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Day 10-13: 21-24th july 2008; Days of hell on the Dalton; from B-day to back to Fairbanks!

July 25, 2008 by , 1,669 views  
Filed under Alaska, North America, Trip reports

21st July, a long and tough B-day party!

I went to sleep at the Arctic circle age 37 and woke up being 38, great place for a b-day. The road that Ivana had spotted had a name, which is always bad news. It was called the ‘Beaver Slide’ which could be pleasant in different contexts, but in our case it meant 3km of steep uphill cycling at a 10% grade. The asphalt had ended, so we were back on mud and gravel and the returning rain made it even more difficult.

The rain and hills did not stop all day but still we were in a good mood. Just when we thought we had enough hills, we entered the area which was called ‘The Rollercoaster’ and it deserved its name. We had been warned beforehand by some people as the big trucks cannot slow down on these hills and cannot avoid us well. In order to get up the next hill, they have to go full speed down, else they will not make it.

_MG_0088-Harry-rollercoasterWell, on a fully loaded bike you cannot go down at full speed as you will break it, so we usually start braking at about 50km (30mi)/hrs speeds when on the mud and gravel as there are potholes everywhere. This means that we cannot make it back uphill, and many times we had to get off the bike and push it up.

Just when I was pushing my bike on part of the Rollercoaster, called the Sand Hill, I noticed something moving on the side of the road and I stopped pushing. A large dark brown shape swiftly crossed the muddy road, some 20 meters/70 feet in front of us. Read more

Day -1: Amsterdam to Fairbanks

July 24, 2008 by , 3,041 views  
Filed under Alaska, Friendly people, Gear & stuff, North America, Sponsors, Trip reports

After all the planning, we were anxious to get on the plane. Romke again suffered sleep deprivation because of our trip and woke up with us and took our bikes and all bags to Schiphol airport at 5 in the morning. It was raining cats and dogs (or lions and hyenas as we use to say in Tanzania, but that is a different post about our preparations that we still have to write :)

We had booked with Condor airlines, but the first leg (Amsterdam to Frankfurt) is executed by Lufthansa. It was a messy check-in, but while we were busy preparing our bikes for the transport, we were pleasantly surprised to meet up with our friend Bas. He works on a project at the airport, heard we were leaving and came in a few hours early to boost our sense of humour as always :)

Condor had been nice to us by allowing extra luggage, free transportation of our bicycles and the lowest ticket price.

One of the best things they offer is cheap international one way tickets. somehow all major airlines charge more for a one way ticket than a return ?!? Anyway, as we try to minimize our flying because of environmental impact, we were also happy to find out that Condor flies directly from Europe to Canada/Alaska instead of going through major hubs in the lower 48. This makes the trip shorter and therefore cleaner.

The Lufthansa part was great, the check-in easy and the on board service friendly. We could check our luggage all the way through to Fairbanks, so at the huge -and customer unfriendly- Frankfurt airport, all we had to do is get new boarding passes for the 2nd flight. Well, it turned out that is was lucky that we had a 3 hour lay-over, as we needed it between walking from one end to another and queuing up at Condor..

The flight itself was basic, no personalized TV, but I can live with that in exchange for a few hundred euros saved. Besides, we crashed (no pun intended) in our seats the moment we sat down and only woke up for drinks and meals… The food was nice and the views (perfectly announced by the friendly pilot when applicable) were outstanding, seeing the Norwegian coastline, Jan Mayen island & volcano, Greenland and Northern Canada, before we stopped for a while in Whitehorse, Canada. Another hour later we touched down in Fairbanks, Alaska, just a few degrees south of the polar circle.

We were delighted to see that not only our bikes, but also our bags made it. Less happy I was when I noticed that some baggage handler along the way had roughly turned my front wheel in such a rough manner that it had scratched my frame and destroyed my front light. Immigration was very friendly here and very interested in our trip and gave us no trouble.

While we were reorganizing our gear and fixing our bikes a huge rainshower passed and Ivana and I looked at each other with a frightened look and started looking for our Vertical raingear. Our bikes were heavy and we were both grumpy, until we saw the campy roadsign that welcomed us.

We had been in contact with Ericka *& Miles through the excellent Couchsurfing community, offering hospitality between/to travellers. Her house was easy to find and we were welcomed to our own room where the packages I had ordered were already waiting: a new lens for my camera, some memory cards, a new stove and a big box from Big Agnes/Honey Stinger with our new tent and a lot of energy gels and bars.

