but we just learned to live with it. We would tweak the bikes to keep them going. Triumph wanted to fly us home when we hit Whitehorse but we figured since we learned how to live with it that we wanted to carry on with the rest of the trip.”
According to Sofarelli, most bikers dream of riding either the Dempster Highway in the Yukon or the Dalton Highway in Alaska, which both lead to Arctic circle crossings. The duo took on both but admit the roads’ rough mixture of clay, calcium chloride, shell and rock made it nearly impossible to navigate through the rain.
Despite the rough weather and mechanical problems, the were positive experiences on the trip. The women saw an endless array of wildlife up close, including grizzly bears, bison, cariboo and eagles.
“The bison are humongous. They just stream down the hill and block off the road so of course you have to wait for them to finish,” she said. “We were completely in their territory so we were being as respectful as we can.”
The most memorable moment came on an off day in Alaska where the girls took a private plane ride to the top of Mt. McKinley.
“We actually saw the peak. We are one of 30 per cent of people who got to see the peak on a clear day,” Sofarelli said. “It was so overwhelming. We probably took about 350 pictures in that hour and a half. It was just spectacular.”
Last year the couple ventured off on a road trip to New York. They clocked 11870 km crossing five provinces and 17 states.
“It just goes to show you how big B.C., the Yukon and Alaska really is. We racked up more miles on this trip heading west and north than across country to New York.”
“For us, it’s just the best way to travel. You’re not only experiencing it on two wheels, but you’re in it, you smell it, you feel it and you’re exposed to the elements. Sometimes it does feel like a survival game but it is the most amazing way to travel.”
With the Alaska trip crossed off their bucket list, the couple would like to take a motorcycle trip around the world sometime in the near future . If their plan works out, they would also like to help out more charities as well.
“If we could figure out how to take a leave of absence from work and be prepared financially then that’s what we want to do. Each trip is just getting bigger and bigger but we need to do things big to keep our attention,” Sofarelli added.
“I think most people associate charities with these big rides people do. The biking community is very generous. I think we’ll always be attached to some sort of charity when we ride from now on.”
Even though the charity ride is over, the couple and ACT are still collecting donations
• For more information visit Sofarelli’s blog at advgrrls.com.
Recent article that our local rag wrote about our trip. Thought we would share it. I did mention that even though we had technical issues with the bikes that we truly enjoyed riding the Tigers all the way!
Depending on your web browser you can search the archives or find the calendar on the Home Page and click on the highlighted dates. I posted almost everyday and the BLOG started in April. So, just FYI for those who have emailed me and asked, I thought I would just put it out there that all previous posts links with all the pictures etc can be found on our Home page by looking at the Archive months or by scrolling down to the end of the page to the calendar and take it from there.
Hopefully this makes sense and helps those out that are having issues with navigating this BLOG. Any questions or comments please feel to post them here to help others out as well. Thanks! Advgrrls
As someone pointed out on the ADV Rider forum
44 Days – we also had free lodging in Anchorage for 4 nights so that brings us down to actually 40 days of riding.
Gas and Lodging
$2447 + $1664 = $4111 / 44 days =$93.43 per day / 2 people = $46.71 a day per person
And to add
Groceries, including food, snacks, beer etc…
Ferries, flight over McKinley and other side track adventures
Total for 2 of us
We thought it was going to be much higher.
Total for 44 days is: $2447
This can be done for way less if we camped more. The weather did not cooperate in the way we like to camp. Rain does not fair well with us sleeping outside. We had to remind ourselves this was our vacation too, an easy way to justify a motel. Anyone doing this trip can probably save about $600 if lodging choices were more frugal. Gas costs coming up.
Here are some stats, over 220,000 Facebook views of our page, over 180,000 hits to our ride report on the ADV forum and almost 37,000 unique hits to our BLOG. We are really short of our goal. $5 for half of these folks would be HUGE. Think about it and learn how to donate right here on our BLOG under the ACT page.
Thanks so much for everyone’s support and great comments!
August 16th 2011
We went to Western Powersports in Langley to pick up our bikes this morning. Funny thing is the manager did not know we were coming. Communication issues we guess. I tried to inform the dealer what we thought needed to be looked at and more about the stalling concerns. So, hopefully while the Tigers are at the dealer Triumph will want them to break down the bikes, see what got worn, fix the stalling, and then service them etc.
