Sunday, 30 June 2013

192 Paxson to Valdez

Friday 28th June  Miles Today 207   Total 11,196

We dragged ourselves out of the room, after booking our ferry from Haines to Prince Rupert for next Thursday, and whilst I went to sort out the coffee with our hosts, Ray went out to the bike.  He was gone for ages, which is nothing new, he disappears off and usually comes back with new friends, and today was no exception.

Remember yesterday we were sweating over the lack of fuel at Paxson. Well this morning I was loading the bike up when a couple, Fel and Desiree Madarang, driving a pickup with a mounted camper pulled up beside me and commented about the pump being out of action.
I chipped in with agreement and said that I was sweating over getting the bike the next 70 miles to the next one. Without hesitation the guy, Fel said that he had a couple of gallons for his generator and I was welcome to it. He would not listen to my offer to pay and got the can from the truck and we pored it into Wallace's tank. We were now comfortable to ride the 70 miles to where we believed the next fuel would hopefully be.  It turns out Fel is a German by birth from Munich, one of our favorite places.  We set off safe in the knowledge that we had no pushing to do. 15 miles into the 70 mile ride we found a simple fuel stop with one pump and sat beside it was Fel and Desiree in their pickup. We pulled alongside them and all burst out laughing at once.  All the fretting was in vain but once again the kindness and friendliness of the American people had shone through again. Fel and Desiree, if you read this, thanks a lot. ;)

Fel and Desiree Madarang, nice people. Nuff said.
Eventually we set off again and the air was very smokey from the fires, apparently there are about a 100 wild fires on the go at the moment.  The further south we went, the smoke got less, but the weather got colder and the cloud came over.  There were lots of road works and the journey was quite slow in places.  The scenery got much prettier too. Funny thing was, the temperature was dropping like a stone. We had 33C/92F yesterday and as low as 11C/52F (on the mountain) today. What on earth is going on ???

The clouds closing and the cold starting to creep in with it.

Lunch was from a Thai food van at Glenallen and then we continued towards Valdez.  This is a fishing village and was thrown into the news in March 1989 when an oil tanker crashed and spilled its oil, in the Prince of Sound bay, devastating the wildlife and beaches and the fishing community.  (Exxon Valdez) 
It is the biggest spill in US history, about 11 million gallons of oil, and proved significantly difficult to clean up, due to the location and environmental issues.
Part of the journey meant we climbed to over 2600 feet and found ourselves feeling very cold and in thick fog. We did find the Worthington Glacier and could just make it out.

Pic would have been better with less cloud cover.

We also passed by some lovely waterfalls, all of which had been woken up by a complete deluge that had hit Valdez overnight.

These were everywhere.

We have arrived at Valdez

The mist on the river was eerie

We have got a little cabin in Eagle's Rest RV park.  We saw proper road signs with a mother duck and  babies crossing and another which stated, watch out for young eagles.  Apparently there is a massive amount of eagles in the area.
Having now fixed the ferry date we decided that with the 5 days remaining we would spend one day here, 3 days traveling to the port of Haines and one day there prior to the ferry. It is a place renowned for bears and eagles.

Saturday 29th June 2013 Mileage Today 10 Total 11,206

The weather overnight had been extremely wet so we decided to stay in the cabin another night but unfortunately, this one was already booked so we had to pack up and move 6 cabins down. A pain in the butt, but hey ho.
We decided to go exploring around Valdez and soon found evidence of the eagles. We drove to the historic original site of the village and saw 2 straight away. We also saw a sea otter bobbing in and out of the sea. (it is one of those odd creatures about the size of a collie dog that rests by laying on its back and just floating around). Unfortunately it was not around long enough to photograph.

The seagulls were dive bombing the eagle

The views around the bay were spectacular despite the low cloud.

 We managed to get Wallace all the way down to the shore despite a near dead stop fall over in the sand.

Captured by the boss

After the Shore we went into the newer town of Valdez. It is a serious fishing village where some of the wolds toughest fishermen work out of. The subjects of the TV series 'Worlds Deadliest Catch', a fly on the wall documentary about fishing boats working some of the worlds most difficult waters, bring their catches to this port.

Hard core fishermen

Overview of the fishing port. The area at the bottom of the piccy is a fish processing table. The things in the tray underneath are the biggest fish heads I have ever seen

And of course, the obligatory Bald Eagle overlooking the fishermen.

We then bimbled back to the campsite and set about doing our laundry. Whilst doing the washing we were approached by a lady from the campsite staff who invited us to a 6pm salmon supper supplied gratis by the campsite.

Then whilst doing the drying we popped into a nearby hotel bar for a beer and bumped into a lovely lady who runs a bar in Buenos Airies, Argentina. The lady, namely Tess Branson-Cuadros, invited us to her bar and to show us around to some of the good bits when we get there in February. Woo-hoo. It was turning into a hell of a day.

