Monday, September 2, 2013

Dalton 4 and south through Canada

Paul and I got to a slow start breaking camp this morning.  The air was cold enough to see my breath in it and my sleeping bag provided a perfect amount of warmth to be comfortable.  Getting out my sleeping bag and back into my riding clothes proved to be an uncomfortable chore, everything was wet and muddy from the last few days but I was beyond the point of caring.  Being wet, dirty and smelly has quickly become the new normal. I could have used a shower or a river to wash the grime and stink off of my body and out of my hair but there was no such option within a day’s travel.

It must have rained a few times during the night because the outside of my tent and everything left out for the night was also soaking wet.   I wanted to start a fire to warm up and dry my clothes but it would have been almost impossible to find anything other than gasoline that would burn.   Breakfast consisted of stolen fruit cups and broken bits of cold pop tarts that didn’t survive the last few days of jostling inside my cargo boxes.  As usual I made a pot of extra hot and extra strong coffee just to restore brain function and add some warm fluids to my empty and groaning stomach.   I would have to wait until that evening or possibly the next day when I made it back to civilization to get cleaned up and fed properly.

The ride south was an absolute blast.   There were roughly 250 miles between us and the end of the Dalton Highway and we ripped up and down the dirt enjoying each and every mile.  The roads weren’t in bad shape but they were wet enough to still be entertaining.  I really enjoyed rolling onto the throttle and breaking the back tire loose going up the mountain sides at full speed.  The big girl and I have become one entity by now and I feel as though I’m using the bike to the very limits of what BMW intended when they built her.  Any other machine out there with the exception of a KTM 990 would be trashed by now.  

There weren’t many big rig trucks using the dirt road that day.  Every once in a while an RV or a pickup truck with hunters would come crawling by but aside from that we had the Dalton to ourselves.  With every passing mile we would begin to see more vegetation and trees finally appeared and seemed to be getting taller and thicker as we got further from the Arctic Circle.

The end of the Dalton marked an important milestone for my journey and I raced across the intersection from dirt and paved road without stopping for a picture or even a second glance.  I was glad to be back on actual pavement and put the last 850 miles of dirt road behind me.  I twisted the grip in celebration past Paul and we raced back to the bike shop I got my tires at 5 days ago.  On our way to the bike shop people in traffic were staring at us with funny looking expressions on their faces.  Imagine two guys in full adventure gear mostly covered in beige mud with their bikes dripping all over the road on yourdaily afternoon commute.  2 teenagers even took our pictures as they drove by with their camera phones.  We really stood out from the crowd which is harder to do in Alaska but we some how managed it.  The guys at the bike shop told me I could use their garden hose to wash my bike in exchange for telling them stories of how the trip went and what the road conditions were like when I got back so we were on our way back to the shop to take them up on that much needed offer.  

I spent over an hour hosing the mud and debris off of the bike and out of its million nooks and crannies.  After the hour there was a huge puddle of mud and sand on the ground but you could hardly tell if the bike was any cleaner.  I could have easily spent 5 hours spraying it down from all angles and I would have still had more cleaning to do.  I concentrated on the engine, brakes and rims for the most part and left the detailing for another day.  I still had 6 thousand miles to ride and I didn’t really see the point in breaking a sweat just to have a showroom clean bike when tomorrow’s ride could have me back in the mud somewhere in southern Alaska or the Yukon.  As long as the entire engine, wheels and mechanical stuff was rinsed off and the brakes calipers and rotors were clear nothing else really mattered. Paul did the same with his bike while I offered unsolicited advice on what to clean and how best to get it done. I’m a natural supervisor.

