Riding out of the Brooks Range into blue skies, dry roads and lush, green forests.
My first 9 days on the road can be characterized by one word: HARD! I tend to relish the occasional challenge, and was welcoming of those I anticipated encountering on the Haul Road, but ran headfirst into a host of other unforeseen hurdles. Compounded by one hell of a knee injury (suffered on Day 2 from an ever-so-slightly higher saddle height–I think) I can safely say the 9 days from Deadhorse to Fairbanks were the hardest of my life.
After 3 full days of rest, recuperation and an eating binge of A.T.-sized proportions, my spirits are on the up and up and I’m excited to skip town for Denali National Park and the Alaska Range beyond.
With promises of smoother sailing as the Brooks Range faded behind me, I was quickly reminded that a lack of tall peaks doesn't always equate to easy riding; think Vermont-sized "hills," with the grades to boot, on rough dirt roads. This lovely stretch of fresh blacktop just north of Coldfoot gave brief relief to my now nauseatingly painful knee. A steady diet of Vitamin I was soon to follow.
With mud-clogged brakes and a gritty drive train it was time for some maintenance as I rolled into Marion Creek Campground. My motivation for spending any amount of time off of a moving bicycle or out of an enclosed tent was quickly zapped as I was introduced to the interior's mosquitoes.
Typical view at either end of the tent, all throughout the night. Just a few of the billions...
To celebrate the passing of Horace Mountain the previous day--thanks Horace! (There's a photo of the mountain somewhere, shrouded in clouds) Eating proved to be the most difficult challenge when it came to the mozzies; for fear of spilling food in the tent and attracting bears I was forced to don the mosquito net and start walking. I'd scoop a bite of food, pause long enough to eat and leave the cloud of bugs floating just behind.
Impromptu burger and fries in Coldfoot, merely 5 miles after downing the bacon and eggs with oats breakfast-of-champions.
Pumping crude oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay south to Valdez, the Alyeska Pipeline is always within site on the Dalton Highway. Zigzagging across the landscape to allow flexibility for expansion and contraction with temperatures swinging from 80* to -80*F, the line is mostly elevated to prevent the hot oil from melting the permafrost.
Clearly it wasn't all pain and suffering. I caught back up with the Swiss crew a couple nights later along the North Fork of Bonanza Creek.
We celebrated Xavier's birthday in style, his last one with a '5' in the front. The bug canopy made for a more pleasant, stationary meal.
The beginning of a brutal day on the road. I'd be seeing my first sunset later that night.
Carved into the landscape in just 154 days, the Dalton has no regard for gently graded climbs. Most longer climbs checked in around 8-9% while the shorter ones, like the Roller Coaster--Alaska's steepest grade at 14%--take the form of a straight line. It's a wonder dirt sticks to the hillside on some of them.
King of the Road. Trucks own the right of way on the Haul Road. With the exception of one buzzing (my fault for not hearing it approach from behind), the truckers were quite respectful, often slowing down to lighten the dusting and always passing wide to the left. My Ibuprofen stash was also restocked by a female trucker--in her 20s--at the Hot Spot Cafe.
Snacks from a passing team of researchers. With the exception of the Swiss couples, I saw 1 other rider over 500 miles--and he was asleep in his tent...
Mostly it was me and the wildlife. Thousands of Monarch butterflies, 3 grizzlies (2 of which were feeding on a caribou carcass directly downwind from my first planned campsite), moose, foxes, caribou, Dall sheep, Trumpeter Swans, geese, ravens, marmots and one large, unsuspecting wolf that ran across the road 50 yards ahead of me.
End of the road. A left on Route 2 and 80 miles to Fairbanks.
A common scene in the summer, forest fires dot the Alaska interior's horizon. In 2004, fires scorched an area of land equal in size to the state of Massachusetts.
Motivation for a 90-mile push on my final day. Beer, green salad, burger, fries and a massive pants-tightening piece of bread pudding!
A night in an eclectic neighborhood in Goldstream with Emily and the dogs, a solstice cookout with friends Jennifer and Pete from the Dalton Highway, a couple nights at Billie's Backpacker Hostel, lots of coffee, vegetables and Ben & Jerry's and I'm ready to hit the road again.