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