Ericka let us call to Matt at the Northern Alaska Tour company and we were pleased to hear that one of their vans was leaving the next morning, and they were offering us free seats for us and our bikes and gear, all the way to Deadhorse! This is the name of the community near Prudhoe Bay, close to the Arctic ocean as we could get and the start of the Dalton Highway. This was perfect!

Ericka helped enormously by driving us from one store to another to get some last minute supplies lie some spare inner tubes, dinner and breakfast and bearspray! (As I mentioned in my first post, they did not have after-bear..).

Fairbanks is 10 hours later than Amsterdam, so our day was already 34 hours long. We were tired after all the lack of sleep but as we would leave in a few hours, time to sort our stuff again: what would we not need the first 2 weeks? Mistakes can be fatal for us or our bikes on one of the roughest roads imaginable…

Day -x: Preparations: making a mess and saying goodbye

July 24, 2008 by , 4,889 views  
Filed under Friendly people, Gear & stuff, Netherlands, Preparations, Trip reports

We are now several days on the road and have some time to write some proper reports. Frankly I am amazed I can type this, as I was sure that the constant bumping of our bikes and bags over the very rough roads would have destroyed Lenny (Our Lenovo X300 laptop), but surprisingly it still works as always, long live the solid state harddisks. If you can actually read this, then it means it has survived all 2 weeks of Dalton Highway, one of the most infamous pieces of dirt road in the world…

But let’s go back a few weeks, back to the lowlands and share our journey with you in words and images.

I am not sure if it is me (us) or is there just no way to properly prepare for a 2.5 year trip? We had been planning since a year ago and still many things had to be done in literally the last minute. At least you can get a lot more done if you use the 8 hours we normally waste on sleeping on working and preparing :)

As our house was already rented out, we moved back and forth between my mom’s house and Romke & Anouks place. R&A have two wonderful kids and they were happy to assist in sorting out all the gear we received from our wonderful sponsors, this is Kira, checking out the Ortlieb and Carrera gear that Jacobsons sent us.

and this is how part of their livingroom looked during their vacation:

Thanks again, Romke & Anouk & Kira & Jelte, we would not have made it without you.

We took the train up North to say goodbye to my Mother and Sister. By the way, in The Netherlands we have a great railway system, which will get you everywhere in no time. of course people like to complain about the train service, but i think it is perfect, there are even a lot of special spaces for bicycles in every carriage, very useful to do some last minute fine-tuning:

My Mum helped us with some last things and we even managed to make a mess in her place. She was very sad; even though I have been away for many months at a time in the past, this will be the longest period away so far.

My sister lives close and we also visited her to say goodbye. We had a nice dinner at a organic Indonesian restaurant in Assen, with great food and service and we could even park our bikes inside. As with my mom, she was in tears when we waved goodbye from the train, but again somehow I was not sad, maybe we will see each other soon again.

Ivana had already said goodbye to her family in March, when she came to Amsterdam. But thanks to the wonders of skype and broadband Internet, she had been talking/videoconferencing with her mum and sister (that almost have the same names as mine) every evening for hours, while packing and sorting stuff.

Going on all these adventures is selfish in a way as we are worrying our friends and family. But I think we can repay their concerns and affection with stories and images and knowledge that we are following our hearts.

ps: we also had a nice going away slash b-day party, but i will post the images in a separate post once we find the images again :)

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Day 8-9, 19/20th July 2008: Wiseman – Arctic Circle. Thoughts about food, Alaska & angels..

July 21, 2008 by , 1,854 views  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Alaska, Friendly people, North America, Trip reports

It was time to say goodbye to Wiseman and 8-Ball, even though we could have stayed much longer. He asked us not to tell everybody he was such a nice guy, but we said that we could not do this.

Just when we were cycling out of town, we heard an engine behind us and 8-ball appeared on a small 4×4 vehicle that every Alaskan seems to have nowadays. 8-ball stopped besides me.

‘I forgot my manners. As you were going to Coldfoot for some lunch, I just thought, maybe I can make you some soup! Do you want some?’

The we did something that biketravellers normally never do: we turned him down.

‘Thanks for the offer 8-ball, much appreciated, but you already have done so much for us. We have to go.’

