The Dalton Highway and the vast expanse of ALASKA!!!
"We started to pass other bikers too, mainly a strung out group of Harley riders. How they managed it on these bikes in this weather we don’t know, BIG kudos to them. Because their bikes were lower to the ground they were COVERED in mud, Nick said they resembled a biking terracotta army!"
20/8/22. We spent the day in Fairbanks sorted ourselves out ready for our attempt to get to Deadhorse and the top of Alaska for the following 4 days. We had to buy fuel containers to make sure that we wouldn’t run out (at its longest there is a 450km stretch with no pump stations). We also repositioned all our luggage so that the heaviest things were in the bottom of the panniers and we had minimal weight in the bags on top. This helps keep the centre of gravity lower on the bikes and therefore more “planted” to the ground.
21/8/22. Heading off that morning Bec felt an uneasy mix of trepidation and self-doubt. The Dalton Highway was a notoriously difficult road in the middle of nowhere where bikers broke bones and bikes on a regular basis. She then realised that if we were going to travel to other remote parts of the world then she had to get comfortable about making these kinds of trips now. She also realised that the difficult paths in life are the ones that create memories …doesn’t matter if you succeed or if you fail, you will remember these journeys!
The Dalton Highway is a 666 kms road that runs from around 100kms north of Fairbanks to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay at the top of Alaska. It was built to service the oil industry and the Alaskan oil pipeline that runs its whole length. Areas are tar sealed (with big pot holes) but it is mainly a gravel/dirt road. It’s a breeze in dry weather but a nightmare in the rain as the top turns to mush and the calcium chloride that is mixed with the top layer to create a solid crust when dry, sticks and bakes to everything when wet like cement as well as creates lots of sliding!
We made it to Yukon River camp after a few hours and filled the tanks with petrol and ourselves with a great home cooked lunch in the only café for 200kms!
We seem to attract road graders and one particular one had fluffed a perfectly good road up nicely with a 6 – 8 inch layer of soft surface.
Yup, you know what happened next… Bec hit the soft stuff and made that fatal mistake of sitting down and looking at the ground in front instead of way ahead. The bike started to career from one side to the other, Nick said it was like watching someone try and ride a snake, and off she came! Luckily she got thrown into the soft stuff and was unhurt. Lesson learnt …look ahead and stand on your pegs!
After another 100kms or so we reached the Arctic Circle which is the most northerly circle of latitude as shown on maps; an imaginary circle around the earth, parallel to the equator.
On a bit further and as we were riding along a lone wolf crossed the road in front of us. Nick stopped to watch as it disappeared into the bush and it turned around and eyeballed him and then sauntered out of view. It was another of those surreal moments. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would see a wolf!
We spent the night at Coldfoot camp, a very basic lodging that made us feel like we might be in Siberia and not the USA.
22/8/22 When we woke up the next day, it had been raining …a LOT!
While filling the bikes with fuel again Nick got chatting to a local tour guide who said it was going to rain ALL DAY!!! He did not impart this information to Bec because he thought some things were better left unsaid!
This guide knew his info well!!
Unfortunately we were not going to make it to Deadhorse today as they had closed the road 160kms ahead for maintenance for 24 hours. We had the options to either camp at Galbraith Lake (just before the road closure) and continue on the next day, or get as far as we could and then turn around and come back (and therefore gain another day on our 90 day USA visa).
We decided that Deadhorse was just a tick for us and not somewhere we had always wanted to visit (its basically an industrial site), however the Atigun Pass is somewhere that we did want to see so we decided to head that far and then turn back.
The weather held off and and we had a magnifcant ride through the middle of nowhere. The road closure meant there where no big trucks on the road which was a bonus, the downside was that all the graders in Alaska were taking the opportunity to grade the road while there were no trucks!
Bec mentioned to Nick that she wondered if heading off into the unknown while not knowing the weather forecasts (we’d had no cell signal or internet for 2 days!) made them intrepid travellers or idiots. Nick kept very quiet!!!!!
The climb up to the top of the Atigun Pass was incredible, although the top was shrouded in cloud.
The whole ride was incredible! We may have chosen a difficult weather time at the end of the season but the autumn colours were just beautiful.
Once we had turned around and headed back to Coldfoot it had started to rain …and rain and rain! We decided to attempt to make it back to Yukon River camp, it would mean a 550km day on mainly gravel but we reckoned we could do it.
The weather got worse, and the roads got worse, and then the wind got worse …and then we were stuck between Coldfoot and Yukon River Camp so we had to keep going.
We cant begin to explain how much mud and how slippy the road was. The trucks had started coming in by this point, ready for when the road opened up that night again. As they approached there was this plume of wet and mud coming off them that hit you full on.
We started to pass other bikers too, mainly a strung out group of Harley riders. How they managed it on these bikes in this weather we don’t know, BIG kudos to them. Because their bikes were lower to the ground they were COVERED in mud, Nick said they resembled a biking terracotta army! They were so happy though and seeing us going the other way they all waved frantically or did fist pumps. Makes you proud to be a biker!
We found out later on this group was doing a ride all the way from the Lower 48 with Biltwell as a support crew.
We made it to Yukon River camp, our bikes lagged in mud.
They had a room for the night so we didn't have to tent it in the rain.
The waitress in the café showed us to our room in the hostel …you know you are in Alaska when she warns you to be careful on the 10 step walk from the hostel to the café of the bear in the area and the lone wolf who has a screw loose!
WELCOME TO ALASKA!!!