Days 26/27

Geoff’s Post

It’s been a long time…

Sorry again for the delays… I am not nearly as consistent as Elliott in updates but I will try to get caught up.  I am sitting in the Common Room in the “hotel” (think: dorm) in Prudhoe Bay, AK.  Took quite a lot to get here…

We left Anchorage a few days ago.  It was soooo nice staying with Don and Anette in Anchorage.  They were the best hosts you can possibly imagine, and I can’t thank them enough.  I really hope they make it back to SD sometime so I can even hope to repay their hospitality.  Don is an amazing guy.  A real modern day renaissance man meets outdoorsman and naturalist.  And Annette is a keeper!!!!

As Elliott noted earlier, our planning has been pretty good so far, but somehow our math was off and instead of an easy 180 miles to Fairbanks, it was a long 360.  And we didn’t get to see any of the great stuff between Anchorage and Fairbanks like Denali as it was totally rained out… we were yet again soaked when we got to Fairbanks.  We got a room there at the University for $20 which was awesome.  I went out to grab a beer and food and met some local forestry dept fire fighters. They had a pretty interesting life and it was really awesome learning about how the wild fires up here are fought, contained and dealt with as compared to CA.  They have so many times the acreage we have to deal with and much less resources so they just “heard” a  fire away from residences and let it burn itself out versus where we thrown tons of resources at it to kill it immediately but make the problem worse in the future.  Cool dudes- and interesting lifestyle.

Then yesterday we left for our journey to Prudhoe Bay.  PB is as far north as you can go in the USA.  It’s waaaaayyy north.  About 500 miles from Fairbanks… picture San Diego to San Francisco.  And when you leave Fairbanks, in the middle of the state, there is only one place to get gas, a place called Coldfoot.  Population 12.  But I’m jumping ahead.

Here’s the educational section… please bear with me if this is old news…

We are going to be following the Alaska Pipeline.  This is a 48” pipeline that takes oil direct from the north slope of Alaska to the Port of Valdez which is open year round in southern Alaska so they can put in on boats and take it to (I think) Tacoma for processing.  I think the total length is like 800 miles of pipeline and it is a bit of an engineering marvel (especially for the 70’s) and is a testament to what can be done when big oil smells money.  For the record- it’s a LOT of oil going a LONG distance. The road that parallels it is called the haul road.  It’s called the haul road as it is the road that they used to haul all the supplies up to build it back in the late 70’s.  Also called the Dalton Highway (AK11).  It was never meant as a public road and was built accordingly.  They constantly upgrade/repair it (Spring thaws wash out parts all the time), and in like 1984(ish) they opened it up to the ‘public’ as a route to (gorgeous) Prudhoe Bay.

The town of Coldfoot started as a gold mining depot back in the day, but became the half-way point on the haul road for the building (and current support) of the pipeline.

Our goal of PB goes through Coldfoot.

First we need to get knobbies.  The roads up there are supposed to be bad.  Real bad.  We get a great deal on knobbies from a guy named Dan.  He lives outside FBanks and works out of his garage.  Great guy… looks like he retired from ZZ Top and has a great gig servicing us moto-crazies with tires and parts before going up the haul road.   He is as opinionated as he is generous.  If I remember correctly, he said he hasn’t been to the lower 48 in 30some years and only been to Anchorage five times in his life… and has no desire to go back.

So Elliott and I get our tires installed and we are off.  First stop Coldfoot.  The road was supposed to be bad, but as there was no rain that day, it was really not bad at all.  It was actually disappointing and we were both questioning why we needed knobbies at all.  There was definitely gravel and dirt, but nothing nasty and we made great time to the campground five miles outside of Coldfoot.  We skipped the expensive lodging and opted for rain mosquitoes and a tent.  Lodging was very expensive and are basically just left over portable dorms.

Education time again.  When they built the pipeline, they worked 24/7 to get it done ASAP, as oil is money!  So they had these small cities of modular dorms to house the workers.  When it was all done, they sold them off and some enterprising individuals bought some for… hotels.  And that’s the hotel in Coldfoot.  They are old and dilapidated temporary structures.  Picture a mobile home and a dorm room in an unholy alliance.  So we tented it with our new friend Eryl.

