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Sunday 3 June 2007

Packed and ready to go we managed to sleep until around 2 am when we both awoke and found it very hard to go back to sleep. Before we knew it 4 am arrived and we were up. Bags sorted, room tidied up and a quick bite to eat and we were out on the curb awaiting our taxi. With no traffic to speak of, the drive to the airport took no time at all, and before we knew it we had passed through US Immigration and were boarding our flight.

Our small plane looked and felt more like a Learjet on steroids and after the pilot walked a bucket of solution plane-crjdown the aisle to pour into the toilet (to fix the technical hitch), we were off.

Time for a coffee, small snooze and an hour and a half later we were descending into Seattle Washington, having moved forward an hour in time and with Mt Rainier in the background.

Sitting in Seattle Tacoma International airport it was time to hurry up and wait for our connecting flight to Anchorage. To pass the time we utilised of a spare power point in the departure lounge and tested a connection to the Internet via the airport Wi-fi.

 

Anchorage was nothing but a whistle stop for us and by the time we got off the plane, changed some Canadian dollars into American and found our new gate, it was time to board our next plane, a 737-300 combi, combi because the front half was a cargo hold and the back was passengers.

Flying out of Anchorage we were up above the clouds very quickly and the only thing to see was the occasional mountain sticking its head up.

The plane was about 3/4 full with passengers, mostly workers heading back to Deadhorse after their break. Many read newspapers, some slept and others had a chat.

We came across the Brookes Range and Galbraith Lake, recognisable after many a look at it via Google Earth.

So with enough time to have finish a coffee and a bit of a look at the ever whitening landscape it was time to descend into Deadhorse.

 

 

 

 

Flying in, the ground , frozen white but with high points sticking up resembling a huge fossil, things were looking decidedly cold and it was going to be a very interesting experience riding in this terrain and weather.

For the first time the enormity of the task at hand really had some meaning. Having thought that, I was also sure that we were up to the task ahead, despite any initial doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Deadhorse the sign said as we walked from the plane resting on the tarmac, the cold arctic air blasting us as we made the short trip from the plane into the terminal building. A few minutes earlier we had circled twice around the small oil town of Deadhorse on the shores of the Arctic Ocean before our Alaskan Airlines pilot decided he could make the approach through the fog, and our plane touched down on the permafrost supported runway.

Having driven our trikes and equipment from Calgary to Deadhorse, our Canadian hosts and great friends, Murray & Joyce were there to meet us with warm smiles and friendly greetings.

Having been there since the day before, Murray and Joyce had had plenty of time to check the place out, so after a tour of the town, a word we shall use rather loosely (it's a oil exploration and drilling site that has a General Store, Post Office and some expensive accommodation), we enjoyed an all you can eat meal for $15 per head in one of the workers canteens. To have stayed in either of the three accommodations would have cost us over $200 USD per night and only given us a bed in a room like the workers use, so we saved our money and drove out of town to a free campsite near the bluffs.

 

 

Monday 4 June2007

Having spent a comfortable night in our tents, we awoke to a 2 deg C morning. We enjoyed a nice breakfast before packing up camp and heading back into Deadhorse to take the tour out to the Arctic Ocean and to then unpack the trikes and make a start on the ride.

Deadhorse exists solely because of oil, and it is not possible to travel out to the ocean without having paid $36 USD (each) and being driven out by there on a bus driven by a Security Officer. So, after watching an oil company promotional video we were driven out to the ocean. On arrival our guard stayed by the bus, on lookout for Polar Bears, while the six of us passengers walked down the gravel causeway to what should have been the Arctic Ocean, but on arrival we were greeted with ice and snow - the ocean was still frozen solid.

arctic_ocean

Not to be deterred, I ran to the edge of the causeway and threw myself off the end, landing on the ice. It was disappointing not to be able to swim but sometimes things just don't go the way you plan and this time it was mother nature that thwarted my plans. The air at the ocean was very brisk and the silence golden. There is no doubt left in the mind of anyone that visits that this is a very, very harch environment, even on a balmy +2 deg C, summers day.

This area is so cold during winter that they have three phases of cold and in the final phase nobody goes outside and all vehicles are left running to ensure that if they did have to drive, they could.

There are many companies at Deadhorse, trucking companies, oil companies and support companies. Nobody actually lives at Deadhorse, instead workers all fly in and fly out on various work rotations, but they lack for nothing in their accommodation and recreation area and their wages vary, but range from $60-150,000 pa.

Deadhorse is littered with drilling rigs, snow vehicles, company vehicles and all manner of equipment including boats, hovercraft and the like.

