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Seattle to Alaska - Part 3

 by Colleen First

...continued from part 2

Day 9 � 240 miles

Deadhorse gets approximately 7" of rain a year, which is less than Phoenix, AZ. Because Doug and I are special, they got about 1/3rd of their annual rainfall the night that we were there. We got up early because we had paid a bit extra to take the Official Tour that not only tells you all about oil production on the North Slope, but it also allows you access to the Arctic Ocean. Doug and I were quite surprised to find out in Fairbanks that the average person is not allowed access to the ocean but must first register for a permit or submit their personal information for inclusion in a tour such as the one we were to take at least 24 hours in advance. Who knew?

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Missed the other installments of Colleen and Doug's Alaska Trip?

Part 1 CLICK HERE
Part 2 CLICK HERE
Part 4 CLICK HERE

The tour was ok; essentially a great long self-promotional piece about the oil companies that are doing the drilling in the Arctic and how they're not really damaging anything and put everything back the way they found it when they're done. Whatever. I want to see the ocean.

It was cold and windy � not a good combination. Doug and I took pictures of each other and we watched a few hardy (stupid?) people join the Polar Bear club by completely submersing themselves in the 34 degree water. Not for me.

After the tour was over we returned to our cozy ATCO room, packed up our gear and bought some sandwiches to have later at the lodge in Wiseman (we made arrangements to stay there again, despite not having the cash required by the owners � they were kind enough to take us on our word that we'd mail them a money order from Fairbanks, which we did as soon as we got back). We packed up the bikes under mostly cloudy skies, with rain visible in the not-so-distant distance. It looked like a cold ride out of town. The tour guide had said that it was 42 degrees, but with the wind there was a wind chill of 21. Brrrrr.

The wind was a constant source of distraction, blowing in fairly steady from the same direction, but always cold. I also knew that a good headwind would seriously cut down our fuel mileage and cause fatigue that much sooner. About 100 miles out of town it started to rain. Ahhh � heated grips are a godsend! I had hoped that as we headed inland (and south) that it would warm up slightly, even if the wind didn't diminish. However I was dismayed to find that while wind did drop slightly, so did the temperatures. It began to snow! Doug and I found ourselves struggling along at freezing temperatures on a wet muddy road and snow-covered visors, with no where to go but forward. The snow tortured us for 40 miles while we slogged through the mud and potholes that appeared out of nowhere. Semis blew past us, the drivers sitting comfortably in their heated rigs. Once again, I questioned my sanity. I began to wonder if my heated grips were working any more, as I couldn't feel my fingers very well. The inside of my visor was fogged, but I couldn't open it because then my glasses would get covered. I was constantly wiping snow off my visor just so I could see Doug's taillight. Sigh. What else would one expect in the Arctic in August than snow?

During a brief stop at the side of the road I suggested to Doug that we ask at the next pump house if we could stand around in a warm room for a bit, just to thaw out. There are pump houses along the pipeline at fairly distant intervals (I'm guessing about every 60 miles or so?), but it didn't take us long to find out that these are highly secured places, and I think that only upon threat of immediate death would they let you inside. Doug and I did not qualify.

We got back on our bikes and trudged southward. The snow was beginning to stick to the ground and the elevation level on the nearby hills showed that we were reaching the snowline. Never daunted, the construction crew was still hard at work at Atigun Pass and we crawled over it again at 10 mph. I had the promise of warmer weather on the other side of the Pass in my head, so we kept going through the snow and rain. As we crested the Pass Doug motioned to his bike � it was overheating badly. Mine was running hot as well but I assumed that it was from the slow uphill climb that we were doing. It turned out that we had traveled through so much mud that it had clogged the radiator fins and they were no longer effective. We stopped by a mountain stream and poured water over the radiators of both bikes until enough was cleared off to get us safely back to the Lodge. Upon our return to Wiseman Doug also discovered that his radiator fan switch was broken, one of the reasons his bike overheated so much more than mine. We hoped that we could fix it tomorrow when we got back in to Fairbanks.

