Week 3 - Alaska
22 June Thursday, Anchorage, Speedo reading 23,956 KM
Gas in the morning after blueberry pancakes in Andy & Kate's and off I go again. Had a good trip out from Eagle after the roads had dried out a little overnight - made the top of the pass dry despite the low clouds...
when the roads widened, then the weather changed for the worse again...
Despite the slow puncture I drove through to Anchorage without incident, stopping at all the gas stations for an air top-up - a long 800km, half of which was gravel. Found the Hostel I had pre-booked and bedded down. Was originally scheduled to fly out tomorrow - the 23rd but heard that Magadan Airlines had problems - will hear more tomorrow and take a decision then. This is potentially a major screw-up, let's see what happens
23 June Friday, Anchorage, Speedo reading 23,990 KM
Went round to The Motorcycleshop in Anchorage to check re my next set of tyres and service
and to advise that I might have to head south for seattle to check re alternative shipping given that Magadan Airlines may not be flying.
Found the nail causing the slow puncture
- got the kit out and plugged it - me giving lessons in motorcycle maintenance... unlikely, but ...!!
hope it holds!!
Off to Alaskan Leather
.....to get a bum warmer for the seat - hopefully it'll take some numbness out too ! These guys were recommended locally - for a local problem, cold numb bums !
Met these guys from Fairbanks who bought me lunch and were off to Walmart and suggested I follow to invest in a $20 12V compressor - which I did (lesson learnt there ! Thanks guys, I've lost your names, send em on ??
Then I call Igor from Magadan Airlines to hear the bad news - they've gone bust !!
Bad bad news....
Lights on but nobody home
"On Time" - no way !! ! week late maybe 2 or maybe no more...
This is bad news, very bad. Magadan Airlines are the only airline to fly - Magadan - Anchorage and they only do it on Fridays during the summer. They were to start 23rd which I had been counting on. Then I had hoped for the 30th which now is very unlikely. This could mean that the "Road of Bones" from Magadan to Ulan-Ude is out (this is the only way in there). An alternative is Vladivostok to Ulan- Ude and on from there. This route is better and carries more traffic - they are constructing a highway so there is a mapped route and all the bridges are in place, unlike Magadan where there are 4 river crossings which I was really looking forward to. I have spoken to 2 different groups who have done the Magadan run in 2004 and they say it is manageable but slow and hard (and wet!!). Every year there have been 5-6 groups (including the Longwayround guys) (or solo's) that have driven it, incluing a russian girl last year. These are just the ones I've been able to dig up. I hope to join them soon !
If Magadan Air (Mavial) go out of business permanently, that will scupper this northern route for a lot of people - the alternatives are to fly internally up from Vladivostok (which Adrian Scott from Australia did in 2005) or to drive it up and back which 2-3 groups did last year... not sure who's on the route yet this year.
Let's see - Igor says call again tomorrow and let's see day to day.
This puts my schedule behind more and is a risk, but I really want to do the "Road of Bones"
24 June Saturday, Camp Cold Foot, Arctic Circle Speedo reading 25,030 KM
Enough bad news !! I decide to take off up the "Haul Road" - the Dalton Highway - straight north towards the most northerly inhabited place in the arctic circle on this continent - why not ??
It's described as " a primitive route with no medical facilities and only one gas station for 414 miles"
This the route that overlanders take if they want to do the "Pan American Highway" (maybe in 10 years or so for me ??) from Prudhoe Bay to Ushaia, Tierra Del Fuego in the South. This was a big drive - 1000+ KM on bad roads heading into the sun. Past Mt McKinley, the highest mountain in North America at 6,134 m Straight North into the Arctic Circle...
Met BAD BOB on the way...
and his dog Harry...
Past Denali Wildlike Park
so lots of moose en route...
Smelled the forest fire and saw this guy coming out of the brush...
turned out to be Welsh (originally !)
Just keep following the Alaskan pipeline north...
as it snakes it's way ...
Got a good stretch and then was stopped by a lonely cyclist... Dominic from England.
Dom is pushing a tandem from Prudhoe to Ushaia. He's borrowed up to hilt and is making a movie of his experience - looking to pick up hitchers to help him push... Great guy and fair play to him, he's a week in and the roads are tough - "How far is Wellington Creek ?" - "Around the corner - on you go !" Check his website for my photo - www.takeaseat.org and send him some encouragement !
On we go - dusty but the sun helps the energy levels after a long day
Road construction holds me up and I miss the last opportunity to get gas at Yukon River Service, they're closed at 21.00. I can't make it on to Cold Foot without more gas - this is the longest and worst stretch - everyone I'm pondering my dilemma when I meet up with Dave from Seattle on a GS 1200 who offers me his spare gas since he's stopping over for the night and can refill his tanks in the morning. Cash ? - No thanks !
He also gives me a sandwich, which is badly needed !! Dave, I couldn't have pushed on without that help - thanks a million !
On I go... past Gobblers Knob and Finger Mountain - someone with a sense of humour obviuosly got up here to name this stuff first...
Tundra gets prettier...
