Thursday, September 24, 2009

Segment 2. Atigun Pass, AK, to Fairbanks, AK, Jul 7 - 17, 2009, 384 miles, 554 cum. miles

 Here's a couple of views as you proceed southbound out of the Brooks Range, towards the Endicott Mountains on the right and the Philip Smith Mountains on the left.

In addition to the road hazards, there are also freezing high winds and the possibility of a sudden snowstorm at anytime of the year. In the most sensitive areas, the Alaska Highway Department has carved out safe zones where you can take refuge in event of an avalanche

If you keep one eye on the road, you can let the other eye roam the mountainside looking for the elusive wildlife, like Dall Sheep.

The conditions at these altitudes are extremely harsh; only the toughest lichens can live here. They are a food source for the Dall Sheep, who in turn are eaten by Grizzly bears. The Alaska Highway Department people shared many stories of their Grizzly encounters with us. They called us crazy for cycling alone, unprotected, in the wilderness. They said my bear spray was just an appetizer prior to the main course (the bicyclist), otherwise referred to in these parts as 'meals on wheels'.

Here's a shot of Jason, with Lucy riding happily along in the trailer enjoying the awesome views. Of course she's happy; you would be happy too if you had someone like Jason to pull you along all day long. Most of the Alaskans we met took kindly to Lucy, but many questioned why Lucy was being pulled by Jason rather than the other way around. After all, this is Iditarod Country, where dogs are routinely used to pull heavily laden dogsleds and perform other beast of burden work.

Note the snowfields, still remaining in mid-July.

 The folks enjoying meeting with us are employees of the Alaska Highway Department. They work in an alien, inhospitable wilderness, and in consideration of this, most work on a schedule that is two or three weeks on site, followed by two or three weeks off at home (home being at a more civilized place much further south, like Fairbanks).
Eventually, the stark ragged mountains begin to give way to softer valleys with more vegetation.

However, snow and ice are never very far away.

This is one of the eleven pumping stations that keep the oil moving 800 miles through a four foot diameter pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.

Only 67 more miles to Coldfoot, where we'd pick up our 50 pound food box mailed to the post office there by Chris. That food would be used to power us the remaining 254 miles from Coldfoot to Fairbanks. Considering that each of us was burning through roughly 6,000 calories a day, we also were going to gorge ourselves on whatever food sources were available locally. Coldfoot Buffet, here we come!

When the streams and rivers flow into the valleys, they often become 'braided', whereby multiple channels, constantly changing, are carved into the landscape, especially landscapes that are laden with glaciated silt.

A spectacular view, to be followed by a long, screaming downhill ride.

Doug, enjoying the downhill ride.

Here's the most northernmost tree in Alaska, a Black Spruce, as announced by the sign.

A good shot of a braided river, with banks covered in Fireweed. Note our tent pitched just off the river's edge for our stay the night of July 7th.

Breaking camp.

Just behind our campsite, we noted a large pile of bear scat. Right next to the bear scat, we also couldn't help but notice a large pile of Caribou pellets.

As the elevations lowered, we were treated to more and more sub-alpine lakes, carved by glaciers.

Finally, Coldfoot.

Here's the bustling, ultra modern Post Office.

There's only six residents in Coldfoot, whose main claim to fame is that it is the most northernmost truck stop in the world.
The first night in Coldfoot, we shared the dinner table with George Spears, a veteran Haul Road driver who was featured in the History Channel 'Ice Road Truckers' series, where the Dalton is sprayed with water every winter, which provides a better road surface and great traction in below zero weather.

Time to do our first laundry, courtesy of the washroom sink at the truck stop.

We hung wash on the lines to dry.

Coldfoot got its name from the Gold Rush Sourdoughs whose feet were so frozen that they could go no further.

Coldfoot also has another attraction that's not to be missed, the Artic Interagency Visitor Center, a most amazing and informative showplace that graphically describes everything that there is to know and marvel about in this artic wilderness.

A picture is worth a thousand words, no? Well, this picture is worth a thousand calories, and that's per tray. This was only Round One of the Coldfoot dinner buffet. We followed with Rounds Two and Three, with dessert as an encore.

On the road again on the tenth, fully restocked, rejuvenated.

Those unusual support pillars on the pipeline are not lightening rods. They are part of a system whereby the permafrost ground underneath supporting the pipeline is permanently frozen. It's a giant man-made freezer system. If the permafrost were to thaw, the ground would buckle and the pipeline would burst.

The Dalton Highway is not so lucky. It also is built on permafrost, but the ground freezes and thaws in normal cyclical fashion, causing the road to buckle or in some cases, to collapse, or separate, some sections pulling away right, some going left, leaving nasty places for cyclists to get in trouble in.

After a fire (fire is a natural part of nature's cycles) first comes the Fireweed, followed by a rebirth with a rejuvenated forest.

Employees of the pipeline launching an airboat, in drills for procedures designed to be placed in effect in event of a disaster to the pipeline involving riparian leakage. Note the pipeline bridge spanning just above the river.

They told me that this boat cost upwards of $ 80,000.

The three of us, at Gobbler's Knob on the 11th. In that valley behind us, was recorded the lowest temperature ever recorded along the pipeline, 82 degrees fahrenheit below zero.

We climbed to the summit of Gobblers Knob so we could camp and catch sunset and sunrise.  This is sunset, at 12:49 AM. We didn't have to wait too long for sunrise; it came 38 minutes later.

The Brooks Range is in the background.

Lowly lichen on Gobbler's Knob.

Flowers, too.

Note the Bearberries close to the ground.

Sunrise, July 12th, 1:27 AM

When we woke up, we were greeted by two large Caribou, right at our campsight. They hung out for awhile, keeping a safe distance. Then they suddenly bolted off. An hour later, Jeff found out why, as he was surprised to come upon a large gray-black wolf, who was just as equally surprised.

More colorful flora.

We crossed the Artic Circle, July 12th, 3:42 PM.

Here's a cyclist from Germany, Christian, who was biking solo northbound from Argentina via Brazil to Prudhoe Bay. We met him at the bottom of an insanely long and steep hill on the Dalton known as "Beaver Slide".

Jeff and Jason checking out Finger Rock later that day on the 12th.

Finger Rock is a bush pilot's landmark and navigation aid; it points directly towards Fairbanks.

Camping at Finger Rock, 12:02 AM July 13th.

"Sunset" at Finger Rock, 12:06 AM.

Fireweed as far as the eye can see.

Doug's rear rack broke just after lunch on the 13th. A couple of motorcyclists stopped to help.

This passing motorcyclist was very nice.

On the 13th, the landscape began to change, mountains giving way to flatlands.

That's the Yukon River valley in the background.

I couldn't resist indulging in a good old-fashioned Alaska-style hamburger for my aging protein-starved body.

Temperature in the Yukon River valley, July 13th at 8:27 PM? 100 degrees fahrenheit, in the shade.

Camped, right on the banks of the mighty Yukon, July 13th.

This is a shot of the Yukon River valley, taken from the south side while on the long climb-out on the 14th.

Camped out on the 14th. Just below camp, in the background, was a lake with three beaver lodges, populated by at least three dozen beavers.

Fairbanks waits in the distance on July 15th., but is still a two day ride away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ok, her name is Lucy.

Congratulations again, I'm envy!

A great challange, I'm here waiting your news.

Carlos from Barcelona (Spain)