August 10th 2016
Fairbanks to Coldfoot
This would only be the second time in our trip that we had crossed the Arctic Circle: the first time was in our first few months on the road when we were heading on up to Nordkapp- which is the most northerly point in the world which you can access by road.
We had heard all sorts of hellish stories about this route.
Known as the Dalton highway it is one of only two roads that cross the Arctic Circle in North America. The other is the Dempster. The Dalton, AKA the Haul Road, due to the trucks ‘hauling’ their way up its 415-miles of length. Running alongside the Dalton Highway is the Trans-Alaska pipeline, both ending abruptly at the Prudhoe Bay oil field.
Being 28-feet wide, often dusty with potholes and frost heaves and when wet as slippy as snot…or as someone else recently and eloquently described it when wet, as ‘road diarrhea’.
Up to Livengood (mile 73) the asphalt is good and it was a surprise as just how good it was. With some twisties thrown in it was a nice way to approach mile 0 of the Dalton at the junction of the Elliot hwy, which is 84 miles from Fairbanks.
The pavement ended and the loose gravel began. The speed limit is apparently 50mph for the next 400 odd miles! We passed the signs for both Cheana and Manley Hot Springs, one of which we may possibly visit on our way back down.
The Dalton Highway is known as one of the most remote stretches of road in north America. It consists of 415 miles of dirt and tarmac. In the initial miles of the road, I was surprised at just how much tar there was; it was way more than I expected!
We were introduced in our first few miles on the road to our first truckers hammering down upon us. We had been told of the horror stories of these guys travelling at speeds over 90mph and that it was essential to let them by. Simon and I had past experience of such truckers during our time in the outback Australia and not once had we experienced a problem. In Oz, all truckers were considerate and slowed down when passing us and the same happened here. We thanked them all with a wave- well – its more than likely we will see them again on the road on their way down/up so, make a note, it’s best to be friendly!!
Mile 56 we crossed the 2290 foot long wooden planked bridge – the E.L Patton Bridge over the Yukon River – which is the only place that a bridge has been placed to cross the Yukon river in Alaska. I was pleased that it was dry, when wet it would have been as slippery as hell!
We had been warned about the surface of this road turning to liquid concrete when it’s wet – this then covers your bike and (if you don’t wash it off asap_ hardens and becomes a permanent fixture to your bike!) Well, as luck would have it, on our way up to Fairbanks, at some point in the Yukon, we passed Alex Guth (Alexymoto) from Seattle whom we knew very well……and he had advised us of this muck. He encountered it and both his and his wife’s bike began to overheat as this mud stuck and encrusted on the bikes radiators. After a quick chat, he’d suggested we buy some ‘fish-tank’ filter and cut and place this over the bikes radiators. This meant that at any point we could shake them out, clear them and place the filter back over the top of the radiator. There was enough air getting through but the radiators remained clear. Well, we had done this prior to leaving Fairbanks and boy! we were signing the praises of Alex!! We had this thick gunk over our bikes and over us but….they continued to run smoothly.
We weren’t in dire need of a rest stop but we had read about the Hot Spot Café and just had to have a coffee and a burger. The burgers are meant to be massive!
Rolling on in with the parking area full of very rutted mud I turned and, at slow speed, dropped my bike. Very unhappy with this…but I had to smile at the butch truckers that ran over (3 of them) to help me lift it up whilst Simon smiled and said ‘what did you do that for?’ My answer should have been…well, I wanted to see how many hunky bearded Alaskans would run and help a lady in distress……
We had a great time just chatting with Julie who was the server, cook, coffee dispenser and all round straight talking lady behind the counter in the trailer and lean-to. After a few laughs and a massive burger, we were on our way once more. Waving goodbye we said we’d see her on our way back down.
From the Yukon river valley and upwards we skirted numerous vast areas that had been burnt by fires in previous years. We were now riding towards Finger Mountain- a 40-foot high granite tor.
At mile 115 we had to stop for the Arctic Circle sign and photo and, just our luck, it had begun to rain and get very cold. We didn’t stop for any other photos so fingers crossed on our way back the weather will be much better!
We were amazed by the beautiful scenery along this road – not one rider that we had recently meet or read recent journals of, had ever mentioned how stunning this area is. Are they just concentrating too hard on the gravel road so don’t lift up their eyes to absorb just how jaw-dropping it all is?
Mile 175- we arrived at Coldfoot. The story goes that this was originally known as Slate creek until the first settlers got ‘cold feet’ at the thought of spending winter here and so headed south. Coldfoot now has an airstrip, post office and Coldfoot camp, which is a truck stop, gas station (the last on this stretch of road until Deadhorse) and rooms for extortionate prices, along with dinner and bar!
With the bikes parked up outside, we headed into the bar (hey first priority!) and asked about rooms. We knew we could camp but with freezing temperatures and being miserable and wet I couldn’t think of a worse way to start the day on the road up to Deadhorse tomorrow. Yeah, we’ve sure had worse but tonight there was an option!
Swallowing hard we paid the $219 for the tiny box room. But it had its own shower and toilet, two single beds and was warm! We returned to the bar to sit and have food with a group of bikers that we had originally spoken to during our time in Whitehorse. They were just heading back south and warned us of the terrible roadworks and difficult transition of the road 36 miles prior to Deadhorse, where all 3 of them almost had bad ‘offs’……Ah well- that’s something to look forward to (not!).
After 10pm, having had good food and a couple of beers we decided to head back and snuggle up in our very expensive room! It had been a good idea as outside was even colder and wetter.