After the bikes were somewhat cleaner we cruised a few blocks down the road and into a bar somewhere in Fairbanks for some burgers and a cold beer.  We discussed our options as far as travel directions went and did the best we could with figuring out the timing to each get where we wanted to go.  He was headed south towards Denali to spend time with a family member that worked at the park and offered me a place to crash and regroup before I continued south.  After Denali he was going to head to Anchorage to put his bike into storage and fly back home to Texas.  I called him a wuss more than a few times because I was going to ride home rather than take a plane but he didn’t really have the time.  I was mostly trying to guilt him into changing his plans and joining me on my adventure south.  I’ve been to Denali before but it is such an amazing place I could have easily gone with him to see it all over again.  The fun we had over the last 2 days riding together would have easily continued but I knew I needed to start laying down the mileage and making my way towards the lower 48.  I was in the mood to ride and Denali can’t really be done legally on a motorcycle so I told him reluctantly that I was going to go my separate way after we ate.  I had a lot of fun riding with Paul and I could tell from the first day with him that we were going to cross paths again in the future.  He wants to ride a lap around Australia like I do and his ears perked up when I mentioned my plans to ride from the east coast to the west coast all off road on a smaller dirt bike next summer.  We exchanged email addresses, phone numbers and reluctantly said our goodbyes.  

got back on my bike doing the exact same thing I had done for weeks now but things seemed totally different.  I was still having an amazing time on two wheels but my mood seemed to be much different now that I was back on my own and headed South East towards Canada.  Reaching the Arctic Ocean was a goal of mine from the start and now that I’ve done that I feel as though I’m just making my way back home to reality, responsibility and more of what I’m familiar with.  I can feel the adventure of riding into the unknown slipping through my fingers and the weight of civilization and the rat race come over me slowly like a flooding tide.  I couldn’t do anything to stop it.  I had to get home at some point.  I had to pull the wool back over my eyes and join the rat race.  I pondered this feeling for the rest of that day’s ride and then next 3 days traveling across Canada.  The only way I could think of to delay the inevitable “end” was to go back a different route and to travel in a different way than I had in the past.   The route I chose was the Cassiar Highway and the way I chose was analog.  I ditched the GPS and cell phone immediately.  I decided that I wasn’t going to get on my computer to check Facebook, email or even get online and blog for a while.  The world doesn’t really need moment to moment updates about what I’m doing and I sure didn’t want to be so quick to join the rat race.  Delaying my inevitable union with the modern world was a futile attempt to keep the sense of adventure and excitement of being out on my own going.  It was hail Mary but it somehow worked.  I spent the next 4 days on back roads and camping off the grid.  I ignored my phone aside from the occasional “I’m alive don’t worry” text message and didn’t open up my laptop once.  I stopped taking pictures and listening to music while riding.  I avoided hotels, towns, cities and even RV parks.  The analog trip south through Canada helped me recoup my sense of adventure and shedding the digital age bullshit was just the ticket.  I was using paper maps instead of GPS and got lost a more then a few times.  Each time I got lost I stumbled across a new place that wasn’t even the regular tourist’s radar.  The campsites I was finding were the most serene ones yet and the roads were completely isolated and didn’t have a single RV on them.
At one point I found my way into an Indian village and watched people hand carve actual totem poles honoring their grandparents and fathers in the traditional ways.  The villagers lived almost completely from their land and no actual jobs aside from providing and caring for their extended families.  I sat with them for almost 3 hours one afternoon while they carved.  We talked about totem pole carving, the traditional shapes and what they meant, their tribe’s history and how they lived.  I don’t know how I stumbled into this situation but I would have completely missed it if I was following a GPS and worrying about distances and arrival times for a particular end point destination.  

I may have accidentally stumbled into a transcendental mind warp that would have made Thoreau and Emerson giddy on my way south through Canada but regardless I was happy to be zipping through time and space doing things my way completely on my own without any outside influences or pressure.  I realized that it was going to be short lived, that eventually I was going to be struck in the face by the 21st century but I didn’t care.  

I was living in the moment and I was free to enjoy it at my own pace.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dalton 3

The 7am alarm I set wasn't what woke me up this morning.  I must have slept through that alarm.  A giant crane was crawling it's way down the road on it's tank like tracks causing what seemed at first to be a steady earthquake.  I could easily hear and feel each individual track pad pound it's way passed my   shabby little hotel room.   I was much more physically tired today then I have been in the past few weeks and could have probably slept till noon if I didn't have things to see and miles to ride.

