Friday August 13, 2010 – Day 8 – “The Haul Road”
I was a little nervous about this days ride; people make lots of comments about it. Josh the night before, told about a friend that had a rock come through his windshield. Plus there are lots of reports of people having difficulty with the road surface. I kept telling myself to calm down and not think about the fact that it was the 13th. LOL
I was able to get off to a good start as I packed and fueled up the night before. A fleece shirt I had picked up at Walmart helped ward off the chill as I buzzed out of town. There is display for the pipeline just outside of Fairbanks, so I stopped for some pics.
Part of the pipeline travels above ground because of the permafrost and the 150F temperature of the crude oil. It is amazing to see how many ways they can adjust the pipe supports. It looked like every so often they had anchor points.
There were a couple of recognition plaques for the folks that designed and built this pipeline.
This pig in a section of pipe, I wished I had measured the diameter of the pipe while I was there.
Wait a minute, what’s that hat doing there?
The Haul road was completed in 5 months around the time of the pipeline project in 1974. It starts 84 miles north of Fairbanks and is 414 miles long, ending in the company town of Deadhorse a few miles from Prudhoe Bay. I hoped to ride this in distance in 12 hours.
First, take the 84 mile paved road to the Livegood Jct.
After the junction the road narrows to a gravel surfaced road for a ways.
I decided to take all my gear with me, including my tent and sleeping bag incase I had to stop over on the way.
As I said, I hoped to make this trip in one day, and had gone to the trouble of making reservations for the hotel and tour while in Glendive.
There was this sign explaining the forest and the types of trees that were along the route.
There were access roads to the pipeline along the road.
So far the road was pretty good. The sun was shining through the scattered clouds making it a nice day for a ride.
This is a hill overlooking the Yukon River Bridge. The pipeline crosses the river at the same point.
The Yukon is a wide river at this point, you can see why it is a major transportation route.
Since I hadn’t gotten breakfast before I left Fairbanks, I decided to get some here. After all it was 10:30 am. Just a little after I got my order in, and had used the restroom, a small tour group came in looking for their sack lunches that they had pre-ordered. It was a hive of activity, but my omelet came out before most of the sack lunches were delivered.
While I was sitting there, a motorcyclist comes in to pay for gas. He saw me and started talking. It turns out he was heading north and wanted to get on the tour tomorrow morning. It would be nice meeting up with him again. I mentioned that I was glad that he had been able to register for the tour, as they were getting full when I called two weeks ago. He looked sheepish and said that he was planning to register for the tour tonight when they checked in. Hmm… good luck with that, I said to myself.
He left and another guy came in and wanted some quarters for the pay phone. He said he wanted to call ahead to Deadhorse. I quickly realized he was with the other guy.
I walked outside and saw that the bikes were the same ones I had seen outside of Whitehorse two days ago, an R1200GSA and a 990ADV. This was the first time I met Ralph and Stephane from Calgary.
If your looking for fuel, those white tanks are pretty common up this way. Most everything is prepackaged on skids and tail rolled into place.
The open countryside reminds me of eastern Montana only bigger.
Wahoo! One milestone down. The Arctic Circle sign on the Dalton Highway is one of the many photographed landmarks by adventure motorcyclists. Ralph and Stephane were there already when I rolled up, so Ralph helped me out and took my picture for me.
I think this picture is right outside the turn out for the Arctic Circle sign. Again the open landscape is always out there challenging your feeling of significance. As you can see, some of the road is paved; about 30% is my guess.
The mountains start to rise out of the forests as I continue north. We are entering the Brooks range.
So here is the start of the pass, the first step is up onto Chandalar Shelf.
After this, there is a switchback, the climb to the top.
You end up sidesloping a fair ways before you go over the top of Atigun Pass. This section of the pipeline is buried.
It is interesting to look at the elevation profile for this road. There is a sharp point to about 5000 feet for this pass, and the road stays above 2000 feet for about 75 miles. Contrast this with my trip through Montana, where Marias Pass by Glacier is at 5280 feet and I was never below 2000 feet for the entire trip.
The clouds were a little different today. I got rained on back at the start and again going through the mountains. Then a rain cloud came over while I was going past Galbraith Lake. The storms didn’t last too long, and here starting to drop down onto the north slope, a rainbow appeared with this rain squall.
There was a section of construction where the road was tore up back closer to the mountains. They let us through with pilot cars, it was a little soft and slick, but not too bad. That was the worst section of the road.
It turns out it was caribou season up here and the hunters were out in force. As there was only one road into the area, they were all concentrated along the road.
There were some sections of the road that they sprayed down to cut the dust, so I was well covered with mud.
One of the guys walking by offered to take my picture next to the motorcycle.
Well this is the Aurora Hotel, a little pricy but when I called two weeks ago they were the third place I called and the only one that had a room available. The rest of the places weren’t cheap either. The nice thing was the cafeteria which was included in the price of the room. While plain, the room was clean and well furnished.
I arrived, at 8:00 pm which after wandering into the hotel with my gear, put me in the cafeteria at 8:15, which was too late for a hot dinner. Not to worry, they had plenty of sandwiches and leftovers packaged so I could microwave myself a hot dinner.
So, in 13 hours, on Friday the 13th, I navigated the 500 miles of the Dalton highway. I was surprised how easy it was.
Let me elaborate. First of all the speed limit was 50 mph and most of the pickup traffic, no doubt having safety crammed down their throats abided by the speed limit. The semi-truck traffic dealing with the hills and the narrow road could only go a little faster. Thus by keeping a steady 60 mph, I was able to keep ahead of the traffic behind me.
Second having driven gravel roads in Montana, it really was a good road, paved for long sections and mostly packed hard. Most of the time it was a four track road or a three track with good shoulders. When I met traffic, I just stayed in the right hand track and wasn’t thrown around by the loose gravel on the shoulders.
There were only a few places where they were grading, and three construction zones. The one construction zone was paving, and was in the clean up phase. One zone had the road torn up and was trying to put down fill, this was the worst section. Overall I think my timing made it easier as they were working to wrap up work for the summer.
Finally, even though I did get rained on, it was short and the road stayed mostly dry. While I had mud on my bike it was more just spray splashed on me and not thick stuff thrown up from my tire. I think this was because I didn’t wander out to the shoulder and out of the tracks except for the widest loads or the craziest looking drivers.
So there you have it, Mtrider16’s opinion of the Dalton Highway. That and $.50 might buy you a cup of coffee.
Stats for Day 8: 496 miles, 5.8 gallons of fuel, 13 hours