BLM campground- Rest area with no name
Not much to say about that day honestly. We have been overtaken by several absolutely massive oversize trucks which was a wee bit scary and we have been caught in a pretty severe thunderstorm. But except that, dull road and not much motivation. We stopped in the evening at a viewpoint and enjoyed the dinner whereas again, a thunderstorm passes not far from our heads….
Rest area with no name- Tok
The highlight of the day is the meeting with an Israeli cyclist who started from Prudhoe Bay and is cycling all the way down to Patagonia (another one, damn we have the impression to be Sunday riders when meeting these guys!!!). He gives us some interesting tips on the Dalton Highway, the road going from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. We also stop in Tok for a meal and honestly I do not think I will spend my honeymoon (if there is any) there….. In the evening, we camp at another viewpoint, 20 miles far from Tok. It is a good spot but we do not have much room to pitch the tent, we are knackered so we probably do not enjoy the place as we should.
We wake up in a good mood. This is even increased when Bureau of Land Management staff come to clean the dry toilets which are not far from where we slept. That is brilliant: Each of us goes to completely clean toilet: There is this deodorant odour, we enjoy the moment, it is like being in a palace (small pleasures become passion when travelling!).
Not much to say on the day itself, the road is, once again, pretty dull. It is so dull we cycle fast, very fast actually. We stop at Rika’s roadhouse where, we know it, there is a restaurant. We arrive there to discover the place actually closes at 5pm … rubbish! We find drinkable water, cook a big meal and put sleeping bags and other thermarests outside to dry them. Very clever idea: 1 hour later, it is pouring and the gear are wetter than before. We set up the tent quickly and jump into wet sleeping bags. It is in those situations it is good to be with Nicolas, we can laugh about our fate.
We enjoy the morning, chilling out like lazy donkeys. There are some good mountains range in the horizon but there are many cars on the road and the drivers are aggressive. The last 30 miles are on a dual carriage way. We forgot what that was to cycle on roads like that. When passing by a big Air Force base, we see our first caribou, wandering around at the end of the airstrip! Nicolas leads like an absolute rocket and at last, we reach Fairbanks. We are getting closer and closer from our target…. 2 rest days and we will be heading to the Great North!!
After having popped in in a outdoor shop to buy some white gas (we will need it on the Dalton Highway), we hit the road. Nicolas used the fact there is a scale in the shop to weight his bike. The answer is ….. 130 pounds!!! We are carrying a lot of food indeed as we really do not what conditions to expect on the Dalton Highway. The road is not very interesting. We find a water pump on the side of the road and that is a very good news as the weather is pretty hot and we are absolutely burning. Finding some water in those conditions is always greatly appreciated. I see a lynx crossing the road and we stop on a rest area 2 miles from the Dalton highway crossroad. Tomorrow will be our D-day: we have been waiting for 18 month to ride this piece of gravel road and now, we are a couple of hundred feet far from it!!! We hesitate to play Frisbee but finally we do not. We still do not know at this point we will deeply regret this decision.
Livengood-Hot Spot cafe
When we wake up, the weather is pretty chilly and we feel tired before having touched the bikes. We have a quick chat with a truck driver: we try to have as much information as we can on the state of the highway but we do not get much answers. At last, we start cycling. A few minutes later, we reach the start of the James W Dalton Highway. We both feel the emotion to be there.
A first thing immediately strikes us: like the beginning of our trip, the behaviour of the truckers is just amazing. They slow sown, give us plenty of space when overtaking and wave their hands when passing us: these guys are quite something! The morning is tough, we do not cycle fast but we are happy to be there. After 19 miles, we hit a surreal piece of paved portion on which we can suddenly cycle fast and not being careful about the potholes. We cycle like in a dream for 15 minutes. Further up, we are cycling a very steep part, pretty dusty when we are overtaken by a truck spreading water all over the road to minimise the dust. The consequence is that we are now cycling in the mud! We finally reach the top of the hill but we hope this will not happen too often because I can tell you that is quite frustrating. We stop for lunch and look at the Milepost, our bible which gives mile per mile all what you can find on the road (steep, paved or not, toilets, rest areas, good view…). We discover when reading it that we still have two climbs in the afternoon before crossing the Yukon river which will probably be the end of our day.
