Mountains, Moose, and Miles: a Montanan's Alcan Highway Story

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by MTrider16, Oct 16, 2010.

  1. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    Wednesday August 11, 2010 – Day 6 – “Detour”

    I slept well and got up and ready for the day. The Bunkhouse has community showers, so getting up early put me at the head of the line. In fact I didn’t see anyone else. I drove the bike over to Front Street to see if the restaurant was open and I was a little early. I decided to take a walk along the boardwalk and do a little window shopping. During this walk I found an internet café that would be open about 8 am, so I figured I would have a good way to get some official information.

    Across the street they had this river boat on display. It had some interesting construction that I would like to explore more sometime.

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    Tied up on the river were two working boats. I personally would like to see how far the twin hull boat would go on the river. During the gold rush days, heavy freight could be brought up the river from the Pacific Ocean port in Alaska. Also, a fair amount of trade went upstream from Dawson to Whitehorse.

    Anyway, Riverwest Bistro was opening up and breakfast was calling my name.

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    A quick review of the Alaska DOT site, confirmed what I had been hearing. The Taylor highway had gotten some more rain, and a major slide had closed the road from Chicken to the turn off to the border. In their report, they projected its opening on Friday.

    So, what to do? I had the appointments for the motorcycle shop, dinner with a friend, and the Dalton Highway all planned out for the next couple of days. I figured I would get on my bike and push and see how far I could get today; if I could get to Fairbanks that would be great, but I could also camp along the road as well.

    So I loaded up the bike, adjusted the chain which was also becoming a problem, and headed out. I wasn’t going to take many pictures today, it was just going to be a long drone.

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    One of the best ways to get a number of miles completed is to not stop. Thus I only took a picture if I was already stopped for something. At least it was a nice day for this trip.

    One of the chance meetings for this day happened at Whitehorse. I was riding along to the junction of the Klondike highway and the Alcan, which was west of Whitehorse. Two bikes pull out of a gas station and head out along the road ahead of me. I can see that they are a BMW R12GS and a KTM 990ADV and that they are kitted with extra fuel and spare tires. I try to keep up with them for awhile, but they are going 130+ kph (80 mph) which is a bit much for the pace I was trying to set. I finally back off and they disappear over the horizon.

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    At Haines Junction, I stopped for gas and took this picture of the mountain behind the gas station. The mountains were beautiful and I wish I was taking pictures.

    The road from Haines Junction got worse as I headed for Alaska. The road was sinking in spots and the pavement would be very uneven, worse than anything I’ve seen in Montana. You drove along and watched for the orange flags and tried to steer through the worst of the damage. Most of it was patched as best as they could, but there is only so much you can do with a 12” change in elevation.

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    At Beaver Creek, the last gas stop before the Alaska border, I picked up a homemade sandwich and Coke. While I was eating the sandwich this woman pulls up on this scooter to fill up with gas. She was travelling from California and seeing the world for six weeks. Her blog is at this address:http://scooterwanderlust.blogspot.com/

    For some reason I was really worried about this border crossing. I must have figured that with the time constraints I was under and my tired state, I would mess up on some of the questions and they would want to search the bike. However everything went well, and now I had another hour in my day for this trip. Also, I could change my GPS over to US units and I could stop converting mileage in my head. Another thing to remember, is the US and Canadian guard shacks are separated by about 20 miles.

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    The worst construction on the Alcan was the section by border that had been torn up. Other than some loose gravel for fill, it was pretty easy.

    It was getting late and I pushed on to Tok. To add to the insult, the clouds were starting to get thicker and it was sprinkling occasionally. I fuelled up at Tok and figured that I probably better stop at Delta Jct, if nothing else I would need to take a break.

    Being tired I thought I would try to count something along the road, when all of a sudden I see a moose up against the trees. Moose counting added a little bit of entertainment to this late night push. I was expecting the sun to set and darkness set in, but it stayed at the level of dusk. I never depended on my headlights to see the road or the moose. Most of the moose were considerate and stayed in the ditch or up next to the trees. However I finally counted moose #8 and #9 as they crossed the road in front of me. Of course with each encounter, I would slow up and get ready to set the brakes, it was a stressful last 100 miles.