We met Eryl at Don’s Tire Emporium in Fairbanks.  He is on a KTM 990 Adventure (kinda like the Nissan if we were on Toyota’s) but aside from that, AND being from England (worse yet, Welsh) we take a liking to him and when he showed up at our campsite in Coldfoot, we invited him in (for $2).  He’s a cool guy and on a career break from teaching university in London and spending 3 months riding all over the US and Canada.  Oh, he is also on street tires… but we’ll come back to that later.

So we make it to Coldfoot and dinner is over (it’s 9:30) and we just set up camp and relax and make a fire and cook our own dinner.  Eryl shows up and we all decide that the difficulty of the road is overrated.  We are already halfway to Prudhoe Bay and aside from the crappy weather (and mosquitoes) it’s not been bad at all.

Overnight it gets really wet and windy.  No one sleeps well.  We all get up and head into town to get gas.  Forgot to mention… we are on a construction zone.  There are a lot of these up here.  After you leave Coldfoot north towards the campground, the road is closed and you have to “hitch a ride” with a pilot vehicle to lead/guide you 5 miles to the campground.  They continue another 3 miles past, pick up the cars/trucks going back south and then make a return run.  Basically, it’s a one way road that changes direction a few times per hour.   But we are in the middle.  So when we get to the road, we have to wait until the pilot comes by and then just jump in behind them to get back into town.  This happens over and over up and down the highway.

In Coldfoot, we pay $4.40/gallon for gas.  The cheap stuff… not the good stuff we want- but the only thing available.  Funny thing is, they have all the oil here (or just a bit up north) but it goes straight from the ground to the pipeline to tankers in south AK to refineries elsewhere and is then shipped back up here at great expense and then sold back at a ridiculous rate.  I have never seen $4.40/gal gas.  Doesn’t seem very economical… at least to me… and definitely not to the Alaskans… they are all a bit bitter about it.

So we are off.  The pilot gets us safely through the construction zone (literally zig-zagging through dozers and back hoes that are actively working on the 1.5 lane road) and we are back on our own.  It’s muddy and gravely.  And it gets worse as the rain continues.  It goes from bad to worse… like driving on wet sloppy concrete.  Elliott and I are on knobbies and are slipping all over the place at 40MPH and Eryl is falling behind on his street tires.  We slow to 30ish and it’s manageable but takes ages to make any headway.  We have 240 miles to go and are struggling at 25mph.  Especially when the big trucks coming south go by, they cover us with a layer of mud so visibility goes to zero.  Uggh.  This was supposed to be fun!!!

Then we reach another construction zone.  The guard at the beginning (picture an over-paid school crossing guard). He tells us that this is only 2 miles but they got a lot more rain than expected.  He said that yesterday when he was driving the pilot truck the last guy on street tires had to stop and put his feet down 6 times to get through.  I don’t tell Eryl this… it won’t help him to know this.

We get going and it’s an absolute mess.  I am leading the three of us (right behind the pilot truck-a pick up) and I almost wipe-out 3 times.  The mud is 4-6” deep and thick soupy sludge.  If you stay exactly in the deep track of the car in front of you then you are fine… but if the bike gets squirly on the mud I the bottom of the trench you are in… it’s all over.  The bike had a mind of it’s own most of the time and I was just a passenger.  Seemed to work out.  It’s the longest two miles I can remember.  Ellott and Eryl make it through alright as well but we all wonder how on earth it all worked out.  And for the 10th time today I am glad I am on knobbies!!!!

We finally make it into Prudhoe Bay.  What an odd place.  There are hundreds or even thousands of snow vehicles sitting around waiting for winter.  This place is just a giant industrial holding area for oil and gas related equipment.  Right now is off-season as far as I can tell.  Just the typical crews making sure oil enters the pipeline for delivery to the crews in the south.  And a set of environmental people checking out that the ecosystem is still intact with the pipeline going through it.  Good times.

