For over a week we had been waiting for the Dalton Highway to re-open after the flooding and finally we were in Fairbanks, the jump off point for the Highway. Jim went off to see Dan Armstrong at Adventure Cycleworks click here to get a new rear tyre and oil change while I checked the weather forecasts again. The road may have re-opened, passable with care, but that didn’t mean that the weather was going to be kind. In the previous days snow had meant conditions were difficult and we’d met two bikers who failed to get up it, riding solo; then a bridge was closed to be opened with one lane only until further notice. The weather forecast had not improved forecasting rain, which we had been riding in in the previous days with snow due Wednesday night and Thursday morning – and here we were on Tuesday.
On Jim’s return we sat and discussed our options. The 665 km road is ripio for a large part which would be fine if dry. We had all the experience we needed for that but in the wet and with snow, with 2 of us on a fully loaded bike it was a different matter. We decided that if the rain held off we could try for the Arctic Circle marker. We would still get to ride part of the Dalton. It was agreed.
Wednesday morning we were loaded up and on the road at 6am. Thankfully the road was dry. There was the 125 km Elliot Highway to cover before we even reached the Dalton. This is paved for the most part but in a pretty shabby state of repair with big undulations from the ‘frost heave’ together with patches and potholes. It was a relief to reach the Dalton Highway with its good ripio. We had certainly ridden far worse.
With the absence of wild life throwing themselves at us and the truckers being thin on the ground we were thoroughly enjoying the ride. The scenery unfolded before us and the oil pipeline followed our path to disappear for a while, then to reappear alongside. And then, there it was, the Arctic Circle marker. We were elated to reach it. The culmination of more than 7 months riding, through 15 countries. From the Antarctic to the Arctic. Checking around for bears, it was hugs and photo’s followed by more hugs. We had made it.
Looking at each other, the next question, ‘now what’. It was still dry, could we reach Coldfoot, the final stop before the end of the road, at Deadhorse. It was another 100 km but we were feeling great so decided to give it a go.
By the time we reached Coldfoot which is little more than a trucker’s stop with info centre it was raining. Maybe it would clear while we had a lunch stop. It didn’t. It was crunch time. Snow was forecast with freezing temperatures to add to the mud from the rain. We had come safely this far. Looking at each other we both said the same thing ‘time to go home’.
Pointing Bertie south for the first time in months, we tried not to think of the 410 km ride back to Fairbanks. We could see heavy rain to the left of us and while congratulating ourselves on missing it rode straight into a downpour coming from the south. The road which had seemed so easy on the way up was now smooth and slippery with churned mud to the sides. I could feel the back tyre slipping underneath me, not a cosy feeling. It was with relief that we pulled into the Hotspot café just before the Yukon River.
After heeding the warning from the proprietor to keep an eye out for local bears whilst using the outside loos (what!!!!!) we gratefully accepted our cups of coffee. Bertie was covered in mud mixed with calcium chloride and somewhere under it all was a number plate. The calcium chloride is mixed with the dirt to attract moisture and help keep the road solidly packed. It attacks metal with a vengeance so Bertie was going to need a good wash down. It’s other ‘downside’ is it’s slippery when wet. The ladies at the café asked which way we were heading. To our reply of south, they said ‘good move,
we are expecting a dump of snow through tonight’. With the rain still falling, we climbed back on the bike, plugged in the heated jackets (thank heavens for heated jackets) and set off. Truck numbers had increased significantly and they own the road. Jim would look for somewhere to pull over to when they came up to pass, not always easy when the surface is slippery. It was a much slower ride back and the kilometres on the satnav just didn’t seem to be going down.
14.5 hours after we had set off from Fairbanks we were back, tired,
wet and very muddy having completed the longest days ride of 825km we had done in some of the worst conditions. Our end point may not have been quite what we had planned but we have learned to be flexible and we had ridden more than 40,000km to get to this point.
We are happy………. next question……..now where do we go?