Riding the Dalton Highway - Things to know

10 days | 490mi | Riding time: 61h 22min | 15283kcal | 28485 vertical feet the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions

First of all what you have to know, when riding the Dalton Highway with a bicycle: You are the star on the road. Everybody will waive their hands after you because you do this crazy road on a bicycle. But remember, they do this for a reason; you somehow have to be a little crazy in the head if you go on this ride. 250mi without anything from Deadhorse to Coldfoot, no food for 500mi, bears and mosquitoes, many other animals, and all ahead an unpaved highway on which you find semi-trucks. This said, it is not the 9-day-vacation-bicycle trip you would do because you enjoy riding a bicycle a few miles around town. This is an adventure you will never forget in your life! Be prepared and do at least a little planning for this trip!the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions

What you should really know before you ride the Dalton Highway:

1. Everybody tells you Alaska is the country of the bears but it’s more the country of mosquitoes. We have not seen a single bear during the ride on the Dalton but a horde of these mosquitoes, which are not comparable with e. g. with German relations. Mosquito repellant and a mosquito net is absolutely required, otherwise you cannot stop and have a drink or built up your tent.

2. Also we have not seen a bear, they are out there. Therefore bring a bear container to store you food safely away from bears and a bear spray. You could hang the food to a tree but remember there aren’t any in the Alaskan Tundra for the first 200mi. The bear spray cannot be brought into the plane. You can buy it in the Prudhoe Bay General Store, they have 2 different kinds up there. The bear container should be stored at least one football field away from your camp and you should keep food but also cosmetics inside

3. Food: The next real supermarket will be in Fairbanks which is 500mi away from Deadhorse. You can have a meal at Coldfoot and the Yukon River Camp but they only sell some snacks like Snickers or Twix, etc. Nudles, Rize or other things cannot be bought there.

4. But who thinks he will ride for 500mi without seeing any humans is wrong. There are motorcycles, campers and of course trucks on the road, in average you will at least see a vehicle every 20min during the day. In the night there are hardly any. If you have a malfunction I guarantee you every second vehicle will stop and ask if you’re alright because they know how bad it can be to get stuck in this remote region. This is something what really amazed us about the people on this Highway, they are extremely helpful.

