On Aug. 15, 2016 Dave and I brought Frankenbike home from the bike-ospital. We had it for about three minutes when I noticed there was no odometer reading or any other working component on the dash. Dave rode it back to Outpost BMW and after a quick assessment it was determined to be the work of an over-enthusiastic pressure washer. Phew.
With the bike back and ready for action, Dave and I looked for a good weather window to ride the Dalton Highway north to Deadhorse, Ak, North America’s most northern road-accessible settlement. We’d heard time and again from motorcyclists and other travellers that the Dalton was not a place you wanted to be when the weather was poor. We had a five-day weather window starting in about two days, so planned to head north on Aug. 17.
For now we wanted to enjoy hanging out with our hosts, Ed and Jill Bueler, introduced in the last blog post. That afternoon, Ed, Dave and I went to the riffle range. I shot a .22 and nailed the bullseye with a few rounds. It had a scope though and I’m sure that makes it almost impossible to miss your target.
We also spent a few hours one day riding bicycles with the whole family out to a blueberry patch where we picked hordes and hordes to make jam, pies and syrup. It was so great to just sit in the bushes with nothing to do but pick and eat. One for me two for the bucket!
The bugs were pretty bad.
…but I think Dave just loves wearing this.
On Aug. 17, Dave and I loaded up our bikes for our five-day trip up the Dalton, asking Ed and Jill if we could leave a few things in their garage to make the bikes a little lighter. Every pound counts.
Some facts and stats about the Dalton Highway. Its namesake comes from James B. Dalton, who was an Alaskan expert in arctic engineering and oil exploration. The highway begins 134 km (84 mi) north of Fairbanks and ends 626 km (414 mi) in Deadhorse. It is a rough industrial highway that provides a rare opportunity to traverse a remote road leading to the top of the continent; Deadhorse. Here there is no access to the Arctic Ocean. That can only be arranged 24 hours in advance after a security check and a payment of $92 CAN ($70 USD) per person.
The Dalton visitor’s guide states using the road “involves real risks and challenges.” Food, gas and vehicle repair is extremely limited and there are no medical facilities. As well, you’ll find virtually no cell service or internet except at Coldfoot, where at time of writing, you can pay for third party internet via satellite. A 21-point checklist in the visitor’s guide recommends items for travelling on the Dalton like, two full-sized spares, extra fuel, a CB radio and to purchase all groceries ahead of time.
Along the way, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the Trans-Alaska pipeline, which is a very impressive 1287 km (800 mi) engineering feat bringing oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. It was built in three years from 1974-77, changing the ‘remote’ Arctic forever.
The Dalton highway was open to only commercial traffic until 1981 from milepost 211. In 1994, it was opened all the way to Deadhorse.
The rugged beauty and remote feeling one experiences travelling along the Dalton is contrasting. In one sense, here is a place where you’ll see grizzlies, muskox, snowy owls, caribou, fox and any number of birds carrying on in their natural habitat as though you, a human, were not there at all. On the other hand, you are on a road leading to North America’s largest oil field.
Hundreds of tanker trucks per day cruise up and down the Dalton carrying thousands of gallons of fuel, paralleling the tundra at highway speeds, while the ecosystem goes about its business barely noticing. The Dalton was a huge surprise to me; although an industrial gateway, the Dalton felt like an incredible journey into nature rather than the dust-billowing haul road of tailgating semis I was expecting.
When travelling along the Dalton, you’ll be desperately happy to find gas, food and people if you’re feeling lonely at such barren work camps as Yukon Crossing and Coldfoot.
At milepost 115, Dave and I crossed the Arctic Circle again, only this time it was many degrees warmer than a few weeks ago going up to Inuvik. The weather was on our side this first day riding up the Dalton and my bike was riding like a champ after its stint at the Outpost. In my trip journal that night I wrote: “My bike might be better than ever, but let’s not tempt fate.”
One day later, the rains came.
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