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1000 Americans: Joe Carlson, Joy, Alaska

August 16, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Friendly people

Joe Carlsson and one of his many granddaughters

Joe Carlson is a wonderful person. Joe and Nancy have adopted about 15 children, which supplemented their 8 ‘homemade’ (their own description) ones. They raised all 23 kids in their homestead, which they built from scratch. He is an entertaining person, which comes in very handy when the tourbuses come in. The sale of souvenirs is his main income, so when the large buses stop in front and a few dozen of mostly grey-haired pensioners on an Alaska tour come in, he switches on his salespitch. he greets all people in their home language, talks about the store, about Alaska, gives away free coffee and sell the souvenirs. 10 minutes later everybody is gone and he switches back to his relaxed mode.

They are a great family and their story is extraordinarily. When you are in the area of Fairbanks, do go up to mile 49,5 and visit Joe and listen to their history. Get a free coffee and a cheap delicious muffin and see what you can build up if you have determination and a free spirit.

1000 Americans: Jack Reakoff, Wiseman, Alaska. About oil drilling in Alaska.

August 15, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Friendly people, Go green

_MG_9996-Wiseman-Jack-reakoff-house

‘I have been living in Wiseman since 1971, when I was 13. I have to go to Fairbanks to get supplies every 3-4 months, but hate it.’

Jack Reakoff is one of Wiseman’s famous faces and voices. he seems to know a lot about a lot and works part-time as a tourguide, showing busloads of tourists around Wiseman and telling all about its history. Whenever there is a radio discussion about a current topic, Jack calls in and he has been featured in books, videos and guides. he sells fur from animals he hunts and traps and beads to make necklaces and jewelry.

He has a clear opinion about the oil industry and the thoughts behind the pressure to start drilling in the last remaining wilderness in the arctic:

‘It’s all political. Due to new drilling methods there is actually more oil in the North Slope available than there was when they started drilling a few decades ago. But they have to lower the output, which serves them for several reasons: firstly, the pipeline will not break. It is old and corrosion has lowered the maximum pressure that can go through. Read more

1000 Americans: 8 Ball, Wiseman, Alaska

August 15, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Friendly people

_MG_9998-8ball-close-cabin

8-Ball, is one of the 33 inhabitants of Wiseman, Alaska. He had worked on the pipeline and has climbed some mountains in the area. He set us up with a cabin for 2 nights and even gave us some fresh lettuce, with dressing! He is the new owner of the Wiseman Trading Post, the old general store slash museum.

‘Yes, the General Store is mine. I bought it a few years ago, when the guy owning it moved out. I am not really using it, but wanted to prevent some tourist company buying it and making it into a tourist attraction.’

What is his real name?

‘8 Ball is how they know me and what I answer to, and it is how I am in the phonebook.’

Only when checking his store, I notice a small card saying to whom checks to pay for t-shirts and souvenirs can be written out to. Apparently the bank does not know ‘8 Ball’. Next to the card is a jar and a sign stating: ‘We use the honour system, please deposit the money for what you bought in the glass jar’. Below the packages of chewing gum that are marked with 30cts is a little note: ‘The gum is 30cts. Only got 25? Close enough’

‘Yes, I have no time to stand in the shop all the time. if people really want to take anything without paying for it, they can have it.’

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.’

1000 Americans: Beth, from Bend, Oregon

August 15, 2008 by  
Filed under 1000 Americans

_MG_9994-Bethany-wiseman

Beth works for one of the tour companies in Alaska and visits Wiseman regularly. I noticed the tattoo aroudn her wrist: a bicycle chain with a tooth.

‘Yeah, I crashed hard one time on my bicycle and lost some teeth, this is to remind me. I run a Bicycle coop in Bend, Oregon. We try to promote cycling, repair bikes and teach about road safety.’

————-

Now there is a real biker-chick! Thanks for making the world a bit greener, maybe others can follow in promoting cycling.

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

July 25, 2008 by  
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

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

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  
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  
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  
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

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