Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 18 - Leaving Fairbanks

This post is a continuation of my Alaska trip in 2012 for anyone reading my blog for the first time.

Today is the day I make my final push north to the final destination of my trip.  By tomorrow if everything goes well I will have turned around and start heading home.  I'm now 4300 miles away from home with a mere 500 miles to go to the end of the road in Prudhoe Bay, aka, Deadhorse.
I get up early and start carting my stuff downstairs, a bit of a pain having to bring all my equipment from the 3rd floor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but in no time I have my bike packed and ready to go.
Just as I'm about to get on the bike I hear another bike approaching and stop behind mine.  I turn around and recognize Dave, a fellow rider who I had met and camped side by side with almost two weeks earlier in the Yukon.  After a little chitchat he asks me where I'm heading, I say Prudoe Bay and he asks if he can tag along.   I really didn't want to do the most dangerous part of my trip alone and neither did he.  I promptly agree with the condition that I lead the trip.  He agrees and the first order of business was to fill our stomachs, we head to a nearby McDonalds for a quick breakfast.

Anyone leaving Fairbanks on the way to Deadhorse knows the trip is easily broken into two parts, each about 250 miles.  The first leg to Coldfoot can be relatively easy depending on the weather but the second leg to Deadhorse is much more difficult and can be extremely more dangerous depending on the weather.

Soon after we leave Fairbanks we are on open road with little to no traffic.  The road is paved and in pretty good shape allowing us to keep a good speed.  We get a little shower earlier on but since we are both wearing our rainproof jacket and pants, we don't even slow down.  One thing we do is enjoy the beautiful scenery while keeping an eye for wildlife.

One thing you are guaranteed to run into is showers.  If you are lucky like us you get a few short showers, if you are unlucky you might do the whole trip in the rain.  You can see from these pictures the road was dry and then wet and then dry, just the usual Alaska weather, so I was told.

About 85 miles north of Fairbanks, just after Livengood, you reach the beginning of the Dalton Highway.  The Dalton Highway stretches 414 miles across northern Alaska.
Built during construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s, this mostly gravel highway travels through rolling, forested hills, across the Yukon River and Arctic Circle, through the rugged Brooks Range, and over the North Slope to the Arctic Ocean.
 Read more here: BLM

We stop for the obligatory pictures and a couple returning from the Arctic Circle, another 113 miles up the road offers to take a picture of us.  Dave is riding a BMW GS.

Soon after entering the Dalton Highway the paved road ends and becomes a sand and gravel road.  It had rained earlier on making the road very slippery.  The Bureau of Land Management uses calcium chloride to keep the dust down and to attract moisture to help the gravel stay packed solidly.  That works well when the road is dry but when wet it becomes as slippery as mud.  One thing I had heard multiple times by other riders and read in blogs is to keep the weight on the bike as low as possible otherwise you will be caught by the slippery mud.  We slow down a little but so far the road is not that bad.

We make good progress finding the road in reasonably good shape.  We ride standing up at times just so we can keep a good pace.  We both have Heidenaus K60 which gives us a little more confidence than I would have with regular street tires.  I'm carrying all my equipment including tent and camping equipment on my back seat.  I know my bike is pretty heavy but so far the handling is really good allowing me to keep speeds of 65 to 75mph.   I'm actually starting to have a lot of fun riding in these conditions, feeling the bike move under me.

We cross a few wooden bridges and as long as they are dry it's a no issue but if they are wet you have to be a little more careful.  You do not want to lose the front end on a slippery wooden plank.  I maintain a steady pace paying special attention to the road while crossing the bridge.

Soon you see the famous Alaska oil pipeline next to you.  At first from afar the pipe doesn't look that thick but the pipe is actually 4 feet in diameter.  Later I would have a chance to stand on it and see it up close.

We encounter a mostly deserted road and even the dreaded construction is a non issue since it's Sunday and no workers are on the road.   We stop by a few road construction areas for a quick break and to drink water.  The air is dry and the temperature is in mid 60's.   

The Dalton starts as a gravel road but there are areas that are paved.  The scenery is stunningly beautiful, green as far as the eye can see and the sky a deep blue when not covered by clouds.

About 60 miles after entering the Dalton Highway you arrive at the Yukon River Camp on the other side of this bridge.   The camp has a motel, restaurant, a gift shop and gas.  One thing you hear a lot is you must never pass gas in Alaska, a running joke in this part of the country.  We pull in for a warm cup of coffee and top off our tanks.

Use the embedded map below to look around

You can see on these two panoramas the condition of the road and how dirty the bikes already are after only 135 miles since leaving Fairbanks.  We are barely past halfway to the end of the first leg in Coldfoot.

Yes, this is the Yukon River Camp Motel, a prefab building with a few rooms in the back.  I walked into the corridor so I could snap a photo of the rooms.  These are mostly for workers and have the bare essentials only.

I have a large cup of coffee and a few chocolate chip cookies while we chat with a few other riders doing the same trip.  The others were already on the return trip.  We exchange road condition information and chitchat for a while. There are also a few truck drivers and they also have suggestions on the road, everybody seems nice and ready to volunteer information.   Below you can see the difference between my bike still traveling north and the guy chatting with Dave who is already on the way back.  My bike looks clean compared to his.

With our tanks topped off we hit the road as the saying goes.
To be continued.......