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Old 06-08-2007, 10:05 AM   #1
Alcan Rider OP
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A Spring Ride On The Haul Road

NOTE: Smugmug changed their files sometime after this was posted, and the photos are now located under different URLs. It is taking considerable time to go back and find the same photos, then edit the number to bring up the correct one.

Brian got into Glennallen around 5:00 PM on Tuesday evening. He had been 4 days and 16 hours enroute from Key West, FL. Now we had to take the ME880's off his V-Strom and mount a pair of TKC 80's on the rims for our assault on the Dalton Hwy the next morning. The original plan was to swap the tires earlier in the day, then ride on to Fairbanks for a night's rest prior to hitting the Haul Road, but ugly weather in Canada had slowed Brian down and the delay threatened to put us a day behind schedule. After a brief consultation, we decided to make an early start Wednesday morning, and go all the way to Deadhorse in one straight shot so as to use the reservations we had at the Arctic Caribou Inn for Wednesday night. My Gold Wing was in need of new fork seals, as the original ones had given up in disgust after I subjected them to below-zero temperatures during the preceding winter. So the backup transportation, the old faithful '82 Suzuki GS1100G, was pressed into service yet again.

The Zook had been checked over pretty thoroughly in the fall and seemed to have made it through the winter unscathed. A new AGM battery had been installed just over a month ago; with the Battery Tender making sure it stayed fully charged since then. Oh yes - it still had the TKC80's that I had studded with car tire studs and mounted for winter riding. All that remained now was to check lube levels, pour a quart of Shell Rotella 5W-40 synthetic into the crankcase, and pack all the paraphernalia that I decided I couldn't live without on this little ride. Tire pressures were acceptable, so Wednesday morning we just filled our tanks and were on the highway at 5:20 AM

Fog had settled into the Copper Basin overnight and was dense, limiting visibility, as we turned north onto the Richardson. The thermometer on my dash was reading 37°F when we left Glennallen, but dropped to 35° just a few miles north of town as the fog lifted briefly. Due to the reduced visibility through the fog, speed was likewise reduced, and it was almost 40 miles before we were able to achieve a decent cruising speed, with the sun now over the peaks to the east and starting to burn off the fog.

The ride through Isabel Pass was uneventful - if you can ever think of riding through some of the most beautiful scenery on the face of the planet as uneventful - and we rolled into Fairbanks around 10:00 AM to find the "Farthest North" Denny's, where we proceeded to stoke up on calories for the harder ride ahead of us. At 11:00 AM we were back on the bikes and off to gas up at the Hilltop Truckstop just 15 miles out of Fairbanks. Receipts showed that we were finished with that important task at 11:30 and ready to find out what conditions awaited us at Mile 0 of the Dalton.

The weather was getting warmer than was comfortable for riders dressed for the cool air past frozen lakes through Isabel Pass, and we quickly shed some of the undergarments shortly after reaching the gravel surface of the Haul Road. With dry weather, the road was in great shape and we slowed only briefly after leaving the asphalt of the Elliott Hwy. In no time at all we were back up to speeds almost as ground-eating as we had enjoyed on the paved highways previously, and in only a few miles had started to catch up with other riders headed in our direction. Being that Brian and I had our own schedule, which was a little more demanding than that of these riders, we began to pass and wave. Around Mile 19 I pulled in to a large parking area to drop the pressure in my tires, and when Brian pulled in behind me he pointed out the right hand driving light that was hanging by its wires. The sharp-edged pothole I had clobbered just a mile or so earlier had been too much for the plastic of the mount, and as the light wouldn't be needed again until some time in August, into one side bag it went for the duration of the trip.

Two of the riders we had passed back up the road pulled in behind us, and after introducing ourselves to each other, finding that we all had names the others recognized, shooting a few group photos, and enjoying the usual bs that accompanies a meeting of riders, we got back on the road northbound. In a surprisingly short period of time we caught up to the three riders we had passed earlier whose bikes all bore Florida plates as they waited for a pilot car at a construction site. We found that they were all on their way to complete an Iron Butt Association Ultimate Coast to Coast (UCC), as were the two we had talked to at the previous stop.

