8.31.11 Day 71 Triumphant
Another early start today. Riding the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks and back "should" be about 9 hours and about 400 miles. When we got into town, Clint decided to get some breakfast and I went straight to Adventure Cycleworks to drop off some gear and rent a 1 gallon gas can. Dan from Adventure Cycleworks turned out to be a pretty cool guy. He was what I pictured an Alaskan lumberjack would look like. Red flannel and big beard. We talked for a good while and I got some information about the road. He says the road to Arctic Circle isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. The Alcan is worse in some spots, its just slick if it rains. I also found out that the smell at Liard Springs was from the high brush cranberries. Apparently they reek but as soon as the frost hits them, they turn extremely sweet and make good jam.
I met Clint in the McDonalds in town and found out from some locals that a rider on a transcontinental ride was killed just the day before. A truck making a left turn didn’t see him and hit him head on. Number one killer for motorcycles.
There was a SUV from germany completely outfitted for trans con travel. Looked cool, but its got to be an expensive way to travel. Comfy though.
We didn’t get on the road until 10:30 and made on last stop in Fox to top off and fill up my spare can. The Elliot Highway out of Fox was a nice road. Great scenery and smooth pavement. I hope the Dalton isn’t as bad as people say. Around 70 miles on the Elliot, we came to the junction for the Dalton. I was going to be cutting it close to make the gas station at Coldfoot. I was getting good mileage, but at this rate, I would be arriving on fumes. There is supposed to be gas at Yukon River, but I was warned not to rely on it.
The first part of the Dalton was all dirt and calcium chloride. There were some deep parts that were hard to ride on, but when it became hard packed, I could easily cruise at 50-60 but had to be careful to spot the deep parts far ahead to get on the brakes early. I had to slow down to almost 30mph for the corners as there were piles of gravel built up from the trucks. The tracks from the trucks were a challenge to navigate through too. The front tire would just follow the tracks, luckily, all the trucks stayed on the road and so did I.
Start of the Elliot Highway
Most of the Dalton was hard pack, then some parts were deep dirt, then some parts were pristine blacktop. But not much blacktop. We got to the Yukon River and there was gas, so I filled up. Guess I wont be needing the spare can. There were a lot of tour buses though and I had to wait a long time before I could pay for gas. I guess the tours are really popular. There is also a close up view point of the pipeline here, but it was filled with buses and we needed to keep moving.
The Dalton begins.
Usually corners on a sportbike are fun, not so much here.
Crossing the Yukon River
A few hours later, we were getting close to the Arctic Circle. There was a long section of really deep and dusty gravel which isn’t a big deal, until a semi truck comes barreling at you. The cloud of dust and rocks they kick up is enormous. All you can do is slow down, pull to the right as far as you can and tuck in behind the windshield. Chunks of rock just bounce off the windshield and my helmet and Im hoping they don’t crack the headlight.
Just 20 miles before the Arctic Circle, we see a large rain cloud moving in. Just got to keep moving, we are almost there.
Im watching the rain clouds move in closer and closer and hoping they don’t hit us when I see the pull off for the Arctic Circle. Yes! We pull up and take our pictures. As we were finishing up, a couple of outfitted Mitsubishi Pajeros pull up. It was a Chinese family that had the trucks shipped from China and they were doing a tour of the US. I talked to the family for a while and the girl in her 20s wanted a picture of Clint and I. Apparently they were impressed that we rode the motorcycles up here. We took a few pictures with them, then the dad decided he wanted a picture too. In Mandarin he said, “I want a picture too, but I want to ride one of the bikes.” I thought he was joking, so I didn’t warn Clint. Then he walks up to the KLR and tried to climb on. Haha, uh, Clint, by the way, this guy wants to sit on your bike. It took him a few tries to get his leg over the seat but he finally does and Im worried he’s going to fall over the whole time. We move the bikes out of the way and let them take their pictures. Then me and Clint walk behind the sign and tag it. Normally, I wouldn’t deface anything like this, but hey, Im in the Arctic Circle on a bike, just this once.
Zen at the Arctic Circle as promised to Owen from Toronto.
The Pajeros at the circle
We hang out a little bit longer then I needed to start heading back. The rain is starting to move in. Clint decides he wants to keep going north. Maybe to Coldfoot, maybe to Prudhoe. I say good bye and good luck, then climb aboard. I noticed I had left the key on after I moved the bike and now the battery is dead. Crap. Im in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, my battery is dead and its starting to rain. Great. Clint and another tourist from Georgia give me a push start. It doesn’t start at first so we try again. It fires up, I wave goodbye and Im on the way south. As soon as I pull out of the pulloff, it starts pouring rain. Huge droplets pummeling me and covering my visor. I cant see a thing but this is no place to stop in the middle of the road. Just gotta keep moving and hope a truck doesn’t come up behind me and run me over.
It pours and pours for half and hour through all the nasty gravel parts. Then when I hit good blacktop, it clears up. Great, why cant it rain on the good part of the road? At least it stopped raining for now. I keep moving along but the roads are wet and getting treacherous. The dry pack is now muddy and slick. Then it dries out and I can move at a good pace again. I get to the Yukon River, gas up, grab a snack then keep moving. Not far past that, it started to rain again. It wouldn’t stop until I get to the end of the Dalton and onto the Elliot. The deep dirt parts are now muddy and extremely slick. Its hard to see through the rain and mud on the visor and the bike just wandered wherever the tracks led me. Think about the front brakes and they would lock. The bars just moved around the whole time following tire tracks. The rear tire would slip on the uphill sections when I gave it throttle and the brakes would lock on the downhills. I used the rear brake only and Im pretty sure it was locked up on every downhill slope. This is a little ridiculous for a sport bike. I need some tread blocks on these tires. At one point in the rain, I came up on a Subaru going 20 mph on a downhill section. I tried to slow down but couldn’t so I ended up just passing him. The look on his face was priceless as a fully loaded sport bike passed him going downhill through the mud in the rain. Come on guy, your in a Subaru.
One of many semi trucks that go up and down the Dalton.
One second you see this, then the next, there's a semi truck halfway in your lane.
I rode through the rain for a few hours and came to the end of the Dalton, it finally ended. I rode the last part of the blacktop in beautiful sunny skies and got to the Elliot. Rode the bike down the gully to the Dalton Highway sign and took a picture. Then it took a few attempts to get the bike out as some people watched and probably laughed, but it was worth it.
I cruised through the rest of the way down the Elliot then went back to Adventure Cycleworks to pick up my gear and drop off the gas can. I hung out with Dan for a while and just talked about riding and Alaska. It was starting to get dark so went back into town and searched for a hotel. I thought about camping, but rode by a place that had a Laundromat next door and a restaurant. I figured I could get a couple things knocked out so I forked over the $90 for the crappy room. Walked over to the Laundromat and dropped off some clothes and walked to the closest restaurant. It was a Mexican place that had a strip club attached to it. This should be good. As usual, I got some nachos and they were actually not terrible. Not good, but not bad, for Alaska. I decided to congratulate myself by having a beer. By the time I left, I was stuffed and hated the walk back to the room. After another hot shower, I hit the sack. Another long day finished.
Damn right. How many sportbikes have been here?
Dan spent an hour pressure washing Jess.
Maybe I should have taken some of the kit off.