Ketchican, a very different lifestyle.
Home for three days, two decks booked.
Amazing lighting on calm waters, a photographers heaven!
Petersburg at 3:00am
More surreal imagery
Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau.
Still more stunning scenery
A beautiful spot to camp on the bay, Hains
Chilkat state park, Hains
The bald eagle
Purple wild flowers line the road.
14.06.04 – THE INSIDE PASSAGE
Up early and got the bike packed and us down to the ferry terminal by 7:45am. This is one of the big highlights of our trip and we're both really excited. We'd been advised to get an early spot on the 'solarium' so after boarding, I strapped the bike down and Dianne secured our recliner chairs that would become our beds for the two nights. Dianne got everything sorted but unfortunately this vessel would not take us all the way to Haines. Mechanical problems with another ferry means we will have to swap vessels in Ketchikan, about 5 hours away. At Ketchican, we played the same game and ended up with a good spot on the solarium where we made 'camp'. This area is designated as temperate rain forest and Ketchican has the dubious distinction of being one of the wettest places in the world with over 160 inches of rain annually.
The scenery through this inside passage is totally awesome. I know I've probably said that before but really the scenery just keeps getting better and better. Either side of the boat and to the front and back are hills and mountains that soar from the edge of the ocean. Many are snow capped and some have glaciers and the camera is doing overtime.
As we head north and approach the summer solstice the days are getting longer and the sunset tonight is spectacular. Trouble is it's happening around 10:30pm and we're both pretty exhausted from the day's events. Never mind, we soldier on and eventually get to 'bed' about 11:00pm. A tip for other travelers - for $US1.00 you can hire a fluffy pillow that makes for a much more comfortable sleep on the recliners.
Midnight and we dock at Wrangler, a small town on the way. We're told that the passage through the Wrangler narrow, an hour away, is worth getting up for, so after the boat departs, we catch another hours sleep. This passageway is the second narrowest that the US Coast Guard allows ocean going vessels to pass through and although dark is unique. A series of marker lights chart the path and illuminate the ocean.
We catch another hours sleep before docking in Petersburg at 3:00am. Already it is starting to get light and we are surrounded it seems by huge snow capped mountains rising from the ocean. The twilight, if you can imagine, providing a surreal visual experience. Despite being dog tired, we couldn't miss this and a large coffee soon has us bug eyed, clicking away with the camera like made. The temperature was close to freezing and at 5:00am we decided to have a quick breakfast down in the cafe. The food here though not terrific is quite affordable and not as expensive as we expected, even considering our budget. A short nap till about 6:30am, can't miss anything!
Most of the passengers on the ferry are older retired couples. They sit downstairs in the observation lounge where it's warm and comfortable. We can go down to the observation lounge too, but choose to stay in the fresh air on the solarium with most of the younger people. It has become 'our' spot even though it looks a bit like a ghetto with packs and sleeping bags strewn around. As the morning progresses, the 'cabin class' move up to enjoy the beautiful sun on the solarium. There is a mutual resentment from the ghetto dwellers towards these 'intruders', nothing nasty, but this is our spot.
(There's never a dull moment as whales and dolphins are spotted in the distance all day. There's a continual mad dash for the camera and then when one whale flopped out of the water right in front of me, I was so amazed all I could do was to try and take it all in.) DD
6.00am and we arrive at Juneau (2), a small town and the capital of Alaska. We had hoped to stop over here for a day or two but that wasn't possible. As a consolation, we were able to take the bike off the ferry for the one and a half hours it was docked. ( I should mention that the crew of our boat were 'can do' people. If we had a request, they would do everything possible to make it happen). We chose to use this time to visit the Mendenhall Glacier, only 15km from the ferry terminal.
This was our first opportunity to get up close to a glacier and we weren't disappointed. With crystal clear skies and the still waters of the lake reflecting the surrounding mountains and the glacier, we were captivated. Glaciers which can be thousands of years old, have a bluish tinge to them caused by the compressed ice which absorbs all light waves but only reflects the blue light wave, giving them a distinctive character of their own.
