The remainder of my pursuit to get to Vancouver continued in true trip fashion. I got into Anchorage and was dropped at a hostel by the guy who had picked me up roadside. I used the hostel to send an email out to Claudia briefly explaining that i would be late. I then used the shower and shaved and put some clothes on that resembled, in my eyes, a basic level of cleanliness.
I bussed to the airport pronto.
Fortunately the airlines didnt have a problem with my ID situation but explained that i would be going through extra levels of security.
Paying for the flight was the issue. All i had was some credit card details written on s scrunched up piece of paper which wasn’t accepted over the counter. (Probably a good thing)
The way around this was to use the internet at the airport to buy the tickets online or phone reservations and send the details over the phone.
The result.. My flight left at midnight to Seattle.
At 5:00 am in the morning i was on the streets of Seattle, I managed the public transport system reasonably well and got within several blocks of the Australian Consulate.
I tried to carry my heavy luggage/panniers in each arm and did so for two blocks before the burning in my arms was encroaching on all parts of my body.
To fix this i hid one pannier in the bushes and carried the other three blocks ahead to hide it and then went back for the original. I did this twice before i was out the front of the address i needed at about 6:30 am.
At 7:00 am the receptionist gave me news that just numbed me further into the the state induced by my sleep deprivation.
“The consulate has closed his office in Seattle six months ago. The nearest Australian Embassy is in San Francisco.”
Sick of all the bull shit i asked if she could call me a taxi. I paid the taxi in Canadian dollars because its the only cash i had, poor guy didn’t have a choice or chance.
After some killer security screening i got through to San Francisco.
This time i checked my luggage into storage at San Francisco airport and a few hours later after some forms and photos. I was woken in the waiting room of the embassy by a familiar accent who issued me my new emergency travel document/passport thingy.
I missed the flight out to Vancouver that evening and the cheapest soonest option was from San Pedro airport, as hour or so train away.
I took the train and spent the night in San Pedro.
Early in the morning it was a relief to travel on my shiny new document. Canada border security still gave me the run around. To be honest, I wouldn’t expect anything else.
But i was soon in the arms of Claudia, only three days late but in time for her birthday!!
With the bike unable to start the reality of the situation began to sink in. It became apparent that if i was to have any chance of reaching Claudia on time i had to leave it behind. It was an inevitable but difficult prospect to deal with, In one way it had become a friend. We had certainly helped each other out of all sorts of difficult situations but this time i let it down.
I offered to sell it to the workers at the gas station and when they wont interested so we began going through the phone book to see who else might want it.
It was inspected later that afternoon by some local boys that didn’t want it because their passion was with road bikes. They did give me the name of a guy who they thought could be interested.
I rang CJ immediately, he was in Fairbanks and wouldn’t be back until 11pm.
I began to use the remainder of the evening sun to organise my possessions and let things dry.
I cooked what would be my last meal with the beer can cooker.
I also took many photos and video of the bike from different angles.
CJ arrived as expected and we soon realised that we were both ADV inmates and traded stories on biking through South America.
The bike was in worse condition than he imagined and the fact that he wouldn’t be getting my pelican cases made him reluctant to make any offer.
We decided to talk in the morning after i investigated the bus time table.
The gas station where i was stuck also rented trailers. This one became the perfect dwelling for the required shut-eye that evening.
In the morning i found out that the next bus wasn’t leaving until the following day but i did recall CJ mentioning an old Volvo that he was trying to dispose of.. I went to check it out.
Hours later I had caught up with CJ and we had come to an agreement on a swap for his 1978 Volvo station wagon with 264 000 miles (425 000km) on the clock and about 20 days left on the registration. I had to give $100 more to quicken the process and sweeten the deal, I really needed to get going.
I realised he had a passion/love borderline obsession for these cars when I discovered about eight other Volvo’s of varied condition in his front yard.
A new chapter opened and i hit the road with the panniers and my number plate for memories in the back.
