RubiKon Adventures

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

Friday, May 24, 2019

GrizzLee Stories From the North: Sunshine Finally

 BRAAAAPP!  This was the sound I heard at 4:00 am as 2 bikes pulled into Marion Creek Campground. I wish I could say that I was in a deep sleep dreaming about my ride a couple of short hours ago, but the truth of the matter was, I didn’t sleep well. Maybe from the adrenaline rush; maybe from the midnight sun; maybe just my body being confused and dazed from riding almost non-stop form Seattle for nearly 2.5 weeks now.

I tried to fall into a deep sleep, but couldn’t. So around 8:00 am, half awake,  I packed it all up and headed back to Coldfoot. I refueled the bike and got a cup of coffee and a scone. I met up with some interesting ladies, whom I met the day before, who were traveling from the Kenai Peninsula area, which is where they lived. Interestingly conversation followed… one of them got married on the Dalton Hwy in the late 70’s and spent her honeymoon trekking the in the Brooks range starting at the Chandalar shelf. It seems that her husband, now retired, takes off every year with his dog and lives the entire summer in the bush. She stated that she has a general idea where he is at, but only hers from him when he needs to come out for supplies or such other life necessities. Wow, I thought to myself. These ladies make life in the lower 48 seem so … well... boring and unimaginative.

It was during this time that Chip and Joe, two fellow advriders I met earlier in my travels on the Cassiar highway, pulled in. Now, I had been in touch with them now and then during my trip via email/txt. I knew they were going to Prudhoe Bay, but I thought they would have been long gone by now. It was a great time to exchange stories and tales of our experiences. It seems that their trip up to Prudhoe was a bit miserable and they ended up staying up there more than a couple of days and then came down to Wiseman, north of Coldfoot the previous day.

Moose Cow... She had a calf stashed in the brush behind her
We all left together, riding back to Fairbanks. Our destination, the University of Alaska. Chip needed to do some bike maintenance and I personally enjoyed the riding company. So that is what we did.

Along the way we had spritz of rain and constant cloud overcast, but the road was dry and it wasn’t too cold or hot. We pulled off the Dalton hwy near finger rock for a break and I noticed a thin wire (like a wire from a ply tire, no thicker than a couple of strands of hair) was sticking out of my rear wheel. I thought nothing of it and pulled it out. To my surprise is was about 2 inches long and had penetrated my tire… the sizzling sound of air leaking out of my tire was all too familiar. I suddenly had flashbacks of my rainy experience on the Cassiar Hwy earlier in my trip. Whereby I rode nearly 100 miles on my flat tire to get help. This time however, it was a pinhole and not a big cut. Fortunately, a tire plug and some air were all that was needed and I was on my way again.  In fact, the plug and the tire held up just fine for the rest of my trip back home.

We finally made our way to the Yukon crossing and had a nice lunch. It was here, that I met up with the bikers that came into the campground earlier that morning. One of them, a gentlemen named Yun, had a spill on the road that caused some damage to his bike. He bent the sub frame and appeared to have destroyed his pannier. A fellow rider he met was carrying some of his gear. The problem for Yun, was that he was on his way to South America. So he needed to get this fixed for the remainder of his trip. In any event I was able to give him Adventure Cycleworks contact info and that was that. I figured I would never see him again. Turns out I was wrong… more on that later...

Chip, Joe and I arrived in early evening at the university and got our rooms. Chip got his bike repaired by Dan (Adventure Cycleworks)… Side note. Dan came by the University took Chips’ rear wheel to his shop, repaired the bearings and brought it back. The man is a SAINT!!!

The 3 of us met up in the student lounge and had pizza delivered while I went on a beer run. The next day was a much needed day off for me. All 3 of us made our way to a car wash and cleaned our bikes up. We had dinner later that day at the Pump House on the Chena river. All of us then retired for the night and parted ways the next day. They were talking about doing the Dempster Hwy. I recanted my attempt and about the road closure. Me, I was going to travel the Denali Hwy and see what the cards had in store for me afterwards.

The next day turned out to be AWESOME!!!  It was the best weather I have had on the trip. Sunshine all the way south to Denali on the Parks highway.  I was in heaven.

