Trans-Alaska Pipeline Ride

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ak_diane, Jul 10, 2011.

  1. ak_diane

    ak_diane Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    49
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Last year, after just a couple years of riding I was running out of new roads in Alaska and decided to see how my Concours would handle on gravel. After a very successful run down the Denali Highway I started planning my Dalton adventure. Anchorage to Deadhorse then follow the pipeline to Valdez.

    I had grand plans to wait until the forecast would be perfect for the week, but life would have none of that. The day came and the forecast for my perfect week was rain - still it sounded better then another week in the office.


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    Anchorage - Ready to go

    I loaded up an headed north from Anchorage and quickly hit rain, all the way to Fairbanks it was pouring rain with falling visibility whenever I gained some elevation. Without all the stops for pictures it was a pretty short day. I had no interest in starting my vacation camping in the rain and putting on wet gear - I found a hotel, dried off, warmed up, and made plans if the weather kept up.

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    Ride to Fairbanks


    Day 2 was shaping up to be as nasty as the first, realizing that the day would be much more enjoyable with dry hands I stopped by the fishing department and picked up some neoprene gloves. As I left Fairbanks there was a sign lit up warning about hazardous conditions created by all the rain - slick and muddy. The road was still paved so I continued on but my heart was starting to drop as the poor visibility continued as I approached the Dalton, I had no interest in traveling a dangerous dirt road if there were no sights to be seen - I may be crazy but that just sounds stupid.

    Right when I made it to the Dalton they sky started to open up and the dirt road was pretty much dry. I rode for a bit and the weather just got better - my vacation had started.

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    Starting on the Dalton

    I was surprised by how smooth the road was, I was expecting lots of gravel and washboard, but this was fun and easy. I kept a slow and steady pace as I made my way to the Yukon admiring the views and making sure I could stretch my tank all the way to Deadhorse. I was excited to see a wolf dash across the road so early on my trip but that turned out to be all the wildlife I would see on the trip.

    When I pulled into Yukon Crossing there was a moment of confusion about where the "gas station" was, I found it pretty quickly once I remembered I was off the grid. The fellow in front of me at the pump walked back to let me know I had just passed a 300K sports car. I was curious so we walked back to take a look. The folks at Aston Martin were doing a photo shoot/article about how durable the Rapide is by testing it on the Dalton. When I asked how they were doing on the road I was a bit off when they said they said the car was fine but they were having trouble with the locals. I let them be, filled up and started on my way to Coldfoot.


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    Yukon River

    I took a break at Finger Mountain to really stretch my legs and take in the sights, it was an amazing change of scenery and for a bit I had the place to myself. When I got back from my walk I was greeted by a tourist bus, one of the guys came over a bit surprised that I was taking a street bike up the road and said he had thought about doing the ride but wasn't sure how he felt about having to carry extra gas with him. I reassured him that a gallon of gas goes a long way on a bike but figured if this is where his planning ended it was probably best he stuck to riding the bus.


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    View from Finger Mountain area.

    I pulled off at the Arctic Circle where it was busy with tourists taking pictures so I kept my stop brief, just checked in with the BLM about the conditions up ahead. The Aston Martin folks were there as a well and as I continued onto Coldfoot I bumped into them 3 or 4 more times when we would pull over for pictures, it started to turn into a little joke about us following each other I was honestly impressed that they had kept such a good a pass on the road.


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    Stop at the Arctic Circle


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    Grayling Lake

    I was still feeling pretty good when I filled up at Coldfoot, and decided to press onto Galbraith Lake for the night. I didn't feel like spending money on a room at Deadhorse and was a bit concerned about the weather. The reports I got from other riders that day were that is was snowing and ice fog, combined with cold start issues earlier this year I figured it would be best to ride there and back the next day.


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    Leaving Coldfoot


    I was tickled the weather had been holding up so well and that I could make to the Brooks Range. Just a little ways out of Coldfoot the landscape went from endless views to soaring mountains. The riding also started to shift. The dirt was gone and the nice blacktop dropped off to a gravel road that was a bit more like I had expected on the trip. Gone were the tourist buses and sports cars - this was haul-road trucker territory. It was slow going as I made my way to Atigun Pass with frequent picture stops and a steady hand on the throttle trying to get the best range out of my tank.


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    When I reached the top of the pass I pulled over to add a few layers of clothing. The temperature had gone from the high 60's to freezing or darn close to it. When I was read to go I put the key in the ignition and turned it. There was no check engine light, the starter button didn't work. A few profanities slipped out as turned the key back and forth trying to get it to work, I was about ready to pull things apart when the bike came to life. I was thrilled, it was too cold to be trying to work on the bike and landscape was starting to look less beautiful and more barren. At that moment I decided to press on to the Lake to see if it warmed up but I wasn't going to stop the engine until I was done for the day.

    There was starting to get to be a lot of washboard as I made my way down the road, and I could see the weather was deteriorating as I moved north. 100 miles out Coldfoot I could see the lake but was stopped by heavy road construction. It was still pretty cold and decided I would be best off to turn back to Coldfoot and stop where it was warm and I had easier access to assistance. I was happy it never really got dark as I headed back to make camp.

    When I pulled into the Marion Creek campground around 11pm I was exhausted, but felt quite pleased with the progress I made on the trip As I set up camp and got ready to make dinner I was greeted by interior mosquitoes and they are just as bad as they say. I hid under a blanket as I ate and promptly crawled into the protection of my tent. Over the course of the night I woke up a couple times to the sound of rain, it threw me off that even at 4am there was still good light.

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    Day 3, I was able to break camp without any rain and stopped in Coldfoot for breakfast. While I ate I bumped into some riders who just came down from Deadhorse, they seemed to think I made a could move turning back. Snow, low visibility, and a crappy road. I would like to make it all the way up sometime but have no regrets about turning back.

