July 24 – July 29: resting & recovering in Fairbanks
We spent almost a week in Fairbanks, relaxing and catching up on resting, washing, shopping & working. Besides the overwhelming abundance of We were pleasantly surprised food-wise on two occasions. First the day after we arrived at Ericka’s place, they celebrated Miles’ b-day and we were invited to share the pizza, coke and pie and meet some of their family.
The next day we went out to see a bit more of Fairbanks and we cycled around the town visiting some places along the way like the lovely Farmer’s market, selling extremely expensive but . There were no video camera batteries for my camcorder anywhere in the city, so not sure if and what I can film before the next big city, which is Vancouver, 4000km away…
At the end of the day we visited the Pioneer Park, a place for tourists and locals to hang out. It is a bit corny, but they preserved and moved some of the oldest houses of Fairbanks here. We noticed a lot of people eating and unconsciously followed them to the source. We ended up at a set of tables, covered with fresh fruit, salad, chocolate cake, chips and meat. Besides it were a few large containers filled with cans of soft drinks, it was biketravellers’ heaven.
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.
Well, 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
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…
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