The weather cleared up 40 miles before Wiseman and we had an almost enjoyable ride back to the Lodge, although a hot shower had never felt so good! And conveniently, the ham and cheese sandwiches we had purchased in Deadhorse to eat cold grilled up nicely with the butter I had stuck in my pocket from the morning's bagel. That, in addition with hot instant soup and hot chocolate made for a most appreciated meal. Yum!

Day 10 � 260 miles

The next morning was bright and sunny, like nothing had happened the day before. We got fueled up in Coldfoot and then made a quick trip down a fairly smooth and fast haul road. We had taken pictures on the way north, so now it was just a quick jog back in to Fairbanks, where we hoped to get Doug's switch fixed and new tires on our bikes.

We took a celebratory break at the end of the Dalton Highway, snapped some pictures and had a snack. Then we finished the trip in to Fairbanks of the now-wonderful Elliot Highway. This road was full of full little twisties and dips and really kept me on my toes � and leaned over, the way a bike should be!

Upon our return to the B&B we found that our reserved room wasn't even on the property, but at another location. I was perturbed and said that I had specifically requested a room here, in this building, as this is where our gear is. The owner then tried to put us in a much more expensive room, but we weren't having any of that. He finally relented (and I could see that it pained him to do so) and gave us the more expensive room at the originally agreed-upon rate. Bah! I've never been so disappointed at a B&B then I was here.

Day 11 � 280 miles

We had purchased tires at the local Kawasaki dealership before the trip to the Arctic but weren't sure if we would need them replaced immediately after the trip to Deadhorse or if we could make it to another town and have it done there. One look at my rear tire said that we should do it now. We took the new tires back to the dealership and while they did the change that morning for us, it seemed to take them an exceptionally long time, not to mention their outrageous prices (it seems that everything in Fairbanks is outrageously expensive). They did indeed have the switch that Doug needed, but they were asking $100 for it. Doug and I decided that we could rig something up ourselves and wait until we could find a more reasonably priced part later. Needless to say, we got a late start out of Fairbanks and decided not to head south to Denali but instead to head directly home and have a small cushion of time (which we needed, it turned out)

We did take advantage of our "extra time" by exploring some off-road sights that had piqued our interest earlier in the trip. While I had wanted to make it across the Yukon border before we stopped for the night it looked like it wasn't going to happen. Instead we camped along the side of the road at a rest stop, about 20 miles from the border. It was a pleasant spot and fairly quiet.

Day 12 � 330 miles

The morning was beautiful. We had no problems crossing back into the Yukon and stopped at Beaver Creek for a hot breakfast. We called ahead to Whitehorse and made reservations for the evening. The ride was very pleasant, with wide open skies and views that just don't stop. We had a brown bear cross the road directly in front of us � I'm still waiting to see if the pictures turned out from the disposable camera.

We ran in to some construction on the way to Whitehorse and without the rains that we had previously the dust was thick! There are land yachts (RVs) everywhere and they choked us with the dust they caused. Doug's bike overheated again as we trudged through an exceptionally long and arduous section of construction. We had to do something about this or his bike would be toast when we get to the warmer climes of southern BC. We arrived in Whitehorse and immediately went to the Kawasaki dealership that doesn't stock anything. Its no surprise that they don't have a radiator fan switch, but the guy confirms what Doug and I had been thinking: bypass the thermo switch and put in a manual switch. We thank him and walk across the street to Canadian Tire ("Not just tires!") and locate a switch, wire, some connectors and other fun electrical stuff. We haul our purchases to the bikes, find our hotel and head for dinner. Got to have priorities. After dinner we headed to the warm, dry and well-lit parking area that our bikes are in (this is a happy thing) and after a short bit of confusion we spliced in some wire, zip tie a switch to Doug's handlebar and voila! We have a manual fan switch!

...continue to part 4


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