I stretched, yawned and did my mandatory body part checks as I packed up my riding gear and put a fresh set of dry warm clothes on.  I had about 20 minutes to get myself together and get down to the other side of the work camp for my Arctic Ocean tour.  I didn't really know how long the tour would be or where we were headed so I grabbed a fresh breakfast from the galley and put on as many layers of warm clothes as I could handle.

The tour of the oilfield wasn't very interesting.  I've seen oilfield equipment enough at work and the tour guide had a very weak understanding on how this equipment was used and how oil well drilling worked in general.  I don't pretend to be an expert but you could easily tell that this guy worked as a security guard and not as a hand.  He did say that the town of Dead horse got it's name because the tractors that were transported by barge to clear a runway in the tundra were named dead horse tractors or something like that.  They didn't even have a road back then but there was still crazy people trying all sorts of crazy things to get at the oil just like today.

The owner of the bike I parked next to last night when I got into town turned out to be on my tour.  He rode a 1200GSA just like mine and was from Austin Texas.  We started chatting about riding and bikes and immediately worked up a friendship.  His name was Paul and he was on the 3rd or 4th leg of his trip up here.  Being a father and a successful businessman prevented him from doing the trip in one shot so he just rode for a week or two then stashed the bike somewhere for a few weeks and went back to his responsibilities.  It really wasn't a bad way to do complete the journey.  We decided right then and there that we'd ride the return trip back to civilization together.

After about an hour of what seemed like aimless wandering through the work camp we arrived to the Arctic Ocean.  I would have tried to get here on my own if it wasn't for all the security gates involved.  There is basically no way to arrive at the ocean without being on the overly priced and uninteresting tour.  I doubt highly that people actually come all this way and decide the not to shell out the 50$.
The weather wasn't very good and the ocean wasn't very pretty.  The water was as cold as you can possibly get saltwater without it freezing.  I took my shoes off and waded out into it while the tour guide took pictures for me.  Paul, the other rider, decided he was going to get in.  I advised him not to but he said he had to do it.  I've been in icy cold water before and learned my lesson by getting sick a few days later so I just watched and laughed at him.  The Asian tourists that were also on the tour must have taken a hundred or more pictures of him as he stripped down and got in.  I'm glad I decided not to get naked and jump in.  The last thing this world needs is pictures of me naked on the internet.

I wasn't exactly dissapointed with the Arctic Ocean but I wasn't blown away by the moment either.  The sun was obscured, it was foggy, windy and cold as hell for a Florida boy.  I probably would have liked it more if I was able to ride my bike to it and be able to sit quietly and soak in the moment a little better.  I traveled so far just to have to finish the final mile in a tour bus with my new friend Paul and a bunch of cackling asian tourists snapping pictures at everything in sight.   I was glad I made though.  I was proud of myself and had a sample of the Arctic Ocean in my pocket to prove commemorate the journey forever.

The tour couldn't end fast enough.  Paul and I were looking forward to stealing lunch from the cafeteria and getting the bikes fired up.  The weather sucked but it hadn't rained since last night.  The roads were wet but each passing truck was squeezing the water out of the mud and forming lanes for us to travel in.  Outside of these lanes was a sloppy mess but we didn't need to be in the soupy stuff until a truck came towards us.

I was really happy to be out of the "town" of Deadhorse and back on the dirt road.  After camping in the tundra for 2 days and being away from buildings and oilfield machinery seeing all of that work related stuff everywhere put me in a slight funk.  I had completely forgotten about my job and all of the stress that goes along with it.  Being back in it so abruptly just about spoiled the experience of seeing the Arctic Ocean completely.  Now that I was on the road and back on the bike the work stress was once again melting away pretty quickly.

