So since I only recently found out about this site I will post one of my earlier my trip reports. The ride up to the Arctic Circle. This was by far the biggest challenge, more mentally than physically as it turned out...
Hope you enjoy!!!! :-)
Posted 17th September 2011
Ok, once again apologies for any editing mistakes, limited accss to decent and time!
So I havent updated for a while, and i have a lot to tell. Much of this happened over a week ago, I will try to update sooner but access is limited.
Grab yourself a cup of tea this one is exciting and longer than usual!!! hope you enjoy!
The next day I awoke and stepped outside my tent and was greeted by a fantastic view of Denali in the morning sunlight. I had almost forgot where I had camped and it was a great reminder that I was in Alaska.
I spent a while drying and packing my gear, it was the first time I had used my gear so I wasn't very familiar with it. I eventually got my stuff together and headed off towards Denali National Park 153 miles away.
The weather could not have been better, the sun was shining and there were masses of cumulus nimbus clouds to keep me company and provide the most beautiful backdrop to this stunning landscape. It's hard to explain looking at the sky in Alaska, it is certainly very different to the sky's I am used to seeing, you really get a sense of its vastness and a sense that you are indeed at the top of the world. You can actually sense the curvature of the earth due to this and seeing clouds way off in the distance. It took me around 6 or 7 hours to make that 153 miles journey to Denali, every corner presented a new canvas more stunning than the last.
I couldn't help myself I had to stop and take more and more pictures.
When I eventually arrived at Denali it was 7.30 pm I headed straight for the camp site just inside the gate and made camp. That evening I used my camp stove for the first time, I was rather surprised and slightly concerned to read the instruction for lighting this baby up ," caution should be taken when lighting the burner, a fire ball the size of a football may occur when lighting, don't worry this is normal!," hmm i thought I'm not so much worried whether it's normal or not it's the resultant fireball and my eyebrows I'm more concerned about, I moved my food out of the blast radius.
the next day was a chill-out day, there was so much to do in Denali but I just wanted to relax, I passed the day spending quality time with my bike, checking her over, making some tweaks, cleaning it, checking the nuts and bolts making sure everything was in good order, it struck me as I was doing this that if had paid this much attention to girlfriends past then I probably wouldn't be single now, however I thought, if I had, then chances are I wouldnt be doing this, hmm, not sure what the lesson is there..
I wanted to stay in Denali longer but I had received emails from people I had been in contact who have just come from the Arctic Circle, the warnings were there, "it's cold very cold" was one. I decided that I better press on the next day and make Fairbanks while the weather was still on my side.
The ride to Fairbanks was more of the same beautiful landscapes from me to view as I rode on. I hadn't arranged any accommodation in Fairbanks. I figured I'd find some place, in the end I ended up at Billie's Backpackers Hostel off College Road.
Billie the owner of Billies back packers and her daughter had some very strong connections with Ireland, her daughter Marnie, only just returned from Ireland with her kids to make their lives in the States again. It's was nice to come in a here Marnie signing the Christy Moore favorite Ride on to her grandson.
The Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle was on my mind, I needed to make preparations to tackle the Dalton Highway or as it's known locally the Haul Road. Built in 1970's to serve the oil operations at Prudoe Bay on the north coast of Alaska, the Highway is described in the guide books as being very dangerous, the majority being unpaved with sharp rocks, loose gravel, mud slicks and with heavy machinery traveling at speed.
I heard so much horror stories about the haul road from various people. One guy I met, a trucker from Fairbanks said to me in response to me saying that I was going to tackle the Dalton Highway on the little Honda said " dude, are you fucking crazy? the haul road is no fucking joke dude, this is serious shit, People get killed riding that". He informed me that truckers get pissed off with people pissing about on the haul road, this was a working highway as far as he was concerned. He also told that me truckers would deliberately lock up the back brakes to shower motorcyclist and cyclist with rocks and stones as they passed them. That was nice I thought, nevertheless people have rode this road and it's a public highway, I was not for turning. I took his advice on board and I cant say that he didn't scare me a little bit, but I've also read some very positive stories of people who rode the Haul Road. If I was to be discouraged by every nay sayer I would not even have attempted to come to Alaska!
Needlesstosay, preparations had to be made to ensure I had best chance of success. I set about sorting my gear and only taking the bare essentials with me, I discarded my panniers and packed everything into one bag, no spare clothes were taken, not even a spare under pants and god knows I probably could have done with them!
