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Day 14 & 15
July 31 & August 1, 1999
33,038
Prudoe Bay to Anchorage

Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean

About 100 miles from Deadhorse, with the BMW seemingly coming apart piece by piece, I determined we would ship Jan and the BMW combination back to Anchorage. She said she was game to ride it back, and mechanically the BMW would make it aided by my daily repairs, but the missing fairing was a major problem and was simply irreplaceable in Deadhorse. Without the fairing the 850 miles to Anchorage would be intolerable for Jan, and she soon concurred that she would fly out.

I called two trucking firms for quotes but to my surprise quickly determined it was cheaper to drive the bike on the Alaska Airlines jet and have Jan pick it up at baggage claim. OK, so it wasn't quite that simple. We first drained the fuel, then pushed it into an air cargo container called an igloo where it fit with mere inches to spare. For $200 plus a plane ticket the BMW and Jan headed to Anchorage on the same flight - Jan for much needed rest and relaxation; the BMW for a new headlight fixture, a windshield and front turn signals. In short, ready for the trip to Haines and home. Jan left Deadhorse at noon on Saturday, the day after we arrived.

The decision to fly out was a little tougher for Eric, Randy and me, but not much. Our itinerary had us riding the 850 miles to Anchorage in just three days but there seemed little to prove with a return trip down the Dalton. We had made it, and while the scenery was beautiful and the adventure exhilarating, there was no guarantee the weather would improve. Two more days of ruts, rocks and rain seemed almost masochistic.

In addition, Eric and I had both driven between Anchorage and Fairbanks many times in the past, and other than the few miles around Denali National Park, the scenery is unremarkable. Randy was willing to drive back up to Denali Park since he would be flying home directly from Anchorage, and the distance is only 200 miles.

If we flew out, we would all forgo the possibility of visiting the Brooks Range under clear skies, Eric would miss his photo opportunity at the Arctic Circle marker and I would give up my chance to see the small village of Wiseman, three miles off the Dalton Highway just north of Coldfoot. I had known a couple who lived in Wiseman for 30 years, mining gold and shooting wolves for the bounty to keep food on the table and their Piper Super Cub in fuel, and I wanted to determine its attraction. Unfortunately, I had not taken the time to visit on the way north. I may never solve that mystery, but I continue to learn the often painful lesson that I must not put things off to another day. It often doesn't come.

So, faced with the bone-jarring, bike-wrecking, mud-slicked Dalton Highway, our choice was easy. Alaska Airlines had both seats and cargo space available on the Sunday mid-day flight, and we would all be on it.

The North Slope of Alaska (the region between the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean that includes the Prudhoe Bay oil fields) is virtually an arctic desert, receiving only nine inches of precipitation annually. After many days of rain we revel in the sunshine, clear blue skies and temperatures in the 60s. It is ironic that we have ridden this far north and found warm, dry weather.

 
Tom, Randy & Eric pose for a "photo-op" at the Arctic Ocean.

Saturday afternoon we tour the ARCO complex built to extract and pump 20% of America's daily oil consumption down the Trans Alaska Pipeline, take pictures on the shore of the Arctic Ocean just 1,300 miles from the North Pole, and watch as caribou and snow geese co-exist with the vast 20th-century industrial development of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

Sunday morning my alarm beeps at 1:30 A.M. and I wake to broad daylight. For about a hour I walk along the two streets of Deadhorse, ever mindful that brown bears are natural inhabitants of this arctic coastal plane and frequent visitors to town, and watch the sun just brush the rim of the northern horizon. In two more days the sun will set at Deadhorse for the first time since May 10, eighty-three days of continual sunlight that has earned Alaska the title, Land of the Midnight Sun .

We each enjoyed our brief visit to the high arctic.

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