Sunday, July 5, 2009

AK '09 - Day 15

I didn't get much sleep last night. The sun doesn't set above the arctic circle and the shades in the room weren't very good at blocking out the sun. I awoke at one point in the night to look outside and it didn't look any different than when I had arrived. My alarm clock was set for 7:30 but I was up before then. I took some time to work on my blog and upload some pictures. I'm still behind on the pictures but should be able to catch up in the coming days.

My mind was preoccupied with one thing, getting back down the Dalton Highway. The transmission was obviously failing and it was unclear if I would actually make it back to Fairbanks or if I'd be stranded on the side of the road. Then there was that horrible gravel and the slick mud to worry about. There was a lot on my mind and nothing looked good at breakfast. I had some oatmeal and bacon. Then I took some banana nut bread for the road, I figured it could be a snack when I started getting hungry from the small breakfast.

Fred called to give me a recommendation from his mechanic buddy so I went in search of some special grease. The idea was that the extra thick grease would help to hold the bearing together. I checked 2 different mechanic shops and neither had what I was looking for so I went to Napa and told them what my problem was. They sold me a small tube of grease and said it would probably get me to Fairbanks if the bearing wasn't too far gone. They took my money and wished me luck.

In my focus to get the bike back I forgot to stop by the gift shop and to mail a post card home. At least I got a picture of me and my bike in Deadhorse. Even with my slow start I was back on the Dalton by 8am and hoping for the best. The first 10 miles didn't seem so bad, the gravel seemed thinner and there were even hard packed sections. Then I got to the deep gravel, but it didn't seem so bad either. Apparently getting some rest made the road seem a little easier.

Around 50 miles out, I reached the hard packed surface again where I could relax a little. As I went south I would come up on sections of the road that had been watered the previous afternoon or evening which helped to keep the dust down. And since it had time to soak in things weren't slick at all.

I reached my first road construction just south of Ice Cut and it was on an uphill section. They had watered it down really well and started dumping gravel for the grader to spread. I moved as far over to the right as I could and just crawled up the hill in 2nd gear trying to keep the throttle steady and not strain the transmission any more than necessary. One of the crew made a comment about the motorcycle probably not liking this work. I quickly came on the radio and said that indeed I didn't like the work but they were doing a fine job of it none the less.

That was really the only nasty wet construction I faced the whole day. I got stopped for some construction north of Atigun Pass where they were spraying oil and dropping gravel. The section I was riding on had already been packed down so it wasn't bad, it was just annoying to sit there and wait for 10 minutes because the pilot truck was at the other end goofing off.

Because of the construction hold up, I ended up with an 18 wheeler behind me going toward Atigun Pass. I put some distance between us as I went up the pass but I knew he would be on my tail coming back down so I pulled over and took a break. The transmission was getting a little noisier but it was still working. I ate some of the banana nut bread and looked over a ledge to see a small creek caused by the snow melt. It was sort of calming to just listen to the running water. Then it was back on the bike to get down the other side.

The south side of the pass is 2 miles long and pretty steep. I kept it slower than I normally would and tried to use the rear brake occasionaly to keep the transmission loaded. When the transmission was loaded in a forward manner the noise went away, but when I put slack in the driveline or introduced engine braking the noise was very pronounced. My reasoning was that if I heard the noise I was accelerating the demise of the bearing so the goal was to minimize the noise.

On the south side of the pass the road got better. The gravel was less and there was more stretches of a sandy hard packed surface. The challenge was to keep my speed steady and smooth. I could easily go 60mph on such a surface but I wanted to keep the rpms at 3,000 or less. Again, I figured lower rpms meant longer bearing life. Even with the reduced speed I ended up passing a fellow rider on an older GS R80. The guy seemed totally in control but comfortable to take it at a slower pace.

Finally I arrived at ColdFoot. I only had 172 miles of the highway left. I went in the store to get the pump turned on and visited with a fellow rider on a Honda dirt bike that he had made street legal for doing dual sport rides. He was contemplating whether or not he would go up to Deadhorse or not. He wasn't impressed with the $200/night rooms in ColdFoot. I suggested he could try Wiseman just up the road or that he could make Deadhorse in 6 hours or so from the conditions that I had experienced. But I told him that up to ColdFoot the road was really pristine compared to what he would find north. After filling up the bike and getting my receipt, the R80 GS rider had arrived. Apparently he gave a similar report and the Honda rider decided he'd just head back south. The GS rider was a British gentleman. We talked about the challenges of traveling the road alone and he told me about a guy who had wrecked on Friday and had to be evacuated by air. Ouch! He also had a tip over when pulling off to take a break. His handlebars got turned in the gravel and down he went. No harm to him but it broke his windshield. Bummer.

