Friday, August 20, 2010

Monday, 16 August 2010 – Deadhorse to Coldfoot – 249.5 miles

The wind woke me up early this morning and for once, I was glad. Here's a photo taken at about 5am, just about an hour or so after sunrise. There was probably only 3 or 4 hours of night.

There was a lot to do this morning. I wanted to make sure the scooter suffered no damage from yesterdays ride. I'd put paper towels down the night before and weighted them down with rocks. Again, I was lucky to find no drips. There was minor damage to the underside of the floorboard. The toe loop on the sidestand was bent a little, too. All in all, I'd say I came out of it pretty well.

I'd made a reservation to take the tour from Deadhorse to Prudhoe Bay (private vehicles were not allowed on the last 5 or 10 miles up to the bay).

I was told to meet at the Arctic Caribou Inn at 6:30. AM. (not my hour.) I'd stopped by there last night. I knew how to get there and had purposely camped nearby.

Most of the other tour-goers were from a group organized by REI. I love REI and was wearing and using gear from their store. I met Pat and Loren Upton from Salmon, Idaho and Heather Hudson from Anchorage. There were also three guys from England, Tim, Tom and Phil. They'd shipped a Toyota Land Cruiser from their home to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Their plan is to drive to Prudhoe Bay and on to New York, then ship the car home. Amazing! And they have a very entertaining blog called This Road . It's worth reading if you have an interest in travel, adventure, and / or the antics of three Englishmen.

I was expecting the tour to be focused on the bay, it's history and the local flora and fauna. I thought it was odd that the tour began with a film that was a kind of pro-oil propaganda piece. It didn't exactly go over well with the group of mostly granola-eating, tree-hugging, Sierra Club types (myself included). There was one part that made everyone laugh: the scene was a table covered with products made from or with petroleum. The narrator was naming them as the camera panned to each item. When he said "children's toys" the camera landed on a Makita drill. (Well, it was funny at the time.)

Branden, our guide and driver, checked us of his "security clearance" list and led us onto the bus. As he drove, he explained that most workers on the North Slope have a shift of two weeks and two weeks off. Even the fellow in the hardware store had that schedule. About all they do is work and sleep. Then go home. It seemes like a hard way to make a living to me. Branden described the buildings in the various camps – clusters of trailers attached to form a compound to house that company's workers. Kinda bleak.

The sign says "Deadhorse Camp Prudhoe Bay National Forest"
Branden explained that the joke is the plywood trees here are the only trees left in Deadhorse. The rest were clear cut. Yeesh, this tour is depressing.

Of course there was miles of pipe

and heavy machinery

There were some wildlife sightings: "those dang Canadian geese" as Branden called them and white-footed ducks

I was surprised to see sand dunes. Branden said the Arctic is basically a desert with very little precipitation.

Everyone got off the bus when we arrived at the bay. Some walked along the shoreline and some were eager to get wet. We were warned - no diving and no swimming (because they were concerned about us suffering from hypothermia). Only wading was permitted.

I just wanted to dip my toes in the water. That was enough for me. It was not as cold as I thought it would be but it was cold enough.

My new English friends went in up to their knees. I took photos of that with their cameras. Got them drying off with mine.

This photo is to show Patrick that Rockhopper has an adventure-seeking English cousin (held by Tim).

Overall, the tour was not what I expected. It was informative and interesting, mostly describing oil drilling and the life of oil workers. It was totally worth getting up way earlier than I usually do; I got to dip my toes in the Arctic Ocean and got a certificate stating I was a member of "The Polar Bears Dipping Club".

I talked with some of my fellow tour mates for almost two hours after we returned to Deadhorse. I would have loved to stay and chat longer but I knew what was ahead of me. I needed to get back on the Dalton Highway and go back to Coldfoot. I tried not to think of it as that never-ending awful road. Instead, I took it in sections. 50 miles of gravel. I can do that. 70 miles of semi-crappy pavement. No problem. It was not nearly as intimidating if I broke it into smaller pieces, so to speak. My progress was slow but steady.

There were birds called yellow wagtails flitting in the tundra along the roadside. At least I was getting relaxed enough to notice that. And I began to have a sense of humor about the signs, too. I knew that this one was an understatement.

Before too long, I was heading up the Atigun Pass.

A motorcyclist pulled up alongside me and asked if I really was from San Diego. I said yes but puzzled over how he could know that. The license plate frame doesn’t indicate anything and besides it was completely covered in mud. (I later learned that Indian Steve had been telling all the motorcyclists that they'd been bested by a girl on a scooter. haha) The rider introduced himself as Jim and we talked for a short time before he sped off to try to catch another rider he met earlier. I saw Jim again later at yet another construction stop and tried to continue our conversation.
The only problem is, that wasn't Jim. Boy, did I feel stupid! It was en equally sweet guy from New York who happened to be riding with Jim. My only excuse is they were on very similar bikes and we all had a layer of mud and dust that covered anything distinctive. Anyway, Phillip from Chatanooga was with him, too.

I caught up with the real Jim and the others at Coldfoot. Phillip was on an Iron Butt 10 day, 10,000 mile trip. Understandably, he was pressed for time and left. The remaining four of us enjoyed dinner and conversaion on a wide range of topics. That was fun, guys. Let's do it again on the east coast.

By the way, thanks for the throttle lock, Jim. I appreciate the way you look out out for everyone on the road.

It was raining softly and I hoped it would clear up soon, especially since the boys decided to continue to ride south to Fairbanks. I rode back up to Marion Creek campground, found another nice campsite and slept well.

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