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July 28, 2010

In the morning I had a good breakfast at the hotel buffet, then packed the bike and set out again. Having already made the journey up the Dalton, I wasn't excited at the thought of having to ride the same road all over again, but I had a schedule to keep. If I had known how bad the road would get on the ride up to Deadhorse, I may have just stopped at Fairbanks. But here I was, and there was only one way out.

I decided that I would make use of my GoPro and take more video this time around instead of pictures. Like the day before, rainclouds came and left all throughout, so some of the video is shot through watery lenses.

Hotel room window blacked out with a garbage bag The Prudhoe Bay Hotel Typical street in Deadhorse The bike loaded up outside the hotel

In the following video, I get into a muddy section of the Dalton (not as slick as where I dumped the bike north of Coldfoot, but still problematic for me). Around 2:25 you can see the bike start to slide around, something that happened more often than I liked:

Of course, road conditions were always changing:

There was construction on Atigun Pass this time, and it was very foggy, which made for a nervous descent on the south side.

It continued to rain on and off through the afternoon as I worked my way down to Coldfoot. As I passed through a particularly slick section not far from where I had crashed, I saw the Harley rider I had met yesterday, standing with his bike on the side of the road. I pulled over to say hi and see what was going on. Apparently he had went down not far from there, and was waiting for better weather before riding any further. The bike was not damaged much, but he didn't want to risk a second crash with the road being so slick and his bike being equipped with street tires. Since he was stuck there he asked if I had any extra water he could buy from me, so I gave him my water bottle and wished him good luck before continuing towards Coldfoot. The road seemed about as slick as the first time I had come through the area. I wondered if it was particularly silty because this section of road was so close to the river that ran alongside it.

I had not seen any animals since I started riding the Dalton, so I was surprised when a wolf trotted out about 100 feet from me. My first thought was to take a picture, but it was looking right at me, not slowing or stopping. As I rode past the wolf, it continued to stare at me as it crossed the highway. I don't know what it was thinking, but its intense interest in me gave me the distinct feeling that stopping or even slowing would be unwise.

While waiting for a pilot truck to get through another construction zone, I met a guy riding a KTM 990 Adventure patching his inner tube. We talked briefly while he put his wheel back on, and he mentioned that he had recently been riding through the mountains in South America. He had an extra-large "Safari" fuel tank on the bike, and could easily go hundreds of miles on one fill-up. I thought to myself that the Dalton was probably just another day for him, no big deal.

When going through construction zones, bikes were usually asked to move to the front to make it easier for the pilot driver to see that the bikes were doing okay. As I found out, another reason is so that you don't get stuck behind a large truck flinging mud everywhere. By the time I got to Coldfoot, the bike and I were covered in a layer of silt kicked up by large truck tires.

When I got to Coldfoot, I bought a couple Snickers bars and a bottled drink, then went back to the highway and found a work truck waiting to head north on the Dalton. I asked the driver if he would keep an eye out for a Harley on the side of the road, and give the guy the drink and Snickers ("not going anywhere for a while?"). I don't know if the rider got the snacks, but I like to think that he did and that he got the joke.

Almost twelve hours after leaving Deadhorse, I finally reached the start of the Dalton Highway. It felt good to be on pavement again, and I sped down the Elliott Highway back to Fairbanks. The engine had been running hot because my radiator was clogged with silt, so I kept an eye on the temperature gauge. Going to a carwash would be one of the first things I'd need to do when I got back to Fairbanks.

While I was leaving Deadhorse but still within cell phone range, I received a text from arctickat (James) of KatRiders. Late in 2009 when I first had the idea to ride to Deadhorse, James mentioned that he lived in Wasilla and that we should meet up for a ride if I decided to head that way. We had messaged back and forth a couple times since then, but his phone number had changed so we lost contact. That morning he texted me his new number, and asked where I was on my trip. When I got back to Fairbanks I gave him a call and talked about what my next move was, to either stay in Fairbanks that night or try to make it to Wasilla. I was pretty beat and it was getting late, so I decided to stay at the dorms at UAF again and ride down to Wasilla the next day.

I took the bike to a carwash and gave it a good hosing down, particularly the radiator. After rolling the bike out of the stall, I tried to get it on the centerstand, failed several times in a row, and then dropped the bike on its right side. The rear tire was low and the lot was sloped away from me, and combined with being tired I just couldn't get enough momentum. I picked the bike up, and noticed I had broke half of my right peg off. By this point my attitude was more like "aww crap I dropped it again"; I heaved it back up and left to get something to eat.

After checking into the UAF dorm, I got cleaned up, browsed the internet for a while, and reflected on having made it back. The ride to Deadhorse was to be the pinnacle of the trip, and having done that, I thought it would all be downhill from there. As I'd find out, there were more obstacles and adventures to be had yet.

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