Prudhoe Bay Alaska, United States 2 Jul 05
Odometer 3,453 m 5,557 km

It’s hard to get lost in northern Alaska--there’s only one road. The Dalton Highway, a term Alaskans are fond of using for anything larger than a game trail, is the singular route between the city of Fairbanks and the Arctic Ocean. It’s a 414-mile strip of semi-frozen dirt carved from the Alaskan wilderness in the 1970’s to support the northern oil fields and shadow the Trans-Alaska Pipeline south to the deepwater port of Valdez.

But the Dalton Highway attracts me for a reason the prospectors would just as soon forget: nowhere in the hemisphere can you drive further north. Following three, long, muddy and snowy days of pushing into the midnight sun, crossing the Arctic Circle at 66-degrees latitude and passing over the Brooks Range, El Viento and I manage to choke in on fumes to our Journey’s official point of beginning: Prudhoe Bay.
snowy peak
The journey north from Fairbanks was plagued with wet, wintery weather that descended upon most of the route. Too, the forests through which the road travels near the tiny outpost of Coldfoot were literally on fire, with blinding smoke making it difficult to see more than a couple hundred feet ahead of you.

The Brooks mountain range divides the boreal forests of the south from the expansive tundra of the north about halfway through the trek. At their crest on Atigun Pass one makes the transition from one biozone to the other. This is no place for agoraphobes--those afraid of wide-open spaces. In fact, it was the harshness of this environment that made many a Sourdough miner of gold-rush days get cold feet and turn back when they hit the mountains, hence the name of the final settlement.

Riding into the midnight sun is surreal. It makes an ellipse in the sky without ever dropping below the horizon, unlike the familiar arc from east to west of southern climes. Without the lack of light to tell you when to stop, only your weary bones indicate when it’s time for a break. Snow fell as I pitched camp out on the rolling tundra and rocky soil north of the Brooks Mountains after a long day in the saddle. The clouds were low and threatening, the outlook for tomorrow’s run to goal--bleak.
post office
Not long after I broke camp in the morning, Mother Nature unleashed. With wind and water, sleet and snow she overwhelmed any effort to stay warm and dry. Potholes filled with water. Dirt metamorphosed into slime. Equipment failed.

The small company-town of Deadhorse, on the shores of Prudhoe Bay, isn’t much. Built in the mid 1970s to support the nation’s largest oil field, it looks now pretty much like it did then, nothing more than an industrial beachhead amongst square miles of ice and tundra. Without much to see here, save the salty arctic sea, I refueled with food and gasoline, turned El Viento south, and embarked on an epic ride to Tierra del Fuego Argentina.

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