The Dalton: Part 1
“Have you tried putting into neutral?” asked Jim, a KLR rider from Canada that I had met the nightbefore.
The Kawasaki 650 motorbike that I had bought a week ago, with under a 1000 miles on the clock had broken down on the Dalton highway. Possibly one of the remotest stretches of road in the world, the Dalton is a 414-mile stretch of road that was built in 1974 to support the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay and was only opened to the public in 1981. Where I have broken down is at least 120 miles from the nearest tow truck and over 300 miles from the nearest motorcycle mechanic.
Naturally, this remote and untamed stretch of road (I maintain that a highway is too generous of a term) is a Motorcyclists’ Mecca.
Oh, and if you do break down, it costs at least 5 bucks a mile to be towed. With my budget of $50 a day, breaking down isn’t really an option.
Getting a tow truck is enough of a challenge, there is no phone reception for the entire road until you get to Prudhoe Bay or civilisation back in Fairbanks. The only real option is to be saved by one of the 160 or so truckers that barrel along the road every day in summer (there are about 250 in winter).
I looked over to Jim, who smiled ruefully into the clear Alaskan sky “It’s what happens on the road, you’re going to have to get used to it over the coming year” he said.
I am 2 weeks into my year long trip from Alaska to South America, I’ve got 24 years to my name and 3 years riding experience (on a humble Honda Cbr250 I might add). I had set off from Anchorage a few days earlier to head north through Alaska, pass the arctic circle and go for a quick dip in the Arctic before heading south on my 28,000 or so mile journey to the southern tip of South America.
Jim and I begin to pull apart my bike, unscrewing what had been until earlier that day, pristine black fairings. In good weather, a chemical called calcium chloride is sprayed along dirt sections of the road. This chemical dries quickly in the sun, and reduces the dust while compacting the loose layer of rich brown soil above the permafrost and makes the road a lot more manageable.
However, when this delightful little bastard mixes with water it becomes a sticky muck that sets harder than concrete once dry and can cause all sorts of mischief to bikes and trucks alike.
Pulling my bike apart, I think about the various decisions that had led to this point, knees covered in mud as I slide the fairings off and Jim offers helpful advice over my shoulder.
Early that week, I had been chatting to Christina in Anchorage, a guide at Motoquest (who run adventure motorcycle tours throughout the Alaskan wilderness and the rest of the world). “The truckers are Gods up there, we have had truckers take pity on a rider and drive them for nothing to Anchorage… we have also heard of riders that were run off the road”
Naturally, as a trucker barrels passed at about 80 miles an hour, both Jim and I (who has been given similar advice) turn to raise a hand and smile.
Generally, most motorcyclists break the Haul road into a 4 stage trip.
1. Fairbanks to Coldfoot- 254 Miles
2. Coldfoot to Prudhoe Bay- 241 Miles
3. Prudehoe Bay to Wiseman ( a small off-road outside of Coldfoot) -233 Miles
4. Wiseman to Fairbanks- 241 Miles
I had camped the night previously with Jim and John, 2 Canadians who were travelling through Alaska on KLR’s. I had already been on the road a week and welcomed the company and chance to learn more about the KLR from them.
Sitting in the muck as I furiously turned a 8mm wrench, about to take the seat off, I was thanking God silently for Jim’s steadying presence on the other side of the bike. Also the fact that our mutual love of a beer after a hard days’ riding had led to us talking about bikes and now travelling him and his buddy. Travelling alone leads to incredible experiences, but can be trying when experiencing slight “technical difficulties”.
The mornings’ ride had been nothing short of spectacular, we were just coming down from the Antigun pass where we had had stopped for lunch and my bike and run into some trouble.
Above: Antigun Pass rises 4,739 Feet and cuts through the the Brooks Range.
Now, with the seat precariously balanced on top of my left pannier, Jim and I peered at the battery and various electrical additions I had made to my bike. Heated Grips, GPS charger and a trickle charger (allowing me to charge my iPhone) all seemed to be ok until I peered a little closer to the positive side of the battery.
“ Try tightening the screw..?” muttered Jim, as I handed him a screwdriver from my tool kit.
Jim began to screw the little bolt in as I tried to figure out which animal Jim would like to have sacrificed in his honour if it worked. Perhaps a sheep? We had past Caribou on the way up but that seemed like too easy a gesture. Only a sheep or perhaps a
pure white bull…. “Yep, loose as hell” exclaimed Jim, jolting me out of my reverie.
Jim looked up at me and nodded.
I turned the key, gunned the throttle and my bike sprang to life.
“She works!” laughed Jim, leaning back and smiling with quiet victory written all over his face. I had also promised him a beer if we figured it out.
As I begin to pickup my tools and re-assemble the bike, I look over to Jim who was pulling his jacket back on and asked a question that had never occurred to me before. “Jim, why “she”?
He laughed and turned to look at me.
“Something as dangerous as this could only be female”
It’s going to be an interesting year.