Saturday 24th June to Saturday 1st July
We have been holed up in Fairbanks since returning here on Monday, waiting for Ian’s bike to get fixed. While slightly frustrating, this is far outweighed by the relief that Ian is OK and that he can continue on the trip. The enforced down time has given the opportunity for a few reflections on this most remote corner of the continent.
Tom and I abandoned Ian to his rescuers, and continued north to reach Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay as planned. Physically challenging, and taking its toll on my Triumph (as well of course on Ian and his Honda!) we all felt that we needed to get to the most northerly point – what is in fact the start line for our endeavour, to ride from the most northern point to the most southerly one in Argentina accessible by road.
Maintaining the road at this latitude is apparently a challenge in itself. North of the Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range of mountains, the landscape is one of Arctic tundra. Only grasses and some hardy ground plants can survive; trees are left behind for ever. This is a world of permafrost, with its own ecosystems that we can only hope will survive global climate change. We were intrigued to see the road being rebuilt on a layer of polystyrene – seriously – in order to insulate the ground from the heat generated by the vehicles on the road and so prevent thawing and subsidence.
No matter how inhospitable the terrain and climate, there are always highly adapted fauna to carve out a niche existence. The nearest we got to seeing some of the more iconic creatures however was in a fur shop in Fairbanks. I would have loved to see a musk ox, but did not. We did come across a herd of about 30 caribou wandering across the road in front of us, and on the way back southwards saw a moose with her calf standing in the road before ambling into the trees before I could get my camera out.
Bears are ubiquitous, and a large grizzly was spotted in the centre of Deadhorse (in so far as there is a centre…) at just about the time we arrived.
There is another incredibly impressive fauna we encountered frequently: humans. The indigenous people here refer to themselves as Indians, a term that has I think all but disappeared in the lower 48. These Indians are quite distinct from the Eskimos who live in the further north and west, and also the far north of Canada to the East. They reject the term Native Americans because they don’t feel themselves to be American, but rather remain anchored to the land by their tribal rituals and traditions, passed down through the generations still by spoken histories and stories.
There is another extraordinary group of people here – the adventurers, who come from all over to throw themselves at a bigger challenge or pit themselves against their own individual drivers and demons. A common feature seems to be that they want to test themselves, for what ever reason. So we met many motorcyclists like us, but some with far more ambition like Sam from Australia who has been riding solo for about a year so far, and aims to continue until the money runs out.
But by far the most impressive are the cyclists. It is jaw-dropping to find anyone who would ride a bike the 500 miles up this road, but we must have encountered at least a dozen, all unsupported and mostly in pairs but also the occasional solo rider. We enjoyed chatting to several on the way, Bob from Australia who was on holiday, Albert from the Netherlands who had sold his house and car and set out on his bike with no end date – he is at the start of his adventure and aims to ride, like us, to Tierra del Fuego before carrying on to GOK where. And one rather Amazonian and deeply impressive girl in her mid twenties who was riding solo towards Deadhorse was memorable for her sheer courage to do this alone, carrying all food and camping gear, prepared for all and any dangers (bears being the most obvious ones). She was also memorable because despite being from Wisconsin she followed Newcastle United!
This all seems a world away from us now, as we wait back in Fairbanks a mere 500 miles to the south. We are keen to get going again; revisiting our planned route (really no more than a wish-list of places to visit and roads to ride) has reassured us that we will still be on track for LA by the end of July. And the delay has given me a chance to work out what to do with a couple of problems on my bike; leaking front suspension fork seals and possibly more seriously, a leaking radiator. Its roughly 1500 miles to Calgary, and a Triumph dealer. Oh good, more challenges!