Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Another Rainy Day Ride Salvaged by Sled Dogs: Tok, AK and Laughing Eyes Kennel

The Africa Twin chillin' on Rt 1 Between Anchorage and Glennallen, Alaska

By the time we left Anchorage to begin our ride to Haines, it was late afternoon . We were hoping to get a few kilometers out of the way, so that we would be able to do the ride to Valdez and back in one day.

Massive Glacier off of Rt 1 Between Anchorage and Glennallen, Alaska

We set up camp just off the road, in a spot with a spectacular view. However, behind the stunning mountain range that was turning pink with the setting sun, there was a collection of very familiar looking clouds moving in.

Sure enough, we woke to pouring rain the next morning. In our haste to set up camp the night before, neither of us had realized we were on top of a small indent in the ground, so we awoke in a puddle, everything on the verge of being soaked. We donned our KLiM gear before getting out of the tent so we could at least stay dry while packing up and rode on to a rest stop in Glennallen. This was the junction of the road to Valdez. But the weather report given by the sunny information center staffer confirmed our dismal expectations: we abandoned our plan to ride to Valdez, as the rain was set to continue for the next 24+ hours and hence we wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway.

The woman at the visitor center instead urged us to get on the road so we could make it to Tok by 6pm and catch Hugh Neff’s presentation on his 12 Iditarod races.

We stopped at the Tok Motorcycle Campground which we found to be extremely well-done. There are no hot showers, but there is a sauna…

The Tok Motorcycle Campground has something to suit everyone's needs.

It was a slow night in Tok, so it turned out that Roel and I were the only attendees at Neff’s presentation.

Hugh Neff giving Roel a "tour" of his sled

We got to talking and in lieu of a presentation, Hugh invited us to come back to his home where Laughing Eyes Kennels is headquartered, to meet his champion sled dogs and their puppies and hear more about the work he does to promote literacy around Alaska and in the lower 48.

It was dinner time for the dogs and there was quite a frenzy as Hugh began to ladle a horrendous smelling soup of bison guts into pails. Although it was making my stomach roll, the dogs apparently were quite looking forward to their supper.

As we were walking to the kennels, bison guts spilling over the sides of his pail, Hugh turned and asked “You guys don’t mind getting dirty, right? You’ll probably get dirty if you’re playing with the puppies.”

Both Roel and I paused, and I later found out we were thinking the exact same thing: we don’t mind getting dirty, but we do have concerns about being covered in bison guts in Grizzly country… hmmm.

Nonetheless, I caught sight of a tiny puppy tumbling out of a little dog-house, and my olfactory senses simply stopped working. Hugh led us into a pen and immediately put two tiny precious champion-sled-dogs-to-be into our arms. I was in love in an instant and pondering whether or not Hugh would notice yipping coming from Roel’s tank bag on our way down his driveway. (Hugh does actually breed some of his puppies to sell to good homes, but obviously, Roel's tank-bag is not what he has in mind :/ )

Hugh led us around the kennels, introducing us to his family and amusing us with their antics: he’s taught one of his dogs to jump into your arms upon
command so he and Roel took turns “catching” this bundle of energy.

A different way of playing "catch" with a dog
I couldn’t get enough of Walter, his star sled dog, who has run all 12 Iditarods and has learned that humans simply cannot resist petting him when he leans against their legs.

We left Hugh’s and headed down the road to a pull-off where we could pitch our tent. Yet again, ominous looking clouds were on the horizon, but we counted our blessings and set up our tent under a clear sky. And yes, all of the bison-gut-covered gear stayed on the bikes, far from the tent, and we took extra anti-bear-attack precautions, knowing that we were likely attracting all bears within a 20-mi radius. For the first time, I was actually hoping for rain to fall overnight to wash the smell off of our gear.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Homer to Anchorage. Nothing much to report, other than NEON algae?

Since my fingers are still sore from typing that last ride report, I’ll keep this one brief. Which will be easy, since there was not much to report about our ride back up the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage.

We had pitched our tent along with Travis and Steven the night before, so we woke up, got to town, made our coffee and commenced with a little bike maintenance (Roel: brake pad changing; Steven: something mysterious that non-BMW riders like us are confounded by) before getting on the road to Anchorage.

