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.

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