Day 22: 12 Miles Short of the Arctic Circle Crossing to Fish Creek Bridge

CampsiteToday was the shortest we have ridden:  13.76 miles. We started somewhat late, 9:45 am, and just never quite got the motors running. Part of the issue was recovering adequately from yesterday’s ride, part of it was the late start, and part of it was the tremendous heat (93 degrees) which seemed to bring out the mosquitoes in more plentiful numbers than usual. When we got to the bridge over the Fish Creek we stopped to fill our water bottles and decided to stay put for the night. Another consideration could have been the steep hill called Finger Mountain was facing us just down the road.

Sharon and JV - Milepost PhotographersShortly after getting started this morning an RV passed us then stopped out in front. Out pops a lady with a camera and a man. Turns out it was Sharon and JV, who are field editors for the Milepost magazine. The Milepost is the one stop directory for all things travel on the Al-Can highway, Dalton Highway, and other major roads up here. They were on their way from Prudhoe Bay heading to Manly. It is amazing how many people from all sorts of countries and walks of life you meet on this road.

Ride to Connection RockThere were more hills today, and one of them was a long slow grade up to Connection Rock. The view on top was stunning, and you could see the road leading up from where we had come and the road leading down to where we were going. Some of the road continues to be well paved and other sections are either dirt packed gravel or pavement with substantial amounts of gravel filled potholes. The gravel sections seem to appear out of nowhere and do not have advance warning signs so maintaining a good speed going downhill can be somewhat treacherous.

Manabe from JapanJust before reaching Connection Rock summit we met a fellow named Mannabe, from Japan. He seemed excited to run into other bicyclists but spoke very halting English, and it was difficult to have any communication with him. After a few photos Mannabe headed north to Prudhoe Bay, his final destination. What an adventurous individual, traveling across the US and up into Alaska by himself and speaking little of the English language.

day-22-arctic-circleIt was 12.7 miles to the Arctic Circle Camp and sign, where we stopped for a brief lunch and some photo ops. We expected a big sign for the crossing to be on the side of the road, however, it is off to the left (when heading south) and up a steep little incline. It seemed a little incongruous to be talking about the Arctic Circle in 90 degree weather, but we have reached this milestone.

Paul on Ural MotorcycleWhile we were at the Arctic Circle Crossing a number of other people came in, including Paul on a Russian made Ural motorcycle w/sidecar. It was military olive drab and looked sharp. They sell about 3-400 hundred of them in the US each year. Paul said they require a lot of maintenance but are easy to work on, and he was enjoying riding on it. Paul started out in Seattle and was heading to Prudhoe Bay, then back to Washington state.

One couple, in a car, stopped to talk a bit. They were from Chicago IL so we had something in common: Margie and I lived about 90 miles away for 18 years and visited there many times. Then there was Randy, who lived down by Mobile AL. He was in a motorhome pulling a red jeep. It was good to hear his southern accent, and we discussed a few things from down that neck of the woods, including my son going to Auburn. Turned out his grandson, 26, went to Auburn, also. Go War Eagles (that was for you kiddo).

Fish RiverAt this point we were in need of water, again, so stopped at Fish Creek, about 1 mile further down the road. The breeze was nice, the water was cold, the day was hot, (I am sure there are many more excuses), and we decided to stop for the day. This will give us a chance to rest up and get an earlier start tomorrow as we will soon tackle a Finger Mountain and then a hill that is fondly called Beaver Slide. Besides, this is a nice ‘unofficial’ area to camp, and there are signs everywhere that others have used this, too.

All of the water in this area seems to have a somewhat weak tea color, much like where we were last night; there must be some kind of minerals leaching in. It all tastes good but we do run it through the filter each time just to make sure.

Fish River CampsiteAfter setting the tent up, filling the water bottles, eating a Spam sandwich, I lay down briefly and woke up 3 hours later: must have been more tired than I thought. With all of the shade trees to block the sun and a nice breeze blowing it is very nice.

