Day 75. A&M Reservoir to before Rawlins.

Windy night, had trouble sleeping because of the tent sides flapping around. But up early, sun hits the tent almost as soon as it rises in the desert, nothing around to block it. We make oatmeal and coffee, rationing and closely monitoring our fuel use to last all the way to Rawlins. Great Divide map listed Atlantic City as having ‘all services’ but apparently this doesn’t include gas stations, so Marion and Virgile are running low on fuel. I have just enough alcohol left that we scrape by. Today marks our third day in this desert, we camp just outside of Rawlins tonight and then will spend tomorrow in the city. The Divide maps say that this section of the route has the least water north of New Mexico; coming through in September, we found at least one place to resupply each day, more than we expected, so we’re carrying more water than we needed. But it’s been hot during the day, so maybe earlier in the summer we would have drunken a lot more water.

First 20km of the day are almost straight into a headwind, but we form a paceline and push through it. Then we turn left and after 5km the wind changes to a massive tailwind, propelling us forward for 30km to the junction where we stop for lunch. We can see storm clouds brewing, the first clouds seen after three days under the endless blue sky in the desert, so we eat lunch under the body of some construction vehicle. The storm breaks just as we finish lunch, so we spend the next 45min huddled under this machine staying warm until the storm passes. Then only 10km to our campsite for the night, we get the tents up and Virgile makes a big fire where we recover from the chill of the storm and cook and drink coffee and hot chocolate.

I’ve crossed the Continental Divide 9 times now on the route. The desert we just came out of is called the Continental Basin, where water drains neither to the Pacific or Atlantic but stays trapped in the ground where it falls. I had no idea this kind of landscape existed in the Rockies, thinking it was all just rocky ground and mountain forests. In three days of riding we spent nearly every single moment alone, the only other people we saw were the occasional hunters (hunting the antelope that roam this desert) and on the second day, some oil workers. The basin is said to have more oil than Saudi Arabia, all shale oil, and if it starts getting developed this section of the Divide will be very different in a few years for sure.

Will be in Colorado in just a few days now, headed for the towns of Steamboat Springs then Silverthorne then Salida to Manitou Springs, is the current plan. Will either then continue riding the Divide into New Mexico or alternatively head into Oklahoma/Texas then west to Arizona. And so the ride continues.

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In the desert.

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Three bikers together.

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Last tree for three days.

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Chilly mornings are common now.

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Continental Divide crossing number 5.

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This little guy was digging big holes in the road.

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Weather climbing up to Union Pass.

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We climb, always.

Jackson to South Pass City, WY

Left Jackson, with a face I don’t entirely recognize and without a razor that no longer works. Cycled north to a campground with hiker-biker only spots, no one else is there, though the drive-in camping spots are all full. Stop just outside the campground to chat and join the Logans for cocktail hour, who provide salmon and peanuts for appetizers and buffalo jerky for the road ahead, which comes in handy a few days later atop one of the passes. I eat dinner right before I crawl into the tent at night to read/write/whatever. Lately have been cooking or eating at least partially by headlamp, but now everyone’s pretty much back at school and there are no more immediate deadlines to meet so hopefully the days of cycling will get shorter with more rest time and earlier stops.

Back on the Divide the next day, this week getting mostly out of Wyoming involves climbing over nearly one pass per day, and hence at least one crossing of the Continental Divide. The fourth day out has two crossings. Climbs overall not bad, the narrative makes the climb up to Union Pass sound ominously difficult but it’s just long and gradual, not too steep at all. Maybe would be a different story if the road was wet and muddy. The area between Tegoetee Pass and Union Pass seems to be caught in a round of storms, the sky overhead constantly going from blue to black. The storms generally only last about 20 min or so, just have to bike with a constant eye on the sky and watch for stands of trees or building overhangs to take cover under when the storm lets loose.

Depending on how long the climb to the passes takes, sometimes I end up camping right near the top after going through, if there’s no time or energy left to descend. Hence my highest camping spot has now been at over 9500′, and it was cold in the morning until the sun came up. Camping on the southern side of Union Pass made for an interesting night; finished dinner and had just climbed into the tent when the circling storm clouds let loose. First just thunder and lightning right around the tent, then a bucketing of hail that turned all the ground white. Some patches were still left in the morning, though thankfully no ice in the water bottles so must have been just above freezing. I picked up some winter mittens in Jackson and they do indeed work.

