RubiKon Adventures

Tales and travels of "GrizzLee", "Looksha Lori" & "Yukon Johann"

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Our Life Behind Bars – Father & Son Doing Time in the Northern Frontier (Mile 3216 to Mile 3469)

Day 14 (July 11, 2013)

We woke up late on this day. But the sun was shining and would be shining for the next 24 hours… so who cares. We noticed that it was starting to get warm. As we broke camp and put on our riding gear, we realized just how warm it was. It was humid as well. Oh no, we thought. Not again? I reminded myself and Johann many times that this was much better than having the alternative. We could be riding through we slippery snot in the rain. That would be no fun at all.
Our camp at Marion Creek

Wiseman, a small (pop. 14) community of miners
We slipped out on to the Dalton and I realized that the pavement was in really great shape. I guess in my state of exhaustion the day before, I hadn’t really paid that much attention to the condition of the asphalt here.

We headed down the road and passed the turn off for Wiseman. A mining town with a population of about 14 people.  While scenery was beautiful, what I saw next totally blew my mind.

Sukakpak Mtn on the right...
 We turned a corner and looked off in the distance to see these incredible rock formations rising out of the ground. Even better, the paved highway stretched before us on a direct route toward them.  This was not what I expected to see. Now, I have seen pictures in my research, but they are even more incredible to see for real. To our left, the pipeline passed by the base of a tall monolith of rock. Wow!!
The road is paved here? Nice!!

Sukakpak Mtn getting closer

We rode on a bit more and the cathedral-like rock formations got closer and bigger. We were both so focused on the them that we didn’t even notice when the pavement disappeared and we found ourselves riding on gravel.  At the base of the Sukakpak Mtn, we had to stop for a construction zone. It was about a 15 minute wait for the pilot car. We got to talk with the flagger, who also has a bike. He told us the scenery got even better the farther up the road and that it would stay that way until we arrived onto the flat  tundra.  We followed the pilot car at a snails’ pace, but we didn’t care. I felt like I was on a premium Disney Ride. Only this stuff was real. It gave us the chance to soak it all in.
Great picture of Johann coming back to see if I was alright

Just beyond these mountains lies Gates of the Arctic National Park

Serene and calm

The pipeline passes just past those trees.

(Click to enlarge) Panoramic view of the valley

Once out of the construction zone, we could stop at will. And stop many, many times we did. Johann would motor far ahead, only to realize that his papa wasn’t behind him anymore. Sometimes 10 minutes would pass before Johann would come back to check out what I was doing. He said we weren’t going to make it to Dead Horse at this pace. I really didn’t care. I wanted to see it all. I wanted to take mental images, I wanted to smell it, taste it … more importantly, I wanted validation that I wasn’t dreaming. Gosh darn it, this place was more than beautiful. I had no idea, no clue that such a place existed in Alaska this far north. My only data point was the Dempster Highway in the Yukon/NWT Territories. That place is sacred to me. Now this valley, this road through  Atigun pass will be another such place.  There are some places in the world that make one stop and take pause and wonder… Places where beauty extends beyond the eyes and burns an image into ones soul. If time weren’t an issue, I think I would still be up there worshiping that holy place.
Not sure what mtn this is, but it is pretty spectacular
 I knew there was more to see. Johan was anxious, I on the other hand was in another world. It was a good thing that he was there to prod me on. As we rode toward Atigun Pass, my fears and anxiety about a steep , mud soaked hell, dispensed quickly. If it wasn’t so hot, I’d have mistaken this place for heaven. Everyone has ideas of heaven, but to me, it is clear, heaven would be like this… only without the big trucks, the road and the dust. Come winter, I suspect that I would change my mind. But in the here and now, this was it. I was in heaven with my boy. That is something I wish every parent could experience.
Ascending up to Atigun pass.
Well, we pushed on... slowly, but methodically gauging the best places for pictures and video (yes, I took video and had my GoPro going quite bit). So much so, I nearly ran out of both memory and batteries once we reached DeadHorse.

Atigun pass was amazing, save for the heat. In the valley we could see frozen ice on the tundra, but with 24 hrs of daylight and near 90 degree temperatures, I am not sure why.  We stopped to take videos of ourselves riding at one point and another AdvRider we met in Watson lake (Mike form Denver aka mtncrawler on the ADV boards) came riding down the pass and gave us a wave. He rode up and back from Coldfoot in one day…. I thought to myself, how could one do this? How can one not stop and smell the roses (or the tundra in this case). The road conditions were ideal , however, and at times we found ourselves easily doing 60+ miles an hour on the gravel (not really gravel.. when it is dry, it is more like asphalt).
The Pass Plateau

Yep, that is ice out there

A victory and celebration for coming this far

Unbelievable, but true, it was near 90 degrees in the pass valley

Looking back across the valley

A picture of Gretchen before we head up.. Johann is long gone :-)
In any event, it was really incredible to see a lot of motorcycles on the road. More than I thought would be up there. For the first time anywhere, the Dual sport bikes outnumbered the Goldwings and the Harleys. I think the bike of choice was the BMW GSs followed closely by the KLRs based upon what we were seeing. Pretty cool.
Going up, I look back and see the valley floor...
Trust me, pictures don't do justice here.
It is beautiful

Nice views in my rear mirror

At the summit. They buried the pipeline up and over the pass.

