Sunday, May 31, 2009

Prudhoe Bay Ride - Day 4

We got up the following morning and went into the oil field worker's dining room for breakfast. We'd also eaten there for dinner the night before. It is a no frills place, but the food is heavenly! Bobby took the time to take a couple pictures of the dining room.

and the kitchen where they make all the good food happen along with part of the window dining room.

After breakfast we rode to "town"

where we got gas, then rode over to the NAPA store that marks the end of the Dalton Highway.

After buying a couple stickers at the NAPA, we went over to the Arctic Caribou where we took a tour of the oil fields. The windows in the bus were small and dirty so we didn't really get much in the way of photos. We saw a lot of birds, different species of geese, swans, arctic terns, etc. and more Eskimo cotton.

After winding through the oil fields we finally reached the Arctic Ocean and were allowed off the bus.

We'd have gone in all the way if we'd had the ability to change. that's my story and I'm sticking to it... We did get the certificates to prove we've at lest touched the Arctic Ocean.

When they were first developing the North Slope many people were afraid the development would harm the caribou herds. Instead, the caribou use the gravel roads and pads as a place to escape the worst of the mosquitoes. Caribou have the right of way on all the roads, and if that means oil transport vehicles have to wait for an hour while a large herd passes, then that is what they do. No one can honk their horns, or in any way try to move the caribou along. The caribou have obviously learned this and completely ignored us.

After the tour we got back on the bikes and turned South for home. It was a grayer day than the day before, and had rained over night. As we left Deadhorse it was in thick, freshly laid gravel. I was doing ok, then all of a sudden found myself in a berm, plowing through the gravel rather than riding on top. The bike went into a major tank slapper and I came VERY close to going down. I focused on the horizon though, and gave it enough gas to stay up right. Whew! That was too close for comfort.

Shortly before I decided to ride in the berm...

The wind was calmer today, and as a result the mosquitos were on patrol. The picture shows several swarming my helmet but is an understatement of what was there. We learned on our tour that the mosquitos are so bad, they'll take 1/3 of the caribou's body weight in blood every summer.

It felt like a different road today. The weather was more challenging, and every time the light changes, the view changes completely,

and the road was a little less friendly also.

I love riding in mud! I get a big grin every time I make it out without a crash!

The beauty of this area never lessened.

Eventually we got back to Atigun Pass. As I reached the top I looked back and saw one of the most beautiful scenes yet. The Pass was rainy and dark, while the valley behind me was bathed in sunlight. Unfortunately the road was very steep and I was on a blind corner where I didn't feel safe stopping.

After the Pass we went through an area with gorgeous rocks off to the side of the road.

Even while the weather on the road was dark, we could always see the promise of sunlight at the end. I think there is a life lesson in that, and maybe in this whole ride. The road isn't always easy, but the difficulties make the beauty so much more worthwhile.

We were spending the night back at Wiseman, but wanted to go back to Coldfoot for dinner. I don't know how these guys got here. All I know is they didn't have much of a smile on their faces when they pulled into the parking lot shortly after we sat down to eat dinner.

Just look at those tires! No wonder they weren't feeling like being conversational!

After dinner we went back to the B&B. We stayed in the smaller cabin this time. It was great being greeted by the owner's children. Leo liked my helmet. His sister looked on with typical sibling disgust and tolerance...

Once again, by the time we were showered and crawled in bed we fell asleep immediately. The down comforters are absolutely to die for!

to be continued...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Prudhoe Bay Trip - Day 3

Breakfast at Wiseman was an opportunity to see the inside of the owner's cabin. It was the original community center back during the gold rush days.

There is a very sad story associated with this bear.

A friend of the owner's was mushing his dogs in November one year, late enough in the winter that the bears should have all been hibernating. This old bear had been unable to store enough fat over the summer to stay asleep though and was out wandering around. To make a long story short, the wind was blowing hard down a long steep hill. The bear, at the top of the hill was unable to hear or smell the dog team until they all ran head long into one another. The bear killed several dogs, and the musher was almost killed as well. Fortunately for him he made it back to Wiseman and several people went out to find the bear. It was in the process of feeding on the dogs, and it turned on the people coming up. Through no fault of people or bear, the bear was shot and this is what is left as a reminder.

The road was still beautiful, in front and behind.

What a beautiful day to be out riding. Heading north out of Wiseman for Atigun Pass.

We made a stop within the first few miles and again about 25 miles down the road. The patches are doing their job so far and we will check them every 50 miles or so. Think this girl is having fun?

Riding the pass was beautiful.

But the geography was a little confusing...

My bike at the top of the pass thanks to the microfiber cloth and zip tie patch Bobby had made. 55 miles north of Wiseman, and the patches are working well. I think we'll make it!

I was enough ahead of Bobby that I got this picture of him coming up the pass.

