Monday, 31 July 2017

Why is the Dalton so dangerous?

Welcome to The Arctic Rider blog,

Its now less than a year until I start my quest to conquer The Dalton Highway in Alaska, one of the worlds' most dangerous roads.

The new 'Arctic Ride Alaska' poster
I've still got a lot of planing to do and I've been working away in the background to get a lot of things firmed up, but I probably won't know the key parts of the trip, such as the exact dates I'll be going and the bike I'll be riding, until the Autumn. Anything I know before then I'll be staring with all you loyal readers of my blog.

In this blog, I'll be covering why The Dalton Highway is so dangerous, and why I'm hoping you will share some of your very hard earned Pounds (and other currencies for non-UK readers) in exchange for the danger and suffering I'll be putting myself in next year.

Firstly though, I must say a huge thanks to an unnamed Devitt Insurance employee who very kindly donated their employee-of-the month prize to The Arctic Ride fund for Tiny Lives and Cerebra. Great stuff!


If you would like to donate please click here. Any donation, no matter how small (or big for that matter) is appreciated.

So, the reason you are reading... whats so dangerous about this Dalton Highway then? Hopefully from my previous blogs you will have had some info as to why this ride and the road in particular are going to be so challenging.

Well firstly this isn't just a normal road built to get from A to B. It was started in the mid-1970s to support the recently built Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The road was private for 3 decades, used by oil company trucks and personnel, until 1994 when it was graveled and opened to the public. Since then a long term project has been underway to 'pave' the road which is only half completed. The 'paving' is a significantly lower standard than most modern roads and is still a significant challenge.

Weather

Due to Alaska and The Dalton being in the extreme North and within the Arctic Circle, the weather is cold and volatile. The climate range from subarctic to polar. During the summer months (Jun-Aug), the temperatures range from 21°C to 2°C, showing that most weather conditions aren't off limits.

Wiki Travel quote: "Weather is an important factor to add into Dalton Highway Trip calculations. Remember, this is the Arctic! During the summer it is very possible to encounter heavy snow while driving through the Brooks Range via Atigun Pass. Drive with extreme caution on the windy mountain roads. The gravel can be very slippery, especially in rain or snow."

In Deadhorse, at the summit of The Dalton, the Mean Minimum temperature in June (when I'll be travelling) is -3.4°C with the record low being -8°C. I best pack my thermals!

North of the Arctic Circle (Mile 115), there are 24 hours of daylight in the summer a. In Deadhorse the longest "day" is 63 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes (12:09AM on 20 May to 11:18PM 22 Jul);

Snow on the Dalton Highway, Alaska
Wildlife

The wildlife in Alaska is diverse and captivating. Bald Eagles, Moose, Walrus... oh and Bears! There are more than 50,000 black bears and 35,000 brown bears living in Alaska’s untamed wilderness  The Dalton Highway passes through territory of the Grizzly bear (largest species of brown bear). Grizzly bear attacks are almost always defensive, whereas black bear attacks are predatory. I've been advised by several locals to travel with a gun for protection... WOW!

Polar bears also live in Alaska and can roam the North Slope near coastal areas, although they generally stay close to the ocean. Polar bears are massive, stealthy (and in darkness, not very discernible from the snow), and dangerous, although far more shy than grizzly bears.

The Grizzly Bear
Wiki Travel quote: "You cannot learn enough about bear safety in this region."

Road

Phil Freeman, Veteran of 10+ rides up the Dalton Highway "Every year motorcyclists are killed on the Dalton Highway. Almost half of the highway is paved or chip sealed. The other half can be smooth or baseballs. There are relatively no places to stop along the way: no gas, no convenient stores, no McDonalds. There are stretches of up to 245 miles without gas. You are literally riding through pristine wilderness.  Welcome to the food chain."  

A wide variety of different road surfaces will be encountered on the Dalton. The beginning 100 miles are said to be the worst (pothole wise), but that may just be the time it takes to get acclimated to road conditions. This surface is gravel/dirt and is littered with a landscape of craters and potholes that will often slow your pace down to the 10mph mark, or destroy your suspension.

There are 2 mountain passes, including The Brooks Range which is frequented by blizzards, windy, and prone to snow even in July!
Atigun Pass, The Brooks Range, Alaska



I think this says it all really about how dangerous this road will be. The road is primitive, wild, and potentially very cold... Its not like anything else most people will have ridden on. I've spoken to some who've done this ride and its been good, I've read stories of others who not made it home. Based on those odds I know I'll have to be on top of my riding game to take on this challenge.

Thanks for reading, and make sure if you haven't already please follow me on Facebook and Twitter to see my preparation for my latest adventure.

Gordon