Paul and I took it pretty slowly at first.  It started to rain and the mud was beginning to form and turn things into a slimy mess.  My boots were quickly getting soaked and my hands began to get cold faster then my heated handle bar grips could warm them.  He was constantly reminding me how warm he was with his electrically heated gloves and jacket.  I sucked up my discomfort and just called him a pretty boy for being from Texas and having heated gear.  I might have been freezing but I had no desire to carry luxuries like that all the way across the continent just for a few days of cold.  It was August after all.
It rained for about a hundred miles and we weren't getting very far very fast.  The roads weren't particularly good and the faster we went the more likely we were going to have a major problem so we picked a steady pace of about 40mph.  The hunters in the white tent I hung out with yesterday were still there so I pulled in to say hello and make good on my promise to tell them what the Arctic was like.  I made a pot of coffee with my camping stove and we sat around talking about for about a half hour on their failed attempts to shoot animals and our evening and morning in Deadhorse.  

After coffee the rain stopped we were able to get back on the throttle and have some fun.  Paul road like I did which was quite a relief and kept things fun for both of us.  We would both find the edge where traction was lost and calamity could happen and dial it back about 5%.  This puts things right in the fun and safe zone.  Each time the road conditions changed you slowly find the calamity zone and dial it back to the fun zone.  The only way you can mess this up is if you stop paying attention to road conditions and just haul ass willy nilly into some really lose and sloppy stuff at the same speed you're doing when the roads were better.

Mile after mile we were having more and more fun on the roads.  They dried out on the way past Galbraith lake where I had spent the night two nights ago and by the time we reached Atigun pass some 200 miles later we were racing each other across the tundra and up the Northern Slope.

By the time we reached Coldfoot camp we both needed bike fuel, belly fuel and a few cold beers.   We only traveled 275 miles but it was already late and that was plenty of fun for one day.  The beers were expensive but the company we kept was as unique as the location itself.  I don't know how it happened to work out but random travelers tend to start chatting and if beers are involved I usually roll the dice and talk to everyone.  There we were, in the middle of the tundra somewhere north of the Arctic Circle partying with a few people from all walks of life on their own life's journeys.   There was a one armed South Korean hitchhiker that was trying to cross North and South America by hitchhiking and working where and when he could for money.  An Englishman who rode a Triumph and smoked Newport's who had no idea this was going to be a dirt road.  He also got offended if I asked him if he had enough room in his saddle bags for all the spare parts he's going to need for the Triumph he planned on riding to Argentina.  There was an ambiguously limp wristed guy from the north west riding a V-strom that spoke in a tone of voice I hadn't heard since I was in San Francisco ten years ago.  And then there was Paul and I tying one on trying not to laugh out loud at the whole situation and reminiscing of the fun we had on the way here.  

After a few too many Paul and I paid the tab and rode down to our campsite at Marion creek.  Paul dumped his bike in the parking lot and I got bitched at for trying to use the hose to wash my bike off.  Apparently you're not allowed to put the road back on the road or something like that.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Dalton 2

I woke up sluggishly that morning.  Somehow the cold had penetrated through the tent and sleeping bag and deep into my bones.  Some how I managed to shove my body into a tightly jammed ball at the bottom of my sleeping bag during the night which made it difficult to get out.  I dont know how I could breathe down in there but the cold I experienced when I finally made it out of my bag made it all make perfect sense.  My subconscious sleeping mind had chosen lack of oxygen over freezing to death.  Good job brain.   The sides of the tent had a shiny glazing of frost on it as did all my gear inside and outside of the tent.  The sun was shinning brightly but it was at such a low angle to the horizon it wasn't providing much warmth.  

Coffee.   I couldn't manage anything else just yet.  My mind and body needed caffeine and heat quickly.  I fired up the jet boil and waited for a life giving cup of joe.

Less than two weeks ago I was riding my bike through the Florida everglades in 105 degree heat and today I was shivering uncontrollably with temps in the 40's somewhere on the northern slope.  It's funny how things have changed so quickly but remain the same.  The scenery and people are on constant shuffle but the constant of waking up each day and riding as far as I can go remains the same.  This life on two wheels is addicting.  

I gathered my wits with each sip of coffee.  The warmth of the cup warmed my blue and shaking hands and the coffee itself warmed my core and slowly began to sharpen my mind.  Each sip seemed to bring me back to the reality of where I was and what I was doing.  Today was the day I would get to Prudoe Bay and Deadhorse.  Today was the day I would get to see the Arctic freakin' Ocean.  