I picked up a hitch hiker as i left town, i removed my half eaten can of peaches from the passenger seat as he jumped in. He was a British fella who needed a lift to the turnoff to Dawson City. It was a such a car novelty!!
I continued towards the border.
Cutting a long story short…
I was honest with the Canadian immigration which resulted in an intense hour or so. I explained what i had done, that i was blinded by the fact that i had ridden 50 000 km to get to Alaska and would do anything possible to finish my journey.
They questioned if i realised the severity of my situation and the consequence for such actions. I told them that i lost my passport and bank cards in Canada and all i wanted was to go home.
Eventually i was given two options..
1) Return to the USA and be processed by their system…
2) Stay and you will be detained, taken to the jail in Whitehorse where you will await your trial in Vancouver. The most likely scenario would be issued a one way ticket to Australia never to return.
I thought about this for a moment and eventually chose option (2). My logic was that the US would probably do the same but with a Canadian detainment i had a chance of seeing Claudia in Vancouver before i was extradited.
I was told to sit and wait while the officer rang superiors to begin the process, it gave me a good ten minutes of thinking…
During this time I decided that I wanted to go in the opposite direction from Whitehorse jail!! I decided then to take my chances with the US???
Id always wondered what really happens in Guantanamo Bay.
The Canadians had rung ahead so the Americans were expecting me. The officers took it upon themselves to plant fear in my mind. They orded me to take a seat and announcing that I had entered The United States Of America… ILLEGALLY!! and will be processed accordingly.
I waited patiently but concerned for the following hour while another officer was due to arrive and process me.
I was very fortunate to leave after a four hour border ordeal. In my hands with papers that allowed me to travel to Anchorage, Alaska’s capital to contact the Australian embassy.
Fortunately there is an understanding between individuals who share the passion for adventure. It is the fundamental reason why this venture was possible. Without it, i would not be here, so i am forever grateful to all i have met with this trait.
I drove into the night towards Anchorage (9 hours). Naturally, not everything worked on the car and the bonnet nearly flung up at me at one stage but we had movement and hummed towards something….
I was forced to sleep when the rain got heavy and the bald tyres and windscreen wipers wont handling it.
In the morning i stopped at a phone and rang the embassy based in Los Angels, they told me that i couldn’t get a travel document in Alaska and would have to fly domestically to the west coast to see a consulate to prove who i was….
Convincing the airport security and airlines with my photocopy’s was my domain.
Disappointed i headed for Anchorage airport.
As i neared Anchorage there was a loud knocking from under the bonnet. It got louder and louder so i took my foot off the throttle and coasted to a stop under the 17 mile mark.
I popped the bonnet to have a look. The engine was completely out of oil. It had somehow lost it all through the night.
I took my stuff out of the back and stuck my thumb up… It took about two minutes and i was in the cab of a pickup heading towards town….
21st July 2010… Only hours before Claudia arrived in Vancouver.
Returning back down the Dalton highway started easier than the push done the night previously. The weather was better but when trucks go past in the opposite direction they would send a spray of mud into the air that would add another layer to everything. If you weren’t quick enough to put your arm up to protect the helmet visor… Visibility would instantly become nothing.
I got about half way back to Cold foot and i noticed the bike was getting hot. I don’t have a working thermostat but i just had a sense for it. When i stopped i could hear the pressure escaping from the cooling system. The radiator was blocked with mud and i had no way of cleaning it. I decided that i would keep going to Cold Foot regardless. Making sure i kept the revs of the engine low and hoping that the outside air temperature would be enough to keep the bike cool and happy.
The theory worked for a while. I got within 30 miles of Cold Foot and i stopped for a photo near a creek. The radiator system was whistling as it tried to release the pressure. Then there was a loud pop/bang and a cooling hose blew.
The radiator (Its off a KLR2008 encase your wondering)…. Wasn’t letting much air get through..
The hose… Blew out on the right hand side..
I removed the radiator and walked down to the stream to clean it out. With the radiator clean i was reinstalling it along with the hose i had repaired with tape when Georg an Austrian on a GS appeared.