On the other side of the pass looking north through the valley.

On our way out we came upon this,,,,,Dude is gonna have a lot of sweeping to do on this gravel road....

A gentle reminder of what the roads chews up and spits out.

The North side of the pass started out looking like Montana or Wyoming range land.

We never needed to use our sat phone, but we posed for pictures anyway.

The trucks, of course, own this road. If you are polite to them, they'll be polite to you. If you refuse to slow down and move over to the side of the road, they'll blast past and cover you in dust and thrown rocks.

Time to check the patches again. The left side is getting a bit wet so we replaced it and all was well the rest of the way into Deadhorse.

200 miles from anywhere and this mailbox cracked me up.... I should have put the flag up

Life's little choices. Wet or dry? I chose wet....

I don't think it looks soft.....

The farther North we go, the flatter it gets. Now it looks more like Kansas!

The eskimo cotton dots the tundra everywhere.

We had a moose run out in front of us just out of Wiseman, and a few muskox were off in the distance. We didn't get pictures of them, but we did stop for these two swans.

Finally, we have arrived. And the low fuel light comes on just as we enter the parking space.

When we got to Deadhorse we stayed in a camp that is still actively used by slope workers. The "room" we stayed in was in a trailer that they hook together into trains and pull onto the tundra during the winter when everything is frozen and won't be damaged.

The last 50 miles into Deadhorse was deep gravel.....uuggghhhh. At one point Bobby thought he had lost the bike while trying to transition into a different track closer to the edge of the road. He was weebble wobbling back and forth pretty bad when the bike started to lean over hard to the right. While preparing his mind for a low side fall, he somehow stayed with it and continued to steer. The front tire found some solid ground in the track he was trying to get into and with a little throttle,,, the bike returned upright. Scary! The last thing we need is Bobby injured or his bike broken down and me running on borrowed time on my fork seals!

to be cont.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Prudhoe Bay Trip - Day 2 continued

...We had planned to eat lunch at Yukon River crossing, but after talking to the people in the visitor center decided to go a little further and eat at the Hot Spot, instead. I had heard of the Hot Spot, but didn't realize where it was. We drove about 15 miles North of Yukon River crossing when we saw the sign. What a cool place! Anyone who misses this spot has missed a major high point of the ride. I'll let a few pics tell the story why.

The burger is as big as my head!

After we ate Bobby looked more closely at my bike's fork seals. He did not like what he saw. He tried to downplay his concern, I think. But I could tell from his face that the rest of our trip was in jeopardy. Nonetheless, after we ate we got back on the bikes and continued North.

Bobby decided that the main road was too easy. Let's try this, Karen!

Back in 2004, this region was hit by one of the worst fires in Alaska history. 706 fires burned a total of 6.6 million acres. In 2005, another 4.6 million acres burned. The trees of the taiga were reduced to ash with only a few charred poles remaining of what had been the boreal forest. Jump ahead to this summer. Fireweed is a flower seen everywhere in Alaska, but it gets its name from being one of the first plants to grow in areas that have been burned by forest fire. We timed it so that vast mountain sides were covered in the pinkish purple blooms of this beautiful flower.

Along the road sides in the areas with fireweed we saw this plant. I don't know what it is, but it has the most beautifully intoxicating scent of any flower I have ever smelled. The closest I can come to describing it is a mix between jasmine, plumeria, and chai tea.

As we climbed in elevation we came to the area of finger mountain, another well known Dalton Highway landmark.

Upon leaving Finger Mountain we continued to head further North. I was scooting along watching the road when I passed a sign that said "Arctic Circle" with an arrow. Surely there would be more to the arctic circle crossing than that! I turned around and followed the area a short distance off the road. And there it was! Proof that we'd crossed the circle!

You'll notice that the sign is well kept, and clean. The back side of the sign, however, is full of graffiti.
and what is this?

Yep, is now represented at the Arctic Circle, baby!

We hit pavement again, and had a relatively easy ride almost all the way to Coldfoot. Coldfoot is an ugly nasty place. I am very glad we didn't stay there. The visitor center on the other side of the road, however, is a very nice place.

From Coldfoot it was only a 15 mile dirt ride into Wiseman where we spent the night at the Arctic Getaway Bed & Breakfast.

Our cabin was fantastic, and the folks who run this place are the best!

Had we stayed in Coldfoot we would have slept in a closet on narrow hard twin beds. Here, for the same price we got a cabin to ourselves with tons of books to read, and comfortable beds with real down comforters. We also got a yummy breakfast and some great conversation.

The owner's cabin.

The cabins are on a river, and there would have been some great photo ops, but we were tired. After Bobby did some work on my bike, we showered and crawled into bed for a great sleep. Then we got up and closed the curtains because here North of the Arctic Circle the sun would have been shining in the window all night. Once the cabin was dark we slept like logs until the next morning.