We had decided to remain in Fairbanks the next day. The goal was to find a
nicer place to stay, a place to leave some of our gear while we trekked north, find
some rear tires to put on the bikes when we got back and pick up some last
minute supplies. We called around and found what we thought was a really nice
Bed & Breakfast. The thought was that a B&B would be more likely to store our
gear for a few days while we went traipsing through the northern country. The
problem with this B&B was that it was truly a business, not some cute and
charming home that someone had opened up to visitors. Oh well, I digress� We ran
our errands and took no pictures.
Day 7 � 260 miles
Of course it's raining for the beginning of our big journey to the Arctic. We
have breakfast at the B&B and pack our minimal bags onto the KLRs. It's rather
urban (well, for Alaska) through Fox and up to the beginning of the Elliot
Highway. The Elliot Highway, I was to find out later, is a wonderfully fun road!
But this morning it was miserable. It was raining, heavy fog and cool. I
seriously started asking myself why I was doing this, and considered going back
to Fairbanks. I figured that I could see other parts of Alaska and the Yukon.
But I stuck it out, following Doug through the clouds for a while longer. Then
we were rewarded.
roads started to dry up a bit, and the clouds weren't quite as thick as
previously. We came to the junction where the Elliot Highway continues west and
the Dalton Highway starts north. The road sign says "ALL VEHICLES DRIVE WITH
LIGHTS ON NEXT 425 MILES" That's a lot of miles.
The Dalton Highway is also known as the haul road, as it is and was the
primary way of getting supplies in and out of the Prudhoe Bay area. It was built
to bring materials and workers in who were building the Alaska Pipeline and it
follows the pipeline closely for its 425 miles.
The road conditions on the Dalton Highway are about as varied as the views.
We started out the first few miles in a quagmire of muck inches thick that
grabbed our tires and pulled our bikes willy-nilly along the road. Doug and I
stopped and looked at each other, the thought of 425 miles of this seemed a
daunting challenge indeed! But we kept on going and soon found the road drying
out a bit more, so that we were able to practically fly down the hard packed
We ran into light rain occasionally, which was a mixed blessing as it made
the roads a little trickier, it also kept the dust down from the semis that
barreled down the road towards us. Most of them moved over considerably and some
of them slowed down. Doug and I would also slow down and move over as far as
possible to give them as much room on the narrow road. There are a surprising
number of trucks on this road!
We saw two lynx on our way up the Dalton. It was very exciting � they crossed
the road right in front of us and even paused to give us a baleful eye that only
a cat can muster. Of course they were also too quick to hang around for photos,
so you'll have to take my word for it.
We were surprised to find gas, food and lodging just past the Yukon River, as
The Milepost (a Godsend of a book to have for a trip like this) stated that
there was no gas until Coldfoot. I found out later that this stop isn't always
"open" and therefore not a reliable source. We filled up "just in case" even
though we each were toting 2 extra gallons on the backs of our bikes. Mind you,
we paid for this peace of mind with the most expensive gas I had ever seen:
$2.99/gallon for 87 octane. We had a hot sandwich and soup here before heading
on to Coldfoot and then Wiseman, where we had made arrangements to stay for the
We stopped at the obligatory sign for the Arctic Circle, but were chased away
quickly (by our own choice) by a busload of tourists. I can't imagine how
cheated I'd feel if someone else drove me to the Arctic. This is something
that's best experienced on your own, of your own doing and your own
determination and will.
Just as we were approaching Coldfoot it started to rain hard, but luckily for
us we were on one of those rare stretches of pavement that someone snuck in and
the water poured over the pavement instead of creating a mud bath. Coldfoot, and
all "towns" after Fairbanks, is nothing more than a building or two that houses
those all-important three basics: food, shelter and gas. Coldfoot was
unimpressive in its appearance, but it served tasty hot food and had gas readily
available. There was also the impressive-sounding "Slate Creek Inn" which was
nothing more than an ancient ATCO building stuck in a field across from the
gravel parking lot. Fortunately for us, our sleeping arrangements were taken
care of 13 miles up the road in Wiseman,
which is an actual town from the
gold mining days. The town is much more than anything else I had seen along the
Dalton and actually contained real log cabins dating from a hundred years ago.
It appears that quite a few people live here, making do with what they can
find, and in the case of our host and hostess, lodging people for the night. The
Boreal Lodge is made from ATCO buildings, but the owners did a fine job of
hiding that fact and even provided a "common area" where a clean and modern
kitchen/sitting area was available for all guests. Pots, pans, dishes, utensils,
coffee maker (and coffee!) were all provided for guests' use. Of course the only
caveat is that there are no food stores after Fairbanks, so you have to be
prepared. We weren't, which is why we ate in Coldfoot. It was another restful
Day 8 � 240 miles
The day's journey would be relatively short � just long enough to not make it
there and back in one day and just short enough to allow for a lazy morning. We
packed the bikes up again and headed north. The weather was cooperating for the
moment � so fickle � and gave us sunny skies so that we could appreciate the
passage through the Brooks Range and our approach to the end of the road:
The geology was amazing to see: entire mountains thrust up at impossible
angles and layers of erosion that have taken their toll. The rivers coursed
through the valleys and the grasses smoothed out the edges of the hard stone.
The Dalton Highway is fairly level for a good distance, but then climbs quickly
up the south slope of the Brooks Range. The haul road crests the Brooks Range at
Atigun Pass, which was a dirty, muddy, gravely mess � and we hadn't even hit the
construction zone yet. It's a steep, narrow pass and I'm glad to say that we
didn't meet any semis coming down while we were coming up. Descending the north
side there was construction, with speeds limited to 10 mph. My bike can't even
go that slow, so we just coasted down as best as we could without attracting
attention to ourselves. It was muddy (really muddy; the kind of mud we
encountered when we first started on the Dalton Highway the previous day) so I
was in no hurry to come down the other side of the Pass anyway.
The mountains in the Brooks Range are amazing; I have never seen anything
like them before. They are massive, closely packed together and look like they
were just created last week. And they go forever. I'm used to mountain passes
where you say "ooo" and "awwww" for ten minutes and then you're back in the
foothills. Not here. These mountains went on for hours. Absolutely amazing. It's
things like this that come to mind when people ask "How was your trip?" It's
something that I can tell them about, but it's never anything that they'll
understand unless they see it for themselves.
Eventually the mountains started to move off into the distance and the space
between them grew. The lowlands held bogs and marshes and grasses as far as the
eye could see. It took a long time, but eventually we left the mountain range
behind completely and we were surrounded by � flatness. I almost felt like I was
in Nebraska. Well, not really.
Finally, after about five hours of riding we arrived in Deadhorse, Alaska:
the end of the Dalton Highway and as far as you can ride north in the United
States (and all of North America, I believe). We had reserved an outrageously
expensive room in the not-so-elegant Arctic Caribou Inn and still had the
privilege of paying for dinner on top of that. I will confess that it was a very
good dinner, and an all-you-care-to-eat buffet, so I could have really taken
advantage of that if I'd had the appetite.
...continue to part 3