Day 13 / Tuesday, June 24, 2008
In the morning, during breakfast, a young Latino cook named Alondro approached me and asked if I was a bicyclist since I was wearing my under armour gear. While bicycling up to Prudhoe Bay would be interesting, he found riding a motorcycle to be crazy enough. He came up from Oregon last winter and moved his family to Anchorage. He, like almost everyone else here works 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off giving Alaska Airlines great business with their direct flights to Anchorage and Fairbanks from here. He recounted his tale of driving across the Canadian Rockies with his family in a tow vehicle and described how it would be sunny on one side and snowing and icy on the other side. The trailer jack-knifed on him, but he saved it. I told him that was his adventure in coming to this amazing land. The pay must be really good for all the various jobs in Prudhoe Bay for families willing to endure the long winter. All though, Anchorage's weather isn't as bad as most people think it is because it lies on the coast.
Two maintenance guys in painter jump suits sat down at my table and they again thought I was a bicyclist. They said they were working 12 hours shifts for 9 weeks straight with no breaks, unlike the usual workers up here. They looked younger, like maybe college kids making good money over the summer. After hearing that I was a motorcyclist, they asked if I was going to ride all the way down to Argentina. The thought has crossed my mind, but I think they probably have seen other motorcyclists around here who were heading all the way down.
Later in the morning, Steve and I set off back down the Dalton and being the kind soul that he is, Steve said he would stick with me until I reached Fairbanks. We had another pleasant ride in the Landcruiser, chatting away about various topics and taking in the unique scenery of the tundra. On leaving Deadhorse, it was interesting to note that everything happening in that remote town was to get oil into the pipeline, which starts a ways off from Deadhorse and gradually joins up with the Dalton.
Not able to get a ride, I stayed the night and went down with Steve the next morning. This is the road leading out of Prudhoe Bay going South.
Water trucks filling up from the lake and spraying down the road to keep the dust down.
auDRey was waiting there patiently on the side of the road for her rear tire. I was glad to see that she was still standing upright supported by all the rocks and had not been blown over by any passing trucks or wind gusts. I was thankful that no one decided to play a cruel joke and take my axle or other components that I left there. I installed the newly patched tube, crossing my fingers that it would last, but alas it went flat in just 10 miles. This was not good news. Not willing to give up, I wrapped the entire tube with the duct tape I bought as I've been told that it could be used as a last resort method to give the tube some reinforcement.
Chris made it down to my bike the previous evening and waited for me, hoping I'd be able to get a lift. But thankfully he realized I wasn't able to make it down so he continued on to Coldfoot and we ended up separating from there on. Great riding with you buddy and thanks for sticking with me.
Arriving back at where I left auDRey yesterday and proceeding with installing the tire, hoping it would last. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
While I was repairing the tube, about three different rider groups stopped by that were headed north. They said they all heard about my story from my riding buddies that were further down the road (Chris, Steve and Rick). They said the guys have been telling everyone that was headed north to look out for me and help me out if they could. I was becoming known as the guy with the broken down bike on the Dalton. So much for keeping a low profile. I'm glad I provided some entertainment to them as they laughed light-heartedly at my duct-taped solution.
One rider on a big BMW GS actually started scolding me for taking too many risks attempting to do this trip on a little Suzuki DR650. I think he was a fireman from Juneau or Anchorage and his concern for my well-being was spilling over into anger at my perceived recklessness. He said being stranded up here on the tundra was very dangerous and if a female grizzly bear saw me from across a valley, she would come over and kill me because they're territorial. He said when I get back to Fairbanks I should just sell my little DR and buy a proper BMW GS to continue the trip. This was a tire issue, not a bike reliability issue. Thanks for the fearful advice but all I really needed now was a spare tube for my tire.
But alas, the newly multi-patched tube went flat in only 10 miles. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Thinking ahead that this might happen, I purchased a roll of duct tape at the general store as a desperate measure. I patched up the new holes and wrapped the whole tube in duct tape to give it some reinforcement.
Not going to give up! Duct-taped tube installed in the tire. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
The duct-taped tube only lasted for 7 miles and now I was in a pinch. I was out of fix-it solutions. I borrowed Steve's satellite phone and was thinking of asking the Suzuki dealership in Fairbanks to ship the correct sized tube to Prudhoe Bay and I would somehow get a ride back there, pick up the tube and get back down here and continue with my trip. Just then a group of three bikers pulled in, saying they also heard of my situation from my riding buddies and were here to help. Matt on a new KLR650 had a spare tube for me. Also with him were Professor Nick on a BMW GS Adventure from Ohio and Ryan, on an F650. I had met Nick at the Dawson City rally and he looked like someone with lots of experience with field situations and was very helpful. He said they would make sure to fix up the tire so that I could carry on with no problems. Matt banged my bent rim back in shape and auDRey was all set to go by 6:30 pm local time. We had only moved about 90 miles so far today. After saying many thanks to Matt and Nick, Steve and I took off south back to civilization.
But sadly, that lasted only about 7 miles before letting go. Now, I was really up a creek without a paddle. I was about to call down to the Suzuki dealership in Fairbanks, using Steve's satellite phone, to have them ship out a proper sized tube to Prudhoe Bay and I would continue with Steve to Coldfoot before hitching a ride somehow back to Prudhoe Bay. But thankfully, just then a group of three bikers, whom I met at Dawson City for the bike rally pulled up and the KLR rider, Matt had a spare tube for me.
