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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them









First Women's Organized Tour of Alaska

The pros of traveling with just women

Story and photos by Perri Capell
9/17/2007

On a drizzly day in late-June in Anchorage, Alaska, video cameras were running and men cheered and waved as 11 women motorcyclists rode out of the parking lot of a tour company here. With so much fanfare, it seemed like we were celebrities, not motorcyclists. 

First Women's Tour Alaska View
The view near Fairbanks is gorgeous. From left, tour participants Cindi Servante, Margaret Zechlin and Ellen Bedingfield.

But as a sendoff for Alaska's first all-women motorcycle tour, the hoopla seemed fitting. The seven-day trip with Alaska Rider Tours included 1,200 miles of some of the state's most scenic pavement. Our itinerary took us on a loop north and east to Fairbanks, then south to the port city of Valdez on Prince William Sound and back to Anchorage.  

First Women's Tour Alaska Riding
Traffic is sparse on many Alaska highways, and so are women riders. The driver of this truck was probably surprised to see so many women motorcyclists at one time.

In between the welcome dinner and farewell banquet at top-notch Anchorage restaurants, the trip was designed to provide us with great riding, marvelous vistas and comfortable lodging. Participants ranged from a police officer and a chaplain to corporate executives, a hair salon owner and a journalist—me. I was invited along to write an article about the trip. The youngest of us was 39, the oldest, 56. Six were married, three were mothers, six had tattoos. Not even the guides and support staff were men. Guides from Alaska Rider Tours, Nicole, Katie and Sojourner, brought our number to 14.  

First Women's Tour Alaska Lady Riders
Participants in the first all-women motorcycle ride of Alaska. Standing from left: Robin Mahaffey, Cindi Servanti, Cathy Kantowski, Cathy Herron, Melissa Jackson, Laura Marshall, Karen Ligamarri and Jane Shepard. Seated from left: Margaret Zechlin, guide Katie Stine, Ellen Bedingfield and guide Nicole Christensen.

What bound us were adventurous spirits and a passion for traveling on two wheels. It was the first commercial motorcycle tour for everyone but me. Over breakfast one day, the women told me they signed up for the trip to see Alaska and to ride with just women. Without one or the other factor, they might not have forked over the base price of $2,200 to share a room and hop on the standard Alaska Rider Tours bike, a Kawasaki KLR 650.  

First Women's Tour Alaska Kawwasaki KLR650
Cathy Herron loved the KLR 650 she chose to ride on the tour. Behind her are the Tangle River Inn's fishing pond and the foothills of the Alaska Range.

First Women's Tour Alaska Harley Rider
When Cathy Kantowski couldn't reach her bike's kickstand with her foot because of the footboard, the ingenious guides invented Harley-Davidson's newest accessory: the string.

Costs were even higher for women who upgraded their bike to a Harley-Davidson, BMW or Yamaha V-Strom, and meals and gas weren't included. But Alaska is pricey. Company owner Phil Freeman told me he only broke even financially on the tour because he had discounted the price to draw enough women. According to the company's Web site, a 2007 tour of the same route on a Harley-Davidson starts at $3,450 per person, and the price tag is higher for the company's other Alaska tours.  

First Women's Tour Alaska Ladies
Alaska riders Katie Stine and Robin Mahaffey enjoying views of Mount Wrangell on a sunny day. Robin is from Robin's Ride for Women, mentioned frequently in stories on WRN.

WomenRidersNow.com Editor Genevieve Schmitt asked me to evaluate the trip and note how it compared to touring with men, so I paid close attention to the dynamics of the group and any key differences. I had never been to Alaska or on a women-only ride before. Here's what I observed on both fronts. 

1. There's no need to beat yourself up on dirt roads to have fun.
Male bikers I know who've been to Alaska typically talk about riding on the hard-packed gravel Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay, not about how spectacular Alaska's natural wonders are from the pavement. But Alaska highways have so little traffic and the wildlife is so abundant that there's really no reason to get off the main roads. To me, it was great to enjoy the views without worrying about staying upright on the sometimes muddy and slippery "haul road." 

First Women's Tour Alaska Stoplight
We counted about three stoplights in the 300 miles between Anchorage and Fairbanks. This one was due to construction.

And the views were great. Bigger than the states of Texas, California and Montana combined, Alaska overwhelmed me with its vastness and rugged beauty. The state includes 17 of the 20 highest mountain peaks in the U.S, more active glaciers and ice fields than in the rest of the inhabited world, 3,000 rivers, three million lakes, and twice the amount of coastline than the lower 48. You get the idea. 

