You Only Live Once

The New York Times ran an article about the YOLO economy recently. America’s Millennials burned out by a year of working via Zoom are waking up to the idea that there may be other things in life besides sitting at the kitchen counter buried in a laptop all day. With vaccinations on the rise, many have decided the moment to pursue their dreams is now – or (quite possibly) never. I have it on good authority that one in four plans on quitting their jobs as soon as the world opens up.

As someone who has worked remotely since 1989, I can sympathize. And as role models for dropping everything and chasing sunrises, we are at least a couple of years ahead of the herd. Knowing that the demand for blue water cruisers like Aleta is high makes us happy, too.

In this spirit I present a post from my 2014 motorcycle trip to Alaska with my buddy Sledge. In it I introduce several very different people who decided life was too short to simply sit around.


Andy and Sledge

When we first met Andy on the road heading north towards Prudhoe Bay, I assumed that with her big white Ford F-350 and air of self-confidence she was an oil company executive on a mission.

Perhaps there had been a case of sexual harassment out at the rig and she, as VP for HR, was going to sort things out. Had that been the case I would not have wanted to be at the wrong end of the issue. But it turned out Andy is a peripatetic adventurer criss-crossing the continent in her yellow Mini Cooper (the pickup was only a rental). This week it was Alaska and her goal the furthest point north she could get. Why was she constantly on the move? Why the hell not? Life’s too short! Over breakfast with her in Deadhorse, Andy suggested we try out a hostel she’d found in Fairbanks and we said, Sure! Sounds fun! We agreed to meet there the following day.

Sven’s Basecamp Hostel is run by Sven. Sven escaped from Switzerland many years ago and wound up managing a tidy set of cabins and standing tents for a cross-section of Alaska’s tourist industry. A set of students and their professors turned up on their way to the Brooks Range for some research. There were several German couples on long-distance expeditions across North America.

A group of motorcyclists who looked like a tour group came and went en masse. They were far too clean and still carrying stress hangovers that indicated they hadn’t ridden up the AlCan. Instead, they had probably flown into Anchorage a couple of days ago. We felt smug and manly with our filthy motorcycles and their lower 48 license plates.

Andy's Mini

Our bikes were so dirty that we spent over $20 each at the local spray and wash trying to clean the crap off of them. The worst part was soaking off the calcium chloride that’s used to seal the Dalton Highway’s muddy surface. Any time it rains the calcium kicks up in blotchy welts that dries instantly on any hot surface. The exhaust pipes got the worst of it.

Later that afternoon Andy gave us a quick tour of her Mini with its expensive Italian ‘tenthouse‘ suite on its roof. It was pretty cool and for a traveler on a budget a great way to comfortably avoid hotels.

As the contingent of 20-something itinerants grew I began feeling my age, and more than a little wistful. After dinner a couple of them quietly played guitar as the last sliver of moon rose over the dwindling purples and oranges of twilight. Out back a bonfire lit up and we passed our Jim Beam around until it was gone and the fire burned down to embers.

Morning woke us clear and cold with a heavy dew. After breakfast we headed south along the high ridge that runs out of Fairbanks towards Denali. Low clouds clung to the wet road for the first hour or so.

Movie Magic Bus

Just north of Denali National Park is the turn-off for the Stampede Trail where Christopher McCandless famously walked into the wild. Well, kind of. Chris wandered 20 miles up the trail in early spring until he found an old Fairbanks City bus (63°52’05.9″N 149°46’08.4″W) that he made home. He then promptly spent the next three months starving to death.

Jon Krakauer, of ‘Into Thin Air’ fame, spins a good yarn and became fascinated with how a young man from California met his maker in this bit of wilderness. Krakauer’s book ‘Into the Wild’ made McCandless famous. A film by Sean Penn made him a household name. Today pilgrims from all over the world wander up the trail searching for the Magic Bus, some pausing to drown in the Teklanika River along the way. Which I guess is the kind of sacrifice pilgrims are expected to make.

You can avoid all that silliness by heading a little further down to the road to the 49th State Brewing Company in Healy. There you’ll find the replica bus that was used in the movie. Inside, the cab is lined with a depressing series of McCandless’ self-portraits that show him wasting away to his pointless demise. It was a great film, though.

We were riding, not drinking. So after a few selfies we hopped back on our bikes hoping enjoy all the splendors Denali had to offer. Did I mention it was now warm and sunny and a really good day to be alive?

– Posted – August 23, 2014,


Here’s a short video I took crossing Atigun Pass by motorbike. Through the magic of editing this is sped up, but for reference we were both hitting speeds of 75-80 mph once over the pass. After all, you only live once, eh?



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