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Fri Aug 31 2012: ColdFeet in the Arctic Ocean

So cool seeing how far we've traveled on a map of North America! Some interesting statistics:

Toronto to Vancouver = 4206 kms
Vancouver to Deadhorse = 4117 kms
Our cross-country trip to Vancouver is almost exactly half-way to Deadhorse! This really puts the vast distances of Arctic Canada and the US into perspective!

Deadhorse gas station - feels like we're filling up directly from the ground!

Our first task was to fill up our empty tanks. After our last gas stop in Coldfoot, we were almost completely dry. However, we were shocked to discover that gas is $5.33/gallon in Deadhorse! Almost directly underneath our tires lies the largest oil fields in North America, but due to state taxation issues, there are no refineries in Prudhoe Bay. All the gasoline up here has been shipped up via the 18-wheelers that tried to kill us the day before.

Downtown Deadhorse.

Almost all the buildings here are single-story trailer units that look as if they are fitted together like Lego. This is less a town than it is a community of oil drilling companies that ship workers here for months at a time, begrudgingly tolerating the harsh and spartan conditions, counting the days and paycheques before they return home to family and civilization. No one is here for leisure except the few adventure motorcyclists and the odd traveler looking to reach the Arctic Ocean.

Our oasis!

Accommodations here are as exorbitantly expensive as the gas. The cost to ship supplies and materials for the workers up the Haul Road are reflected in the prices that the tourists pay, while everyone who actually works here is completely comped by the companies they work for. Neda did some research and found that the Prudhoe Bay Hotel was the best deal in town - all buffet style meals and a 24-hour kitchen. We booked in for two days and paid a handsome price for the respite from the non-stop rain and mud outside.

The hotel was full-service, so we were welcome to help ourselves to all the supplies they stocked. For the price we paid, we went ape-sheet on laundry soap, fabric softener, soap, condiments, wet naps, etc. And for good measure, we also raided the kitchen for a weeks worth of sandwiches, cookies, potato chips. As we watched the rain continue to fall non-stop outside, we were comforted in the knowledge that our bikes would be nice and top-heavy-tipsy for the ride back in the mud that was building up! So not looking forward to that... :(

Deadhorse indoor fashion accessories

Every "building" (converted trailer) in Deadhorse has a policy - either take your outdoor footwear off, or put these fetching blue booties on while you walk around. Otherwise the inside of the buildings would be coated in the same mud that our bikes were outside. All the washrooms and dining areas had large signs reminding everyone to wash their hands and to use the hand sanitizers. The temporary population of 3000 workers in Deadhorse are 80% male, and like most guys, health and cleanliness rank low in their list of priorities. As well, Deadhorse is a dry town, as you can imagine the troubles that alcohol would cause in a place composed entirely of testosterone. Neda remarked that everyone was so friendly towards her. I told her she should try visiting a prison sometime too...

Portable drilling equipment, the weight and pressure on those tires are so immense,
it can only travel a few mph without them overheating and exploding

The Dalton Highway ends a few miles short of the Arctic Ocean, so to reach it, we had to book a tour from one of the local operators. There was a 24-hour waiting period for them to clear our passports with the US government. Security is a major concern, which is why there is no public access to the water without an identity check and an escort. Luckily my unpaid speeding tickets in two states did not count as a National Security violation, and we hopped in a van the next morning to see Deadhorse and the Arctic Ocean.

Typical Lego trailer buildings in Deadhorse

We did see some construction of permanent buildings in Deadhorse amongst all the trailer structures. They learned the lessons of Dawson City and were using raised floor construction so as not to overheat the permafrost underneath.

A little Deadhorse humour - we are north of the timberline so these are the only trees we'll find up here
I like the nod to the gold and the Inukshok as well

The funky goggles that we are sporting are for our protection should a passing 18-wheeler spray us with bullet-shaped rocks. A lot of injuries on the slope are from exactly this and there are strict speed limits on passing other vehicles.

Coldfoot, er feet in the Arctic Ocean!

The air temperature was about 4-5C (40F), but the water felt much colder! We're told that some people actually go all the way in and swim in the dead of winter! Crazy!

Rusted metal oil barrel on the shores of Deadhorse beach

Driftwood on the beach

This driftwood is exactly like us! No, I don't mean that we are drifting around Alaska aimlessly, the wood is from Canada. Since there are no trees up here on the North Slope of the Brooks Range, the Arctic currents carry timber from the Yukon and the Northwest Territories and deposit it on the shores of Prudhoe Bay.

Deadhorse art - This was the site of the original discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay.
This statue is supposed to resemble the pilot flame burning on top of oil rigs

Immediately after the tour, we steeled ourselves for the long ride back down the Dalton Highway. It's been raining for the last two days straight without a break and I'm dreading the mud bog that we're going to have to ride through. Neda compounds my fears by reminding me that the road we will be riding will be very different now from the one we came up, so we really have no idea what to expect.

As if to drive the point home, the potholed stretch of road just south of Deadhorse is now besieged by hurricane-like winds. Our bikes are leaned sideways into the cross-winds as we try to find a dry line through the mud and washboard. Almost like it was a sentient (and malevolent) creature, the Dalton keeps throwing things at us, and I sense that it's somehow angry with us.

Very different scenery on the Atigun Pass

As we reach the Atigun Pass, most of the snow has melted, and the view of the gorge is tinged with low-lying reddish-brown vegetation. It is a much different road as all the pitfalls and dangers have moved on us. Even the construction areas are different, as crews finish one section and move on to another.

Atigun Gorge-ous

Approaching a deserted construction site

Almost all the construction sites are deserted as we are riding back south on the US Labor Day Monday. Although there are no watering trucks today, the rain has made the roads even slicker than on our run up. So many times I feel the bike sliding out from underneath me and I have to consciously suppress the survival instinct to roll off or brake, and goose the throttle instead. Neda's hand is hurting from the deathgrip on the handlebars. My sphincter has a deathgrip on the motorcycle seat.

The only tires worse than these would have been racing slicks

Mud at the Yukon Crossing

During our tour of the Arctic Ocean, our escort told us that August is the rainiest season in Northern Alaska. Something that we should have researched *BEFORE* coming up here!!! We are soooo unprepared. Just like the time we tried to ride up the Indian Himalayan mountains during monsoon season. We really don't make things easy on ourselves...

One thing that worked out for us was that we dodged mosquito season by a couple of weeks. During the summer, all the stagnant pools of water in the area provide a perfect breeding ground for billions of mosquitoes who go on a rampage, swarming caribou and motorcyclists up and down the Dalton.

Neda likes construction sites because of the readily available port-a-potties...

During our research, we had read about the "700 yards of terror" on the Dalton. This can occur anywhere on the road and will absolutely frighten the shale out of a motorcycle rider. Our "700 yards" happened to lie right at the end. As the GPS counted down a few kms till we would hit the Elliot Highway, the mud on the road quickly multiplied. This was the Dalton's final assault on us. My speed dropped to a crawl as the motorcycle wobbled in every direction but straight. Traction was non-existant. The high and heavy weight of all the laundry detergent and potato chips from the Prudhoe Bay Hotel threatened to topple my GS at every inch. I have never wanted to stop and give up on a motorcycle road, but those last few kms of thick and greasy, heavy mud on the Dalton had me seriously considering calling a tow-truck to come pick me up.

As we reached the safety of the pavement and broken asphalt, I heard Neda whoop over the intercom. There was much rejoicing as we celebrated having gone up *AND* down the Haul Road and arriving back in one piece!

Clean again!!!! Took us forever to power wash the CaCl2 and mud off in Fairbanks

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