Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This is going to take some sorting out!

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OK, so where were we.......oh yes I was in the medical centre getting sortied out courtesy of BP (they even washed my bike gear and fed me) Sue was back at the hotel, or to be more exact, the large portakabin masquerading as a hotel, and Tony and Andy had gone back to the crash site to recover BOB. Whilst I was being taken care of I was visited by the local police officer who was investigating the accident, after having the riot act read to me for being so irresponsible as to crash in the middle of nowhere and endangering myself and my wife he proceeded to ask for identification and documentation. "This is where it gets a bit tricky officer, you see in order to reduce the weight of the load on the bike we decided to leave a couple of bags in storage back at Fairbanks and unfortunately all our paperwork is back in those bags". From here on in it got a bit messy, he wanted to see the documents in person which would have meant going back 500 miles to Fairbanks to get them and 500 miles back (I know it sounds rediculous), he was also intent on arresting me for some sort of felony (that's a crime to you folks back home) and I was running out of grovelling power, I had already by this time debased myself to the lowest form of human life in an attempt to lessen the impact but he was having none of it. "Boy am I one stupid son of a bitch Officer, you're going to have to arrest me, I just can't see any way out of this. My wife is really shook up, but I'm sure the two guys we were travelling with will help her". Once he got the power trip out of the way he was actually very helpful (I know it's the uniform!!) we sorted out the paperwork issue, I keep scanned copies of all our documents on a server back home so that as long as I can get to a PC with an internet connection I can download them anywhere. which is what happened in the end.

The whole reason for coming to Prudhoe Bay was to start our Pan American journey at the Arctic Ocean and finish it at the Antarctic Ocean, tip to tip. The only way to get to the ocean in this part of the world is to take the Oil Installation tour, this involves paying 40 dollars each, watching a video on how good the oil industry is and how little impact it has on this environment and then touring the oil fields at some point during which you are allowed off the bus to paddle in the sea. That night as we sat in our room we decided that the trauma of the days events would require at least a good nights rest to prepare us for the problems of the next few days. Sue and I were both shook up physically and emotionally and neither of us got any real sleep, I was feeling guilty for getting us in this mess and Sue was worried about having to ride the 500 miles back to Fairbanks on a bike that we weren't sure was roadworthy. In the morning Sue said we should still do the Arctic tour as that was the only reason we had driven up here.

If Sue went through the ice now, she would have to rely on the inflatable bouy on her back!

Can we go back now?

The Arctic ocean at Prudhoe Bay was muddy and cold! and that was that, but it was also the real starting point of our journey and held some significance for us. When we got back to the hotel Sue went to our room to try and relax and Tony, Andy and myself set about trying to get BOB into some sort of rideable condition, the police officer who yesterday made me public enemy number one actually turned out be a descent sort of guy and arranged for us to fix the bike in an aircraft hanger at the local airstrip where his daughter works.

BOB was feeling sorry for himself

BOB had taken quite a pounding on his journey onto the tundra, it appears that when we went down, the right side of the bike contacted first, BOB, Sue and I parted company but the bike kept going and flipped onto the front end landing on the screen which flattened it completely. anything sticking out broke or snapped off and then came to rest on the left side. In the hanger we had the use of a workshop with tools and a workbench with vice and managed to bend the frame holding the screen so it was useable and ran out of cable ties on everything else.

Halfway through the operation the surgeons went to lunch.

BOB was not looking foward to going back to Fairbanks.

The journey back to Fairbanks was unsettling, Sue was understandably nervous and I just wanted to get back and start the process of sorting out the insurance. There was no way we were going to do the whole 500 miles in one stretch even though this far north it never gets dark, so we spent the night in Coldfoot Camp. The run down to Coldfoot was uneventful apart from stopping for a grizzly bear to cross the road, you can't see it in the photo below unless you click on it to enlarge it (the bear looks a long way off, but trust me if you get any closer and he decides to get shirty you better have enough room and time to turn around....or reverse gear!)