Once the pilot car turned us loose at the far end, Brian and I waved our good-byes and swung out and around the other riders, knowing we had to make better time to get to Deadhorse before midnight. The road was dry and dusty most of the way to the Yukon River, with the surface smooth enough to allow cruising at elevated speeds. We pulled in to the Yukon River Camp where we enjoyed pie and soda pop before getting back on the road to once again pass our riding acquaintances farther up the road.

When we pulled into Coldfoot for gas and snacks we found a group of MTF (Motorcycle Tourers Forum) riders already there. They had overnighted in Fairbanks and started north an hour or so before Brian and I arrived there. Their plans were to spend the night in Coldfoot, then on to Deadhorse Thursday to get some sleep before heading south once more. After the usual BS session Brian and I hit the trail again, leaving Coldfoot at 5:30 PM with 240 miles to go before finding a place to lay our heads. While at Coldfoot, Brian struck up a conversation with a southbound trucker who told of mud, dust, rain, horizontal snow, and other fine conditions that we would probably experience before arriving in Deadhorse.

The first miles went by quickly, with the mostly smooth surface continuing; then a quick stop to photograph Sukapak Mountain from the northwest rather than the popular southwest side. The fact that there was an outhouse at the spot may have been a factor in the choice of vantage points. Shortly, a few drops of rain caused a glance upward to reveal the presence of a few dark clouds passing over. With the sun dropping lower toward the horizon, a rainbow appeared against the mountains to our right and I was tempted to stop and get the camera out for a photo, but the realization that we still had to find out what conditions lay beyond Atigun dissuaded me from stopping.

A few more miles and the buildup of storm clouds over the mountains ahead convinced this rider that it was time to stop and zip up all openings prior to getting wet. Thanks to the dry gravel and consequent cloud of dust trailing his bike, Brian didn't see me pull off and stop, so kept making excellent time northward. Just as I was pulling back out onto the road Brian came back to check on me. He had made it up to the base of the Chandalar Shelf, near what was formerly the "Farthest North Spruce Tree on the Pipeline". In 2004 some budding rocket scientist, probably thinking he/she was making some sort of statement, girdled the tree, turning it into the "Farthest North Spruce Firewood".

The climb up to the Chandalar Shelf was steep, but otherwise hardly noticed -

Between the edge of the Chandalar Shelf and Atigun Pass we were treated to the sight of a second brilliant rainbow, but once again had to pass on the opportunity for a photo in favor of a warm, dry, room that was, to us, the pot of gold at the end of the Haul Road.

While Brian rode ahead I stayed back in order to take some photos of the grade ascending to Atigun Pass -

As Brian was climbing, an LTI rig was descending, and I managed to get a shot of the two in close proximity -

Atigun turned out to be in fine shape, but at the bottom we found about 3 miles of the delightful slick-as-snot, high pucker factor mud and slipped and slid through that, all the while praying that when we fell, we would land softly. Once drier gravel relieved us of most of our concern, we were able to again proceed at a more efficient pace – only to find fog as thick as that of the early morning waiting for us just past Galbraith Lake. Not only fog, but also a sharp wind out of the northeast, accompanied at times by horizontal snow in the form of miniscule hailstones rather than soft flakes. The temperature had been steadily dropping after descending the north side of Atigun Pass, and before Galbraith Lake was below freezing.