Another highlight today is to pass through an even narrower passage to Sitka. This is the narrowest passage the coast guard allow ocean going vessels to pass through and in the daylight, we marvel at the skill of the captain as he 'leans her in and hangs the tail out' to get through this wonderland.
Sitka (map:1), originally a Russian town, has a rich and varied history. We are fortunate to be able to get off and take a tour of the town for two hours. Population 8000, Sitka has 10 000 registered boats, so fishing both professionally and recreationally figures highly.
Tonight we lash out for an extra pillow for the old hips and enjoy some good catchup sleep.
Sadly, our destination Haines (3), and the end of our ferry trip. We've had such a good time and urge other travelers to take this voyage. We're still feeling sleep deprived so find a wonderful campsite, Salmon Run, pitch the tent and sleep for a couple of hours.
Feeling revived we took a ride around following the bay to where the Chilkoot stream enters, then further to the lake. Salmon feature so prominently in this part of the world and spawning salmon seek out the fresh water where they hatched years earlier and locate the streams that flow from lake. There was a man made weir on the stream managed by the department of fisheries and periodically the ranger, or his assistant, would remove a picket, providing a small opening for the salmon to swim through. As they swim through the gap he counts them. This allows the authorities to monitor salmon numbers and so control commercial fishing. Dianne as usual is on the lookout for wildlife.
(Promo brochures boast that this is the place to spot the bald eagle, seals, bear after the salmon and mountain goats on the glacier scoured hill slopes. Well we saw the first two but it must be too hot for the other creatures.)DD
Later on we head into town, find a pub/diner and order "the best Halibut and chips" on the west coast.
A slow day today. Laundry and a short ride around the area and a visit to Chilkat state park, then to the local library to check on email. (Please keep those emails coming). Dianne checked out the local art galleries and did some shopping and I burnt some CDs. We take so many digital photos that we are running out of disc space, so burning CDs, and sending them home allows us to free up some disc space.
19/6/04 – BACK INTO CANADA and out
Woke up early (6:30) with blazing sunshine and decided to pack up and head north on the Hains Hwy to the Canadian border and Haines Junction. This designated scenic highway took us through the Chilkat pass with yet more snow capped mountains and some snow almost at the roadside. Seemed somewhat artificial to be so close to the snow with temperatures in the high 20s Centigrade. There was a major cycling event on, I'm guessing from Haines Junction to Haines, around 280km, and the road was packed with cyclists and their support vehicles. I saw rider number 902, so you can see there were quite a few of them, mainly girls it seemed. There were no other fuel stops between Haines and Haines Junction, as the things become more remote and the wilderness surrounds us.
As the day wore on it became hotter and hotter and dustier and dustier as we ventured further north into the Yukon. The trees have become smaller and almost all the mature Spruce in some areas are dead. Seems a beetle that favours the mature trees is responsible and according to the state park lady, is considered a natural event in the overall life cycle. Purple wild flowers line the road and lead us ever onward toward the horizon.
Fuel is expensive here in Canada, around $C1.06 a litre. That's about $C4.00 a gallon. In the US, fuel is about $US2.40 a gallon, so we're keen to get back into the US tomorrow. This area is a little like the Australian outback with very little development, and 'roadhouses' for fuel and accommodation and nothing much in between. We've stopped at one of these tonight $C9.00,for a pretty basic but OK campsite. Ablutions are interesting and a preparation for Central Americia!
It's 9.30pm, temp. is still in the mid 20s and it's still light. It generally gets dusky around 11.00pm and is light again by 3.00am.
Stunted trees and lakes of the low land marsh areas. Yes that's a Moose!
An incredable beast.
we passed through more snow capped mountains and glaciers
In a glacier valley
Must touch that age old ice of the glacier
Valdez harbour, what a setting for lunch, of course the best halibut on the west coast!