I sat a quietly that morning over a few cups of coffee and thought about what reaching my goal would feel like and why I am even here in the first place.  I hoped it would be one of those moments that you see about in movies where the clouds open up and the band strikes up a tune.  Maybe some sort of flash of light and a few white doves flying around to add to the hollywood effect?  I wanted it to be anything but disappointing but I had to get another few hundred miles further North to see for myself.  

Although I was goal driven the trip has always been about the journey.  The destination was just a clever excuse to buy another bike and get the hell out of town.  What I've wanted and what I felt I needed was an escape from the monotony of my regular life.  I can't say I live a boring life, in fact just the opposite is true.  I live quite an amazing life and I'm fortunate enough to have a great set of loyal friends, a great job and a supportive family.  I think I just needed to step away from the chaos of it all.  To be on my own for a while and to try and be able to put it all in perspective.  Ten hours a day in your helmet will really clear your mind in the most amazing way.  Camping out in the tundra on the wrong side of the habitable world will push those thoughts even further into a crystal clear peace of mind that would make a buddhist monk get exited.  I won't go into too many details about where I am and what it feels like to be where I am at psychologically right now but it is a good place.  I feel, see and speak differently right now.  I want different things for my life then I did before and I have a different kind of focus then I have in the past.  Buying and riding this ridiculous bike this ridiculously far has been the best life choice I've made to date.  Win, lose or draw on actually seeing the Arctic I cant help but feel like I'm already there.    Damn this is good coffee.

I packed up while warming up the bike.  Camp was easy to pack up this morning.  I hadn't used much and decided to keep wearing the same dirty clothes.  Within 20 minutes I was back on the throttle plowing over the tundra (instead of the path) to say goodbye to the fellas I had beers with the night before.  Our time was short together but it was just enough to make the spark of a friendship.  Emails and Facebook accounts were exchanged and I was off.

As I was leaving my campsite at Galbraith lake the sailor in me took notice of the clouds and sudden change of wind direction.  There was a weather front on it's way in a major hurry.  The rain started almost immediately.  I've never seen a front blow through that fast in my entire life at sea and we make a living keeping one eye on these sorts of things.  The temperature immediately dropped and the clouds began to dump rain like water from a faucet.  Within minutes the gravely, sandy roads turned to a semi chunky, mostly muddy slurry.  I've never seen mud like this in my life.  Most roads will only turn to mud when the dirt and water are churned together.  This stuff immediately turned into a muddy wet cement like concoction that gave the appearance of solid road but once you drove over it behaved like a greasy soft serve ice cream. 

Traction on my brand new off road tires was almost nonexistent immediately.  The big girl and I waltzed, two stepped and even rhumba'ed ourselves from one end of the road to the other.  Whenever a truck or car came in either direction I did the best I could to get over to the right hand side of the road and stop.  There was no sense in trying to keep moving whilst they passed.  Trucks and cars (4 wheel drive pickup trucks) were spraying and splashing me with mud from head to toe.  I constantly had to wipe my helmet visor clean.  The rest of me was filthy and cold.  

COLD.  I was soaked to the bone.  My "waterproof" riding gear quickly proved to be no match for the Datlon Hwy.  According to my bike's computer it was 41 degrees outside.  According to me, which was dealing with being soaked and fighting a windchill it was minus 41 degrees.  

I was fighting the bike, fighting traction, fighting the rain, fighting the traffic, fighting the cold and fighting the mud on my visor.  I needed a break.  I needed to walk away before I lost one of the fights. I  pulled over somewhere with some distance to go for a break from it all.

The place I randomly chose to pull over had some cars and a tent set up a few hundred yards away.  I must have looked like a whipped dog or like a man about to fall down because the 2 guys that were using this spot as a base as their elk hunting operation came right over for a chat and invited me to warm myself by their camps stoves.  They were both my age and seemed to be much better prepared to deal with whatever the tundra could throw at them.   The conversations were about bikes, travel, the tundra, our home towns and hunting.  I helped myself to some dried fruits and chocolate but magically abstained from the plethora of booze that was strewn about the tent.  It must have been the cold getting to me or maybe the hight latitudes because I normally don't refuse liquid hospitality.   I stayed for about an hour and told them that If I made it to Deadhorse I would come back and tell them what its like.

