Joined: Feb 2006
Location: Close to Cumming (GA that is)
Smackdown: Gary vs Flag Lady
Day 6: Fairbanks - Arctic Circle - Cantwell
Once again, with the exciting prospect of the Dalton Highway ahead of us, our early morning departure time didn't feel that unreasonable and consequently with a significant sense of anticipation the three of us saddled up and headed out at our usual hour. The first section of the journey was essentially all black top from Faribanks to Livengood - a distance of just over 70 miles - which marked the beginning of the Haul Road. At the exit to the Dalton, we stopped and got a few shots of the signage that marks the start of one of the most (in)famous stretches of road in all of adventuredom. As we rolled out over the first few hundred yards of - what was in my mind legendary terrain, it felt almost like meeting with royalty - we were finally on the Dalton!. I tried to take it in as much as I could - one of the rare moments in life that you spent so long dreaming about, but so little time actually doing.
Before Dalton = Clean bikes
As we collectively set off towards the Arctic Cirlce (and hopefully ultimately to Prudhoe bay), apart from the usual concerns about the difficulty of the road conditions which - undoubtedly like most travelers in this area - we had mixed emotions about due to the wildly varying published opinions from previous road users that we had eagerly digested before setting off, there was also the issue of tire wear to consider. Gary's research in the long distance community had convinced all three of us to mount Metzeler ME880 Marathon tires in the belief that the entire trip would be possible on a single set (which I must admit in my own experience of typically getting not much more than four thousand out of a sport touring rear seemed extremely optimistic on the face of it).
..............and this one
This 'un looks OK too
In reality though, at less than half way into what was intended to be a 12000 mile journey, and with the abrasive surface of the Dalton dead ahead, the remaining tire wear available to each of us suggested that this was becoming an increasingly remote possibility. Gary's bike definitely looked the worst of the three, with Joe's showing the least wear and the KTM being about midway between these two extremes. Also worth pointing out is that these are a road based tire with nothing like the luxury of knobby tread to assist the bikes over anything worse than the luxury of a paved surface; however given that previously reported journeys have apparently been done on anything from Goldwing to Harleys and upward, at the time it seemed like a pretty safe assumption that three large dual sport bikes on road tires would be up to a task.
............and here we are
And indeed that's the way it seemed to play out, at least in the first few miles where we motored along well above the posted 50 mph speed limit (given the well known tales of high speed trucks running up and down the Haul Road, I think the three of us were more concerned about going fast enough rather than too fast). In fact we maintained a pretty good pace right up until we literally ran into the first construction zone.
The flag lady - Gary was lucky not to get a colonoscopy with that sign
As we motored along a water truck appeared in front of us and after a short period of following along behind it, the vehicle started to dampen down the road with its' watery load, which immediately turned the dry dusty conditions into a wet slop. Obviously not wanting to endure this any longer than possible Gary who was at the front of our trio, made an effort to pass the vehicle just as we came across a flag lady. We all skidded to an abrupt halt, but to say this woman was unhappy would be an understatement of the greatest proportions. In fact, if 'ripping someone a new one' was listed in a dictionary, you would probably witness a replay of the reaming she gave Gary as we waited at the stop sign. Since the delay was quite elongated, the two of them got into a pretty heated argument and it took quite a while for the pair of them to cool off. Wisely Joe and I kept a safe distance and I secretly consoled myself with thought that - should we be unfortunate enough to encounter a Grizzly, Gary would merely berate the living s%^t out of the poor unsuspecting animal until it ran off. When we finally managed to escape from the killer flag lady, we had not only the seriously unpredictable road surface of the construction area with which to deal, but also flag lady's confrontational equal, namely 'homicidal pilot car lady'. Before we had even started the perilous procession through the roadworks, she had ordered us - in no uncertain terms - to stay well back from her vehicle but, even though in my opinion we kept a fairly safe distance, on two separate occasions she actually stopped her vehicle, got out and, seemingly apoplectic with rage, screamed at us to stay even further away from her. I wondered whether someone could maybe make a fortune selling PMS medication in Alaska, which apparently was thus far unheard of in the state. Anyway having escaped from the evil clutches of the dogmatic duo, conditions within the construction zone itself still had the potential to throw an innings worth of cuveballs into the batting rotation of our progress.
Being somewhat reminiscent of that scene in The Terminator where the machines crunch remorselessly over the skulls of thwarted humans in a post apocalyptic landscape, we nervously guided our steeds over a razor sharp layer of rock that would form the foundation layer of a future section of highway, with battalions of heavy equipment moving unpredictably all around us; and as we did, I nervously considered the ramifications of getting a puncture in the middle of this extremely hostile environment. Presently however, the three of us emerged thankfully unscathed, accelerating onto more predictable terrain and with a great sense of collective relief watched the comforting sight of our tenaciously lovely pilot lady and her vehicle disappearing reassuringly in our rear view mirrors.
