Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 18 - Almost to Deahorse

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

The last leg of my long trip north was ahead of me, only 240 miles left to reach Deadhorse with absolutely nothing in between but mountains and tundra.  This last leg of the trip was something I had been dreaming for a long time, my head going through all the scenarios both good and bad.  Lots of things could go wrong but I had prepared myself for this most difficult part.  Coldfoot to Deadhorse is 240 miles of unknown road conditions, could be an easy ride if dry or a difficult one if it rained, so many other riders had warned me.  My Super Tenere has a range of 240 miles at a steady speed, I had brought a Rotopax and it was now filled with an extra gallon just in case, giving me an extra 40 miles of range.
We left Coldfoot and soon we were in the midst of the most beautiful scenery I had seen so far.  The mountain ranges gleaming in the afternoon sun.

It had rained quite a bit but we were lucky, the road wasn't too bad and the rain was ahead of us. We stopped to take pictures of this beautiful mountain gleaming in the late afternoon sun.  I was leading the way, this was my trip, I wanted to make sure I would have photos without anyone in front of me.

For a while the road was very wet and slippery but at 50 or 60mph the bike hardly moved under me.  Riding slowly is actually the worse thing you can do.  Early on, the road is a brownish color, then all of a sudden it changes to a dark grayish clay like consistency and there were lots of potholes and ruts making us pay a little more attention to the road.

I could see the clouds ahead, most likely rain and we still had to deal with the Atigun Pass, elevation 4,739 feet (1,444 m).  The Atigun pass cuts across the Brooks Range in Alaska.  I stopped occasionally for photos and then continued moving further north.  The potholes were the biggest pain, I had to continually look down to try and avoid the bigger ones.

Soon we came up to this mountain, a long climb ahead of us.  If you look careful right in the middle of the picture is a truck coming down the hill, not the blue one ahead of us but the white and yellow in the far distance, that gives you an idea of the climb.  I'm amazed truckers do it in winter too.

My beautiful Super Tenere covered in mud mixed with Calcium Chloride which is used to keep the dust down and to attract moisture to help the gravel stay packed solidly.  It works well when the road is dry but when wet it's slippery as stepping on soap in a bathtub.  This stuff also attacks metal, specially aluminum, with a vengeance.

We came upon Atigun Pass and it started raining quite a bit all of a sudden.  We stopped before starting the climb and donned our rain gear in heavy rain. I didn't get a photo from the bottom because it was raining so badly. We start the climb and stop about a quarter of the way up for a few pictures. The view of the road going south.

View towards the north, heavy clouds and more rain.
Atigun is the only pass in the Brooks Range that is crossed by a road.  The pass has been responsible for taking many drivers off the road and is also home to avalanches during the winter. Wiki

The top of the pass was treacherous, made more difficult because of the heavy rain but then we come down the other side and the rain has stopped, the sky has opened and it looks clear for a while.  I let Dave go ahead and if you look careful on the photo below, the little black dot on the other side of the bridge is Dave waiting for me.  We are now in a beautiful valley with smooth road ahead of us.

The Atigun River 1 north of the pass and the beautifully colored mountains.

We stopped to take a break on a clearing on the side of the road near the pipeline.  Heavy clouds all around us but the rain had stopped finally.  It's difficult to explain how desolate but stunningly beautiful at the same time the scenery is this far north.  I hope my photos are able to show the beauty of Alaska.

A few shots while riding, my helmet and visor covered in mud sprayed by crossing trucks.  Hadn't shaved in a few days.  Notice also how burned my face is from so many days of riding in the sun.

A late afternoon stop on the Dalton, it was actually around 10pm and the sun was still way above the horizon. We finally had a few hours of rain free riding and blue sky above us.

