Days 28/29/30

Elliott’s Post

We last left you after we had arrived in Prudhoe Bay.  That was three days ago now and it was a helluva ride getting back to civilization.

So we woke up Sunday morning in that last outpost of civilization called Deadhorse, AK.  No one lives in Deadhorse, it’s just a place where workers can stay and eat while they are working on the North Slope oilfields out in the Arctic Ocean.  Since we had endured significant expense and work just to get to this point, we were obligated to do the only real thing a tourist can do in Deadhorse and take the sanctioned oil field tour.

We had called the day in advance in order to give our personal details so they could run a background check and let us on the tour.  I guess we passed because we were allowed to pay our $45 each for the privelege of getting to hear about how great the oil industry is.  The first 20 mins was a propoganda video (an old VHS video) of the oil industry.  Then we were allowed to get on a bus and be driven out through the security checkpoint and out towards the Arctic Ocean (taking the tour is the only way of actually getting to the ocean).  The guide was a heavier set native guy that wasn’t as funny as he thought he was.  In a nutshell, there were some oilfields and some caribou and some crazy machines that they use to drive across permafrost.  You couldn’t see that much due to fog but it was cool stepping foot into the Arctic Ocean.  I’ve now been in all four major world oceans.

Tour finished and we packed up our stuff (and took enough sandwiches from the Prudhoe Bay hotel for meals for the next few days – if you ever find yourself in Prudhoe Bay, the Prudhoe Bay Hotel is the way to go, The Caribou Inn sucks).  As we got gas (and we still managed to lose each other in trying to meet up at the “only” gas station in town – apparently there’s two) we just looked at each other in the freezing drizzle and standing in the mud and we were all thinking the same thing: “f this ride back – it’s gonna suck!”.  And suck it did.  Oh my god it was appalling – the amount of mud and overall driving conditions.  At least from the ride up, we knew what to expect, but there were so many times where you would hit sections and just feel the bike would want to slip out from underneath you.  Tons of road construction sites where a huge bulldozer/grader would be coming at you (slowly) and you needed to jump to the other lane but to do so you had to cross a huge built up berm of dirt.  That was scary.  What was also scary is coming down a hill and there would be 2-3 inches of slurry on top of a slick dirt road.  Poor Eryl, at least Geoff and I had knobbies on but he was doing this in basically road tires.  He had a couple moments where he was sure he was going down (as we all did) but I think he was closest.  Going through the Brooks mountain range was gorgeous as the skies opened up a bit and there were beautiful views.  However, after the mountains it was all rain all the way to Coldfoot.  We camped in the rain, made a fire in the rain, woke up the next day in the rain, packed in the rain, and rode in the rain until it actually stopped about 100 miles from Fairbanks,.

We arrived into Fairbanks and were so happy to have finished that part of the trip – it was a bitch of ride but was certainly an accomplishment.  It was four days round trip and basically 800 miles of dirt and mud and rain and cold.  I would never do it again, but happy I did.  Back at the University of Fairbanks, we got our usual room and I did a ton of laundry trying to erase huge amounts of grime on pretty much everything I had.  I met Geoff for a beer down at the local bar and met some interesting folks.  Ronnie – the dude from Washington who works on the roads in Alaska and Mike from Pennsylvania who was riding his Harley and plans to try to make it to Prudhoe Bay.  Also, at the dorms we met a good group fo guys from Washington and Oregon who are decked out in the BMWs and are also pushing for Prudhoe.  We told them about the road conditions and they were excited about how messy it’s gonne be.  They couldn’t believe the condition of our bikes.  Even the guy who changed our tires to knobbies (and we stopped to pick up our old tires on the way back into Fairbanks) couldn’t believe the layers of mud and dirt on our bikes.  He’s been seeing trips to/from Prudhoe for years and he said our bikes were the worst he’s ever seen (so I’m not making it up about how bad things were on that road).

