August 11th 2016
Coldfoot to Deadhorse
After packing up we headed over to the camps restaurant for an ‘all you can eat’ breakfast- a good way to start the day! Plus it was a little sunny – the thick mud and sludge that covered the truck stop area was now almost dry. I was quite relieved, as I had been concerned about riding the next 240 miles in mud and slime.
We headed out to Wiseman where the road passes by the edge of the Gates of the Arctic National Park. I was on the look out for the pure white Dall sheep….no luck! This national park is 8 million acres of uninhabited mountains and tundra- over 27,000 square miles of wilderness! I’d love to return to this area and take a flightseeing tour of this park one day.
Mile 194 brought Sukakpak mountain into view – all 4459 feet of it – and at Mile 235 we read that the last spruce would be seen.
I must admit what I had heard and read about our next so-called ‘hurdle’ filled me with anxiety! The Atigun pass is fairly narrow and steep but I need not have worried. The Atigun Pass at Mile 242 rises to 4739 feet and is the highest highway pass in Alaska. Heading on up the gravel road was wet and a bit slippy but nothing like I had been imagining. The views heading on up were spectacular and once at the top, just jaw dropping.
We had ridden above the cloud line and so we just had to stop and take photos of each other riding through the clouds with the Brooks mountain range looming above the cloud line. As we knew we were heading back the same way we planned to take valley photos and hope for some sunshine upon our return.
Riding down from the pass into the valley below the flat tundra spread out in front of us. All day today we rode alongside the Alaska pipeline; a 4 foot wide, 800 mile long steel tube. The facts of this pipeline are staggering. En-route it spans 500 plus waterways- 3 mountain ranges, transports 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day – (it used to be as much as 2 million per day). Its construction began in 1974. It took 3 years to build and cost $8 billion. I hadn’t realised that, for around 380 miles it runs underground and is only on the surface when its temperature (between 110 F to 55,6 F; 43.4 C to 13 C) would melt the permafrost. It seemed to me to be like a big metal snake dipping and diving in and out of the ground.
August, was being kind and the swarms of mosquitos we’d been warned about haven’t been an issue. It’s nice not being eaten alive when stopping a photo or admiring the view.
Hey, not being eaten alive whilst waiting for 20+mins at the road works just prior to Deadhorse, is a big deal.
These road works ran for a total of 36 miles and were split into 3 sections that each ran their own pilot car. The first stretch was ok, just plain gravel and, as motorcyclists, we were called forwards to run directly behind the pilot car. For the first section. this was fine. The second section required a bit more concentration! They had just dumped a load of fresh and very soft mud down and it hadn’t been compressed at all. So, at very (very) slow speed we slipped and twisted our way into billows of soft mud, handlebars being jerked to one side and the next without warning. Up on the pegs and (oh dear God!) going so slowly due to the pilot car , we stopped a few times to give a bit of distance and therefore this allowed us a bit of speed starting up again….this held up the cars behind but I think most realised what we were up to. The final 3rd section was soft fluffy mud covered in very loose and large shale. Oh, joy of joys! NOT! Once more slipping and twisting we let the bikes do their own thing and eventually the pilot car dropped us off. We had arrived in Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay! By now the mist had rolled in and it reminded me of the film The Fog. All very eery.
Even though we had had little rain we were covered in mud as long sections of the road up here had been watered to stop the dust and grit. As motorcyclists, we would prefer the dust and grit. Watering the road has just made the road into an ice-rink of shit. We were now ready for a stop.
Deadhorse is not a pretty place. Don’t go there expecting ‘normal’ looking hotels or anything pretty to take photos of! Its an industrial site that is just there for the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field at the end of the highway. I love the description written in the Lonely Planet Alaska book ‘ an architectural style best described as Stalinist Siberian meets Mad Max 2’. This is a aptest description!
A bit confusing at first, we tried to find where to get fuel. After going round in a few circles we managed to find it – two huge fuel tanks and an automated office. Simple and efficient. Now it was time to get warm and have some food before heading back. We had decided that after a brief rest we had it in us to head back south and camp somewhere down the road.
The Aurora hotel was easy to find and we had heard such a lot about it and the food service there that this was the place for us. After parking the bikes up by all the strange looking metal rigs that had electrical points ready for the freezing winter days – we used the bright blue ‘must use bootie covers’ that prevent the inside of these utilitarian facilities becoming a mud bath, and headed to reception.
The lady at the front desk was very friendly as we asked her about food and where to pay etc. We tentatively asked about room prices, knowing that there was no way we could afford to stay. She confirmed that at the moment they only had one room left and that the price was ‘reasonable’ (cough cough) at $290 for a double room, which included (as much as you can eat) 3 meals and tuck shop. Smiling we said thank you but that was way too much so we’ll just pay for the food and head off. Looking concerned she said, ‘but where are you going to go!?’ We replied saying that we would head back down south and camp. She didn’t seem too happy with our reply and said we looked tired…and told us to wait a moment. Checking on a few lists she said she could help out with a room and gave us a fantastic deal, which included food for the both of us at $190. wow. This was still a lot of money but staying the night would be cool and we were definitely tired and it was getting so much colder outside – a hot shower was very tempting….so we thanked her and paid up!
We were amongst the worker’s office rooms and so our room had a printer, fax etc in it but also a large TV and private bathroom. Many of the rooms had ‘keep quiet- day sleeper’ tags stuck on their doors (reminded me of ‘daywalkers’ horror movie). I tried desperately to stop my MX boots from squeaking so loudly every time I put a foot forward! We decided to bring most of our bags in and so I’m sorry to say I squeaked up and down the hallway a few more times than I felt comfortable with!
After a bit of time hauling in our bags; it took a bit longer than usual as the workers were all having a chat with us, we got settled in and showered (bliss) and headed on down to the food hall. What a wonderful selection of food! Sitting at a small table just by the window overlooking a very grey and damp Lake Colleen, I chose to eat baked salmon with wild rice and steamed broccoli whilst Simon had a pork stew. With food in our bellies, we were now ready for a bit of R&R and early to bed.
What an amazing day. We have, at last, reached the final most northerly point we had planned to upon starting our trip so long ago. It definitely feels like a milestone.