Vroom ... with a very scenic view

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GIRDWOOD, Alaska -- Seven years ago, Phillip Freeman rode a motorcycle from Washington state to Alaska. Business was the last thing on his mind.

Yet that experience would set the former river-rafting guide on a new course as a tour operator, offering, in his experience, the best way to experience Alaska: by motorcycle.

"At one point, I could see hundreds of miles north to the Alaska range and hundreds of miles south to the Wrangells," said Freeman. "To see all that in one vista was inspiring.

"I've lived here all my life, and I can't think of a better way to see Alaska," he added. "There's no roof over your head, no window to separate you from your surroundings."

Now in its sixth season, Alaska Rider Tours offers eight basic itineraries and will build packages to order.

The company provides Harley-Davidson, BMW, Suzuki DR or Kawasaki KLR bikes. The last-named two are dual-purpose vehicles, made to perform both as road hogs and dirt bikes, and are geared toward the more adventurous tours. Motorcycle owners can bring their own bikes if they wish.

Freeman's clients include fathers and sons, some couples and some single riders, he said.

Alaska Rider Tours has the only permit for motorcycle touring at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the site of Mount Drum, above. "Many are either coming back to motorcycles in mid-life or are avid motorcycle enthusiasts who have ridden in many places and are coming to Alaska to mark it off their lists."

The operator prefers riders to have some experience riding dirt bikes, although it is not required.

Freeman said he specializes in off-the-beaten-path itineraries, and groups can ride between 500 and 1,200 miles.

The motorcycle rides start in Anchorage, but "we take people all the way to the Arctic Circle," Freeman said.

"If you want to see the hidden entrance to Mount McKinley, I can show it to you," he said. "I can take you far up into the mountains. There are a lot of secret spots I have found that I like to share."

The standard trips range from a four- to 10-night itinerary. With a day at each end for transfer, a four-night trip works out to three days of riding.

"These are bed-and-breakfast-type tours," said Freeman. "Everything is included, except lunch."

The selection includes two camping trips, which Freeman called "really cushy."

"People tell me it's not really camping," he added. "There is a support vehicle that carries the tents and cots. You get to your tent and it's all set up. We cook marinated steaks and halibut with garlic and fresh ingredients. We make sure what [clients] like before we start."

The season runs May 15 to Sept. 15. "By the first tour, there are 21 hours of daylight," Freeman said. "It never really gets dark through June into mid-July."

Although Alaska Rider Tours has advertised in motorcycle enthusiast magazines, most of its business comes from the Web, and Freeman said he's working to get the company's name out to travel agents.

Alaska Rider Tours pays 15% commission. Land prices range from $1,800 to $3,800 per person, double.

"People turn to me and say, 'This [area] is more beautiful than I ever imagined,' " Freeman said. "They come away with a suntan, totally happy about what they have seen and experienced."

For more information, call (800) 756-1990 or visit www.akrider.com.

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