"Go on Tony get a bit closer"
BOB holed up for the night at Coldfoot 11.45pm

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just When You Think It's Going Great...........

WARNING THIS BLOG ENTRY CONTAINS SWEARING - THOSE EASILY OFFENDED SHOULD LOG OFF NOW AND VISIT: http://www.fluffylambsandshitlikethat.com/ (Don't bother clicking on it, there's nothing there!


This is the official entry for the day of the crash....It's no big deal, we were a little shaken up, BOB is slightly the worse for wear, we put it to the back of our minds straight away.....As soon as the bear started chasing us....only joking! All right this is how the day went...... back to the morning, we had a quiet night in Wiseman and as the last leg from Wiseman to Deadhorse is the hardest for both us and the bike we made sure we had plenty of rest. The weather forecast meant nothing, although temperatures in Prudhoe Bay had been as high as 5 or 6 we expected rain or snow on the Atigun pass, so as soon as we had breakfast and Tony and Andy were ready we set off.

Sue sporting the Simon Cowell bike pants!

The weather this side of the Brooks Range was excellent, the road was mostly hard packed gravel and dirt and in places had dried out enough to make following too closely a strain on our lungs. The down side to dry roads is the road crews come along every now again and wet it to keep the dust down, the driving conditions then become real fun... as long as the front wheel is in contact with the road BOB's back end just wanders around with a mind of its own!

Just far enough back to breathe

These stretches are a joy to ride

The Brooks range is part of the Great Continental Divide, everything north of here empties into the Arctic ocean and everything south goes to the Pacific. Around this point the road got real nasty, we're talking swearing and cursing type nasty. The graders must have been well and truly pissed off with something because they tore up the road to the point where we had to drive on the other side to avoid the grapefruit size rocks, this was fine until something met you coming the other way and you needed to get back onto your side of the road. The difficulty is crossing the berm in the middle of the road, this is basically a mound of gravel, dirt and rocks pushed up by the trucks and graders, to cross them safely you need to hit them as close to 90 degrees as possible and be up on the pegs to lower your centre of gravity or follow in someone else's tracks.

Sue did a great job of taking photos while listening to me on the bluetooth intercom...
Wooah! shit! bugger! whoops!

Then to cap it all off they go and spray it with calcium chloride...... Bastards. This is the most evil, shitty substance known to man The wet calcium chloride is sprayed onto the road surface and when it's absorbed it bonds the aggregate together not unlike cement. If you get on it before it dries you end up with a cement bike, you get covered, when the trucks go past with bloody John Denver blasting away, your bloody head gets covered! you cant see, you're all over the road......Ooh and the scenery here is spectacular.

With no rear mudguard on Andy's bike, up front was the place to be.

Still on the shitty, shitty roads covered in shite! heading for the Atigun Pass just above the tree line, from here to the Arctic ocean the tallest living thing is me, or a bear on it's hind legs!

Darth Vader always took a small girl on his bike trip to feed the bears!
(notice BOB's backside is getting filthier by the minute)

Starting the climb up the pass, we were so lucky with the weather. The mountains here produce there own climate, the warm winds from the south collide with the Arctic winds from the north and guess what... choose one of the following:

1) Rain...
2) Rain and Sleet
3) Ice winds and rain
4) Snow
5) All of the above

And the correct answer is number 5!

If we separated now we would surely die...(over dramatising again)

As we rode up the pass the temperature dropped around 1 degree for every half mile, when we took the photo at the bottom of the pass the temperature was a respectable 19 degrees, where the pass flattens out at nearly 4,800 ft it had dropped to 7 degrees and now we were riding into a headwind with a windchill factor of minus 90 degrees ( all right I exaggerate a little!)

Coming down the other side of the pass looking to the north (take a look at the armco barrier, that's stopped a few vehicles taking the short route)

All the hard riding is behind us now folks....Yeah right

We never did catch up to that rain, until later.