Am back to riding with Virgil and Marion again, caught up to them five days after Jackson, on the ride to South Pass City. South Pass City marks completion of the second portion of the Great Divide, and wow, what a ride. A tailwind pushed us through high, sage-filled grazing grounds, almost deserts, expansive with no end in sight except the mountain ranges on all borders. We dart through the ranges at South Pass, right where two of the ranges seem to intersect, and the desert starts immediately after. After South Pass City we have a two day ride with little water, so we’re loading up with 2-4 gallons each. Good to be riding with company again.

Colorado looms next in the distance. Feels like a promised land of sorts, means successful completion of several portions of the Divide and some wonderful people to visit. Plus I flew out of there almost three months ago for Alaska, didn’t really expect to be back so soon. Have to do some route planning once I hit southern Colorado, options for immediately after include going south-east, south, or south-west. But good to have options.

The Great Divide: Through Montana to Wyoming

One week now on the Great Divide. I am blown away by this trail- never been on anything like it. The roads that my map and instructions direct me down are gravel forest service roads through the National Forest, or old roads that used to be the supply routes between towns in the 1860s but are now “scenic byways” that no one else is on. Through southwestern Montana the roads were beset on all sides by huge ranches, generally arid sage landscapes with cattle grazing all around. The cattle are not at all phased by bikes rattling down the roads until you’re within about 5 feet of them. The ACA route directions and a working odometer are vital to staying on the trail, and even with both of those, it is still quite easy to get lost. Seeing tire tracks from other bikers on the trail before you are good indicators of where to go at a fork in the road.

If you’re at all thinking of riding the Divide- do it. You won’t be sorry. Tired maybe, but not at all sorry.

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Immediately after joining the trail in Butte, I climbed to my first crossing of the Continental Divide and set up camp there for the night. It would have been a very quiet night, no one else around, except that hunting season has evidently started, and in some parts of the National Forest hunters are roving around in their 4x4s.

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Clear skies and a crisp morning. According to the route profile, the trail so far is always above 5,000ft, going to 6,000ft quite often, and hitting 7,000ft at the passes. Supposedly it will be even higher in Colorado. Woke up one morning with frost on the tent poles and ice in my water bottles. All the other nights seem to be hovering just above freezing.

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The forest roads are quiet. Cattle are the most frequently seen animals, though I came across deer and elk sometimes too.

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A lone tree on the climb up to Fleecer Ridge. The route instructions describe this climb as “legendary”, and for steepness and difficulty, that’s definitely a good description. The descent down the other side was even steeper though, and only rideable for about the first quarter or so. After that, the descent involved much burning through brake pads trying to gently guide Acero down the hillside.

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Montana vista. One nickname for Montana is Big Sky Country, and in this part it’s easy to see why. Sunglasses on all day, and breaks are generally taken whenever a lone stand of trees or rock outcrop puts out a little bit of shade.

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The roadsigns match the time period of the roads themselves.

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Continental Divide crossing #2 for me. Into Idaho!

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I caught up with Pignon Voyaguers a few days into the Divide. They, Marion and Virgil, are a French couple riding down to Argentina from Alaska. I had heard about them from Marc and Noemie, and wound up following their tire tracks for a few days before catching up to them on the road. We rode together for a day, then I went ahead as I had a deadline to get to Jackson to meet a friend.

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Great company!

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Outside of the National Forest, the landscape was always arid, sage-filled grazing lands. Creeks and rivers could be spotted from far off from the sudden green-ness surrounding them.

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After 3 days of seeing nearly nothing but sage deserts, trees promptly surrounded the road right before crossing into Idaho.

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A spot beside the road to camp, just before Wyoming.

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Making progress south!

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Definitely more moist in Wyoming.

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Made it to Jackson to meet up with Santana before she headed back to school!

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Jackson involved a fun day and night of wandering through art galleries and a farmer’s market with a bubble-making station. Headed deeper into Wyoming now, and Colorado is next on the agenda. And now back to the bike!

Sandpoint, ID to Kalispell, MT.