We rode together through Cold foot, i returned my fuel containers, then emerged together out of the Arctic Circle. I noticed the difference in my 650 thumper compared to 1200 cc of BMW GS. Fortunately the road condition and occasional corners gave me opportunity to stay near enough.
By the time we reached the next fuel stop i needed to do another repair on the taped up hose. I found some rubber garden hose around the back of a shed and joined them as best i could.
Georg was patient and we eventually got to Fairbanks later that night. We stayed in a Hostel this time around. After showering and a few beers we passed out for a well earnt sleep.
The following morning i set off early, I had only made 800km of the 1000 required the previous day and i still had a border crossing to complete later that afternoon. This would be without any official documents except for my number plate. I presumed it wasn’t going to be a simple procedure.
I was starting to think that i would be a day late for for Claudia’s arrival.
However, I wasn’t going to resist an opportunity to take a photo of Mr Moose.
About 2.5 hours before the Canadian Border I stopped to take this photo..
The repair on my hose was leaking again. I hurried on to Tok, a town that is in Alaska two hours from the Canadian border. I refueled and cleaned the bike thoroughly with a pressure hose. I then bought some hose clamps and did a proper repair on the problematic radiator hose.
When i went to start the bike again………. grrrrrrrr splata crank crank crank, nothing!!!!
I thought something must be wet from the cleaning, i gave it a chance to dry, used compressed air to blow things dry and then over the course of the next couple of hours removing piece by piece. I eventually worked out that the problem was much worse….
Water was entering the cylinder (engine) either through a break in a gasket or a crack somewhere in the engine…. Without these parts, it was beyond my repair….
It was about 10pm when i approached Deadhorse everything was soaked through to the bone and caked in mud.
In those final kilometers i got emotional in the helmet. I began remembering encounters and situations from the previous months. I then pictured the world seen from space and the pathway i had etched to get to where i was. It was a strange flow of emotions i was experiencing. I was happy, excited and even sad and teary all in the same moment.
When i got into town it was initially difficult to tell which direction took me as far north as i could get. I found a motel and decided to question the price of a room. Despite it being out of my budget, they had no space. I was then greeted by a fellow rider having a smoke outside. He kindly rang the other motel who was also at capacity.
The decision was made then that i would have to camp and the fellow rider gave me a quick rundown of the area. He said there was an option to do a bus tour of the oil field if i handed my passport in for clearance for 24 hours. No passport, easy decision.. I got my bearings and left.
Welcome to the end of the road!!!!
I thought of trying to convince the security that my bike leaked enough oil to make it economically viable to have it in the oil field. It could perhaps even offer an environmental distraction from BP’s problems in the gulf, but to be honest. I was now ready to turn and go home…
It was 11pm on the 17th of July 2010, I landed in Chile to begin my venture on the 17th of February 2009…. 17 months earlier.
I now had four days to get back to Vancouver in Canada. Claudia my Bolivian love arrived on the 21st and her birthday was on the 25th. It was 4000 km and a border crossing between us.
Before i left Deadhorse, i needed fuel, I went to the gas station not sure what to expect. I quickly realised that it was unmanned and without a credit card i was stranded until work began again in the morning.
When i entered the building to use the bathroom, the door opened to a heated coatroom with the bathroom through a door to the left. I knew immediatly that i had found my accomidation for the evening.
I rolled my bed out on the floor and hung some stuff out to dry…
I then reached deep inside my panniers fro a can of peaches and some luxury items i had purchased in Fairbanks that morning.
My bike was a mess…
My hands were dirty, wrinkled and calloused.
But I had done what i set out to do and thoroughly enjoyed the party!!
At 5:30 in the morning i woke to the door of the coatroom opening onto my legs. The first employee had got to work and didn’t seem surprised to see me huddled beside the heater. I got up and he gave me some coffee.
I wasted no time, filled my stomach with coffee then my bike and containers with gas. I was back on the road early with a marathon ahead of me.