Well, I better finish getting things together and get the dinner food out. We decided to get up and get started much earlier. Last year Tom and I started out about 5 am, so we could get our mileage in and avoided the hot afternoon sun. It worked out well. Up here we won’t have to worry about riding in the dark when starting that early.

Butterfly on Solar PanelWonder what tomorrow will bring? Take care . . . . .

Today we did 13.76 miles, had an elevation gain of 1,040 feet, and averaged 3.4 mph including all of the stops.

Day 21: Coldfoot Ak to 12 Miles Short of Artic Circle Crossing

Today was all sunshine and warm weather. It felt so good that I spent $14.95 at the Sourdough Cafe for breakfast: they had all sorts of fruits to select from plus fresh scrambled eggs, french toast, and bacon grilled just perfect. The mixed fruit tasted sooooo good; I made a pig of myself and had a second bowl full.

On Ready to leave Coldfoot AKthe way out I spotted a handful of truckers sitting in the trucker only lounge so I went in, told them I was bicycling the Dalton Highway, and thanked them (all truckers) for being so courteous to us. They seemed somewhat embarrassed by what I did, but did say it was very nice for me to take the time and say something.

Along the way I was able to drop the leggings and just ride in a pair of shorts. This was the first day that I have bicycled in shorts; it was heaven, even though the temperature registered 88 on my thermometer, the pleasant change from cold rainy weather was nice. I did go through a lot of water. At the halfway point I stopped and refilled my 3 – 32 ounce bottles, and they were almost empty when we stopped for the evening. Good advice for all – stop and refill the bottles when water is available.

Flowers Along The RoadThere were a lot of beautiful pink flowers along the roadside in some of the areas, and there was some asphalt pavement here and there. That, too, was a nice change from all of the rough mud-packed roads. It is amazing how quickly the roads have dried out following all of the rain that we have ridden through. Not complaining, mind you, just interesting how quickly things have gone from muddy to dusty.

There were a lot of ups and downs today, but the biggest up was the run up to Gobbler’s Knob. The elevation gain was about 900 feet in about 2.5 miles. It was an energy drainer. It was a thigh burner. It was an ego buster. It was a time consumer.

Gobbler's KnobThe panorama on top of Gobbler’s Knob was quite spectacular and worth getting there. There was the Brooks Range in the back, Prospect Camp in the valley below, Jack White Ridge below the Brooks Range, and Pump Station #5 off to the right. In one way or the other we have bicycled through or beside all of those. One word of caution, when you get to the top there is a bathroom but no streams so make sure you carry sufficient water when you start the climb.

On the run down from Gobbler’s Knob I got up to 50 mph, the most I have done on a loaded Bacchetta. Unfortunately I was forced to slow down before the end of the run because of some gravel sections of road. Speaking of the road, most of today was on pavement. There was a few sections of dirt, and a few sections of gravel, a few sections of really course gravel/asphalt, but most was on good asphalt pavement. How sweet it is!

Moose PondI did not see any large animals (moose or bear) today, nor did I see many smaller mammals. There were birds, and there were some fish in one of the clear running streams that ran under the road way. On the way up thigh burner hill I stopped for a breather and saw moose tracks in the mud going right along the edge of the road. We stopped at one pullout that should have had moose wading all around the edges, but alas, there were none there.

MartinAt just about the halfway point a fellow in a VW style van all fixed up for travel camping stopped to say hello. His name was Martin, and he and Menno had met on Atigun pass, several days ago.. He and his wife have been on the road for 18 months. They started out in Switzerland, drove around Europe. They shipped their van from Hamburg Germany to Baltimore for $2,200, and are now touring the US. We didn’t get to meet Claudia as she is in Fairbanks while he is on the Dalton Highway. They eventually want to go down to South America. Martin did the Patagonia region on a bicycle several years ago. And, as if Martin weren’t a really neat guy to talk with, he broke out the cold PBR beer, and we all celebrated. Celebrated what, you might ask? World peace and global friendship sounds good to me. What a day. I think I will say that again. What a day!

Camping SiteWe hoped to make it to the Arctic Circle Crossing today; about 57 miles. But, we were getting pretty pooped, as in SUPER TIRED, after doing 48 miles which included that ego busting Gobbler’s Knob hill, so when Tom spotted a small campground buried back in the woods, we pulled in.

The Arctic Circle Crossing will have to wait until tomorrow. This was not an ‘official’ campground, but the residue of campsites and fire pits points to the fact that many others have stayed here. There was limited water availability and no clear running stream. There was a small water opening  with ground water which we filtered; it tasted very good but looked somewhat like diluted tea; my Katadyn Vario water filter continues to work like a champ. Last reminder: fill up the water bottles when the opportunity presents itself.

Lunch on the road!As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Menno, from the Netherlands, is traveling with us for a period of time. Well, he brought along some great soup which we had before our main pouch meal; I had beef strogonoff with hot tea. Menno has a Kelly Kettle, which uses natural firewood to boil water. This device really looks interesting. He also the used the Kelly Kettle to prepare soup broth for lunch. It is interesting to see how he does bicycle/touring/camping because it gives Tom and I a different perspective on what gear and methods might be better than what we are using and doing.

Well, after dinner we put our bear containers behind a tree out by the side of the road, and strung ropes in other trees to haul our bear bags up. Right now all three of us have more food than will fit in our containers so the bags help take care of the rest.

I am now in my tent and it sounds like rain is pelting the rain fly. Actually it is little bugs that are jumping around all over the place. There have not been too many mosquitoes, but the flys were absolutely murder when I was filtering the water. My legs have all sorts of red welt looking marks from them.

FlowersGuess I better get the bedding out and get some sleep; it is 9:46 pm here. It is still pretty warm out, and there is almost no breeze so I plan on leaving the vestibule wings open to allow ventilation. Typically it cools down nicely during the night so I hope that occurs.

We have decided to break the 70 miles between here and Yukon Crossing Campground into 2 days of about 30-35 miles each. After today we need an easier push to recuperate, and we are not totally sure about the road and mountain conditions.

Wooded AreaToday we did 47.8 miles, had an elevation gain of 2,946 feet, averaged 4.5 mph including stops, I hit 50 mph top end speed on the downhill. Menno’s bike is more loaded than mine, and he was gradually pulling away from me. Yes, I know that it is not safe at that speed, but what a rush! Until tomorrow, may the road rise up to meet you and the wind be always at your back . . . . . personally, I would have preferred the Irish prayer to say something like, may the road go down in front of you, but I guess you can’t have everything . . . . . . . take care.

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.

Day 20 - Truckers at ColdfootAt the moment I am back in the Sourdough Cafe eating a little breakfast, watching all of the truckers come and go, 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.

Day 20 - Old Outfitting BuildingThere 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 dinner is $22 (well worth it), and one night in the 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.

Day 20 - Visitor's CenterThere is an impressive BLM building displaying information about the area just across the highway from here. They have several videos explaining various aspects about the area, the pipeline, and Alaska in general.

One interesting fact is 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 an additional layer of insulation. Also, the individual tubes of hair on the polar bear are clear, not white. The hairs pick up and reflect the light around them so that they appear white.

Day 20 - At The CenterSome other interesting facts: many animals, and the little vampire 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. Some insects purge water from their body to minimize the chance of damage due to freezing. I guess 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.

Day 20 - Menno's BikeNext, 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. Another good night in the sack will certainly be welcome to this tired old body; I am still feeling somewhat bushed even after a day and a half in Coldfoot. Communications will be limited (non existent) until Fairbanks, sooooo, take care . . . . . until we talk again . . . . .