I am not too optimistic that the bikes will be returning to our house but I have been surprised in the past. I mean, Triumph did loan them to us in the first place right?
In any case, we are back on our Beemers and in the end we are just happy we have bikes to ride. We would love to continue to ride the Tigers because after we rode our BMW’s home it was clear the road comfort and size of the Tigers appeals to us more now than ever. As Cheryl says in this video you are about to watch, “we have outgrown our 650’s.” Not about brand or who is better, about class of bike, size, power and comfort.
***Maybe I will video and take pictures of our BMW pick up day! After all, this is still part of the post report isn’t it?***
It is unknown if we will become the owners of the Tigers we rode for 44 days. They will be dropped off at Western Powersports in Langley, BC so the bikes can be looked over, hopefully get the stalling issues rectified and maybe Triumph might even learn a thing or two as to how the bikes really held up throughout our adventure.
I hope they can check things like the chains, sprockets, cables, our air filters most likely are quite dirty again, fluids (all seems OK), wear and tear in general.
We hope by the end of the week there will be a better understanding of the cost to us if we were to buy these bikes. The offer has to be a good one because the cost of this trip overall was high but well worth it.
Anyone thinking of traveling to the north need to be prepared for high prices for gas, food and some lodging options where there are no options. For instance if you ride the Dempster or Dalton your choices are slim to none for safe housing and that comes at a cost. We will be posting our expenses soon, but by all means many can do this trip a lot cheaper than we did. Due to the weather being so wet we did not camp as much as we wanted to. Having said that many would have just sucked it up and set up outside anyways.
So, hopefully we will get our BMW bikes back today and only time will tell if Cheryl & Leslie will own the Tigers which we found to be just a great all around bike.
First picture of us after we arrived Deadhorse at the end of the Dalton Highway. Picture was taken by Ray Jardine, our new friend from the road. Ray is a well known inventor of the rock climbing tool called the “Friend”. Google his name, great adventurer and neat guy.
August 14th 2011
By Cheryl & Leslie
After riding the Tigers that were loaned to us by Triumph Canada for 13673 KM or 8496 Miles we both feel confident that we have an informed opinion. We spent 44 days on the some of the harshest roads we have ever ridden on in BC, the Yukon and Alaska.
This bike was truly put through an average ADV rider’s trip. No magazines, no professional photographers, no back up team, we are not professional riders or reviewers. We are normal hard working grrls who commute to work every day and try to get in one decent trip per year. We ride on the street a lot but also head into the back woods on forestry roads and some that would be considered ATV like.
Like we said in our first review we do not beat on our bikes. They are an investment and we try to take care not to dump them while definitely having a great time. This is why we ride dual sport bikes, we love getting off the main roads and find one’s that we can be by ourselves.
Let’s quickly talk about the obvious stalling issue we had throughout our trip. If you were following our ride then most are aware our bikes randomly stalled when the bikes got down to 1200 RPM’s. We still to this day cannot figure out the root cause so Cheryl learned that in order to finish our trip if she opened the throttle just a bit while tweaking the throttle cable and sort of tightening it the bikes would start and not stall for an unknown period of time. We also let the bikes completely reset before making any adjustments to the throttle cable. We tried while on the road disconnecting the batteries and doing a complete reset of the bikes which appeared to work for a few days but the bikes ended up stalling throughout the rest of the trip.
Both bikes had exactly the same problem just at different times. Triumph tried to get the bikes “fixed” while we were in Anchorage and we thank the Motorcycle Shop and Triumph for doing their best but it only lasted until we got to Skagway. To reiterate, we learn to live with this stalling and are not aware of a fix yet but we are confident Triumph is on top of this and should be rectified as soon as possible. Our thoughts are that the Throttle Position Sensor is involved and has nothing to do with the integrity of the triple engine.
Despite the stalling problems we think the world of this bike.
OK, so enough of the stalling issue.