So after being driven back to the confines of Deadhorse, Murray, Joyce, Joanne and I ate a hearty lunch in the leaving DeadhorseArctic Caribou Inn before unpacking the trikes and heading off down the Dalton Highway.

The Dalton Highway is a gravel road and one that is quite hard to ride on, despite it's being pounded almost continually by the many trucks that use it. The gravel road stretches out in front of you on what seems to be an endless ribbon of road stretching to the horizon, steel poles evenly placed mark the road and give the impression of riding down into a steel tunnel. The terrain around the road is flat, frozen and seemingly lifeless, but look closer and you will see that there is one heck of a lot of bird life living in the tussocky grass.

Many trucks passed on their way into out out of Deadhorse, all slowing down to walking pace as they passed us, and of course giving us a wave. Workers returning from out of town sites also slowed to ensure no loose rocks hit us and that the dust did not cover us totally. Tourists however were another story.

With the Franklin Bluffs in the background, we camped on one of the gravel spurs which jut out into, or give access to, the frigid water and ice of the Sagavanirktok (Sag) river.

Today's Stats

From: Deadhorse

To: Tundra Camp

Ride Time:
2 hrs 58 mins

Distance:
28.87 km's

Av Speed:
9.73 km/h

Max Speed:
15.3 km/h

Max Altitude:
20 m

Av Climb: 1 %

Max Climb: 1 %

Weather: 2 - 8 deg C

Camp Location:

N: 70:00'09.1

W:148:39'57.1

 

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Rugged up for the cold, we departed our camp leaving Murray & Joyce behind to catch up later. The road consisted dalton_hwyof corrugations and lots of loose gravel and was quite hard to ride on. Our speed more often around the 6-8 km/h mark and with legs burning and the thought of another 400 odd miles of this and we were in a really good frame of mind - what had we got ourselves into?

The terrain was seemed pretty flat but in fact we were gradually climbing, albeit very slightly. There was plenty to look at in between trying to find the smoothest part of the road and dodging rocks, frozen lakes, birds and the occasional pack of Caribou. The vehicle wheel marks were the smoothest, but having three wheels meant that one of them was always in the rough stuff, and while we were toasty in our clothing the cool arctic air on any exposed skin was there to remind us of the harshness of the area.

The day and the road got harder and harder and then out of the blue came some bitumen road - what a treat! The road passed Pump Station number 2 and headed up a very, very long hill that stretched for around 5 kilometres, upon which we stopped for a break numerous times. Both of us had knees that were aching and stating to cause us pain which was not a good sign, especially this early in the trip.

The weather had improved some what and although we hadn't noticed it, we were sunburnt. On the way up the hill we stopped and took advantage of a nice stream of water running down the hill, both of us enjoying a bird bath in the cold water before topping up our drinking water.

A few more hills and we came to the gravel pit where Murray & Joyce had picked out for our campsite, a campsite we were extremely happy to get to, it had been a very long and taxing day. So after having seen us safely off the Arctic Plain we said our goodbyes and Murray and Joyce headed back to Calgary and work.

Mixed with some trepidation at being alone in the arctic for the first time, and with some sadness, we watched them drive off up the road and finally disapear over the hill before we settled into camp. We were so tired but had plenty of tasks to get done before we could crawl into the tent and sleep.

We filtered some ground water, had something to eat, re-arranged a few things, stored our food well away from the tent in case there were any bears around, and were getting some journal entries done when we noticed the time - it was after 11pm! We had not even thought to keep an eye on the time and because the sun doesn't get anywhere near the horizon until after midnight the sunlight had deceived us. We packed up and headed off to bed and despite being so tired still could not sleep, the sun still blazing as we tried.

Today's Stats

From: Tundra Camp

To: Gravel Pit

Ride Time:
8 hrs 12 mins

Distance:
72.9 km's

Av Speed:
8.88 km/h

Max Speed:
64 km/h

Max Altitude:
268 m

Av Climb: 1 %

Max Climb: 10 %

Weather: 3-21 deg C

Camp Location:

N: 69:24'47.7

W: 148:43'44.9

 

Wednesday 6 June 2007

It is a very strange feeling to wake at 2 am and see that it is as light then as it is at 2 pm. Both of us woke numerous times during the night and eventually, as the tent heated up, decided to get up around 7am. Packing up we decided to enjoy a shorter day which would allow us to rest our legs and still get some distance in.

