DALTON HIGHWAY the Mudder of Roads 2 to 6 July 2017

Many years ago I crossed the Arctic Circle in Norway an route to the North cap on my then new Moto Guzzi Norge and in company of Susie. Crossed it once again in Lapland on the Norge and in company of Susie. So now it was time to cross it yet once again but this time on Tiggy Moon Dust and in Alaska and as fate, coincidence and my good luck would have it, in the company of 3 mad polish bikers, but more on that later.

Starting on the Dalton Highway

The Dalton highway, or the haul road as it is known locally, listed in the top ten most dangerous roads in the world, featured in the first episode of the BBC dangerous roads and featured In the Ice road truckers.

Quote taken from Wikipedia

“The James W. Dalton Highway, usually referred to as the Dalton Highway, is a 414-mile road in Alaska. It begins at the Elliott Highway, north of Fairbanks, and ends at Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields”.

Quote taken from http://www.dangerousroads.org/north-america/usa/50-james-dalton-

“The James W. Dalton Highway is a gravel highway running for 414 miles between the Elliot Highway just north of the city of Fairbanks and Deadhorse near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and the Arctic Ocean. Feel like getting away from civilization? Then this is the highway for you. The scenery is gorgeous, but you may be too busy dodging pot holes the size of moon craters, battling strong winds flinging small rocks at your car, or trying not to freeze in -80°F, all of which could leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere.

The road, usually referred to as the Dalton Highway (and signed as Alaska Route 11), was initially built in 1974 as a supply route for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and is named after James Dalton, the Alaska-born engineer who directed and supervised its construction. The highway runs parallel to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and despite its bleak, isolated and remote setting, it is often navigated by anything up to 150 trucks in summer and 250 trucks in the winter. Few roads in the world offer the degree of isolation as the James W. Dalton Highway. Make sure you pack plenty of supplies because there are only three villages along this 666km road through the wilderness. The highway is one of the most isolated roads in the United States. There are only three towns along the route: Coldfoot, at Mile 175, Wiseman at Mile 188, and Deadhorse, at the end of the highway at Mile 414. Linking Fairbanks and oil fields to the north, huge trucks are its main traffic. Giving them right of way is one of road rules; the other is taking survival supplies and knowing how to use them. It’s one of the world’s northernmost road ends.

So what is so special about this road, why do so many bikers risk damage to their bikes to ride it, it’s subject to extremes in weather & road conditions. I wish I could answer that question. I don’t know, except maybe to explore something really unique, to experience an experience of a lifetime, to see and to be part of a remote oil refinery for a short space of time, to ride to the most northerly point of a landmass or just because you are plain crazy, would I do it again….. NO.  Once is enough.

On the way up from Denali I was kinda planning on just going to the arctic circle, run up to Coldfoot, sleep & return. That all changed just like all my plans.

Driving down the Elliot highway I saw 3 bikes stopped. I pulled over to ask if they needed assistance but they were just taking photos. Had a little chat and it turns out they were Polish living in Chicago. I carried on, stopped at the junction of the Elliot and Dalton to adjust my brake pedal and along came the polish who stopped to offer help. We carried on but I went straight up the Dalton and they turned left down the Elliot….. I was kinda wondering maybe there was a petrol station there so I turned and followed, met them coming back so flagged them down to ask was going on. They were looking for petrol but the station was 62 miles away. We decided to go up the Dalton where as luck would have it there was a petrol pump and trading store on the Yukon river. We decided to have dinner as well. During the dinner, we introduced ourselves and they told me to join up with them for the run up the haul road and back. I accepted. They were two truck drivers Brunno and Andy and one truck mechanic also called Andy. During the meal two other polish bikers pulled in, this time from Poland, Martha and Lucas who were travelling around the world. Tummies and tanks full we headed on up the road to the famous Artic Circle sign. Once again, a stop for a photo shoot. Having travel companions means also that I get to having me picture taken….. whooopppiiiii. Then on to Coldfoot. But first and very important, I had heard a story that the first time you cross the mighty Yukon river you should pee in it for good luck. Now being Irish and believing everything, I peed into it, you never know and I figured that I need every bit of help that I could get….. also I was busting.

