Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part III – Atigun Pass

Destination: Fairbanks

Mode of Transportation: Bicycle

Route Taken: Dalton Highway

Day 3

I had a much more restful sleep last night.  There was some comfort in hearing the trucks rumbling past frequently enough that I didn’t feel completely alone in the universe and infrequently enough that I could enjoy the solitude.

I broke camp at around 9 am local and headed down the hill.  At the bottom there was a road crew flag person fully outfitted in mosquito netting.  He advised me to take a ride in the pilot car for the next section as the road was a “real mess.”  Some hard core cyclists a few days ahead of me had insisted on riding the entire way and found it pretty rough.  I’m no super hero – I’ll take the ride!

Sixteen miles and some great conversation later I was dropped off at Galbraith Lake.  My goal for yesterday!  Doh!  If only I had ridden to the bottom of the hill the night before …..  I learned a bit about the road and how it is so hard to maintain on the melting permafrost.  It just slides down the hills leaving behind giant gaping holes or craters the size of cars give way as the ground melts and subsides.  It is apparent in the Arctic that global warming is real and accelerating.  As we were driving I noted that I most definitely would not have made it past this section had I chosen to ride.  After unloading my bike, taking on water and spraying down with the industrial strength bug poison offered to me by the road crew, I continued pedaling down the road.

I am struck by how everyone I have met so far has been amazingly friendly and helpful and giving and concerned for my well-being.  I have a feeling that nobody in trouble is left behind on the Dalton Highway.

Now for the major challenge of the day – Atigun Pass …..

The clouds were high in the sky and puffy and white with sunny breaks.  The weather was looking good for summit day 🙂  I had been closely monitoring the reports for the last week or so and there had been snow fall warnings for Atigun Pass 4 days ago. Word from the work crews was that it had snowed and stuck a couple of days ago but things were looking great today.  The terrain right up to Atigun pass was gradual and rolling,  not too difficult.  And then THE PASS!  My left knee had been giving me some grief this trip but now the pain was getting intense.  So pedaling a 100 lb bike up what I estimated to be a 6 – 7% grade (based on riding up Cypress Ski Hill Road back home) with one functional leg for approximately 3km was a serious mental challenge.  I took a lot of breaks to admire the view back down the valley and am not ashamed to admit that I walked for a ways.  I finally made it to the top!  Anticlimactic much?!  There was no sign telling me I had arrived.  No sign reading “Atigun pass, elev. 4800 ft.  highest highway pass in Alaska.”  So I uneventfully rolled over the top and started the steep descent.  I took as many breaks on the way down as I had on the way up.  The road was rough and my brakes needed to cool down frequently.  Also my hands were cramping from gripping so hard.  I descended into a beautiful green valley bottom where the grade and road surface were perfect for letting go of the brakes and cruising along for a while.

The pipeline runs close to the road as I approached the Brooks Range

Approaching the Brooks Range

Approaching Atigun Pass with the pipeline running along side the road

Approaching Atigun Pass

Atigun Pass where the grade steepens

Atigun Pass – The grade steepens. You can barely make out the switchback at the base of the mountain on the left where the road turns up towards the right under the rocky part of the mountain straight ahead.

Looking back down the valley from Atigun Pass

Looking back down the valley from Atigun Pass

Trucks passing me on the way up Atigun Pass

Atigun Pass

Me on the downslope after cresting Atigun Pass

Me on the downslope after cresting Atigun Pass. Happy to be going down.

Green, lush looking valley on the south side of Atigun Pass

Green, lush looking valley on the south side of Atigun Pass

It was dreamy riding for quite a long time with the occasional rough patch.  I eventually came upon another serious downhill I later found out was called “The Shelf.”  Brake cooling, finger relaxing, and vista gazing stops were required.  I landed in another  green valley bottom and the first trees I had seen since leaving Vancouver.  I made it through Atigun pass and landed in sweet paradise!  The sun was shining, the mountains were magnificent, it was finally warm enough for shorts and the mozzies had all but disappeared ………… well, until dusk anyway.

