Monday, September 21, 2009

Segment 1. The beginning: Deadhorse, AK to Atigun Pass, AK, Jul 2 - 7, 2009, 170 miles

At long last, including several post-midnight last-minute welding sessions in my shop on Jeff's bike, July 1st arrived and we flew to Anchorage where we were greeted by a stuffed grizzly, Ursus arctos horribilis, a stark reminder of the fact that for the next 4,000 miles, we were going to be bicycling every day and camping every night in bear country.

Our flight to Prudhoe Bay departed at 6:00 AM, and at 6:35 AM we were greeted by the sight of Mt. McKinley protruding above the cloud cover outside the window. Our thoughts silently wrapped around that majestic mountain, the tallest in North America, as we pictured ourselves bicycling through the Alaska, Brooks, and Rocky Mountain Ranges.

We arrived at Prudhoe Bay Airport mid day on July 2nd, fully fortified by almost 24 straight hours of Airplane Food (i.e., a few peanuts).
We assembled our bikes, installed racks and panniers, loaded the camping gear and food supplies, and cycled into Deadhorse, passing by a herd of Caribou on our way to the Artic Caribou Inn. The inn's rates were prohibitively expensive, so we decided to cycle and set up our first night's camp somewhere along the Dalton Highway. That's me (Doug), pointing to the Artic Ocean.

That's me (Doug), pointing to the Artic Ocean.
On the way out of town, we stopped at the general store and bought some pepper spray, just in case.
We were greeted by our first road sign, soberly announcing that we were on our own for the next 240 miles. We managed to go 14 miles that first foray onto the Dalton, fighting fierce headwinds & crosswinds blowing off the Artic Ocean. At 11:00 PM we came upon a gravel turnoff where a small mud-coated single axle trailer was parked. We quickly set up camp in the lee of the trailer, which gave us some relief from the miserably cold & damp wind. Just as we were about to finish cooking dinner, a pickup truck came barrelling down the turn-off, aiming right at us, and stopped in a shower of flying gravel. The driver, in full hunting gear, dismounted and in a threatening voice announced that we were trespassing. Jeff took the opportunity to remind him that the land along the Dalton was public domain, whereupon the driver got more agitated, and, silhouetted against the midnight sun, partially withdrew his left hand from his pants pocket, clearly showing the handle of a 38 revolver. Whoa!!! We looked at each other and promptly moved our gear off the lane into the wind and onto the tundra. He said "welcome to Alaska" , got back in his truck, and headed towards Deadhorse. About an hour later, he reappeared in his pickup, hooked up the trailer, said "you're going to receive a visit by the Deadhorse police", and took off down the highway. As his taillights disappeared, we all thought out loud, yeah, welcome to Alaska. WTF!!! It was now well past 2:00 AM, and ignoring the sun which still had not yet fully set, we slept the sleep of the exhausted. The police never showed up.

This is the typical road surface of the Dalton, especially north of Atigun Pass. Those stones go flying in all directions when the 30 wheeler rigs go whizzing by, taking chest thumping to new heights, literally.
And, where the stones are smaller, there is more dust as the trucks whizz by, unbelievable clouds of choking dust, sometimes reducing visibility to ZERO. Making matters worse is the fact that the Alaska Highway Dept. spreads sodium chloride on the surface to reduce the dust, meaning that finely ground abrasive corrosive material & salt is not only polluting your lungs, but penetrating & coating every mechanical moving surface of your bike, gears, chain, bearings & all.

The Dalton keeps the Prudhoe Bay oil fields supplied, using the largest 30-plus wheel rigs ever built, carrying wildly oversized cargoes, while kicking up flying stones and creating huge clouds of blinding, abrasive, choking dust on a potholed, washboarded, gravel road , with loose stones & mud built up to a thickness of 6 inches or more between tire tracked surfaces. With no shoulders to speak of, the entire roadway is elevated 3 to 8 feet above the tundra on top of permafrost with all its freeze-thaw stability issues. We saw a rigs that had over 100 tires, was over 25 feet wide, and had four high-powered tractor units, one in front pulling, and three in the rear, struggling with a load that approached a half million pounds GWV.

For the most part, the truck drivers were most courteous, slowing down as they passed us by, steering as wide as they dared given the nature of the roadway, and even stopping sometimes to offer us food and water.

The trucker's food offerings were not exactly vegetarian (like Jeff and Jason), so I was usually the recipient of the trucker's gifts.

On the evening of the third, we camped in the lee of a large depot of bags of salt used for dust control. We had our first breakdown, when Jason's trailer (with hapless Lucy-dog riding in it), broke a bolt and separated from his bike. Luckily for Lucy, he was not pedaling on the main Dalton at the time.

Jason repairing the trailer.

After completing repairs on the fourth, we took to the road again.

Jeff and Jason.


The Brooks Range, in the distance

On the evening of the fourth, we were beset by swarms of viscious, hungry mosquitoes. The mosquito attacks would continue unabated, 24/7, until we crossed over Atigun Pass on July 7th.

The Alaska pipeline can be seen in many of the photos. The pipeline parallels the Dalton Highway, which also serves as the service road for pipeline maintenance.

What a life!

Camping on the sixth, preparing for Atigun Pass.

On the afternoon of the seventh, while climbing Atigon Pass, Doug's bottom bracket came loose, and the Alaska Highway Dept. came to the rescue and transported the broken bike to their depot. A mechanic repaired the bracket, but it failed again the next day. That night, in a light drizzle at 2:00 AM, we took everything apart & reinstalled the bottom bracket using makeshift tools (leatherman pliers & angle bar) and thread locking compound. So far, the repairs have held.


After a long, hard climb, we crossed Atigun Pass on July 7th, the first of many crossings we were to make of the Continental Divide. Atigun is the highest pass in Alaska, and the northernmost mountain pass in the world.

1 comment:

Carlos Castell√° said...

Wow!!! Incredible, very interesting to read your adventures. I'm really surprised fot the town's name (Deadhorse!) and for the episody of the man with a revolver.
So, many congratulations for your history, send bishes to Jeff from his Spanish student, and, I'm waiting for the next!
P.D. You are not three! What's the name of the passanger?

Best bishes,

Carlos from Barcelona (Spain, Europe)