We woke up Tuesday and got our crap together and went down to get our bikes washed.  It took about ten minutes each of using the high pressure spray to get our bikes back to somewhat clean (and there’s some stuff that we still haven’t gotten off).  After messing about with that and repacking our bikes again (we’re now not only carrying all our regular crap but also the extra set of tires that we’ll put back on the bikes when the knobbies wear out) we got going.  Essentially Prudhoe Bay was the turn around point for me so from here on out, I’m basically going back towards Chicago.  We had wanted to ride a road called the “Top of the World” highway but there were all these reports that it was washed out and even the official DOT website said it was so we were kind of bummed but had planned a different route.  We were trying to get back into the Yukon Territory, going down a road we had already been and we stopped in Tok, Alaska for supplies.  Geoff saw a newspaper article talking about the washed out highway and he asked the clerk about it who said it was open!?!  We checked it out some more and sure enough it is open even though there’s 10 miles that are being repaired and you have to follow a pilot car.  So right after Tok, we headed north and spent last night in one of my favorite towns so far: Chicken, AK.  What a great place.  Downtown is three stores and the bar is just so cool.  There’s two permanent residents – the woman who works the post office and some old guy named Toad.  People do come through here though so there’s a couple campgrounds and it’s an old gold mining town so you can go panning for gold.

Anyway, woke up and it was dry, so that’s different. Having some coffee here in town and writing this up and leaving soon for Top of the World and then into the Yukon Territory  so goodbye Alaska.

I may have to post pictures later as internet here is very slow…

Geoff’s Post

Climbing off the mountain…

Mountain climbers say the way down the mountain is more dangerous than
the way up.  I am hoping not.  We feel like we are on top of the
world.  Not figuratively, for real.

So we made it to Prubhoe Bay covered in mud.  Get a nice night of much
needed sleep and then up early for the tour of the facility.  It’s
grey and drizzly and cold and windy.  The tour starts with a 15 minute
video produced by BP which is slightly biased towards how wonderful
oil is.  Then we get in a truck and tour the area.  It’s pretty
interesting and I can imagine it’s a crazy place in winter when it
gets really busy!

Time to leave- it’s the same conditions as when we came in (rainy and
cold) and we expect the road to be worse as it has rained all night
adding to the muddy slop we went through yesterday.

We all harbor thoughts of spending another night here and hoping the
conditions improve but at $110/night/head, our pocket books win out.

Yup- as soon as we leave it’s just as bad or worse as the ride in.
The three of us have learned a lot from the ride in so the conditions
are not as much of a struggle as they were coming in but we all slide
around on the mud like we are drunken sailors.  There is no traffic
control on the areas being worked on so we just have to bob and weave
in and out of the graders and dozers as they do their thing in the
middle of the road.  They don’t stop or slow down or even change
directions for us.  As in sailing, tonnage has rights.

The Atigun Pass is the highest paved pass in Alaska.  It’s only 4800’
but at this high of latitude that’s really high and there is still
snow on the ground in places.  We are way above the Arctic Circle.
The conditions are terrible (poor visibility and the road is a mess).
The guard rails on the sides are thrashed from trucks ping-ponging off
of them.  Then when they get too thrashed to be effective, DOT just
adds another layer right in front of the old one to they are two or
more thick.

We come down off the pass and I start to think to myself.  We are 70
miles from Coldfoot.  The end of the adventure of Prudhoe is at hand.
Then, as quickly as a drift off into philosophical thought, my bike
almost comes out from underneath me and I un-melancholy myself and get
back to surviving the ride!

The last 50 miles are long soupy slippery and slow but we eventually
make it back and set up camp in the rain… again.  I go into town to
grab a beer and see what’s happening.  For the record, town is a café
and bar combo and some dorms that serve as the hotel across the
street.  I meet Paul.  He is in his mid 60’s and getting ready to
retire from the air conditioning business in Houston.  He says it’s a
good gig and I believe it.  We chat for a while and he decides his set
up is not ready for the muddy wreck that the road is.  There is
another harly guy there(Bob) and he opts out as well.