The weather was lovely. Nice and warm and sunny: three major differences from the previous days.

We took the detour to Seward over Moose Pass (pretty, but not exactly what we had hoped for in a mountain pass, especially with several caravans blocking out way) and had lunch (grocery store bought sandwich bits), enjoying a picnic table by the sea, that we probably weren’t supposed to park next to.

But. Oops.

As we continued North, we saw something none of us had ever seen… the extremely low tide had made visible what appeared to be glowing neon algae. So cool!!!

We rolled into Anchorage that night, back to our “home-away-from-home” at Harley. We made a nice little group dinner (fun to cook for 4 rather than 2 for a change  ) and packed it in for the evening.

Kenai Peninsula. Check!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Our Kenai Peninsula Detour. Maybe THIS is what Sarah Palin meant...

Our departure for the Kenai Peninsula was delayed by our attempts to gather parts for the top-end job we intend to do on the Transalp in Smithers and Roel sourcing a set of brake pads for the Africa Twin.

The rain had mostly stopped and by the time we got to the turn off for Whittier, there was a nice blue patch of sky open in that direction. That settled it: if the first blue sky we’d seen in 3 days was on the other side of the $12 toll tunnel to Whittier, well, we were going there.

The single-lane tunnel is pretty neat: it’s the longest in North America and they have run train tracks through it. They make motorcycles wait for all of the other traffic to go through, in case one of us slips on the railroad tracks - they don’t want us to get run over by one of the 8-wheel motorhomes that go barreling through the tunnel.

We enjoyed the sun in Whittier and then headed on down the Peninsula to Homer. Eddie and John, the Dutch and Belgian we’d met the day before, were already on the Homer Spit, and joined us for dinner at the highly rated fish-n-chips shop.

It was quite a splurge for us, as we usually cook our own meals to keep costs down, but we couldn’t resist having freshly caught Halibut that had been filleted next door on the dock, hours earlier. And it was delicious.

We’d had a look at the Butler Map of Alaska before leaving MotoQuest and the 20+ mile dead-end road leading out of Homer was supposed to be one of the most scenic in the state.

If we could judge by the view from the Spit of snowcapped mountains and massive glaciers, that would hold true. So Steven, Travis and we set off to explore and were not disappointed by the views or the road, which continually climbed and went from pavement, to “road works” to dirt.

At one point, we came to a sign that had both English and Russian on it. We’d heard that there was a small “Russian village” down the road. What that meant, we did not know, as we were obviously in America. Right? (Maybe THIS was what Sarah Palin meant… hmmm.)

One twist in the road led to what appeared to be a steep 1000 meter descent to the bay below. I was tired and not up for the “excitement,” so I decided to stay put and enjoy the view from the top while the guys went down to the beach below.

Lame, I know. But I’ve always appreciated that “Arrive Alive” saying. And my personal goal beyond that is always to arrive with “Transalp Intact.”

I parked my bike off the road and wandered to an overlook that dropped away to the beach, and listened as the guys made their way down to the bottom. Roel was a tiny figure on the beach by the time he made it all the way down, but our Sena headsets kept us in touch. He said that one of the guys wasn’t down, yet, and may have dropped it up the hill a ways. We waited a few minutes, and all of the sudden I heard an engine coming down the road behind me. I turned to see a man in a strange fur hat, on a off-road trike, looking at my bike. I started making my way back to my bike as all of my belongings were on it, but then the man then aggressively powered down the slope towards me. He pulled up short in front of me, making me a bit nervous, but I greeted him brightly. He ignored my greeting and huffed “Is that on?” gesturing to my GoPro.

“Um, no. It’s off.”

“You’re by yourself.” Not so much a question as a statement. And I didn’t like the way he said it. Only static in my ear indicated that Roel was no longer in range. He was correct. I was by myself.

My heart fell to the bottom of my stomach. Something had my female intuition (or fear) kicking in and suddenly it was very apparent to me that this man stood between me and my mode of flight, and behind me was a cliff. Roel had our bearspray.

Quickly, logic squashed that uprising of panic.