    Anyway, I made it to Fairbanks and the Pikes Landing Hotel at midnight. I was glad to fall into bed.

    Stats for Day 6: 905 miles, 18.2 gallons of fuel, 16 hours
    #21
  2. Bob

    Bob Formerly H20Pumper

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    Nice report.:D
    #22
  3. MrKiwi

    MrKiwi Ageing Enthusiast

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    Thanks for your reply with those links. Excellent info.

    Cheers David from downunder....:clap
    #23
  4. RUOK

    RUOK no, no I guess not

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    So I can blame you for the road difficulties. :evil Not many oregonians realize there is another 500 miles of Montana past Missoula.

    David[/quote]

    I'd rather you'd blame the guy from Fargo, ND who was riding with me that day:lol3 .
    905 miles, damn! The section of the Alcan from Destruction bay to Beaver Creek has to be one of the roughest sections of road I've ever ridden, that was a long day in the saddle.
    #24
  5. ks7877

    ks7877 Adventurer

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    Hi David - that was me. Thanks for the plug. :D
    Good job on your ride report!
    #25
    smilin jack likes this.
  6. siyeh

    siyeh unproductive

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    Was nearly kilt by a moose north of Fairbanks in 08. And both times I got pulled over for speeding, the police said the same thing: "Slow down cheesehead. Our moose will kill you".

    Great trip report. Been thru Glendive many times. :clap
    #26
  7. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    :freaky Thanks for the comments Bob and Siyeh.

    :bow You're trip on the Dalton was amazing.

    David
    #27
  8. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    Thursday August 12, 2010 – Day 7 – “Rest Day”

    Well, I made it through the first leg, now I had to take care of some things. The first stop was the motorcycle shop to get the tire changed. I was pretty tired, and had a tough time getting going. Usually it is nice to get to the shops early in the morning so you’re first in line for the racks, so I wanted to be there at 8:00. After much coaxing I made it at 8:15, which was still 45 minutes too early. Next time I’ll ask for the time they open.

    So I stopped at a local coffee stand and got a breakfast sandwich and quad mocha. With that under my belt, I went back to the shop and started to strip the bags off the bike. The one bag needed a little persuasion to come off as the mechanism was a little sticky. Soon it was 9:00 and I started working with the service desk writing up a work order to change the tire and install a new chain.

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    As you can see, the tire was well worn. The guys at the shop fixed me up well and at about 11:00 I was headed back to the hotel with a new tire and chain.

    The other chore I needed to get done was laundry, packing light means re-using some clothes once in awhile. ;-) Now it was time to fix that. I also decided to check my email and Facebook since I had been offline since the start of the trip. With those chores done, I went and got some lunch. The bar restaurant had a nice burger. With a full belly, and light on sleep, I went back to my room for a well deserved nap.

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    Now it was time to go visit some friends from Montana and get some dinner. Janelle and Josh took me over to the Salmon Bake along with their kids. It was a fun time.

    Josh is an A&P mechanic so I asked to see some of the planes he works on. Here is the project plane, a Maule.

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    This is the work plane, a fast ambulance.

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    Their son liked my motorcycle so we had to take a picture.

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    I think we have a future mechanic.

    With that, I headed back to the hotel and bed, tomorrow would be a big day.

    Stats for Day 7: 34 miles, 2.4 gallons of fuel, -- hours
    #28
  9. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    Friday August 13, 2010 – Day 8 – “The Haul Road”

    I was a little nervous about this days ride; people make lots of comments about it. Josh the night before, told about a friend that had a rock come through his windshield. Plus there are lots of reports of people having difficulty with the road surface. I kept telling myself to calm down and not think about the fact that it was the 13th. LOL

    I was able to get off to a good start as I packed and fueled up the night before. A fleece shirt I had picked up at Walmart helped ward off the chill as I buzzed out of town. There is display for the pipeline just outside of Fairbanks, so I stopped for some pics.

