2,864 km - 5,163 km
The James W. Dalton Highway was built in 1974 as a supply road to support the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System that carries crude oil from Prudhoe bay to be refined further south. The highway, 414 miles (666 km) in length, offers various challenges for motorcyclists including many fast-moving semis, deep gravel and mud, tight corners and steep hills. With only one permanent settlement along the way, the road is very remote and bikers need to be ready to deal with their own breakdowns or medical emergencies.
We arrived at Mile-0 of the Dalton on Thursday morning after a foggy and wet ride from our campsite. The wet weather had created greasy conditions interrupted periodically by stretches of pavement. We had planned on camping at Coldfoot, the only settlement along the way, and having a big day on Friday going from Coldfoot to Deadhorse and back to Coldfoot.
We crossed the Arctic Circle on our way to Coldfoot and were sitting down to a delicious burger a short time later. After speaking with some other bikers who had just come south from Deadhorse, it became clear that we would have to change our plan. The last 36 miles of the Dalton were being worked on and could take up to two hours to get through. We made the call to push on another 100 miles Thursday night to a campsite at Galbraith Lake, just north of the beautiful Atigun pass that crosses the mighty Brooks Range.
We reached the campsite tired but in awe of the tall, snow-topped peaks splashed by the late-night sun. With rich green valleys between the mountains, it was a beautiful place to lay down our heads. It was a chilly night at the northern extent of the Brooks Range and there was a strong wind. Somehow the mosquitos were unphased and as hungry as ever. The new plan was to reach Deadhorse the next day and make it back to Galbraith Lake for bed, 200 miles shorter than our previous Coldfoot plan.
Friday arrived and we stepped off leaving our tents to dry off in the wind that continued to beat down on the campsite. We soon hit a wall of fog and bitter cold, accentuated by the need to open our visors that had clouded over. With awful visibility we were moving slowly, stopping occasionally to warm our hands by our engines.
Soon we were out of the fog, continuing to dodge gophers, potholes and semi trucks. Then we reached the construction. We were off to a rough start as Tym's bike wouldn't start after one of the construction delays. He also noticed fuel had been leaking on to his riding pants, his headlight was broken and some bolts had fallen out leaving his muffler and luggage racks hanging on by a thread. Tym was having a bad day.
The deep gravel sections were the most difficult times along the Dalton, but we managed to stay wheels-down, despite a few close calls - especially for Ben. After taking 3.5 hours to complete the first 100+ miles of the day, the last 36 miles took another 2.5 hours! After topping up Dom's tank when he ran dry, we were eating lunch at the Aurora Hotel by 3PM.
The Aurora Hotel is a great facility with delicious food, spacious rooms and comfortable beds. It is the perfect place to regroup overnight at the top of the Dalton Highway and enjoy some much deserved rest and a hot shower. It's just too bad it would have cost us $430 USD to spend the night!
After a stop at the hardware store, a few pictures by the Deadhorse sign, and a few minutes fixing Tym's starter, headlight and muffler we were ready to turn around and truly begin our adventure. We were finally heading south! The second time through the construction was easier with some newly gained experience and now that some loose stuff had been compacted. The light was on our side and we made it back to camp by 11.
Another chilly night went by and we set off back through the Atigun pass. Heading towards a threatening sky we were crossing our fingers for dry roads on the southernmost leg of the Dalton. After another tasty meal in Coldfoot and a fresh tank of gas, the end was in sight and we were picturing the warmth of a real bed. Tonight we would treat ourselves.
The Dalton, however, was not quite finished with us. After helping two friendly Brazilians fix a flat tire, Dom blew a bearing. Having the right replacement part was incredibly good news, and with a little thinking outside the box we were able to get the job done pretty quickly. All the while, Sydney the Brazilian was not too concerned about Dom's bearing and was instead eager to show Ben and Tym pictures of the grizzly bear he had just seen and confirm the correct spelling of Caribou. He produced some delicious cheese, pepperoni and crackers, and before long we were on the move. Another few miles went by before we needed to help out the Brazilians one last time as the flat was back and the BMW's battery was dead.
We finished the Dalton as we started it - tired and in the rain - but it was over. After another couple hours of riding through the rain we were back in Fairbanks and rented rooms for the night at the University of Alaska.
Today was spent washing the bikes, doing laundry, and other maintenance items that can't get done easily on the road. Tonight we will take a look at the map and plan out the next few days as we shift our sights southwards to British Columbia and beyond.