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Dalton Highway...from the arctic to interior

USA | Friday, 20 June 2008 | Views [6657] | Comments [7]

Somewhere under a rainbow...afternoon thunderstorms on the slope

Somewhere under a rainbow...afternoon thunderstorms on the slope

‘The Dalton Highway, you can’t ride your bike on the Dalton…you’re crazy, you’ll be eaten by Grizzlies, smashed to pieces by flying rocks the size of golf balls, driven off the road, you’ll freeze to death…and you’ll need at least five spare tyres after the other four are shredded to pieces by razor sharp rocks’. These were the kind words of advice most Alaskans gave us when we told them of our plans. But not to be easily deterred, after an intense sixteen hour bus trip up the Haul Road (as it’s affectionately known), and a night spent camping on the frozen tundra outside of Deadhorse, we realised our dream to ride from the northern most road in Alaska near the Arctic Ocean south, all the way south.

the end of the road...or the start of the long road....the BP security checkpoint at Prudhoe Bay oilfields

Once we escaped the dreary, depressing landscape of Deadhorse and the oilfields, work camps and machinery, we felt uplifted and with the wind at our backs started the gradual climb up the North Slope. The coastal fog disappeared fifteen miles from Deadhorse and we joined the large pipeline that would be our companion for the rest of the trip to Fairbanks, and the reason this road north to the arctic North Slope was built.

Leaving Deadhorse heading south...

240 miles of tundra, wilderness, grizzlies and the continental divide...did I mention no services?

The loose gravel surface of the Dalton...great in the dry, shocking in the wet!

The coastal plain was full of small lakes, which over summer provides homes to thousands of migrating birds. Canada geese flew overhead calling loudly, jaegers danced in the sky, ducks flew startled from their wetland homes and arctic loons impressed us with their calls and beautiful plumage. We saw a pair of muskoxen from the road (a prehistoric looking bovine) and small groups of caribou grazing the tundra. We even saw a moose cow and her very young calf in a small willow lined creek.

Mama moose a little wary of two strange looking bikes...

The dirt road was in good condition and gradually climbed the North Slope following the Sagavanirktok (or Sag) River with a few steep up and downs.

One of our biggest concerns was the fast driving heavy trucks that the ‘Haul Road’ was built for, to support the oil fields and their supply of machinery, gas and food to the work camps. In reality they slowed right down to pass us, gave us plenty of room, and we would also slow right down and pull off the road. Then with some enthusiastic waving from both parties they would be on their way. This is their living, and their road, and they know how dangerous flying rocks can be, so they just want everyone to be safe.

Another truck closing in on Anna...they always gave us plenty of room! 

Climbing up and over the Atigun pass at 4,739 feet was amazing as the mountains rose up to meet the winding dirt road. We felt incredibly small riding our bikes looking up at walls of snow and avalanche chutes, snow capped mountains all around, Dall Sheep grazing the high rocky slopes, then seeing bent and damaged guard-rails from previous avalanches and trucks powering up the hill.

Anna climbing the last few miles to Atigun pass

The ride off the pass was an exhilarating downhill, chasing those same trucks, trying hard not to take our eyes off the road for the scenery.

The ride off the pass onto the Chandalar Shelf

The last half of the Dalton Highway proved to be harder than the first with steeper hills and much longer climbs, with names like ‘Beaver Slide’, ‘Finger Mountain’ and ‘Gobbler’s Knob’ which challenged our legs, heads and our loaded bikes.

Anna on the endless hills of the Dalton highway through boreal forest

The bugs and mosquitoes also came out ‘en force’ in the warmer conditions, forcing us to resort to bug nets and DEET repellent.  Storm clouds and thunderstorms threatened regularly in the afternoons, occasionally dropping rain but mostly just adding to the oppressive humidity when the sun came out. The funny thing about Alaskan weather, it can be raining hard on you, yet the sun will also be shining, or the wind can be in your face one moment then a strong tail wind the next, or a black storm cloud threatens from above then blows the other direction; it changes from minute to minute.