This land is as flat as the flatlands, true Arctic tundra, which is the Eskimo word for FLAT.

We decide that we would stop for a coffee break once we were on the other side of the Brooks range, so we pulled off the road at a gravel clearing. Big mistake, huge, stupid mistake, the mosquitoes here were on steroids, I did wonder what they managed to feed on in such an bleak, desolate, environment and the answer of course is anything daft enough to stand still, (for that read Graham, Sue Tony and Andy). Even with a wind blowing they appeared within seconds. Click on the following photo to view it full size and I bet you end up scratching!!

These insects laughed at mosquito netting

Tony set up his fancy MSR multi fuel stove. These are clever little devices that will run on any kind of fuel, petrol, diesel, paraffin, the down side is that they are nothing short of an incendiary device and once going can only be extinguished by somebody brave (or stupid) enough to turn of the fuel supply

Full power, (now who's gonna get close enough to take the pan off?)

Answer- the man who owns the stove.

Andy found that if he pulled his mosquito net tightly enough the bite marks formed a neat little grid pattern on his head.

We managed to get a quick drink in between swallowing mozzies but gave up on the idea of picnicking in swimwear just because the sun was out. We set off for the final leg to Deadhorse, but a couple of miles down the road BOB suffered his first injury...a strategically placed rock took out his rear mudguard, smashed it clean off, the bracket, everything. all that was left were the mounting screws attached the swing arm..Great!

The rear of the bike was cleverly camouflaged against the road.

These are musk ox, the animal equivalent of a Parker Knoll chair....... they look very comfy, but you wouldn't want one in your living room!

And so to the part you have all been waiting for.....The Crash.....we were approximately 30 miles out of Deadhorse and had been running a bad section of gravel for about 20 odd miles, the gravel was 3 or 4 inches deep and even deeper where the trucks had pushed it up in the centre of the road and on the edges. Since leaving the Atigun Pass I had spent most of the time standing on the pegs it's a lot easier to control the bike and you can see far enough ahead for hazards like change of road surface and potholes, for Sue sitting on the back, the view is somewhat limited to left, right and the physical specimen that is...my backside! The road itself is built up off the tundra about 4 or 5 feet so that when it snows the depth of snow on the road is less than that on the surrounding ground and trucks can still travel back and forth to the oil fields, visibility is as far as the eye can see in any direction. Ahead in the distance was a flatbed coming towards us and as I was on his side of the road I thought it sensible to move across, when I say his side of the road there is really only a correct side when passing, at all other times you find the easiest line and take it and if that means moving left or right then that's what you do to stay upright. I crossed the central berm in good time to allow him to pass, once he was out of the way I decided to get back onto the left side and the better surface. Instead of standing on the pegs to cross back I foolishly sat down and allowed more weight off the front wheel, as soon as it hit the central pile of gravel it snapped to one side, as I counteracted the steering it did exactly the same thing.The next thing we were on the other side of the road with the front and the back of the bike thrashing about like two fish tied together at the tail!, now the off road experts will tell you that at this point the trick is to apply full power and slide your way out of it......right...... if I had had the presence of mind to do that I might just have got away with it, for a split second I did consider it, but in that same split second I visualised me Sue and BOB rocketing uncontrolled into the tundra at silly miles an hour!
The moment when it becomes apparent that you are going to crash is quite surreal I remember thinking this could be a short, expensive adventure! then THUMP........I remember saying to myself "Fuck"! just before I hit the ground and I remember seeing gravel going past out of the side of my visor, then silence.... I'd like to think I slid to a standstill but before coming to rest I jumped to my feet perfectly in control like the MotoGP riders you see on television. the reality is I went down like a sack of shit and when I did get up I was heading in the wrong direction!!!!!!!
I dashed across to see if Sue was OK and found her lying on her back still on the gravel I thought "this is not the time to be taking a nap"! Like the true star that she is, Sue came through it with flying colours and did all the right things like talking to me and reassuring me she was alright, whilst I'm still running round like a chicken going fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. I then went to check out BOB who was a lot further down the road and resting on the tundra, in fact when you look at the photos he's quite a way off the road, the first thing I notice as I approach is all our stuff everywhere. Both panniers had burst open spilling the contents around the crash site, my main concern was whether the bike would run, I heaved BOB vertical and tried to fire him up..... nothing.....dead.......more chicken noises..fuckfuckfuckfuck., it later transpired that in the panic I had forgot to knock it into neutral!