    Part of the pipeline travels above ground because of the permafrost and the 150F temperature of the crude oil. It is amazing to see how many ways they can adjust the pipe supports. It looked like every so often they had anchor points.

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    There were a couple of recognition plaques for the folks that designed and built this pipeline.

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    This pig in a section of pipe, I wished I had measured the diameter of the pipe while I was there.


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    Wait a minute, what’s that hat doing there?

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    The Haul road was completed in 5 months around the time of the pipeline project in 1974. It starts 84 miles north of Fairbanks and is 414 miles long, ending in the company town of Deadhorse a few miles from Prudhoe Bay. I hoped to ride this in distance in 12 hours.

    First, take the 84 mile paved road to the Livegood Jct.

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    After the junction the road narrows to a gravel surfaced road for a ways.

    I decided to take all my gear with me, including my tent and sleeping bag incase I had to stop over on the way.

    As I said, I hoped to make this trip in one day, and had gone to the trouble of making reservations for the hotel and tour while in Glendive.

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    There was this sign explaining the forest and the types of trees that were along the route.

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    There were access roads to the pipeline along the road.

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    So far the road was pretty good. The sun was shining through the scattered clouds making it a nice day for a ride.

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    This is a hill overlooking the Yukon River Bridge. The pipeline crosses the river at the same point.

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    The Yukon is a wide river at this point, you can see why it is a major transportation route.

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    Since I hadn’t gotten breakfast before I left Fairbanks, I decided to get some here. After all it was 10:30 am. Just a little after I got my order in, and had used the restroom, a small tour group came in looking for their sack lunches that they had pre-ordered. It was a hive of activity, but my omelet came out before most of the sack lunches were delivered.

    While I was sitting there, a motorcyclist comes in to pay for gas. He saw me and started talking. It turns out he was heading north and wanted to get on the tour tomorrow morning. It would be nice meeting up with him again. I mentioned that I was glad that he had been able to register for the tour, as they were getting full when I called two weeks ago. He looked sheepish and said that he was planning to register for the tour tonight when they checked in. Hmm… good luck with that, I said to myself.

    He left and another guy came in and wanted some quarters for the pay phone. He said he wanted to call ahead to Deadhorse. I quickly realized he was with the other guy.

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    I walked outside and saw that the bikes were the same ones I had seen outside of Whitehorse two days ago, an R1200GSA and a 990ADV. This was the first time I met Ralph and Stephane from Calgary.

    If your looking for fuel, those white tanks are pretty common up this way. Most everything is prepackaged on skids and tail rolled into place.

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    The open countryside reminds me of eastern Montana only bigger.

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    Wahoo! One milestone down. The Arctic Circle sign on the Dalton Highway is one of the many photographed landmarks by adventure motorcyclists. Ralph and Stephane were there already when I rolled up, so Ralph helped me out and took my picture for me.

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    I think this picture is right outside the turn out for the Arctic Circle sign. Again the open landscape is always out there challenging your feeling of significance. As you can see, some of the road is paved; about 30% is my guess.

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    The mountains start to rise out of the forests as I continue north. We are entering the Brooks range.

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    So here is the start of the pass, the first step is up onto Chandalar Shelf.

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    After this, there is a switchback, the climb to the top.

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    You end up sidesloping a fair ways before you go over the top of Atigun Pass. This section of the pipeline is buried.

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    It is interesting to look at the elevation profile for this road. There is a sharp point to about 5000 feet for this pass, and the road stays above 2000 feet for about 75 miles. Contrast this with my trip through Montana, where Marias Pass by Glacier is at 5280 feet and I was never below 2000 feet for the entire trip.