And off we went. The road was not as bad as we had left it 2 days before and soon we arrived in Coldfoot, the leftover from the Pipeline and mining town. Now it is mainly a truckstop, serving Alaskan-sized portions of food. as mentioned, most cyclist do not have epiphanies when cycling. The only deep thoughts that cross our minds are usually either:

  • When can we eat again? I am hungry..
  • Damn, that wind is again slowing me down, when will we get tailwind?!? Is that another rain cloud up there?
  • Should we stop for lunch now and push another mile or two?
  • 20 miles cycled today, so that is 32km, so almost 11km per hour. Seems it is time to stop for a snack, but maybe then it will take too long until dinner..
Truck lined up in Coldfoot

Truck lined up in Coldfoot

As you can see, the thoughts of a biketraveller are mostly about basic subjects: food and cycling, distance and weather. Ivana and I both admitted to eachother that we increased our speed when approaching Coldfoot, making non-stop calculations: ‘Coldfoot is at Mile 175, this is Mile 171, so 4 miles, that is 6.4km. We go 13km per hour now, so almost 30 minutes to lunch. Oh no, uphill, 40 minutes to lunch. Great going down again, only 10 minutes to lunch now.’

_MG_0031-Ivana-Pablito-Arctic-CircleSuddenly we both realised independently a horrible possibility: what if the other cyclist had come to Coldfoot before us and had already bought al the snickers bars!?! Read more

Day 4-6: 16/17/18 July: Galbraith lake – Wiseman

July 19, 2008 by , 4,802 views  
Filed under Alaska, Friendly people, North America, Trip reports

P1080140-Harry-road-truck-dustAs the other cyclists were sound asleep and they would be faster, Ivana & I left before them. We were greeted by a very strong headwind, which promised not much good for the next 30 miles up to the pass. Fortunately it was still dry most of the time and further relief was brought by some friendly people on the road.

When I stopped to wait for Ivana, I met a few women, who worked at the Toolik Lake research center. They were intrigued by our trip and even more by the Solar Supra solarpanel I had on the back (which charges even when in cloudy conditions). They took some photos, to share with their class and treated us on some homemade cookies, yummm…_MG_9948-Hugo-family-cars

Just down the road I noticed two huge 4×4 vehicles coming our way. What struck me were not the many different stickers, but the Argentina- Alaska notice and I stopped them. It appeared to be the family of Hugo, which I will introduce in a separate post. we are starting to meet so many nice persons, that I am going to start a different category: 1000 Americans. Not sure if we will get to write about 1000 different people during this trip, but we will definitely meet them. For now let me just say that they gave what we needed most: a cup of coffee for Ivana and a Twix, Oreo cookies and some other treats for both of us!

_MG_9953-Kowalski-Aigun-passNo more excuses now, we had to get up to the infamous Atigun Pass in order to cross the Brooks Range and the roads started to climb into the clouds. The rain came back as well and the final hours up to the pass were quite gruesome, chilling us to the bone.

_MG_9955-Harry-Atigun-pass-self

The last section was so steep that Ivana and I both had to walk for a bit. I arrived first on the pass, but as it is not a touristy road, there was no sign, no shelter & no place to hide from the storm. But luckily, a truck was parked and I could shelter behind, waiting for Ivana to appear from the mist.  Ok, into the wind and downhill! Read more

Day 3 & 4: 14/15th July: Mile 333 – 301 – Galbraith lake

July 16, 2008 by , 2,598 views  
Filed under Alaska, Friendly people, North America, Trip reports

14th July

Happy B-day Shaunie Shiny Shoes and PJW!

The first hour was flat but muddy, which made it hard going and slow. At least, there were not too many mosquitos while cycling, so we could leave the headnets off. Suddenly the hils were back in full force.

Dalton Highway Rule #8 for cyclists: if a hill has a name, it is mostly bad news as it will be very steep..

We were definitely nearing the Brooks Range now. The vague shapes we had seen in the distance were coming into focus and turned out to be nice mountains. The road meandered through but was already slowly going up as well. The road looked friendly, but the many remains of exploded tired reminded of what the Information booklet had told us: Read more

Day 2: Dalton Highway, mile 387 – 333, 13th July 2008

July 14, 2008 by , 2,433 views  
Filed under Alaska, North America, Trip reports

People who know me, know that I am generally quite laid back. I hate a few things though: intolerance, dishonesty, general stupidity. And mosquitos. Especially mosquitos.

The wind was gone and the air was filled with a low but constant buzzing noise. Millions of mosquitos were hovering above the tundra. In Alaska the mosquitos are not just annoying, they are annoying in very large quantities and sizes. We were warned about them and fortunately Peter from Outdoordacht had supplied us with some Sea to Summit head nets. It might sound excessive, but unless you have experienced this, you have no idea how crazy these bugs can drive you.