I still had my helmet on. And letting my mind wander in awful directions, I soothed myself with the thought that if it was already a struggle for me to shimmy out of my riding pants, someone else taking them off was sure to encounter some difficulty. Not that I would stand for that of course: My Dad didn't make me take karate classes as a child for nothing.

Here we go, Azure. 

“Nope, the other 3 guys are just down the hill. I actually think my boyfriend is on his way up now.”

No answer. Dismounts his trike.

“This over here is my land.” He gestures loosely behind him and away from us, walking so close as he says this that I get a full whiff of boozy breath.

“Oh, sorry, we didn’t realize it wasn’t public. I can leave right now.”

“No, that’s OK. Why are you so paranoid.”

Well shit, if someone assuming you’re paranoid when you’re not doesn’t give you a reason to be paranoid, I don’t know what does.

I inched my way back to the edge of the cliff so that the Sena’s could connect again and Roel could hear that I was no longer alone. Every time my strange new companion left an awkward silence hanging in the air, I just brightly chattered over him until Roel caught on that he needed to come back up the hill.

Unfortunately, the other guy still wasn’t down off the hill, yet, and Roel didn’t want to make a run up it in case his bike was blocking the way. So Josef and I continued talking.

He told me how this was a Russian settlement, (leftover from the days when Russia owned/occupied what is now Alaska) and that they are Old Believers, which is not at all like the Russian Orthodox church because “they’re not going to hell.” Um, ok. He also told me that they don’t consider themselves a part of the US, and hence don’t hail to the US government, US law or any other governing body. Hm. Great. The conversation had lighter moments, like when he was pointing out local flowers and berries that they use in traditional medicines, which put me at ease until he was adamant that I had to climb down the cliff to where he was to see a particular berry, when I was clearly standing next to a bush bearing abundant bushels of that exact berry. Josef explained how he had caught a bunch of salmon and was curing it with sugar at home. He then invited me/us to go back to his home with him so he could show us around. I politely declined, stating that we needed to get back on the road. A likely story when it was already midnight.

I relaxed a little as I heard the Africa Twin roaring up the hill, carrying my big, strong boyfriend.

Eventually, we all collected at the top of the hill, everyone OK and in one piece. Josef extended the offer to join him at his home to everyone, but we declined and headed off.

These moments are the ones as travelers that you are simultaneously relieved to escape from, unscathed, but will also always wonder if you missed out on some incredible experience.  Though Roel and I both felt something was a bit off with Josef, no amount of touring or researching an area equals the experience you have when you spend time with a local of that area. Being invited into the home of a person from a background different from yours is a precious opportunity to experience another culture that should be cherished. As a traveler, being open to these experiences makes all the difference in your overall journey and leads to the moments that you will cherish forever; but you must also remain aware of the fact that you are “other” and you are on someone else’s turf and must live by their rules.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rain, Rain, Go AWAY!! (Anchorage)

We awoke to more rain at 7am, and I willed it to stop every time I hit the snooze button for the next two hours. No luck.

Everything was wet in the tent. Our tent may no longer be waterproof, but it may just be condensation gathering and soaking the bottom of the sleeping pads. Either way, it’s annoying.

We arrived in Anchorage, and having met Phil Freeman of MotoQuest at the Overland Expo in Arizona, we headed there to check out their operation.

The MotoQuest crew was awesome and their garage was drool-worthy.

We visited Alaska Leather, which has a wide variety of everything to make your ride safer and more comfortable (I spent a while ogling their heated gear). And eventually, we headed to the House of Harley Davidson, which offers free motorcycle camping, to any motorcycle and it’s rider. They have a lovely grassy area with picnic tables next to a creek and a bathroom with a shower. BUT, they also have a covered parking area where we could pitch our tent once they closed. Yes please!

This HD Dealership is cool not only for their hospitality, but for the fact that it is a family business that is female run. Dia, who is 27 was handed the reins by her dad two years ago when she was 25. So, that makes her one of few female HD heads, and Harley's youngest female dealer.

By the time it got dark, there were four of us camping in the parking lot. Eric from LA on his Suzuki DR 400 was there when we arrived. And Steven from Chico on his BMW Dakar Airhead got there late in the afternoon.

