“Can’t buy it or sell it; and if we catch you drinking it we kick you out.”
It was a humble and welcoming greeting I received after riding 240+ miles to Deadhorse through the winding roads of the arctic tundra and north slope dodging hunters and holding on for life as haul trucks spit gravel, dust and rocks in my face as I sucked in the thick chewy smoke from whipping wildfires. All I wanted to know was where could I find a cold beer.
“Deadhorse is a dry town,” the redhead sporting an “Italy” sweatshirt. “Actually, it’s a damp town. You can bring it here, but you can’t drink it this hotel.” Calling the Prudhoe Bay a hotel would be a very liberal use of the word. It’s more like a dormitory. Share bathrooms, a cafeteria the serves hot food only during posted hours and pay phones at the end of each corridor. It’s only one of two places to stay in Deadhorse. The Caribou Hotel was booked.
“It’s just not worth it for these guys to risk a $120,000 a year job.” Her skinny lips and freckled jaw kept spewing out the garbage I didn’t want to hear. Okay. I get it. “You better not have any.” I’d been warned.
Today’s ride was the splendor I’d hoped. It was still smokey so I was unable to experience the Brooks Range and the Atigun Pass in its full glory. At several points the road approached the roughness of the ride to Circle City with large rocks, and washboard coming down from the pass. Good news is I didn’t need to use my extra fuel. A conservative ride today yielded me 72 mpg and the reserve light popped on just one click outside Deadhorse.
Rolling into Deadhorse reminded me of driving past Carson on the west coast or Bayonne, New Jersey on the east. Smelly, industrial and ugly. If I were a polar bear, I’d run far from here. And I guess most have, but often enough one rears its body in the ocean near the oil fields.
I managed to find the what I thought was the only gas pump in town. Following signs to the “gas station” I was confused as it didn’t take on the appearance of even a wacky Alaskan outpost fuel stop. Nope. This was the extreme north and the gas pump was simply a hose hanging on the side of a temporary building. Walking inside I had to validate my credit card to get the pump working and return for my receipt. No island. No convenience store. Just pure industrial fuel.
Walking out of the dorm bathroom I spotted two guys carrying helmets and stomping down the corridor in motorcycle boots. They didn’t speak a stitch of English, but using the Spanish I knew would need to be honed prior to crossing the border into Mexico and Central America I gathered that they were from Ushuaia, Argentina and had their bikes shipped to Seattle then trucked to Fairbanks. Beto and Pepe were aiming to do what many North American and European motorcycle riders dream of — riding the world from the top to bottom. Deadhorse to Ushuaia.
The next morning I met the couple and their son who were taking him on one last adventure before he would be shipped off to Iraq. And their goal? To secure their status as official members of the Polar Bear Club — those who’ve braved the Arctic Ocean for a quick swim.
The Prudhoe Bay two hour tour and trip to the Arctic Ocean starts at the Caribou Hotel where in a utility classroom our tour guide runs through the rules of engagement and forces us to sit through a 15 minute video of oil company propaganda and history of the Trans-Atlantic Pipeline and North Slope oil fields. We’re then ushered onto a school bus while we take a 15 minute ride past the guard gates of the oil company compound and to the ocean where we have 15 minutes to go for our swim, collect rocks, feathers and shells if you find them. Today no polar bears greet us and only a lone Caribou in the distance is our sole wildlife encounter here in Deadhorse.
Two young couples in addition to me and the marine and his father take the plunge into the ocean. The girls strip naked and hand me their camera so I can catch their naked boobs, butts and brush in the Arctic Ocean. Towels are provided by the bus driver and soon we’re back and ready to brave the 414 miles of the Dalton Highway one more time — just for good luck.
Coldfoot Camp, AK to Deadhorse, AK 8-11-05
Moving Average: 39.6 mph
Maximum Speed: 60.5 mph
Moving Time: 6:09:06
Total Miles: 243.4
Fuel Economy: 72 mpg*
*Moving average and fuel economy are obviously directly related. I tried to keep RPMs between 3500 and 4000 so to maximize fuel efficiency. It worked. Tomorrow will be a different story.
(1) Not a good view of the Brooks Range due to wildfires near Fairbanks; (2) Deadhorse Gas Station; (3) ) my lovely dorm at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, “it’s a damp town”; (4) Classroom training before you cross the oil companies’ lines; (5) Going through security to Endicott Oil Field for a view of the arctic ocean; (6) Father of marine takes his polar bear dip seriouisly.