Thursday, August 19, 2010

Saturday, 14 August 2010 – Fairbanks to Coldfoot – 269.8 miles

I was lugging my gear from the ladies tent cabin to the snazzy covered motorcycle parking area when I heard a barely audible sound. At the far end of the volleyball court, a fellow GoNorth guest was playing his guitar. What a lovely way to start the day!

The sun was shining, the sky was blue and I was ready to get on the road. I had filled up my tank and reserves with 91 octane fuel, bought groceries, and felt well-rested. I headed north on highway 2, ready for the Dalton Highway.

This is the mail center for Haystack. I took this photo for Matt, who’s in search of the smallest post office. Does this count, Matt?

Here’s a picturesque little foot bridge over the Tatalina River. It’s where I saw my first otter. At least I think it was an otter. Can you see his head peeking up out of the water?

The Trans Alaska Pipeline, which runs over from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, is frequently visible from the highway. Building it required crossing over 800 miles of wilderness in Alaska and a maze in Washington. While I've got to admire the skill and political acumen of Edward L. Patton in completing what some call an engineering marvel, for me, it looks like a scar on an otherwise beautifully scenic landscape.

Just a few miles north of Fairbanks, highway 2 ends and highway 11 begins. Highway 11 is also known as the James W. Dalton Highway or the "Haul Road". It has a reputation for fast and numerous trucks, poor road surfaces, scarce services (food, water, fuel, etc.) and it’s a mecca (of sorts) for PTW riders.

Just a few feet after the Dalton Highway sign are two more. One says "HEAVY INDUSTRIAL TRAFFIC PROCEED WITH CAUTION" The other sign is slightly smaller. It says "PAVEMENT ENDS". And it does. For the next 60 miles or so. It's ok. This was expected. No problem.
Oh, that blur of white in the upper right corner of the photo is dust and pebbles kicked up by passing "heavy industrial traffic." These guys drive fast!
(One other note - I took this photo on the way back to Fairbanks. Don't be thrown by the gas can on the front replacing the yellow bag.)

I came to learn that all these signs are something of an understatement; when it says “Construction next 20 miles” it means that the road will be torn up for construction purposes for at least 20 miles. After that, the road will get worse. A“Bump” sign posted before a bridge crossing means there will be similar “bumps” before and after every bridge crossing from here on. You’ll usually only get the one warning. Then there are the ones that are kinda laughable like “rough road”, "gravel ahead", etc. You get the idea.

So far the road, while not paved, is not too bad. And there are lots of butterflies keeping me company.

I stopped at a turn out with information about the fires in 1993 and 2003. The signs describe the extent of the damage and the new growth resulting from the fire. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion but I’m smelling smoke again. And that haze in the distance looks like smoke, too.

It turns out there is a fire. It’s about 5 miles up the Yukon River toward Stevens Village. It started on July 30th from a lightning strike in an area of black spruce. I learned this from stopping at the Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station.

This tiny visitor center is just over the E.L.Patton Bridge which crosses the Yukon River. There I met a nice family from Maine who have a yellow Vespa GTS250. I also met Linda and Roy who work at the center. Linda gave very detailed info about where to find fuel, rest stops, water, etc. along the highway. She recommended I attend the 8pm talk / performance at the Coldfoot Visitor Center. Linda even gave me a certificate validating that I’d been to the Arctic Circle. And I got photographic proof, too.

At Linda's suggestion, I also stopped at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot. I arrived in time to enjoy a very informative musical program put on by one of the interns. She told stories of the original settlers and sang songs from the period. It was very well done and I wish I remembered her name.

The visitor center ranger lent me a bear canister to safely store my food and recommended that I “might be more comfortable” at the campground just up the road from Coldfoot. The second time this was said to me and I began to wonder about it. I decided to take a look. Besides, I needed to refuel before setting off for Deadhorse and that would be my only opportunity.

I rode across the street to see the Coldfoot Inn, café and camp area. It’s basically one big parking lot with two buildings and lots of big trucks parked in between. Hmmm, I see what they mean. It’s dusty, noisy and not very inviting.
(These photos were taken a few days later. It was late morning so most of the trucks were gone. Also, it had rained earlier so, instead of being dusty, it was muddy and gooey.)

trucks in the foreground, campers, RVs and tents behind them and the hotel / lounge

the cafe

Coldfoot Camp sign

I rode to the fuel pump. A fellow stared as I rode by, then walked over to me and introduced himself as Indian Steve. He said he’d seen every kind of motorcycle and bicycle, even a unicycle, but never a Vespa. We talked for a short while and he urged me to stop in Anchorage to see Joseph at AK Cycle. Said it would make Joseph’s day to know a scooter made it up the Dalton. I told him I would (1) if I made it all the way up the Dalton and (2) if I made it to Anchorage. I got back on the scooter, waved goodbye to Indian Steve and rode 5 miles to Marion Creek Campground. It was much more inviting and definitely quieter than the parking lot in Coldfoot. I found a site near the water pump, set up camp and went to sleep.

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