This is Professor Nick, riding the familiar BMW R1200GS Adventure, who has a breadth of automotive knowledge and consults for the Big 3 in Detroit. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
They had heard of my troubles from my riding buddies from yesterday and I found out almost everyone on the Dalton Highway knew of my troubles. Good job on trying to keep a low profile. Almost every passing biker stopped by to make sure the story was true and that I was ok. Tim here is graciously banging my bent rim back into shape. These guys said they would do whatever it took to make sure I was good to go. What good people.
The impact of the first flat yesterday was serious enough to bend the rim. Here, Ryan is holding my old tube over the rim, as the camera captures an action shot of the hammer pounding on the rim. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Forget the tube, direct contact was needed. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
It felt like a triage scene, with Nick and I fixing a new puncture in the tire from a nail and Matt and Ryan banging the rim back into shape.(Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Tools were scattered everywhere and Nick told me I was a messy mechanic, but I said it was reflective of the current situation. This is Matt's KLR here on the left and he's done some fabricating; like the fuel bottle holders and the tool tube. Nick has also done some extensive fabrication on his GS with a carrier for fishing poles, tire tools and even a bottle of brandy. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Mounting the tire back on the rim.(Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Installing the correct-sized tube. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Checking the air pressure and all set to go. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
I was glad to finally be moving without any worries. I was never really concerned that I would be stranded out there on the Dalton, but it was definitely an experience I won't forget. My spirits were still high and I was still enjoying the fact that I was riding up here in the Arctic in this great wilderness. Steve had a service appointment for his Landcruiser in Fairbanks the next morning, so we just decided to ride through the night. I rode in front of him so that he could see if I had stopped again due to some other issues.
It started raining as we approached Atigun Pass and the road further south was getting a little slick, but my 80/20 Kenda K761 tires were handling it just fine. I was hoping the rain would stop by the time I needed to refuel but that would not be the case. I was aware that opening the fuel tank in rainy conditions would allow water to enter the tank, which is not good for combustion. But I had to do it and I tried to cover the fuel tank opening as I poured in the extra gas I was carrying and hoped it wouldn't be a big issue.
We got to Coldfoot around 10 pm and took an extended break. My riding buddies had left a note with the clerk in case I made it down the previous night. Too bad I couldn't say a proper good bye to any of them. Nice riding with you guys.
With the right sized tube in my rear tire, I was set to make it back to civilization and carry on with the rest of my trip. We finally got going by 7 pm and all the trouble from the previous day couldn't really dampen my spirits because check out this awesome scenery. This is coming up to Atigun Pass. I was still loving being out here north of the Arctic Circle. I knew my life was never in danger and I had confidence that I would get out of here in one piece on the bike.
Unbeknownst to me, I was to be dealt some more bike troubles with this falling rain. I had to refuel before I made it into Coldfoot and unfortunately it was raining. I tried to cover the opening to the gas tank as I poured some extra fuel in, but some water got into the fuel and created problems. The road became slightly slick with the rain, but riding with my 80 street/20 dirt tires was no problem.
Steve and I ate some dinner and had some good conversation as we shared views on varying topics as mentioned before and we hit the road around midnight. It took me a long while to get auDRey fired up and I was bit concerned that all was not well with the engine. Whatever it was, I hoped she would last till Fairbanks at least.
Riding the Dalton through the night was a surreal experience. It obviously didn't get dark and there were even fewer vehicles out on the road. I felt very much at one with my surroundings. I stopped to take a Red Bull break around 2 am and just soaked in the calmness of the Arctic.
One thing you won't see in the daytime is trucks with oversized cargo making the journey as there would be too much traffic to deal with for the pilot trucks. We passed at least two convoys carrying large loads. In the winter is also when large loads are brought up the Haul road.
Around 3:30 in the morning we were at the Yukon River and took some nice pictures with the E. L. Patton Yukon River Bridge in view. auDRey was struggling a bit but still chugging along and I hoped whatever damaged had happened wasn't too serious.
As expected, the temperature dropped just before sunrise and Steve, with his heater cranked up, said his thermometer was reading in the low 40s F. That Landcruiser is surely some luxurious adventure traveling.
We took a long break in Coldfoot and Steve said he had to make it into Fairbanks the next morning to get his Landcruiser serviced and arrange for a new windshield, so we decided to ride through the night. My energy levels were feeling good and it was still light out, so we took off. Starting my bike in Coldfoot was pretty rough, but I got it going. This was about 12:45 am.
Taking a Red Bull break at 2 am on the Dalton Highway. Surreal experience.
We passed a couple trucks with oversized loads and figured they probably do the trips at night to avoid the traffic during the daytime. Someone said the oil companies don't really like all the public traffic on Dalton, because it slows them down, but the state insisted that the road be open to all.
Riding the Dalton Highway, with the first traces of sunlight. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
At the E. L. Patton Yukon River Bridge at 3:30 in the morning.
Looking west across the Yukon River, so this must still be remnants from sun set.
It was pretty cool to be sharing the ride with an adventurer in a Landcruiser. It reminded me of the trips we used to make in my childhood growing up in Africa in old 1980s Landcruisers into the wildlife game parks in Zambia. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Capturing what it felt like to ride the Dalton Highway. It's a journey unto itself. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Almost out of the woods. I had to stop to capture this picture of low forming clouds by the sun's rays in the valleys. The temps were pretty chilly right before dawn, around the low 40s F. This was about 5 am. The heat from the sunshine colliding with the cold from the valleys formed these thin clouds.
Steve in his Landcruiser.
Woo hoo! I survived the Dalton Highway. All though my troubles could have occurred on any other road, the circumstances of the events on the Dalton Highway for me was a life-affirming experience.
Psst, note the guy sleeping under the sign. I think he's waiting for a ride to the Yukon rest stop. (Picture courtesy Steve Jones)
Next: Day 14 - 16, Rafting Denali down into Anchorage
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