Winter is when this place really comes alive with exploration crews manning all those vehicles.

So here we are… it’s 11PM and very much daylight.  I was checking and I think that the sun stays up all night tonight but I can’t tell as the clouds are very low and it’s still raining but still light out.  Leaving tomorrow and it’s gonna be a really messy with all the rain tonight.

Elliott’s Post

We had a nice rest in Fairbanks and got our tires changed out to
knobbies for the long haul to Deadhorse, AK.  Actually getting the
tires changed was an adventure in itself.  Geoff is going to talk
about this in his post.

Anyway, the long haul I’m referring to is the Dalton Highway which
ends in Deadhorse, Alaska – the most northerly point of the North
American road system and 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Fairbanks is the jumping off point for those that are looking at
making the 500 mile trip to Deadhorse.  The first 60 miles north out
of Fairbanks are paved road, then the Dalton starts and that’s where
it gets interesting.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of the
Dalton.  You hear some stories about how brutal it is – huge pot
holes, truckers whipping by doing 90 miles an hour spitting rocks up
in your face, etc. Others say its not as bad as it’s made out to be
and you could do it on road tires.  I had just sunk $400 into a new
set of off road tires so I was hoping that it wouldn’t be a piece of
cake, but I also wanted to come back in one piece.

The Dalton is divided into roughly even chunks – the first half gets
you into a small town called Coldfoot.  We did this in relative ease.
There were some areas of loose gravel, some “washboardy” areas, and
surprisingly, some areas of asphalt.  So far, no problem, but I was
also questioning the decision to sink the $400 (which was a relative
bargain) into the new tires as I hadn’t really seen a huge need for
them…yet.

We arrived at our campground in Coldfoot and had an exciting Friday
night of eating Mac and Cheese and sitting around a campfire.  A
little while after we got there, Eryl,  a cool English bloke we had
met at the tire changing place in Fairbanks and made plans with to
meet at the campground, showed up.  The three of us sat around for a
bit and talked about plans for the next day.  The plan: “early” rise
by 9 am and then head back into Coldfoot for gas and then turn around
and do the 250 miles to Deadhorse.

Of course, rain and wind came during the night and that would prove to
make the next day worth the price of tires.

Day 25 – Destination: Deadhorse, AK

Well we got going pretty much right on schedule.  We had to bear with
the road construction and it took probably 45 minutes to get back into
Coldfoot, get a coffee and gas up (at $4.40/gallon for regular) and
then we’re off.

From here, the trip turned into a blur of mud, fog, rain, and more
mud.  We were definitely taking our time and not pushing it, but wow
was that a tough ride.  Lots and lots of slipping all over the place.  Sorry, Mom, if you’re reading this – don’t be scared – I’m fine.  The day before seemed like a dream ride as now we just hit huge mud flats and road construction areas where you had to go super slow and that only made it harder to keep the bike under control.  The road, in this condition could definitely not have been done on just road tires.

The scenery was stunning and the remoteness and vastness of this area
is hard to comprehend.  You see the Alaskan Pipeline (which the Dalton
was built to serve) weaving across the permafrost plains – sometimes
disappearing from sight and the reappearing.  It makes you realize how
much work was put into building it and how fragile the land is that it
was built across.   Reading about the pipeline is fascinating.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Alaska_Pipeline_System

After six hours of this (and one glorious 40 mile stretch of ashphalt)
and a steady rain for the last hour we arrived in Deadhorse.  This
town is exclusively set up to support the oil industry.  There are no
homes here, just modular buildings cobbled together.  We’re staying at
the Prudhoe Bay Hotel.  A two bed room is $220 – no tv, no bathroom.
The place is nothing to look at but it is clean and all the food you
want is included (and the cafeteria is open 24/7).  Now, we’re
relaxing for the night and it’s quite comfortable.  Tomorrow we’re
taking the oilfield tour which is the only way you can actually
see/touch the Arctic Ocean.  We had to call 24 hours in advance for
this tour, give them our personal info so they can do a background
check, and pay $45 so they can tell us how great the oil industry is.