Denali Highway - Heavenly

The Alaska Range

The day did not go without issues, however. For starters, I stopped for gas and a sandwich near the junction of the Parks hwy and the Denali Hwy. In looking over my bike, I noticed that one of the panniers was barely hanging on. The unique BMW latching system had a missing bearing rivet(?). I was lucky it didn’t fall off on the main hwy. I had some wire with me, to wire it up, but I feared that it may not be strong enough. To the rescue was a gent in truck gassing up next to me. He pulled a spool of stainless steel wire out of his back seat. He cut off about 5 feet of it and gave it to me. To my dismay, my tool kit didn’t contain any pliers, just a pair of vice grips. So I began twisting the wire and it and I was doing a “piss-poor” job of it. It looked just horrible and I really couldn’t twist the wire in concise fashion needed to not only do the job, but make it look good. Just about then a fella on a Harley, from Texas, pulled up and chatted with me. It so happens that he is an aerospace mechanic for SouthWest airlines and had a proper wire twisting pliers in his kit. What luck. He promptly pulled them out and we ran some wire through the bearing hole and secured the latch . This meant, that I couldn’t take the box off without cutting the wire. His could be a problem later on for me and my tool box was nestled inside my pannier rack and the only way to open it was to take the pannier off. Fortunately, I needed no tools for the rest of the trip. His work looked top notch though, I wasn’t concerned about it coming loose for the rest of my trip.

Bring it on... More Alaska Range... AND SUNSHINE!!!!

Words... word can;t do justice to describe this land
From there I hopped on the Denali Hwy. For the 1st time in a while on my trip, I had unfettered sunshine and unobstructed views of the Denali Range. It was superb. I pulled into the Sluice Box, which is the only place to get a good stiff drink on the entire Denali Hwy. The place was awesome. Dollar bills were plastered to the wall and ceiling. The barkeeps name was Lee, just like mine. He is a bush pilot and was a great source of information about the history of the area. In the bathroom, they had chalkboard walls and “chalk” to write graffiti. For the very first time in my life, I left graffiti on a Bathroom wall. I wrote “GrizzLee was here” or something of the sort. Took some video of it and the bar and my interview with Lee on my Gopro. Oh, they also serve delicious Ice Cream, so given the warm weather and the mood, I had my self a double scoop of Chocolate swirl and mocha.
I left the Sluice box riding at a casual pace stopping to enjoy the views and even stopping for an hour to take a nap on a knoll with the entire Denali Range in front of me with full sunshine overhead with a nice cool breeze to keep the bugs at bay. It was nice. I really couldn’t ask for more perfect weather.

Somewhere past the Maclaren Lodge I came upon a biker doing repair to his bike. The gentlemen turned out to be Yun, the guy I met at the Yukon crossing a couple of days earlier. He was the gent who had crashed his bike and bent the frame and destroyed his pannier. Here he was, his bike was repaired, frame straightened and pannier welded back. He was working on his footpeg to hold it on until the next town where he could get formal parts. We chatted a bit and decided to ride together.

Near the Maclaren River

I took a nap here under the clear skies of the Denali Hwy.

No need to dream... I was living it
It wasn’t long from there when we ran into a couple from Delta stranded in their truck. Their front rear tire had a big gash in it and they couldn’t get the spare removed. Yun and I used a flashlight and fished the rod into the bumper looking for the winch connector to lower the tire. After nearly a ½ hour, we got the spare lowered for them. Afterwards we then took off and got dinner at the Tangle Lake Lodge. We were there awhile and soon the stranded couple whom we helped, pulled in and ate with us and then left. When we asked for our bill, we were told that the couple paid for or meals. That was awfully nice of them.

Camp at Tangle Lakes
Yun and I spent the night at the Tangle Lakes Campground. It was beautiful out and the best part, we had sunshine well into the night and then awoke to more sunshine. Yeah baby. I was now getting into the groove of things.

To be continued…

Friday, May 17, 2019

GrizzLee Stories From the North: The Haul Road

I got up early and left Fairbanks heading to the Dalton Highway. I made pretty good time, even with a stop for coffee and some breakfast.

 At the start of the Dalton Hwy is an elevated sign signifying the start of the road. The elevated sign
was presumably to keep folks from plastering stickers all over it and defacing it. Somehow, many travelers are undaunted as the sign is still plastered with stickers from folks of all walks of life. The town of “Livengood”, yes, you read that correctly. There is such a place.

