Day 20 – Coldfoot AK

I got 8 hours of good sleep in a nice bed. We are staying in the Slate River Inn. The inn is a series of small rooms down 2 long hallways. Each room has two single beds, a sink, small bathroom, and an even smaller closet. Everything is very clean and well kept; they even have a small rec room with tables for reading, assembling puzzles, and a shelf for swapping books.

There are a lot of long distance motorcyclists coming through. When I say long distance, I do mean long distance. There was a whole group of them from South America that have ridden all the way up and several others that came over from Europe to ride across the US. These roads must take a toll on their butts, because more than one motorcyclist has passed us standing up going down the road. The motorcycle of choice seems to be the BMW.

At the moment I am back in the Sourdough Cafe eating a little breakfast and trying to catch up on posting pictures and videos. The WiFi up here is all satellite, which is slow, slooow, slllooooow. All of the South Americans and Europeans coming through here probably explains why the TV is constantly turned to the soccer channel. I was lucky yesterday to switch one of the TVs to the NASCAR Nationwide race.

There are several old buildings around the area; some of them are the original Coldfoot structures which have long since been replaced due to the increase in oil field business, traffic, and tourism. Nothing is cheap: gas is over $5 per gallon, the main buffet dinnner is $22 (well worth it), and one night inthe Slate River Inn is $200. On the plus side, everything has to be trucked in from Fairbanks which is 250 miles away. Most of the workers around here are college age students, from all over, earning money for school. The are very nice and friendly but seem to be VERY busy.

I was able to make several land line (yes, you read it correctly) telephone calls; as the sign says, ‘Coldfoot, one of the last places where your cell phone does not work.’ You can only make calls using a credit/debit/phone card using a push button wall phone. The problem with calling out like this is most people have cell phones and the number they see when you call doesn’t look like anything they might recognize, soooooo, they may not answer.

In an earlier post I mentioned a fellow bicyclist from New Zealand named Andrew Cheyne. Andrew left Deadhorse AK the afternoon ahead of us. Well, last night I received an email; he has already made it to Fairbanks. That is 520 miles in 6 days. Considering the road conditions and all, that amount of mileage is almost unfathomable. Talk about a real biker. Wow, I am impressed.

There is an impressive BLM building displaying information about the area just across the highway from here. They have several videos about the area, the pipeline, and Alaska in general. The caribou and polar bears are able to survive the harsh cold winters because their the hairs on their fur are hollow, thus providing insulation. Many animals, and the little blood suckers survive below the snow; it can be 70 degrees below zero on top and 50-60 degrees warmer underneath. Moose eat the small branches from willows and caribou scratch through the ground to eat lichen. Everything works to live another day.

Well. tomorrow morning we head out for Fairbanks. At least we don’t have much more dirt road on the agenda; I am guessing about 120 miles. The last 100 miles or so is pavement and there is supposed to be some in another area, also. Both of our bicycles are muddy messes and sorely in need of some maintenance. This type of riding sure takes its toll on gears, chains, and shifters. I use clip shoes/pedals and have had to clean the cleats and pedals out on several occasions so they will engage.

The man and his daughter (Larry and Katy) that camped out on Atigun Pass with us pulled in a few minutes ago and recognized our bicycles. It turns out that his family is avid bicyclists, and recumbent/trike riders to boot. They have done a lot of trips in the lower 48, particularly in the south east during spring break time. It was nice talking bike stuff with them. Larry lives in North Pole, down Fairbanks way, and said to contact him  if we make to that area.

Next, a fellow from the Netherlands, Menno Dekhuyzen, pulled in on a recumbent similar to ours. He left from Deadhorse AK a few days behind us and is leaving tomorrow, also. Looks like we may have a traveling friend as far as Fairbanks, provided we don’t slow him down. Menno is taking 6 months off from surgery nursing and pedaling to Panama. Six years ago he came over and did the northern ride across the US. It has been great fun talking to him and comparing recumbent type notes and information. I have picked up several good ideas already. Everyone has their take on what works and what doesn’t.

Bears have been spotted south of here, both on the side roads and around the highways according to people passing through. Both of us have bear ‘proof’ food containers, and we will need to be more diligent about preparing our food and using the containers. Up to this point there really wasn’t much of a problem and nobody gave a thought to bears. Now it will be different.