5. Communication: No internet after Deadhorse until Fairbanks. We found some WiFi in the Yukon River Camp, but it is not an official hot spot. Telephones are in Coldfoot and the Yukon River Camp, they all work via satellite. Electricity can be found there as well and also right after the Atigun Pass. the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay lies in the north of Alaska at the Arctic Sea. In the 70s they found a large oilfield and soon built the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline from Deadhorse to Valdez in the south of the state. The only supply road to Deadhorse is the Dalton Highway. The natives also call it “The haul road” and it is a gravel road from Fairbanks to Deadhorse directly through the middle of nowhere. The road follows mainly the pipeline and therefor goes directly over major mountains and does not follow valleys as we first thought. the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions Around 5PM on August 1st we started the ride from Deadhorse heading south. At this time of the year the sun is up 24/7, therefor we could ride until late in the night. Directly behind Deadhorse we met a bicycle rider from Argentina, who made it all the way up and wants to travel back by hitch-hiking. Thumbs up for this guy! We would have liked to chat with him a little more but the mosquitoes started to bother us so we hit the road. We had never seen so many of them around us and were very lucky that we brought the mosquito net. The first 100mi were very flat and we did quite a good progress as we saw fat, brown animals directly in front of us. There were about 10 of them and we could not tell whether they are bears. Since we knew bears come usually alone we got our tele lense out and saw a horde of buffalos. After a quick photo session in which the mosquitoes were driving us crazy again, we rode further until we stopped for a place to camp at 12PM. After a serious inspection if there were any bear signs we built up our tent directly next to the road. The bear box was placed 0.6mi ahead of us; the fear of bears was still really present. The next day around lunch time the landscape started to change. Little hills of the Alaskan Tundra started to rise where the road followed over straight. It almost felt like being in the Highlands of Scotland. These uphills were short but really steep, usually around 9-10%. What we didn’t expect it should stay like this until Fairbanks. the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions The strong head-wind on the next day combined only let us travel with about 5-6MPH and we only made our way up the Atigun Pass very slowly. This pass has an altitude of 4739 feet and lies in the Brooks Range. In face of an unpaved, muddy road, many feet of snow in the winter and over 12% of grade this pass is the year round connection for the semi-trucks up to Prudhoe Bay. Behind this pass we stayed with our tent next to a tiny airport, the Chandalar Shelf Airport, where frequent bush-airplanes arrive and depart. As soon as we got there it started to rain and made the entire road to a muddy slide. the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions It was still raining on the next day and we decided at least to wait for the heavy rain to stop. Around lunch time the strong rain stopped and we started to ride further. Shortly later we and our bikes were covered in a thick layer of mud. After a while our bicycle chain was not even moving properly anymore and therefore we had had to stop once in a while to clean the really heavy mud out. After about 25mi we finally arrived on a fresh paved road. After a short ride in a pilot car through the construction area we had a nice ride over this new pavement, mostly downhill or flat. Finally we were making some fast progress! Shortly later we saw something black walking on the road far ahead of us. Both of us thought this might be a bear and were riding further with the bear sprays ready in our hands. Slowly and the potential bear always in observation we rode further. We saw a truck passing the thing without it moving at all and new this can’t be a bear. As we got closer, we realized this was another bicyclist who also first thought we might be bears. We started talking to her as suddenly out of nowhere a heavy rain started directly over us, which we have not seen before. During seconds we were soaked to the bone and our shoes were full with water, but the muddy bikes were clean again. About 1500 feet later the sun was shining again, what a strange weather! In the evening we reached the truck stop Coldfoot, where we filled our plates with lots of food from the buffet and where we also took the most expensive shower in our life for $15 the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions On the 6th day we reached the Polar Circle. From here on there was no midnight sun any more. But the sun was still up very long and we could at least ride until 11PM. Except this sign there is nothing up here but mountains and forests. Next to the sign there was a little campground with a fire pit and a bench with table. Here we stayed the night and met our Italian friends again, two bicyclists who we already met in Deadhorse and Coldfoot. On the next day when we were preparing our bikes, a tour bus stopped and brought some tourists up to this remote place. A red carpet was placed directly before the sign and everybody took the typical picture. Whether the brought cake tasted different, we will never know. Soon we started the ride because we wanted to reach the Yukon River on the same day. In Coldfoot a native told us, that truckers call the road after the Polar Circle also the “Rollercoaster”. And yes this is so true! The road directly goes over any mountain there is and never stays on the same level of elevation, just straight over these hills! You ride 1mi straight up and 2mi down afterwards only to ride up 1mi afterwards and so on. The grades were usually between 8% and 11% which made this trip extremely exhausting for us. One of these mountains is called Beaver Slide this one took us 1,5h,also because we had to stop a few times there because of the heavy trucks. After a few hours of riding we saw, that Caro’s rear shock was losing air and was traveling through unusual deep. This didn’t look right and made the mountain section even harder for her. But there was still some air left and we hurried to still reach the Yukon Camp. the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions After a colorful breakfast with pancakes and coffee (almost felt like Christmas) we took another look to Caro’s damper. After the night the complete air came out and the shock travelled all the way through by just pushing with one hand. It was impossible to ride further like this! What to do? Our malfunction was interesting for a few people and also our Italian friends were discussing in the typical Italian way, how they could help us. They suggested blocking the damper and so we started to put stripes and duck-tape around making Caro’s bike to a hard-tail. Now we at least could ride until Fairbanks. The road was since the Polar Circle unpaved again and Caro felt now every single rock. Also the hills did not stop and so it went up and down until we arrived after 9 days in Fairbanks. Finally! the-dalton-highway-in-alaska-description-road-conditions From here we had another 80mi until Fairbanks on the Elliot Highway which was not less hilly but at least we had a paved road. After 2 days we finally arrived in Fairbanks. There we met a very friendly family who invited us for a hot shower. We could stay in their camper during the entire time and they also helped us to get a new damper and also some other parts which broke or got lost during the last few days. We had to stay about one week here in Fairbanks after the damper finally arrived. We want to say thank you very much to Greg and his family for letting us stay in their home and inviting us to Gold Panning and the trip to the Denali National Park. We had an amazing time!