The first trees I have seen since leaving Vancouver

The first trees I have seen since leaving Vancouver

I continued down the gradual rolling terrain that was more down than up, thinking I will for sure have no problem reaching my goal for today.  I was aiming for Marion Creek campground at mile post 179.  Another paved section started at around mile post 209.  Yes!  Smooth sailing for a while ………. wait a minute, what is wrong with my bike?  Why is it wobbling so much?  After a quick inspection I found 2 serious looking bulges in the sidewall of my back tire.  Who knows how long it had been like that so I kept going along the smooth road.  A half mile later it blew up.  Dammit!  I changed the tube and reset the tire hoping that would help.  It didn’t, the bulges remained.  I continued on for a ways until it felt like my second tube was going to blow.  Conveniently I made it to a rest stop at mile post 204.

Blown sidewall on bike tire

Blown tire

My grand total on the Dalton highway was 210 miles (340 km).

How disappointing …….. of all things to fail me, tires were just about the only thing I didn’t have spares for.  I had brakes, brake cables, shifter cables, extra chain links, tubes and screws for my racks but no extra tires.  After all, my Continental touring tires were only 2 weeks old and every other pair I’ve ever had were bomb proof.

Now what to do?

The end of my Dalton Highway ride

The end of my Dalton Highway ride

The end of my Dalton Highway ride

The end of my Dalton Highway ride

Without really thinking much about it I stuck out my thumb for the next vehicle that came by (20 min later).  They stopped but didn’t have enough room for me, my gear and bike so I stayed put.  I checked the time and it was about 9 pm which I realized that would put me in Fairbanks at a very inconvenient hour for finding a place to stay.

New plan!  Set up camp and start hitching in the morning.  At least I’m in a convenient place to pull over, with a pit toilet and bear proof garbage bins.  I noticed some handles on the back of the bin and opened it.  Hmm …….. this could be a good place to store my food bag.

I was just getting ready to bunk down when a big tanker truck pulled into the stop …….

Read the continuing story here:

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part I – Conquering the Fear

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part II – The Sun is Shining

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part IV – People

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part V – the Last Leg

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part II – The Sun is Shining

Destination: Fairbanks

Mode of Transportation: Bicycle

Route Taken: Dalton Highway

Day 2

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 …….

Muddy dalton highway stretching off into the misty distance

Heading out into the mist …….

Interesting tundra flora

Interesting tundra flora

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 …….

Blue Bird Day on the Dalton Highway

Blue Bird Day on the Dalton Highway

The pipeline

The pipeline

Snow Capped Peaks of the Brooks Range from the Dalton Highway

The Brooks Range from the Dalton Highway

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.

Caribou on the tundra

Caribou wandering away from me after posing so perfectly on the road just in front of me

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!

Day 2 camp set up on pipeline access road

Day 2 camp set up on pipeline access road

The sun dipped low behind the hill in the back ground creating this sunset effect.  It's 2 am.

The sun dipped low behind the hill in the back ground creating this sunset effect – it’s 2 am.

Pink mountain scene behind the tent at 2 am.

Pink mountain scene behind the tent at 2 am.

2am sunset/sunrise

2am sunset/sunrise

Stay tuned for the continuing mission to conquer the Dalton Highway ……………

Read the continuing story here:

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part I – Conquering the Fear

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part III – Atigun Pass

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part IV – People

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part V – The Last Leg 

Deadhorse to Whitehorse Part I – Conquering the Fear

Destination: Fairbanks

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

Muskox

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

Alaska Anyone?

It has been on my mind to cycle the Pan-American Highway from its northern most reaches at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to its most southern point of Ushuaia, Argentina.  The “official” route measures approximately 48,000km.  Yowzers!  That is a trip that will take some time!  The kind of time I don’t really have at the moment …. the timing is right, however, for a baby step.

Pan-American Highway according to Wikipedia

Pan-American Highway according to Wikipedia
This is not the exact route I plan to take. My preference is to stay more coastal along the Pacific side of North America

The plan is to ride  the Dalton Highway from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks Alaska and continue on to Whitehorse along the Alaska Highway.

There is currently a snowfall warning for Atigun pass in the Brooks Range section of the Dalton Highway.  On the flip side, the sun doesn’t set until July 29  ……. wish me luck!

I won’t be posting anything along the way (not that I have any great consistency with posting anyway) as I will have no power source and no internet service.  My computer isn’t really up to the task right now anyway.  I’ll hopefully find the time to keep good notes and take some fantastic pictures to put up on my return.

Computer