Kelly's 2011 Alaska Journey

Day 18 - Tuesday, 6/7

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The Internet connection here is slow, so I'll forego the photos for the time being. [later updated]

End of
the line
Today needed an early start- which was unfortunate for me as I managed to wake up at 3:00 am, and couldn't get back asleep until 5:30. I looked outside to verify that indeed the sun was still up, and it was. Logically, rationally, I know that the sun never sets during this time of year this far north. Still, it seems to fly in the face of everything my body has ever known in regards to the concept of "daytime" and "nighttime." Not having lived near a pole has conditioned me to expect some degree of darkness every day.

 door latch
Meat locker
One interesting aspect of the lodge in which we stayed- The door latch was from a meat locker. It was no doubt very useful, in that it would latch solidly yet be easily opened with gloved hands from either side. Still, there was something poignant about the "meat locker" parallel.

Our early start was needed since we had a tour of the Prudhoe Bay oil plant. It was a bus tour, not one that went into any of the buildings. Still, it was interesting, and we got to see the facility (quite far away from the bus) which was pumping station number one, the start of the Alyeska pipeline.

Chilly!
Gentle breeze
The big draw for this part of the tour in my mind was the access to the Arctic Sea- It was the moment of truth for how much I'd get into the water. First, it was cold. VERY cold. 34oF / 1oC, just a touch above freezing. Second, the wind was howling, and the wind socks were standing straight out, even bending the poles they were on. This gave us a wind chill of somewhere around 17oF / -8oC. Yikes!

In the sea!
Barely...
Magnificent
Seven (and
driver)
Upon arriving at the water, we found that it was still frozen over! There was only a very small opening into which a person could stand. Even then, the opening in the ice was only a couple of inches deep. No full-body dunking today, sorry to say. With all the bulky clothing I had on, it was simply a whole lot of difficulty getting off a boot and sock. Because of this, I limited my wading to that of one foot. But I did it- And have the photos to prove it.

Oddly, the water seemed warmer than the air, despite the fact I've had iced drinks that were warmer. I left my foot in the water for about a whole minute, and honestly, would have considered a full dunk except for two things: I had no ice pick to make a bigger opening where I could actually get INTO the water (nor time in which to do it), and the walk from the bus to the water was fairly long. To go there and back in swim trunks, particularly when the return trip would be when soaking wet would have been downright dangerous.

Trees are
nonexistent
But I can say I've actually been in the Arctic Ocean, albeit only a small portion of me.

As it was, when kneeling to don my sock and boot, I found to my chagrin that the tundra beneath my knee was compressing, which resulted in soaking my left calf through my Levi's blue jeans and silk long-johns.

Fun couple
There was a couple who'd joined us on the tour. Their idea of how to experience the Arctic Ocean was quite good- Rather than step INTO the water, they spread out a brightly colored beach blanket as if in the tropics, and took turns photographing each other on it!

Tundra
close up
After those shenanigans, we went back to the lodge, packed the gear, suited up, and hit the road. Not, however, before stopping to fuel the bikes, and see what souvenirs were to be had at the general store.

As we took off, we were somewhat amused (and slightly concerned) that a snow flurry was starting. We'd heard that snow in June was possible, and now we have witnessed it firsthand. Our weather luck held though- The flurry was light and short-lived, and posed no problems. All that concerned us was the temperature. Fortunately we made good time heading out, and the first 50 mi / 80 km passed much faster than they did going in yesterday. Once past that initial distance, we found (much to our delight) that the temperature jumped considerably. As the day wore on, it got warmer and warmer, and again, we managed to miss the promised rain. I'm not sure how much longer we can keep beating the odds like this, but nobody's complaining!

Muddy Road
Yikes.
For the most part, we handled the dirt and gravel roads with aplomb, though there were a couple tricky sections which had at least Paul and I more than a little concerned. It was compounded by the stiff wind, which at this point was blowing sideways across our direction. This diminished our stability, and caused a lot of frustration. We were all maintaining a speed such that it lightened the front ends of the bikes, but it was hard to maintain- Doing so tends to make the speed increase and increase; at some point one has to back off the throttle, which will make the front end dive a bit into the gravel. Every so often we'd hit thicker patch of loose stuff, and our bikes would fishtail in a most disconcerting manner (that's a polite way of saying "severe pucker factor"). A few times we felt that just "one more fishtail" would have resulted in washing the front tire, causing a crash at a most uncomfortable speed. But our skills prevailed, and nobody went down.

Heading
up the pass
Atigun Pass
KLR on 
It seemed easier climbing up to the 4750' / 1448m crest of Atigun pass than it had been yesterday, and the day was beautiful. After coming down the other side of the pass, the trees reappeared as mysteriously as they'd vanished the other day. It wasn't entirely noticable, but looking back it seems the pass may be the treeline.

Here comes
the dust
Obscured
visibility
On those occasions when we'd ride past an oncoming truck, we'd have to slow down considerably- The dust cloud raised by the semi would all but completely obscure the road. I can't speak for the others, but it was disconcerting to the point of being frightening- The last thing I'd want to do would be to drive off the edge of the road. Doing so would mean an almost certain crash.

Warms up
to the south
The scenery was nice, and looked a little different than yesterday due to the big dark clouds changing the lighting. It made the mountains quite beautiful, and brought out the green colors of the flora.

We saw quite a few caribou again, though not much else besides birds. All in all, a really good day. The rigors of the cold from yesterday were gone, the road seemed faster (perhaps due to the efforts of the highway workers' graders), and everyone had a great time taking photos and enjoying the day.

Gorgeous
scenery with
steel thread
Lunch & fuel
at Jethro
It's funny- all of my riding "milestone prizes" are over for the trip, but there's still much more to come besides getting home. No doubt the MotoQuest tour will provide lots more scenic views and experiences, and there are still many things to come in Seward, Whittier, and the boat ride on the "Inside passage." It occurred that finishing the Dalton Highway in both directions might be a prize, though anyone going to Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay will also have to do that- There are no other roads!

Total riding distance today: 240 mi / 386 km   Running total: 5030 mi / 8095 km

Stay tuned...

-K

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