July 23, 2004 GMT
Prudhoe Bay and Back

The two-day stay in Anchorage was eventless (another big city). The staff at the local BMW dealership was helpful, trying to give travellers a special treatment, whenever possible. Equipped with a new set of tires I continued to move north towards Fairbanks, the start of the “real” adventure, the Dalton Highway, a 800 kilometre (500 mile) gravel road along the Alaskan gas pipeline, to the oilfields near Prudhoe Bay on the shores of the Arctic ocean (“Beaufort Sea”).

The ride from Achorage to Fairbanks, some 600 km, was not too much fun: the air was filled with the smoke from numerous wildfires in Alaska and north-western Canada. - Mount McKinley (highest mountain in North America) was completely hidden by the smoke. The only picture I took in the National Park was that of a sign that said, that –even without the smoke- one should count oneself lucky if one saw Mt. McKinley; it is often hidden in the clouds. Oh well…

Fairbanks is the official end of the Alaskan Highway.


It has some some 30000 inhabitants and is the second largest city after Achorage. There was conflicting information as to whether whether the Dalton Highway (the haulroad to Prudhoe Bay was open). At the visitors center in Fairbanks they gave the thumbs up. However, there would be a lot of smoke for most of the 800 kilometres but otherwise it should be okay.


Smoked-out in Fairbanks

So, the real adventure was about to begin: 1000 miles or 1600 kilometres of mostly gravel road. The beginning war almost a disappointment: perfect blacktop. The Elliot Highway leading out of Fairbanks had some 60 miles or so of the best paved road I have ever seen: it seemed quite new and perfectly smooth. But this was about to change soon.


A little bit after having passed this sign, I met two bikers on BMW R1150GSs – see also below. It was fun riding a small group for a change and I certainly felt much better having some company of the first few miles on the Dalton Highway. After having reached the Arctic Circle, I was on my own again.


I stopped at Wiseman, a small hamlet just north of Coleman, at the beginning of the Brooks Range, to stay for the night.


Introducing Wiseman

The next day began with rain, which added to the dismal atmosphere created by the smoke. I had to cover some 380 kilometres that day, and somehow it did not look as of this would be a fun ride. However, it started out all right. Despite the rain and the smoke I managed to cover some ground. At the center of the Brooks Range, near Atikun Pass conditions became dramatic. There was heavy traffic (trucks passing you at 60 plus mile per hour, and the dust they raised) in combination with the smoke lead to zero visibility. My only option was to stop and way until the dust had settled.

But after a while, the gravel seemed to have lost its dread - I thought. Cruising along at a moderate speed, the bike had grip and even the somewhat thicker gravel sections were cleared without a problem.

That was until I was within reach of Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. Just 40 kilometres to go and there seemed time to look around. Well, wrong. The minute I did that, I hit a section of deep gravel. The bike veered violenly. Unable to control this (Idid not want to break hard), the emergency exit was down the shoulders of the road and into the tundra.


Not intended as a gesture of sympathy with Deadhorse (see next pic below)


As seen on the wall of the Deadhorse General Store

The BMW had come to a somewhat abrupt stop. Because of the soft ground and my Dainese protective equipment I was not hurt (my ego perhaps a little bit). The motorcycle itself was not damaged at all, but left pannier (Zega box) had absorbed most of the impact and had taken a beating. It was severely bent but the content (mainly my computer and related stuff) was okay.

A patrol car of the Alaska Pipeline stopped and help me lift the bike – and that was that. I might add that I proceeded very carefully.

Accommodation alternatives in Deadhorse are limited. I spent the night in the Artic Oilfield Hotel. This place is owned by an oil company to have a place for its workforce – there are a limited number of rooms for tourists.

While the left Zega box was still doing its job, the damage was such, that I would have to replace it. I placed an emergengy call to my friends at the “Zubehoershop Frankfurt” zsf.info. Klaus Schrader who runs the place, did indeed solve this problem: the new box would be ordered from Touratech sent to Fairbanks via UPS.

The next day I had to take some photos of “downtown Deadhorse”. Unfortunately I did not get my Deadhorse sticker. It was the5 th of July and all businesses were closed. Still, I did get the photo – see above.


This is as scenic as it gets near the Beaufort Sea

The weather had not improved. It rained slightly and somehow I had to fight the thought that I might not make it back to civilization. But I am happy to say that the return trip was eventless and two day later I arrived In Fairbanks again.

Equipped with a new pannier box, the general direction was south. The end of the Alaskan part of the trip was near. Having covered some 14.000 kilometres since I had left Chicago, I wanted to give myself and the motorcycle some rest. I booked a passage on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry form Haines to Bellingham, Washington State. This would same me some 3000 kilometres on the road.

The last stretch of the ride from Fairbanks to Haines (Haines Junction to Haines) was among the nicest rides so far: good pavement, nice winding stretches and a beautiful landscape.


People Met On The Road – IV:

Boyd Hyatt and Scott Robertson from West Colorado on their trip to the arctic circle. Very much BMW-minded and great fun to be with. We met by chance at the beginning of the gravel section of the Dalton Highway to Pruedhoe Bay. – Thanks for the beer to celebrate making it to the arcitic circle.

Click here for a picture of Boyd and Scott

Ines (Bundschuh was her surname– if I remember correctly) has an interesting profession: she is a carpenter from near Stuttgart in southern Germany. She has travelled extensively and has been working in her profession in Sweden and of lately in Edmonton, Canada. She set out to conquer Alaska and the north-western Canadian provinces by bicycle. We met at Billies Backpackers Hostel in Fairbanks.

Click here for a picture of Ines and myself cooling it on the porch of the hostel

Don Corwin, proud owner of a almost new BMW R 1200 C. We met on the road from Tok to Haines Junction. Don was on the way back from Anchorage were he had his BMW serviced. We had a great conversation about motorcycles and the BMW dealerships in Alaska. Don had learnt German in high school and seemed to enjoy a little chat with a “native”. Interestingly enough, Don is another carpenter who specializes in renovating historic buildings. He lives in Skagway.

Click here for a picture of Don and his R 1200C

Food Feature V:

This week the food feature covers seafood. I had just made it from Fairbanks along the scenic Haines Highway to Haines and had to wait for the ferry to leave. Situated in the small yacht harbour of the city, right next to the moored boats was the “Lighthouse” restaurant and bar. Their “Seafood Burger” sounded interesting. Filet of halibut on a toasted bun:

Click here for an image of the restaurant

Together with a fresh draught bear, the was the perfect end to my Alaskan experience.

(PS: the espresso, served in a large papercup, however, was not something that I would want to have again)


Posted by Heiko Neumann at July 23, 2004 10:50 PM GMT

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