The TIGER XC:
Cheryl LOVED the bike the moment she got on it. It took me about 2500 KM until I realized this was a very capable bike on the road. By the time we got to Dawson Creek from Maple Ridge we both agreed ergo’s and seat comfort (we had the Triumph gel seats) made this bike way more comfortable than our 2010 BMW F650 (798)GS. It is obvious the seat on the Tiger is wider and allows the rider a level of street comfort that surpasses the BMW well known plank seat. BMW saddle is more narrow, almost dirt bike like and does not make for a comfortable street touring seat.
In reality Cheryl and I look for street comfort because we work 90% of the time. The Tiger, with the gel seats, rubber inserts out of the pegs creates a very nice riding position. Initially I thought I was riding a sport bike with my knees higher than I was used to, but it didn’t take long to realize that with the rubber inserts out, my seat adjusted on low we were both able to really appreciate the peg position, handle bar location and we eventually both fit nicely in the “cockpit” that never seemed to tire us.
The Tiger felt much bigger than our 650 at first but then began to feel lighter and easier to handle. We noticed the 21 inch front wheel right out of the gate. Both really like the feel the larger front tire give the bike on and off road. Our Beemer’s have a 19 inch front tubeless tire compared to the Tiger’s 21 inch tube. The British have done something really well with the Tiger, although the width of the bike is greater than both the 800GS and 650GS, the tank is up top versus below the seat on the BMW’s, this bike in the end feels lighter and more balanced than our Beemer’s. Not sure how they did that but this Tiger never felt heavy. The Tiger is less nimble, but again street comfort and the eventual obvious off road handling that we had to do up North makes this a very versatile DS mid size bike.
The Tiger looks very similar to the 800GS but when you see them side by side they do not look as similar as one would think. We like the idea that both headlights are on while lights are on low. Good visibility. We had the Triumph fog lights on our bikes. We ran them on all the time for more visibility and they did their job. We would love to see Triumph as an HID version of their fog lights. The Tiger looks beefier than the 800GS, wider and more substantial in looks. We like the looks of both bikes but because the Tiger is a little heavier and when sitting on the bike your butt is better supported on the seat, we favour the Tiger on road stability and comfort.
The Triple engine is incredibly smooth at low RPM’s and high. The 94 HP engine cannot even compared to our 72 HP BMW. The Tiger to us feels most satisfied at about 6000-6500 RPM’s but having said that the fuel economy goes drastically down when riding this bike the way it really wants be ridden. We notice a drastic change in gas mileage when we had to slow down due to road conditions. We would try to keep the bike in and around 4500-5000 RPMS when we needed good gas mileage. Example: Speeds of over 110 KPH with RPM’s over 5000 we would sometime use over 6 litres of gas for every 100 KM. If we dropped the speed to below 110 and hovered the RPM below 5000 we could get at times 4.9 L per 100 KM. Such a HUGE difference. So, use the power on the Tiger you will pay the price at the pump. Not a deal breaker but this is something we never noticed on our Beemer’s.
The bikes low end power is easy to handle riding off road. The throttle is easy to control where as the Beemer’s we have the throttle is snatchier. You do get used the BMW’s touchy throttle though like anything else. High gear power is insane. Passing in 5th the bike easily powers through anything. Never once did we feel as though we needed to down shift to pass those bike rigs on the road. There is plenty of power in the higher gears.
When the bike decelerates the muffler makes a pinging noise. Cheryl and I have decided we love that little Triumph noise that others complain about. Does not bother us at all.
The engine is quiet, smooth and powerful.
Here is a list of some of the roads we did up north:
Robert Campbell Highway, Dempster Highway, Top of the World, Dalton Highway, Denali Highway, McCarthy Highway & Cassiar Highway. Those are the major dirt roads we got to experience in the rain and very rarely sun.
Between our tire choice the Heidenau K60 Scouts, the bikes and maybe the riders, the Tiger handled every road situation we got ourselves in famously. Well balance, easily controlled the Tiger won our confidence after the Dempster. After that all other roads became almost routine and as our riding skills got better out of sheer survival because of all the rain we rode in the Tiger became our life line. No issues at all with the throttle control, power and even at slow speeds the Tiger is one hell of a bike to ride. The tires need some air time because there were many opportunities for the roads to slice, puncture and just wear the tread out. Our K60’s lasted the entire trip and we will still have tread life left on them.
