Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Human Interest

We talked to truckers and pilot car drivers and caribou hunters (seeking tips), stopped at the Coldfoot truckstop 240 miles in featuring an all-you can eat buffet, visited an Arctic visitor center, camped on a seemingly-defunct runaway truck ramp beside an airstrip, encountered one other cyclist, met Todd who built a cabin by Gates of the Arctic where he hosts Japanese tourists (teaching them to roast hotdogs and shoot caribou), talked to a UAF geology fieldtrip, ate enormous burgers at the Hotspot, contended with mud and 15% grade hills (Beaver Slide pictured!), and pushed the final day to make it 80 miles in a rainstorm after eating lunch off a bike wheel. I reached a truce with my non free-standing tent, learned to put the panniers on frontwards each day, and suffered no mechanicals.

Land and Sky: Atigun to Fairbanks

Land and Sky: Deadhorse to Atigun

You might need to click on "Land and Sky: Deadhorse to Atigun" to see all images...

Tech Specs

Keeping it quick: I was on my brother's cross bike equipped for the trip with 34-34 gearing, mountain bike clipless pedals, rear panniers and fat dry bag with the sleeping bag rigged on the back. The improvised handlebar bag quickly become a fanny pack - not the height of bike fashion. Some items: down coat, fleece, tent, industrial strength booties, bear spray, tools, a book on climate change in the Arctic, misc clothing, water purifying tablets, Whisperlite, and EIGHT DAYS worth of food, topping out at about 55lbs on stuff loaded on the bike. I had my fingers crossed for my wheelset because breaking a spoke would have sent me hitchhiking. The uneven load combined with grabby front brakes lent itself to some wobbly handling. I hoped we ate enough to lighten the load prior to going down any big hills. You might note Joe was on a Pugsley...

Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay

After a weekend trip to Anchorage (700 scenic miles round trip) for Darcy and Toby's magnificent wedding party (not 100% sure they wish to be featured in this blog!), it was on the plane to Deadhorse, the "town" at the entrance to the North Slope oilfields at Prudhoe Bay. After all the trouble of buying new fuel canisters for our stove to avoid even gas residue, ditching the bear spray, and my retrieving my checked luggage so I could put a knife in it, the gate turned out to have no security at all... Once in Deadhorse, a collection of heavy machinery on a gravel pad, we took a tour of the oil fields, run by BP, which ended in a trip to the Arctic Ocean.

Biking the Haul Road

Starved for adventure by too much familiar in my East Coast life, I leaped at the chance to join my uber-tourer friend Joe on a trip down Alaska's "Haul Road," (officially called the Dalton Highway), which ran south from Deadhorse 414 miles before joining the Elliot Highway for the 85 mile trek to Fairbanks. The road was constructed in 1973 to service the newly created oil pipeline which ran 900 miles from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay all the way to Valdez where it could be loaded onto tankers. For much of the route - through the tundra, the foothills of the Brooks Range, over the Range's Atigun Past (splitting between Gates of the Arctic National Park on the east, ANWR to the east), past the "farthest north spruce tree," down the Chandalar Shelf, through Coldfoot, over the Artic Circle, and across the Yukon River, before ending in the unfriendly defunct mining town of Livengood "Liven' good in Livengood" - the road parallels the pipeline. Both pipeline and road seemed generally viewed as tremendous feats of engineering that had somehow mastered a remote and inhospitable landscape. While production is down as the oil field ages, Prudhoe Bay once produced 20% of US oil. And thanks largely to Ted Stevens and a diet of pure federal pork (in spite of so many Alaskans' disdain for government), every Alaska receives an annual permanent fund dividend check ($1300 last year); Alaska Natives of the Arctic enjoy a huge cut of oil revenue, making the North Star Borough one of the state's wealthiest; and shift work on the North Slope is a booming industry even in this recession. The trip promised to bundle a new conceptual landscape around energy and wilderness with an anticipated breathtaking physical landscape. Not to mention some good physical challenge.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I mistakenly left all my Denali photos on my brother's computer in Fairbanks, so... me and a moose is all we get. With only one cold day and going on three hours of sleep due to a noisy late-night police/wreckless driver escapade outside Stefan's cabin, taking a tour bus all day was a welcome if lame way to see Denali. In spite of the weather, we managed to capture the "big five" - grizzly, caribou, moose, golden eagle, and wolf, clamoring with everyone else with cameras and binoculars to whichever side of the bus had the best view. It was rather ridiculous! The alternative way to experience the park seemed a stark extreme - trail-less hiking. In fact, just after our visit an Georgia man in for a conference went out for a day hike and was lost for three days. Not to mention Chris McCandless...

Mt. Prindle Overnight

I would need to remember how to camp and overcome my fear of bears, so my brother took me backpacking. Yowsas let me tell you these White Mountains were not like New Hampshire's! No trails and no people. Finally met some sheep hunters out for a week or so hoping to haul out a Dall sheep (ewes pictured). These mid-aged women hunters with their rifles, maps and satellite phone splayed out in camp, talking about the wolf that visited the previous night and their intended forays to the ridge, for sure could outlast me in this wilderness 1000 to 1. Pictured: Torrs, sky, Dall sheep, and Stefan's ill-fated sleeping bag experiment.

Things Alaskan

Things Alaskan: building a cabin, farewell to a caribou, warding off bears at the Museum of the North, patriotism (?), permafrost, requisite broken windshield driving through Wasilla, dog mushing, Fairbanks fur store, Sportsman's Warehouse, dry cabin water system, such light, the dump (no recycling in Fairbanks), "sturdy" pilot bread backcountry cracker gone gourmet, Chinook caught off cliff and badly filleted, moto, and hopping falafel stand.


Post-Fitchburg entailed more joyful though lackluster suffering on the bike with dear team Wheelworks, including Clamfest for the first time, then the gorgeous, authentic, and hilly Tour of the Catskills, then a heat-combusting Beverly Crit, then Witches Cup by which point I finally had some racing legs, only to fly the very next morning to...


I would get to see my brother's life in Fairbanks (a long overdue adventure), attend a wedding party of a grad school friend, add raw experience to intellectual grasp of a climate change frontier, and, in a late minute trip extension (sorry Green Mountain Stage Race), pedal the "Haul Road" (Dalton Highway) 500 miles from the Arctic Ocean to Fairbanks. The itinerary seemed destined to jolt me from my comfort zones!