    The riding was pretty good for an hour or so when the rain started to pick up. As I hit the dirt sections of road my speed dropped and I really started to understand how dangerous the Dalton can be. I made good time without all the stops for pictures and before I knew it I was at the Yukon again. I talked with some riders heading north and their wives were quite upset to hear that after all this rain they were going to hit snow! I spent some time to get a good look at the bridge and bumped into a German gal who had spent the last month paddling the Yukon from Whitehorse. She was astonished the whole road was dirt "We don't have dirt roads in Germany!" and was pleased to be running ahead of schedule so she could shop for shoes and stop at REI ;)

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    Yukon Bridge

    As I left the Yukon the rain picked up and the road started to get very bad. At one point I pulled off the road and nearly slipped out where the mud hadn't been packed down. In another incident I had just gone up a long hill and approached a steady downhill when I pulled on the brakes - I got nothing from the front or rear. I was going slow enough that I was able to engine brake in time and make it to a safe spot where I could pull over and evaluate the situation. I was pleased that there were no leaks and was able to attribute the difficulties to all the mud. I was extra careful from then on frequently apply my brakes to keep them clean and continued to go slow.

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    Safety Check


    Just as the weather had shifted for the better when I got on the highway the day before it did the same when I left it. The sun started to come out and I pulled over to change into different gear. When I tried to get the side stand down I nearly punched a hole in my boot. All the mud had dried off and was starting to seize up moving parts. When I got to Fairbanks I made a stop at a car wash to get the mud off so I could actually pull over before grabbing lunch and heading over to Delta Junction.

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    Day 4

    Camping was a much more pleasurable experience in Delta Junction, there were a few mosquitoes but nothing to keep me from taking my time getting ready for the day. I filled up with gas in town and was ready to get moving again when the bike died again. This time I lost power when I hit the starter and no amount of fidgeting would get it to work. I pulled the side cover off and started tapping the J-box until I got power - all that cold and shaking must have loosened up a solder connection. I asked the gas station attendant if there was a place to get a soldering iron, hardware store and was told no. I continued onto Glennallen where I knew I could get supplies, and was just careful to keep the engine running. I was going for about half an hour, no rain and pulled over where I nearly dropped the bike trying to get the side down. Solved the mud issue but had to add lubricant to the hardware store list. It was one of the nicer days I've had on the Richardson Highway, aside from not being able to stop or really get off the bike - made for another quick morning.

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    When I pulled into Glennallen it was pouring buckets, which had the one advantage of loosening things up again. I stopped at Ace and got supplies, then grabbed lunch in town, taking time to see if the weather would let up. Not far out of town conditions improved, it was still cloudy but the rain let up all the way to Valdez. I stayed at the military campground where it was starting to get busy for the 4th of July. I've found the trick to enjoying camping in Valdez is to string up a tarp so you can get of the rain - it ALWAYS rains there.

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    Thompson Pass

    Day 5 was a pretty easy day. All the rain made it a bit tricky to get started in the morning but before I could freak out the bike was running and I made it to the ferry terminal. I had to get a standby ticket but there wasn't any issue getting a spot. I tied her down and started exploring the boat for a good vantage point. As we made our way out Valdez the sun was coming out and we had great weather until Whittier. While it wasn't a sight seeing trip we still got to travel through some ice flows and saw whales, sea lions, puffins, otters, and glaciers. It was a much nicer way to wrap up a trip then going down the Glenn highway.

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    I didn't know how I felt about spending an hour in Whittier so I made my way right to the tunnel. I've heard of a lot of bikers worry about the trip through the tunnel but its really not bad if you can ride reasonably straight. When I got to the other side of the mountain it was quick hop to Hope where I finally got to see some familiar faces camping out for the weekend.

    Day 6 I made my way back to Anchorage. We woke up to some great sunshine and the traffic was light out to the highway. Once I hit the Seward it was pretty slow going, troopers were out in force and there had been at least one accident. In Valdez I had found out one of the engine mount bolts were broken which made it really easy for me to take my time getting down the road. In all it felt like a great vacation with just the right amount of adventure. Great views, some challenging conditions and a few inexpensive mechanical problems. Thinking its about time I shop for a good dual-sport bike.

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    View from Hope
    #1
  2. Moto-Kafe

    Moto-Kafe Gnarly Entre-manure Supporter

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,082
    Location:
    Heart of Dixie........Alabamie
    Outstanding photos.........!!!! Good, short, write-ups of each day............well done!!! :clap
    #2
  3. ksnak

    ksnak Duc Gal

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2007
    Oddometer:
    134
    Location:
    Anchorage
    Nice report! Great pics!
    #3
  4. scottdc

    scottdc Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2006
    Oddometer:
    517
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    Like the others have said, fantastic pics! Can I ask what you are shooting them with?
    #4
  5. ak_diane

    ak_diane Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    49
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    I'm shooting them with my dying Canon Rebel XS. I almost always shoot pictures with brackets (multiple exposures) and then tone-map them to achieve images with a high-dynamic range (HDR). I forgot to crop quite a few of these so if you look at the helicopter picture you can see the different exposures. Basically the technique allow me to pull more detail out of areas that would normally be under or over exposed... some refer to this as cheating :D
    #5
  6. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2003
    Oddometer:
    4,515
    Location:
    Over the rear wheel
    Was going to ask you if they were HDR, as they have that look to them. But you seem to use the technique as I do, without making them look over-processed. Very, very good photos. :bow

    As I said before, you did extremely well, taking that Concours up the Haul Road. :thumb Glad the weather cooperated up north. Kinda makes you want to try for the whole distance some day, doesn't it. When the weather is nice, it's really pretty on the north side of Atigun too.
    #6