07.06.2002-07.14.2002       Deadhorse, AK to Fairbanks, AK
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People often think the only reason I'm starting my journey in Prudhoe Bay is so I can say I started at the very top. This is not entirely true. There would be other sections of the route I would not ride. There was another, equally important reason. I wanted to ride The North Slope, the vast, treeless landscape stretching from the Brooks Range down to the Arctic Ocean. It was this vastness that struck me as I looked out my window during our plane's descent into Deadhorse. The fact that I'd soon be bicycling through it instilled equal parts fear and excitement in me. The weather upon arrival was probably typical Arctic summer: 40s and overcast. I thought I might spend the night and look into catching a private tour to the ocean(Prudhoe Bay, just down the road from Deadhorse, is an oilfield and therefore highly secured) to perform the ceremonial dipping of my wheel. However, after looking around town and listening to the drone of machinery there was really only one thought on my mind: leaving. I stopped by the general store to pick up a few supplies. After learning that I intended to bike to Tierra del Fuego they presented me with a certificate, certifying that I had indeed started at the start of the highway in Deadhorse and that my destination was Tierra del Fuego. I took special care to find a safe place in my gear for it, thinking that if I did go on to reach my destination I might cherish that piece of paper for the rest of my life. My next stop was a dinner buffet, my last proper meal for the next several hundred miles. With a full stomach(including a few butterflies) I set off. As I left Deadhorse I was reminded that this was not a road for the ill-prepared. The road out of Deadhorse was the flattest I'd ridden in Alaska. For the first fifty miles there were no hills and very little on the horizon, just endless tundra. I rode until 3 a.m. the next day, taking advantage of the endless daylight. I woke later that day feeling miserably fatigued. As novel as riding at night seemed, it was obvious my body preferred to return to its accustomed day schedule.

On the third day I found myself riding into a significant headwind. However, it was the kind of wind that slowed you but didn't frustrate you. I'd been frustrated well enough by the mosquitos by then and was happy to have them kept at bay. But good things never last and as the day progressed so did the wind. By the time I entered Atigun canyon late in the day the wind had me in my granny gear at all times. At that point I began craving the companionship of those mosquitos and the fair wind conditions there presence guaranteed. Since it was late in the day I decided to take a break to see if the wind would die down. Which is to say I sat in the ditch and pumped water through my filter for a while. Staying hydrated while bicycling where there is no potable water is a constant challenge. After the first few days on the road I made it a habit to take my breaks in places where I could pump, preferably with nice views to distract me during this tedious process. After I finished filling my bottles the wind was still blowing so I began looking for a camp site. Eventually I found a nice spot along a river bank, made nicer by the presence of another group camping there. That night, as the wind continued to howl and the temperature dropped, I looked up at the ominous clouds filling the canyon in the distance. The next day I would have to ride up that canyon and then over the pass at the end of it, the highest highway pass in the state. I didn't sleep well that night, not knowing whether I'd find sunshine or snow in the morning. Fortunately it was the former and even though the headwind persisted through most of the morning I was content. I would have the rare privilege of riding through Atigun Pass on a mostly clear day. I stopped several times going up the pass, not only to catch my breath but also to look back and take in the unique scenery I would soon be leaving behind. It wasn't until the spruce trees started appearing on the descent that I began to truly appreciate what I had experienced in the previous four days. Scenery that would have been at least interesting on any other day now seemed nearly mundane. Momentarily my mind looked to the future and the possibility of trips to destinations with similar landscapes to the North Slope, perhaps Mongolia, Siberia or Tibet. I expected to have food on my mind when I arrived in Coldfoot, but thoughts of the North Slope still filled my head. Nonetheless, I feasted heavily in Coldfoot. My stomach didn't handle the transition from freeze-dried to fried food very well though and that night my stomach grumbled continuously.

Along the highway several people asked me why on earth I wanted to bike the Dalton. Sometimes these inquiries bordered on confrontational(especially with truckers who make a living driving the road) and I struggled to find the common ground necessary to successfully maneuver through them. Eventually I did find a solution though. I told them I was from Minnesota. This is not entirely true as I haven't lived there for several years but I did grow up and spend most of my life there. A good number of people in Alaska are either from Minnesota or have friends or family from there and a relationship with that state carries a certain weight. More importantly, it seems to be readily accepted as an excuse for doing things in Alaska that some people might consider crazy, such as biking the Dalton highway.

From Coldfoot the ride became tedious. An endless cycle of up and down. It became apparent that the road paid no heed to the lay of the land--it simply followed the pipeline. North of the Arctic Circle any hopes of bicycling the entire length of the highway ended. A long section of road construction meant a ride in the pilot car. The roller coaster ride continued into the final day on the highway. Though if the previous two days had been the kiddie ride the final day was the real thing, with monstrous ups and downs the entire way. The longer uphills brought the return of the swarming mosquitos and the introduction of the DEET cycle: put it on, sweat it off. By the end of the day I had amassed over 8,000 feet in elevation gain and my legs felt like rubber. The ride into Fairbanks continued over hilly terrain, though the road was more sane, choosing to go around hills when possible instead of over them. I arrived in Fairbanks feeling the pleasant combination of accomplishment and utter exhaustion.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg494 mi/795 km33250 ft/10908 m
Trip1338 mi/2153 km13 mi/21 km
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