Here they are on August 11th 2011 at the end of the trip
Although we did not cross over river beds or hit too many “jumps”, the suspension was able to handle the rocks, craters, pot holes and frost heaves that we encountered. I think we both bottomed out our front forks maybe once after hitting what we call a crater in the middle of some road. The centre kickstand annoyed me as it would slap the under carriage on rough terrain. We even tried to use a bungee cord to help hold it in place but that did not work. Perhaps heavier duty springs could be used. The Tiger suspension with the pre load and dampening plug adjusted to meet the weight of our gear and luggage, smoothed out even the roughest roads. Quite impressive for stock suspension.
We LOVE the Tiger. It meets or even surpasses our riding needs and wants. The level of street comfort is huge since that is what we ride most of the time due to work. However, there is no doubt in our minds that the Tiger is indeed a true mid-weight DS bike that we think has created a class of its own. It is really hard to compare this bike with the 650 or the 800GS bikes because it just feels like a better rounded bike. The BMW’s lack that street comfort, even our 650GS which is supposed to be the street version of the GS family. Initially I thought the Tiger was just that, a beefed up street touring bike but as we stated in the above, this bike has been on more rough roads than we have ever been on before this Alaskan Adventure and shows off road competency and confidence which will impress most average, not hard core ADV riders.
We wish Triumph would add an on/off ABS button and make the dash more user friendly by adding a toggle button like BMW. I really find the manual sequential button controls still annoying after all these KM’s and the lack of temperature gauge also bother me. I would add a nice CLOCK 4 Bikes gauge if I kept this bike. (Saw the in Anchorage while staying with Gary & Deb on their bikes)
As Jesse’s reputation goes we stand by this luggage set. Top loading, great latches, waterproof and durable. The mount that Al Jesse has created for the Tiger is awesome. Have a look.
You have to add a muffler extender but this is easy to do as Jesse send the extension and clamp with the mounts. It just pulls the muffler further out so the mounts and bags can fit closer. The Jesse luggage is lean and tight to the bike. The design helps with any drag that can easily be felt by other brands of luggage. No drag and if balanced you hardly even notice they are on the bikes. One thing we found out, you need to watch the weight on the top of the side cases and when we strapped our dry bags on top of the gas cans we had initially the latches came loose and would open up. We just changed the location of the cans and that put less stress on the brackets. We used Rok straps and you can really pull them tight.
Adjustable Touring Shield:
This is a great accessory and can be fitted to the rider and riding situation with ease and it works. We would like to see Triumph add an aluminum bracket to help stabilize the shield a bit more. Also, that bracket could be used to locate your GPS or SPOT. The shield shakes too much when off road. We would keep this shield if we owned the bikes. Looks stock and does not look at of place. Great job there Triumph.
We have read reviews worried about the lack of coverage for the oil filter. We were concerned about that too but throughout this trip our sump guards got whacked but who knows what so many times and still looks great. Our filter never got damaged. Could be luck but we would keep the guard too because it is a substantial piece of metal and seems to have decent coverage.
Great, looks good just should be quick release. Ours got sand blasted and I am not sure it will ever be the same clear plastic it was before we left.
Another decent Triumph accessory but we would like to see Triumph add a fairing protection too. When you have no luggage on the bike if dumped the fairing could easily get damaged as the engine guards would not help up top.
Awesome and the fact that Triumph allows the rider to choose between two height settings as well as a low or regular height seat makes this bike more appealing to shorter riders. We have heard that the gel seats will heat up to the point of burning your butt but we did not ride in too much heat to see if they would ever cool down. The bikes did sit in about 30 degree C for a few hours one day and when we got on with our KLIM pants on we did not feel they were overly hot. We would keep the gel seats. Never once if you read all our updates did we complain about butt pain.
Other accessories we added:
Touratech front fender riders, 20 mm handlebar risers for Leslie’s bike and Touratech kickstand extender/foot print.
ALL necessary and not expensive. We would keep them all!
Kriega front fork seal protectors:
Worth every little penny to protect such a vulnerable part of the bike up north. Nothing more to be said, they worked and are so easy to install and cheap.