A reminder of the dangers on the Dalton Highway, a crashed pickup on the side of the road.
Approximately 1 in 50 motorcycles who drive the Dalton will crash, and the nearest medical facilities are in Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Anyone embarking on a journey on the Dalton is encouraged to bring survival gear. Wiki

We had left Coldfoot without any plans other than getting to Deathhorse, find a place to pitch our tents and spend the night.  There are two or three motels in Deadhorse, they are for workers staying temporarily or visitors to the oil sites.  They are expensive and offer basic accommodations. We had decided to rough it up and camp near Prudhoe Bay.  About 60 miles before Deadhorse we stopped on a clearing on the side of the road to drink water and eat a snack.  While walking around exploring the area we started talking about our plans.  The picture below was taken at 11:30, my bike was on the side of the road and I had walked to the middle of the highway.  The place was so serene, no rain in sight and it looked liked we were going to have a clear night.  We still had another hour or so of riding to reach Deadhorse.  I looked at Dave and asked, why not pitch our tents here and spend the night?   He looks at me a little surprised but quickly agrees, we survey the area for bears, find a soft spot on the tundra and proceed to setup our tents.  The tent was actually on top of low grass which made for a comfy ground.

With the tent setup and a quick meal made of snacks, energy bar and water, I was ready to hit the sleeping bag when I hear a rumbling noise coming down the road.  It was one of the haul trucks going towards Prudhoe Bay.  He saw us, blew his horn, we waved at him with thumbs up, meaning we were okay, he blew his horn again and continued at full speed on his way.  That was the last vehicle we saw that night.

I walk to the middle of the road and take one last picture of the sunset, it was 11:30 and the sun is clearly above the horizon, it never went below the horizon.  I go back to my tent, made sure I did not have anything with food with me and retreated to my sleeping bag.  I could hardly believe I was spending the night in the middle of nowhere surrounded by arctic tundra.
Arctic tundra contains areas of stark landscape and is frozen for much of the year. The soil there is frozen from 25–90 cm (10–35 in) down, and it is impossible for trees to grow. Instead, bare and sometimes rocky land can only support low growing plants such as moss. Wiki
I should mention that I setup my tent with my jacket and helmet on because mosquito must have spread the word that there was fresh meat nearby.  We were swarmed by thousands of mosquitoes as soon as we stopped.  I sprayed myself but still, they were relentless, any piece of exposed skin was a clear target for them.  At every previous stopped we had been swarmed but usually we were stationary for short periods of time.  This time we were spending the night and they could sense us from very far away.  As soon as I was done taking photos, I got back in my tent, zipped it well and proceeded to kill the mosquitoes already inside.

I lay in my sleeping bag staring up into the sky, happy to be spending the night so far up north.  The mosquitoes were still buzzing around outside the tent as I quickly fell asleep.

Tomorrow we will cover the last 60 miles to Prudhoe Bay, have breakfast in one of the motels then turn around and start heading south.

More to come.....


  1. Such rich vibrant colors in those photos. My favorites are the first few with the sun on the mountain. Stunning.

    Hard to believe the sunshine and blue sky pictures was after 10 pm. That is still foreign to me no matter how many times Richard blogs about the sun not setting.

    1. Yea, the first pictures are beautiful and I got some nice ones on the way back. On the way back I was alone halfway, will explain later ;-)
      It's weird getting inside the tent at 11:30 and there's still light outside, it's a fantastic experience.

  2. beautiful photographs. I had been curious on how Atigun Pass would photograph. I had only been through there in the winter and have always been disappointed at how poorly you can see the steepness of the road and the cliffs. In the winter, there is the additional problem of walls of snow 20' high along some parts of the pass. Hard to get a good perspective.

    I've never been farther north than Toolik Lake Field Camp just north of Galbraith Lake. Probably south of where you camped.

    1. I wish I had taken more photos of the pass but like I said, it started raining when we arrived at the bottom and quite heavily as you can see, the road was muddy and really wet. When I took the photo about a quarter of the way up the first hill it had slowed a little so we took the opportunity to at least get a photo with my crappy camera. What do you think of us camping 60 miles before Prudhoe Bay? crazy?

    2. It looks like you had found a decent camping area and being near the road, it was probably safe enough. And as long as there were no trash cans around, it probably was safe enough from bears. I probably wouldn't have tried to make it in one trip especially if the weather was marginal. But it looks like you had a great time and survived being the only warm blooded animal in the area.

    3. Trash cans? hadn't seen one in a long time ;-)
      Yea, barely survived the mosquitoes

  3. George such spectacular scenery ... the photographs from your trip continue to amaze me, though many of the roads looked a bit less than hospitable, possibly the reason for so many crashes. Glad you were not part of the statistics and are able to share this amazing journey.

    1. Thanks VStar :-)
      I still have plenty more, it's taking time but slowly I will put all the pictures from the trip. No point in keeping them just for myself.