An hour further north from the Arctic Rim is the last town before the final stretch. Its name is Cold Foot but if i had my way, i would have renamed it Cold Feet when i rolled into town.
I ordered a BLT and fries at the restaurant and it was a large helping thankfully. Unfortunately it was about 4pm in the afternoon by the time i had finished. The waitress asked me if i planned to keep going. I couldn’t fathom stopping so close to the finish. She said that there had been reports of snow up in the pass. I cringed at the thought but began to get ready.
Its a 240mile/400km stretch, my fuel range is 200km so i had already two extra gallons strapped on the back. My newest calculations left me short of Deadhorse with what i had. So i asked the waitress if anyone had left any fuel containers. She asked me if milk bottles would be good enough and went looking….
She returned five minutes later with a two gallon fuel container!! Her boss wanted $20 for it but i said id return it on the way back with one of my other containers. The deal was good enough so I fueled up and left.
It was raining and muddy…. The waitress asked if i was continuing to Deadhorse and was puzzled that i said yes..
The new aggressive off road tyre on the back was the hero, it saved my ass on occasions and helped in maintaining a decent speed. It was the first time i had ridden these surfaces with a knobbly tyre…. what was i previously thinking??
When i went through the pass there was no snow but rain drops like shards of ice!! The streams were frozen and ice scattered everywhere. It was then that my hands and feet were at there worst and it was only part of the way, i was questioning what lay ahead!!
But not even the arctic circle could keep the miserable weather up for 400km.
In the morning of my departure from Eagle, Jan had given me some home made cookies to bribe the road workers with. Soon after I left, I stopped to split them in two piles so i wouldn’t miss out on my share! I went through the ‘road closed’ signs and as i made my way to the Taylor Highway. I noticed that the damage on the road hadn’t been repaired.
My hopes wont high for the breaks in the road that had stopped me previously but when i got to the area, i recognized two of the workers fixing one of the bulldozers. They had been in the escort car for the bulldozer id passed two days prior and i had spoken with them then.
I stopped the bike and headed over to see what was going on. When i got close, one of them said, “You can get through, we made a path just for you and your bike..”
What??? What do you mean?? I wanted to know more.
They said that the road wasn’t open but they had had some cars trapped so they had dug a goats trail to get them out and will close it again soon to do the repairs.
I was so excited! I gladly gave them the bribing share of the cookies and thanked them twice before I put my new tyre to work through a series of shallow river crossings and a new but rough trail to freedom!!
My goal that day was Fairbanks, a couple by the name of Gerri and Cam had offered their shower. They had stumbled across the raft and I during its construction phase. They were on holiday in Canada with their three boys.
They didn’t know i was coming at this stage but I planned to call once i was in town as a shower was high on the list of priorities. Fortunately they remembered me and i managed to wash and change just in time to enjoy a home cooked meal and a bottle of wine with the family and some of their friends.
Their three boys Conor, Callum and Ross drew me a picture each that I put safely in with the important paperwork i had left before I crashed out in the study. Im sure i had big dreams of reaching the end of the road the following day.
It was early when i was out the door and on the road. Google maps said it was 800km and should take 16 hours to get to Deadhorse (Arctic Ocean) and my ultimate goal. I was telling myself that 16 hours must be well overestimated as the rain bucketed down as i headed north out of Fairbanks.
“At your own risk Rd”
The Dalton Highway is built to supply the oil fields up there in the Arctic and a 1,288 km oil pipeline that pumps all the oil back down to Alaska’s core.
Despite the bit of rain, it all went quite well to begin with. I was carrying two extra fuel bottles but didn’t really need them as i found fuel every 200km or so.
Then one of the greatest milestones since the equator. The Arctic Circle!! I tried to set off an emergency flare in a celebratory routine but i couldn’t… The stupid thing wouldn’t light! I must have looked like early man trying to make fire, the way i scratched my hairy head and wondered around trying to strike and rub it against whatever surface i could find in the area.