More glaciers in the distant mountains, taiger forests in the foreground, can't complain about the view as we sit and wait at the stop sign for road works.
Wild flowers all around us throughout the trip, so much colour. These are the Fireweed flowers, 1st up after a fire.
20/6/04 – ALASKA AGAIN
Woke and packed up early to beat the heat. We shared an omelet on toast then headed along the bumpy pot holed road they call the Alcan Highway. (Alaskan Canadian). Numerous gravel sections make riding tricky. Seems that rather than repair some sections, they just remove the bitumen and leave the loose gravel. We cross the USA boarder north of Beaver Creek and the roads improve.
Dianne has been wanting to see a Moose for ages and today her wishes were granted. A large female was 'grazing' in a small lake quite oblivious to our presence just 50 meters from the road. We were about to move on then spotted her calf at the edge of the lake.
Camped at a small campground just past Glenallen on our way to Valdez (4). It's been so hot the tar has melted in places and at times the bike squirms around as if on mud. It's going to take Dianne ages to clean the bike in the morning before we leave!! (In your dreams) The un repaired sections with loose gravel are a real pain and after being on the go for 12 hours, we're feeling like a hot shower. Showers at campsites are not easy to come by and Dianne phoned this campground from Glenallen just to make sure. Yes they have showers but they cost $US4.00 each for 7 minutes. America may be the land of the free, but I'll wager that up here at least it's also the land of the unwashed! The mosquito repellent with DEET seems to be working and the mozzies are not driving us mad ...yet.
A day trip to Valdez today, the terminal for the 800 mile oil pipeline from Prudhoe bay. This terminal supplies 20% of the USA's oil needs and the construction of the pipeline was a major engineering accomplishment.
The road south from our campsite soon passed through more snow capped mountains and glaciers as it wound it's way south through the impressive Thompson's Pass to Valdez. Thompson's Pass has the reputation for having the most annual snow in the USA as well as the most snow in a 24 hour period - 62 inches. We rode through Keystone Canyon with its spectacular waterfalls tumbling down over the smooth dark rock walls and to quote the Lonely Planet guide book, "the road is a scenic wonder as it cuts through the Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range whole providing access to the Wrangle-St -Elias National Park. Along the way it passes waterfalls, glaciers, five major rivers and the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, which parallels the road most of the way".
(This is the Richardson Hwy and more of the quote that I think sums up this ride – " One of Alaska's most spectacular drives, hobbit's paradise of snowy summits, panoramic passes and glaciers ooze down from snow capped mountains like frosting melting off a cake")DD
Valdez is much smaller than we anticipated and the town was relocated and rebuilt after most of it was destroyed during the 1964 earthquake and subsequent tidal waves. It's therefore fairly modern and a major feature are the fishing boats, both large and small.
Dianne chose to spend a couple of hours in a quaint coffee shop overlooking the harbour while I went to a multimedia display of the building of the pipeline, the earthquake, the oil terminal and tankers and a video on the wildlife in the area. Had lunch at a small seafood place claiming to have 'the best Halibut on the west coast'.
We left Valdez about 6.00pm for the 170km ride back to our campsite. Along the way we stopped at Worthington Glacier. Here you can walk right up to and in some cases inside the glacier. 2000 year old snow melt dripping down on this warm day- what a buzz and where is my Jack Daniel's! We took umpteen photographs of the blue glacial ice and the changing lighting conditions and reluctantly left at 11.00pm to ride the 80km back to the campsite in daylight. It just doesn't get dark anymore and there's no need for a torch when we get back to camp just before midnight.
Off to Anchorage (5) today on the Glenn Hwy. The road not as impressive as yesterday, though the mountains still surround us, and lots of road work. Because of the freezing conditions in winter the roads can only be repaired in the short summer. The freezing also damages the roads making repairs a continuing process.
