Before flying to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay, 2 very special Guilhermes gave me the same advice: follow your instincts.
I thought it was funny that two people who don’t know each other and with the same name were giving me the same advice. Inside the empty plane, between being enchanted with the white countryside below and the turbulence, I thought how difficult it is for me to understand the difference between my instincts and my logic.
On the flight completely empty to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. It looks there are no much people interested in fly to Prudhoe this time of the year.
The Dalton Highway was the perfect beginning for me. Very demanding, more difficult, (really, really) cold, isolated and more beautiful than I had imagined and for all these reasons, it was perfect. Without doubt, my most difficult bike trip up until now.
The first days of riding were the most difficult and frustrating. I had studied the altitude of this stretch and there was only a 5 meter variation in road grade, if I had the wind in my favor it would be really easy to beat my goal of 90 kilometers in one day (remembering that up there dawn is at 5:40am and it gets “dark” at 23:30) during the entire ride, right?
There’s a saying here in Alaska that says Alaska rules, and I would add, the Dalton Highway is the boss’s only spoiled son. I and my naïve and optimistic plans forgot to consult with the big boss.
I was carrying with me, besides the usual equipment, food supplies for 15 days and 4 liters of water (that were, for the first few hours, liquid). I was different geometrically and movement-wise, I was wearing 2 pair of thick woolen socks, a chemical heat pack for feet inside my old boots that were covered with waterproof wind breaker gaiters; 3 pants, one being thermal, one heat-reflecting and windbreaker pants over everything.
A double glove with Gore-Tex, a face mask with respirator, a hat and 5 sweaters with layers with different functions. Dark glasses and a neon orange reflective vest that I got as a present at the place where I was lodging were the final touches in the bulky package of layers into which I had transformed.
After an extensive photo session at the entrance of the lodging, I was hit by a sudden sense of urgency! I had to leave! I had to leave right then! I’d been watching the speed and direction of the wind since 5:30am and by around 8:30 the wind had finally reached a speed of 9mph (close to 14km/h) after a night of varying between 25 and 17mph. I had to leave soon!
No hall of Prudhoe Bay hotel, not complete "dressed" and with the bike "super" loaded. On the tires, the plastic cable tyes to help with the ice.
With my bike on the “road” I looked around and only saw white. I turned on my camera and started to pedal.
“O my God, the bike’s weighing a ton”, I thought.
At the exit of the parking lot, I looked for the darkest mark on the ground that indicated the “road” under the snow and ice. The plastic ties that I’d fastened onto the tires to provide traction seemed to continually break something on the road. Besides this noise, the silence was absolute! A van passed by me while I was stopped and looking at the beginning of the highway. They took a picture and I asked: “Is this Dalton Road” – in an attempt to make the road seem less imposing.
“Yes, this is the Dalton HIGHWAY!”
I thanked them and looked again at that dark line cutting through the absolute white. I was terrified, excited, emotional and I was already cold. It was 10:30, time to start.
I took a deep breath and began to pedal, my heart was beating hard and I hardly had time to smile when the bike simply just went away from under me! I went down on the ground! Ice! Lying down, I pulled my bike close and started to laugh! Like crazy!
I looked at my watch and not even 5 minutes had passed. Not even 5 minutes!!! What a start!
Dalton Highway just feel kilometers south of Pruhoe Bay. Because of the ice and snow sometimes you cannot see the limit between the road and the Tundra.
After this fall, I fell another 200 or so times! Without exaggeration, I fell a lot, I fell all sorts of ways and I laughed a lot! And after every fall I got better at the art of falling…
Every time I thought I was figuring out the way to ride on the patches of ice, I fell.
After 4 hours of falling and having gone only 20 km I thought it was time to stop. I needed to rest and the falls were losing their charm. I wasn’t physically tired but I was tense with all the effort to keep the bike upright. I was hungry and very thirsty.