Alaska 2014 Trip – Post #3

Two roads lead out of Tok, the road to Glennallen and further on to Anchorage. We took the ALCAN and headed for Fairbanks and following the last portion of the ALCAN to its terminus in Delta Junction., AK. Just north of Delta Junction, one gets their first look at the famous Alyeska pipeline that runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, AK. We finished the day at the Best Western Hotel in Fairbanks, our jumping off point (and that term began to take on another meaning the following day on the Dalton Highway) for a try to make it to Deadhorse, the terminus of the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway services the oil fields and should never be confused with a road built for public convenience and safe travel. The Dalton Highway is an oil field service road, and it is best not to forget this fact. The road has 8% to 12% grades and when wet is treacherous. The road’s primary users, as far as we could tell, were trucks, really big trucks, servicing Prudhoe Bay and the ever present graders and water trucks maintaining the road, and, of course, some deranged motorcyclists.

Before you get the impression that riding the Dalton Highway or Haul Road is tantamount to a full scale assault on Everest, it is not. The road is quite doable depending on weather and road conditions and the cyclist’s skill level. It is best not to be on a schedule and to visit the other parts of Alaska while you wait for the conditions and your skill level to reach a point of equilibrium. We, of course, did not follow that advice and inquired as to weather and conditions on the road. We got the standard fifteen different answers from death defying to no big deal. As it turned out, our ride was somewhere in-between. When we left Fairbanks for the North Slope, the weather was fine, but one must remember the Dalton is 500 miles long and crosses mountain ranges and spans more than one climatic zone.

When we got to Yukon Crossing and had lunch, we were becoming fairly comfortable with the road and had not yet experienced anything similar to the Top of the World Highway experience with the fresh crushed rock. Foolish boys we were, and if I could have only imagined what lay ahead, we would have felt like those who participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade or Pickett’s Last Charge at Gettysburg. There was a conversation I had had with a hotel manager in Deadhorse and her warnings of problems on the road, bad weather systems, and slides at Atigun Pass with rivers flooding over the road in the back of my mind, soon to rush to the forefront of my mind. You might also find this link interesting

It began to rain, and rain heavily it did. As we went along the graders were constantly trying to keep pace with the rutting of the road caused by weather conditions and the truck traffic continued unabated. The riding in some spots was what one would expect on a good gravel road that is treated frequently with Calcium Chloride to bind and keep the dust down. In other spots the road was more than a bit interesting. We made it to the famous Arctic Circle sign, took pictures, did the trophy strutting around and got back on the bikes to head to our night’s destination, Coldfoot. Not far from the Arctic Circle sign two things happened in succession, one that caused us to scream in our helmets like little scared children and the other a blessed relief. The first was a ride down a very slick and muddy hill 8+% plus grade where we exited onto pavement at the bottom at about 60 mph. After the screaming subsided, we gave thanks for the 60-70 miles of pavement to Coldfoot (actually goes all the way to Wiseman) that lay before us.

A couple of hours of relatively anxious free hours put us at the entrance to the Coldfoot facilities, and so with much relief I raised my modular helmet’s chin bar so that my breathing would no longer fog the face shield, and after all, we had “made it”, right? Wrong, the parking lot was a quagmire of mud and puddles of various sizes. After negotiating countless puddles, I turn around and at slow speed drove into a faux puddle but real crater that stopped all forward movement except for me, the rider, who exited through the windshield face first with my shoulder and other body parts taking out the clutch controls along with the windshield. The event also bent my very stout metal luggage box and its mounting frame on the left side.