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.

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