Deadhorse, Alaska to Seattle, Washington
In this episode, I survive a very nasty Dalton Highway from Deadhorse to Fairbanks. At one point, I was stopped dead in my tracks from radiators clogged thick with mud. Then, heading south via the Cassiar Highway, I witness more awesome beauty of British Colombia.
As is my M.O, here’s a video of the whole post.
As I mentioned in the last episode, almost the entire trip north on the Dalton to Deadhorse was, well… easy. The weather had been perfect, hot even, and the roads were dry and hard.
It was an entirely different and a very miserable story heading south, though. It was bad. So bad, it made the trip south suck. The roads were complete shit. I may have even cried in my helmet once or twice it was so bad (no, not really, but it would not have been hard…)
The construction area just outside of Deadhorse was the worst. Fresh, unpacked dirt had turned into deep, muddy ruts with the blowing rain. This is Brian after his off (the video is pretty scary – he went down pretty hard).
And then I came off about 2 minutes later.
I mean seriously, how can anyone ride on a road with gravel like this! Some of it is the size of a large apple!!
This was one of the better sections – deep gravel!!
And then more mud… deep-ass mud near the Yukon Crossing.
The weather did clear a bit after the Atigun Pass, thankfully.
After that, the road to Coldfoot was a mixed bag of misery over soupy roads and I was slipping and sliding all the whole way. It took 8.5 hours to cover the 240 miles to Coldfoot.
We booked into Coldfoot Camp for the night and I sat and drank beers to stave off all the anxiety and desperation I’d felt during the ride down. That was damn good beer. That night I slept a solid 11 hours.
It continued to rain in Coldfoot that night and again the next day for southern half of the Dalton. It was so muddy that eventually the radiators on my R1200GS became completely clogged with mud and I began to overheat, having to stop every few miles to let the bike cool down.
Eventually, the rain came on hard and my savior was riding through it, cooling the bike and clearing one radiator. I finally made it into Fairbanks and made a beeline for the first carwash place to give the bike a good rinse, including cleaning out those radiators.
In Fairbanks, I stayed on the University of Alaska campus in one of their dorm rooms. You really should check these places out. Cheap, secure, and with good wifi (all the students are home for the summer). I did some bit of admin over three days, replacing my GoPro case, and getting extra batteries.
The next day, we headed down to Anchorage. The ride out of Fairbanks is pretty boring to start but then the mountain rise above you and before you know it you’re in Denali National Park.
I went through another construction area much like the ones that scared me coming north through BC and the Yukon and realized this, and those, were actually fantastic roads compared to what I experienced on the Dalton.
The next three nights, we stayed on the University of Alaska campus in Anchorage. Excellent rooms!!!! We holed up here to let some bad weather pass through. The folks in Anchorage were happy about the rain because of a large wildfire just south of the city that was threatening.
The we headed over to Tok on the Glenn Highway, where a large glacier dominated the view for a while.
In Tok, I stayed in the same hotel I stayed in when going north. And this is where Brian and I parted ways, me going south and he covering my tracks east through Chicken and Dawson. I really enjoyed riding with Brian (here’s a shot of him at Denali).
The next day, I make my way to Haines Junction and stay at a very nice hostel and met some cool people, including Sarath, a fellow ADVer making his way up and back to Alaska from San Francisco.
The next night I was in Johnson’s Crossing (there aren’t many places to stay up here!), a small shanty type place, but they had wifi, a good restaurant, and beer!
I also ran into a couple from the UK, who was up here riding in a large group. Good people. I bumped into them several times heading south to Kitwanga, the end of the Cassiar.
On my way south, I got an email from my old friend Stefan (third meeting now) who was heading north. We met up for coffee somewhere on the Alaska Highway. I’ll be seeing him again as we head south into Mexico together.
I was hearing reports about more construction on the Cassiar near Dease Lake, and just as my luck would have it, it was raining… But, thankfully, this was the last of the construction I would see. Thank goodness because, frankly, I was tired of it!
