Off the bat my flight was cancelled so a 40 hour re-routing process and a night in LA left me pretty beat. I flew all the way up the route I would be heading for the next couple of months so looking out of the window it was slightly anti-climatic that it only took 8 hours, mountains are no issues for planes I guess.
I met Caren off the plane in deadhorse, an eerily barren oil workers camp. her stories of running marathons in every country and crashing a plane in a swamp were kind of encouraging. She got me a coffee as I tried to shed weight, handed her a book and headed off. It was a strange thing to cycle into the isolation of such a hostile environment, in a state I knew little about, completely exhausted. It was around 8 pm, a day later than anticipated and the artic sun was High and consistent. It felt like a scene from mad max as I rode out onto the dust of the tundra passing a herd a caribou to my right and chunks of ice floating down the river sagg to my left.
Debut days on the dalton were endlessly flat, just like Cheshire, though I got lucky with the weather. Not with the Alaskan state bird, the mosquito unfortunately. I’d get about 30 seconds after stopping the bike to deet up before they’d arrive and completely cover me. If I would open my tent for just a moment to throw something out I’d have ample entertainment for the next fifteen minutes flicking them lifeless and ending up with a pile that would live in the corner for fear of letting more in.
The next three days were incredibly uncomfortable, the road was so thick with gravel it was like peddling through sand. More than a few minutes rest was impossible without being completely covered in Mosquitos and my bear fear and 24 hour light made sleeping hard. I got to spend a bit of time with some caribou, artic foxes, these strange Alaskan squirrels, enormous rabbits, beavers and a few birds that would ride with me for a bit. I kept my spirits up with a few culinary classics such as peanut butter porridge (with a whiskey garnish) and corned beef smash.
After climbing the Atigun pass into the brooks mountain range that had been staring me in the face for days things got quite a bit more comfortable and I really started to enjoy my cycling. The descent was marked by the return of trees who’s presence and smell was instantly comforting. The scenery was so vast, the weather warmer and the Mosquitos a tad less abundant. A few dips in glacial lakes and rivers would soothe my blistered legs at the same time as shrinking any sense of masculinity I had gained from climbing a 1500 meter range with 25 kilos worth of kit. A trucker who stopped to load me up with candy told me that making a lot of noise whilst setting up camp would be the best way to fend of the grizzlies so I got into the routine of singing my heart out as I set up my tent. I’m not sure how we’ll this worked as I awoke on only the fourth morning to find huge round footprints about half a meter from my tent. They went right on past my pannier of food though which was left surprisingly untouched which I was most grateful for.
I met a lovely couple, tony and jeannie who were taking a long camping weekend to scatter some of jeannies mums ashes. She had asked to be left in various far-fetched corners of the states and jeannie was kindly obliging. We got drunk, celebrating the summer solstice (happy birthday Aunty Gill) and talked of this that and everything, it was nice to find out a little of Alaska. Tony offered for me to take his gun for a few days (for the bears) and drop it off in Fairbanks where they lived and go for some food. The next few days were very long and pretty tough. Horse flies and then gnats starting biting holes into me and my spiked pedals were doing the same. Water was pretty sparse and the road was like a jack hammer to my back.
Jeannie and tony hid a bag a fruit for me at the artic circle which was such a treat after feeling fed up of dried food and chocolate.
Day 6 and I met 3 performance cyclists from Seattle who were also doing the dalton, they’d had a problem with food so I spared them some chocolate, cous cous and peanut butter and we arranged a rendezvous later that day. Come the evening they were only two as one of them had had enough and managed to get a ride out of there. We cooked tea together and I shared their monster tent. It was nice to have some company. Michael, a surgeon had got within 300 meters of the summit of k2 years previous and was full of knowledge about this road, he’d cycled 19 years ago. Matt was hilariously youthfull with a smiley face shaved into the back of his head courtesy of his daughter. I witnessed a brilliantly amusing scene of them washing each other butt naked under the open valve of a water truck which fortunately happened to be parked right where we camped. We were giddily excited to be able to drink water to our hearts content. The sky was full of smoke from wild fires that according to a trucker were 60 miles south of us turning the sun a disturbing shade of red “the state is on fire” he proclaimed.
They woke me excited as kids on Christmas Day at 5 am the next morning and were going to try the 110 miles to Fairbanks in one day. I tried to keep up with them but only lasted 20 miles. Matt owned a bike with electronic gear shifters and I was way out of my depth. We parted but agreed to beer and pizza in Fairbanks, failing that I was invited to a barbecue and a place to stay once I hit Seattle. I soldiered on but as the day went on it became hard to breathe because of the smoke from the wild fire. Things were getting pretty scary and at one point I had to cycle with fires burning at each side of the road. I could barley see and had to wrap a buffer with water around my face, just when I thought the road couldn’t get any more uncomfortable. This shook me up quite a bit and I was relieved that the dalton was coming to a close. Despite moments of epic serenity, the combination of endless ups and downs, mountain passes, swarms of Mosquitos, isolation, lack of food and wild fire thrown in for good measure meant the last 9 days were even more of a challenge than I expected. A few days of rest, some conversation and plenty of beer and what’s legal in alaska were called for in Fairbanks. 500 miles down!