Lots of exciting things happening in the US. First is the opportunity to visit a lot of friends from school. Second is the start of the Great Divide trail, that mostly dirt/gravel road hugging and criss-crossing over the Continental Divide down through Montana, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. I’ve been looking forward to this trail since I started doing research for this trip. Apart from two of those highways in Alaska, this will be my first experience doing extended dirt touring. After the hordes of RVs in Alaska and on the Icefields Parkway, should be a great change of pace. Hopefully the legs are in shape now…

But first: Sandpoint, ID.

Rewind to the end of the first week of the trip: I’m back in Fairbanks, after finishing the Dalton Highway, running errands around town. Fairbanks turns out to be a good place to meet other cyclists, because both those headed north and south stop by to resupply. Outside the post office, I run into three cyclists who had ridden up from Idaho, and after getting some information about the roads through Canada, one mentions this small town in Idaho which is close to Montana and could be a fun town to stop out. I make a note of this, and then find out that a friend from school, Gladys, is actually working in the same town in Idaho for the summer. This is a perfect combination- a friend to visit, a place to stay, and a deadline to get there that should be ok for avoiding getting snowed out on the Great Divide. Luckily, everything worked out and so I spent a few days in Sandpoint, resting, eating ice cream and fudge and then delicious foods at Labor Day picnics. Huge thanks to Mac + family and Gladys + family for hosting me!

IMG_4778Back in the US. I crossed the border south of Yahk, Canada and north of Bonners Ferry, ID. Seemed like a pretty quiet border crossing- only had to wait for 1 car! No problems with re-entering the US this time… hoping for the same the next time I come back.

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Roadside parking of cars past their prime is the norm, usually complete with one or more American flags. America pride!

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Labor Day sunset in Sandpoint.

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Gladys and me!

After Sandpoint, I headed east to Kalispell, to meet up with Forest, another friend from school. The route to Kalispell was a very fun ride. First headed east on Rt 200, a quiet two-lane road that wound past several lakes. Every couple of miles there was a pull-off with informational plaques about the lake, about the wildlife, how the land was shaped by glacier movement, etc. Slightly more scenic than the road to Sandpoint from the border. After Thomson Falls, MT, I turned off the pavement and headed north on the forest service roads through the National Forest. Seems like these roads are used mainly for logging and fishing/hunting. Was about 50miles of gravel to connect from Rt 200 up to Rt 2, maybe a good preview of the Great Divide route. Stayed in one of the campgrounds off the forest service road for a night, had the whole place to myself. A sign on the information board said the campground is only maintained until Sept 21, good reminder to keep heading south.

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After crossing into Montana, started seeing more and more apple trees, some in orchards, some just by the side of the road. Great to start having other fresh fruit than just the berries of the far north.

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Also everywhere in Montana: deer. Forest says hunting season starts sometime this week, hopefully some of these guys get a little more skittish before then.

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Riding on a forest service road: blissfully quiet, though the gravel and some of the ruts mean it’s time to turn the front suspension back on again.

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Oncoming traffic, Montana style.  Only roadblock of the afternoon.


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Hay farms are everywhere up here.

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The last 10-15 miles into Kalispell were on a great bike path. Road recap: quiet paved country roads, gravel USFS roads, short paved highway stint, then bike path.  Hard combo to beat.

Been resting and hanging out in Kalispell for the last few days, heading out tomorrow south to Missoula then on to Jackson. Finally getting on the Divide next week is going to be super exciting, especially after such a good rest in Kalispell (I slept in a bed for the first time in two months!). Huge shoutout to all of the Nelson family for welcoming me- it was great to meet everyone and a ton of fun to see all the gardens. Kalispell definitely a fun town.

Riding buddies to Haines Junction, Canada.

