Alaska: 3 to 29 June and 6 to 13 July 2010

Prudhoe Bay – US’s largest oil fields, unfortunately at the end of the world :-)
Bob, an employee of Alaska Airlines having known Prudhoe Bay very well for years, told us that it was pure wild west up here when all began in the sixties.
When we arrived at the tiny airport we were welcomed by a police man in quite a strange way: «Watch out there’s a bear outside!» Christoph asked if it was charging people and got the answer: «Yes, it will eat you up, it’s hungry, it’s bigger than you.» After a few seconds he went on: «Welcome to the United States.» :-) And indeed  a grizzly, which we were to see on our first miles on the Dalton Highway the following two days,  was eating in the garbage beside our hotel.
However we received a warmer welcome by Ingo and Bill, a helicopter pilot and his mechanic, opening us the doors to their airbase and by Jim, knowing the oil business very well. He took us to buy bear sprays and showed us the oil machinery: Big drilling machines with huge wheels to move on, many little green houses, called Christmas trees, accessed by little pipes, all of it out in the tundra close to the arctic sea were the long Alaska pipeline begins, which was to be our companion for the next 800 km.
Up here we met a lot of workers who come and go by air plane about every three weeks. They live all over the States, here only in hotels built from containers, bleak from outside but quite nice from inside. Plenty of good food all the day long should increase the workers’ motivation for their long working days. We were lucky and ate a lot.

The North Slope and our first miles on the Dalton Highway, called after an explorer of old times
After having spent two days in the Prudhoe Bay Hotel setting up our bicycles and packing our bags we finally were ready to start with food supply for about two weeks:
The temperature was still low, the wind from east about 50 km/h and the road covered with loose gravel on hard packed ground, quite difficult to ride our recumbent bicycles with these conditions, even more so as we didn’t have much opportunity to get used to recumbents before our journey.
Cloudy flat tundra as far as the eye can see the first day, than close to midnight towards South the first clear ribbon on the horizon: We were very fortunate, from then on the weather got nice, midnight sun showed up, bright as the day. Tundra’s colours looking first like a desert now turned from  grey to a lovely ambience. Its bright brown indicated that it was ready to wake up for spring. Furthermore the blue sky reflected in the countless lakes. What beauty there suddenly was, and even more when midnight sun was shining in soft reddish light.
First by accident we rode by night because up here you don’t feel any schedule, then we realised how wise this was: Like that we could avoid most of the dangerous traffic, the oversized trucks, smashing stones and sand and leaving a dusty cloud.
We were advised to deposit the food far away from our tents, so we always looked for a place to camp where we had the possibility to protect our food from the animals else we set it out into the wilderness. Better not think of how to progress Dalton without food or being visited by a hungry bear :-).
After a few days the Dalton Highway led us towards Brooks Range, a chain of mountains that separates North Slope’s Tundra from the softer climate in Alaska’s heart. On the sixth day we reached the Atigun pass, quite hard to climb with all the weight we had with us. It was the day when we got used to our recumbents. We went on and on. Soon there were the first trees greeting, the lower we came the change was more and more impressive. After a week of tundra desert around us we could feel again life in the woods, smell its flavour, hear the singing of the birds. First little rivers, called creeks, low dense woods of spruce tree, birch and poplar, called boreal forest, deep and bright green, in the midst of beautiful mountains formed the countryside around us.
To us what followed were the most spectacular hours on the Dalton: During midnight sun the woods, the mountains, the rivers, everything seemed to be transformed into fairyland, nature was shining in a soft red light, hardly any noise, silence, some birds singing at night, a huge moose standing in a small lake just beside the road. We could have gone on all night that beautiful it was, but had to stop then because of road works, and were forced to pass it on a pickup car. Back on our bikes at about half past four in the morning we finally reached Coldfoot, an old place of gold mining, a lovely place in the midst of woods, nowadays a trucker stop. Our first day of relaxing was ahead. Gladly we went asleep.

The Yukon river valley
First we thought the toughest miles were behind us but another kind of challenge arose: After having crossed the Polar Circle Dalton led us mainly through a hilly area, a place of endless zick zack and up and down through forests without a sight of horizon, always accompanied by the pipeline. Quite oppressive for our moral :-) but even out in these endless woods we made a special encounter, we met a solitary man, well knowing his wildlife activities: Floyd, a retired member of the U.S. army, invited us to come into his camping trailer. How comfortable to warm up beside a wood stove drinking a beer and hearing the rain outside.
Floyd taught us about fishing, hunting, showed us how to mine gold, gave us even his ATVs  to drive and his gun to shoot. So eventually a coincident led to an unplanned daylong encounter. We were enriched and are still thankful to you, Floyd.