Despite the lack of emergency flare, Id made it this far!!!!
Everything was so quiet, there was no traffic on the road. This pattern continued in the morning. As i rode the hour or so on the Eagle road towards its intersection with the Taylor highway it was surreal at how dead the place was. In places the road was washed away but there was always ample room for a bike to skirt around the side or ride over it.
As i went up and over the range as i approached the intersection, a heard of reindeer, more locally known as caribou were forced to move from their slumber on the road.
A helicopter sitting on the road was another sign that something wasn’t as it should be.
Time and again i would navigate around some damaged road. It seemed to have all been caused by heavy rain and swollen rivers. However it was easy and i questioned why i hadn’t really seen anyone else. Ten clicks after i had passed the intersection and turned towards a place called Chicken I came to a stop…
To me the river looked passable providing I carried my gear separately but the two bearded and dreaded workers sitting on their haunches with their rifles resting on a nearby log thought otherwise.
They also said that they had walked through from Chicken and that the road was far worse ahead, a definite no…
The only other way into Alaskas core was to go back out and around through Canada and enter at the other border….. hmmmmm….. NO!
Build another raft and float the four days to Circle…. hmmmmm…. NO!
Camp and wait the estimated two weeks until the road opened…. No, NO, NO!!!
Lost on what to do I headed back to Eagle in the hope i could find someone to charter me through to Circle on a motorboat.
A few miles back towards Eagle this guy was coming the other way, heading for the damage…
Two weeks I thought…. Surely you can push enough dirt with this thing to make a trail quicker than that!!
When I entered Eagle i kept my story on the down low and pretended as if i had come through the road from Canada and was looking to get through to Fairbanks in Alaska. I quickly learnt that the fuel cost for running a motorboat there didn’t make it viable.
I slept in the towns campsite that night and hung around the local store the next day.
I changed my back tyre to the aggressive dirt tire i was carrying, borrowed 50 meters of rope from the local mechanic with a pipe that permanently hung from his lip, washed my clothes in the laundromat beside the store and waited for the library to open at six so i could get an internet message out that i was alive.
2wd motorbike! I could defiantly have used that at times.
While i was feeling the pressures of delay it was a good day chatting to the locals of the area. I sat out the front of the store and quite quickly found out during one of the conversations that the customs/immigration officer based in Eagle had been washed off the road in his car. NEWS ARTICLE
While this news made my task easier, I was effected by it. It saddened me and i got shivers down my spine. I cant explain why, i didn’t know him, I knew of him and had hoped to avoid meeting him but the thought of someones last moments in that river spooked me.
I contacted the world that night from the library, let everyone know i was alive and announced that in the morning i was heading back out to the road with some rope, pulleys and my new tyre to do what it takes to get out.
When i left the library, Jan the librarian asked where i was staying. I told her that the campsite had everything i need and said goodnight. Then moments later her husband Dave appeared and asked if i would like to spend the night in a camper van out the back of the house.
With rain clouds in the air i would have been stupid to refuse. Five star sleep in luxury that night, listening to the drops hit the roof.
In the morning i had an early breakfast with Jan and Dave and then hit the road with no plan of resting until i was out and on the sealed stuff to Fairbanks..
Day two started a lot like the first day on the river. I couldn’t get off the bank and into the current. My ores just didn’t work. They were to heavy and i needed to use one at a time. This method didn’t have much effect on the raft.
I longed for some help but knowing this wasn’t likely to happen, I was quite content to stay close to the bank and use one of the ores to push off when needed. The last thing i wanted was to be floating helplessly out in the current as i passed Eagle in a few hours time.
There was a lot of drift wood and debris in the water and i figure there had been rain somewhere. During the afternoon a small piece drifted past that caught my attention. I fished it out and mounted it to the front of the raft as a good luck charm.
I dint know if it was working but i trusted it anyway.
It was a long process pushing and pulling the raft around obstacles on the bank. I eventually lost both the ores, either getting caught or dropping them when the raft hit hard into things.