Just before reaching the first climb, we have to stop as there is some road work and we are asked once again to put our bikes at the back of a pilot car. I tell you what, when we learn that the pilot car would drop us 10 miles further (and therefore after the two climbs we were expecting), we are pretty happy and do not argue too strongly to cycle this portion. In the pilot car, we talk about the pipeline with the woman driving and we ask her why there are so many trucks with a tank behind whereas the pipeline goes all the way from the Arctic Ocean to Valdez, 800 miles further south. Her answer brings stupefaction on our faces: crude oil goes into the pipeline but refined petrol is needed to feed all the machines working on the oilfield. A there is no refinery on the oilfield, every single gallon of petrol has to be brought by truck: we just can’t believe it!!!! The way to the Yukon river is good fun and before reaching the bridge, another surprise, there is a traffic light! In the middle of nowhere!!!! They use it to manage the traffic but it is still funny and very weird for us. We stop at the Hot spot cafe after 50 miles on the bikes (60 miles in total if you add the way done at the back of the pilot car). Then, the bad discovery comes to us: we lost the Frisbee. We have never used it and we lost it!!! We will not have our Frisbee game in the arctic tundra. Anyway, everyone strongly recommends us the burgers of the hot spot but given how heavy our bikes are, we decide to eat our own food in order to decrease their weight and therefore, to reach more easily the top of Atigun pass, the toughest pass of the whole trip that we should reach in 3 days.
We have a funny chat with a couple from Anchorage. They parked their caravan next to our tent and we meet them at the cafe. They are going to the Arctic Circle so we should see them again tomorrow.
Hot spot Cafe- Arctic Circle
Another bad news comes in the morning, I obviously lost my sunglasses. This is bad news as for several reasons. The first one is the sun has been pretty bright the last few days and it is not good not to have sunglasses in a weather like that. The second one is I am not protected anymore from the dust when we will face trucks. At last, I will cry like a baby when we will go downhill with the wind.
Anyway, we hit the road in a good mood and we are actually pretty fast. The road is hard and there are several climbs. After having stopped for lunch, we reach the top of Finger Mountain. The view is absolutely awesome. We are talking with Nicolas when a guy comes out of the tundra with a massive backpack, just like that! This is a Belgian guy who just hiked 10 days in the area. We chat together and enjoy the situation. He gets a lift from a car when a couple from Oregon we saw in the morning stop their car next to us and gives us some cookies, water and sandwiches. We forget the weight of the bikes for a short while and accept all this delicious food. We see the first pieces of tundra before reaching the Arctic Circle at the end of the day. Nicolas is not much touched by the instant but I clearly am. I have heard about this imaginary line since I am a wee boy and now I am standing right on it. That is a good feeling. The other good thing is we see the couple from Anchorage on the same spot. They offer us plenty of food and drinks. We even enjoy Champagne to celebrate being be on the Arctic Circle. We talk, talk and talk until midnight. When we go to bed, the sky is absolutely awesome. We have been on the Dalton for 2 days, the weather has been incredible and obviously, that will not change in the next few days. We are on the moon!!!
After the traditional picture in front of the signpost of the Arctic Circle, we start our day on the road. We meet a funny Brazilian guy going south on a moped. We stop for lunch at the pump station 5. There are several pump stations along the pipeline, their mission being to maintain the pressure and to bring the oil all the way from the Arctic Ocean to Valdez, 800 miles further south. This building would be good in a James Bond movie: a massive factory in the middle of the tundra. Absolutely nothing 50 mile around…
We reach Coldfoot at the end of the afternoon after several climbs not recorded on the Milepost which really annoys me. You expect to have passed all the difficulties of the day and paf, in your face, another hill. Life is life…..
In Coldfoot, we stop at the Arctic Visitor Centre where we get out Arctic Circle crossing certificate. I will not have it in the middle of my living room but it is good to have for an interview for example (‘Mr Le Roux, you pretend you went to the Arctic Circle but could you prove it and then boum! I put the certificate on the table and nobody talks…. Would I get the job is another story but anyway).
We then go to the truckers’ restaurant and campsite. We meet there a trucker who is coming back from Prudhoe Bay and saw us 2 days earlier. We have a good chat and obviously, people are quite impressed by what we are doing. It is good to hear. He also tell us that Atigun Pass, the one, is tough tough tough. We already knew it but several persons remind it to us during the evening. That will be for tomorrow!
We enjoy an all you can eat buffet and we go to bed, once again without the flysheet to enjoy the sky and why not, seeing northern lights around 3 a.m
Coldfoot-Foot of Atigun Pass
Good breakfast at the truckers restaurant and hop[ hop hop, we are on the road. Some pretty good hills, a good speed on the bike and we stop for lunch after 45 miles on the shore of a river. We have 15 miles left before reaching the foot of Atigun pass. These 15 miles are so hard: our nervous state probably explains a lot. In the valley, there is no way to know where the road will go so before actually being on the slopes of the pass, we do not know what to expect. The first slope, 1.5 miles at 10% grade, is easy. We then reach a plateau where the view is just amazing. After having crossed this plateau , we reach the second slope and there, it is hell. 2.5 miles with some 12% grades, it is raining and the wind is around. It is also bad gravel and it is cold. We knew we should deserve this highway, it is a good reminder indeed. When we reach the summit, one of us is in tears, the other one screams as loudly as he can. We are nervously exhausted but we did it!!! The road should be easier from now. We camp near a highway maintenance camp at the foot of the pass in an amazing spot. The light is awesome and the mountains around are pretty impressive. It has been a long time since we did not enjoy pastas like this, we are the king of the world and nothing can stop us from now. Tomorrow morning, there will not be any alarm clock set-up and we will sleep!