It’s been a long time…

Sorry again for the delays… I am not nearly as consistent as Elliott in updates but I will try to get caught up. I am sitting in the Common Room in the “hotel” (think: dorm) in Prudhoe Bay, AK. Took quite a lot to get here…

We left Anchorage a few days ago. It was soooo nice staying with Don and Anette in Anchorage. They were the best hosts you can possibly imagine, and I can’t thank them enough. I really hope they make it back to SD sometime so I can even hope to repay their hospitality. Don is an amazing guy. A real modern day renaissance man meets outdoorsman and naturalist. And Annette is a keeper!!!!

As Elliott noted earlier, our planning has been pretty good so far, but somehow our math was off and instead of an easy 180 miles to Fairbanks, it was a long 360. And we didn’t get to see any of the great stuff between Anchorage and Fairbanks like Denali as it was totally rained out… we were yet again soaked when we got to Fairbanks. We got a room there at the University for $20 which was awesome. I went out to grab a beer and food and met some local forestry dept fire fighters. They had a pretty interesting life and it was really awesome learning about how the wild fires up here are fought, contained and dealt with as compared to CA. They have so many times the acreage we have to deal with and much less resources so they just “heard” a fire away from residences and let it burn itself out versus where we thrown tons of resources at it to kill it immediately but make the problem worse in the future. Cool dudes- and interesting lifestyle.

Then yesterday we left for our journey to Prudhoe Bay. PB is as far north as you can go in the USA. It’s waaaaayyy north. About 500 miles from Fairbanks… picture San Diego to San Francisco. And when you leave Fairbanks, in the middle of the state, there is only one place to get gas, a place called Coldfoot. Population 12. But I’m jumping ahead.

Here’s the educational section… please bear with me if this is old news…

We are going to be following the Alaska Pipeline. This is a 48” pipeline that takes oil direct from the north slope of Alaska to the Port of Valdez which is open year round in southern Alaska so they can put in on boats and take it to (I think) Tacoma for processing. I think the total length is like 800 miles of pipeline and it is a bit of an engineering marvel (especially for the 70’s) and is a testament to what can be done when big oil smells money. For the record- it’s a LOT of oil going a LONG distance. The road that parallels it is called the haul road. It’s called the haul road as it is the road that they used to haul all the supplies up to build it back in the late 70’s. Also called the Dalton Highway (AK11). It was never meant as a public road and was built accordingly. They constantly upgrade/repair it (Spring thaws wash out parts all the time), and in like 1984(ish) they opened it up to the ‘public’ as a route to (gorgeous) Prudhoe Bay.

The town of Coldfoot started as a gold mining depot back in the day, but became the half-way point on the haul road for the building (and current support) of the pipeline.

Our goal of PB goes through Coldfoot.

First we need to get knobbies. The roads up there are supposed to be bad. Real bad. We get a great deal on knobbies from a guy named Dan. He lives outside FBanks and works out of his garage. Great guy… looks like he retired from ZZ Top and has a great gig servicing us moto-crazies with tires and parts before going up the haul road. He is as opinionated as he is generous. If I remember correctly, he said he hasn’t been to the lower 48 in 30some years and only been to Anchorage five times in his life… and has no desire to go back.

So Elliott and I get our tires installed and we are off. First stop Coldfoot. The road was supposed to be bad, but as there was no rain that day, it was really not bad at all. It was actually disappointing and we were both questioning why we needed knobbies at all. There was definitely gravel and dirt, but nothing nasty and we made great time to the campground five miles outside of Coldfoot. We skipped the expensive lodging and opted for rain mosquitoes and a tent. Lodging was very expensive and are basically just left over portable dorms.

Education time again. When they built the pipeline, they worked 24/7 to get it done ASAP, as oil is money! So they had these small cities of modular dorms to house the workers. When it was all done, they sold them off and some enterprising individuals bought some for… hotels. And that’s the hotel in Coldfoot. They are old and dilapidated temporary structures. Picture a mobile home and a dorm room in an unholy alliance. So we tented it with our new friend Eryl.