As we approached Palmer, 70km east of Anchorage, the countryside becomes greener, less dust and even farming is evident. This continues as we near Anchorage and the roads become better, with multi-lane highways. Reminiscent of arriving in Perth - Australia. Anchorage is a modern city fairly spread out with lots of parkland. Plenty of places to walk or cycle in summer and ski in winter.
We located the Harley dealer and they kindly allowed us to change the oil and filter in their bike park. This is one of the largest and most impressive Harley dealers we've seen and the building has 3 stories. They let us make phone calls and access the internet and while we were there they blew what sounded like a ships horn, to announce that 'there was a new Harley owner' - someone had just bought a new bike.
A comfortable campsite in town with great showers.
The Portage glacier, view from the visiter centre.
Seward tucked under the mountains in Resurrection Bay.
Spectactular Resurrection Bay, our view from the camp site.
Fishing for Red Salmon, notice the fishermen lining the banks of the river.
You never tire of glacier gazing!
Rally group photo, Hatchets Pass.
Proud owners of the 'longest distance' award. Thanks so much rally organisers. Picture in the plate is Denali Park, Mount McKinley. Fires up here has meant this is our only view of the mountain.
Dense smoke from the many bush fires raging in Alaska obscured our view of the Denali Alaskan Mountain range.
Caribou posing for the photographer
Dark granite rocks rose above us and the broard scoured valleys base below us in a heavy haze.
Rangers demonstrate mushing.
Camped on the banks of the Chena river. Oh that's right, you can't see the water, only the smoke!
An addition to our gear, a good frying pan. it did a wonderful job on our piece of salmon.
One of the impressive tiled walls of santa's house.
The pipeline followed us along the Dalton hwy
The pipeline is a huge structure built on top of the permafrost
We made it to the Arctic circle
Camping at Coldfoot past the Arctic Circle
Clouds coming in over the brooks range
Into treeless tundra
Over the Atigun pass
A very muddy bike
The Alaskan range on our right
Source of all that smoke
Road conditions were not the best
Views from the Top of the World Hwy
Click NEXT PAGE to continue our journey through Canada.
Washed the bike this morning. first time on the trip and after 12 500km. The weather was so good with blue cloudless skies that we decided to head for the Kenai Peninsular, a region known for spectacular mountains, glaciers and fjords. The weather can be unpredictable and bad here so we wanted to make the most of the good conditions.
The road south from Anchorage took us along the Seward Highway adjacent to Turnaround Inlet. Named by Captain Cook (yes the same one) who had to turnaround when he couldn't find a passage through. A good winding road with the inlet to the right and snow capped mountains and glaciers to the left.
We spent a while at the Chugach National Forest visitors centre which is just before the Portage and Burns Glaciers. This area apparently has over 10 000 glaciers and they told us that Alaska has over 100 000 glaciers. No wonder we're seeing so many. Glaciers are formed when more snow falls than melts in the summer. This build up over time compresses the lower layers into unique crystallised ice. Most of the glaciers in this area are retreating due to global warming.
Camped tonight in Seward (6) at a 'rustic' campsite. Facilities are 'basic' and a bit of an eye opener for such a 'civilised' country. Trying to make the most of the sea food, we had a meal at a small diner claiming to offer 'the best Halibut in the west'.
And on the seventh day we should rest. As part of our strategy we took things easy, updating the site, and generally wandering around, but at about 2.00pm we casually checked the maps and decided we could 'possibly' make it to Homer on the other side of the peninsular.
We set off on what was expected to be yet another spectacular ride - even on our day off - and turned off the Seward Highway onto the Sterling Highway and passed through Cooper Landing. This is the junction of the Kenai River and the Russian River and joy of joys the salmon were running and the banks were lined with fishermen almost shoulder to shoulder.