GrizzLee approves this million dollar view

The valley on the other side... see the folds in the rock... Neat!

The pipeline snakes its way through the BLM corridor between
Gates of the Arctic NP on the left and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the right

Again pictures can't do it justice. The views were expansive

At the end of the valley the road dumps out on to the raw tundra
  Once we got passed Galbraith Lake, near the end of the valley beyond the continental divide at Atigun pass, we hit another big stretch of construction. It was really bad and really muddy. I truly believe that if it hadn’t been for the construction zones, my bike would have come back with dust and minor splotches of mud on her. But oh, no, they had to spray that calcium chloride chit everywhere. We rode through streams of the stuff in the construction zones. Even followed water trucks spraying that stuff down… Made it pretty slippery as well. We were all over the road and got the crap all over our riding gear (it took several washing to get it out).
Not sure how this rock was formed or even how it got pocked marked.

Pretty amazing rock. Wish I knew more about geology.

Purple mtns majesty. That's right, purple rock.

The Brooks Range as gives way to the flat tundra

More strange rock formations near Galbraith Lake

Looking into the heart of ANWR... Just freaking awesome

I spin my head 180 degrees and see into the heart of the Gate of the Arctic

Nearly out of the valley now and onto the Tundra

Yep, the tundra... The bugs were REALLY horrible here.
 Later on in the day we finally made it out on to the flat tundra. I was surprised how quickly the Brooks Range gave away to flat earth. One thing changed dramatically out on the Tundra. THE BUGS!!! OH MY GOD they were horrendous! We stopped at one point to relieve ourselves and have a snack for lunch…. BIG MISTAKE!! God damn bugs everywhere… Inside the helmet down our necks inside our riding gear and they even made their way into my pants. We’d ride a couple miles to shake them. Had to open the windscreen to get them out. Every stop was like this. So we decided not stop anymore. We finally started making good time on the road. At some point we stopped before Happy Valley. We had to take another bio break, but more importantly, we had to put our warm riding gear on. It was now in the 40’s. What happened to the heat?  A cool breeze was coming off the arctic ocean directly into our face. The bugs seemed to be unaffected however (sigh?!?). It was at this point, while inspecting our bikes, that we noticed the Dakar had taken shrapnel damage to the headlight. Thankfully, dad prepared for this and had a lexan headlight cover. It must have been brutal as the cover was cracked. Johann mentioned passing a truck in the opposite direction and hearing a loud pop.
The edge of the Brooks Range

Unbelievable how fast the Brooks range gives way to the tundra

Looking into ANWR

ANWR looks like an incredible place

More views into ANWR

Our final view as we turn away toward Prudhoe Bay.

We stop to put warm clothes on and we see this.
The headlamp protector did its job!!

Hard to believe that the temps dropped into the 40s so fast
We pressed on. Parts of the road were broken asphalt… hmmm … all the way out here? And then other parts were freshly sprayed with water and Calcium. We needed all lanes to negotiate those stretches. It was slippery as heck.
Look beyond Johann;s shoulder... Flat as far as the eye can see

Our first view of Franklin Bluffs
 The tundra out here, in general, is nondescript and pretty boring to ride on for long distances (like passing through flat prairie land), but in the distance we could see the Franklin Bluffs appear. These bluffs were pretty cool to see. There were carved out by the Sag river (short for Sagavanirktok River… which we were no riding parallel for the last million miles).  The bluffs were covered in ice as it leached out from the tundra, creating these cool white patches. The bluffs are the last topographical feature before arriving in Daedhorse. SO I thought we were close. Not as close as I thought. They went on and on for miles.  I read later that the bluffs are used heavily by bears to hibernate. Not a good place to be during spring I suppose. At one point, I stopped to take pictures and 3 guys in a jeep pulled over to ask if I had seen any Caribou. Unfortunately, we had seen none, in fact, we had seen no wildlife, other than a couple of Eagles and some seagulls. It made me sad to realize that. I was so busy admiring the natural beauty, that I hadn’t noticed the lack of wildlife today.
They go on for miles and miles

They are about the only feature worth noting out here in on,
otherwise flat non descript tundra

That is ice that has leached out of the permafrost

We read that bears hibernate in bluffs
We arrived in Deadhorse around 7:30 pm.. Not bad for a day spent with soo many stops. I hadn’t really planned on staying in a motel here, but it was getting cold and the wind was picking up steam. So we stopped at the Hotel just outside of town… We had a buffet dinner, just in time as they shut the buffet down around 8:00.  Now the bad news, our room cost us over $200!!! The accommodations were not the greatest. Our room was actually a dorm style room used by the maintenance workers with a community shower. We had our choice of a room with midnight sun coming directly in the window or would we care to have morning sun. We choose morning sun. Our $37/night dorm room at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks looked like a master suite in comparison. Oh well, we will only do this once. Besides, it will probably be the only time I will ever get to do this with my son. The days experience made it worth every penny.

Stay tuned for Day 15, the ride back to Coldfoot

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