Neat thing about this trip is we meet people from everywhere.  At one
point we are a group from San Diego, Chicago, Houston, New Hampshire
and London. All riding the same stretch of road.

The ride from Coldfoot to Fairbanks was really easy by comparison and
for us very uneventful.  Eryl gets left behind as he can’t keep up (he
is on street tires).  We agree to meet back at the University.  We run
into Paul and Bob at the Univ and they passed Eryl on the road at the
Yukon River.  He overheated as his radiator got all clogged up with
mud.  He was using a tooth pic and tooth brush to clean out all the
individual holes from the silty grey mud.  He eventually arrives
looking very tired and worn out, but happy to be back.

We don’t realize it at the time, but apparently according to the
locals, this is as bad as the road has been in years and the local
mechanic who helped us out with the tires was shocked at how much mud
we drag off the road with us.

The road we are supposed to do next is called the Top of the World
Highway and is supposed to be gorgeous.  Unfortunately, all the rain
we have been having has washed out portions of the road (it’s another
gravel/dirt affair we love so much).  So we are resigned to going back
the way we came.

We get set to leave Fairbanks and meet another group of riders.  They
are all young guys from Seattle and Portland.  They see our bikes and
hear the stories of how bad the road is and are super excited to get
going!  I can’t wait to hear about how they faired.

We made a stop at the car wash to try to clean the bikes.  Almost a
waste of time.  We got a lot of the big chunks of mud off but also
managed to spread it out so the whole bike is dirty now. Yeach.

We have a 420 mile ride today.  LONG.  We get to Tok, halfway for the
day, and go to the liquor store to get a 6-pack for our arrival.  The
area we are going is very remote.  As I look at the local paper, it
turns out the road we wanted to take is actually open!  So we make a
game-time decision to change plans and we head the 70 miles to a place
called Chicken, AK.  The road is open but in pretty bad shape.  A 10
mile section is only one lane and you have to follow a pilot car, but
it is passable.

“You can do anything you want, it’s Chicken.”

This place is an absolute trip.  The funniest town I have ever seen.
Period.  There are 12 full time residents in summer and 6 in winter
according to the guide book we have.  Three campgrounds/café’s/RV
parks competing for the same business.  They all mine gold as well in
their spare time.

The bar is a hoot.  Smaller than my garage but has more hats and stuff
hanging on the walls and ceilings than I have ever seen.  Some real
characters here as well.  And you really can do anything you want.
There are no rules.  No law.  Everyone is accepted and no one is
judged.  Just do whatever you want.

The whole town is totally off the grid.  They have no connection to
infrastructure.  No sewer, water or power.  Each business and house is
on it’s own with generators, wells and out houses.  Such characters.
Toad just had a stroke.  He rode into Chicken in the 60’s and built a
“house” and mines a secret spot nearby.  Dan the bartender is also a
biker.  36 years old and hunts bears after work. When he gets one
he’ll give the hide to his mom. He as a BMW he is working his way
riding it around the world over 5 years in the winters, then back to
Alaska in the summer to work.
Gave us a lot of interesting information on the hunting regulations in
AK.  It’s the craziest thing- a whole book. To delineate what and how
much you can kill.  Ken is 21 and just graduated from Pepperdine with
a writing degree.  Answered a Craigslist add and wound up here.  He’s
looking for adventure and stories to write about.  Apparently is
struggling a bit as he has never actually swept a floor of peeled a
potato before getting here… I guess they don’t have that class at
Pepperdine.

So here we are- sitting at the Chicken Gold Camp drinking cappuchino’s
and updating the blog with satellite internet connection before we
head out for more miles.   The goal for today is Carnooks in Yukon
Territory but we will play it by ear.

3 comments to Days 28/29/30

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