Blog 285 Chicken to the Arctic circle July 2013


Current News – Happy New Year to all our family, friends and followers, you make the world a nicer place. It’s impossible to convey how much your support and friendships have helped us on our journey but thank you to each and every one of you.

We celebrated in style and braved the not too bad traffic to watch the fireworks launched from barges with the back drop of the San Francisco skyline, awesome. Our time here in S F is drawing to a close we will move southward again in the next few days towards Los Angeles.

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Now by the magic of technology we will whisk you almost to the top of the world in Alaska where we set out on our attempt on the infamous Dalton Highway.

Blog 285 Chicken to the Arctic circle

It’s hard to convey in a blog how the endless daylight  affects your everyday living. We were suffering hole in the airbed syndrome and had to wake to pump it up at 1am, it was still daylight outside and we struggled to drop off to sleep after so having no need of torches we read by daylight.

Much later that morning we left the town of Chicken behind us the road was pretty rough in places, it was worse on the USA side than Canada which surprised us although there were signs of construction works about to happen. There were even patches of tarmac/bitumen here and there but that meant you just had to watch for frost heaves and potholes instead of loose gravel and mud but it made a change. The views on the Alaskan side were just as spectacular.

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Many miles later we joined the main Alaskan highway. The bridge over the Tanana river had a pull out with some history so we stopped for a look. The very first bridge was a hastily constructed wooden affair built for the Alcan (Alaska-Canada) Highway. This was built by the army during world war II to allow the movement of troops and equipment to Alaska to defend the northern frontier. Opened on November 20th 1942 the Alcan Hwy was an amazing achievement, pre WWII Alaska was susceptible to attack because of its isolation.Troops and equipment just could not get there quickly in the event of an invasion.

Russia wasn’t the enemy then but Japan definitely was and the Japanese bombing of Dutch harbour and invasion of two of the Aleutian islands early in 1942 was the catalyst to achieve the seemingly impossible and get the road finished. It was 1,390 miles long and took 10’000 men an astonishing 8 months to build including building 133 bridges en-route. During construction they faced many difficulties including rivers, swamps, freezing weather, mosquitoes from hell and quicksand like muskeg which swallowed bulldozers whole. The first road was gravel and was sealed in sections over many years, it was only relatively recently that it was finally all sealed.

It is this road we were riding on and it remains the only all-weather road access to Alaska.

The second Tanana bridge was built by the public roads authority in 1943 and lasted right up until the early part of 2013 when the new concrete bridge replaced it. The ends of the original were left as a memorial when it was taken down see photos below.

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The boring new concrete replacement.

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The old bridge was a Cantilevered sub divided Warren through truss bridge (phew) made of steel and was the only one of its kind in Alaska. Its construction consisted of lots of triangles to give it strength and strong it was, it survived the 2002 Denali 7.9 earthquake and was only eventually replaced because the strong river currents were scouring away its pilings and its road deck was quite small for modern truck traffic. One of the signs showed a picture of the two bridges side by side before the steel one was demolished. Even when they blew up its concrete pilings it still didn’t break the old bridge which was cut up and carried down by barges to be recycled.

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 Further down the road we passed a bridge of a different kind altogether, it was our first view of the Trans Alaska oil pipeline which runs 800 miles all the way from Prudhoe bay (the most northerly point in Alaska with continuous road access) to Valdez on the opposite coast where oil tankers transport it away. The pipeline had its own suspension bridge across the river, one of 13 bridges on its route see photos below. It has 34 major river crossings en route and 800 minor ones, sometimes the pipe is buried under the river too depending on the terrain.

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The road bridge that we cross on left and the pipeline bridge on the right.

 

It’s unusual in that it has lateral wind wires as well as the usual suspension wires to stop the wind moving the pipe too much and rupturing it. The pipe holds 9 million barrels of oil at any one time and carries it across hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness.

 This wouldn’t be the last we saw of the pipe !

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Riding along further we noticed a huge river delta on our left and stopped for a picture, it wasn’t until we looked at a map later that we realised that this was still the Tanana river. This area is called Delta Junction. Once we were underway again a couple of BMW GS riders came alongside and were taking pictures whilst we were all riding down the road. At another photo-op we also met a couple of friendly Harley riders who stopped for a chat.IMG_3237 IMG_3239

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A little further down the road we noticed an interesting looking shop called the knotty shop. It sold sculpture, ornaments and gifts made from tree burls. These are the growths a tree makes to defend itself from insect attack or other damage.

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They seem more common on the trees that grow up here as these were not the first we had seen, they were also imaginatively crafted into big outside ornaments to encourage people to stop. We are fairly immune to souvenirs having no space to carry them but we did stop for an ice cream and some pictures.

 

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As we got closer to Fairbanks we could see a lot of smoke in the air, Alaska had a lot of bushfires this summer and two were out of control whilst we were there. It reminded us of Australia, historically bush fires are rare in Alaska but in recent years they have been becoming more of a problem due to hotter summers, most are started by lightning strikes and Alaska’s remote and inaccessible landscape makes them hard to fight.
Riding through North Pole we also noticed Santa had moved from his quaint little log cabin to more modern buildings over the road.