Anyway, laundry done we then retired to a free salmon dinner. We invited Matt, the guy in the next cabin who had just cycled the the length of Alaska  (nutter !) along with us and after dinner we hit the sack.

Friday, 28 June 2013

191 Fairbanks and heading south.

Thursday 27th June 2013  Miles Today 190 Total 10989

We left the relative comfort of our rabbit hutch at around 10am and set off into Fairbanks for a coffee, not having had one yet. We followed the Sat Nav to where it thought a McDonlads was only to find a very nice car park instead. After a brief wander around in search of a coffee shop we abandoned the idea and set off Southeast toward Delta Junction. We stopped at North Pole to publish yesterdays blog and finally got some coffee. About another 90 miles along the road we stopped at a historic roadhouse called Ritka's Roadhouse. It was a 100 year old stopover for prospectors heading for the gold rush areas. As luck would have it, there was a small restaurant behind the roadhouse and we needed another drink as today was another record breaking day for Alaska's temperature. The bad news was that it shut 1/2 an hour earlier. Doh!

Ritka's Roeadhouse

We popped into the visitor center at Delta junction where the Alaska Highway ends.

Every town has to have something.
We also saw these two ladies discussing the merits of the rhesus monkey and its effect on the future population of dermal penetrating descendants. The female of the species is more deadly than the male, she needs blood to reproduce. (Only joking, they do not carry malaria here - we are saving that treat up for South America later in the year.)

We must do lunch again sometime

We then headed directly south and toward the town of Paxson. The forest fires that had been burning for some time were getting worse and for around 100 miles we were breathing in the acrid smoke from them. We though we were hard done by till we saw some cyclists going up hill and breathing like locomotives. 

We came across a car accident that was already being dealt with but it blocked the road for a while. Fortunately for me it was right next to a pipeline crossing and information point, so I got to read up about the line some more.

I was amazed to find out that a large portion of it is bearing its weight on the permafrost layer a few feet below the ground all over Alaska. The danger is that the warm oil or surrounding warm air in summer can heat up the supporting legs and melt the supporting ice around them. They solved this by installing a mini fridge in each leg. Each one is filled with a low boiling point fluid that is cooled by the fins poking out of the top and when cooled drops to the bottom stopping the surrounding ice from melting.
Now I know this is all very sad but that is just me. I used to be an engineer so I like to see simple solutions to engineering problems. Karen just thinks I am a sad nurd !

Having passed these for about 600 miles, I finally get to see why they are there.

  After the emergency services let us go we again set off and came across this. It is by far rthe biggest beam I have ever seen. Again, I like bridges and this is part of one. (You should see how exited I get when I see a Bailey Bridge. I used to build them by hand.)

How big ?

 Further on the smoke started to clear and we could get some scenery pictures again.

Look at Mrs Baily in the wing mirror.

As we continued south we were gaining height and it started to get cold. As we came past this lake we were freezing. The wind was whistling over the sheet ice and freezing us to the bone.

Ice covered lake.

5 miles further on we came to the village of Paxson. The map belied it's size. This is the only viable building in the place. Fortunately it had basic rooms, food and crucially, beer.

The Paxson Ritz
We were running low on fuel so we thought we would fill up here. Then we changed our minds.

70 miles to the next fuel stop. I hope we can make it !!!!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

190 The Haul Road (Ice Road Truckers fame)

Tuesday 25th June 2013 Miles Today 403 Total 10555

After a long but hot (21 deg C) and fitful nights sleep we got up a bit earlier that usual and were packed up and away for just after 10am. Aside from the squirrel in the washing sink getting a drink from the dripping tap, there was nothing positive we can say about this campsite.
The problem we had was the heat. In our rain gear it was unbearably hot and with the midday temperatures of 29 deg C and we were permanently sweating and losing body fluid so we decided to ride without them for the day. A difficult but necessary decision.
We set off for a long day with a projected mileage of around 260 to Coldfoot. About ½ the road was dirt or gravel and it made life interesting but after a while we got used to it and to be honest it was well kept and graded so we generally did not lose too much time because of it.
This sign made us laugh.

And here we are, just after the village of Livengood we entered The Dalton Highway.

The Dalton

This road exists for one reason and that was/is to build and service the Alaska Pipeline that pumps oil from Prudhoe Bay Oil wells on the Arctic sea down to Fairbanks, about 1000 miles further south.