The road finally descended to leave the fog behind, but when we climbed to the top of the Ice Cut we were back in the wind and found ourselves on the roughest surface of the trip so far. Apparently the drivers of the four trucks we met there agreed, as they were barely crawling along, bouncing over the same cobblestone rocks that had us cussing and hanging on. Beyond the top of the Ice Cut were another 89 miles of similar frozen rock, more cold wind (by now the temperature had dropped to 27°F), and desolate tundra. Happy Valley, with its banged up pavement and gravel patches, fell to the rear, and before long we found ourselves winding along next to the raging Sagavanirktok (Sag) River. As we rode by, thousands upon thousands of waterfowl - snow geese, Canada honkers, ducks of many and varied descriptions - would rise in flights of 50's, 100's, and even more, with the populations growing more dense as we drew closer to the bay. There was still an abundance of ice and snow covering the tundra, but with 24 hours of daylight every day, that would soon be replaced by thousands of ponds - summer homes to these birds.

Because I stopped to make some adjustments to gear that was sliding around on my bike, Brian arrived at the Arctic Caribou Inn a few minutes ahead of me, at 10:30 PM. By 10:45 he had his finish time receipt, ending his UCC in 5 days, 22 hours and 42 minutes -

After checking in, we rode our bikes around to the back side of the inn and parked them on their center stands in the muddy lot. The next morning they were frozen in and we had to pry them loose before they would move. It was when Brian was looking his bike over before the start of the trip back south that he noticed a missing subframe bolt. Then, after starting the engine, he also noticed oil dripping from under the engine. Not a good sign! A further check of the bike's systems revealed that much of the electronic gadgetry installed across the dash and handlebars was inoperative, indicating problems beneath the surface as well. Finding a pair of wires with a plug dangling from one of the sidecovers did little to improve the outlook, and Brian realized that his plan to head south toward Homer in an attempt to be the first rider to complete the Alaska Gold 1000 had, itself, "gone south". At that point he made the decision to ship the bike back to the relative civilization of Glennallen, where we could get it inside a warm, dry, building and tear it down for inspection and repair. In short order we had made arrangements with Carlile Transportation to haul the bike south, and Brian packed his gear for his own flight to Anchorage via Alaska Airlines.

With that decision, and the arrangements, made, there was nothing left to keep me from traveling, so I took a few photos of “beautiful downtown Deadhorse” before fueling the faithful Zook and pointing her back toward warmer climes.

Looking out over the bay that is a branch of the Arctic Ocean –

Spring is trying to make its presence felt in Deadhorse, but is fighting some pretty stiff competition –

And one more, including one of the tour buses that brings one load of tourists over the Haul Road going north, and takes a different group to Fairbanks on the southbound leg –

Just a few miles out of Deadhorse I started meeting the northbound MTF crew, who were going to check into the Arctic Caribou Inn for a few hours of rest and then take off for Homer to do the Alaska Gold 1000. They had evidently left Coldfoot quite early that morning to be arriving in Deadhorse before noon. Being that I was in no hurry now, there would be time to take some of the photos that I had passed up on the way north, and about 75 miles out of Deadhorse, with the sun warming the surrounding terrain and me, I began. With no shoulders to pull off onto, it was necessary to get over onto the edge of the gravel to allow other traffic to get by safely, which meant staying astraddle of the bike while I shot. Thus the top of a dirty windshield appears in quite a few photos, but some quick cropping minimizes most of it -

It is obvious from the photos below that meeting or passing a truck needs to be done very cautiously in certain parts of the Haul Road, as the trucks need a large share of the narrow road -

At the bottom of the Ice Cut, a mere 90 miles or so from Deadhorse, the road surface improves drastically, and there is a large turn-around there that offered sheltered parking, so I parked the bike and made it ready for more rapid travel the rest of the way to Fairbanks. First thing was to bring the tires back up to a reasonable pressure, then adjust the suspension. The rear shock springs had been at their lowest setting, but a couple of times on the way north they had bottomed, so they went up two clicks. Something I had intended to do, but forgot before we left Glennallen, was to add some air to the forks. Considering how hard the front end had hit bottom on a couple of square edged potholes, it was something I'd better attend to, so they got 10 psi, just enough to extend them slightly while the bike was parked. These changes made a major difference in the ride, and I mentally kicked myself where it would do the most good for having neglected it earlier. The adjustments resulted in about an extra 10 mph in the roughest gravel, and 5 mph over the medium stuff. After spending the better part of an hour there, it was back on the road again. But first a few photos, as I wanted to do a much better job of documenting the Haul Road photographically on this trip than I had been, or expected to have time for in the near future -

Signs such as this -

…bring a combination of fear and loathing to the heart of a motorcyclist, thanks to the standard practice of drenching the road surface to soften the gravel prior to grading it.