We got to talking to a local and he was happy to tell us all about it. Each fisherman could catch 3 fish per day, but only 6 fish could be caught from the same spot. The 'run' traditionally begins on Fathers day and lasts only a few days. These were red salmon and in July there is another run of the monster king salmon.
We spent well over an hour watching the salmon fishing which delayed us and consequently we were a little disappointed that we didn't make it to Homer. We decided we could ride till about 6.00pm but should then turn around which we did and eventually got back to camp about 11.00pm. The ride was not quite what we expected but we did see the salmon run and also enjoyed a panoramic view across Cook's inlet taking in an active volcanic range.
Left Seward and just out of town took the turn off for Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. A walk took us right up to the glacier and as we returned to the car park we walked through the glacier's retreat. The first plant life just mosses and lichens then fireweed progressing to cottonwoods willows then spruce and hemlock forests. Amazing to see the evolution of plant live after the retreat of the glacier.
Then off to Anchorage to upload the web site, check and respond to email and go on another 45 miles to Palmer where the state HOG rally is being held. The only place we could find for internet access was the wireless connection at the Sheraton Hotel. We sat in the lobby looking like a couple of 'biker yuppies' with our laptop and enjoyed the opportunity to keep in touch with family and friends 'back home'.
Eventually got to the rally site at about 9.00pm and soon made friends with the HOGS. One couple we should mention, Scott and Cindy, made us particularly welcome Scott even giving Dianne one of his cherished cigars. Got to bed about 2.00am
The planned Thunder Run from Palmer to the House of Harley in Anchorage didn't eventuate due to road works along the way, so everyone made their own way there. The Dealer put on brunch and a band and we soaked up the typical HOG rally atmosphere - just like in Australia. Anchorage has a population of around 250 000 and this dealer claims to sell around 500 new Harleys a year. Despite the short riding season Alaska claims to have the highest number of motorcyclists per capita. We were also surprised to learn that about one third of riders are female.
Later that afternoon we made our way to Hatchets Pass through more spectacular scenery for a group photo. The sound and sight of hundreds of Harleys winding their way through the pass was an absolute buzz.
The dinner and awards went off well and we were as pleased as punch to win the 'longest distance' award, a beautifully presented gold pan with mural painted on. Feeling really pumped, we enjoyed the dancing that followed, getting to bed around 2.30am. What a fantastic rally and a big thanks to all involved.
Rally pack up day and a group of us just mulled around till about 2.00pm. reluctant to leave. We couldn't stay at the rally site that night but fellow HOG, Paul had offered us a patch of grass to pitch our tent on at his place. We took him up on his offer and also invited a Scottish couple that we really clicked with.
(Enjoyed the Heritage centre, Anchorage)
Paul and his wife Shelly and daughter Kymber really made us welcome - thanks heaps - and we all had a great night eventually getting to bed about 3.00am
Woke early to the sounds of drizzle on the tent. Up to now the weather has been perfect- well maybe a little too hot - with almost record temps and blue blue skies. Today we were riding to Denali National Park (7), home of Mount McKinley which at 6,194 m. is the highest mountain in the USA, so clear skies are important to make the most of the mountain which is only clearly visible about 25% of the year.
As we rode north on the Parks Highway the drizzle cleared up but was sadly replaced with dense smoke from the many bush fires raging in Alaska. The smoke was so dense we were unable to see more than about a kilometre and later learned that some roads to the south east had been closed and areas evacuated. Nevertheless we did stop for lunch at Talkeetna and enjoyed walking around an 'outback Alaskan' small village.
Several months ago we had pre-booked a bus trip into Denali National Park. This park is so popular that it is recommended to make bookings before you arrive. Unfortunately this also meant that we were locked in and despite the almost zero visibility, had to take our booked 8 hour bus trip into the park. To reduce harming this pristine environment, private vehicles are not allowed into the park and busses are the only means to enter and take the 80 odd miles of very winding gravel road to Kantishna. Our trip took us 66 miles to Eielson visitors centre. Busses have been in Denali since 1939 and there are currently 150 bus drivers taking thousands of visitors into the park every day.
