Day 27 - Dalton Highway, Arctic Circle and Coldfoot
From: Fairbanks, AK
To: Coldfoot, AK
Distance: 269 mi (432 km)
Travel time w/brks: 9 hr 08
Distance since start: 6,759 mi (10,868 km)
The time had come for our biggest test: to drive up to the Arctic Ocean over the Dalton Highway. We got ourselves ready and pulled out of the Chena Marina campground and headed to the other end of town. The first thing we needed to do was to get a replacement for our spare tire. I did some research over the web yesterday so I knew where we needed to go this morning. We wheeled in and parked the trailer amoungst the tall piles of tires. We were their first customer. Once they finished we bought some fuel and headed north. We happened to pass an Alaska Pipeline discovery area just north of Fairbanks. We stopped there and I walked out to view it a bit. There were mostly buses parked there with several tour guides talking about the pipeline. A section of the pipeline was next to the stop as was some other curious information about the pipeline.
General idea of where the pipeline goes (from oil fields in the north to the ice-free harbor in the south)
We're heading to the Prudhoe Bay oil field
in the north (pipeline start); later we're going to the end (Valdez)
Actual pipeline is behind the sign. It is 4ft wide.
After this brief stop we headed north. It some time before we got to the actual highway, we had to pass through Fox and change highways to coninue north. We stopped on the last bit of pavement before the road started. The trailer looked great and worked fine at this point.
Ready for the "axle breaker". Notice how clean the trailer is.
Dalton Highway here we come
As luck would have it, it rained the day we entered the highway. Not luck, actually. The choice is between huge dust clouds or mud. Packed dirt turned into mud. We drove by several crosses by the side of the road that hinted at how dangerous this road still is. The trailer quickly became very dirty. We stopped a few times to take pictures, but each time it got so much worse that the previous pictures seemed pointless.
The mud slowly becomes so thick that flying rocks just get stuck in the "pudding"
Can it get worse? Sure. How about some multi-mile road construction with sharp rocks and more muck!
It was a real challenge to drive through the road construction. There were sharp rocks in the gravel that were not packed down enough and I tried my best to dodge that with the truck and the trailer. Large clusters of six inch sized rocks were frequently seen right in the lanes of the road. You couldn't put your foot outside without sinking deep into muck. After we had crossed the Yukon River, we came to an area that had been scortched by a large forest fire many years ago. Now, fireweed was slowly filling in where the trees and grass had once stood; it looked pretty. The only problem was finding a good spot to park without sliding off the road. At this point, we were in 4x4 mode. We tried a few places, but the mud was so bad that the truck started slidding sideways with the trailer behind and I became very concerned that I'd get completely stuck if I stopped.
Things are looking better by the mile
An ocean of Fireweed that has taken over after a forest fire burned things down years ago. Pipeline in the background.
We've now developed our own "GMC Denali" exhaust pipe tip
Shortly after we got back on the road again from the fireweed viewing, the Smartire system alerted us about air loss in one of the tires. We kept an eye on it and it didn't look like it was deflating very fast. After some more driving, we finally reached the Arctic Circle rest area. We used this stop to air up the leaking tire a bit. The thought was that this could keep us going all the way to Coldfoot. I was not looking forward to change a tire in this mud.
Posing by the sign at the Arctic Circle
A reminder about the wilderness around us. Click HERE for complete posting.
We noticed that most people had driven up to this point on a day trip. They had left trailers behind. Most people just turned around after this area and headed back home. We continued up north. We saw much fewer vehicles on the road as we continued. We did encounter many of those infamous haul trucks that we've read about. And, indeed, they do drive quite fast. I was concerned about breaking the windshield so I slowed down each time I encountered one. I also let those behind me pass. The tire pressure slowly decreased as we approached Coldfoot. It appeared as if the leak accelerated when we got closer. Either way, we were safe at this point. As soon as we had parked the trailer, I put a spare on and got a chance to look at the leaking tire. How ironic. We get a metal screw into the brand new tire we just purchased THIS MORNING. That has got to be the shortest life I've gotten out of a tire, ever!
Flat tire #2: A metal screw goes through the brand new trailer tire with 160 miles on it
By the looks of it, the tire can be saved. We arrived a bit late to have them fix it in their shop during regular hours. Recall that Coldfoot is the only service station along the 430 mile Dalton Highway. North of this, there are 240 miles of nothingness.
Our campsite in Coldfoot, north of the arctic circle
The clouds were hanging low and the rain was on and off. Several things had moved in the trailer, including the shower tub. But we seemed to be in reasonable shape. Just in case we would need to change a tire further up, I brought the water tank to half level so that we could wash things down before any change. Despite the clouds we could feel that it was more daylight here than in Fairbanks. Weather is high 50s during the day.
Name: Coldfoot, AK
Our hookups: Water and 15 amp
GSM service: NO
TV Channels: NO
Reservation mode: Phone call (via Skype)
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All Pictures (c) 2006 Hamnqvist, Background features Fifi's (the truck) rear licence plate.