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    The clouds were a little different today. I got rained on back at the start and again going through the mountains. Then a rain cloud came over while I was going past Galbraith Lake. The storms didn’t last too long, and here starting to drop down onto the north slope, a rainbow appeared with this rain squall.

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    There was a section of construction where the road was tore up back closer to the mountains. They let us through with pilot cars, it was a little soft and slick, but not too bad. That was the worst section of the road.

    It turns out it was caribou season up here and the hunters were out in force. As there was only one road into the area, they were all concentrated along the road.

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    There were some sections of the road that they sprayed down to cut the dust, so I was well covered with mud.

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    One of the guys walking by offered to take my picture next to the motorcycle.

    Well this is the Aurora Hotel, a little pricy but when I called two weeks ago they were the third place I called and the only one that had a room available. The rest of the places weren’t cheap either. The nice thing was the cafeteria which was included in the price of the room. While plain, the room was clean and well furnished.

    I arrived, at 8:00 pm which after wandering into the hotel with my gear, put me in the cafeteria at 8:15, which was too late for a hot dinner. Not to worry, they had plenty of sandwiches and leftovers packaged so I could microwave myself a hot dinner.

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    So, in 13 hours, on Friday the 13th, I navigated the 500 miles of the Dalton highway. I was surprised how easy it was.

    Let me elaborate. First of all the speed limit was 50 mph and most of the pickup traffic, no doubt having safety crammed down their throats abided by the speed limit. The semi-truck traffic dealing with the hills and the narrow road could only go a little faster. Thus by keeping a steady 60 mph, I was able to keep ahead of the traffic behind me.

    Second having driven gravel roads in Montana, it really was a good road, paved for long sections and mostly packed hard. Most of the time it was a four track road or a three track with good shoulders. When I met traffic, I just stayed in the right hand track and wasn’t thrown around by the loose gravel on the shoulders.

    There were only a few places where they were grading, and three construction zones. The one construction zone was paving, and was in the clean up phase. One zone had the road torn up and was trying to put down fill, this was the worst section. Overall I think my timing made it easier as they were working to wrap up work for the summer.

    Finally, even though I did get rained on, it was short and the road stayed mostly dry. While I had mud on my bike it was more just spray splashed on me and not thick stuff thrown up from my tire. I think this was because I didn’t wander out to the shoulder and out of the tracks except for the widest loads or the craziest looking drivers.

    So there you have it, Mtrider16’s opinion of the Dalton Highway. That and $.50 might buy you a cup of coffee.

    Stats for Day 8: 496 miles, 5.8 gallons of fuel, 13 hours
    #29
  10. MrKiwi

    MrKiwi Ageing Enthusiast

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    David
    This was the day I was interested in for logistical planning and your report is very helpful. Excellent post and an an excellent trip. Kook forward tot her est of it.

    Cheers David from Downunder...
    #30
  11. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    I have one more day for the Dalton. RUOK had a different experience than I did and I would be interested to hear his comments.

    Well everyone, I'm off for a week or so, hopefully I can continue posting when I get back.

    David
    #31
  12. RUOK

    RUOK no, no I guess not

    Joined:
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    My best advice about the Dalton is not to stress too much about it and just enjoy the ride. It's a well maintained road, but the weather and road surface change a lot, you need to have at least a 240mile fuel range ( I packed 2 gallons and had to use 1 ) The Milepost book has a section on the Dalton that's pretty helpful. Plus there's tons of good intel in other Alaskan ride reports.
    It took me around 13 hours going up, encountering a lot of rain and mud from Wiseman on, and just under 12 hrs coming back, it was sunny and nice but stopping for construction. Despite the little bit of weather I encountered I personally really enjoyed the ride to Deadhorse and back, it was epic in my book. The Alcan however tried to take me out :eek1
    Anyway that's my .02 worth, hi-jack over.
    #32
  13. orbiker

    orbiker Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Thanks for posting your RR. I have started my research for next's years ride to Fairbanks from Oregon. Fuel stops is one of my concerns and the tip to stop at the info center is a great one. I did the Loneliest Hwy in America and distance to the next town (station) became an issue. I think if the town is listed on a mileage sign it should have fuel.