(While we missed the massive peaks of the Alaskan range and glaciers in the distance we could just about make out the closer rugged dark granite rocks that rose above us and the broard scoured valleys base below us. This is an important wild life reserve and we strained into the merky subartic terrain for signs of life. No bears, but plenty of caribou, moose, arctic squirrels, hare, dall sheep, ptarmigan (the national Bird) and even a couple of wolves.)DD
Before leaving Denali a visit to the National Park sled dog kennels is a must. You can meet these working dogs and the rangers demonstrate mushing, an important part of surviving winter conditions of -50 degrees C. The dogs are keen to work and as soon as they knew a demonstration run was on, they barked, yelped and jumped for joy as if to say "pick me pick me".
We spent some time here and in the Visitor Info Centre before hitting the road again. Continuing down the Parks Hwy we had a brief stop at the Native town of Nenana and visited the cultural centre and watched native indians making baskets.
Camped at a really nice campground on the banks of the Chena river and watched a beaver swim by.
The smoke in Fairbanks (8) is so bad many people are wearing face masks and visibility is down to about a kilometre. The town of Fox, not far from Fairbanks is being evacuated and the road closed. Weather reports are not encouraging but we'll wait it out and see what happens.
Since this trip was conceived the plan has always been to ride from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia. We know we can't get into Prudhoe Bay anymore for security reasons but we can get to Deadhorse, but now it seems the smoke and fires may prevent us from achieving this goal. Killing time we walk around Fairbanks and take in a show at the Ice Museum. Fairbanks hosts the World Ice Sculpture championships every March when there are hundreds of sculptures working away on massive blocks of ice. The ice is so clean they claim you can read the newspaper through a 48 inch block!!
Went shopping at Fred Meyers and bought a pound of red salmon for $5.00 and a salad for dinner.
Dianne worked on the downloaded photos this morning and I went to the Harley shop. Very impressive and they claim to sell over 200 new Harleys a year despite Fairbanks and surrounds having a population of less than 60 000. Bought a temporary belt repair kit - just in case. Seems to be quite robust and should be good for around 300km if needed. I reckon I could fit the temporary belt in around 30 minutes, a much better option than trying to replaced the main belt at the side of the road which would take at least 5 hours.
After lunch we went to North Pole. When I first heard people talking about North Pole, I thought they were joking, but there is such a place about 16 km outside Fairbanks and santa's house is at -
101 St. Nicholas Drive
(I'm pleased to report Santa is live and well and we met 2 of his reindeer, reindeer by the way are domesticated caraibou. Santa has a big job sending letters to children all over the world.) DD
The smoke is not much beter today but we start making plans for 'the final leg' anyway. We'll only take what we need for an overnight camp in Coldfoot to lessen the load on the poor bike. In the afternoon we went to the Bureau of Land Management to check on the state of the fires and the roads were open. We then visited the Farmers Market and the Pioneer Park depicting life in the early days. These old gold prospectors and miners certainly had it tough. In the winter they would mine the dirt using steam to thaw the permafrost, then in the spring and summer when the streams and rivers thawed, they would sluice the dirt and hopefully recover the gold. Remember in winter the temperatures here can get down to minus 60 farenheit.
Recently we had spoken to a Harley rider who had just returned from the Arctic circle, about 100km short of Coldfoot. He claimed the road was terrible with lots of large loose boulders the size of your fist and potholes that were so bad he damaged his front fender. For some reassurance that we were doing the right thing I decided to read the first paragraph of the Bureau of Land Management Puplicaton on the Dalton Highway. It reads...
"The Dalton Highway is a primitive road that begins 84 miles north of Fairbanks and ends 414 miles later in Deadhorse, the industrial camp at Prudhoe Bay. It provides a rare opportunity to traverse a remote, unpopulated part of Alaska to the very top of the continent. Traveling this farthest-north road involves real risks and challenges. This publication will help you decide whether to make the journey, how to prepare, and how to enjoy your experience."
