If you look at my touring map, it is getting rather obvious that there is one big blank spot left: North America. In the past I always said that I could still go there later. Well, later is now. I am actually heading for North America.
I want to start at the very top in Alaska and to do that I will need more than the 3 month that I would be allowed without a visa. So I need a visa. For someone who has been living on the road for almost 3 years and has no job, not quite without problems. But I can convince the officials that I plan not to stay in the US and soon after I am on my way to Fairbanks.
In all of Alaska there is only one road going all the way north to the Arctic Ocean, the Dalton Highway. It was built in the 70’s when oil was found at Prudhoe Bay.
In Fairbanks I find out that the road has been closed for weeks already because of massive flooding. But this is only on the last 100km and as far as that I can go. What might at first have been at bit of a disappointment, turns out to be a huge advantage. Normally there would be lots of heavy trucks on the road on the way to the oil fields. But now there is hardly any traffic at all and I have the road almost to myself.
But first I equip myself with the essentials for Alaska: mosquito and bear spray (kind of an oversized pepper spray). The salesclerk informs me that a bear spray should not be used like a mosquito spray…aha.
Armed like that and loaded up with food for ten days I set off. On the second day I reach the beginning of the Dalton Highway. The surface is a mixture of mud and gravel which makes for very good riding. But when it rains quite heavily next day this quickly turns into a terrible mess until I cannot cycle anymore because the chain gets jammed constantly. Next morning the good weather is back, the road is dry again and I can continue.
In the first days it is often a real roller coaster ride as the road passes straight across the rolling hills. This makes for lot’s of short, steep climbs. Often when I reach the top I throw my arms into the air and scream for joy. This endless expanse of wilderness is just absolutely fabulous.
Unfortunately camping along the way is not quite as idyllic as you might think. That is mostly because of the mosquitos who attack me as soon as I stop. Setting up the tent as quickly as possible and not leaving it anymore until next morning is the only way to go. Because of the bears I have to store all my food away from the tent. But if I camp, I often wake up at night, simply because I am hungry. But now that the supplies are 100m away on a tree I keep having a rumbling stomach until next morning.
On the third day I reach the Arctic Circle. From here on the sun shines almost 24h a day. The vegetation gets thinner every day and the trees smaller. Beautiful mountain ranges flank both sides of the valley. On the sixth day I cross the continental divide at Atigun pass. From here on it is only Tundra.
Bears I don’t see yet, but some moose and a porcupine cross the road. Up to now the temperatures were very nice. But just before the pass they dropped significantly. Fighting against a very strong headwind I reach the pass and soon it starts to snow.
After an ice cold night I continue riding in a snow storm next day. Up until here the ride was wonderfully quiet. At times almost a bit spooky because there was so little traffic. On the last two days I count 3-5 cars per day.
I start to worry a bit, because I had hoped to get a lift back to Fairbanks. Shortly before I reach the end of the open road a car comes the other way. It stops and they actually give me a lift back all the way. Now that was really lucky.
Next goal is the highest mountain of North America: Denali. Inside the park only park busses and cyclist are allowed on the road. Perfect and so I ride for some days in the park. The mountain itself I can only see once from far away. An impossibly massive chunk of ice and snow. But most of the time the mountain is hidden in clouds as most of the time.
I can see a lot of wildlife in the park: Dall sheep, moose and caribou. The highlight is certainly the three Grizzly Bears that I can see close to the road. To see these beautiful and powerful animals from the bicycle in their natural environment is a truly impressive experience.
After the park I cycle the Denali highway to the east. A 200km long gravel road. On the way there are no settlements, only endless wilderness. In the valley there are wide rivers and many lakes. In the side it is flanked by snow covered mountains, big glaciers come all the way down.
The weather is at least as wild as the nature. One day I start with icy temperatures and a strong headwind. Later I hit a heavy rain shower, then I get caught by a snow storm and finally a hail storm until everything is white. In between the sun often shines. And all of this in just one single day.
I stopped at a little stream to fill up my water bottles. When I am down at the water, a black bear suddenly appears out of the bush. Oh dear, now what was I supposed to do? No running (easier said …), I wave my hands and make sure he sees me and then slowly retreat. Back on the bicycle my pulse only slowly comes down again.