    2009 Coast to Coast ride report

    2010 Grand Canyon RR
    #33
  14. ks7877

    ks7877 Adventurer

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    12
    I rode Hwy 50 in 2008, carried a 1 gal container and had no trouble.
    In 2010 I rode to Alaska and had way more cause to be nervous - especially through the Yukon Territories.

    often not the case
    I came across many service stations that were abandoned, out of fuel, closed because it was after 6pm and/or because it was a Sunday. I learned that just because there's an indicator on the highway sign or AAA map does not mean there's fuel available.

    I agree with ROUK that there's better/more accurate information available here.

    (spelling edit)
    #34
  15. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil

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    It's 48".

    Actually, it was taken from about Mile 155, five miles north of Grayling Lake. That is the highway, and the pipeline next to it, climbing the rather steep grade above the South Fork of the Koyukuk River on the far hillside.


    Good guess. :thumb It's about 30.7%.

    Good report! Great bunch of photos and captioning. :bow
    #35
  16. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    Thanks for the corrections and information Alcan Rider.

    Also RUOK and KS7877 have good comments also.

    I avoided problems with gas on the Alcan by using the mileage chart that I got at Dawson City. They crossed off a couple of stops that they said were closed. Also, I just tried to make it to the larger stops which had more services and were about 100-150 miles apart.

    Good luck on the planning Orbiker, its a worthwhile trip.

    David
    #36
  17. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>Saturday August 14, 2010 – Day 9 – “Prudhoe Bay”

    I got up and ate breakfast at the cafeteria. Today the tour would take me out to the ocean, and after that I wanted to get to Fairbanks yet tonight. Since the tour started at 8:00, I wanted to be packed, fueled and ready to go when it finished. It took a little looking but I found the gas pump at the NANA yard.

    A tidbit of information, NANA is a service company founded and backed by the native tribes in the area. Seems like a reasonable way to invest the money from the oil royalties.

    Here I’m parked at the Arctic Caribou Inn where the tour starts after a brief propaganda video by the oil companies. This is the oil companies chance to tell their story, if you want environmentalist’s point of view you’ll have to visit Sierra Club or some other place.

    Ralph and Stephane were here already so I parked by their bikes and went in to look them up. It was fun to talk with them as they worked with a Mullin Trucking Company in Calgary, specializing in oversized loads. They said that they were stopped yesterday and given a warning ticket for speeding, so they didn’t catch up with me after Coldfoot.
    </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>

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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>After the video, we loaded up onto a bus and were taken out to the field. We went past some of the service company’s yards in Deadhorse. Here are some of the Rolligon’s that you may have seen on Ice Road Truckers.

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    </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>Once we were past the security checkpoint we went past another work camp for this part of the field.

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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>The well sites were interesting for me to see. The oil is brought up under its own pressure, so pump jacks are not needed. One site will have multiple wells, the small shacks, and the oil is treated at the central building at the site. There are several lines leaving the well site going to the pipeline terminal, and other services.

    I was impressed with the oil field, it was cleaner than the ones I’m used to seeing here in eastern Montana.

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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>The water and natural gas removed by the treatment onsite are injected back into the field to maintain the positive pressure on the oil. Some natural gas is siphoned off and burned by the generators that supply electricity for the field.

    Directional drilling is the norm here, in fact they have one rig parked out on an island, and it is drilling a hole 2 miles down and 8 miles out into the ocean.
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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>The drift wood probably comes from the Mackenzie River a few miles down the coast.
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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>The Arctic Ocean!!!!!

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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>Yep, I was there too.

    I need to take a moment and explain the hat. It’s a “Call Before You Dig” giveaway from work and I want to thank my co-workers that were cheering me on as I made this trip.

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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>So the tour ended at 10:30 and I was finally on the road at 10:45. Yikes!! I was going to make a push and try to get to Fairbanks tonight.