At Dease Lake, I hung out in the parking lot drinking with these fellow adventurers… (Hi Joanie!)
I spent the next day in Stewart, which is a short 35 miles or so off the Cassiar highway and well worth the ride. Here, I saw Bear Glacier right on the side of the road.
The towns of Stewart, in British Colombia, and neighboring Hyder, in Alaska, are cool little places it the world surrounded by mountains.
In Hyder, I visited Fish Creek in Tongass National Forest where the U. S. National Forest Service had built an observation platform for feeding bears. I saw none that day (they had been averaging one-two a day, and at random times).
The next few days were merely transit days – Smithers, Prince George, and then Cache Creek – I was looking forward to getting “home” to Seattle again.
After Cache Creek, I chose Route 99 to Vancouver, known as the Sea to Sky Highway. It goes through Lillooet and Whistler and is probably the most amazingly scenic, twisty, and fast road I have ever been on, and carves right through the Rockies.
I know this is a bold statement, but I am from North Carolina and spent a lot of time in Virginia, riding through the Smoky Mountains. I believe if you took the very best of the motorcycle roads in NC and VA – and I am talking about the Dragon, the Rattlesnake, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherohala Skyway, roads like that – if you took only the best pieces of each of those roads and summed them, they’d still come up short of the Sea to Sky Highway. Simply breathtaking!
Later that day, I made it into Seattle, tired from a full days riding and thankful to have this sometimes arduous, yet beautiful trip, come to a close. It was nice to be back in civilization again.
1) British Columbia: I spent nearly five weeks in British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska and in my opinion, British Columbia is the most beautiful place I have ever visited – in my life. It is an outdoor lover’s paradise with a beautiful, raw, seemingly untouched, but well cared for diversity. From mountains to rivers to glaciers to animals, I was stunned everyday riding through this Province. I can also tell Canadians are very proud of this Province.
2) Aloneness. The flip side to riding in these truly faraway and amazing lands is that I was by myself by what felt like hundreds of miles sometimes. I really struggled to get over a couple of humps of exasperation caused by my isolation. Each time that happened, however, I gave in to the beauty of the world around me. Just giving in I think is the key to truly remarkable travel, being vulnerable to whatever happens and simply going along for the ride. I felt so much better about myself, life, and the world when I resolved to these inclinations.
3) Dalton. As I said in the last episode, my northbound trip on the Dalton was, well, easy. It was hot, dry, and dusty, and the hard pack dirt roads were very hard. Coming back south, I encountered a totally different road, wetted by days of raining, and raining during the trek, that made the journey an expedition. I learned so many things about riding in sloppy stuff those two days. No, that’s not quite right. I had learned these lessons at the BMW Off-road School, I had just never applied them practically. These tips worked for me, so I recommend trying these when things are sloppy (all of which are equally important and go together):
a) Always look up and ahead!! As soon as you look at the muddy rut beside you, that is where you are going. I got in the habit of the gluing my eyes on the “T” on the Pilot Vehicle in really bad stuff in construction zones. If you are not following a pilot vehicle, pick a tree off in the distance. Huge difference!
b) Loose hands! When a heavy bike goes squirrely under you, with the handle bars going all over the place from deep gravel or mud, the natural inclination is to control it, forcibly, and even slow down. No!! It’s like wrestling a bear and you will tire quickly and will likely come off eventually. Alternatively, I found when I was in something a bit slippery or unpredictable, I “let go” and thought “loose hands.” When I did this, the bike would straighten right up without hardly a push from me.
c) When in doubt… throttle out. So, I never understood this lesson until I did it 1000 times on the Dalton in soupy mud. I always thought it meant keeping your speed up through messy stuff. Nope, not to me. What I found it to mean is instead of a “hard throttle” through the soup, it is rather to “blip” the throttle when you feel the front tire digging in. “Blipping” the throttle would decompress the weight on the front suspension, making the steering very light (as opposed to digging into the muck and wobbling the steering all over the place), and when done with “loose hands” and “looking ahead,” the bike would always – ALWAYS – right itself.