After warming myself up in what seemed like a white tent oasis at the time I was back on the road.  The mud and sogginess continued as before but I felt like I was on the home stretch.  I was surrounded by a vast nothingness.  The fog and rain obscured most of the view but I could tell there was nothing to see.  The landscape was now as flat as could be and there were no trees or bushes.  Just some very thin grasses and various types of moss.  The tundra may as well be a desert.  The closer I got to the sea the less interesting the landscape was.  I was getting closer.

Out of nowhere appeared the silhouette of a building, then another, then a few trucks and warehouses.  I was paying so much attention to the roads and the trucks and the mud and the cold that I couldn't really see anything.  The rain and the fog didn't help either.  I cruised right into Deadhorse without a clue where I was going and what I was going to once I got there.  The roads in the work camp were awful.  Trucks, loaders and cranes were tearing through the place going from work site to warehouse and I immediately felt out of place on the bike.  More so, I felt like a target.  The entire place was sketchy.  

I did a complete lap of the "town" and within 15 minutes I had seen it all.  There wasn't anything to look at other than industrial equipment, warehouses and oil field supply trucks.  It was basically Port Fourchon Louisiana of the North.  It's funny that I rode all this way on my vacation from the oilfields to come and see another oilfield.  

I booked an Arctic Ocean/oil field tour at the security office and made my way over to the "hotel".  They dont allow camping anywhere in the area because of the polar bears and the cold.  I hadn't seen any bears but I didn't argue.  If being cold and wet didn't kill me in my tent that night those trucks wizzing around would.

I parked my bike next to another one like mine at the hotel and checked in for the night.  It was late and I was exhausted.  I was glad to be in Prudoe but I couldn't make sense of it at all.  I was brain dead from the cold and exhausted from the experience of the journey.  I'll get to see the Arctic Ocean tomorrow.  Hopefully after a good night's sleep I'll be able to make sense of it all.

That's it for now kids.  Pictures soon to follow.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Dalton 1

I woke from my snore fest with a slight hangover but I was excited none the less.  I've come a long way to get up here and today was going to be the day that my bike and I took on the Dalton Highway.

The Dalton can be done in 2 days but it completely depends on the road conditions.  It'll take 2 days if the weather is fine and up to 5 if it's awful and you're just spinning your wheels.  I asked the guys at the bike shop how the road was and most of them said I should be fine.  2 of the guys said I shouldn't go at all but I just figured they were Honda GoldWing riders so I didn't pay them much mind. I had enough food and water to last 3 days with me so if I run into any difficulties I should be okay for a little while.  It really just all depends on the rain and I hadn't seen any yet so I figured I'd be okay.

The gas situation on the Dalton is interesting.  You have to buy gas at the last legit gas station in town just to have enough to make it to Coldfoot.  You have to buy gas at Coldfoot just to make it to Deadhorse and the same for the way back.  The bike I'm riding carries more gas then most but that only buys me a little more room for error.  Most bikes carry extra gas bottles with them just to make it the distances between stations.  Each time you gas up you have to plan a turn around point half way because if you go 2/3rds of the way then decide the roads are too bad to continue you won't make it back to the next gas stop.    

I topped off my tank and started up the road.  The roads were made of really loose gravel and sand for the first half of the day.  Some sections had just been rough paved by stimulus money, but construction trucks were everywhere trying to get a few more miles done before winter's grip put them all out of work.  The deep gravel in the construction sites were challenging enough.

The Dalton has been around since the mid 70's and the fact that they're just now getting around to paving it is astounding.  The difficulty lies in the permafrost.   The ground up here is frozen solid. Trees have gone from 30ft tall giants further south to completely gone all together.  The only thing that can grow are small shrubs and bushes that take 50 years to grow to be a foot tall.  Temperatures dropped from the mid 70's to the mid 40's just in my first 150 miles of riding.  I didn't bring much for winter clothing but then again I don't plan on spending much time up here. 