And on top of all this, there was always the unpredictability of the weather to contend with, which alternated between uplifting and depressing over every rise but, generally seemed to contain an ominous air that certainly gave the three of us cause for concern. However, undaunted we persisted northward, with subsequent stretches of road being mainly gravel and dirt, with the occasional further section of roadworks and surprisingly - at least for me who had done very little research into the quality of this highway (apart from being prepared for the unpredictable) - even the odd stretch of blacktop. The further we got from civilization the more desolate the landscape appeared, culminating in the final push to the rest stop marking the Arctic circle which, even though it contained nothing more than an out house, a sign and a couple of other vague signs of commercialization was a strange man made oasis in a sea of nothingness. Pulling up at the sign was somewhat eerie in itself: it felt so commercial, but once we'd turned off our bikes there was not a sound to be heard. The weather at this stage had closed in even further, but worst of all Gary's rear tire was showing serious signs of deterioration and looked extremely questionable for the entire trip to Prudhoe Bay. After a brief period of discussion it was decided that this was as far North as we'd go on this trip, a decision that I don't think either Joe or I were particularly happy with at the time, but myself, I felt that it was Gary's trip - he'd put all the real effort into the planning, the scheduling and the preparations - and if I really had a problem with it, well I had my own atlas and would just have to plan my own assault some other time.
1 of 345
2 of 345
As this location had suddenly morphed into essentially the turn-around point, it was with great fanfare that our collective presence was recorded at the sign - we took such a ridiculous amount of cheesy pictures that I started to feel like a damn wedding photographer: Each person with the sign, each bike with the sign, group shots of bikes, group shots of people, group shots of people and bikes - we had every freakin' permutation of bikes, sign and us that you could imagine. Anyway ultimately the batteries went flat in the cameras and the picture taking was over! Apart from the monotony of the picture taking though, a couple of other features at the location added a little in the way of color to the proceedings.
The back of the sign: apparently there's a grizzly bear in the area that's quite adept at fellatio - call 777 121 6969
For one, upon the sign someone had tacked a hastily written note that warned of a wolf in the area which apparently had attacked a lone hiker who, in a state of considerable panic had taken refuge in the nearby outhouse. Unfortunately however, when she emerged from the stall over an hour later, the animal attacked her again - and that was as far as the tale went. Given the absence of a corpse, I'm assuming that no harm ultimately came to the poor women, although maybe the wolf was just really hungry. Apart from the perceived threat of a wolf attack, certain smaller members of the wildlife fraternity were causing the three of us significant discomfort even as we stood there. I refer of course to the Alaskan mosquito. When people tell you to take plenty of bug repellent into this area, they are certainly not being overly dramatic, as those biting little bastards are by far the most aggressive of the species I've ever come across. Maybe it's the stunted length of the summer months that's to blame, but even though at all times I was covered with a full oversuit and had sprayed a heavy layer of repellent on every square inch of exposed skin, I still ended up covered in welts on any part of my body that wasn't defended by messrs Arai, Aerostich and Alpinestars.
This gentleman was (at this stage) surprisingly quite civil to the three of us as I recall
Lunch - sorta!
With a certain sense of anticlimax then, we turned the bikes around and headed back towards civilization and Fairbanks. Before getting back there though, a refueling stop at the Yukon River service area would be necessary, which confused the issue somewhat since when we pulled up, they were out of gas. Another lesson for the 'mainlanders' was in the making - the tanker might show up today, it might show up tomorrow, it might show up next week. I thought it was the height of irony that the damned Alaskan pipeline was in spitting distance of this place, yet we couldn't even fill our bikes up. Of the three, my bike had the longest fuel range and a quick calculation revealed that I'd probably make it back to Fairbanks on fumes, where I be able to get enough gas to rescue the other two; however as we resolved to put this plan into action, the tanker rolled into the parking lot and the current fuel crisis was over. Flush with more fuel that we knew what to do with, it was a spirited ride that took us back to Fairbanks. Joe, who had hardly ever taken the lead on the trip thus far, set out ahead and remained there until returning to the blacktop at Livengood. At one stage, having ridden pretty hard and still not caught the GS, I was even convinced that he'd taken one of the spur roads and got himself lost. Our rapid progress was briefly halted however, when a contrite Gary insisted on stopping and apologizing to our friendly flag lady.
Gary - looking all contrite - post flag lady
Present and accounted for back at the relative safety of a predictable road surface, the three of us rode back through Fairbanks with the intention of heading towards Anchorage. At the northern end of the Denali National park, with the hour in the day getting fairly late, suitable accommodation was starting to become a concern, along with the first food since before lunch and, as we rolled into Cantwell, collectively we put our empty bellies ahead of any overnight comfort concerns. After getting a quick meal, the prospect of finding somewhere to sleep at 10pm presented itself and, after a brief search we settled on the Lazy J cabins, which unfortunately had only a single room available. However since the next town was a couple of hours ride from Cantwell and was one of those dots on the map that may be somewhere significant, or may just be a gas station and a post office, we decided to cut our losses and take it - which was fine by me as, since I'd been lumbered with the cot last night, it was my turn for the bed.
As usual - please chime in!
Douf screwed with this post 05-27-2009 at 02:29 PM