Wow. Last week of riding, from Tok, Alaska to Haines Junction, Canada (Canada!) has been unbelievable. Riding with awesome people, minor disasters of flat tires (one of mine) and a broken spoke (not one of mine), crazy swarming hungry mosquitoes, fun dinner/desserts/games. More below…

IMG_4404From right to left: Stevia, me, David, Carolyn. Stevia, David, and Carolyn are the Oregon cyclists that I had been hearing about as I neared Tok. Upon leaving Tok, we all wound up running errands in the same places and rolling out at the same time, so started riding towards Haines Junction together. They’re incredible- David and Carolyn live/work/run a farm in southern Oregon, and Stevia lives and works in Portland and knows David and Carolyn from some time back. They pretty much adopted me into their group for this portion of their ride, and unfortunately we had to go our separate ways in Haines Junction, as they’re headed south to visit some friends and return home and I’m heading on further into the Yukon.  David grew up in Anchorage and knew a lot about the areas we cycled through from past rides (and gave me many tips about bears, super useful info).

IMG_4321Once in Canada, there were several portions of the road under construction, which means gravel. The sun was shining down hard each day, and the high temps mixed with the gravel meant dust clouds billowing up and enveloping us whenever an RV or truck roared by too quickly. Scenes like above, with us emerging from clouds of dust, were common.

IMG_4369The day of riding from Destruction Bay to Haines Junction was particularly pretty scenery. This whole portion of the Alaska-Canadian (Alcan) Highway winds it way through two mountain ranges, so there are always hills rising alongside the road. After Destruction Bay, the road sticks to the side of Kluane Lake, which cools the air a bit. There’s a great little visitor’s center at Sheep Mountain, with binoculars and telescopes to catch glimpses of the sheep resting in the mountains. Great views, but bring plenty of supplies for this portion of the route- no grocery stores out here, so can stock up on basics at gas stations, but it’ll cost you. A small jar of peanut butter was $9.25, and the stuff has been my main fuel source for the last week.

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A couple days later, true disaster struck when a spoke in David’s rear wheel broke. He had a temporary spoke with him which he tried to fix the wheel with (very few, almost no services between Tok and Haines Junction, and definitely no bike shops until Whitehorse), but unfortunately the temporary spoke didn’t hold. He ended up having to hitch-hike to Whitehorse to get spare spokes and fix the wheel while Stevia, Carolyn, and I kept riding, and a bit of luck with the hitch-hiking let him return to us after only a day and a half of riding, so we all got to roll into Haines Junction together. We pushed hard and put in a lot of miles the last few days leading up to Haines Junction, because thoughts of the bakery had been replaced with thoughts of something better…

IMG_4399Ice cream! Frosty Freeze in Haines Junction scoops up deliciousness.

IMG_4390I got 1 scoop of mint chocolate chip and 1 of New York cherry cheesecake. Mmmm. Thanks David for treating! Locals all say this week is abnormally hot, every day consistently around 80deg F. Though apparently last week poured rain every day, so despite having to bike in the heat every afternoon, our timing was good.

Now, our paths have split after a celebratory breakfast at the Haines Junction bakery (best feature is unfortunately that the last couple hundred miles are barren of supplies rather than quality of treats, but still a decent spot). So I’m solo once again, heading on to Whitehorse for a few rest days and to figure out the next portion of my route. Stevia, David, Carolyn- I’ll miss you guys so much! Been great to ride with you for the past week, hopefully the rest of your trip goes well and we meet again someday!

Update from the road…

Last few days spent pedaling on mostly pavement, highways. Spruce trees all around, on both sides of the road, except for on the slopes of the tall mountains, where the trees abruptly stop as one at some higher altitude. Remote is the best adjective to describe the past couple of days, though it’s a civilized remoteness, as the roads are all well maintained and every 30-50 miles or so there’s some lodge to fill up water bottles instead of relying on rivers and streams. Good wind and weather most days, though the first two days out of Fairbanks were spent battling headwinds. On those days, the tough days, I pass the last few miles watching intently for every mile marker, counting down to the last one that marks that I’ve gotten to my destination. Heading to Anderson, the destination for the first day out of Fairbanks, this was particularly draining, as all along the road there were spots that looked perfect to pitch the tent, and this is allowed everywhere in Alaska unless the landowner specifically puts up a “No Trespassing” sign. But I had been told that the Anderson campground was nice, and I’m still nervous about bears, so I kept pedaling the 6 miles detour to Anderson city. And it was worth it, since the sky was overcast and the nearly empty campground had a covered pavilion to eat in, so I pitched my tent under the pavilion’s roof and woke up dry the next day. So now I keep that in mind on days when I’m low on energy, and so far all the places that I’ve been told straight up are good have been good.

