07 June 2012

The Dalton Highway!

The Dalton Highway began as a dirt road, closed to the public, and open only to people working on the pipeline. It's sole purpose was to provide a way to get people and supplies to any part of the pipeline at anytime. It was simply known as the "haul road" then. Eventually they began paving parts of it, and later it was open to the public. This road, about 422 miles long and beginning 80 miles outside of Fairbanks, has become the Mecca for dual sport motorcycle riders touring North America.

The start of the Dalton Highway

Our original plan had been to take four days to ride up and back. The miles aren't super long, but large portions of the road are dirt/gravel, and the speed limit is 50mph the whole way along. At the end of the road is a town (and I use that term very lightly) called Deadhorse. That is as far as one can go unaccompanied by oil company security. For about $50, a shuttle will take a group of people to Prudhoe Bay to see the Arctic Ocean and dip their toes in. The shuttle is very strict about where they can and cannot go, as even the oil workers are not allowed onto the tundra. They may only use the road along the pipeline and the roads that go from the highway to the pipeline.

About a week in to the trip, we started discussing whether we wanted to drive the road at all. We finally decided we wanted to get to the Arctic Circle, about 120 miles north on the road. There is a campground there, and we thought we would ride there, take the pics we wanted, camp and ride back. We thought we would use the extra two days to spend a little more time in Fairbanks and add a day to Denali National Park.

The weather was great the day we rode up the highway. We were quite thankful for that, since we seem to have been hitting rain, at least a little, every single day since Lake Louise. Once getting used to the dirt road, it wasn't too bad. In fact, when it turned back to pavement for a few miles, it was so potholed and full of frost heaves, we were wishing we could have the dirt and gravel back! Josh sometimes calls back to me problems in the road, "pothole on left" or "rough road on right." Rough road? I guess you could call it that. Nature was basically trying to take back the road, or it was just falling off the side. I guess one could refer to it as rough.

We stopped at Yukon Crossing, about 56 miles into the highway, and were talked into going 60 miles past the Arctic Circle to the town of Coldfoot, and then camping five miles further on at Marion Creek Campground. It wound up being a fantastic ride with amazing views of mountain range after mountain range.

Standing at the Arctic Circle: We had to shed layers up there as it was the warmest day of the trip thus far!

The next morning, we stopped back in Coldfoot to gas up and get a cup of coffee. We met two motorbikes who had camped there on the way back down. One was on a 1200GS, and one was on a KLR. They had gone all the way up and said the last 35-50 miles was brutally cold. It seemed to be a sign that we made the right decision. I was glad for that because that morning, I stood there in our campsite thinking maybe we should go the rest of the way. It just sort of called to me. But, even now, I think we made the right decision and spending the extra days doing and seeing other things was great.

The END of the Dalton Highway!

Our return trip was a little more rough than the day before. Weather did not cooperate, and we got rained on. A lot. And we all know what happens when rain mixes with a dirt highway. MUD! We got a little dirty, and I got some experience riding in mud! There was a little calcium chloride left on the road from the previous storm, but they hadn't laid down more. This chemical does two things: The chemical holds the dirt road together when it rains, (which is a pretty important feature) and makes it incredible slippery. (which sucks) If you're on a motorbike, it makes the dirt stick to your chain and sprockets. My bike was making horrible clunking sounds and we had to stop a couple times to try and clean it and re-tension the chain. It also seems to have taken out Josh's horn. (But it was a Stebel horn and seeing as how they don't seem to be particularly reliable, who knows what the real cause was.)

For us it meant the road was a little slippy,but not too bad, and the mud that got on the bikes held together really well and was difficult to clean off. We slowed our speed a bit and kept on moving, pulling over and letting working vehicles which wanted to go faster than us pass. The rules of the road are pretty simple up there. The trucks own the road so pull over or stop to let them go by, knowing they may throw rocks as far as 30 feet that will crack your windshield. Don't wander off the road and go out to the pipeline. If you want pics with it, there are plenty of places where you can drive up to it or under it to take them. Take two full size mounted spare tires. Getting a flat out there is likely and the road is narrow. You don't want to have to be fixing a flat for more than the few minutes it takes to take a wheel off and put another one on--see what I said above about rocks thrown from trucks. Also, there are really no services other than Colfoot and Wiseman (which are 20 miles apart) once you leave Yukon Crossing.

Before leaving on this trip, I read everything I could about this road. Info from the state and pipeline, people's blogs about riding, and tour brochures. We realize we got really lucky and our planning worked for us. We had a great experience and an awesome ride. We met nice people--chatted with people in the cafe and the visitor's centers-- saw some beautiful scenery and learned a bit about the history of the pipeline.

I highly recommend this trip to anyone on a dual sport motorbike. On the other side of that, I would NEVER want to make that trip in a car, much less an RV. The road is rough on four or more wheeled vehicles. Plan well and give yourself some bumper days on each side of the trip for inclement weather. I can see how it is a dangerous road when it is raining heavily. Try for dry days and you'll have a blast like we did!



1 comment:

  1. Love reading about your adventures. Be safe. Love u both!!