Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 20 - Return to Fairbanks

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

My plan for day 20 of my trip was to return to Fairbanks with an easy and relaxing ride.  I had 250 miles from Coldfoot to Fairbanks, check in at the University, unpack the bike and head to the first car wash with a high power washing gun.  After packing my tent and a quick breakfast in the store, I head out stopping to take a photo and one last look at the sign announcing Coldfoot when driving north on the Dalton Highway.  As I pull ahead and start heading south, I promised myself I would return to Coldfoot.

I ride solo and the next 120 miles are uneventful.  I ride at a brisk pace enjoying the beautiful scenery, the weather was good with no rain in sight.  I stop at the Yukon River Camp for a cup of coffee and then stop at the crossing of the Yukon River for one final photo of this amazing river.  I don't even dismount.

Later as I get closer to Fairbanks I see what looks like an interesting store and quickly pull in to the Wildwood General Store to get a souvenir for my daughter and wife.

Parked in front of the store were two huge limos, which I had never seen before, with 4 doors on each side.  Later I find out these are called Checker Aerobus and were made between 1962 and 1977 by Checker Motors Corporation.  These were primarily used as airport shuttles, the intial production used Chrysler V8's but later models used Chevrolet small blocks.  They hadn't been used in a long time and had seen better days.  Wiki

A section of the 4 foot oil pipeline in front of the owners house.

After picking up a few souvenirs and a free cup of coffee, I say goodbye to the lady and head south.  Later on I see a monster truck on the side of the road and stop for a quick picture, didn't even bother dismounting.  These trucks were operated by the Alaska Freight Lines of Seattle which had contracted with Western Electric to provide 500 tons of equipment to the DEW stations being built in the Alaska sector.
The VC-22 Sno-Freighter consisted of a power truck with a 500-hp Cummins VT-12 engine, and three 20-ton trailers. Each wheel was powered by a separate electric motor.  When Alaska Freight Lines's contract with Western Electric ran out it was soon left to rot. Today it sits abandoned near the Steese Highway.

A few miles down the road I see tourist buses stopped on the side of the road and I realize this is the place were all the touring companies bring tourists to see the pipeline.   I stop to see what this is all about and soon I'm enjoying reading about the pipeline and the "pigs" used to clean the pipeline.  These so called "pigs" traveled down the pipeline scrapping the walls.  The most common pig is the scraper pig which removes wax that precipitates out of the oil and collects on the walls of the pipeline.  Others were corrosion-detecting pigs using either magnetic or ultrasonic sensors to detect various problems on the pipeline.  Wiki

The pipeline is about 800 miles (1,287 km)  long from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez where the oil is loaded onto oil tanker ships.

This "pig" scrapped wax from the internal walls of the pipe when the pipeline first began operating.  The oil is approximately 100 degree F as it passes this location.  The scrapper pig weighs 2600 pounds.

I arrive in Fairbanks and head straight to the University.  I park my bike next to the two KTM's from the guys I had met two days earlier at the Arctic Circle marker.  These same guys had passed me earlier while I was taking photos on the side of the Dalton Highway.  They had waved the okay sign at me asking if everything was okay since I was alone and stopped on the side of the road.  As I unpack my bike, I see them walking over to their bikes, we start chatting and I find out they are from Poland but are now living near Chicago.  We start discussing our adventure and I get invited to come up to their room for a few shots. I tell them I have to wash the bike but will stop by later.  I move most of my stuff to the room and then go looking for a car wash they had told me was just down the road.  Now starts the laborious process of removing all the calcium chloride mud in every crack and nook on the bike.  I start by exchanging $10 into quarters.

A few photos prior to clean up.  I had the bike looking like this in the Yukon but water cleaned it up pretty easily, this mud is very different, once it's dry it sticks like cement.

The front of the engine was pretty bad, thick layers covered everything.  I should have sprayed WD-40 or cooking oil spray all over the engine before heading north but I hadn't done the proper preparation.

Lots of dead bugs and mosquitoes.  The Super Tenere has the radiator on the side panel and this is where the air goes in, then through the radiator and out the side panel.  You can imagine how the inside of the radiator was, luckily the power washer was very powerful and I was able to shoot water into the opening, through the radiator and out the side until the radiator was free of any mud.

It took more than the initial $10, if I remember correctly I ended up exchanging about $30 into quarters.  It was worth it, I managed to get about 90 percent of the mud out.  The other 9 percent came out since then with all the washes I have done but there's got to be at least 1 percent still in there.  Even now whenever I'm working on the bike I find nooks with mud.  I don't mind, it's all part of the memory.

After the clean up I head to a McDonald's and pickup a burger meal, then quickly retreat to my room and devour the meal, I was starving.  I call my wife, hadn't spoken with my family in 3 days, then go down to the laundry room and put my clothes washing.  It was now time to go meet my two Polish friends.  I get to their room and they have a 1.5L bottle of Vodka and a shot glass on the table, they were waiting for me.  We start motorcycle chat and out comes the first shot of Vodka.  They explain to me that it's a Polish tradition to fill the glass with Vodka, tell a short story, down the glass and then refill it and pass it to the next guy.  I tell them I don't drink much and can't really take the alcohol but they convince me to join them for a few shots.  They even ask me if I mind sharing the glass with them, of course not I say, the Vodka will kill anything on the glass, we all laugh and start a new round.  The short stories start and the glass goes around and around until the stories start getting longer and the speech slurred.  Much later I remember I had put the clothes washing and I still had to dry them.  I go downstairs, change the clothes to the drier and go back to their room.  More stories, more drinking until well past midnight.  Sometime after midnight, I don't even remember the time, we say our goodbyes and I stumble downstairs to get my clothes.  When I last looked at the bottle it was almost empty.  I didn't forget my clothes but had a hard time getting them out of the drier and carry them upstairs.  I stumble up two floors and somehow manage to get to my room, throw the clothes on the table and get in bed.  I could feel everything spinning around me as I closed my eyes.  I was too tired, nothing was going to keep me awake but I knew the next morning I was going to suffer.

To be continued......


  1. Love your trip and stories, someday I hope to do the same

    1. Thanks Richard. You should, it's an amazing adventure but prepare well and don't do it alone, have a least one other rider with you as backup.

  2. Replies
    1. Andrew, are you saying I should paint in some pretend mud color? make it look rugged and dirty with mud?
      Humm, that's an idea :-)

  3. I remember seeing some of the long Checkers as a youngster. We lived close to the Freeway and near the Minneapolis International Airport. The ones I saw were painted traditional taxi cab yellow.
    Ah yes, alcohol and stories...the more of the first, the better the second becomes!

    1. Erik, nothing better than at the end of an adventure to sit down with a drink and relive the adventure.
      Main reason I write the blog, so when I retire I can sit down and go through it again :-)