This pipe is what it is all about

It was closed to the public till a few decades ago and now is a Mecca for psychotic bikers. Just getting here is a monumental task in its own right and the road itself is covered in ice and snow for most of the year. Many of you will have seen ‘Ice Road Truckers’. This is the road the series is based on. Fortunately for 3-4 months of the year it is clear and normal traffic can access it. Although, earlier this year, an acquaintance of mine, a Dutch guy named Sjaak Lucasson, rode from Barrow, a further 500 miles past Prudhoe and the most northerly point in Alaska, across the 500 of frozen sea ice, past Prudhoe and then on to Florida. He is a hard man.
There were some rock sections that were like marbles but by and large it was flat compacted gravel.

Typical Dirt Rd

And we drove over the Yukon for the last time (Northbound)

This grader made an interesting berm for us to get over.

The pipeline meanders on for about 500 miles and South. The bends allowing expansion.

Valley view

Finally arrived at the Arctic circle

But we have been here before but on the other side of the planet.

There were a few bush fires in the distance.

And a Carlisle Truck, from the Ice Road Truckers series.

We then ummed and arred about camping at Coldfoot but when we saw the lack of facilities we sorted out one of the guest rooms. It was just a pile of huts joined together and an afterthought  toilet and shower added later. This is plain to see due to the strand board decoration. Not bad for $199. Doh !   Oh and no coffee either.

Once in the room we chilled out for a couple of hours and at 9pm we hit the road again for a 140 mile ride (70m out and back) in the midnight sunshine. We rode to Attigan pass in the sunshine and it was weird – big time. Attigan will be known to all those who see the Ice Road series.

Attigun pass itself. It was around 11pm. Desolate and at 4500 feet it was quite cold - finally,

There is still a lot of ice around.

The low sun gave the mountains a brown glow

It is another 170 miles to Prudhoe bay but we could not see any advantage of going there apart from bragging rights in the pub and we are past that stage in our lives (OK, Karen is anyway, I am still a loudmouth slob).
 On the way back we took some pictures of the sun around midnight for no other reason than we could. The last picture below was taken at 12:02am Alaskan time. 

The view behind us looking North

These two piccys were taken a couple of minutes after midnight. 
 We have finally seen the midnight sun. It is all South from here on in. It was then back to our pidgeon hole for some much needed sleep. 

Wednesday 26th June 2013 Miles Today 244 Total  10799

Today was a long trip south with no choice but to use the same road we had just came North on. 

Silly old fart relaxing outside the Ritz  errr..  tin hut hotel complex.

The ride South seemed to be quicker than the one North but it may have been due to a slightly wider throttle setting but I could not possibly comment on that.

Mum and calf grazing.

Trying to recapture the Norway picture, unfortunately, no Leon, so Kit and Ted had to do and our flag has somewhat shrunk!
The Yukon Bridge, again, showing the wooden deck. Ice proof and easily replaced. Most bridges are made of wood in this area for that reason.

As we were getting near to Fairbanks we were stopped by roadworks and offered a small diversion as an alternative. We took it and drove past a saloon called "The Howling Dog Saloon". We just had to go in for a beer. The place was a mess with used dollar bills, T shirts, baseball caps and bra's all hanging from the ceiling. It was great. A real mish mash bar. We sat next to a woman called Kathy. She was a gold miner. Not just any miner, she owned her own mine which she could only work for 3 months of the year due to to snow and ice. She was very eccentric. She had a sheet of 'Bounce' (as in the stuff you put in the tumble dryer) in her hair. She swears it keeps mozzies away !!!
 On talking to her she gave us a lot of information about current road closures due to forest fires and advice on where was good to go and visit. A while later, a  friend of hers, Dan Vischansky came in. He too was a miner but only since he gave up animal taming for Disney studios. He showed us some pictures on his mobile phone of him hugging a 7 foot grizzly bear that he had tamed and some wolves he had trained for films. Sadly, computer graphics have now replaced real animals in films so he reverted to mining. He also showed us some pictures of him down the mine with a cast gold ingot about 9" long. 

This place has more than its fair share of interesting people.

We also found out that the Saloon had some small cabins for rent at the rear of the property so we stayed late, got drunk and then hit the log cabin for a good nights sleep.

Standing guard outside the cabin was this fellow and his mate.

You want a fight ???
As is the norm for us, weather wise, we have stumbled into a heatwave in Alaska.  Apparently about 3 weeks ago it was -40F (its the same -40C 1) then it jumped to 30F (around freezing), there was still snow on the ground and they had suffered a particularly long and bad winter, then overnight the temperature changed from 30 degrees Fahrenheit to in the 90's which is where it is now.  It is breaking records. This has caused the mosquitoes and other flying nasties to flourish and feed voraciously on the locals and Karen.  There are wild fires all over the place and the air is thick with the smell of burning. This in turn makes the wild animals, even wilder and unpredictable.  We have been warned by several locals that female Moose are the most dangerous animal here even above the bears..

