Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Arctic Circle

Last January I posted a short list of moto-goals and I can finally check one off of the list. While I was in Barrow last week, the weather here in the interior was clear and dry. With "dry" being the key word. On Sunday morning, three of us decided that it would be a great opportunity to ride to the Arctic Circle. Keith on his new-to-him R1200GS, Rick on his new Triumph Tiger and myself on my R100RT Airhead. I also invited fellow Airhead Bob with his R100GS. All dual sport bikes except mine. We left town at around 9:00am.

After topping off at Hilltop Truck Stop (excellent pies!), we headed north on the Elliott Highway. There was a little road construction but the roads were pretty good all the way to Livengood. The gravel I ran into a couple of weeks ago was apparently due to the construction. The Dalton Highway starts just two miles north of Livengood and it was mostly gravel with short sections of pavement. We reached the Yukon River bridge (shown in the snapshot) with its 6% grade and wooden deck and the view was fabulous. Unfortunately, you aren't permitted to stop while on the bridge so no pictures. We filled up again at the bridge ($5.39 per gallon!) as we've come about 140 miles and I, for one, didn't have enough range to go another 130 miles before getting back to the bridge.

The road north from the bridge was mostly gravel until about 5 miles south of the Arctic Circle. There were occasional water trucks running up and down the road. I think the idea is that the water will cut down on the dust but it really makes things incredibly slippery. You feel like you are riding on oil and I found myself looking for gravel for the additional bite between the tires and the road surface. There were several long grades with names made famous by the History Channel TV show such as the Beaver Slide and the Roller Coaster as well as small rivers such as No Name.

At about 2:00pm, we finally made it to the Arctic Circle and they had this cool sign that we were able to pose our bikes by and an Australian tourist offered to take our picture. For at least three of us, this is the first time we've ridden on the haul road and it has whet our appetite to go the rest of the way to Prudhoe next year. If we had a little more time, it was only about another hour to Coldfoot, the last gas stop between here and Deadhorse.

Up here, fall has definitely started as the trees were showing their Fall colors ever since we left Fairbanks. There were several areas such as Finger Mountain to the south that were high enough to be above treeline. We loitered here for about half an hour before heading south again to have a late lunch.

We stopped at Finger Rock, which is on top of Finger Mountain, and I won't go into the origin of the name (should be obvious). As you can see, there are no trees and only a little vegetation. The last time I was through here it was very windy. Today, there was only about a fifteen mph cross wind but it was blowing me around until we got into the White Mountains north of Fairbanks. I don't know if it's over confidence but you really get used to the dry gravel and speeds aren't much different from the paved roads. You do slow down for the curves a lot more. On the wet sections, the bike is continuously dancing around. The Heidenau K60's that Bob and I had may have worked better than the Metzeler Tourances the others had in the slimy mud. Though the continuous fishtailing in the mud did get a bit unnerving at times.

We finally stopped for lunch around 3:30 or so and we were all starving. I was told that the Hot Spot Cafe had some awesome burgers and, sorry Bobskoot, I forgot to take any food pictures. Take my word for it, they were great. After a wonderful food break we headed a short ways back to the gas station at the bridge and I picked up another $10 of gas. This was only about 1.8 gallons which didn't fill up the tank but ensured that I would have enough to make it back to town. I only had one scare on the trip, on one of the super slick wet sections, the road was about 8% grade downhill and there was a sharp right hand curve. I came in a little hot and coming up the hill was one of those oversize loads just starting into the curve. No problem though I had to lean the bike a lot more than I felt comfortable with in the slimy mud. The tires actually didn't slip much and are probably much more capable than I'll ever task them with. I got back home around 7:00pm. Pretty low average speed but I finally was able to mark one of those things off of my New Years list! Now I probably should wash the bike as I can't see through the windshield at all.

Total distance according to my GPS was 399 miles with a moving average of 50mph. Here is my attempt at posting the route from Google Maps. Note the lack of a nice loop, towns, etc., just up and back again. The Google car must have traveled up the road as they do have StreetView enabled. Take a look at the Yukon River from the bridge.

View Larger Map


  1. Congrats Richard on this objective achieved! I am envious...though I don't envy you the slippery mud riding.



    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  2. You make it sound so suburban. Burgers and pies if you want with a side of absurdly expensive gas. My Bonneville goes 130 miles between fill ups easily. Should I head north? I'm guessing it was a toasty 40 degrees so the answer is probably not. I didn't seen any palms, at all, anywhere. Huh?

  3. Very cool! Is it time for a dual sport yet?

  4. Sweet, good job on making it to the Arctic Circle. I am glad you had some dry weather for it.

    The trees turning colors are pretty, I am sure ours won't be too far behind.

  5. Dom:
    Yes, someday. This summer it was Montana, next year Alaska? This trip was a blast.

    It is "suburban". And your Bonneville will need to carry extra gas. I hear Coldfoot to Deadhorse is 240 miles. The temperature for most of the trip was in the mid-60s. Didn't even bother with the liner.

    I'm thinking about it. You feel the bumps in the road with 19" front wheel versus a 21" plus my wheels are cast not spoked. You can really see the difference in the last picture comparing my bike with the R100GS.

    Yes, fall is definitely working it's way south with winter shortly behind. Barrow is supposed to be getting snow this weekend.

    Thank you all for stopping by and commenting!

  6. Great ride report. I don't like hearing about Fall even if it's up beyond the arctic circle. The scene was very pretty though. Leaning the bike in the mud - stuff of nightmares. I sometimes like the dirt, but with no mud and no leaning, thank you!

  7. Dear Richard M.:

    What a great ride report. "And then we rode up to the Arctic Circle..." has such a great ring to it. Next year, I am going to be able to do 400 miles a day... Or I am going to sell this motortcycle.

    I doubt I would get used to racing around on gravel, let alone a mixture of loose stones and wet clay. And you did this on street tires, albeit heavy ones! Brovo! Well done.

    Fondest regards,
    Twisted Roads

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  9. What a spectacular day! Congratulations for being able to cross something off your New Year's list.

    I'm digging the dirty bikes and hairy faces in front of the Arctic Circle sign. :) camping at the circle? LOL

  10. Kari:
    Fall is definitely here with all of leaves now bright yellow. And it was down to below freezing this morning. Also, it wasn't really the mud but some chemical they spread on the road to keep down the dust. That's was turns the road to wet cement and dries as hard as cement if left on the bike.

    I don't think I would like racing around on gravel and mud either. The tires I have on the bike now are 50/50 street/dirt so they have a pretty aggressive tread. Some of the other riders with dual sport bikes had 90/10 tires and were slipping and sliding much more in the mud.

    No, no camping at the Arctic Circle this year. We only had a day and it was only 400 miles. Next year we plan on going up to Deadhorse and will end up camping north of Coldfoot before the pass. But, I hear that there is a nice B&B in Wiseman.

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