We met Eryl at Don’s Tire Emporium in Fairbanks. He is on a KTM 990 Adventure (kinda like the Nissan if we were on Toyota’s) but aside from that, AND being from England (worse yet, Welsh) we take a liking to him and when he showed up at our campsite in Coldfoot, we invited him in (for $2). He’s a cool guy and on a career break from teaching university in London and spending 3 months riding all over the US and Canada. Oh, he is also on street tires… but we’ll come back to that later.

So we make it to Coldfoot and dinner is over (it’s 9:30) and we just set up camp and relax and make a fire and cook our own dinner. Eryl shows up and we all decide that the difficulty of the road is overrated. We are already halfway to Prudhoe Bay and aside from the crappy weather (and mosquitoes) it’s not been bad at all.

Overnight it gets really wet and windy. No one sleeps well. We all get up and head into town to get gas. Forgot to mention… we are on a construction zone. There are a lot of these up here. After you leave Coldfoot north towards the campground, the road is closed and you have to “hitch a ride” with a pilot vehicle to lead/guide you 5 miles to the campground. They continue another 3 miles past, pick up the cars/trucks going back south and then make a return run. Basically, it’s a one way road that changes direction a few times per hour. But we are in the middle. So when we get to the road, we have to wait until the pilot comes by and then just jump in behind them to get back into town. This happens over and over up and down the highway.

In Coldfoot, we pay $4.40/gallon for gas. The cheap stuff… not the good stuff we want- but the only thing available. Funny thing is, they have all the oil here (or just a bit up north) but it goes straight from the ground to the pipeline to tankers in south AK to refineries elsewhere and is then shipped back up here at great expense and then sold back at a ridiculous rate. I have never seen $4.40/gal gas. Doesn’t seem very economical… at least to me… and definitely not to the Alaskans… they are all a bit bitter about it.

So we are off. The pilot gets us safely through the construction zone (literally zig-zagging through dozers and back hoes that are actively working on the 1.5 lane road) and we are back on our own. It’s muddy and gravely. And it gets worse as the rain continues. It goes from bad to worse… like driving on wet sloppy concrete. Elliott and I are on knobbies and are slipping all over the place at 40MPH and Eryl is falling behind on his street tires. We slow to 30ish and it’s manageable but takes ages to make any headway. We have 240 miles to go and are struggling at 25mph. Especially when the big trucks coming south go by, they cover us with a layer of mud so visibility goes to zero. Uggh. This was supposed to be fun!!!

Then we reach another construction zone. The guard at the beginning (picture an over-paid school crossing guard). He tells us that this is only 2 miles but they got a lot more rain than expected. He said that yesterday when he was driving the pilot truck the last guy on street tires had to stop and put his feet down 6 times to get through. I don’t tell Eryl this… it won’t help him to know this.

We get going and it’s an absolute mess. I am leading the three of us (right behind the pilot truck-a pick up) and I almost wipe-out 3 times. The mud is 4-6” deep and thick soupy sludge. If you stay exactly in the deep track of the car in front of you then you are fine… but if the bike gets squirly on the mud I the bottom of the trench you are in… it’s all over. The bike had a mind of it’s own most of the time and I was just a passenger. Seemed to work out. It’s the longest two miles I can remember. Ellott and Eryl make it through alright as well but we all wonder how on earth it all worked out. And for the 10th time today I am glad I am on knobbies!!!!

We finally make it into Prudhoe Bay. What an odd place. There are hundreds or even thousands of snow vehicles sitting around waiting for winter. This place is just a giant industrial holding area for oil and gas related equipment. Right now is off-season as far as I can tell. Just the typical crews making sure oil enters the pipeline for delivery to the crews in the south. And a set of environmental people checking out that the ecosystem is still intact with the pipeline going through it. Good times.

Winter is when this place really comes alive with exploration crews manning all those vehicles.

So here we are… it’s 11PM and very much daylight. I was checking and I think that the sun stays up all night tonight but I can’t tell as the clouds are very low and it’s still raining but still light out. Leaving tomorrow and it’s gonna be a really messy with all the rain tonight.

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