The next day it was raining even harder. I guess when they say “chance of rain” in Anchorage, they mean DELUGE. So we took a rest day. By early afternoon, we hatched a plan to ride down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer with Steven and Travis, a guy who had showed up on his BWM. Travis was the guy who got unlucky 20 miles from Prudhoe Bay, so it was great to see both he and his bike back in action.

A Dutch guy and a Belgian guy showed up on their Harley’s, so Roel got to brush up on his Dutch, which was nice.

We spent the night hanging out with the MotoQuest crew, and the youngest member on staff, Owen, who, it seems, owns all of the mopeds.

When he is finally ready to upgrade from his bike with training wheels, his Mom, Crissy,  (who rocked the Top of the World Highway, by herself, after being on a dual sport for only 3 weeks!!!) will be able to teach him how to ride dirt like a pro.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Hazards of Stopping in Alaska

We are all quite familiar with the hazards involved with riding while in places like Alaska, etc....

Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug. But you are always very happy to be wearing a full face helmet when you hit a bee at 65mph.

30 minutes in the car wash after riding Dalton still left the Transalp with numerous bug carcasses and tons of bug guts.

But the hazards of stopping in Alaska are numerous and vicious.

Even while stopping on the Dalton behind the pilot car, I kept my face shield closed rather than risk mosquitoes sneaking in.

Regardless of temperature, full KLiM gear and a head net were necessary for any time not spend riding faster than 5kph. I tended to leave on my helmet and gear to set up the tent.

Some people might say that the mosquitoes in Alaska are nothing special. I ask them: where else in the world do you wake up thinking it's raining, only to discover that such a racket has been caused by hundreds of mosquitoes bouncing on your rain fly?

Just sayin'.

Bring your deet, and use it like sunscreen. Apply liberally and often.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Africa Twin Troubles and Dog Sledding in Denali ;)

(Having a good laugh at the Universe right now… I'm getting a chance to get caught up on this RR because while I sit here at McDonald’s, watching the Netherlands play Brazil, Roel is in a taxi with a Brazilian woman we just met at a gas station, on the way to the site where her husband crashed his Ducati Multistrada earlier (he’s OK - his ankle just hurts too much to ride). Roel will probably miss the game as he has 30+ kilometers of dirt to cover on the Multistrada in order to get it back to town for the Brazilian couple, while they head off to the hospital in the taxi to have the ankle checked. Perhaps the Universe will reward this riding Dutchman’s kindness with a 3rd place win for his home country Hup Holland Hup!!)

Picking up where we left off last time, Roel’s bike wouldn’t start. We were at a nice pull-out about mid-way between the Dalton Highway and Fairbanks. Fortunately for us, the weather was fine and there was a light breeze keeping the voracious mosquitos away. Nevertheless, it’s never nice to unpack a fully packed up bike in order to figure out what is amiss and try to fix it. Roel set to work, wiggling this wire and that, checking the starter, again, then this wire, than this connection, etc., etc. Eventually, once the seat was off, all of the fuses had checked out to be OK and the right wire happened to be wiggled, and the bike started, again. Whew.

We made it to Fairbanks by the early evening and made our first stop at the car wash we had sussed out prior to departing for the Dalton.

We spent a ridiculous amount of money washing down the bikes (well, ridiculous by the standards of someone who rarely washes their bike), and made sure we removed every visible, and hopefully most of the non-visible,
caked on bits of mud from the Dalton.

Exhausted and hungry, we were ready to pick up a quick dinner and head back to Ramey’s to crash for the night.

Annnnnnd, Roel’s bike wouldn’t start. The same procedure was repeated, however, the wire that was wiggled and had led to the bike working earlier did nothing. Eventually, Roel found wires that seemed to be wearing on one another, taped them up and voila, away we went.

After catching up on some rest at Ramey’s, we set out late the next day for Denali National Park. The weather was fine and it was a gorgeous ride.

Moose were all over the place, and it was great fun to spot a cow and calf.

We were keen to be able to spend the entire next day at Denali, so we made it to just outside of the park and stopped for fuel.