Coldfoot the last stop for petrol, food and a bed. Coldfoot the last outpost of civilization before Deadhorse 240 miles (384 km) north. Coldfoot derives its name from the travelers, who in the olden days got cold feet, and turned back ‘cos they were scared to carry on. Once again we filled our tanks and tummies and carried on….. it was “giddy up and go” up the Dalton highway.

On leaving Coldfoot the Dalton began to open up to share some of her secrets with us, rewards for battling the atrocities that the highway was throwing at us. It was glorious sunshine and the scenery was amazing. In Coldfoot I met up with Ruddy from Brazil who was riding a Triumph Explorer. He was just on the way down and gave me some update on the road and weather. The mountain was shrouded in mist and he warned me to clean my rear lights. True to word when we began to climb the mountain we ran into the clouds, temperatures dropped and we layered up. The Brooks Mountains, named in 1925 after Alfred Hulse Brooks, chief geologist for Alaska from 1903 to 1924,  and the Atigun Pass were not gonna share their secrets with us. The only thing it shared was heavy rain and mist. After the Atigun Pass we put up our tents on the flat tundra well away from the road and slept the sleep of the innocent. One thing I gotta mention and that is the Alaskan national bird of prey…. The mosquito. Oh My Gawd, there’s millions of them and they are huge and vicious.

The next morning we packed up in drizzle and mosquitos, ate some banana’s and a tin of tuna and headed off once again.

The highway is 75% gravel and mud. Which is covered in a chemical, calcium chloride, that gets really slippery when wet, the road then turns into an ice rink. When dry it’s a dust cloud of white fine powdery stuff, so they spray it with water from huge big tanker trucks, so it turns into an ice rink again, it’s a no-win situation for bikers. We had rain and an ice rink, the Dalton was giving us a hard time.  In no time the bikes where covered in a white mud that sticks like you know what to a blanket. To make matters worse 60 miles (96kms) before Deadhorse there was major road construction….. and I mean major. That means waiting for a pilot car to lead you single file through. One section was really deep gravel, another section was really deep mud and another was course gravel that verged on rocks….., a mess. A technical nightmare to ride through. I am not an off-road rider, I did do a course in Germany that helped a lot but I was on my limit. I kept hearing the voice of Peter my instructor yelling at me to “open the throttle, fix your gaze on the horizon……” but what he forgot was “and pray like you never prayed before….” Also, the tips from Paul, a GS rider from Latvia who told me to stand straight and loose on the pegs, all this helped. But practice is what you need.

Then came the end of the last road works and a clear run on hard packed dirt to Dead Horse. I was never so relieved to see the oil refineries in the distance and the waters of Prudhoe bay. Also, the sun came out and the rain stopped. There are only two places to stay in Deadhorse, the Prudhoe bay Hotel & the Aurora. We chose the Aurora. Deadhorse is a receiving area for the crude oil from the artic and as such it is geared to oil workers who work two weeks at a time and two weeks off. The hotels are also where the workers stay, they are huge with thousands of rooms. All rooms are singles and are all in. There is 24-hour snacks and hot drinks available and you just help yourself. Believe me I did. There are also laundry facilities but there is no point in washing your gear only to get filthy the next day. Dead Horse is as far as you are allowed to drive alone. If you want to get to the Arctic Ocean then you have to take a tour bus at 70 dollar. This you have to book at least a day in advance. Now there is one thing that I cannot do and that is book. I keep changing my route, stopping to talk to people etc, etc. The polish guys had booked a tour so they had to check into the hotel and rush to get that together. I just dived into the shower and treated my poor aching body to a gorgeous hot shower, a change of clothes, down to the restaurant to get some food & outside to check on Tiggy Moon Dust.

