Thursday, 14 August 2008

Sawman of the North

After all the flapping about having to get upto deadhorse by the friday, riding sort of ilegally i managed to change the booking at the caribou inn to saturday night. In doing so, i didnt have to strain the life out of the bike and test my riding skills to a death defying limit. Left Anchorage, thursday after riding around town getting the needed things for a trip like this, like a tyre repair kit, tyre irons, lots of oil, chain lube and snickers bars. The plan was to get north to Fairbanks that night, so as to give me an easier low mileage day to get used to the dirt of the notorious james dalton highway, the day after. Didn`t make it ! Left Anchorage and after 50 miles it slashed down. Slashed until i could not take anymore. I pushed and pushed, until i couldnt see or feel anything anymore. 80 miles short of fairbanks, passed Talkeetna and Denali park, a Lodge, slightly hidden from the road by being distant from the road, but in a green clearing inbetween thick dark forests of the tallest spruce. It didnt matter how much it cost, i couldnt physicaly ride anymore. 315 miles north of the AKrider office in Anchorage. No one was staying there. An old boy named Jim answered the door and encouraged me in out of the rain. $69, which isnt bad for Alaska. I sat there with jim , drying off and listening to his tales of old Alaska. His hunting days of fierce battles up in the arctic hunting polar bears. Wrestling a black bear that had fallen through the window of his cabin. Tracking down the Largest of wolves. All seemed a bit tall for me really, but then he showed me the death room. A room dedicated to his hunting days. The wolf really was the largest of beasts. His skin stretched all over one wall. I couldnt believe that a wolf could grow to that size. Its head like a Lion. Turns out the place is haunted by the spirit of the owner, who had a brain hemorage 15 years ago, in a back room. Jim told me not to worry though, coz the spirit only slams doors some nights, he doesnt pace up and down the wooden corridors or anything like that. That was it, the light was left on all night and i managed to get at least 2 hours kip in ! some adventurer i am ! . Left there around 9am with a mouth full of a second danish pastry, with apple and other stuff in. Rode through Fairbanks, still raining and cold, but i was better prepared and dressed this time. Filled up the bike with gas at a small town called Fox, 70ish miles short of the start of the dalton highway. No more gas till Coldfoot, 250 miles north. filled the jerry can up also, just incase. It turns out i was wrong in thinking that. Another fill up station at the Yukon river crossing, 60 miles north of the start of the dalton.

The Dalton highway. A road of all roads to any overland rider. So famous i`m sure the stories can`t be true. A road that sorts the men out from the boys & generaly chews`em up for its main course, without spitting them out to be found. It was really exciting for me to be there at last but I stood there, at the sign for at least half hour, thinking i had definatly made one the biggest mistakes of my life. The rain had stopped. After 2 close and very loud gun shots, away to my left somewhere, i was on the bike and not worrying about the biggest mistake of my life. I didnt even notice the bike snaking all over the road, due to the loose gravel and ruts. When i did notice, i was already some way to be relaxed with road taking the bike where i didnt want it to go. "squeeze the tank with ya knees and lightly hold the handle bars", Jeff had wisely told me. It works. The only way to relax my hands on the bars when tensed up is by squeezing the tank with my knees, so all the tension goes to the knees holding the tank. The bike then somehow ends up going in a better straight line , on the right side of the road than before. Soon i started to notice fewer vehicles around. The ones that did come by facing me, had waving , wide eyed drivers. That gave the hint i was heading for places, where people seldom go. No one waves at people coming the other way if they are constantly seeing people coming the way. Sort of like hikers up a mountain somewhere. I was starting to feel like i was getting into the real wilds of Alaska. The fear sneaked off and i was settling into the road, like old slippers. Pavement / tarmac came and went in half mile & mile fits. Some places, that had been sprayed with chemicals for road conservation left the road wet and thick with mud. A shock to the complacent rider. I cant reach more than 30mph on this stuff. mostly sliding through at 10mph. Nearly dropping the bike twice. Stopped at the Yukon, a huge wide river, shouldered by eager fishermen. Leaving the Yukon stop a BMW rider came flying past, didnt even notice me. He was very fast for that kind of gravel. An hour on i found him and 5 other riders parked up chatting. A nice bunch. All americans except a Kiwi girl, that lives in London. Annette is riding the same route as me , to raise awareness for a Latin American childrens charity. Past gobblers Knob (a hill) through hills that become mountains. Everything covered in green and brown. Pine trees so dense. A lake , where archeologists working on the pipeline, have found native stuff dating back 2000 years. The pipeline follows you around the hills, running parrallel, then tangenting off underground or off up a rise and appearing somewhere unexpected. Playing a chasing game, keeping me company.
The pipeline. A completly man made intrusion into this wild place. A simple design that feeds the lower places with its black gold. I love it. I believe it works with the wilderness. Someways complementing it. Mans way of saying "i can take what i want from you". It cheekily keeps ya company. The arctic circle marker came and went. The furthest north i have ever been. The sun got larger as i neared Coldfoot. The nights place to sleep. It didnt go down till 11pm.

