After prepping the bike and finishing up my class, I was ready to give the Dalton Highway a go. I gauged my fuel carry needs at an extra two gallons to make the 240 miles from Coldfoot to Deadhorse with some room to spare. Instead of shelling out $20 for a jerry I bought two one gallon waters from Safeway, filled my drom and strapped the empty plastic on for later. I mean, for one time use why spend $20 instead of $2.50?
I left Fairbanks in the afternoon aiming for the halfway point of Coldfoot a little ways above the arctic circle. Any sign of civilization started to disappear as soon as I started rolling North of Fairbanks. I had about an hour on Highway 2 before I took the right turn onto the Dalton. I got the old and new Elliot Highway confused for a quick minute and did a detour down a random track before figuring out I effed up. At least it was some nice dirt, but the guys at the work station I rolled up on seemed surprise to see me.
Right down the road I found the real Dalton Highway entrance and reset my odometer. It was 56 miles to the Yukon River and next gas, another 120 miles to Coldfoot. I saw the sign saying that the pavement ended for the next 400+ miles and rode right into a swampy mess. This was exactly what I was afraid of- Having to ride four days at 15mph through muck to get to Deadhorse and back. Why can't I just listen to people when they tell me I'm too early? Because I have to start work in a week, that's why!
Thankfully, the 10 miles of mud at the beginning were just a psyche out and the road transitioned to a mix of beautiful hard pack, gravel and patchy pavement. Just like in Yukon I was riding at the best part of day, as the sun was low but with plenty of light. It probably sounds crazy but the spruce trees, the sun and the dirt reminded me of pictures I've seen from tracks in Africa. I was hollering in my helmet about how great this road was, tracing a never ending pipeline into the distance and admiring the ability of the truckers to haul ass on the dirt with way bigger than normal loads. I was stoked, and I think at one point I might have even had flashbacks to a rally racing game I used to play when I was younger.
After a bit I came upon the Yukon River. I scanned the road in both directions, ignored the sign and stopped on the bridge for a bit to check out the view. I was pretty blown away by how big that river is. I've guided whitewater rafts a bunch of seasons on the American River in California, a smaller but more technical run that normally flows at about 2k cubic feet/ second. The Yukon River averages about 225k cubic feet/ second, and that was at lower flows. People I've talked to who have canoed sections of it talk about being in the middle and not seeing the banks sometimes.
I filled up at Yukon River Camp where the two hoses in front of the tank were labeled Diesel and Unleaded. It was just another time I was stoked that my little 650 runs on 87 without a care in the world
. Seriously though, what do you do if your bike only takes Premium? Again I heard something about being the first bike they "remembered" seeing so far this summer. Chalk up red flag #2. I went across the road to check out the little interpretive center next to the pipeline for a bit and admired a pretty awesome bit of engineering.
I knew it was another 60 miles or so to the Arctic Circle and the mandatory sign photo. I rode 30 miles of nice dirt before the I saw the mountains in the distance and the road turned to dicey asphalt. The pavement was almost harder in a way because you could come around a corner fast and find yourself on washboard gravel without even thinking about it. I climbed up the road to a spot called Finger Mountain and got my first real taste of Arctic Tundra. Cold blasts were ripping across the landscape and not a tree was in sight. Photos were in order
The ten second timer on my Fuji took about 10 tries to get this one right. I'm not trying to look serious, I just was trying not to fall.
I rode on another hour before seeing the turnoff for the Arctic Circle. I busted out the tripod and snapped a few shots before going on to Coldfoot. It took another hour to get there but I found a great spot to camp along a dirt loop through the back woods behind the station. I was fired up on getting to Deadhorse the next day, but kind of unsure about what I would do if I got there. I packed light, so no beer on this stretch but I went to sleep after a few sips from a small bottle of Jim Beam I brought for the road. I mean it was still pretty cold up there, so do what you gotta do. Too bad the sunny weather wouldn't last.
Most photographed sign with a moto in frame?
Check out these big boys.
I love taunting these guys from inside the mesh.