The road was still making us work very hard and causing us to stop often to rest our legs. We came to a nice downhill run and stopped halfway down to read the signs on the observatory deck before continuing on down the hill and along the side of the river. Using a gravel pad for a stop we cooked lunch and then filtered some water from a half frozen part of the river before continuing on. The good thing about the water here is that unlike riding in Australia, it doesn't get hot, and provides a cool drink at any time of the day.

For some reason after lunch I found it really hard to keep up with Joanne, so after stopping and investigating, the reason turned out to be a slowly deflating rear tyre. We unpacked Pip and pulled the rear wheel out, finding what we thought was a small thorn in the tyre at the spot where the hole in the tube was. Our first puncture since we started the trip, including the trip across Australia, some 4,500 kilometres ago. A man on a BMW motorbike pulled up and had a chat with us while we were fixing our little problem before continuing on his way to Deadhorse, his trip being the first of many he has planned following his recent retirement. Hole patched, wheel re-inserted and panniers installed and we were on our way.

Shortly after our punture we came to the end of the sealed road and suddenly we we were back into the, gravel, the many pot holes and of course the corrugations. We did however enjoy some magnificent vistas as we struggled against the gravel and hills, but they were not enough to take our minds off the struggle at hand.

Coming down a hill we spied some earth moving equipment parked at one of the gravel roads that lead to the pipeline, so naturally investigated it for a possible campsite. It turned out to be great and using the machinery as a wind break we set up and enjoyed a wonderful camp with the river and pipeline in the background.

Dan_Creek_Camp

Today's Stats

From: Gravel Pit

To: Dan Creek

Ride Time:
3 hrs 34 mins

Distance:
38.2 km's

Av Speed:
10.6 km/h

Max Speed:
59 km/h

Max Altitude:
388 m

Av Climb: 3 %

Max Climb: 10 %

Weather: 15-27 deg C

Camp Location:

N:69:05'49.6

W: 148:49.46.4

 

Thursday 7 June 2007

Leaving our camp near Dan Creek, and with legs that were still feeling the pinch, we rode off and immediately up hill, meeting a couple from Maine who were travelling in a motorhome, and who couldn't believe that we would ride this road, and camp out. They and most others we meet wanting to know if we had a gun for protection!

The road was working our legs overtime and both of us were still experiencing knee pain when riding which added PipeLinewith the hills, gravel and wind, made life quite uncomfortable and causing us thoughts we didn't want to think of.

Following alongside the pipeline for quite some time now, we eventually crossed it, so we stopped for a closer look at this 800 mile long engineering marvel.

Not far down the road we came upon a sign which named the area as Ice Cut, it was here that the road decsended quite quickly, giving us a fun downhill, controlling the trike on the slippery gravel testing our riding skills and giving us our scary act for the day.

The road continued with the river on one side and the pipeline on the other, eventually resulting in our having to climb up Oil Spill Hill, a 15% grade hill which really took it out of us and caused us to stop for a rest many times on the way up. It also appeared that we had not fixed the puncture in the rear tire on Pip, resulting in our having to stop every now and then to put some air in it.

Approaching Pump Station Number 3, an Alaskan State Road worker stopped in a truck and told us that they were laying calcium chloride on the road for a few miles and that it was very costic. We continued on and stopped opposite the Pump Station, taking a rest and completing our respective journals, all the while willing the road to dry out somewhat beforewewent on, but it didn't. There was nothing else to do but ride on slowly, trying not to get too much of this stuff on us or the trikes. The road workers lay the calcium on the road in dry pellet form then drop lots of water on it and then finally grade it smooth, resulting in a smooth(er) hard packed road.

The road was covered in mushy, speed sapping mud and coupled with traffic which, no matter how slow they went, splashed some up on us. We rode on, legs and knees aching, leaving us both wishing we would just get to the end quicker. As we were nearing the end of the second strip of calcium chloride road the same truck driver stopped and told us we could go into the camp and wash our trikes down, so upon arriving at the road leading to the camp we turned off, and heading into a headwind came to Sag River North Slope Dept of Transport Camp.

With nobody around and noise coming from inside one of the large workshop bays, we wandered in and found Donnie working away. Explaining what the truck driver had told us, Donnie immediately set up the pressure washer and allowed us to clean the trikes. On comletion of the clean Donnie offered us coffee and that led to using the satellite Internet to not only do email, but to send a picture (taken by the weather web cam) of ourselves standing outside near the windsock to family, just to show we were still alive. Donnie then suggested that we could camp down the road a way in the pit where they stored the gravel and calcium, so we headed down there and finding a spot out of the wind set up camp.

