Arriving in Fairbanks, Alaska after 10 days of cycling and 9 of those spent on the infamous Dalton Highway, our favorite quote by Hunter S. Thompson pretty much sums it up our experience the best,"...skid[ding] in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a ride!" And holy sh*t what a ride it was!
Starting our bike tour of the Americas on the Dalton Highway, mainly because it is the northern most point in Alaska with a road to ride on, was the complete opposite experience than our start in San Diego hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I would have to say it was more like getting helicoptered in and dropped off in the middle of the High Sierras for 11 days to get in shape to hike the rest of the Pacific Crest Trail. Looking back, the decision to stay our first night at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel to wait out our 24 hour clearance to make it to the Arctic waters, and to fatten up on buffets with a good nights sleep, was a good way to start out the journey. Since the area is controlled by the oil companies, it was impossible to actually cycle to the Arctic Ocean, but we opted for the shuttle service the next day to drive us about 10 miles to the ocean where we stuck our toes in the water to kick off our trip!
We arrived back to the drop point late in the day and began our journey riding south on the Dalton Highway. The skies were sunny over the flatness of the tundra that stretched on for miles and allowed us to see for days. About a half hour later the skies opened up and absolutely poured rain on us until about midnight when, still in daylight, we decided to stop and just pitch the tent in the rain. There was about a 25 mile stretch of road under construction we hit and since the crew was gone for the day, we missed the pilot shuttle, and plowed on through the deep gravel. Day 2 brought drizzle all day, which kept us nice and cool, and began to get a little more hilly. It was funny how a semi truck would pass us and then we would watch it for the next 15 minutes as many miles later it would fade into the distance.
By day 3 it set in that I, Kristen, had a full blown cold from the plane, a sinus infection, girl problems, saddle soars, knee issues, a deflating brand new sleeping pad, but in all my misery, we had some absolutely amazing views to look at through our mosquito nets!! We had set a goal to try and ride around 50 miles a day, and were fairly close to hitting our target most days. By day 4 we hit Atigun Pass (4,700 ft.) and hit it at the end of the day being persuaded over by a trucker saying, "better go now while it's not raining!" Day 5 was an epic ride dropping down along the river with sunny weather and time enough to go for a swim and bathe. Early day 6 we rolled into Coldfoot (a small truck stop/post office with some very friendly staff). We sat for hours, recharged batteries, ate like truckers, and washed our faces in the bathroom sink. After prying ourselves from the chairs, we headed back out to power through some miles since we had finally hit pavement and were making some much needed progress.
Day 7, 8 and 9 all blended with lots of beautiful Alaskan countryside to look at when it wasn't completely down-pouring and turning the road to a rocky, sandy, clay mud mess. Out of the 414 Dalton Highway miles, only about 100 are paved. The rest is mainly loose gravel to a packed clay, but when wet it got pretty sloppy and packed itself into our fenders pretty good and for stretches would stop us dead in our tracks to use the tire lever to dig out clay. I had never heard Ville use so many cute Finnish swear words! At least we had each other to try and calm the other down when throwing the bikes off a cliff and walking the rest of the way out sounded like a better plan.
I know what you are saying right now, "Then why in the hell would you do this then? It sounds miserable." Well, because when you are in some pretty challenging and low points in life, that is when some of the most beautiful things happen. Really. When the rain was pelting us in the face and we were completely soaked through, a truck pulled up, rolled down the window, and an older man handed us a bunch of power bars and said, "Looks like you could use these" and drove away. Or when I was the sickest, dealing with bad headwinds all day and lots of hill climbs, a dump truck pulled over and the driver handed us a brown bag full of pizza, sandwiches, and cake. Then he backtracked and drove back by us to take the garbage from us so we didn't have to carry it with us. Or even when the hardest day of hill climbs named "The Roller Coaster" by truck drivers, a truck driver slowed down and handed us a couple bottles of water and kept on driving. The heavy rains we were getting was muddying all the rivers so bad our water filter couldn't get all the dirt out and just the simple gesture of bottled water was such a life saver. And just as we pulled over for a break from digging mud out of fenders, a very kind family from North Pole turned their truck around and pulled over to give us salmon sticks, bananas, and get our minds off our troubles for a while. We are planning a stop over to visit them when cycling through their town.