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

189 Chicken, Tok and Fairbanks.

Sunday 23rd June 2013 Miles Today 175  Total   9942  

We had been advised by the hotel staff to go and visit the Midnight Sun Dome. This was a hill behind Dawson where in 1901 hundreds of people went up the hill, on the solstice, to see the midnight sun. However as they were too far south by about 4 degrees, the sun set at 11:30pm. The hill still got its name despite the lack of sun. The views from here were however, magnificent. 

Looking down on Dawson City

A view of the Klondike river and all the mining devastation.

Grumpy and Wallace

We drove back down the hill and intending to buy a bigger tent we drove along the river front an we found, parked outside a cafe, three more Super Tenere's, just like Wallace. I insisted we stopped for some breakfast and coffee. We got talking to the riders and later discovered that two of them were pilots.

What is the collective name for a group of Tenere's.

A proper wild west town

After brekkie, we went into a nearby shop and bought a larger tent. It weighed a fair bit more than the old one but we could at least stand up in it and hide from the mosquitoes. We asked the girl who sold it to us if we could dispose of the old (albeit hardly used) tent and she asked if she could have it for herself. Naturally the answer was yes as we could not carry two and aside from fruitlessly looking for a buyer, it was going in the bin. She was a happy little girl.
We the set off, armed with out new tent, for the ferry to take us across the Yukon (again). It is a small government owned free one. 

The ferry was a bit rocky so Karen held Wallace while I took piccys.

As we rode off the ramp of the ferry onto the dirt we were now on ‘The top of the World Highway’. It was magnificent. We then had just over 100 miles of dirt road ahead of us before we hit the customs post of Alaskan, America. This time we here on the top of the hills instead of being in the valleys below and beside rivers. The views were brilliant.

100 miles of this....Yeehaa
Looking down on one of the creeks.

We entered Alaska through the remote border post and on chatting to the Immigration/customs officer, he too was looking forward to retirement next year. He actually lived in the Government house adjacent to the post. He is the only person for miles around. To compensate, he gets a good wage and $100 a day subsistence. 

A proper photo of the Alaskan border.

We also lost another hour at this border and are now 9 hours behind the UK.
We then came upon a road junction and the sign just made us laugh....  choices  choices 

Eagle, Chicken. Chicken, Eagle.. Hmmmm

We opted for Chicken, actually Eagle was a dead end so we knew where we were going really. So on to Chicken. This is a mad little village that was one of the boom and bust places of the gold rush era and the story goes that it got its name from the Ptarmigan bird that frequents the area (like the one in Scotland) but they could not agree how to spell it so came up with Chicken instead. 

The Village of Chicken

This local guy was taking no chances...

Check out the AR15 assault rifle on this guys back. And his dog just getting on too.

One of the huge mining machines.

After leaving Chicken the road changed back to tarmac. More fun for Karen, less fun for me.
We see for hundreds of miles, and probably millions of acres, that the trees were dying. We had been told previously that this was due to the ‘Pine Beetle’. Sadly the effect was devastating and the only way to cure it was to burn the whole forest, a daunting prospect the on occasion, mother nature has a hand in (lightning strikes).

Dead pine trees everywhere. The deciduous trees are now taking over.

A closer look.

Karen spotted this beast that crossed the road in front of us. Moose are huge and this photo does not do justice to the scale of it. it was about 7 foot to the shoulder.

A huge Moose crossing our path.

Another Hundred miles and we arrived in the next village of Tok. Tok is an odd place and everyone that does not fly into Alaska has no option but to drive to drive through it. Hence it is a sort of hub where you can get virtually anything you want in only a few sprawling shops. The good thing is that the camp site is a good one with wood shavings placed on the tent sites to make them more comfortable. The other good thing is that we met up with the other boys on the Wallace look alike bikes and we had a great night talking rubbish and giving a few beers. Sadly it did not get dark so we mentally thought it was about 8pm from 8pm to 1am and sort of, forgot to go to bed. 

The moon taken at around midnight.

Monday 24th June 2913 Miles Today 210  Total  10152

We were now back on the Alaska Highway and it is a 200 mile hop to Fairbanks, the weather was starting to get unusually hot for this area, 28 deg C. This was Alaska, it is supposed to be cold. The heat inside our jackets was searing and we had to keep moving to cool down. We crossed the river Tanana and decided to stop for some lunch and a few piccys. It was beautiful.

Beside the Tanana River.

The Denali mountain range in the background.

It was then back on the road and the village before Fairbanks was called ‘North Pole’. Guess what that meant. Father Christmas, what else.

Santa Claus house. Doh !

And of course, Santa himself. How he gets down the chimney is a mystery to me.

We rolled into Fairbanks and went in search of the only campsite in town. It was crap with the only facilities being a table, a toilet and a tap. Karen was not amused.
We went out for some provisions and a bite to eat and then retired to an early night,  going to bed at the real 8pm.