As you may have guessed, the Africa Twin gave nothing. By now, this was no longer amusing. It was cold. We were tired. And I considered just pitching our tent behind the gas station. Eventually, Roel found yet another wire that needed to be taped, did that and we pushed on down the road.

We camped just off of the road, overlooking a cluster of clouds that were hiding the Denali Mountain Range.

By morning, those clouds were dumping rain on us. Not a great way to start the day you’re supposed to spend at a National Park you’ve always wanted to visit. The visitors center was really well done and showed an excellent film about the park and it’s history, part of which featured the Denali sled dog team, which helps to keep the park truly wild as they negate the need for snowmobiles, etc., as they enable rangers and scientists to get into the back country either for studies, surveys or park maintenance.

Another way they are “trying to keep the park a true wilderness,” is by providing and encouraging the use of free shuttle buses to take visitors from the entrance to 16 miles into the park. This is cool. It makes sense to cut down on vehicle traffic and means that more people have a better chance of spotting wildlife and not endangering themselves or the wildlife (by feeding the animal, getting out of their car to take pictures, etc.). However, Denali REQUIRES that you take a bus in order to get between mile 16 and 80. And these buses cost $80. This is not included in the National Park Pass and I think it’s absurd. Visiting Denali NATIONAL Park should not cost as much as taking a family of four to a baseball game.

Anyway, the rain came and went, but the low-hanging clouds stayed, so we didn’t feel too bad about not getting to mile 80. Some day, we’ll have to go back to Denali and do a proper 10-day hike.

On the way out, we were lucky to catch the dog sled demonstration.

We got to “meet” some of the dogs, who are exposed to human cuddles from puppy-hood on, learn a bit about them and then watch a small team of extremely energetic dogs pull one of the rangers around the gravel path on a sled. It was a treat to watch and very cool to learn that the park uses these dogs as full-time employees, not just tourist fund-raisers.

The park was opened with sled-dogs as the only form of transportation in the 19__’s, but of course with the advent of snow-mobiles, the park made a switch to the motorized form of transportation and hauling. Until, one very harsh winter, the head of the park declared that the dogs would return to full service as “they had fewer problems with their carburetors” in the harsh Alaskan winter.

We carried on towards Anchorage, hitting pockets of heavy rain the entire way. By midnight, the rain clouds were blocking out enough of the sun that it seemed to be getting dark and we finally stopped to set up our wet tent in a gravel pit off the highway and camped about an hour from the largest city of Alaska.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Dalton Highway: A Different Beast Every Day

Nice clean Hondas, fueled up and ready to get dirty on the Dalton!

Sorry guys, it's a pretty long post, but I feel like people tend to oversimplify the Dalton, either typifying it by the terrifying "Devil Mile" which surely everyone encounters some variation of, or they describe the entire 415 miles as a cake walk. I hope this post helps someone riding behind us or who plans to ride the Dalton in the future. 
  The rain finally stopped, and with the forecast looking decent, we headed to The Dalton Highway, which would take us to the top of North America. 415 miles (668 kilometers) of adventure!!! We fueled up, topped up my oil and sprayed the parts of the bike that will get hot with Pam. 

The PAM tip could have been a load of BS, but we were willing to try anything to make the bikes easier to clean upon our return from the Dalton.

Yes, cooking spray. One of the riders we had met along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway on the way up, had told us that it really helped when it came to cleaning off the caked on cement-like mixture of mud that the bikes would be covered in due to the Calcium Chloride that they mix with the gravel up there to keep the dust down.

The sun came out and although we were looking for hazardous road conditions around every turn, we made it to mile 56, the Yukon River Camp, on a perfect stretch of road. It had been a mix of pavement, dirt and “road works” up until then.

While we fueled up at the Yukon River Camp, a guy in a 4x4 told us how the next 60 miles to the Arctic Circle got pretty “squirrely” in some areas, with deep mud ruts and slippery conditions that had his 4x4 going all over the road. We looked at the sun, willing her to do her magic and dry out the road, and sat down to made sandwiches so we could give her a little extra time.

She listened. While the ruts were still there, they had mostly solidified and the remaining areas of deep mud were easy to avoid. We crossed the Arctic Circle 6 hours before the Summer Solstice. The sun would not set for us that night.