The same landscape that was so cold, desolate, and uninviting on the way north, now looked much more pleasant under the influence of the afternoon sun -

The broad Atigun River valley a few miles below Atigun Pass, and about an equal distance before it joins the Sag River, was playing host to a few passing snow/rain squalls, but they only briefly fell on the road -

The initial ascent to the north side of Atigun looks innocent enough from several miles away -

But as one draws closer, its steep grade becomes more obvious -

A quick look back north down that valley from a vantage point about halfway up the first grade shows a scene of peace and contentment - for so long as the sun is shining and the weather is warm -

Older, damaged, guardrail is merely supplemented with newer sections, placed a little farther from the edge of the roadway -

Just beyond that guardrail, a recent avalanche had taken out another section. Still climbing, but closer to the top, the surface was in good shape and allowed frequent opportunities to do some rubbernecking to enjoy the bright day -

A helicopter was operating off a bench near the top of the pass, but still a considerable distance below it, as the comparatively small size of the chopper and these trucks illustrates -

From the top of Atigun Pass looking west, toward the descent on the south side of the pass, it appears that this pass is nearly as high as the surrounding ridges –

Indeed, the peak immediately to the north of the cut that forms the pass, is just a quick climb (for someone younger and more energetic than this ancient rider) from the road –

With the road at the bottom in sight, it is almost time to say good-bye to Atigun Pass once more and get onto relatively level terrain for the remainder of the ride back to Fairbanks –

One more stop to get a shot of the valley, the road, and the pipeline, ahead –

Once down off Atigun, there was a lovely ride across a relatively flat valley floor, then the final descent from the Chandalar Shelf and into the Dietrich River valley with a quick stop at Coldfoot for gas, a soda, and a candy bar, then off to get to the Hot Spot for a sandwich to get me back to Glennallen. It was 8:40 when I pulled into the little restaurant, and 40 minutes later, having finished off a delicious pulled pork sandwich (and killed about 40 mosquitoes) I was back out on the road, with my next planned stop to be North Pole for gas and something to keep me hydrated.

Since I had been asked recently by a good friend down in the South 48 about the length of days now, I stopped north of the city on the Chena at 7 minutes after midnight to take a photo toward the southeast, with the mirror reflecting the sky’s light in the northwest –

A few hours later, south of Delta Junction next to Donnelly Dome, this photo of the northern sky shows a clear day a’bornin’ –

This year must be at, or near, the peak of the snowshoe hare population cycle, as the little nuisances were everywhere along the edge of the highways, munching greenery. A few attempted suicide under my wheels, but none succeeded. At least I wasn’t treated to the shocking appearance of huge owls, with wingspans at least 10’ wide (when they jump up just a few feet in front of you they seem that large) launching themselves from the site of their most recent kill, but it’s only a matter of time. Also missing were the ubiquitous porcupines, usually seen in abundance this time of year – as the nocturnal rodents find themselves becoming diurnal with the long hours of daylight.

The ride south through Isabel Pass was a bit chilly, and it was interesting that here I was, wearing almost the same outfit I’d worn at below zero temperatures a few months ago, and feeling cold. No longer acclimated to the cold, my body demanded milder temperatures in order to be comfortable now.