After a super relaxed evening and a good sleep, it was time to pack up and go. Loaded the bike and whilst waiting for the Polish guys started to take some photos of the hotel and Deadhorse. I was just taking a photo of the oil tanks when a voice said, “Sir you might want to turn around, there is a bear standing behind you”, so I did and yes there was a Grizzly bear with two cubs trying to open the rubbish bin…… Oh My Gaaaawwwwdddd. Just as she started to come down the steps to come towards me a pickup truck pulled in behind me and the driver said “Sir get into the truck immediately” so I did and he drove me to the entrance of the hotel. This was my first bear encounter…. And that was at Deadhorse.

So, morning excitement over, it was off to fill up the bikes. If you think that the petrol is free or dirt cheap on the oil fields then you are very much mistaken, its about 3 times the price from the rest of Alaska. When I commented on this I was told that the oil gets pumped down to Valdez and gets trucked back up again…. Then it was off to find the

Deadhorse General store where the famous sign is…. And of course, the photo shoot. Then it was “Giddy up and go” time. The Dalton was waiting.

 

The run down was totally different than the run up, it was a pleasant 5C,  blue sky, we all had dry clothes albeit extremely muddy but dry and not a cloud in sight. We made really good time. Then came the Atigun pass and the Brooks Mountains and She, the lady of the mountain, was in a good mood and shared her secrets with me. It was amazing, I have never seen anything so beautiful and majestic, She towered up to the sky and smiled down, a mountain of granite. I didn’t stop to take a photo ‘cos it was a moment that had to remain in my mind, a private moment, a photo could never capture the feeling and her message also the road was crap and there was a truck a mile behind me & there was no way he was gonna pass me….. it is after all the Dalton highway. But somehow it was a special moment and I am the richer for it.

That evening we reached Coldfoot and pitched our tents up on the grass. They let people camp for free. The following morning my travel companions made some pot noodles for breakfast & we got tucked in. Then the wee women from the restaurant came over to us and asked us if we wanted to eat the left overs from the breakfast buffet as she was closing and they had a lot of food left over….. wooooow we attacked that buffet and cleaned it up. What an amazing start to the day. Then it was on down the Dalton, once again in glorious sunshine, across the Yukon to the junction of the Elliot and the Dalton. Here we turned right up the Elliot, a gravel & dirt road to a place called Manley, famous for its hot spring.

Quote taken from  http://fairbanks-alaska.com/manley-hot-springs.htm

“Manley Hot Springs is at the end of the Elliott, 152 miles from Fox. About 100 people live in there, along with a handful of dog teams. The village has one hotel, laundromat with showers, a gas station, school (UAF rural adult education classes available), post office, well house, landfill, grocery store, and a health clinic run by the village council. There is a public campground (several actually, one with boat ramp, covered picnic shelter and playground) near the bridge over Manley Slough, maintained by the Manley Hot Springs Park Association. There is also a maintained airstrip and hangar (a 45 minute flight from Fairbanks).”

But half the fun is the road there, a ride through mountainous vistas and valleys explored by gold miners hundreds of years ago, on a good day you may also see Denali, the great one, 200 miles to the south.

The next morning we parted ways, Andy, Bruno and Andy went on to Anchorage whilst I stayed a bit longer and went into the hot springs to treat my body to a well deserved soak. It was then that I discovered why it was called Manley….. the spring was HOT….. I was the only one there so skinny dipped. It was beautiful. Then it was time to make tracks back to Fairbanks.

Decided to stay 3 nights in Fairbanks, needed to wash the bike, all my gear and stock up on essential supplies. I stayed at the university campus. They rent out rooms in the summer to travelers, mostly bikers. It’s amazing, 38 dollars a night for a single room with use of shower, fully equipped kitchen, laundry, excellent wi-fi   and parking.

Then on to Tok and the Canadian border but that’s another story and adventure

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