One of the biggest problems in bear country is you are supposed to cook and eat away from your tent area so there is no food residue. Unfortunately, eating in the tent gives some respite from those flying leeches. Let’s see: eaten by a bear or eaten by blood suckers. I guess it is not much of a choice, huh?

Well, I gotta get going. Need to eat dinner and get my stuff packed so we can get on the road after a good night’s sleep. Communications will be limited (non existent) until Fairbanks, sooooo, take care . . . . . until we talk again . . . . .

 

Day 19 – Dietrich River to Coldfoot AK

I apologize for the lack of photographs showing the wonderful country we are traveling through, however, the internet up here is very slow and photos were taking forever to load. I will put some photos out when arriving in Fairbanks.

I crawled out the tent and went searching for my bear barrel; thank goodness the bear hadn’t touched it. Boy, as hungry as I was that bear would have been in for a world of hurt if he had touched it!

After finishing breakfast and packing up we were on the road again. This pavement thing is kinda nice, and I could get use to it. Plus, this has been on of the flatest rides, including last year, also.

The trees are getting a little taller, the purple flowers more abundant, and on we continue to roll. It is impossible to look anywhere and not see the wonders of the world. The lack of civilization just makes things all that more impressive.

Now that we are on pavement that has a nice margin on it the traffic doesn’t give us such a wide berth or slow down; no problem. This is more like traveling the open highways that I am used to.

Just about noon we came rolling in to Coldfoot AK. The small community of buildings is about .5 miles of the highway and buried behind a stand of trees. In the winter Coldfoot has about 10-15 residents and during the summer it grows to 30-35 people. Many of the extra people are younger people helping the in 24 hour a day restaurant and the man camp hotel.

After grabbing the cold beer, hamburger, and fries we checked into the man camp hotel for the next two nights. Today is the 4th of July, which means the post office is closed until Monday after 1:30 pm. Not to worry, because Casey, the local post master, opened up so we could get our food boxes for the next segment of the trip. Where else would you find the post master opening up just special for two grubby bicycle riders?

Everything around here operates through the Sourdough Cafe, so we purchased a hotel room paid for lunch, purchased one load of washer and dryer use, and raced each other to the hot shower in our room. Tom won as I stopped by the pay telephone to make a credit card call to my wife.

After cleaning up I moved my base of operations back over to the Sourdough Cafe to update my blogs, charge up all of my electronics, grab an ice cold diet Coke, and watch the Daytona Nationwide race on TV.

The buffet dinner here is fabulous. The salad bar has something for everyone, and the main spread features various vegatables, Ahi Tuna, and medium rare prime rib. How could I go wrong. Besides preparing the meal, Scott was cutting the prime rib to order. Another big plus for Scott is he recognized the Razorback ball cap that I had on. Good people here indeed!

On top of all this, who comes wandering in but Karen and Bob, the BLM photographers we met earlier. We had quite the catch up session. It was nice seeing them again; they had been wondering how we were doing on our travels and had just been talking about us.

Well, guess who came wandering in to the cafe for a bite to eat: Jamie, the tour bus driver that we met in Deadhorse. He shuttles a group to Deadhorse from Fairbanks, and they fly back. He then shuttles a group from Deadhorse that flew in from Fairbanks back to Fairbanks. He remembered us from Deadhorse Camp and after passing us on the road he wondered how things were going. It is so neat connecting with people along the road.

Well, it is about 10:30 pm, and I am done for the day. Have a good night, and I hope your 4th of July was a celebration, indeed.

We rode 32.7 miles today, gained 483 feet and lost 833 feet, and averaged 8.5 mph including all stops.

Day 18 – Just below Atigun Pass Peak to Dietrich River

I apologize for the lack of photographs showing the wonderful country we are traveling through, however, the internet up here is very slow and photos were taking forever to load. I will put some photos out when arriving in Fairbanks.

Well, we made the right decision to burn a day on Atigun Pass. Today was somewhat cloudy and a few light sprinkles but there was blue sky peeking through off in the distance. Getting the last .75 miles to the peak of the pass was not an easy chore, though. Two days of rain had left the road surface a muddy mess, and it was impossible to pedal up in all of the goo. Sooooo, we pushed our loaded bikes over the .75 mile distance and 342 feet of elevation gain. Push, rest, push, rest, push, repeat same. . . . . .