Donnie came down not long after, bringing some sausages in rolls, iced tea and beer. We devoured the sausages and beer while enjoying a good chat with him. But Donnie wasn't finished with the hospitality just yet. He had organised with the boss for us to have a shower in the morning and to do some laundry. Bidding us goodnight he returned to camp and we headed for bed.

Today's Stats

From: Dan Creek

To: Sag River Dept of Transport Camp

Ride Time:
4
 hrs 33 mins

Distance:
43.71  km's

Av Speed:
8.9  km/h

Max Speed:
67  km/h

Max Altitude:
492 m

Av Climb: 2 %

Max Climb: 15 %

Weather: 24 deg C

Camp Location:

N: 68:45'44.9

W: 148:51'04.0

 

Friday 8 June 2007

Arriving back at the camp at the appointed time we were greeted by Donnie who immediately showed us where the showers and washing machines were. Oh how good did that shower feel? So after showering to our hearts content, the washing was on and we were enjoying breakfast and coffee, checking the emails and chatting some more with Donnie.

Washing done, dried and put away we agreed to call in at Donnie's place in Fairbanks when we get there and hit the road. Once again we were riding up and down small 2-5% grade hills, battling the gravel and the wind, riding at times on the wrong side of the road to utilise the smoother part and to allow the dust from passing vehicles to blow away from us rather than over us.

After an hour and a half of actual riding we had covered the huge distance of 13 kilometres, the road taking us up and up, eventually resulting in our being able to look all the way back down the road and forward to where we were going, the ever present pipeline heading off in both directions. Using the trikes together and the hootchie for a wind break we managed to cook a nice lunch of soup and rice, that soup sure lifted our spirist as did the magnificent view.

Continuing on we came to a turn out at the top of a hill and it looked like it would make a great spot to rest a while and to get some journal stuff done, but then we noticed the bear scat (poo) and then the sign that said it was the road to the landfill - definately not a good spot to be staying at, then just as we were about to leave, the couple from Maine that we had met before, turned up so we enjoyed a chat before each heading off.

Leaving the bear scat spot we were immediately heading down a very, very long hill, covered with loose gravel and having to descend with the brakes on so as to avoid a catastropic event. The downside of having to descend to the river under brakes was the fact that we had absolutely no momentum to even start up the other side. This was a very steep hill which caused Joanne to stop about two thirds of the way up and for me to continue to the top then walk back down and push her up to where I had left Pip with rocks under each and every wheel.

Pushing on we eventually came to a turn out and lookout which overlooked Toolik Lake and the old pipeline construction camp, now a University Research station. Stopping for a meal and to enjoy the view we were joined by two native Alaskans were driving their brand new 4x4 up to Deadhorse and then flying it onto Barrow where they live. They were very friendly and warm people, weather aged and conditioned by their home location which is even more remote that Deadhorse (if that is possible).

Stopping at the top to cook a meal away from our camp we descended down the steep hill, again under brakes, we eventually levelled out near Toolik Lake and were immediately into more roadworks, the slush and clogging up our wheels and causing us to ride at around 4 km/h. Getting to the end of the roadworks we spied a gravel road leading to the pipeline, so decided to set up camp, despite being about 100m off of the road. Camp set up, we placed the Bob trailer with our food well away from our tent to ensure that even if the bears did manage to locate it, that it was far enough away not to draw them to us and then headed to bed, mountains as a back drop as we did. Many truckers, pipeline and road workers waving to us as we set up camp, leaving us with a comforting, but totally false, sense of security. At least if something did hapen to us, enough people saw us setting up camp and would know we were there.

Toolik_Lake_Camp

Again battling the daylight we attempted sleep, often waking during the night to brilliant sunshine and wishing we could sleep better. With the amount of energy we have been expending we should be sleeping like the dead, but we are not and the lack of sleep, coupled with the road and amount of energy we are expending to get along it is taking it's toll. Our bodies are under enormous stress and both of us have cold sores to prove it. We are still talking to each other, are not fighting and are comforted by the other. This is definitley the hardest thing we have ever done, and it will be interesting to see how the experience changes us, if at all.

