Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Alaska Ride 2011: up the Dalton

If you’re reading this, it means I survived the Dalton heading north. Way back in Delta Junction I picked up a sticker proclaiming that very accomplishment. It will be put on after a successful round trip .  For a number of years, I have read stories telling how the Dalton Highway or Haul road is the toughest in North America. So I decided I needed to find out for myself.

It’s junction with the Elliot Highway has several interesting signs. One warns that the pavement ends. And it does so quite abruptly. Another warns of industrial traffic, and still another posts a speed limit of 50 mph, for the next 414 miles. In very short order, I was very happy I had knobby tires installed on the Strom. A section around mile 25 is extremely treacherous. In fact, the former governor of Alabama had a bad crash in this area recently. On one steep, reducing radius turn I encountered some deep gravel, and decided that the speed limit may be a bit generous.

Other sections have smooth as glass pavement rivaling the best found on the Alaska Highway; or even in Indiana. The pipeline plays tag with the road, at times running quite close, and at others visible far in the distance, there are also long buried runs, which I understand when possible,  is the preferred method of construction.

Four days is recommended to make this run, of course subject to weather driven change. The half-way point is Coldfoot, which also serves as one of the three places to fuel up. It is also home to the recently completed Interagency Visitor’s Center. Tonight an excellent program on polar bears was delivered, by a Fish and Wildlife Agent. Prospects for the great bears are uncertain, and while they adapt to conditions, their habitat, mainly the ice pack is disappearing rapidly. This is also a serious issue for humans, as the bears are also a type of barometer.

Some riders I spoke to today, elected to take advantage of the near 24 hour daylight. I decided to spend the “night” in Coldfoot camp. There $14 bought a grassy camp site, and a hot shower. Another $20 bought an excellent buffet. Also, I called ahead to the Arctic Caribou Inn, and reserved my spot on a 5PM tour of the oilfields, and a chance to take a dip in the Arctic. I did not book a $190 room at this time, as I was advised to see what is available upon arrival. Another possible option, is taking a quick dip, and pressing as far south as practical and setting up camp. We’ll see how it goes.

Now all I have to do is ride there. The weather for today’s “front half” was just about perfect. There is currently a light rain falling, and depending on which rumor/ report one chooses to believe, the “back” will be a piece of cake or 240 miles of misery. That last number also indicates the miles that must be covered to get fuel at Prudhoe Bay. The Strom has a 5.8 gallon tank, and I’m carrying an extra 1.25 gallons. On today’s ride, it delivered 44 mpg, so I should be fine.

Animals have remained elusive, but rumor has it that musk-ox, caribou, and wolves are waiting. No bear sightings though.

Rolling into Prudhoe Bay is something I have dreamed of for a long time. And now it is within my grasp. I hope I am up to the challenge.

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