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.