Today's Stats

From: Sag River Dept of Transport Camp

To: Tundra Camp near Toolik Lake

Ride Time:
5 hrs 19 mins

Distance:
38.08 km's

Av Speed:
7.10  km/h

Max Speed:
44.50  km/h

Max Altitude:
388 m

Av Climb: 3 %

Max Climb: 13 %

Weather: 15-27 deg C

Camp Location:

N:68:36'00.6

W: 149:31'48.8

 

Saturday 9 June 2007

Road work started early near our camp so we packed up and got going before breakfast, the idea being to get far enough ahead of the roadworks to stop and have breakfast before continuing on with our day, and our plan worked. The water tanker had only enough time to get two runs in before we had covered 4 kilometres and cleared the area, sat up on a gravel pad and began eating breakfast while enjoying the view of the nearby mountains.

Breakfast over we began the days ride, the road levelled out somewhat and we managed to increase our speed slightly. Our legs were still very sore but we were making good progress and feeling good about the ride.

Arriving at Trevor Creek we enjoyed lunch before filtering some water and continuing on. The mountains of the Atigan Canyon ever present as we rode and the sun on them providing a picture perfect view all the way along. Descending down towards Galbraith Lake was interesting to say the least, the slippery gravel on the steep grade making control of the trike an interesting experience, too much brake and the wheel locked and skidded pulling the trike over to the side, not enough brake saw silly speed and the possibility of disaster. The view on the way down was however, spectacular, the canyon running off into the distance, the lake in the foreground and the mountains behind - spectacular!

Galbraith_Lake_area

We stopped for a break before continuing on, the road undulating to say the least. We passed yet another pump station, the pipeline disappearing under the large mound of dirt the station was built on, of note was the accommodation building which would have had the most magnificent view along the canyon from its rooms. Up hill, down dale, the road surface was improving. Following the pipeline we began to look for a campsite, eventually passing behing a gate where we were debating where to set up the tent when the security guard came along on his rounds and suggested that we try another place. He was nice enough about it all and knew we were just looking for a campsite but had to move us on anyway.

We rode on to where the guard had suggested, the Atigan River 1 crossing, and with the weather building up in the North, we quickly set up camp on the gravel turnout, far enough away we hoped, from the guy fishing at the river and making the place smell like a fish mongers. Keeping an eye on the weather we managed to get the tent up and our gear inside before noticing that the weather was going to pass us by. We relaxed slightly until the second wave came rushing up the canyon, the wind at the front and the canyon disappreaing behind the rain and making the place feel rather cold. We enjoyed a can of baked beans, some cheese and beef jerky away from the tent, cleaned up and went to bed just as the rain began to fall. It had been a good days ride and for the first time we began to relax and feel like we were getting somewhere.

Today's Stats

From: Tundra Camp near Toolik Lake

To: Atigan River 1

Ride Time:
5 hrs 45 mins

Distance:
47.95 km's

Av Speed:
8.30 km/h

Max Speed:
52 km/h

Max Altitude:
1089 m

Av Climb: 2 %

Max Climb: 12 %

Weather: Sunny 11-21 deg C

Camp Location:

N:68:10'32.2

W: 149:25'43.7

 

Sunday 10 June 2007

Because our camp was so exposed to not only the road, but the weather, we decided to ride on to an old pipeline and road construction camp the security guard had told us about yesterday. Packing up we headed up the road (all the roads are up here) we continued up the canyon andeventually came to the site we had been told about. Investigation of the site showed there was three road camp buildings and and old firehouse come ambulance station. The three buildings were locked but the old fireshouse was open, inside was a gravel floor but enough room for us to get the trikes in and to set up the tent - so we did.

Two of the guys from the Sag River camp were ontheir way home to Fairbanks, saw us and stopped in for a chat, offering to take us up the pass in the truck,or all the way to Fairbanks if we wished. It was a tempting offer but we declined. The guys left and we spent the rest of the day relaxing, resting our legs, doing trike maintenance, catching up on our respective journals and generally lazing around.

It was a great day and the view up the road towards the pass itself was ever present, the couldron like mountain still with its layer of snow making for a very pleasant sight and although the sun was out the air was still crisp and cool. Our camp location was right at the start of the pass so we were hoping that we would be well rested for our climb the next day.

Being a Sunday we noticed that the traffic was quite light and that meant that we were able to enjoy our day of even more. A couple of trucks pulled in, the drivers taking a rest from their drive but other than that it was a very quiet day.

Today's Stats

From: Atigan River 1

To: Firehouse Camp at old Construction Site.

Ride Time:
0 hrs 48 mins

Distance:
5.4 km's

Av Speed:
6.7 km/h

Max Speed:
 km/h

Max Altitude:
1041 m

Av Climb: 3 %

Max Climb: 11 %

Weather: Overcast then sunny 11-21 deg C

Camp Location:

N: 68:10'33.2

W: 149:25'43.7

 

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