I packed all my tools and spares, my camping gear and food. I also needed to carry additional fuel, above the 1 gallon Jerry can I was already carrying I bought another can, which was was about 5 litres, there were very few fuel stops on the way to the arctic circle, out of fair banks the next stop was 118 miles at the Yukon river Crossing, plus there was no fuel once I reached the arctic circle so I had to ensure I had enough for the return journey, plus I wanted some spare just in case.
The prospect of tackling the Haul Road to the arctic circle on my little bike, especially thoughts of having a blow out or getting a puncture was weighing on my mind. I wasn't carrying spare tyres and this was a concern to me and to others with whom i had discussed then trip with.
I wasn't feeing the best after the few nights camping as it was getting down to 0 deg at night, I had spent a good bit of time preparing and it was getting late so I decided not to tackle the Dalton on the intended day, in fact, doubts started to creep in, whether I should I do it at all? was it wise? Its not the best machine to undertake it on plus the weather was not looking the best either during the afternoon and it was given rain for the next few days, but I had also learned not to pay much attention to the weather forecasts as they have always been wrong and I would not have moved from Anchorge if I had.
With my bike all packed up I decide to go for a spin to check out the Trans Alaskan Pipeline instead that evening, there was a viewing point north of Fairbanks. I headed off, the weather had cleared up and it's was a beautiful evening.
After checking out the Alaskan pipeline I was still having doubts about the Circle, I filled up my Jerry cans in Fox anyway, but then, I don't know what it was but something was driving me on, it was 7.30 in the evening the sun was still out and would set until 9.30, something willed me on, I decided to make for it! The Dalton Highway was 70 miles north, and from there a further 115 miles to the arctic circle along mostly dirt roads, I figured I would get close to the start of the haul road and camp out somewhere and make for the Arctic Circle in morning. Against my better judgement I decided to go for it.
As I rode out the road I became conscious that nobody was on the road, what the hell was I doing? I thought to myself,this is crazy!, but I had to tell myself to press on, I had every thing i needed with me, shelter, food, water, warm clothes! But I was seeing the headlines in my mind " he was foolish to head off at such a time, he didn't even know where he was going etc etc..
I was driving through miles and miles of road completely surrounded by trees on both sides, there was no where to camp! it got to the point where I said "ok if I don't find a spot to camp in 10 minutes I'm turning around". It was starting to get very cold, once the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly. A slight feeling of panic was rising in me.
just then I saw a sign, the Wickersham Trail Head. "Yes", I thought somewhere to camp, I pulled in, there was a out-house and bear proof locks ups, which double as food and garbage storage. I inspected, they were full of garbage and there was a nice hum coming from them, there was also bear scat all over the place, crap I thought, this is not good, I can't camp here! I went to the other side of the road and spoke to an old crazy looking guy who was parked there in his pick up, he asked was I armed? I checked both arms, yes they were still there, so I guess I was armed. "No" , have you got a weapon?". "No", I responded but I have bear spray though, he laughed, and said you need one of these, and with that pulled out a large hand gun from his pocket. No I definitely don't have one of those on me, I ll have to take my chances with the bear spray and could you stop waving that thing around like that I thought to myself
He said if I go down this little track I might find some hunters camping down there, a little cautious of where I was going I turned around and headed down the track, I had seen Deliverance before so i was aware of what happens to folk who get lost in the countryside, however my hesitance subsided, sure enough there were hunters there and they had made camp with a big RV and a pick up, some other off road toys, and the campfire was roaring. great! I thought, Deliverance of another sort.
I was greeted by Brian, who was sitting in his chair carving a stick with a big knife, that's what men do here in Alaska when they are not shooting holes in signposts. I joined him around the fire and we chatted and were later joined by Mark, another new arrival to Alaska. They were very friendly and made me feel welcome. They didn't strike me as seasoned hunters, in fact they readily admitted that, the saying " since when was fishing about catching fish?" came to mind. Nevertheless I was very content to hang around with the guys and shoot the breeze over the fire. It is amazing how fast things can go from being isolated and exposed to feeling safe and secure, only a few minutes ago I was not feeling so great about my decision, but I was being guided on and was very glad I had made that decision. I was conscience however that things can equally go the other way. I thanked the Universe and Superman.