Another 60 miles and were were in Coldfoot, where we fueled up and spent some time stretching our legs as we wandered through the well-done Arctic Inter-agency Visitor Center. The Ranger we spoke with about camping spots and road conditions told us that the portion of the road he had thought to be dodgy last time he rode up to Prudhoe Bay was being worked on, and that we were about to ride the best 100mi of pavement we’d seen so far today. There was a chance of showers the next day, but there had also been a chance of showers for today, as well, and we’d seen nothing but sun.

Off we went, grateful for the information, confident in the road conditions and cooperating weather. The scenery became truly spectacular and we took photos and rolled the GoPros on and off around every turn.

All of the sudden, the reality of the Dalton hit. Roel was riding ahead of me, thankfully, and had been annoyed about a car in front of him that had all of the sudden changed speed, until he realized why and in mid-sentence and yelled out to me. It sounded something like this:

“Really man, what is this? Stop, go, stop, go, wha - SLOW SLOW SLOW SLOWWW DOWN”

My reaction was delayed due to not understanding what Roel was trying to communicate and I hit a 40ft stretch of gravel, the kind that had supposedly made me cry on the Top of The World Highway, at 55mph. The kind of gravel that is sharp and nasty and deep, that they lay down before they lay down pavement. On the Top of the World Highway, I was in first gear going about 8mph and had no problem. Here, my bike immediately went into a crazy wobble. My mind raced and in a fraction of a second, I loosened my arms and considered whether or not to slow down (as Roel had told me to I went into a high-speed wobble on the highway in Pennsylvania), but that is when Roel’s voice blasted through the intercom:


Grateful for the direction, I twisted my throttle back, looked ahead with a steely glare that I hoped told my bike: You WILL go where I look right now.  If seen from above, my bike would have looked like a snake wildly making her way through the gravel, front wheel and rear wheel going to and fro over the sharp rocks. In the end, it may have just been sheer will to survive that kept my bike standing as she continued to sashay across the stretch of rock: in my peripheral vision, I could see an 18 wheeler approaching at highway speed, so naturally the thought occurred to me that if I dropped my bike, I would simply be run over by 18 wheels on the narrow stretch of the road and that would be it.  Not an option.

So we danced to the edge of the gravel, and safely onto the pavement on the other side, where the wobble finally stopped. And I stopped on the side of the highway. Grateful to be alive. Needing to remember how to breath to ensure I remained alive. There had been no “road work” or “rough road” sign. It was just a suddenly treacherous bit of road that came up out of nowhere, and we needed to be prepared for this to happen again, at any point. We rode on more slowly and cautiously, and the road eventually turned back to dirt, with some corrugations and loose gravel.

We continued on over the snowy Atigan Pass and stopped for the evening at Galbraith Lake, to camp at the Bureau of Land Management free campsite. By the time we had eaten dinner (boil-in-a-bag soup and Uncle Ben’s Rice), it was well after midnight and the Solstice Sun was still shining brightly.
Knowing it would be detrimental to our riding the next day, we didn’t stay up to see the sun “not” set at 2am, but given how bright it was every time I opened my eyes throughout the night, I’m confident it didn’t.

After mid-night and the sun was still high in the sky... two hours until the Summer Solstice
When we got out of the tent the next morning, quickly moving dark clouds were threatening to make it a very different day of riding from the previous one. Knowing that there were no services for the next 140 miles (225 ams), we emptied one of the fuel cans into my bike. While we waited on the main road for a pilot car to guide us through the next 16 miles of road works, we watched truck after truck coming from a nearby gravel pit, filled with massive rocks and gravel that would be used to build up the road. That was the stuff we would be riding over a few miles down the road. Yippee.

We followed the pilot car and between stops, reached speeds of 10mph behind he and his buddy ahead of us. By buddy, I mean a watering truck with a fresh load to dump on the road. Who needs to worry about the rain when you’ve got watering trucks making the road a muddy mess in front of you?

After the stretch of road work where we had a pilot car, the road conditions got really bad. Massive corrugations, intermixed with stretches of nasty sharp rocks and unpredictable build-ups of loose gravel. Areas of less coordinated road works with fewer machines which meant there were ridges of muddy gravel built up in the middle of each lane while we were riding it. So we had to make sure to get out of the way of the guy who was in the process of smoothing it all out AND dodge the oncoming trucks. Oh and did I mention, there was LOTS of mud.