We had our breakfast inside our tent and then packed quickly and headed off. We noticed that as long as you were cycling, it was still reasonably doable, but when stopping, even for a moment, the mozzies would attack. we almost wished for the wind to return, not sure yet, which of the two makes the cycling the hardest. Read more

Day 1: 12 July 2008: Prudhoe Bay to Mile 383

July 13, 2008 by , 2,844 views  
Filed under Alaska, North America, Trip reports

You lose all sense of time when it doesn’t get darker at night. The sun doesn’t set at 70 degrees North, but just circles around you like a vulture above a fresh kill. As we do not have watches, only our cycle computers and Lenny could tell us what time it was. The other cyclists were buys packing as they were on the 08.00 tour, but as our tour only started 6 hours later, we enjoyed the extra hours to relax for the first time in weeks.

When we finally headed over to the Caribou Inn, they had already finished and were preparing for their trip. As a biketraveller, you have to take care with your money, as you never know where you might need it. That is why we were hesitant to attack the $18 lunch buffet that the cyclists had raved about. Once we took our group picture outside and said goodbye to the others, we had made up our mind to feast; but we were too late as lunch was over.

Only then we found the hidden secret of the Caribou Inn: the packed lunch. For $10 you could take a quite large paper bag and fill it with whatever you like. I am sure they had no idea how many salmonburgers, hamburgers, ham/cheese & salami sandwiches, chocolate cake, yogurt, fruit juice and potato salad a pair of cyclists could fit in just one bag :) Read more

Day 0: 11th July 2008: from Fairbanks to Deadhorse

July 12, 2008 by , 1,776 views  
Filed under Alaska, North America, Trip reports

Again, we had no sleep, but our bodies seem to have gotten used to that by now and anyway, it doesn’t get dark here!

We left Ericka’s place at about 4.30 in the morning as we wanted to be sure we would arrive in time and cycled through the empty streets of Fairbanks. It is strange but nice to be in a place where it never gets dark, it makes many things so much easier. We cycled past the airport until we found the office of the Northern Alaska Tour company. We were welcomed by a bunch of very friendly people, who were all interested in our trip. They mostly do trips to the Arctic circle and places like Wiseman & Coldfoot, but also regularly all the way to Deadhorse.

Our driver was Michelle, a great girl with much knowledge about everything. she had been driving the roads for many years and was a joy to talk to. Our other passengers were Dan & Curt. Dan was a politician, working for Condoleezza Rice -so unemployed soon- going to his family’s cabin ear he Yukon River.

Read more

Up and running!

July 11, 2008 by , 2,089 views  
Filed under Alaska, Friendly people, North America, Trip reports

Well, we are not able to stop running it seems :), we are off to the start in a few minutes!

But already we have our choice of Good People to mention. First Romke helped us out so much (again) yesterday by dropping us at the schiphol Airport. Thanks for all your horpsitality Rom & Anouk, and sorry for the mess we made in your wonderful house!

We were greeted at Schiphol by Bas who helped with the check-in as we were too sleepy ourselves to do it!

To our amazement, all our gear arrived in Fairbanks with usm meaning all 12 bags and two bikes! Shame my headlight was busted by some aggressive bagage handler, but the good news is that we do not need to worry about it as it does not get dark here for the next few weeks :)

We found our way to the CouchSurfing hosts Erick and Miles who helped us out by taking us around the shops for the last minute shopping: inner tubes, mosquitonet-gloves and bear-spray! I asked about ‘after-bear’, but that did not really get any useful answers, just some blank stares…

They let us stay in their house and we had a nice dinner together. Ericka had also accepted the packages we sent them, so now we have a brandnew Big Agnes tent and plenty of Honey stinger bars to test!

Matt Atkinson from the Northern Alaska Tour Company had already been great by email and confirmed it by phone: we are going with them to Prudhoe Bay today, free of charge! Thaks Matt & Katie. Does this mean we have slept last night: no, but that is ok, we had not for the past weeks. But we are happy and are going out right now. We will try to start cycling down from Prudhoe bay tomorrow, which will probably take at least 12-14 days before we get back to Fairbanks and the real world, so we can post updates and images.

So see you then, lookin forward to your reactions,

All teh best from the last Frontier,

Harry & Ivana

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