Saturday 24th June
It is a wonderful thing to wake up in a log cabin, 75 miles north of the Arctic Circle. This is off the beaten path – in fact it is off the beaten path that is off the beaten track. But let me start a few days earlier…
It is a while since our last post but I have my excuses at the ready. It has been a busy time. In fact today’s date is a bit later; I’m writing this in retrospect after an incredibly hectic few days. I had honestly wondered what we would be doing to fill the time when not on the bikes – how naive!
So Wednesday came, and we at last rolled out of Anchorage for our much anticipated start. Tuesday had been a day of rain, and non-stop packing and re-packing. Wondering why we each had so much luggage. The bikes felt very unstable: when Tom’s little CCM (licence plate S12E XL – Oh the irony) was loaded, it tended to pivot around it’s side stand lifting the front wheel off the ground and almost toppling over. Something needed to change.
So, not short of enthusiasm but with our fill of trepidation, the three loose nuts headed off for Fairbanks.
I’ll spare you the blow by blow details but distances are big here. Mt Denali in clear view could only be a treat; at 20320 ft it is the highest mountain in North America. This a land of extremes, as we were to discover. In Fairbanks we had a day of “rest” – restful it was not. All luggage unpacked, many items discarded and many more packed up and taken to the Post Office: $125 sends a 10.5 kg parcel back to Birmingham.
On Friday, we set off again. This was feeling good. In truth, anxieties about overloading, the road ahead, our bikes and our abilities had had an impact on our moods. This was the tonic we needed.
In truth, the destination of this part of the trip is really the starting point of our odyssey. We are on our way to the start line. And the start line is in the far north at Prudhoe Bay. The town there goes by the uplifting name of Deadhorse, and lies 499 miles up the road from Fairbanks. There are no towns nor real villages between the two. The road crosses the Yukon river – the very name resonates with expectation and adventure. At the river crossing there is a fuel stop, the petrol pumped from a large cylinder at three times the usual price. The next facility of any kind is a road station 120 miles further on, cheerfully named Coldfoot, where there is accommodation, fuel and food. We are on the road to Mordor and the Gates of Doom lie ahead.
The road is the stuff of legend. The Dalton Highway, aka the Haul road, runs from north of Fairbanks for 414 miles to Deadhorse, on the Beaufort Sea. For more than half of it’s length it is composed of dirt and gravel, and shared by the huge trucks supplying the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and tourists like us, many on motorbikes. Can we make that travelers? I’m not feeling much like a tourist.
Tom celebrated the start of this infamous road by letting his bike have a little lie down. That luggage / side-stand equation again. It happens. This is the road that we have read about and prepared for. Its an adventure, and a challenge. For now, we have survived and even enjoyed the first half. The dirt surface is well packed and firm and good to ride on. There’s not too much gravel, and we get the feel of losing traction as the bikes slide around; the training weekend we enjoyed in Spain turns out to have been very worthwhile indeed.
A few hours in, the momentous landmark that is Latitude 66 deg, 33s is crossed: the Arctic Circle. There’s a sign, two or three other people, and lots of wilderness. North of this point is where, for at least one day of the year, the sun never dips below the horizon. And for another day the other side of the calendar, it never rises above it.
So after a long day, we arrived tired at Coldfoot for some dinner, and then to a tiny mining community a few miles further on called Wiseman (pop 14, according to the 2010 census) where we have rented a cabin in the woods.
And despite the mess on the bridge, a stunning river