From mile 300 to 415 we were in a state of misery. The road was not nice to ride. Once you got used to one condition and how to ride it, it would change. The weather took a turn and it began to mist and rain intermittently. And the closer we got to Deadhorse, the colder it got, until we were so cold we stopped talking.

With visions of me needing to wee out on the arctic tundra with no bush to hide behind and semis passing every minute, I had broken down and bought a SheWee. It is advised that you “practice” with this device before actually using it. That would have been good advice to follow.

We finally made it to Deadhorse, and I’m glad I had developed no illusions of this being a nice place to visit, much less, a nice place to arrive. We fueled up, warmed up with free coffee and popcorn at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, got our stickers and a photo in front of the sign at the Deadhorse General Store and got the heck out of Dodge. A man who presumably worked for an oil company approached us and asked what we were doing. Still slightly numb and frozen we weren’t quick with an answer. He was: “They have to pay me A LOT of money to come up here.”

No kidding. The temperature on a business sign flashed 33deg F (0.5 C).

We got on the bikes determined to get back to someplace more hospitable. Some areas of the road had already been improved by the time we returned, but a few more watering trucks had apparently been through and there was a LOT more mud. Fortunately, not the kind you sink into, so nothing unmanageable in 1st gear, but it was very slow going.

Just a lil mud and a BIG truck


It did feel like blinders had been removed from our eyes, as all of the sudden we were noticing all sorts of wildlife we hadn't noticed on the way up to Prudhoe Bay.

Musk Ox

We were both exhausted, but there were extremely ominous looking clouds over the Atigan Pass. So we rode past Galbraith Lake, determined to at least get over the Pass in fair weather and camped on the other side near a stream.

Looking towards Prudhoe Bay from the Atigan Pass

Coming down the Atigan Pass towards Fairbanks

Sometime in the middle of the night, I thought it had begun to rain and groaned as I opened my eyes. It was not rain. It was hundreds of mosquitoes bouncing between the mesh top of our tent and the fly.

But it was raining when we woke up, so we raced to pack up the tent and get on the road before the conditions ahead got too bad. I was on the lookout for my little patch of gravel and eventually started to see markers I had made mental notes of after my gravel dance (trees, lakes, etc.). And when we came to that bit of road, there was a fresh layer of pavement over the gravel that had been there less than 36 hours prior. This road is a different beast every day.

We quickly fueled up in Coldfoot and continued on. As luck would have it, by the time we got to the end of the pavement, it had stopped raining. The roads where still quite wet, but again, nothing worse than we had seen the day before.

We rode off the Dalton and pumped our fists into the air, a mixture of feeling accomplishment and relief.
All in all, we got very lucky with weather and road conditions on the Dalton. Slowing down (wayyyyy down), remaining focused on the road and staying away from the notoriously soft shoulders, was the key to this being an "uneventful" experience on the Dalton for us. But it is certainly a different beast every day, for every rider. 

The ride back to Fairbanks was blissful. The scenery touched us more than it had on the way North, the sun seemed to make everything sparkle in a way it hadn’t before, and we encountered very few RVs to slow us down or obscure our vision. I chuckled as Roel continued to duck away from the trucks that passed us going the opposite way: we’d gotten so used to waving at a truck while simultaneously ducking behind our windscreens and shielding ourselves with our upraised arm, so as to ward off any rocks that the truck might be flinging.

Up until the Dalton, I’ll admit that I didn’t quite get the joy in twisties or sweeping curves. For whatever reason, the confidence I had built in riding the Dalton extended to curves and it was a brilliant feeling.

We stopped to have some sandwiches and take some pictures. A couple of Dutch guys in a caravan pulled up to chat, having seen Roel’s Dutch license plate. They asked about the Africa Twin and if Roel had had any trouble with it. Fresh from a ride up the Dalton, Roel enthusiastically raved about what a reliable, excellent machine it was. They guys left. We packed up our lunch. And then the Africa Twin refused to start…