After having passed Yukon river and ridden some cool and wet nights the first signs of population showed up: Posted landscapes, sporadic houses out in the woods, the barking of a dog, corners of gathered mailboxes, which looked to us first urn-like tombs :-).
Finally we climbed the last hill ahead of Fairbanks and got immediately the first impressions of the town: People absorbed in a hurry, a stressed society, silence was over, we were back to civilisation.

Beside the road we had a lot of encounters with thrilling American citizens. They liked our recumbent bicycles and fed us kindly with trailmix and water. Thank you.

My conclusion
It was worth all of our effort to start our long journey down to the tip of South America.  Never do I want to break it off, too thrilled I am of what we are experiencing. - Christoph


Fairbanks – Border of Canada - 06/24 – 06/29
When crossing Fairbanks I had only one thought in mind: It is easier to cycle the 800km-long Dalton Highway than to cross the city of Fairbanks, incredible, never again!
The wide straight road going through wet land and wild woods led us fast towards the Canadian border where by accident we met a vagabond, a slim man with a beard carrying a fishing rod in his hand and his whole possession on the back. With a few words he explained us where he came from and where he wanted to go. Because of his slang we only understood half of what he said, but it was clear that he was heading for Washington State by hitch hiking.
The following night after a long rainy day we reached a visitor center out in the sticks close to the Canadian border. We felt very happy having found a dry spot to sleep and were sure that we would be alone for the night. Of course we would have to leave before the office opened next morning. After lying in our sleeping bags about half an hour, it was close to midnight, we heard a car stopping and then leaving again. A little later we heard some steps and then somebody stood in front of us, covered with a long towel, difficult to be identified in the dark.  Our tension increased, were we in a dangerous situation? – Then a few seconds later the man said: “Yes, it’s me again, they did not let me pass the border.” We breathed a sigh of relief, in one way feeling pity with him and on the other hand even smiling a little because of his appearance. That was a thing, coming back to Alaska at midnight just to the very place where we thought nobody would harm us.
The arrival in Haines – a “normal” day - 07/06
We smile when we think of our arrival in Haines which one could describe without boasting with “veni, vidi, vici:”
We started this sixth day in succession on the Canadian side of the Haines road pass, but soon we were riding in very dense fog with the wind against us and we couldn't make out if we were climbing or descending. We felt happy when we finally reached the descent which was the beginning of a number of lucky coincidences:
Suddenly on the road we saw a couple waving at us to make sure that we would not overlook them. It was  Gabi and Stefan, a fellow-worker of Christoph, we knew that they would take the same way at the same time, but we had thought that we had already missed them. We were invited into their warm camper and started telling each other what we had experienced on our journey so far.
Approaching the sea level we soon were aware of the Pacific Ocean’s influence: The air was warmer, the trees a lot taller and the nature’s variety increased. The farther we cycled the wider the valley grew. A huge river of glacier milk with a large bed of gravel laid the valley’s ground between mighty mountains scratching the clouds. Soon we caught sight of the first bald eagles for which the spot is well known, not a few, no, a lot of them. They were fighting for a fish one of them had caught. We felt lucky when we learned a few minutes later:  We had reached a guided tour for tourists who had paid for watching out for the eagles. With our recumbents we immediately became the main attraction, we feared that we were involuntarily stealing the guide’s show because the tour was not finished yet. But the guides even gave us food and drinks, they seemed to enjoy our presence too. :-)
Impressive was the moment when we finally entered the town of Haines with lovely wooden houses and caught first time sight of the Pacific Ocean’s fjords, all at the same moment: Haines, a lively fishermen’s town with charm, a secure ambience after hard days.
The harbour attracted us, we were eating relaxed beside the harbour’s bar where we got a double portion of cheese cake for the price of one :-) calming down our excited minds when suddenly a man asked if he could have a closer look at our recumbents:  “Of course” we answered, “please do!” A conversation developed and soon trust in each other arose on both sides. It was Jim, an economist, consulting and reviving a stricken fishing company. How did we listen when he even invited us to come to his home! And this was only the beginning of some wonderful days in Haines: Our  host father was also a thrilling narrator teaching us about American politics, the local Alaskan history, English sayings and salmon biology.
The day after we met a Spanish couple, Idoia and Nacho, who were also invited to our temporary home, a huge old office house with about twenty empty rooms with a nice view to a fjord. Jim led the four of us to some spectacular spots along the fjords in front of the majestic glaciers as well as to Chilkoot Lake, a fresh water place where the salmons are spawning right now.
We were so amazed how doors were opening for us. Our horizon is extending every day. For me, Christoph, it is at the moment more of a challenge to find rest, enough time of silence to calm down in mind and digest all these impressions.
To give a feedback about the choice of recumbent bicycle...

...for this tour we both can truly say that we would never want to change to regular bikes. Too comfortable it is lying with a relaxed back in the seat, feeling no pressure on our bottom neither on our hands and in addition sliding over the roads with our eyes looking at the countryside.