The Denali Highway was fantastic riding, and I would highly recommend it. It’s gravel for 114 of the 135 miles, and very bumpy and not great gravel in places, but on a clear day the views of Mount McKinley (or Denali depending on who says it) and the surrounding Alaskan range are fantastic. Dark gray and black sides of the mountain taper to white snow closer to their peaks, in great contrast to the green spruce trees everywhere else. When the day is not perfectly clear, these peaks are shrouded in clouds and mist, blocking some of the views, but still good contrast.

Few (maybe, probably lots) of other cyclists on the road. On the Denali Highway a group of around 15 passed me going east on some kind of organized tour, like an Overland trip but for adults. In Gakona I ran into a Canadian couple, Beat and Jacintha, who had ridden north from Argentina and were now just finishing their trip. Lots of good advice from them. A 16 year old from Alaska was also in Gakona, took a week or two off from work to ride around Alaska a bit, had a ton of energy and was channeling it well into the bike, easily besting everyone else’s average speed. Always had something to talk about too, which served him well, he’ll possibly end up riding someday in the Tour de France. Then I heard about a group of three cyclists from Oregon going in the same direction as me but a day ahead. I stumbled across one of them in Tok, the last town before Canada, as they took a rest day here, and we’re heading in the same direction for the next few days, so will probably meet up with them again. All word through the cycling grapevine talks about a fantastic bakery in Haines Junction, Canada, a few days away, so highly looking forward to that.

Will post some pictures as possible. Canada route a little bit up in the air- lots of people recommending taking a ferry through the Alaskan Marine Highway and cutting off large portions of Canada, but others saying just to ride it, as there are supposed to be great views and some town with huge, nice, warm, awesome hot springs. So we’ll see. For now, after Haines Junction, next major town is Whitehorse.

Back from the Dalton Highway!

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Deadhorse, AK to Fairbanks, AK.

First 500 miles in the bag. Ended up making much better time than expected, thanks to a lot of unexpected little motivations along the way. These included: a) trying to keep up with Wataru, a Japanese cyclist going around the world, who’s been riding for 1 year 7 months and was thus in much better shape than I was; b) worrying that I had underestimated how much fuel my stove would need and thus not having enough for 10 days; c) decent headwinds (or at least lack of tailwinds) most days; d) having the sun shining down almost every single day and discovering that the Dalton Highway is in pretty good condition when the sun is shining. I would guess about 30-40% of the Dalton is paved, and the rest is fairly hardpacked dirt. Knobby tires and suspension not necessary, though the suspension definitely helped smooth out the ride.

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Wataru and all of our gear upon arriving in Deadhorse. Photo taken at midnight.

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The next morning. Loaded up and ready to head south. Deadhorse is freezing! All the winds coming off the seas blow right over the town (town = very small collection of buildings), and since nothing grows on the surrounding tundra there’s nothing to shield from the wind. So we bundled up. The last few miles north from here to the Arctic Ocean are on a private road controlled by BP; no outside traffic allowed. This was the last time I saw Wataru…

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 Fairbanks is only a few miles away…

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The Actic tundra. The land looks like this for the first 150 miles or so south, until you cross over the Brooks Range. All around grass covers the land, and without weeds, it looks like perfect ground to plant crops on. At least it does until you actually step onto the grass, then you realize it’s actually a marshland. There’s a layer of permafrost a few feet under the surface, which, even though the tundra is a desert, keeps all the water that does fall on top of the surface. The pump stations that keep the oil flowing through the pipeline have to be built on refrigerated bases to keep from melting the permafrost underneath them.

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The Alyeska pipeline, cutting across Alaska from Prudhoe Bay in the north to the port of Valdez in the south. This beast is the whole reason the Dalton Highway exists, and it rises out of the ground next to the road almost the whole way. Sometimes it dives into the ground when the road crests a hill, but it’s always present. Respect to the engineers who designed it- apparently the pipeline is currently 10 years past its design life and still going strong.