These simple acts of kindness are one of the most special parts of this journey, and the reason we really do these asinine things like riding our bikes from Alaska to Argentina. Meeting these road angels, helpers, characters and such are the biggest draw to why we live for these journeys. There really is so many great people out there and if you take the time to open yourself up and connect, you will be inspired. We are every single day. So much so that we are adding a page on our website dedicated to these such angels of our journey. Some we didn't get a picture of, but they know who they are and we are forever grateful!
Day 10 was, in our minds, to be our last day on the Dalton Highway and only a mere 40 miles or so from the end of the Dalton where it dumps onto the Elliot Highway for 60 or so of pavement and then into Fairbanks. But true to the Dalton, the last 40 miles turned into some of the hardest miles we encountered. Absolutely pouring rain, where the storm clouds actually followed us for the entire 40 miles, horrible mud, pushing bikes up steep hills that climbed to the sky and once we finally arrived at a downhill, a water truck was waiting at the top where he had completely sprayed the road with even more water because they were grading it and where it became a dangerous kamikaze mud slide on the way down. When we finally arrived at the Welcome to the Dalton Highway sign we were almost in tears we were so happy to have made it to the end and as we descended onto the Elliot Highway the rain finally let up and the thunder rolled in the distance as a reminder that we had just ben spit out of the bowels of the beast and a reminder to never return. We both agreed that never say never, but if we do return to the Dalton, we will only do so if Larry and Jerry fly us over it in their chopper :)
Once we hit pavement we met yet another sweet couple that gave us water while watching us struggle again to purify the mud to drink. And after climbing for hours longer, we finally pulled over at a pull out when the sun popped out for an hour or so to drag out all our soaking wet clothes and lay them out on the pavement to dry. A man who was heading back out to his house from resupplying in town, saw us and pulled over to hand us a few sodas and chat about our trip. His name was Doug and he is a gold miner who lives off the grid up in the hills around this area gold mining and pulled a large gold nugget from his pocket he had found the day prior. Doug had some fantastic stories to tell over a few Milwaukee Beast Ices and after giving me, Kristen, some roadside flowers, he dug out a can of stew, mushrooms, fruit cups, and 2 Beast Ices for our dinner that night! What a sweet guy. After cracking his 3rd beer, he hit the road and we packed up and headed back down the hill completely rejuvenated.
Since timing it so close to the 4th of July, we were unlucky to have most friends still gone we planned to connect with in Fairbanks and decided to camp at the Hilltop Truck Stop in Fox a mere 10 miles from Fairbanks and wait for friends to arrive back. Day 11, we rode into Fairbanks and met up with the kindest and most generous couple, Daniel and Margaret, who we had met while camped out at the cafe in Coldfoot and gave us their contact if we had needed anything. Dan picked us up off the road wearing only rain clothes, the only things not completely soaked and filthy, and our bikes were so covered in mud and clay that they were squealing, not shifting properly and brakes barely working. We had tried to wash them in a muddy creek once off the Dalton, but they really needed more help than that. Dan took us back to his home and gave us our own room, hot shower, laundry, and even their car to use to run errands in town!!! We were both so incredibly grateful for the generosity and from a couple who don't even know us. Once they both came home from work they made us a special salmon dinner and helped plan the trip going forwards. Again, we are blessed with the kindness and generosity of beautiful people in this world. Thanks again Daniel and Margaret!
Today we are heading over to some other friends house here in Fairbanks to get some much needed help bringing my Blue Bullet and Ville's ride back to life. Now that are legs are finally getting feeling back in them, we are planning to hit the road again heading south east towards North Pole and eventually Tok in a day or so. Thanks everyone for all the help getting us this far, the well wishes, and support, for without all of you we would be lying in a ditch off the Dalton somewhere. Stay tuned for more crazy and wild adventures!!
K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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