Down and dirty on the Dalton

I’d read a lot about cycling the road north to the Arctic … and riders had mentioned the climbing, the rain, the mud, running out of food (oops), being laid up with strains & sprains, and the constant nagging fear of coming face to face with a bear.
For us it was a ride of many layers – the ‘in your face’ natural beauty as we laboured up,

and freewheeled down, the roller coaster hills of the boreal forest,

and freewheeled down, the roller coaster hills of the boreal forest,

 

past wide glacial rivers,

past wide glacial rivers,

 

IMG_2514

raw rocky mountains,

over the snowy slopes of Atigun Pass,

over the snowy slopes of Atigun Pass,

 

and on through the open expanse of tundra.

and on through the open expanse of tundra.

Long slow climbs over enigmatically named hills (Gobbler's Knob, Beaver Slide ...) provided the time to search for floral distractions

Long slow climbs over enigmatically named hills (Gobbler’s Knob, Beaver Slide …) provided the time to search for floral distractions

 

.... in fact, any excuse to pause and take photographs was fine.

…. in fact, any excuse to pause and take photographs was fine.

There was also the human layer – the drivers hauling loads, communities servicing the 1300 km oil pipeline, road maintenance crews & other travellers …

including a few other crazies...

including a few other crazies…

And the weather added another layer – I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so vulnerable to the elements on a ride before. We enjoyed some sunshine early on, soldiered on through periods of rain, were shoved backwards by huge headwinds, shivered our way up into the clouds over the Pass, and couldn’t believe our luck as we descended in clear sunny conditions.

Then all turned to slush as a freezing afternoon turned into an overnight dump of 20cm of snow.

Then all turned to slush as a freezing afternoon turned into an overnight dump of 20cm of snow.

It was too cold to stop so we just kept going, Camping was sometimes a bit of a challenge ...

It was too cold to stop so we just kept going. Camping was sometimes a bit of a challenge …

sheltering the last night alongside a lineup of huge road construction trucks parked for the night.

sheltering the last night alongside a lineup of huge road construction trucks parked for the night.

This meant a 4:45am wake up call when the crews arrived, and the hasty retrieval of our food bags stashed up on one of the trucks. As our vehicular wind break rolled away the wind nearly took out our tent, and continued to batter us with sprays of sleet & snow as we made our way into the ‘town’  – a post-apocalyptic industrial work camp that exists to ensure continued oil production and its transport south to Valdez.

IMG_1587It’s a tenuous existence perched on the permafrost, with structures having a less-than-permanent appearance. It did however, have the Prudhoe Bay Hotel and I struggle to express quite how relieved and grateful we were to collapse into the warm embrace of room, bed, shower and repeated visits to the dining room….

IMG_1589
Of course, we still had to get back, and could therefore be found huddled roadside on the edge of town the following morning, trying to thumb a lift. We were rescued by truck driver John, a Willie Nelson look-alike who was the antithesis of your stereotypical ‘truckie’. He was clearly passionate about Alaskan wildlife, and I was speechless with admiration when he slowed his huge rig to a crawl because he’d spotted a pair of snow geese with their young on the edge of the road and didn’t want to panic them. So he gently herded them at waddling pace back to the safety of the riverbank.
And so 8½ days of pedalling was converted to a 14 hour drive. Before we knew it we were back in Fairbanks and planning our next episode …

 

Ed & Gaye

7 Comments

  1. Prita

    Speechless. Incredible journey and effort, beautifully described. Wow.

    Reply
  2. Hulk

    Amazing you two. Totally inspiring – keen to try the Dalton myself. Just need to convince Al…

    Reply
  3. T n T

    I don’t know why but something about this made me cry. No doubt sharing your tears of despair as well as absolute joy. Thanks for taking us along with you. Amazing.

    Reply
  4. Cat

    Just absolutely amazing. I didn’t realise I was holding my breath until I got to the end and heard you were safely back to Fairbanks!

    Reply
  5. Mark Watson

    Good stuff – glad you made it and good to meet you en route!

    Reply
  6. Hana

    Nice to meet your there! Hope to see you again somewhere on the long road south ?

    Reply
  7. Mark

    Just awesome. Not envying you in the conditions, of course. Hopefully there’s lot of sunshine to come

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *