Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part I – Conquering the Fear

Destination: Fairbanks, Alaska

Mode of Transportation: Bicycle

Route Taken: Dalton Highway

My latest adventure began on July 26 2014 in Deadhorse Alaska.  The goal was to ride the Dalton Highway from Deadhorse to Fairbanks, Alaska and then continue on to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory along the Alaska Highway.  I had initially planned to do this trip with a friend but due to a  scheduling conflict it morphed into a solo venture.  I had never really questioned whether I could do the trip physically and the reality that it was an unpaved haul road for big rigs was not lost on me.

The psychology of doing a trip like this solo was daunting though.  But why?  I’m not sure if the fear was emanating from me, or if it was projected on me by others.  My family, friends, the oil field workers at the airport, people I met along the highway?  Would they have expressed as much concern for my safety if I had been a man doing this trip solo?  It is true, the first full 24 hours were a bit rough as I transitioned from my familiar busy city life to remote solo cyclist.

Day 1

I was feeling fine for the flights up to Deadhorse.  I had some anxiety over my bike having to be transferred between 3 planes which increased slightly when I saw them taping the box back together in Anchorage before loading on the final flight to Deadhorse.  My anxiety increased further upon disembarking the plane and realizing I was the only girl getting off and everyone else was being greeted by someone who would bring them to their respective work camps.  While waiting for our luggage, a few of them were putting the fear of god into me about bears.  I put my bike together and questioned over and over again “What the hell am I doing here?”  All the while seriously considering buying a plane ticket home immediately.

After my bike was assembled, the first order of business was acquiring bear spray.  I found the Deadhorse store after navigating some extremely muddy streets and miserable, misty weather, all the while considering ordering up a hotel room and buying that plane ticket back home.  It was 6 pm local time when I finally hit the haul road with my 100 lb fully loaded bike.  Food weighs a lot!!  I had to transport it from Vancouver as there is no real grocery outlet in Deadhorse.  Fresh food is delivered directly to the camps where the oil field workers have all meals prepared for them.

Fully loaded touring bike outside Deadhorse hardware store
The requisite photo of my fully loaded bike outside the Deadhorse hardware store after picking up bear spray (a.k.a. my super powers).

I made it all the way to the Deadhorse city limits when I encountered a Swedish cyclist trying to hitch a ride back to Fairbanks.  He had ridden north from San Francisco.  He gave me some tips, affirmed that the Arctic Ocean tour wasn’t worth it, we said our “good lucks” and I headed out into the mist.  Deadhorse is about 10 miles from the ocean which is inaccessible except by tour bus as civilians must be escorted through the oil fields.  I had considered taking the Arctic Ocean tour to say I had put my foot in the ocean but would have had to wait another day until the next tour so decided to ride on instead.

Deadhorse city limits
Deadhorse city limits
Muskox by the river

I made it another 100 m down the road and saw a heard of muskox down by the river.  Cool!  It was exceedingly slow going on the variable road.  Sometimes it was hard, sometimes bumpy, sometimes soft and muddy ……. still questioning my sanity.

Bear Spray a.k.a My super powers
My Super Powers

My goal was Last Chance Wayside at mile post 354, approximately 96 km from Deadhorse (the mile markers count down from Deadhorse which is marker 414).  This would have been no problem at home on smoothly paved roads.  I gave up from exhaustion at 11 pm (local) at mile post 373.  The sun was expected to set on July 29th so still plenty of light.  I set up camp on a pipeline access road and nearly froze to death in the wind.  There is no protection from the elements on the tundra.  Not sure if I got much sleep.  Had nightmares that made me want to turn back, heard lots of noises (mostly the tent flapping in the wind), thought the ravens were eating through my food pannier.  I had the bear spray at my side the entire time like it was the holder of my super powers.  Without it I would lose all powers and courage to move forward.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

View from tent my first night. The sun as it swung low on the horizon at 2am.
The view from my tent the first night as the sun swung low on the horizon (at 2am).
A close up view of the muddy Dalton Highway
The muddy road ahead
One of the millions of ponds I passed on the tundra
One of the millions of ponds I passed on the tundra

Stay tuned for the continuing adventure …………….

Read the continuing story here:

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part II – The Sun is Shining

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part III – Atigun Pass

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part IV – People

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part V – The Last Leg

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