Mile after mile of slimy soft mud and loose gravel takes it's toll.   I took regular breaks and continued the arduous task of climbing and descending the slippery and filthy mountains in the Kanuti Wildlife Refuge.  By the time I reached my first 100 miles I was already exhausted, covered in mud and I still had 15 miles to go just to make it to the Arctic Circle. I don't remember crossing the Yukon river.  The map says I did but I must have been too busy slipping and sliding all over the road or stuck in a fog bank at the time.   

By the time I reached the Arctic Circle It must have been 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  In all the days riding so far I haven't been on the bike this long and not been at least 400 miles down the road.  The roads were just too slippery with all the gravel and too rough with all the pot holes to put on any kind of speed at all.  At this point I've only done about 190 miles so far.  The Arctic Circle turn out was done well.  They had a nice sign to take pictures in front of and also some sign posts describing the animals, landscape and how the sun affects each of them.  It actually seemed a little too nice for something that only a few people trek up to see every year.   I wasn't shy about asking a passing trucker to take a few photos too commemorate the milestone.  

I continued north another 80 or so miles past Gobblers Knob, Grayling Lake and then finally made it to Coldfoot.   Coldfoot got it's name in the early 1900's because it marks the spot where the original gold rush prospectors got cold feet and turned around.  I was having a tough time with the roads but wasn't nearly ready to turn around just yet.  The road wasn't soaked enough for me to call it quits just yet.  I wanted to see Sukakpak Mountain and Atigun Pass before I made camp somewhere.  Sunlight was no longer an issue, apparently I would not be seeing night time until I got off of the mountain.  I grabbed a cheeseburger and a beer at the truck stop and spent an hour chatting with a trucker about trucking of all things.  He was more then happy to talk about work with me.  I'm just glad we didn't start talking about my job.

Sukukapak mountain is a massive wall that juts out of the landscape to almost 5000ft right in front of the road.  Luckily I was stopped at another construction site right in front of it and was able to catch a few photos during the wait.  

The road bobbed and weaved around the Alaskan oil pipeline the entire way.  Sometimes it was less than 20 yards away and sometimes it was a half mile in the distance.  The pipeline would duck underground for a mile or two then pop up on the other side of the road.  I was so busy starring at the scenery and concentrating on the road that when the pipeline would pop up next to me it would surprise me.

The ride up the Atigun pass was amazing.  The mountain rises up out rolling hills to 5000 ft above sea level and it's a really steep too.  I have no idea how the truckers make it up and down the pass without going over the edge every time.  The guard rail was mangled in at least 8 different places, so that just proves to me that it was treacherous for them.  I was spinning my rear tire most of the way just trying to keep momentum and stay straight.  Atigun pass has been on that show Ice Road Truckers a few times.  They respect the pass on that show and don't add extra drama like they do everywhere else it seems.

After Atigun the roads started to descend towards the Arctic in a really gradual way.  I still had about 250 miles to go but my shoulders were tired from wrestling with the roads bumps and ruts.  I pulled into a secluded spot in a valley called Galbraith Lake.  What a spot!  Gorgeous scenery and a nice cool breeze.   I pulled in and set up shop at the end of the path. Within 3hrs I was sitting around a campfire with a cool German dude in his early 40's  and his dog, and a Mongolian guy in his late 20's or early 30's.  The German guy had traveled everywhere and absorbed as much culture and history as he could from his travels.  He even knew interesting stories of even our own American history that they don't teach in schools.  He also used to ride a bike like mine but traded it in for a truck when he got the dog Nu'ka. The Mongolian kid was also camping in the area.  He was with his dad showing him around his new home state.  He was a gold mine engineer at one of Alaska's modern mines.  Who knew Colorado had a mining university?

We chatted for hours about travel, culture and the places we've been.  The conversations were light and humorous and never got awkward or forced.  We each had completely separate backgrounds and came from opposite sides of the globe but that night we were all friends camping under the midnight sun sharing a few beers and a box of wine around a fire.   It was a really diverse group of strangers having a great conversation without any difficulty

this is as dark as it got