Time was ticking so I got back on the bike and asked it to hold together just a little bit longer. The GPS had a mileage count down to the next turn which happened to be the end of the Dalton. I kept doing math in my head to figure out just how long it would be until I was off the road. I was also trying to figure out what it would cost to get a tow and how close I was to the 100 mile tow with AAA. The Honda rider and I passed each other along the way as we each took our respective breaks. It was sort of reassuring to know there was another rider out there that I could waive down if things went wrong.

Once I got passed the Artic Circle I was certain the transmission would just give up. The road had progressively gone from long straight flats to rolling hills. It sounded like I was really stressing the tranmission every time I would go down a hill. Before I knew it I was down to the Yukon River and crossing the bridge. Just before the Yukon I crossed paths with 2 Harleys wearing half helmets and wife beater shirts. I felt sorry for them because the first time a big truck blew by them they were going to learn the benefit of propper gear. It was late enough in the day that I figured they were just going up to the Artic Circle.

South of the Yukon I was back on some decent pavement but with the rolling hills I had to work to keep the speeds in check. And then it was the last 20 miles which is small gravel. I passed the Honda rider as he was loading his bike into the back of his truck. That's how he managed to pack so light on that bike.

Just before I got off the road, I passed 2 riders on Beemers. One of them was happily riding along in a T shirt and ball cap with his helmet strapped to the back of the bike. I couldn't believe someone could be so foolish. Forget about falling down or crashing, it's those big flying rocks that can put a hurt on you.

Finally I began the mile long descent to the beginning of the Dalton. I knew the end was in sight. When I reached Highway 2 I pulled off the road to rejoice over my accomplishment. I had gone up and come back down the Dalton Highway without dropping the bike or having an accident. And now if I needed to call for a tow it would be free. I took some pictures of the road signs, dusted off my tail lights and headed toward Fairbanks. I had 80 miles to go and my only concern was whether the rear wheel might lock up if the transmission decided to croak.

I arrived in Fairbanks and went straight to the BMW shop to see what time they opened. Secretly I was hoping they might still be open but they weren't. I looked at a nearby motel for $69/night but decided better of it. As a rule, I won't stay in a motel near a strip club and there was one just around the corner from the motel. So, although it was next to the dealership I passed. If there had been a place to eat and if they had Internet I might have reconsidered though.

I checked into the Super 8 and visited with some riders out in the parking lot. Seeing a motorcycle that was totally covered in mud it was pretty evident where I had been. There were all sorts of questions about road conditions and such. I told them all they would be fine going to the Artic Circle and even up to Cold Foot but they needed to realize their bikes could still get missed up with flying rocks and all the dirt. Go slow and be careful was my advice.

I called Reagan and then Fred and John. I was really happy to be off the road and 'home' so to speak. The past 2 days seemed like a really big adventure. The bike was still running and the transmission hadn't really worsened much since getting off the Dalton.

It took me 11 and a half hours to go from Deadhorse to Fairbanks (500 miles). If I didn't have the transmission worries I probably could have saved an hour or so but maybe not as I could have enjoyed the road a little better. Going from Tok to Deadhorse the day before took 17 and a half hours (700 miles). Going up I took a slower pace because the road was an unknown, coming back it was easier because I knew what to expect. I think I want to break up the ride into 4 days the next time I go up to Deadhorse to get that sticker I forgot.

In the morning I will take the bike over to a car wash before I go to the dealership. I really wasn't planning on spending a week in Fairbanks so I'll have to wait and see what the dealership comes up with. If I'm able to get on the road by late Tuesday (7/14) or early Wednesday then I should be able to salvage the portition of the trip with Reagan. Otherwise this vavaction, which has been in planning for the past year, will be a disaster.

Obviously there won't be any daily ride reports for the next several days but I'll still try to make some entries. I think I might go down to Denali National Park and check out the bus ride tour. It's an easy day trip and it's not like I have much else to do. I'm going to have to do something about lodging too as the Super 8 is costing me $141/night and I could be here for a week or more.

And I'm not ready to sell my bike for another brand just yet either. The GS has a feature set that just fits me. The shaft drive, heated grips, great torque and dual sport nature are things that I like. It's my do anything bike. I just thave to work out these kinks so I can take a long trip without interruption.

Time for some rest

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