It then began to rain…. I climbed onto the seat of my bike and threw the tent fly over my head. Occasionally i peered out to check on progress or the bank.
I waited out the rain and was pleased to see a Canadian and an American flag standing side-by-side on the bank signifying the border. Eagle was only 20km away.
I was close to the bank, but not as close as id hoped for as I approached Eagle. I wanted to get off where the road began again and when i realised i would have to swim, the anxiety that came over me was a force to be reckoned with, I was terrified.
With no other options i plunged into the water at about 10pm that night, it was destined for failure as i was still a long way from the bank,for 3-4 minutes I struggled at the end of the rope, hoping for the bank. Eventually i had no option but to pull myself back to the raft.
I hadn’t even completely dressed and wasn’t thinking properly when i jumped for another attempt at the bank… I failed again and when i returned to the raft, in my shaking and clumsiness I bumped my paddle, jumper and riding boots into the water.
In the seconds while I thought of what to do they moved quickly away from the raft. I jumped back into the water without the life jacket or cable attached and managed to grab my boots. Fortunately i got back to the raft without any issues and I felt OK, probably high on adrenalin. But common sense told me i was in trouble from the cold again.
I wrapped myself up and found a distress flare that Bryan in Banff had given me. I clutched it in my pale and wrinkled hand and waited to light it closer to the town center, hoping to get some attention.
I still had about five kilometers to go and occasionally let out these pathetic cries for help as I watched the bank go by and i could see the odd house in the trees.
I was aware that it was late and night and i probably wouldn’t be heard or seen. I didn’t have the supplies to make the next and last town four days away….. I was beaten.
It was then a miracle occurred, a shallow island, not marked on the map and only just above the surface of the water appeared. The water distancing me from the bank went left of the island and I went just to the right in the shallows.
I jumped in at waist depth and pulled the raft in. I tried to make a fire on the bank with some of the spare gas i had carried but couldn’t. Everything was soaking wet and wouldn’t light so instead i ate a can of tuna.
The water that was between the island and the bank seemed to be moving slower and looked shallower than the same distance anywhere else on the river.
My thought was that I could try and push the raft back up against the current and move it onto the other side of the island nearer the Eagle bank. I tried this but couldn’t move all the weight against the current. Instead I unloaded everything, except the bike, onto the island. This was enough to allow me to struggle but pull the raft back and around the other side.
I waded out into the crossing to check the depth. I managed to get halfway across before i couldn’t touch the bottom. I then loaded everything back onto the raft and waded with the raft towards the bank and safety.
I got as far as i could get with my feet on the bottom, then I let go of the raft and swam with the cable towards the bank. I was within a few feet of the bank and the cable went tight. I reached with my toes for the bottom and my heart sank as i couldn’t feel anything beneath me. I was pulled slowly in the direction of the raft, running in the water and confused why i could be so close but so far, i was distraught.
I conceded then, looked back towards the raft and grabbed the cable to pull myself towards it….
My left foot then kicked a rock!!!
I turned my focus to the ground again and let myself sink a little. My right foot touched and my left again and i got a foot hold and pushed towards the bank. I was wading!!!!!!!! Pulling the raft with me
The next half hour that followed i walked on the bank and lead the raft down the river at the end of the cable. I was looking for some road access to the river bank as the edges were steep and high.
It was only a matter of time before i found what i was looking for.. wet, a little cold but hugely happy, i began to disassemble the raft in the shallows.
I did this quite quickly and effectively, removing the front of the raft first so i could start the bike and get it up the bank. I then carried the four drums and the warped cable up to the roadway and left them with the life jacket where someone would find them.
I dressed in whatever cloths i had remaining and rode through Eagle not wanting to disturb anyone at 2am in the morning.
The feeling of having the rubber back on the road can not be expressed! As i left town, the road was blocked with ‘Road Closed’ signs but i went through them and collapsed into my tent about 20 clicks out of town.