Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Haul Road 1,000

The is the account of my ride up to Deadhorse AK to complete the Iron Butt Association Ultimate Coast to Coast Challenge - Key West, FL to Deadhorse, AK.

Although this "Haul Road 1,000" is not an official IBA ride my GPS recorded 1,010 miles from my start point at the camp grounds on Fort Wainwright to the Super8 Motel at the finish.  I'm not claiming any recognition beyond doing the up and down ride in less than 24 hours (22 hours and 50 minutes -- GPS track point time.)

My original intent was to ride from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and stay for some sleep before heading back south to Fairbanks.  This plan was due to me not knowing just how long it would take to ride the Dalton Highway from start point north of Fairbanks to the end at Deadhorse.  I was expecting to average about 40 miles per hour.  Google and Yahoo put the total driving time at just under 20 hours.  It's a 492 mile trip from Fairbanks to Deadhorse.  I seriously over estimated the time it would take me to cover the distance given the road condition and weather.  

The SPOT II messenger creates a "geo-tag" with the location, date and time  when the Check In/OK or the Custom button.  I refer to these tags as SPOT and the number in the narrative that follows.

SPOT 1 -- 09:15z / 01:15am / 04:15am Mile 0
Left Fort Wainwright RV/Camping park and rode to Denny's for breakfast after which departing for the Dalton Highway.

SPOT 2 -- 11:17z / 03:17am / 06:17am at  mile 84
At the entrance to the Dalton Highway (video) or Haul Road.  The first part of the road was gravel (video) and about what I expected.   The road then changed to paved (video) surface.  I discovered that about 25% of the length of the Dalton was paved.  As it would turn out this would have a big impact on my total riding time and stress level.  The BMW R1200GS Adventure was handling (video) the rough parts of the road with ease.  The power and suspension of the bike gave me a sense of confidence.  It was important to use correct technique for riding in loose material;  keep the power up, keep a tight center of gravity,  and avoid using the front brake when slowing to lessen the chance for a front tire slide out.

SPOT 3 -- 12:22z / 04:22am / 07:22am at mile 140
Crossing the Yukon River bridge (video) for the first time.  Stopped to mark the significant geographic location and event with at SPOT msg.(video)

SPOT 4 -- 14:24z / 06:24am / 09:24 at mile 260
Coldfoot Camp (video) for fuel and cup of coffee.  At this point I'm lolly-gagging and not in any hurry.  It had rained several hours earlier and the ground was very muddy.  So far in the ride up the sky was clear to partly cloudy. 

SPOT 5 -- 16:23z / 08:23am / 11:23am at mile 332
Crossing Atigun Pass. (video)   If you've seen the TV show "Ice Road Truckers" you would think the Atigun pass was a monster to be avoided.  As passes go it's pretty much mediocre and not very long.  I was underwhelmed by it and aside from some slipperiness on the road made good time over it.  Then again it may be that I was blessed with better than average conditions.

SPOT 6 -- 17:36z / 09:36am / 12:36pm at mile 398
Pump Station 3 hold for road work and pilot vehicle.  There were several areas of the road under active maintenance.  Especially north of the Atigun pass.  Heavy truck were hauling road material and road graders were spreading it out after being dumped in long rows.  The graders would create long rows of material from the side of their blades that were about 6 to 8 inches high.  These lines of loose material were to be avoided.   By this time the weather (video) started to get worse.  Light rain that felt more like ice pellets that had melted just before ground level and a cross wind from the west.  I stopped using my video helmet cam at this point at this point as you can see from the clip above.  The stretch of road (video) from the north side of the Brooks Range of mountains is arctic tundra and it just goes on for mile after mile of stunning geography.  Didn't see any caribou on the entire ride.  I did see a linx just before the Yukon bridge though....that was cool.

SPOT 7 -- 20:08z / 12:08pm / 3:08pm at mile 503
Parked in front of Prudhoe Bay Hotel and was going to take the picture of me and the motorcycle for the IBA certification, but there were too many trucks in the way.  Went inside to check on a room.  None available, just a dorm room at $135 a night.   I still had to get my dated business receipt that substantiates my finish time, so I got directions to the gas station.  It was a self serve kinda deal where you go into a pump house, swipe your card in the auto-teller then go outside to pump the gas.  When you are finished you go back into the pump house and swipe your card again and it gives you the receipt.  Completing this I rode to the Arctic Caribou Inn for picture and to check on room availability.  Got the picture, found out rooms were available at $195.  At this point I'm reaching a decision point.  But, I still needed my certifying witness form signed so I asked around for where the police station was.  Rode to North Slope Police Station and did the deed.  Now I had to make the decision about staying or heading back south.  I decided to make the gas stop at Coldfoot Camp my next decision point.  I was off....heading south

SPOT 8 -- 02:36z / 6:36pm / 9:36pm at mile 747
About 25 miles out of Coldfoot Camp I had to stop for a pilot vehicle down a stretch of road constructions.  The contractor was getting to road ready for paving.  The flag lady said they had to have this stretch north out of Coldfoot paved by first snow in September.  I took this opportunity to check the bike out.  By the time I got to Coldfoot for gas I had pretty much made the decision  to Iron Butt it to Fairbanks instead of camping or staying in the Coldfoot motel. Timing is everything.   Earlier in the day I had mused (video) about how my fatigue management strategy had played out to afford me the option of heading all the way back.  I have always incorporated a sound fatigue management (video) strategy into all my long distance endurance riding.  It part of an overarching risk management technique.  At this point in the ride I was feeling good so after gassing up I headed south for Fairbanks.

SPOT 9 -- 04:03z / 8:03pm / 10:03pm at mile 807
Stop at Arctic Circle roadside picture.   I had missed the turn off on the way up and looking at the GPS track in MapSource I had turned down the service road just north of the public parking area for the Arctic Circle sign.  This is a MUST picture for anyone traveling the Dalton Highway for the first time. 

SPOT 10 -- 07:27z / 11:27pm / 02:27am at mile 1,010
Pulling into Fairbanks I headed straight for the self serve car wash to hose off the motorcycle.  It took $8 to get most of the grime off of the motorcycle.  Finishing that I headed to the Super8 Motel and got a real room with all the amenities for $126....with breakfast.

What an incredible adventure this ride was.  I'll continue to refine this Spot Adventure as I develop more information.  I want to do a total cost piece and plug that info in for all to see.  So, check back in a few days

Adventure Tips
I seriously over estimated the difficulty of the Dalton Highway.  I was expecting a more rough road.  Much to my advantage I discovered that almost 20% of the road was paved.  About 60% of the road was is fast shape.  By that I mean I was able to ride faster than 40 mph with little difficulty.  Only about 20% of the road was difficult.  Most of this was due to ongoing construction.

I discovered that the R1200GS Adventure was tailor made for this exact kind of road.  Its handling was superb and inspired confidence.  Sometimes standing on the foot pegs, most of the time squeezing the tank during "snaking" and powering through the loose stuff.

I attribute my ability to complete the up and back ride to:
1.  The GS's power and suspension.
2.  My Aerostich Darien Gore-Tex suite with heated jacket liner.
3.  The fatigue management strategy that afforded me the opportunity to make changes to the ride plan.