It goes on to describe the road conditions.
"The road is narrow, has soft shoulders, high embankments and steep hills. There are lenghty streches of gravel surface with sharp rocks, potholes, washboard, and, depending on the weather, clouds of dust or slick mud. Watch out for dangerous curves and loose gravel, especially between Livengood and Yukon River (MP 0-56). You may encounter snow and ice north of Coldfoot any month of the year. Expect for and prepare for all conditions".
Feeling beter about our decision to make this journey, based entirely on ego, we bedded down for the night.
We awoke early to blue skies and for the first time in a while could see the clouds. The smoke was clearing and the winds were coming from the south west. This seemed like a good omen and we readied ourseves to hit our biggest challenge of the trip.
The first bit of gravel we hit didn't seem so bad, but about 50km futher on it became looser with larger rocks. We slowed down to about 50km/hour and the bike was handling it fine. Further on the surface improved but you're never quite sure what lies ahead. In a blink of an eye there can be a series of deep potholes or loose rocks and riding demands 100% concentration. Because of the dry hot conditions the dust is unbelievable and even though we chose to do the trip on American Independance day, there are still quite a few trucks. Most slow down to about 80kph and even though we pull over and almost stop we're still showered in rocks and fine talcom powder type dust that hangs in the air.
At Yukon River we refuel and take a coffee break noticing the large black clouds looming in the west. As we leave it starts to rain, big blobs, and I thought "this will at least keep the dust down and put the fires out". Well it did indeed keep the dust down but that talcom powder soon turned into a slick slurry that had us sliding and slithering down the road at less that 40kph. In places we literally slid down the camber of the road unable to find any grip at all and the trucks that had previously showered us with dust and rocks now dowsed us with muddy goo. Things were not looking good and on the CB we heard one trucker refer to us as 'nutters on a sucicycle'. He was pretty good though warning us about particulary slick or deep patches of mud before he got out of range.
Stopped for a photo at the Arctic Circle and went for a short walk in the tundra. Short because the mozzies literally attacked us and we beat a hasty retreat back to the bike. The rain had eased to showers and at about 5.00pm we pulled into Coldfoot (9) absolutley nackered. They want and get $150.00 a night for a shabby room here but we pitched our tent for $20.00 and were asleep by 8.30pm
Woke up at 4.0am rested and ready for the final leg. The rain holding off although the clouds were building. We were both looking foward to this section through the ruggard Brooks Range and the wetted, but by now drying road surface made riding easy. I don't know if the road was that much easier or whether I was feeling more confident but we sailed along maintaining an easy 80kph. At this time of the morning with blue skies and fluffy clouds the Brooks Range was spectacular and we stopped for many photos. Just before the summit at Atigun Pass (10) we saw the sign for 'the last Spruce' as we entered the treeless tundra where the rivers divide flowing either south or north into the Arctic ocean We spent a while taking the scene in and walking on the tundra but unfortunately the skies were darkeing to the north and soon rain began to fall. Not good!
Back on the bike and only a few kilometers further on we were sliding all over the road. This was even slicker and more slippery than what we had encountered yesterday and after trying to plod on for a few hundred metres using my boots as outriggers we stopped to reassess the situation. The clouds were dark and threatening and not knowing what lay ahead, the prospect of 200miles to Deadhouse then another 240m miles back to Coldfoot in these conditions was too much, so unfortunatly this was the end of the road for us. Like the early miners who got coldfeet at the prospect of finding a way through the Brooks Range, we too got coldfeet and headed back to Coldfoot feeling somewhat dissapointed.
Riding to Deadhorse was purely an ego thing and we made the regretable but sensible decision not to go on. Nevertheless we hardly said a word the whole way back to Coldfoot except perhaps to reassure ourselves that yes, we had made the right decision.