    I did have to stop and take a picture of the caribou racks that were harvested on the North Slope. It was archery only.
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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>I only took pictures when I was stopped. Here are some from a construction zone.
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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>They are paving more of the road. I waited 30 minutes for the pilot car.
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    <TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=3>My front suspension has a problem; I’m only using 4” of the 10” stroke.

    I arrived in Fairbanks at 10:00 pm, just in time for the Taco Bell lobby close. I had to go through the drive through, which was a bit of a challenge. lol

    Stats for Day 9: 498 miles, 12.6 gallons of fuel, 9.75 hours
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    #37
  18. siyeh

    siyeh unproductive

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    What?? No pics of you swimming in the saltwater?? :wink:

    I am digging this report. Good job!
    #38
  19. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    :shog ah shucks. Thanks Gwen.

    siyeh, no polar bear club for me, I had to ride 500 miles after the tour.

    Anyway, back to the report.

    David
    #39
  20. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    [​IMG]

    Sunday August 15, 2010 – Day 10 – “Denali”

    Today is the “turn around day”. After messing around here in this beautiful north country I’m turning around and starting the trek home. As I got in late last night I end up sleeping in a little, plus I need to get some laundry done. A quick stop at a car wash ends up in a chance meeting with another F800GS rider. He has a 2010 model and found some neat tires that I hope to try. Its 11:15 am and I’m finally packed up and heading south from Fairbanks toward Denali.

    Leaving the forest fire smoke around Fairbanks it is a clear day and I’m enjoying the sunshine. The road has some nice views of the forested valleys.

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    As I get closer to the park, the mountains are getting larger and more rugged. I stopped for gas and see a rider on a CBR with full gear. Talking with the air force serviceman, I find out he has just come from Denali Park, and there were clouds all around but Denali was in full view.

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    This is the end of the line for the private vehicles. Looking at this bridge I have this funny picture in my head of Gandalf in forest service uniform standing at the end saying “You Shall Not Pass”. Chuckling to myself I take a few pictures.

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    An outhouse with a sod roof is a little unique, and the rocky valley behind it is striking.

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    Down by the river, a caribou is grazing. Its getting later in the day and I need to keep moving. “Fly you fools” echoes in my mind as I load up and head back out of the park.

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    It appears that the clouds have moved in and Mount McKinley is hiding again. Like many tourists, I get to point to the clouds and say, “it would be right there behind that tree”. For those not aware of geography Mount McKinley, or Denali in the native dialect, is the tallest peak in North America at 20,320 feet.

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    The mountains around the park are still striking and I stop for one more picture before leaving the park.
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    Out on the highway the aspen are starting to change color out on the mountain sides.

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    I’m taking the highway south to the junction of the Denali Hwy. I stop at this little café along the road. This was a very nice little find as the food was excellent.

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    They had an amazing halibut steak with rice and fresh beans, and I had the blueberry crisp and ice cream for dessert.

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    The Denali Highway is a gravel road that goes from Cantwell to Paxton. It provides access to the valley and rivers that drain off of the glaciers on the flanks of Mt Hayes. I’m not sure I would designate this road as a “highway”, but it is going to provide a nice trip for me.

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    The clouds are moving in behind me, but these mountains are green and stand above the boreal forests in the valley the road winds through.

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    The road breaks out of the mountains and winds around the ridge on the south side of the valley. To the north Mt Hayes stands out and the sun lights up the slopes while the valley is shadowed by the grey clouds. It was a pretty striking effect.

    Hunters were out in force looking for critters. Campers and tents were parked along the approaches and turnouts beside the road.

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    The road is just a three track and the hunters and myself are travelling along at a fair clip. As I near Paxon it is getting darker, and the clouds are moving in. There is enough light to take one more picture.

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    I hit the Henderson Highway at Paxon and head north a little ways to find a campsite.

    Stats for Day 10: 328 miles, 6.8 gallons of fuel, 8.75 hours
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