Worked really well almost 100% of the time. User error when it didn’t. The phone app and connecting to Blue tooth can be fickle at times but once you get used to it…it works! Love the text message/emails i could send when out of phone range and that was often! Battery life was OK, but I heard there is a firm ware update that may help with battery life. have to check that out. Love this little device. Great way to keep family in touch with tracking as well as the public. I give this an “A”. Subscritions not cheap though, SPOT should offer a bundle package.
Zumo 660 – 2nd year with this GPS. Still ticking after all the dust, rain and other elements. Glove friendly and very handy. On this trip for some reason it missed so many campgrounds. Also, we noted that we saw many Harley’s and other expensive car GPS models and even saw one guy use a zip lock bag to try to get his dry. We wonder if you spend that much on a bike why not buy a proper GPS?
Triumph ADV boots. 100% waterproof, breathable, comfortable just one thing, when riding on the pegs for hours like we did on the Dempster the foot beds of these boots could be considered a little thin. As for everyday riding and not 1000’s of KM off road requiring standing these are perfect for most riders.
We brought many pairs of gloves.
Gerbing Heated gloves – used them about 90% of the time. It was cold and wet. Although the outside of the gloves would get wet we never truly felt our hands get wet by the time we stopped for the day. I treated them with Nikwax leather stuff before we left. Cheryl’s right glove gave out by the end of the trip. These have a lifetime warranty so I will be sending her glove to Washington to get fixed. Overall, life saver for us as we did not have the Triumph heated grips to help out.
Triumph ADV gloves
Great for cool days, waterproof and comfortable.
KLIM ADV vented gloves
Not waterproof but gave us good ventilation on the days we could wear them
KLIM Powerxross glove
Waterproof, wind proof, little protection but comfortable and do what they are supposed to do, keep you dry and relatively warm.
KLIM Traverse – Perfect suit for this trip. We never ever got wet and were able to vent well when needed. This suit is really perfect for more of the dirt bike rider. Lack pockets and needs vents on the arm, not just under the pits. KLIM is coming out with the Badlands and Latitude suits this fall and they look like a home run for street/off road riders. More pockets in the Jackets and more abrasion material. However, since we HATE water proof liners, KLIM is our gear of choice probably for as long as we continue to ride in tons of rain and in climate weather. Love the Gore Tex outer shell water proof protection.
We have been wearing LDComfort under gear and for 2 years now. The under gear keeps you warm and cool, easy to wash, comfortable, looks relatively new after all this wear and tear. Great stuff and again will be a part of our gear set up always. Great wicking ability too. Secret to this underwear is not to wear real underwear under it. Just a thought!
Cardo G4. Overall we are satisfied with this system. They survived huge amounts of pouring rain and they are not really considered to be completely water proof. The voice activation and at times trying to hear one another can be annoying as the mic has to be exactly in front of your mouth at all times. Voice activation is fickle but then again could be because we put these things through hell. Easy and quick to charge, long use time too. Highly recommend. You can also pick up local radio stations if you have it set to roam, listen to music via Bluetooth, answer your phone if necessary and pair with another 3 sets.
Simple, we need warmer bags if we were to camp out again in the cold that we experienced up in the north.
Mutha Hubba tent is a great three season tent. Kept us dry in pouring rain, easy set up and break down and still looks brand new. The foot print was used and appreciated.
Cheryl has the Arai Profile and Leslie has the Shoei Qwest.
Cheryl loves her Arai, light and airy. My Qwest is not that bad but a little heavier than I like, it is quiet but not as quiet as the Arai.
The inverter came in so handy when we had no power at a camp site. Never once did the Triumph battery seem to be negatively impacted by charging our camera, intercom, computer batteries. I would rotate bikes but would fully charge at least our intercoms to make sure we were good to go on the road. Great little addition to long distance riding.
In the end, we LOVE the Tiger XC even with the stalling issues and all. The engine was sound the entire trip, the chains did stretch very fast, not completely sure why, but in the end many have asked….would you take the Tiger over our BMW and the answer is still YES!
Feel free to ask any questions or post comments!
Remember to watch in wide-screen for HD quality and check our videos page for past videos as well!