Finally we made it to the top. The view of the valley both in front and behind was worth the trip. After a few photo ops we started the 2 mile downhill run, or a better description was the 2 mile slide. Both of us used our brakes continually to keep the speed reasonable. The bikes slipped and shimmed and bounced all the way down. The valley view on this side was quite spectacular.

The road was in a mess on the south side of the Continental Divide because of the rain; we were not able to make good time. The good news: the sun was peaking out more and more. After about 20 miles the road conditions improved and we began seeing shrubs and other types of plants not seen before.

With all of the sloppy roads I ended up spending about 20 minutes scraping out my front fender as the mud had caked up to the point I had a third brake. The fenders certainly keep the panniers a lot cleaner and drier, but mud is definitely a problem. Up to this point I was going through enough water that they stayed somewhat free of mud, but today was an entirely different story. All is well that ends well. After cleaning it off I was back on the road pedaling away.

At one point we came across a sign that said “This Spruce Tree is the furthest north on the Alaska Pipeline. Please do not cut down.” Unfortunately someone had cut the little tree down. A short time later we pulled into a rest stop which displayed several signs talking about why trees don’t grow further north. Apparently it has nothing to do with cold weather, or lots of snow, or anything else; there is just not sufficient time for photosynthesis to take place further north. Interestingly according to the sign. In the lower 48 a spruce tree may take 2-3 years to grow to 3” diameter; up in this neck of the woods it may take 88 years. The scenery definitely began to change from tundra to forest as we pedaled on.

Karen and Bob, BLM photographers, saw us coming down the road and  stopped us for some brief conversation and a few picture taking opportunities. They use their photos to advertise this part of Alaska. And, one of the best parts, when Karen saw my Razorback vsor on the helmet she let out a Hog Call, which I promptly joined returned. She has friends in Fort Smith AR (my home town) and has been indoctrinated in all things Razorback. She is the third Razorback fan I have met on this trip, and we haven’t seen all that many people, yet. Well, who knows, Tom and I may make the headlines up here. I guess as long as our picture is in the BLM publication and not on the post office wall all will be good.

We had a slight head wind most of the afternoon, but the road kept getting better and better. Some of this hard packed dirt road surface is much better than some of the asphalt roads we pedaled on last year. Just as we passed the ‘Coldfoot 35 miles’ sign the road turned into pavement and it is in excellent condition. We decided to stop next to the Dietrich River bridge. It is absolutely beautiful here. The river is rushing by, the sky is blue with tufts of clouds spread about, there is a slight cooling breeze, and the ground is well suited for a tent.

We saw a few old impressions of a moose and a bear in the mud around the camping area. They looked somewhat washed out so they have been here at least a few days ago. There was also some moose scat here and there as well as what looked like several piles of pack rat poop. We will place the bear food container away from the campsite incase there is a bear hiding in the wings. The Dietrich River was pretty silty so I had to find a small stream nearby for filling the water bottle; while there the view was enhanced by a variety of wildflowers poking out of the tree line.

The inside of my tent is starting to look like a mosquito mausoleum; those dead little suckers are stuck everywhere. On side left, row 23 we have 12 interned with space for 2 more. Now, higher up there are a few more openings, and on the right side we seem to be full.

Interesting thing is, there doesn’t seem to be the mad swarm of them tonight as compared with the other nights on the road. Someone commented to us that north of the pass there is almost no predator for the mosquito so they just breed away. South of the pass, once the forest region begins, there are many predators to thin their ranks. Anyway, it was sure nice to be able to sit outside the tent and enjoy the scenery without constant swatting. Don’t get me wrong, there are mosquito’s here, but they don’t try to create a brown winged coat on you like they did earlier.

The climb up Atigun Pass was well worth it just to be able to pedal on a day like this and end up in this place. If all goes well we will be pedal the 33 miles to Coldfoot AK tomorrow. Hot showers – clothes washers – cold soda pop – cold beer – fresh salad and fruit – cooked meals: can I get a YEA! from the peanut gallery?

Well, since there are some bear prints around I better load up the bear barrel and go stash it out there where I can find it in the morning. Hopefully the bears will leave it alone. If they don’t I am going to be mighty hungry by the time Coldfoot show up. Take care. Have a good night, and see ya’ in the morning if the good Lord’s ah willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

Today we rode 40.6 miles, had 1,217 feet of elevation gain, and averaged 4.7 mph including all stops.