June 1st was not a fruitful day. This is the day I planned on leaving Prudhoe Bay. My thought and understanding was to get a ride to PB and that it would be somewhat easy. Not so! I said my goodbyes to Alexia, Fitzroy and Shelton and biked out of Fairbanks May 31st fully loaded, as far as Hilltop Truck Stop, about seventeen miles. There I found it disconcerting to find that most truckers are not allowed to carry passengers because of insurance unless it’s a life or death situation. Needless to say, after four hours of trying to procure a ride, Alexia picked me up and we went to the homestead where she would be working for a coupleweeks
We decided it would give me a jump if she dropped me off the next day at the Yukon River Bridge, about 140 miles north. Once there I immediately got a ride with a private contractor who would drop me off at the Gilbraith Lake camp entrance, it was 9:30 pm and as light as it was at noon. I was north of the Arctic Circle; no trees, more intense light, and views of grand beauty in all directions of the Brooks Range and the tundra.
After a very restless night I biked about 20 miles to the top of a hill with even more expansive views, and a place to get a ride. Alaska DOT was resurfacing sections of the highway in an unfamiliar process. They would grade the section in both directions leaving a lengthy pile in the center, a water truck would go in one direction then the other spraying a lot of water, then a truck loaded with calcium chloride would pour that onto the wet surface. This process continued on the same section possibly five times.
Five 1/2 hours went by with no rides. However, some trucks, contractors, and tourists did stop out of curiosity. One very nice contractor, Mark Nichols, and I had a good conversation. His son is stationed at Offutt AFB south of Omaha, my hometown. He gave me the lowdown on the rest of the road to PB, then asked if I would like water or anything. He said, ” better yet, let me give you this!” He handed me his lunch, a massive sandwich and a granola bar. “Better take what you can get.” He left and I walked back to my bike in disbelief, feeling so gracious for this kind gift, I choked up a bit inside.
I decided I had enough waiting around and would bike on. Big mistake! That muck created from resurfacing stuck everywhere including my feet. I was barefoot in Chaco’s and calcium chloride burns the skin. Half-hour later I was lucky enough to get a ride to PB from a couple of truckers. I sat in the driver’s seat of the disabled truck they were towing and viewed the tundra and my future route in the same direction I would be bicycling. They stopped now and then to check on the rig, and asked me if I needed anything. My response, “Preparation H, and a Chiropractor!” The air-ride seat was a test on my rear end, as well as the constant bouncing rearranging vertebrate.
Dropped off at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, one of two choices. Both owned by the same entity. One room here has a bed, lounge chair, closets, and a TV. Bathrooms and shower rooms are shared by all on that floor. The pay off was the 24 hr cafeteria. Full service with free breakfast, lunch, and dinner and stocked to the hilt with produce, dairy/ non-dairy products, grab-and-go’s, and every non-alcoholic beverage one could think of. I gorged, fueled up, stock piled, and went back for seconds. I showered and had another restless night.
This is the day I start and I have cold sweats and nausea. Should I stay an extra day and heal or pack up and bike on? I started packing fifteen minute before checkout with barely enough rest. I took full advantage of the breakfast options – twice. Milled around contemplating the right time to take off and discussing this with two Aussies who were also heading to Ushuaia by bike. It was 22°, 18° with wind. Finally, at 1:30 we took off. I wanted to grab a couple stickers at the General store so, I told them I would catch up shortly. Leaving PB/ Deadhorse was long, lonely and frustrating. The road, aka haul road, aka Dalton Highway, was deep gravel, rutted, wash-boarded, and not friendly to cyclists. Add to that the trucks and the dust they kick up. The day went by and by 8:30 pm there was no sight of the Aussies. I had ridden past an exploration pit/ camp about a mile when a truck stopped. It was Elsie, the trucker I spoke with at Hilltop days before. She had not seen any other cyclists ahead, nor campers that made me believe they stopped at the camp. I turned around I cycled into the wind to the camp. Sure enough, they were there and were invited to stay in a room. The manager was somewhat reluctant to take in another, but with a grizzly prowling around he felt a bit obligated. So I stayed in a Comex with heat and a very small window. We were invited to eat what ever was available, mainly grab-n-go’s, until the cook gave us the last three pieces of berry cheesecake and a bag of double chocolate cookies. The cooks here were angels and made sure we didn’t go without. The Aussies got two different rides that day. That is why I never saw them, except in the distance, in my imagination.
Day one was a quick lesson in biking the haul road. Bike the center until you notice a truck or vehicle in either direction. In that case move to the shoulder and slow down or stop. Stay off the soft shoulders. Stop often and stretch, especially your back, shoulders, and arms because your death grip on the handle bars trying keep the rig on the road, as well as the washboard, is intense.