Mode of Transportation: Bicycle
Route Taken: Dalton Highway
I survived the night! I wasn’t eaten by a bear, or a wolf or a raven ……. have I mention the ravens are huge up here? …… and my food cache was untouched by the tundra scavengers ……..again, have I mention the ravens are huge up here?
At some point I finally warmed up and was actually quite cozy when I awoke although I’m not really sure how much real sleep I got. My face felt like a giant puff ball and my eyes were swollen almost shut.
I packed up camp and set out into the misty morning. It was pretty easy going for a while as the road was packed down by the trucks and was almost as smooth as an asphalt paved road. Outside of the wheel tracks though it was definitely not bicycle tire friendly. A tip to remember is that this road was built to transport supplies to the work camps along it and to Prudhoe Bay so the haul trucks have the right of way. They do most of their hauling in the winter months when the road becomes solid ice and much easier for transport. During the summer months they are still hauling but I think I only encountered one every 30 to 45 minutes. It wasn’t a big deal to move over to the side of the road give a wave and let them pass before continuing on. And a vast majority of them slowed down as they passed in an attempt not to fling rocks and dust in my direction. They slow down when passing each other as well. Nobody wants a cracked or broken window hundreds of miles away from an auto body shop. Courtesy goes a long way on the haul road.
I learned quite a bit about the Dalton highway and the people that work on it as my adventure took a detour from the plan on day 3 …….
After riding for a couple of hours the sky cleared and the sun came out. I made it to Last Chance Wayside with a pit toilet and over-flowing bear proof garbage bins …. its probably a good thing I didn’t make it this far yesterday. I stopped for a lunch break and as I was finishing up my feast of PB&J wraps a van pulled into the rest stop. I chatted with the driver for a bit, he was surprised to see a solo female cyclist out on the haul road. By this time I was starting to feel much more comfortable with my new reality and enjoying being out on the open road. He offered me some bottled water before continuing on his way. Never pass up a water opportunity. Up to this point I had only passed small ponds with standing water looking more like mosquito incubators than re-hydration opportunities.
After lunch, It was slow going again but there were 2 long paved sections I tried to take advantage of. At about the 90km mark (for the trip) the mosquitoes came out in full force. It seems that when the sun comes out and the tundra warms up a bit the mozzies come “Alive.” They didn’t bother me too much for the first 3 hrs but they were relentlessly dive bombing my head, buzzing my ears, and trying to get up my nose, in my mouth and in my ears. It makes breathing a bit of a challenge. I sprayed down with bug spray which worked well for about 20 minutes until I sweated it off again.
Note: Definitely need a no-see-um head net for this trip. I put a half-hearted effort into finding a head net before I left for the trip. Checked the local MEC store but no luck so didn’t pursue it further.
Despite the mozzies, I really enjoyed the landscape. Green rolling hills with a wall of snowy peaks rising out of them. Beautiful! The scene is big and wide open and there is no way I could capture the vastness in my tiny camera lens. But I made an attempt anyway …….
Near the end of my day I came upon a caribou with the most massive rack I have ever seen. By this time I had packed my camera away and was focused more on finding a good camping pullout than Arctic wildlife. The caribou was relieving itself at the side of the road. I stopped and stared. It stared right back at me and continued to relieve itself. I went for my camera but it wouldn’t come loose. The caribou walked up on the road, stopped and posed perfectly for me – stoopid camera not coming loose – it walked across the road and looked at me again – poser – stoopid camera – and then wandered off onto the tundra – finally my camera came loose.
I rode on a little farther feeling more exhausted than ever. Crested a hill around mile post 289 and looked over the top to see another fairly steep down hill followed by another uphill. There was no way I had another hill in me. Construction on the other side meant loose gravel anyway and generally hard riding so I set up camp at the top of the hill. It was super windy – a blessing as the mozzies left me alone. The goal for the day was Galbraith Lake at milepost 274 but I just didn’t have it in me.
Camping on the hilltop provided spectacular and unobstructed views of the tundra and sky as the sun sank low on the horizon. Again, the camera just didn’t do it justice!
Stay tuned for the continuing mission to conquer the Dalton Highway ……………