We free camped throughout the whole trip on gravel pads near rivers or service roads for the pipeline, as they were always dry and close to water. We camped next to glacial rivers,  a water trailer (when a storm hit and our bikes were clogged with mud), under mountains, on open tundra, a creek with beavers and in the backyard of a friendly general store.

A wild camp on the gravel service road for the pipeline, always dry!

So for those people who said we couldn’t ride the Dalton, we did it and loved every moment of it. We didn’t see a single bear (let alone were eaten by one!) on the ride although heard plenty of stories from roadworkers of grizzlies chasing moose across the road, and grizzly tracks and carcasses down the river where we camped. The truckies were great value waving and sounding horns, and kept an eye out for us on the road. We didn’t have a single flat tyre (let alone ripped to pieces by rock!) on the Dalton until we hit the sealed road where I had one from glass and then in Fairbanks Anna got some wire through her tyre, twenty minutes from home.

The only hardships we had were ironically from the small things, mosquitoes and water trucks. The mosquitoes kept us tent bound for several nights and chased us on the uphills, up to 9 miles an hour, making for a funny sight, one hand on the steer, the other to slap. The water trucks were the curse of the road turning dry roads into a wet muddy calcium chloride sludge, that stuck to us and our bikes and led to several nights of bike cleaning by the river.



Now we are back in Fairbanks again staying with our Kiwi friends enjoying some days of rest. Then on the weekend we are going on an overnight hike with Dan and Lisa and some of their friends to the Pinnell Mountain trail for the summer solstice, the midnight sun and some Hoary Marmots!

Enjoy!

Love from the north and the land of the midnight sun

Ali and Anna




Tags: cycling, cycling friends, dalton highway, dirt roads, usa, wilderness, wildlife

Comments

1


Hi Alistair and Anna,

Great seeing you at the BBQ last night in Fairbanks. I've loaded the RSS feed of your journal into my reader, and I look forward to keeping track of your progress.

Best wishes
Andrew

  Andrew Roberts Jun 25, 2008 5:27 AM

2

Hi Anna
We are all kepping posted on your progress here at Flinders. Well done on the challenging Dalton. Wow!What an adventure
Andrea

  Andrea Jun 25, 2008 8:33 AM

3

What an adventure to be following your ride. You didn't need to go that far to find pesky blood sucking insects Anna! Remember the West Coast of S.Island NZ?
Our bikes are mere spare parts these days. We need to head south again.
We continue to put up with wet but not so cold winter conditions. Longing to see the sun.
Safe travels,
Jim & Jenni NZ

  Jim & Jenni NZ Jun 25, 2008 2:24 PM

4

Hey A team,

Thanks for the lovely phone message the other night, sorry I missed you! JV and I continue to be amazed and vacariously exhilerated by your blogs; keep em' coming.

Sounds like it is all turning out as hoped ~ the adventure of a lifetime.

Hopefully talk to you soon.

Continue to stay bear aware.

lots of love,

K xxx

  katie Jun 26, 2008 1:43 PM

5

Thanks for the card and the chat my friends. missing you both on the trails.
Enjoy the ride!!!!
Love JV
"Go the Cats " Jess

  JV Jul 7, 2008 5:54 PM

6

Hi A & A from B & B (Bribie Is Qld)

Spoke to you guys y'day in Haines Infor Ctr.... little did we know you had such a story to tell!!!

Will send the pic of your "passenger" when we get the chance.

Bike On ....

  Barb & Bruce Jul 10, 2008 10:48 AM

7

Hi Ali and Anna,

Amazing trip!!! Good to see that some people still do epic journeys :)
I am just starting to plan a massive expedition and cycling along the Dalton Highway will probably be part of it..... Could I get your email address so I can get in touch with you? That would be great ;)

Cheers,
Marc

  Marc Aug 11, 2013 10:25 PM

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