Day 10-13: 21-24th july 2008; Days of hell on the Dalton; from B-day to back to Fairbanks!
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. The sun was in front of us, so I could only see the silhouette, but knew what it was, a big black wolf. I turned around to quietly alert Ivana, who was a few meters behind me, but she was watching the road and did not notice. A second later, the wolf was gone into the forest on the other side. I told Ivana to stay close to me, got out the bearspray and the knife and quietly we pushed our bikes up the hill. On top of the hill, we found the cyclists Jason and Ben, who were cooking up some lunch. When I told them a wolf just passed between us, some 60 meters away from their lunchspot, they suddenly realized that we were still in the wild out here..
I got a wonderful 15km downhill for my b-day, through mountains lined with fields of pink fireweed flowers. We ended up doing more than 90km/ 56mi and almost 1500m vertical (almost a mile), both records so far. The perfect end to my b-day was arriving at the ‘5mile Hotspot Cafe’, a crazy place filled with Alaskan humor, where two ladies were serving food! The others had already passed us and had finished their veggie-burgers. We got two huge hamburgers with a plate of fresh vegetables and to top it off the guys bought me a piece of pie with icecream!
22nd July: 5-Mile Cafe – Mile 15
Just 5 miles down the road was another surprise: the Yukon River cafe. I still felt a little b-day-ish, so I bought a big salmon burger for breakfast. The others were feasting on pancakes while I even took a shower, the first one since Amsterdam
Then it was time to get back down to business.. First we crossed the huge Yukon River, which we will see again in a few weeks in Whitehorse, Canada. A big bridge, covered with wood crossed the river, on a 6% angle. I checked the sides and bottom of the bridge as Jack Reakoff from Wiseman had told me to (see his story about the oil industry here) and sure there was enough room built in to hang another 2 or 3 pipelines…
Again we were fooled by the people all around, making us feel we had finished the Dalton. There was a lot of road work going on and some parts were getting paved, but we went even more up and down than the day before, but in only 70km distance. From the river we went up 500 vertical meters. Not too steep, but almost 15km of uphill will wear anybody out..
At the end of the day we were all beat and camped on an old road, enjoying our pasta meals..
23rd July: Mile 15 – Arctic Trading Post
After 15 miles of dirt, we finally reached the point where the Dalton Highway starts, mile 0! We made it. 700km/440mi of dirt, gravel, potholes, wildlife, rain and more than 8km (5mi)of uphill climbing. It is a classic bicycle roads in the world and I am very proud that Ivana made it as well, she did great.
We made the ‘after’ picture with the other guys, with te same line-up and order; you can compare it with the ‘before’ image from a few posts bacl 😉
We were back on the asphalt again, only the Elliot Highway was separating us from all the supermarkets in Fairbanks. Unfortunately the hills didn’t stop, we almost had no minute of horizontal riding and though the bumps were lower than before and the road was perfect, we still went up more than 1200m/4000ft. We stopped on an exposed pull-out to cook some dinner, together with the other biketravellers. Ivana and I had no clue where exactly Joe’s Arctic Trading post was, the warm place where we stopped on our trip up. We knew it was somewhere on this highway, but where?
We decided to go downhill until we’d find some water and some place to camp. The latter did not seem to be easy as the forest was thick and all exit roads had big signs displaying unfriendly messages like: ‘Keep Out’, ‘Private Property’, & ‘Insured by Smith & Wesson’. At least we were on a downhill, so we just zoomed past these unwelcoming notices. Turning a corner, we suddenly saw a big wooden house: the Arctic Trading Post!
We rushed in and asked for Joe, but he was out. Instead his daughter Molly helped us out. We were all overwhelmed by the choice of foods and snacks. When I settled on a can of vegetable juice and some huge muffins and brought them over to Molly to pay, she gave me back half my money?
‘I thoughts the drinks and muffins were $1 each (which was already a very good price in Alaska)?’
‘Yes, but you are cyclists.’ She replied matter-of-factly.
‘Well, we had some biketravellers from Scotland, then from Japan and then cyclists from all over the world stopped here. They were such good people and we liked them all so much, so we decided all biketravellers are good people and they all get 50% off our snacks and drinks!’
That was so great and made us even happier than the food itself.
Later Joe came in and not only offered us the rest of the muffins and coffee for free, but also told us some more about his family’s history. (Read more about Joe here in the 1000 Americans category.)
Joe invited us to pitch our tents on the soft grass near his duck pond and we gladly accepted and we fell into a deep sleep.
Day 13: 24th July, back to Fairbanks!
We could almost smell ‘home’ though the Alaskan hills were not giving up on us easily. Actually when we reached Ericka’s house again, we had just cycled our longest (95km/60mi) and highest day (>1500m /5000ft up and down). But the asphalt road made everything seem easy and for a change the weather was good. (‘What are those strange black things on the road?’ ‘Those are our shadows!’).
We had tried to call Ericka so got no answer, so we did not know if we were welcome. It turned out that we came back on Miles’ b-day, but we were welcomed nevertheless. We love camping, but it was nice to sleep in a bed again, having cycled 840km horizontally and 10.5km vertically since Prudhoe Bay.
We realized that we survived one of the hardest parts of the trip. We lost a lot of excess weight, which should make other climbs easier. We met extraordinary people living in extraordinary places. we had the privilege to witness the wild side of Alaska, which is already wild by anybody’s standards…
Kowalski, status reports!
6km up and down in 4 days, quite a finale…
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