From there the weather was ok. The road was in excellent condition. I endured a few sprinkles here and there all the way up to the Yukon Crossing at Mile Post 57. I stopped at the visitor’s center and spent some time looking around and even going to the beach to dip my toe into the Yukon River.
Yukon River... Beeeutiful

Yukon River Crossing
Afterwards I headed north to get gas in Coldfoot. Along the way I would cross the Arctic Circle and so forth. The weather gods were being nice and in fact, I got a nice break in the weather as I came upon finger rock at MP 98. Finger rock sits upon a high plateau above the tundra. It is rather unique as the ground is not soft and spongy. Lots of granite rocks lie scattered about for miles and miles. The rocks are pushed up as water freezes and expands underneath them in a process known as frost heaving. One of the biggest and most unique of these rocks is Finger Rock. It stands like a beacon on the plateau and can be seen from many miles away.
Finger Rock... A beacon on the Tundra

Looking North

Climbing some rocks


From there, it seemed like a short ride and I arrived at the Arctic Circle (MP 115). The weather gods were being nice to me. Sunshine mixed with filtered sunshine was the weather menu for this evening.

From the Arctic Circle, it didn’t take long and I found myself in Coldfoot another 70 miles or so north. It is here, north of pump station number 5, where I refueled. I was able to slip in and get in on the all-you-can-eat buffet. Coldfoot is an oasis out here in the wilderness. I met a few folks, including some riders coming back from Prudhoe Bay. They said the ride was wet, cold and rainy.  In fact, they stated that it was snowing at Atigun Pass. I decided then and there that I’d only go as far Atigun Pass and then turn around. It was now about 8:00 in the evening. I left Coldfoot thinking I would ride as far as I could into the evening sun and then turn around and camp at Marion Creek, a designated campground about 10 miles or so north of Coldfoot.
Arctic Inter agency Visitors Center at Coldfoot

Stuffed animals

Marion Creeak
As I made my way north, the sun was shining and the skies were clear. It was GORGEOUS. I kept riding in the magical light with very little traffic. I think I saw only 2 trucks for the rest of the evening.  The sunlight was splendid. A few miles before milepost 204 I could see Sukapak Mtn and it was a religious experience that I will take to my grave. I made several stops and had a hard time pulling away from its beauty. The warm sunshine and the total stillness of the air was incredible.

Incredible Evening Light

Sukapak Mtn
I slowly made my way to the Deitrich camp and bridge. Lots and lot so of beauty here in the mountains. Mountains formed of limestone, pushed up from the ocean to form the Brooks Range. Absolutely stunning. To my dismay, it looks like they are paving this section of the road. Interesting to see if it can be maintained with all the frost heaves and such.

I saw a few moose, and before I climbed up to the Chandalar Shelf, I witnessed 100s of hares on the road. As a result, the birds of prey were swarming in near locust like fashion. I was wondering if I was to camp here if I would see wolves coming to feast. I have never personally seen so many long eared hoppers gathered in such density at one place.

As I rose in elevation, it started to get cold and I could see dark clouds dissipating. I was told that it was snowing earlier in this area. Sure enough,  the road became a bit squirrely the higher up I went and fresh snow began appearing. The area just got a fresh dusting form what I could tell.  

At the top of Atigun Pass I had a small celebration and victory dance. It was now near midnight and I had sunshine missed with dark clouds. It was quiet and beautiful. My adrenaline was pumping as I hopped on my bike and went down to the valley on the other side. For a few brief moments I gave thought to making a run out to Prudhoe bay, or at the very least pulling in at Galbraith Lake (MP275) and spending the night. However, with the threat of snow and the greasy road, I turned around and went back to Marion Creek, about 10 miles north of Coldfoot. I was exhausted but was filled with giddiness beyond belief on my experience. I believe I made a good choice, as I encountered bits of drizzle on the way back and the sun gave way to overcast and clouds. The temperature dropped and I setup camp well past 1:00 am.

Fresh snow
Looking south of Atigun Pass
Twin Peaks rising off the Chandalar Shelf

All tucked into my tent and sleeping bag, I was awakened by 2 motorcyclist pulling in around 4:00 am.  I would find out more about these folks tomorrow…