Dry roads and mostly clear skies were my fortune until about 12 miles from home, when a heavy overcast began to deposit raindrops onto my windshield. Really not bad, considering the variety of terrain I had covered in the past 48 hours or so. Still, it was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that I rolled up to my apartment door and parked the bike. Gonna have to make that ride again soon. Just didn’t get enough photos this time.
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
The Lure of the Dalton, The Lure of the Dempster, Haul Road Chronicles, My Evening Rides, Alaska Primer
Haul Road Primer

Alcan Rider screwed with this post 11-04-2010 at 10:46 PM Reason: To find photos that Smugmug lost.
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Old 06-08-2007, 10:14 AM   #2
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Absolutely wonderful.

Was it very cold?
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Old 06-08-2007, 10:58 AM   #3
Alcan Rider OP
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Originally Posted by Lobby
Was it very cold?
Around Fairbanks it was hot, south of the Brooks Range on the Haul Road it was pleasantly warm (up to around 64F), north of Atigun it was down to 27F with a stiff northeasterly wind that cut like a knife.
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
The Lure of the Dalton, The Lure of the Dempster, Haul Road Chronicles, My Evening Rides, Alaska Primer
Haul Road Primer
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Old 06-08-2007, 11:22 AM   #4
Keep On The Gas!!
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What a great report and photos. And just in the nick of time. We are leaving next Weds. headed for the Haul Road.

Hopefully the snow will be gone before we get thee about the 23rd.

"Ride More....Bitch When Necessary...But....NO SINGLE TRACK RYAN"
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Old 06-08-2007, 11:34 AM   #5
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Thanks for the great photos. It was as though I'd been there.
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Old 06-08-2007, 12:57 PM   #6
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thanks for the heads up. I am getting ready to bail sunday from FB @ 5am.
05 1200GS SOLD :(

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Old 06-08-2007, 01:14 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by GTomic
Thanks for the great photos. It was as though I'd been there.
You have been there. But don't worry, my memory's failing too.
"I am in the prime of senility." Ben Franklin
I'm so old I remember when the gallons rose faster than the dollars on gas pumps.
The Lure of the Dalton, The Lure of the Dempster, Haul Road Chronicles, My Evening Rides, Alaska Primer
Haul Road Primer
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Old 06-08-2007, 01:24 PM   #8
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what a wonderful thread
just excellent

i really appreciate you posting all of this for us
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Live life like you mean it... but take your family and friends (and DOGS) along for the "ride"
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Old 06-08-2007, 07:57 PM   #9
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Hi Jack,

Great ride & report !!!!!! Brought back many memories. Thanks

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Old 06-08-2007, 08:10 PM   #10
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What a great trip report. Almost as if I was there right along with you.

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Old 06-08-2007, 09:00 PM   #11
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Nice report.

How about a photo of the "G"?

I love those.

I actually have 2 850G's, an 1100G, and a 1000G. I'm planning a tour of the Olympic Peninsula this summer with my brothers, so I stocked up on "G" bikes. Almost free, but close to bullet proof. I actually like the early ones better cause of the flatter seat.

I almost ran into the back of a pipe truck on the Haul road back in the 80's. The dust was so thick, and it was just hanging in the still summer air. I decided to try to pass. It was a big mistake. We were heading out to some hot springs by Minto. Oh yeah. Its Manley Hot Springs. Couldn't remember the name.
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Old 06-08-2007, 09:01 PM   #12
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Fantastic report and pics!!
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Old 06-09-2007, 02:55 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Alcan Rider

The weather was getting warmer than was comfortable for riders dressed for the cool air past frozen lakes through Isabel Pass, and we quickly shed some of the undergarments shortly after reaching the gravel surface of the Haul Road.

Was it Soooo warm you needed a smoke detector on your top case?

Alot of great pictures and text snipped for a cheap laugh.
Bike-less and looking.
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Old 06-09-2007, 06:28 PM   #14
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Nice report. Learned of it from ldrider.
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Old 06-09-2007, 06:32 PM   #15
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Great report and pictures! Thanks for taking the time to post it.
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