Foot of Atigun Pass- Plateau in the middle of nowhere
We stay late in bed and enjoy a good breakfast. When we leave, it is around 1:30 pm. After a long downhill, we reach a valley. Whereas we are eating on the side of the road, a guy stops by on his mountain bike and we chat. He works for the pipeline company and pilots an helicopter over the pipeline to ensure everything is okay. When he has spare time, he rides his bike on the highway or hikes around, which means more or less in the middle of nowhere! Pretty good life… The end of the day is hard for the bodies but magical for the eyes, it is pretty hilly but the mountains are awesome, some of them are reddish when the sun sets. We stops on a small hill not far from a lake. There are plenty of hunters around and many of them are obviously jealous of our spot. But that’s life guys and we will not give our spot up. A fox comes around during the evening and we see a small northern light during the night. Life is good, and we are almost there: 2 more days and we should be touching the Arctic Ocean!
Plateau in the middle of nowhere- Pump station 2
We start with a long downhill and we stop at a highway maintenance camp at the foot of it as we need water. These places are weird, there are not many people in it and they are in the middle of nowhere. But the weather is so tough up there that the roads need to be maintained almost all year long because of the frost. In the afternoon, we stop along a big river to grab once again some water when we meet a woman just coming back with some fresh fishes she just caught. She offers us one of them but sadly, we can’t accept it. We will have to prepare and cook it with a camping stove pretty small and we strongly doubt it is a good idea to cook fresh fish in bear country. Later on, we see our first muskoxen, hairy, very slow to move, obviously pretty deaf but so cute.
We stop in the tundra not far from pump station 2. We camp right in the tundra, it is like camping in the middle of the desert but with far more vegetation. There are 44 miles left!!! GGGrrrr, it is getting closer and closer.
Pump station 2- THE ARCTIC OCEAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We wake up at 5:30 and do you know what, it is -6 Celsius degrees! Well, believe me, it is cold. We waste some time looking for (and finding) Nicolas MP3 player (I actually involuntarily put it in his sleeping bag). The MP3 player is very important for us as we recorded our feelings on it for most of the trip.
We start cycling at around 7:30 and we literally fly, we ride at 16 miles/hour. We stop for a quick bite and we see a bull caribou with massive anglers coming out of the tundra. We look at each other and he finally leaves the area. He does not know how lucky he is, there are hundreds of hunters around looking for such a trophy. We jump on the bike again. The last 10 miles are so long, legs are shaking. We arrive in Deadhorse around noon. We put the bikes on the ground and jump in the other arms. WE DID IT!!!!
It s not long before we actually understand what a rubbish place Deadhorse is. People are not particularly nice. We are looking for a tour bringing us on the Arctic Ocean and at first, it is tricky to find one. Then everything becomes better. The boss of one of the only 2 hotels in town offers us dinner once he hears about what we did. He also find seats for us in a tour. At 2 pm, we are sitting in the bus with….. plenty of tourists. The driver is a funny former security guy, “I am the boss here and anyone contesting my authority will have trouble”. It is pretty tough to have to listen all this shit after 2 months with not many people around. When he asks if anyone in the bus intends to swim in the Arctic Ocean, Nicolas raises his arm. Then Superman with funky suit shouts: “Well, forget it as there are 5 polar bears around. If you ever try to jump in the Ocean, there will be big trouble for you, Did I make myself clear?” What can we say to such diplomacy? We stay in the bus. After 1 hour driving across the oil field listening a pretty subjective presentation of the oil industry, we reach the Arctic Ocean, we have 2 minutes to touch it. We do it. We then realise we just did exactly what we told you: cycling from Vancouver to the Arctic Ocean.
A great motorcyclist is with us in the bus and he kindly takes some pictures for us (my camera died from the weather conditions we met on the way…..).
In the afternoon, the boss of the inn tries to find us a ride back to Fairbanks in one of the tourist buses going southbound. Late in the evening, we understand that will not work, all these companies having insurance constraints clearly forbidding any hitchhiker on board. We enjoy the free dinner even if the place is weird. You have either tourists who fly up there or workers from the oil industry (who also fly up there). We camp in what looks like a scrap yard (but we succeed in not paying the $100 required by the 2 hotels in town to get a room!!!) and we know that tomorrow morning, we will have to wake up early to try to get a ride back to Fairbanks.