At this point I looked down and saw a pool of liquid next to the bike which looked like it could have been clutch or brake fluid, I did the quick finger test....red,warm,sticky....just like blood!... more chicken noises, more panic, I give myself the once over, head, arms, legs, the usual stuff that leak when damaged and nothing. If it's not me it must be....Sue!! I dash back to the roadside to check if Sue is bleeding and that's when she points out I have one black motorcycle boot and one red one! great it's me that's bleeding. On closer inspection I have a hole in my calf just big enough to get your finger in, and, due to the panic and running around it's leaking like a stuck pig!

There will now be a short intermission when patrons can get popcorn or ice cream

No problem here then, me ex firefighter, first aider, cycling proficiency badge holder and Sue a nurse (albeit psychiatric) I stop the bleeding, direct pressure and all that, Sue asks me how I'm feeling and if I was ever bullied as a child?!!! We work as a team to dress the wound assisted by Craig and Tom, the two guys in the flatbed that had passed earlier, they had seen us crash and turned round to help. They were a couple of polar bear scientists out for a days birdspotting (that reads like they're polar bears who are also scientists?) anyway, luckily for us they were in contact with the authorities in Prudhoe Bay and called in the accident and said they would bring me to the hospital.

Scavengers appeared quickly from nowhere looking for crash souvenirs.

On a more positive note, we were never gonna hit a tree

By this time Tony and Andy had caught up and proceeded to help Sue gather all our posessions up, repack the panniers and make sure the bike would start. They then moved it to the other side of the road and returned later that night to bring it back to the hotel. I was given a lift to the medical centre in Deadhorse by Craig and Tom, and Sue would follow later on the back of Tony's bike. BOB was left unceremoniously at the side of the road to be mocked by herds of passing caribou (who probably jeered and said something like, "yeeah..not going so fast now big boy")

How's your leg?.....SWELL!

In the meantime I was transferred to an ambulance outside Deadhorse and whisked off to the medical centre with lights and sirens, the whole lot (I suppose they don't get many emergency calls). So they put me on the operating trolley and were passing the time of day and the medic says "we better just x-ray that leg before we stitch you up" and Kerching!! I can see the dollar signs going round like a taxi meter I'm thinking "maybe just one of them big fat BandAids would be fine", anyway, before my pension is sucked dry I have to ask: "Excuse me, I don't mean to sound ungrateful but how much is all his going to cost?"..nothing..not a cent, she tells me that the only medical facility of any note for 500 miles is owned by BP, that's British Petroleum...I'm British, that means I probably own some of that somewhere down the line......."and relax sir, roll down your pants I'm just going to give you a tetanus shot just in case" "Go ahead" says I "at these prices I'll take two"!!!
Sometimes when these things happen you get lucky, sometimes you don't. I'd like to think that this was some kind of payback for stopping to give the guy a lift back to his bike after he ran out of petrol, either way in spite of the crash today had been our lucky day........

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This all looks too easy!

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Today was the start of our journey up the Dalton Highway, we would only be travelling around 270 miles so decided not to have too early a start. For people back home that distance is similar to that from Harrogate to Dover on the south coast, that journey would normally take approximately 5 hours if you click on the link above (View Larger Map) you'll see that the same journey from Fairbanks to our overnight stop in Wiseman takes an estimated 11 hours.

Sue chilling out

The Elliot Highway that links Fairbanks to the Dalton is superb both for riding and scenery, it even has lines in the middle of the road.

