Day 1: 12 July 2008: Prudhoe Bay to Mile 383
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
The tour started with a very old and used copy of a promotional video about the wonderful world of oil exploration and how well they take care of the environment. We had double feelings: without the oil, the road would not have been here and neither would we, but the industrial mess outside was removing all sense of wilderness from this place.
The only reason we wanted to go on the tour is that it is the only way you can go to the actual water. The Beaufort sea aka Arctic Ocean is 13km away from Deadhorse and the entire area is oilcompany-controlled. So it cost us $38 each, but we got to stand in Arctic waters, let’s see if we can have a similar image at 53 degrees South, in Ushuaia in a few years!
We had expected it to be freezing, but the water was not too bad. Actually, with the sandy coast and the sun, it felt like a fresh day at the beach. In winter this should all be covered in Arctic ice, but for how long? When I asked the retired but still working tour driver if he had noticed any change in seasons during the last few decades, he did not really answer the question, but switched over to a story of Polar Bears, who were not threatened according to him as they still were bothered by them.
Back at the Inn, we said goodbye to Darryll, the friendly cook. We did some last minute adjustments and headed off. It was not a good start. The wind was ferocious and the gravel road tough going. even though it was completely flat, we were both in 2nd gear (of our Rohloff’s 14 gears) and our ‘speed’ was about 8km/hr. I had serious doubts: if the wind would not change, we would need several weeks to get back to Fairbanks and we only brought about 2 weeks of food, of which we left half in Coldfoot on the way up yesterday…
We turned right onto the Dalton Highway, our home for the next weeks, and the wind was blowing from the side now. I had stopped to take a picture of the last signs we would see for a while, when the wind blew Kowalski right off his feet, even though he was fully loaded and stood stable on two stands.
Then we turned just a little more. Not much, but just enough for the wind to be in our back a little bit. We increased to about 20km/hour when the road would let us and flew over the tundra.
The sun was burning and soon we had to shed some layers, it was getting warm! Even though it was after dinnertime and we were at 70 degrees North, we were cycling in our light pants and T-shirt most of the time.
Our lunch bag served us a good dinner as well and as we did not have to cook we could continue cycling for a while. The landscape was empty, besides a few lonely caribou and some big trucks we did not see more than grass and lakes and of course the gravel of the road beneath our wheels.
The road turned just a few degrees, but it was enough to let the wind blow us off our bikes. We suddenly felt the accumulated tiredness in our legs and decided to call it a day. We found a grassy spot, with some bush to protect us a bit from the wind. There was an empty Shovel machine nearby, with its doors unlocked. So we could leave our foodbag safely inside, protected from bears and vermin. Even the keys were inside so it was very tempting to drive it around. But as we were here to show that you can travel without burning gallons of gasoline, I let it go. The fact that I had no clue how to use one of these machines played a small part as well
We were both exhausted and literally fell asleep when we hit our sleepingbags. I woke up the next morning with my toothbrush still inside my hands, while outside a strange loud buzzing sound had replaced the howling of the fierce wind…
Kowalski! Status report!
For those interested in facts and numbers, I will add some trip figures at the end of every post, Kowalski’s Status report We had not yet figured out our new cycling computers yet though
, so I cannot show you the graph. But basically we cycled about 52km, in about 4 hours. We hardly gained any altitude, maybe 20m.
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