"i know that accent" i heard as i was sorting a room out in coldfoot. Helen and gary from devizes in wiltshire. A great couple of characters. A pleasure to meet. New friends. They have been away for 3 months exploring the states and canada by hired car. They are masters in the hotel blag of getting the price down. We had a great laugh that night, with a few bottles of beer and a meeting with a nut case floridian, Daniel, who once walked for 9 months across the mountain tops of eastern USA. 340 miles that day. I felt good. Happy that the road hadn`t been to hungry and that the sun was on my side. Stories were coming in that the next section , to the top was getting ,more challenging by the hour. Snow had been falling up in the Brooks range. Fog was everywhere and temperatures were dropping fast. When chatting to people the first question was "which direction you come from ?" . I was feeling in awe of the south bounders that came from the top. Mostly intreptid car drivers. Some with family and some solitary. Mostly hunters. All with a wry smile and eyes saying "you dont know what ya in for ". SO next morning im up and away after all north bounders. Helen and gary have already left in the car. No bikers anywhere and the coach full of older peeps left half hour ago. 248 miles to Deadhorse. The sun was out again, bit of luck. Means the road is dry and faster and fun. Caught the coach up, passed it with hoots of hello`s. Up into th eAtigun pass and the fabled brooks range. A place i have wanted to be at for a few years now. Straight up into the clouds. Couldnt see a thing for 3 hours until riding back down the other side. Its was freezing. I was that cold i had to stop and try and warm up. Hands had frozen into the grip position, which i couldnt straighten for 5 minutes. I managed to get off the wrong side of the bike and kick the beast down flat. Took me another half hour top get the strength to strain it upright again. The clouds rose as i rode down altitude. The hills became smaller, covered in small damp shrubs and hunters in camo gear, with bows and arrows, Laying on the road shoulders wainting for their caribou to show. The hills flattened complety into the Arctic Tundra. This place seemed to me where the rest of the world had not bothered to go. All stops at the Brooks range. Silence reigns. 100 miles left and im freezing again. a place called Happy Valley turns up. One building and a few sort of buildings scatterd around by a beautiful blue river. I turned in hoping to buy coffee and warmth. A man steps out of nowhere. Ed, a friendly understanding man, who in winter lives on an Arctic island named Katovik and in summer heads south to 80 miles south of deadhorse. Hardly Hawaii ! He took me into his house, fed me coffee and great complements on the ride for FXS. It was hard to leave his warmth. 80 miles left, a warm torso, toes and neck, i ripped up the rest of the way as the sky seemed lower and greyer than ever. Landed in deadhorse to find the riders from the previous day, one of them riding a huge honda goldwing (how he made it up there on that i will never understand) and he got a ticket for speeding. The fastest i could make that day was 60mph. He must get some sort of reward for that ride ! $179 for a night up there in the Arctic caribu Inn. Nice enough room. Bears apparently everywhere, so we are told to watch out when leaving the building. Deadhorse i found out is part of the whole area of prudhoe bay. It lays a 10 minute slow drive by bus from the Arctic ocean. I took the bus the next morning along with an Argentine geezer who had just driven up from Buenos Aires after 7 months on his own. His car was just an ordinary rear wheel driven saloon car. A few dents here and there and a solar panel on the boot. We wern`t aloud to have a full dip in th esea, due to a polar bear being in the area. I didnt see it , but we were told it doesnt matter if we can see it or not, its there. It could be 30 miles away and sense we are in the ocean, so the next lot of bus riders could have him on their problem lists. Oh well, got my hand wet anyway and looked south wondering what i will be wondering when im at the southern tip looking north in all those months time. Met helen and gary again that night, which was fun again. Said our goodbye`s. I hope i catch them again soon somewhere coincidental.

I know we speak the same language, us brits as our mates stateside, but i am having trouble getting my name across. Simon, 8 times out of 10 becomes Sawman to people i chat to. So now i just say my name is sawman. Mind you a few people have said "whats that ? Solomon, you say ?". Think i prefer Sawman. My hold on the english language is in need of help ! ...................Everyone i meet i tell what i am doing and why. ALL are interested. All want to know what Fragile X syndrome is. Some have helped in placing this blog on their web sites. Some spreading via word of mouth. All have a sticker ! Some are coming up with ideas to help me in spreading awareness. There is the Anchorage news i will visit tomorrow. Fingers crossed they see a story worth printing..... Its 12.04 now. im back down in the AKrider office Anchorage again typing this. Its time for bed. Im sleeping with 50 motorycles tonight under the same sleepy briefness : The ride back from prudhoe was incredible. Had the brooks range all to myself , came 20 feet away from my first grizzly, a 3 year old rascal. mum had kicked her out last year. she seemed just as nervous as me. Muskox by the road. Caribou herds. saw mount mckinley out of the clouds, all 20000 feet of it. Met some more characters, who i will never forget, excentricity city up here ! . Seeing what was behind me on the way up there, when riding south was like riding through another place entirely. 1800 miles- 7 days. Got back, Brendan heroicaly cleaned the bike for me, getting the fan working again. Great chats with Nicole, about her adventures and the route i am taking to get to leadville , colorado and pete. New front tyre tomorrow a new chain and sprockets, then im off towards the canadian border. More mountains and beauty ! Will be hard to say ta ta to Alaska. The friendliest people, who will give you whats theirs -the most incredible scenery, shocking. Theres is too much to say about this incredible last frontier !


Ariel said...

And the adventure begins. Those bears always look so cuddly.. too bad that they would eat you without even thinking.
Sounds fantabulous. Keep riding and stay out of trouble.

BAJ said...

I met Pete in the Moab Brewery last April and he mentioned your trip. Then, when I reached the Arctic Circle (on my trip - same route as yours...give or take) and saw your sticker pasted to the back of the sign, I thought I would see how long ago you were there. I went up and back in two days (BRUTAL!) and my hands are still cramped in the "grip" position.
I don't really have an itinerary, so can't determine where I might be, but if you and Pete happen to be in the same area it might be nice to ride for a bit.
My blog address frequently has a map attached -

Keep on going "Sawman" :-) Some days are harder than others, but none are really all that bad.