The reason why the journey might take 11 hours became apparent about an hour into the run, not all the highway is paved and where it's not they keep it in shape by 'grading' this involves skimming the hard packed gravel and dirt, filling the holes and then flattening it out. All of this involves waiting at road blocks until the pilot car takes you through.

Time for a pose.

73 miles out of Fairbanks is the official start of the Dalton Highway or the 'Haul road' as it is affectionately known. 414 miles long, it was originally a private road built by the oil companies to supply workers at the oil fields on the Arctic Ocean, click on the link for more details and history. http://wikitravel.org/en/Dalton_Highway Getting a team photo was going to be difficult without a tripod. so let's improvise.

Right Tony when I nod my head, you hit it

Nearly done....


After almost 12 moths of planning and research I had seen so many photos of riders stood here, this was my first 'must have' photo.

The road condition of the Dalton varies greatly from tarmac to gravel to dirt and finally mud all with the usual potholes and subsidence due to frost/thawing.
Tarmac turning to gravel at the start of the Highway (click on the photo to read the sign, kind of strange for us because the sun doesn't set from May to September)



Worse dirt

And the worst kind, wet dirt/mud (followed by cursing and swearing!)
When riding this stuff, the secret is to pick a spot 200 yards down the road and concentrate on that point and not worry about the bike moving around underneath you. We had been warned about the road conditions by bikers we met that had done the trip or were on their way back down, one guy left us saying "Yaall have a safe trip and watch out fer that muurd, it's slicker n' toddler shit!...Thanks Randy!
Time for a photo opportunity while we're still clean!

Our first real look at the Alaska pipeline, this runs for 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic ocean to Valdez on the north pacific coast the oil in the pipeline travels at a temperature of 120 °F (50 °C) to stop the pipeline melting the permafrost there are air cooled heat exchangers mounted on top of each leg. (more info) http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/pipelinefacts.html

Tony and Andy crossing the Yukon river bridge.

The mighty Yukon river..........
We stopped for a quick coffee/fuel break at Yukon camp before heading for our next scheduled stop at the Arctic circle.

Finger Mountain (so called because it looks like, well a finger?)

The weather at the Arctic circle was a balmy 20 degrees.

Sue talking biker chick type bike stuff.

Folks heading North or South.

Let's give the locals something to laugh at (forgot about the bloody mosquitoes!)

Isn't she pretty, What a guy!!
20 miles down the road we suffered our first mechanical damage, Andy failed to miss one of the fist sized rocks that are conveniently located on your driving line (probably placed there by bears, hoping you'll fall off!) It took out his rear mudguard, BMW 1200GS - 0 Dalton Hwy- 1

Couldn't resist this one, yes.. I know it's childish (but I bet you laughed).
The serious side to this place was the road condition, Gobblers knob had claimed another biker the week before we came through. Read about it here-http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/061108/reg_289119601.shtml

More stunning scenery
Finally arrived at Coldfoot Camp 13 miles south of Wiseman, the journey including breaks had taken roughly 7 hours to do 260 miles, not bad.

The building on the right is the Hotel where we would stop on the way back, $200 a night Ouch!

These bad boys rule the road, literally, they have legal right of way and everyone else is roadkill, if you see one coming slow down, indicate to pull over,wave nicely and they may slow down. If they don't, then you need to keep your head down to avoid getting 'rocked' it's sort of like being hit by a catapult!!

The most essential thing before leaving Coldfoot.......Fill her up fellas.

Pulled into our digs half an hour later, if you click on the photo to make it full size you can see a pack of huskies in the trees, up here in winter your 4X4 wont get you anywhere.

BOB and his friends took a well earned rest.

Our pad for the night, Sue and I had the two storey cabin and Tony and Andy had the attached shed.
These two were daft enough to go for an evening stroll, remember the film Deliverance?
Tommorow it's off to the top of the world................