I woke up the next morning to the sound of rain on my tent and endless clouds over Coldfoot and the surrounding mountains. I figured my biggest issue would be a muddy track that would kill my speed and I didn't look forward to trying to cover 240 miles at 20mph through muck two days in a row. I filled up my tank and both 1gal containers as I watched the rain fall harder and the parking lot turn into soup. The truckers were giving me pretty interesting looks and the gals inside the restaurant wished me good luck in that voice that trails off at the end. I had 35 miles of prime asphalt before the dirt started and who knows what after that. I was happily surprised when the dirt I found was wet but well packed, maybe because of the turf sealer the graders lay down that has a way of sticking to everything on the bike and drying into cement.
I was making good progress and looking ahead towards the pass riding up and over the Brooks Range. It had been raining off and on, but nothing too bad to ride through and I was hoping that the weather would hold through the mountains and into the tundra. Instead, the road deteriorated and the rain turned to biting snow flakes as I started climbing. I was first and second gearing it and it was getting harder to see, but even through the whiteout and I could make out the harsh feel of the mountains around me as I rode.
I was cresting the pass and the snow was coming down harder as I passed a sign warning of avy danger for the next five miles. At one point I'd see clear across the valley, then the next I couldn't see more than 100 yards and was closed in by rising snowfields on both sides of the road, not realizing the slope was going up instead of down until I got right next to it. At one point I came across a trucker stopped in the road who flagged me down as I road by. I thought he would warn me about road conditions and tell me to turn back, but instead he pointed out the three grizzly bears on the ridge about 100 yards up from the highway. I grabbed my camera and he warned me to not get too close before taking off. I checked the wind direction and covered about a 1/3 of the distance to a small bluff. One of them looked at me and stood up for a second, but they ignored me for the most part. I didn't feel alright getting any closer since it was a gap they could close in less than 10 seconds if they wanted to.
The weather went downhill quick as I rode down the North side of the pass. Visibility was becoming a major issue as I couldn't see with my shield down but my face would take a pounding from the snow and wind if it was up. I tried keeping it up and using my sunglasses, but they kept getting covered by mud and water. I made it down to where I should have been able to see the expanse of flat land below the Brooks Range and all I could see was a whiteout and driving winds. This was starting to just get plain stupid. I was losing feeling in my hands and feet and saw some blue streaks start making their way back into my palms. I swapped for my second pair of dry gloves and called it. I took one more photo of my turn around spot as gusts howled down on me form the North.
I was ok turning back. I was too early. Everyone had told me that and I figured I'd try my luck anyway. But there was no point in going on, as I wouldn't be able to get to the ocean or even see it. The weather would be getting worse and I'd be paying the motel $150+ every night I was stuck in town since it would be too dicey to camp (if they even had open rooms). I figured at least I had made it the Arctic Circle, the Brooks Range and had seen a lot that I was pretty excited about.
I rode back up and over the pass but this time I was just in go mode. Once I made it back to the flats the weather eased up a bit and some blue sky started making its way out. I snapped more photos on the return ride as I picked up the tarmac again and retreated to Coldfoot for one more night. Nobody at the station seemed surprised to see me and the gal at the counter pointed to the new forecast calling for 6-12" of snow over the pass the next day. One of the truckers even saw me and smiled, saying "So you must be the bike I heard about on the radio".