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Alaskan mosquitoes are killers. They swarm if there’s no wind around. Their bodies have some kind of natural antifreeze to survive the -40, -60 degree winters. Supposedly the ones in the Arctic are the worse; we’ll see. These little buggers are responsible for driving the herds of caribou into the cold, high mountains all year. Don’t attempt to bike/camp up here without at least mosquito netting for your face.

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Camping spots were always easy to find along the Highway. There are some designated spots with drop toilets and bear-proof trashcans at 60/70/80 mile distances, or there are plenty of construction and pipeline access roads to pull off on and set up camp. I had no problems with bears, only saw a few tracks, though some people driving I talked to said a black bear had crossed the road in front of them that morning.

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Atigun Pass in the Brooks Mountain Range is the tallest obstacle in the road, though really it’s not very steep, just a little longer of a climb. Climbing over Beaver Slide further south was much more difficult, just because it was much steeper and was a mess of loose gravel when I got to it. Might be less of an obstacle heading south-to-north, but a lot of the road south of the Brooks mountains is a lot of rolling hills, so hard to say which direction is more difficult.

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Luckily I encountered no snow along the road. The truckers, of which there are many, were always very courteous, slowing down and giving plenty of room when passing to avoid spraying gravel everywhere.

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The farthest north spruce tree is just on the southern side of Atigun Pass. Unfortunately, some vandals took a chainsaw to it a couple of years ago and killed it. But Mother Nature recovers, and due to the Earth warming a few trees have started growing a tiny bit north, so eventually this sign will get moved. Due to the extremely short summer up here, all vegetation takes about 4-8 times as long to grow as their southern counterparts.

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Crossing over the Arctic Circle, where in the summertime the sun circles in the sky all day long. This made pitching the tent at night a logistical headache, as there was no rhythm everyday as to where the sun would be the next morning, and thus no good way to avoid the sun shining right on your face in the middle of the night.

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The section of the road just south of the mountains was one of my favorites. Hardpacked gravel, spruce trees everywhere, and usually a strong river flowing on one side of the road; beautiful.

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The Hotspot Cafe at Five Mile is one of the legendary (few) eating places along the Dalton. Not knowing what time they closed, I was determined to get here day 5. The place was started not long after the Dalton Highway was built, as according to legend two pretty young ladies decided to come to Alaska to make their fortune. They opened up a shack selling hamburgers to the truckers, and business boomed. One of the women ended up marrying a trucker and moving to CA; the other, Teresa, still runs the cafe with her staff and still serves quite a tasty burger. I was sure I would catch up to Wataru here, so I pushed all day. Unfortunately, he had just left when I got there. After my burger, I decided I had enough of cycling for the day (72 miles in what turned out to be 95deg heat) and called it a night.

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Further south, there were wild blueberries growing along the side of the road. They were a tasty treat, all the more so because I didn’t pack much fruit for this leg of the trip.

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For me, this was farewell to the Dalton Highway. I made it! Now only 80 miles left on the (paved) Elliot Highway to Fairbanks.

And hence, now I’m back in Fairbanks. Have been giving my knees a rest for the past two days, and going through email and gear tweaks after a much needed shower and laundry. Heading on south and east tomorrow towards Denali National Park and then the Canadian border, should be in Canada in about a week. Huge shoutout and thanks to Doug (and Kathy for the connection) at the Univ. of Fairbanks for hosting me these past few days and has been way supportive and generous. Wow. Long post for (at least what seems like) a long way traveled. Hopefully will be able to update more frequently in the future.

Never quite managed to catch Wataru again after Deadhorse, everyone I asked along the Dalton always said he was 1-2hrs/10-20mile ahead of me. But we have similar plans for at least the first portion of Canada and are both headed towards South America, so will probably coincide again somewhere down the line.

Fairbanks update…

All the flights worked out ok, so I’m now in Alaska! Staying in Fairbanks for the night with a friend of a friend. Tomorrow morning, I take the Dalton Highway Express up to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay (a 16hr drive) and start biking south on Weds. Got bear spray and food, so along with the bike I hopefully have everything I need. The journey back to Fairbanks is about 500 miles of wilderness, so blog updates will have to wait until I’m back in the city- could be anywhere from 1-2 weeks. Time to try and get some sleep despite the everlasting sun (11pm and it’s as bright as any proper summer day!).