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A storm was brewing so we quickened our pace a little hoping to outrun it. We had been invited to stay with Marianne and Rad so punched what we thought was their address into our GPS. We thought it was all going well until it said turn left into what looked like an Army base. It didn’t look right but we turned in anyhow to ask the guard how we got to this seemingly inaccessible road. We were greeted with “You can’t come in here” we kinda figured that but asked directions and he explained how to get around the camp. It still didn’t look right so we pulled over and checked the piece of paper with the address on it again and realised oops we had misread it. With the correct street name entered we raced the rain and lost, it started to rain just as we were climbing up the twisty road out of town but we got in the dry just before the storm really let rip.

 Marianne and Rad were expecting us as we had rung ahead, they made us really welcome and it was nice to be in a house for a few days as we had been camping for weeks. We also had chance to make a fuss of their two Labrador’s who lapped up the attention.

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Marianne and Rad were instrumental in our attempt to ride to Prudhoe Bay too, later that evening Rad showed us a video of the Dalton Hwy and some pictures taken on a trip to Prudhoe when he drove the support vehicle for a group of motorcyclists including his son. Previously we had more or less decided not to ride up to Prudhoe having been put off by lots of horror stories from various different people. Next day after a great Alaskan breakfast including reindeer sausages (yum) Rad gave us a lift into town to look for tyres and a few other things.

 There are four bike shops in Fairbanks and it wasn’t until the last one that we found what we were looking for a knobbly tyre with a high enough load rating for our beast. Once we had that we knew it was game on so we doubled back to a shop where we had seen a knobby that would fit the front as well.
In one of the bike shops we spotted this quad bike with tracks added, don’t worry about the tyres I joked I’ll take this to Prudhoe.

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 Rad loaned us an extra fuel can and helped us plan our fuel stops as fuel is only available in three places on the 494 mile route !!!  We filled up our liquid containment fuel bladder too just to be sure.  Whilst we were getting supplies we spotted this picture of an old Harley with ski skids on, mark 1 of our outrigger setup was similar skids but mounted on our forward crashbars.

After a day or two in preparation it was our turn to see if we could ride to the top of the world.

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At midday we started out on the sixty mile ride just to get to the start of the Dalton, there was a service station 3\4 of that distance so we made sure we topped up as there was no more fuel until Yukon river another 56  miles away which might or might not have supplies.  At this point we still hadn’t really decided if we were going all the way or not, our only real goal was to cross the arctic circle.

 We pulled over at the start of the Dalton proper to take a few pictures. The sign was decorated with stickers from various expeditions and organised tours so we added one of ours fittingly next to Geoffrey’s ride for peace sticker. You might remember we met him in Vancouver at Grant and Susan Johnson’s.

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We met three other riders at the sign and chatted a while, two were a couple on a BMW each and the other guy was on a Yamaha trail bike, he was re arranging his throw over panniers as they had nearly caught fire on his high level exhaust.

 We wished each other well and headed out hoping for good weather.

 The first section was a bit rough then we had a fairly long section of reasonable paved road, there were a few potholes and things to avoid but it was not too bad. Of the 414 miles one way 109 are paved the rest is dirt and gravel.

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 Then it started to rain steadily getting heavier, but we were still on tarmac so it wasn’t a problem and it eased off again after 10 mins or so.

 Further on we were back on gravel for quite a while but again it wasn’t too bad. At 4.30pm we got to Yukon river where there was fuel, a cafe and overnight accommodation in porta-cabin style rooms left behind when the road was constructed. We had been warned that accommodation was expensive so we planned to camp as much as we could, It was $199 a night to stay there. We were grateful for a coffee and we met and got talking to the two BMW riders who had been taking our pictures at Delta junction, one of them was a BMW and Moto Guzzi dealer in South Carolina and we had a good chat.

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He showed us some pictures that were in the cafe of what happened when a Grizzly bear broke into the cafe when it was closed for winter. It looked like the craziest teenage party ever X TEN ! what a mess.

 The bridge over the Yukon is quite something considering how remote we were but this road has to cope with continual heavy truck traffic supplying the oil patch.

 It was time to get moving so after filling up at the fuel bowser we again headed north, the road was a mixture of everything and there were some sections of deep gravel that had the bike squirming and sliding around a bit.

We found a great view-point with the route spread out in front of us.

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We also had the opportunity to see parts of the oil line up close and watch how it snakes across the landscape.

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By 7 O”clock we were at the arctic circle where we of course stopped for a picture.

At 70 degrees 19’32′N This is definitely the most northerly navigable road in the American continent and is only 1 degree below Nord Kapp in Norway which is 71degrees 10’10N which I think I am right in saying is the most northerly navigable point in the world.

It felt good to have achieved our goal and the bike was handling the road well so we decided that night if the weather was dry in the morning that we would move our goal to the Atigun pass and reassess there. Just a little further on from the arctic circle sign was a basic free bush camp so we decided to stay there for the night. Rad and Marianne had given us a supply of backpacker ‘just add hot water’ meals they had spare so dinner was easy that night and pretty tasty too. By 9.30 pm (still bright daylight of course) we were bushed and hit the sack but it had been a good start.

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Next up Atigun pass and Beyond?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. #1 by Lyn Spain on January 3, 2014 - 4:44 pm

    That would be the road in our “1981 Rand McNally Road Atlas” of USA Canada & Mexico, that’s says it is not open to the public! looks amazing! can’t believe you were up there! safe travels mum xx

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