Friday, July 16

Arctic Adventure

The eagle has landed!


The day started off well.  The plan was to go to Adventure Cycleworks to change my oil and then leave for the Arctic Circle either later that day or the next morning.  Checking the weather revealed that it was supposed to rain here in Fairbanks the next morning and in Coldfoot (the halfway point) the next afternoon.  So it was either leave this afternoon or, wait until all the weather passed.  Unfortunately, waiting that long wasn’t really an option as I have to stay on somewhat of a schedule.

Taking advantage of the the extra long days I started out around 3:00 and I felt I could make it to the Arctic Circle but, I had a sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to Deadhorse because of the narrow window in the weather.

As I got on the James Dalton Highway (aka the Haul road) it began to get overcast.  That didn’t worry me because I was heading out of that and could actually see blue skies in the distance.  As expected, after some time the clouds cleared.

I bumped into a couple (2 up) coming back from the Arctic Circle, they told me the road was fine but didn’t know the it’s condition further up.

As I made my way up I could see the Alaska Pipe Line running parallel to the road.  After a few miles they turned and were only a few yards apart so I stopped for a photo op.

I continued up the road with lots of company by big trucks but no other bikes - probaly because it was so late.  After a few hours I made it to the Yukon river and it’s distinctive bridge with a wood plank surface.  I was very excited as I had seen and read about the river and the bridge on many times.

I crossed the river and after a total of about 7 hours of riding I could see three other bikes way up in the distance.  Just as I caught up to them I spotted the sign indicating that we’ve finally reached the Arctic Circle.

I was ecstatic that after all the years of dreaming and planning that I finally made it.  I stayed there for about 45 minutes as I got my pictures and soaked up the excitement of realizing a long standing goal, however it was already 11:00 pm and I had to keep moving.

Eventually I passed Coldfoot and then Wiseman, the only two stops on the way to Deadhorse.  Coldfoot is essentially a 24 hour truck stop with gas, food and some hotel rooms.  Wiseman, on the other hand, is the tourist’s stop.  It has a B&B as well as a few homes.

As I continued passed Coldfoot and Wiseman the temperature began dropping and the sky ahead was very dark and I could tell it was raining.  The dark clouds concerned me because, as I read many times, the Haul road gets incredibly muddy and slick when it’s wet.  Also, this time I couldn’t see blue skies ahead, only more dark clouds that were getting lower to the ground.

As you might expect, after continuing north, it began to rain.  The road was getting muddy but still quite rideable.  

About 100 miles short of Deadhorse I began to ride in and out of thick fog and eventually had to put my (tinted) faceshield up in order to be able to judge the road condition in front of me accurately.  The Brooks mountain range was completely socked in with fog and it was beginning to rain harder.

I decided to turn back to Coldfoot rather than attempt the fog enshrouded Brooks mountains with limited visibility.  Had my faceshield not been tinted I would have continued.  Even if it weren’t tinted, continuing in that sort of weather might not have been the right thing to do as people do die attempting Deadhorse in the wrong conditions.  Rather than attempt life or limb merely for bragging rights I began riding back to Coldfoot.

I was quite tired by that point as I had been riding for about 10 hours already and I had about 2 hours more to get back to Coldfoot.  Then suddenly, a wolf was on the side of the road about 50 feet in front of me.  I don’t know exactly what I thought at that moment but in a split second it began charging at me.  “Holy Shit!” I thought.  I slowed for a second or two as it got closer than, with an enormous twist of the throttle, I got the fuck out of there!

That’s when it began.  “What if I had been in the middle of a corner and couldn’t gun it like that?”  “What if there were more than one?”  “What if it were a bear?”  “WHAT IF IT WERE A GRIZZLY!?!?” 

With deliberate haste, I made it back to Coldfoot.

I thought I could get a room and maybe attempt Deadhorse the next day.  It was 3:00 AM and, unfortunately, there were no available rooms.  I had to make due by putting my head down and sleeping at a table.

After about 2 hours it got too noise to get anymore sleep.  I ate breakfast and I was way too tired and the weather hadn’t let up and was getting worse up north so I decided I better just head back to Fairbanks.

Had my visor not been tinted I probably would have made it to Deadhorse.  Admittedly, that wasn’t something that ever occured to me - especially considering it’s almost 24 hours of day light up here. However, for me, anything past the Arctic Circle was just icing on the cake.

Bragging rights would have been nice.  I’ll get those next time.

Now for my long ride back to Philly.  I think that this is going to be the toughest part, mentally, now that the adventure is over.

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