Over the fire Mark offered me a beer, I refused saying I promised myself before I left Ireland that I wouldn't have a drink until is crossed the Arctic Circle, with that Mark went to his car and took out a bottle of Alaska Amber Ale, gave it me me and said take this with you and have a sip on me at the Arctic Circle. I graciously accepted his gesture and took the bottle with me, hoping that it was not a favorite tipple of the North American Grizzly Bear.
The next morning I got up early packed my gear away bade farewell to Brain and Mark and hit the road, next stop was the start of the Dalton and then on to the Yukon River Crossing! I had enough fuel with me to get around 250 miles approximately 10 liters, Yukon crossing was around 110 miles.
It was a fairly uneventful ride to the start of the highway, When i reached it, I stopped at the entrance to the highway and took the "before" picture and then headed off into the unknown.
Straight away I was riding on gravel and dirt. My first step were taken with trepidation, however I was soon relishing the challenge. It was great feeling, I felt like i was heading into uncharted territory (at least for me anyway) I was buzzing as I rode the Dalton highway and I was at last heading for the Arctic circle with determination. The ride was unbelievable and I enjoyed every minute if it. It was challenging and I was fully concentrated on the road ahead. There some very steep hills and some winding bends, the back of the bike sliding around on the gravel and dirt. I loved the challenge it presented. I was still able to maintain 40 mph on the level sections, which was a respectable speed, and it meant I wasn't been over taken by many trucks. The hills however presented a bit of a challenge to the Honda, it would slow down to 20 mph on some up hill sections, but I didn't mind. Once you get into tune with the bike and accept it's limitations it doesn't matter, speed become irrelevant its all about the journey and the challenge.
After a few hours I made it to the Yukon River crossing, it felt great as I approached it, I knew from talking to people there was a hotel there, a garage, a visitors centre, as I approached I was trying to imagine what it might look like, when I got the I rolled up reality was very different. On the left was a very large extremely muddy area with deep truck wheel ruts with a few portacabin a couple of hundred meters off the road. This was the hotel and the restaurant. There was also a large shed and some fuel tanks, to the right was a very small one room cabin, this was the visitors centre.
Like what did I expect?? in fact it would have taken away from the the whole experience had it been anything more!!!At the gas station we were informed of two motorcyclist that were killed recently on the Haul Road, we swallowed deep.
while I was refueling I met another guy on a BMW motorcycle. he was on his way to the circle also, we decided to ride together to the circle for a short time. as we rode through the mud to get back on to the road again the BMW came to a grinding halt!
we got off and inspected, the mud and some stones had gone up inside the the mud guard of his front wheel and had almost pulled the brake lines off the front brakes! I assisted him with the repairs and supplied the cable ties to secure the brake lines to the forks so they wouldn't shift again. Honda 1, BMW 0. ;-)
we rode on through some very slippery mud our back wheels stepping out all of the time, it was hairy stuff.
A further 60 miles ahead lay the milestone the Arctic Circle, after about 2 hours we reached it! I rode into the lay by area where the marker was with a big smile on my face I had made it, the Honda had made it, we both made it! it was a great feeling.
We took the obligatory photos and I had a ceremonial sip of the beer which Mark had provided in celebration.
Of course I still had to make it back! Luke who i had met at the Yukon crossing was continuing on the Prudoe Bay, his motorcycle being more up to the job, me I had completed what I had set out to do and was quite happy to have made it this far, for a moment i thought about Prudoe, but not having tyres and realising that my tyres had to last me to Vancouver I didn't chance it. we took some photos and hung out for a while enjoying the moment.
After Luke headed on, Clint on a KLR 750 rode in, he was slightly shocked to see the Honda up by the Arctic Circle, we rode back together, his KLR also came to an abrupt halt during our return journey, this time his spark plus had become loose, he asked me would I tow him to the Yukon crossing, I jumped at the chance, but he got it going in time and that photo opportunity passed me by Honda 2, BMW 0, Kawasaki 0 ;-)
After a few hours I made it off the haul road Clint on his KLR having more speed than me pressed on.
I was off the Haul Road in one piece with no problems, the bike was faultless. The biggest challenge for me was overcoming the fears and the mental doubts. People had tackled the haul road on all sorts of equipment and for each person the experience is different and each person challenges are different but for everyone who has done it, I feel it's more of the thoughts of doing it was the big challenge.
Take peoples advice, but always do what your gut tells you..
Since then I have made my way through the Yukon, and BC and have just made my first steps into the US. You can catch my previous posts at the site below.
Thanks for reading!!!