Ah...a free day in Fairbanks and we have the whole day to play. MotoQuest used to call it a "Rest Day" but after one particularly grueling 13-hour day on two track roads in the middle of no where, the "rest" got replaced by "free". The Best of Alaska is billed as an all-paved route and indeed, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles are usually part of the fun. However, the "Free Day" in Fairbanks offers the rider the opportunity to travel the adventurous Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle.
The Name is Dalton
The Dalton Highway you may know from the television program Ice Road Truckers. It is also referred to as the "Haul Road", since most of the traffic on that road are big trucks loaded down with oil field support supplies headed to Prudhoe Bay.
The highway starts technically about 70 miles north of Fairbanks, after some scrumptious paved sweepers up and over a series of hills. Talk about no one! If you hit your GPS after leaving Fairbanks, you will realize you will not be seeing any kind of service, police station - not even a McDonalds - for the next 414 miles. Most of the "highway" is dirt surface with intermittent patches of a cheap form of pavement known as chip seal. They tried to pave the whole dang thing a few years ago, but the freeze-thaw and heavy truck traffic just ripped it apart. So, you will come across long sections of bumpy paved and then drift back into dirt.
A Smooth Dirt Road
Actually, the dirt portions are rather smooth and stable. They lay a coat of calcium chloride onto it to keep the dust down. It is in the interest of the oil companies to keep this road open and operable, so even when it is wet, it is firm. On a good day, you can ride comfortably at 70 miles an hour, and not think twice about the dirt surface beneath you.
The thing is, the Dalton is constantly changing, and even on a sunny and warm summer day, you'll be cruising around a corner and come upon a grater and a water truck working the road, and all hell breaks loose. Every year, adventure motorcyclists are taken back to Fairbanks in trucks and helicopters because they go off the road.
How Long Can You Go?
The real danger of the Haul Road, though, is not the conditions of the road so much as the inability of the rider to judge their own stamina. Riders often ride from sun up to sun down, and in Alaska, sun down means in August. There are practically no stops along the way, and riders are loaded down from all sorts of junk they think they need on their long journey.
Most accidents seem to be just after filling up at a gas station, whereby the weight of the fuel up high is no asset, especially when you hit a veritable "icy" section of road. When riders ask about how to prepare for the Dalton, the best answer is to say, "What do you want to be on when you hit 700 yards of sheer terror?" You will hit slimy, muddy sections of road on the Dalton Highway, so riding light and with knobby tires or at least dual purpose touring tires is the way to go.
Livengood Along the Alaska Pipeline
Just before you hit the junction of the Elliott Highway and the Dalton Highway, you will pass the town of Livengood. Go back to the town sight and turn off your engine. There are no buildings in sight. There are no people. Is that what the "No Services" sign meant? Livengood (Pronounced Live- en- good) used to be a town during the gold rush, now it is just wilderness. Typical in Alaska: There are more than a couple towns which boasted over 10,000 people at the turn of the last century, that are now deserted.
The ride on the Dalton is pleasant and if you like riding through unobstructed pristine wilderness, then this is the ride for you. You get the sense that you are heading towards the edge of the earth, and at some point, you will be gone, and no one will know to where. The wide-angle vistas of a carpet of trees until infinity lift the spirit, or scare the tar out of you.
The only reminder you are still not lost is the serpentine Alaska Pipeline, which skirts the Dalton the entire time. Over 800 miles long and pumping almost 20% of the domestic supply of oil for the USA, the pipeline is true gold rush of this age.
There was a court case between the State of Alaska and the people. It was about public access on this road. The oil companies pleaded that it should remain closed to the public, sighting the truck traffic and the steep grade of the roadway. The public just wanted to use it. So, until not too long ago, you could only ride to the Yukon River before being turned around.
MotoQuest Tours & AllAboutBikes Presents... MotoQuest's Best of Alaska Tour
Interested in touring Alaska by motorcycle yourself? MotoQuest specializes in motorcycle adventure tours in many exotic places and they are giving away a free spot in their Best of Alaska Tour in 2011.
Don't just stay home this year, try a visit to Alaska! Click to learn more about the Best of Alaska Motorcycle tour from MotoQuest Tours, Twisted Throttle & AllAboutBikes.