I the distance I can see herds of Carabou and what turn out to be Muskoxen
The Arctic Circle - not on my Agenda 2 months ago - not on my route plan but here I am around midnight too, not that you'd notice !! Mosquitoes are a bitch though...
Coldfoot - am I happy to be here ! In to the truckers camp at 02.00. "Yes, we're closed but yes I can make you a sandwich - soup with that ?" My hands are shaking I'm that tired and hungry, but I'm here 15 hours in the saddle and over a 1000km later.
A bed is available, but at $160 - supply and demand I guess. I can camp for free, so I do that. Lie there listening to Horslips on the MP3 player with a huge grin on my face, smelly, tired and delighted with myself.
25 June Sunday, Valdez, Speedo reading 26,070
I shower up in the morning and head in for coffee to find my bike has companions...
Turns out two truckers (twins who decline a photo) found this very funny !
Checked out the local junk around this camp...
This caravan is sprayed with foam for minus 40 degree insulation...
I consider pushing on all the way to Deadhorse (the industrial camp south of Prudhoe Bay, the last stop as Prudhoe is owned by the Alaskan Pipeline company and they charge $70 for a guided bus tour of the bay - no bikes), but this is 400km up and 400km back and would cost me a day and some flexibility if Magadan Airlines come back on... so I head south again. I've been told the landscape doesn't change much from here on so I leave reassured !
Today I'm following the Trans-Alaska pipeline all the way to the other coast, down at Valdez (remember the "Spirit of Valdez" that sank in the 80's ?)
Soon meet up with a couple on 650's heading south too from Deadhorse...
Construction work is dirty and slow...
and these guys behind you remind you not to slide and drop your bike !!
This is how the construction workers on the "haul road" get their post...
On to the North Pole village just south of Fairbanks, where Santa is supposed to be from... Here's the Post Office :
And his address :
A big version of him
and his house
What do you think girls ? Is that the real thing ?
On I go, but the weather turns again
But I hit the best road I have ever driven, it's fast (85-90 mph all the way), no traffic, curvy, loopy and with an amazing backdrop all the way. It's the road from Delta Junction to valdez - South. Haven't seen a trooper in 2 days
Through Keystone Canyon (more fast fantastic driving) and Worthington Glacier (2700m and bloody cold and wet) and waterfalls galore...
26 June Monday, Anchored in Anchorage again, Speedo reading 26,613 KM
D Day in terms of a decision. Do I head south now for Seattle (4 x 1000km days) and a guaranteed air transit to Vladivostok or back to Anchorage for flight to Korea where I can travel across Korea to Sok'cho to take a 24 hour ferry (twice a week) to Vlad ? Both routes involve a 72 hour hold by the Americans on their anti-terrorist thing to clear the bike... I might by-pass that with the Shipper in Alaska since I've got to know them, so I opt to head North for Anchorage. In the back of my mind is the outside chance that Igor calls and says that magadan Airlines have got the cash together and are back up and running... Back past the Glacier again so !
I call the motorcycle shop and tell them I'll be in for the service and tyre swap, these ones have given me great service, but the run north on the gravel has wrecked them - my puncture plug did hold up though !
27 June Tuesday, 28 June Wednesday
Anchorage, Speedo reading 26,668
In for the service and tyre change. Guys are helpful and practical. Can they prep - sure. Phil gives the bike a special lookover and gives me back my spare plugs, just in case. Next service I'll have to do myself in Russia somewhere...
In the meantime I confirm a flight out to Seoul in Korea with Panalpin and Fedex as the best route. we may even be able to by-pass the 72 hour rule if we can get the bikes prepped and space confirmed. My new best friend is Ping at China Air who will hold me a flight over Taipei to Korea until I confirm the freight. Back to the Motorcycle Shop - can they pallet the bike, drain the fuel and disconnect the battery for the flight - sure ? How much - no charge ! Thanks Rob, thanks too to Michael and all the team !
On to the truck and out to Fedex to beg space in amoungst the salmon on the next flight...
Local cop comes in for a service, they drive BMW here too - looks very "Chipsy" though
Can I have a loaner to run to the airport - sure ! Take the new triumph Scrambler over there...
unfortunately I run out of fuel, but I freewheel to the guys at Budget car Rental and get some free gas! Maybe my luck is turning ?
These 2 days are useless and frustraing spent chasing freight agents, fedex, garage, airlines, customs and trucking companies, nothing runs to schedule. But It looks like I'm getting out of dodge finally !
29 June Thursday, Anchorage
Bike is going tomorrow, me too - on standby at 04.30 a.m. so fingers crossed for a whole new world of problems in Korea - watch this space !
30 June Friday, Anchorage
Bike went, I didn't... Up all night at the airport on standby for China Air to taipei oand on to Seoul - no joy. I change my tickets as I'm still on standby tomorrow. Now I have a confirmed reservation over Seattle to Seoul - on I go tomorrow!
As an aside, you get used to seeing these around - a very regular form of transport four your "obove-average joe" but not super exclusive
Posted by Kevin Maher at June 30, 2006 01:08 AM GMT