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…