Back at Coldfoot we packed up the tent and by midday were on our way back to Fairbanks riding through occasional light showers with the threatening clouds behind us. Roads were nowhere near as slippery as yesterday and with my confidence growing we kept a steady 80 - 100kph for most of the way, the bike almost floating over the bumps and corrigations.
Fairbanks almost feels like home to us now, we've been here so long and at about 7.00pm we pulled into Fred Meyers, bought a steak, salad and some wine and went back to camp feeling pleased although a little dissapointed with the way the day panned out.
I've never seen a Harley so filthy, or two Harley riders equally so. This morning therefore was big cleanup day with Dianne tackling the cloths and me taking on that filthy hog. By late morning all was back to normal and I was surprised how easily the Harley metamorphosis ed back into a show pony.
We had a few other chores to attend to and with blue skies developing, and Dianne hankering for a ride, we set off at about 5.00pm towards Denali to see if we could catch a glimpse of Mt Mckinley. An hour later and we were back at Nanana (about half way) and decided to have a beer at the local (and I think only) bar. We got to chatting to a local Indian and he told us about a spot nearby where we could get a 360 degree panoramic view of the area and the Denali mountains. We took his advice and were rewarded with some magnificent vistas and the camera clicked away like mad.
Time to move on and we have a choice. Head east to Tok then south on the Alcan again or from Tok head further east on the Taylor highway to Chicken, then on to the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City. The latter route entails a fair bit of gravel but with apparently spectacular scenery. Guess which way we chose?
It was a fairly boring ride to Tok with the usual rugged snow capped mountains, the Alaskan range, on our right and endless Spruce forests to our left. We only saw 3 Moose grazing close to the road, and a wolverine and the temperatures were in the mid 20s (C), but the puffy white clouds did make some interesting shapes in the brilliant blue sky as we rode along listening to some classic rock on the stereo.
Light rain on the tent woke us up on our last day in Alaska. We've had such a great time here and will definitely come back. Treated ourselves to Blueberry pancakes at Fast Eddies, just one serve is more than enough for the two of us.
Reluctant to ride in the light rain, we elected to have a wander around and leave about 1.00pm. and hopefully miss all the RVs on the gravel coming from Dawson City. Heading off, we were stopped just past the turnoff to Chicken and warned about the smoke and fire dangers. This area has taken the brunt of the forest fires and some areas are completely blackened. The fires were apparently caused by lightening and are a part of the natural cycle but by far the worse fires they had had for decades.
Topped up the fuel in Chicken just to be on the safe side. This town evidently got it's name because in the 1890s, miners, deciding they needed a name for their camp chose Ptarmigan, which is a small chicken like bird. Seems no one could spell Ptarmigan so they decided on Chicken!!
From Chicken the road is gravel for 65km to the Canadian boarder. After the ride to Coldfoot we weren't particularly worried but the bike was fully loaded now. Whilst the surface is not as rough as the Coldfoot run, it does have some severe corrugations and the hard base is covered with a sometimes thick layer of 1cm round ball bearing type stones. As long as I can keep the bike perfectly vertical we're OK, but even a slight lean into the corners is a challenge. At least it's only for 65km, but frustratingly we must also have timed our trip badly as we counted over 30 RV also traveling on this short stretch and are covered in thick dust.
Crossed the border into Canada looking forward to the sealed road but alas, It's even worse. they 're doing road works and the hard base is now covered by about 4cm of the ball bearings. The scenery on the the Top of the World highway however is spectacular although there is a smoke haze limiting visiability.We fishtailed our way for about a further 15km then reached the sealed road.
Well the road is marked on the map as sealed but there are so many "pavement breaks" that we estimate only 50% of the road is paved and that is littered with pot holes. Fortunately there is no traffic so we weave our way through as though on a high speed slalom course to Dawson City.
|©Haydn and Dianne Durnell 200|