Saturday, June 26, 2010
The Dalton Slideway (Day "13", ... coincidence?)
Highway 2 from Fairbanks to the Dalton was a really nice piece of road to ride. There were lots of tight sweepers with views you would ever only see here. That road dead ends into the Dalton Highway, and soon after I turned right to head north, it became dirt.
This wet dirt road felt no different than any other, so I began to think people were just exagerating. The one thing I kept thinking though is that Paul left a message saying it was tough to get to Coldfoot. I don't think I've ever heard Paul refer to any road as tough. This guy rides Kilian Trail alone at night. (a barely 2 lane potted mix of dirt and asphault unlit road out near the Ortega) I just kept expecting for it to get harder, but I couldn't see how.
I was on a section of paved road, which turned into dirt up ahead. It looked wet, but not any different than the other sections of damp dirt I rode on so far. Shortly after hitting the dirt the bike started to drift right. I leaned opposite and it changed direction, and I was able to, but it was just sliding like I was riding on butter. Every time the bike went one way, it would go that way too far so I would change direction to keep it on the road.
The weight I had on the handlebars caused the left mirror and saddlebag to grind against the road. I think if I was not on them, the bike would have come to a stop just sliding on the engine guards. I would have absorbed more of the road though and risked the bike catching up to me since I was in front of it.
It all happened really slow, not just because things slow down in your head when accidents happen, but because I was sliding around on the mud. Have you ever seen a car slide on ice? It felt the same way.
I got up and was looking at the mud tracks and my bike trying to process it all when a truck camper was approaching. It must have been an aweful sight to someone who hasn't seen a Goldwing on its side before. I picked the bike up just as they stopped and they got out with horrified looks on their faces. I started the bike to make sure it would go before I told them thanks for stopping, I'll be fine.
I began to continue down the road, but even at the slowest speed I could go, my front tire was just sledding through the mud and the rear was spinning more than it was pushing. I ended up turning the bike around and getting it to the pavement where I was trying to figure out if I should just camp here till it dries out or head back. After a walk down a pipeline pump road, I got back on the bike to find a better camping spot. I saw two dual sport bikers riding by about to hit the mud. I went around the corner to see if they made it through and they were gone.
An oversize escort truck was heading my way at the same time. She was way ahead of the truck she was escorting so I flagged her down to ask how far the road was like this. She told me this was the worst section and it only goes another mile or two. She said just stay in the tracks where the water has been pushed out, so knowing that it was only a section like this, I just pushed on, and sure enough after fighting the mud, the texture changed back to the gravel/dirt that I could get traction on.
If I wouldn't have crashed, this post would have been more about how amazing Alaska is. There were corners I came around that exposed views that just gave this euphoric feeling. It's nothing I can describe and the pictures don't even do it justice.
About an hour later I arrived in the Arctic Circle. The score was now tied, Dalton Hwy 1, Mike 1, as this was the main reason for traveling this road. Had I known the scenery was going to be so great, that would have been another. For some reason, people have told me that the sights would be boring along this route, but I would strongly argue otherwise. The only other sights I've seen on this trip that compare are those on the 37a to Stewart/Hyder.
Coldfoot was just another sixty miles from the Arctic Circle. The only sign I saw was a visitor's center, which is where I went first. I needed to know for sure where the gas station was because my fuel light had come on 40 miles ago. I think maybe I lost some fuel when my bike was on its side because I thought I would have plenty at that point.
Coldfoot was across the way from the Visitor's center. There's not a whole lot there. It's just a truck stop, a little motel, and an area to camp. I filled up my tank, and 2x 1 liter bottles I had with me for the next leg up to Deadhorse. I don't think I will need them but that stretch is 245 miles with no fuel in between.
The campground the ranger recommended was just five miles up the road. It sits along a creek, has no flush toilets and water you turn a crank to get out of the well. I went to the campground hosts for change and they invited me into the RV so the mosquitos don't get in. We ended up talking for a while and they were telling me about all the wildlife up in Prudhoe bay right now. Apparently there are musk oxe and caribou all around. They also confirmed the rest of the road doesn't have a lot of mud, which is what I was worried about.