First Women's Tour Alaska Worthington Glacier
Escape from the ice monster! In this photo, it almost looks as though some of the women on the Alaska Riders Tour are fleeing from massive Worthington Glacier. The tour included a stop to view the glacier up close.

Rain on the first two days kept us from seeing 20,400-foot Mt. McKinley, also known as The Great One, or Denali. But the sun came out after Fairbanks, giving us terrific views of Mt. Wrangell, the Worthington Glacier and the Chugach Mountains at Thompson Pass. Plus, everyone saw at least one moose.  

First Women's Tour Alaska Mt. McKinley
"They say Mt. McKinley is out there, but I don't see it." With Mt. McKinley socked in by clouds when we passed by, Margaret Zechlin stares at the next best thing: an artist's replica of the view on sunny days.

2. My butt felt better.
Alaska Rider Tours made sure we had no butt-buster days, unlike some tours I've been on with men. During this trip, the longest day was 280 miles, the shortest, about 60 miles. I liked arriving early enough at our final destination each day to explore before dinner. I also sometimes get left behind and have to travel alone on group rides with men when I don't join them on mud or gravel trails, in sand, or other difficult stretches. On this trip, I was well within my comfort zone and never abandoned!

3. Women riders take risks, but they aren't always visible.
That's not to say that women riders don't challenge themselves. Although group members seemed happy with the trip itinerary and outwardly calm, a few told me later that they had pushed the envelope of their comfort zones in coming to Alaska. None had ridden outside the lower 48; a few had never gone out on two wheels without husbands or boyfriends. 

First Women's Tour Alaska Curves
Taking the curves on Alaska Highway 1, the Glenn Highway, on the final day of the tour. For these women, Alaska rocked!

On most coed tours I've joined, people often split off to ride in small groups at their own pace. On this trip, it was several days before participants stopped riding in formation behind Nicole, the lead guide, and went off in pairs or threesomes. When I learned how inexperienced some women were before the trip, I understood why they had stayed together. Some gals said they put more miles under their belts on this tour than in the entire prior riding season. A couple of them had never ridden in rain before, and some who rode cruiser-style bikes at home had never been on different models. I was impressed that these ladies came on the tour, and I observed big gains in their skills and confidence. 

First Women's Tour Alaska Tangle River Inn
In Alaska, the rule is to fill up the gas tank every 100 miles because you never know when you'll see another gas stop. Here, the ladies top off at Tangle River Inn, where they stayed overnight.

4. Women travelers are funnier.
The humor on the trip surprised me most. Mary Beth Bond, the California-based author of 50 Best Girlfriend Getaways, says that with no one other than themselves to care for, participants in women's tours relax and become lighthearted. Our group was no exception. It included some natural comediennes whose stories and hilarious trip videos made me laugh until my sides hurt. 

First Women's Tour Alaska Chena Hot Springs
Yeow! The mineral pool at Chena Hot Springs Resort is hot, hot, hot, but Jane Shepard, Robin Mahaffey and Karen Ligamarri don't seem to mind. The group spent a rest day at the resort.

If you're ready for an organized motorcycle tour, this ride may be a good first choice. Alaska is exotic enough to give you the feeling of being in a foreign destination, but without the language, currency or passport hassles. Riding there is safe and enjoyable, and if my group is any indication, you'll get support for any hurdles. You also may find a riding buddy for the lower 48. 

First Women's Tour Alaska Sled
"Mush, girl, mush!" Robin Mahaffey, the sled driver, having some fun with Ellen Bedingfield practicing their sledding technique before lunch in a restaurant operated by native Alaskans. Next up, the Iditarod dog-sled race!

Base price for the 2007 Alaska Women's Ride, sharing a room and riding a Kawasaki KLR 650: $2,200. Bike upgrades, private room, meals and gas are additional. For information and 2008 prices, visit AKRider.com.  

Perri Capell is a veteran journalist whose articles appear in well-known motorcycle magazines. She has been an editor and senior correspondent for Dow Jones and Company Inc., publisher of the Wall Street Journal, for the past 18 years. Perri started riding at age 49, buying her first two motorcycles via the Internet, including one through eBay. She and her husband, Lynn, now own more than 20 motorcycles between them (her favorites are her Yamaha TDM, Honda Transalp and Kawasaki KLR 650). The couple love adventure riding and travel worldwide on motorcycles. They have ridden in Oman, China and Vietnam, but Perri says nothing beats her home state of Idaho for great roads and scenery. You can reach her at capellf@cableone.net.

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