Alaska Adventure Machine!

Alaska Adventure Machine!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Under Training and Over Dreaming!

Every summer, when I trek North to Alaska for work in the mineral exploration industry, I try to make a plan for some adventure afterwards. Now that sounds logical given the location, but after a work schedule of 12+ hours per day and very few days off in these bush camps, well one normally is pretty fried at it's conclusion. The lure of home is definitely great. I've found most of my coworkers succumb to the thought of a cool beer (in the field we have "dry camps") and just plain chill-laxing at home. But I've always had the need for some adrenaline fix before heading southwards to my home. As I gazed out the Alaska Airlines plane's window, I seriously wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into this time!

This was supposed to be a bicycle trip, not a mountaineering one. The rugged Brooks Range spread out below me. Spanning 900 miles east to west, all well north of the Arctic Circle, it has only one gravel road threading through it. This is the Dalton Highway, aka "The Haul Road". It  was built in 1974 to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline construction. It is 414 miles long, then it joins the Elliot Highway for another 81 miles, before arriving in Fairbanks; a nearly 500 mile ride for me. After crossing the Brooks Range, I'd cycle past the Arctic Circle and Yukon River before tackling the rugged hill country outside of Fairbanks. Looking down out my plane's window I serious doubted my chances with this first winter snow of the season glistening below me. I could even make out the road cutting across the white tundra foothills. This was going to be epic for sure!

 As the flight approached the arctic coastline, a layer of heavy cloud and sea fog appeared. The weather for the Deadhorse Airport was in the 20's and winds up to 35 mph. We touched down under a 200 foot cloud ceiling and taxied past grim petroleum industry buildings. Amid the gruff Carhartt-clad workers I really stood out, wearing sleek form-fitting spandex cycling tights and cycling shoes. I hadn't even brought jeans or tennis shoes for travel,  as these would be too heavy and useless on a cycling trip.

I checked into the  Prudhoe Bay Hotel across the muddy street. This is a facility for oil field workers and contractors, but is also open to any lost souls heading North on some wacky adventures. One dines in the cafeteria with all the workers and one definitely feels like an out-of-place Martian there! With the weather so crappy I stayed a couple of days, and keep busy with assembling my bike and a cycle tour about the area in search of stove fuel (at an auto parts store) and photo taking.

After a couple days of carbo-loading at the worker's cafeteria, the wind had lessened to 15 mph temperatures still a chilly 28F.  This was as good as it was going to get, so I headed off through the mud. A Latvian couple, themselves doing a massive car road trip, stopped to take my picture. This was the real deal now!