We're off !

Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
Trip End Nov 30, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    I have now ridden the bike on Alaskan soil so things are going well ! Left home and took connecting flight to Frankfurt. 12 hour stopover so booked into the brand new Hilton attached to the airport – very flash but not that expensive and even better you can check in your luggage close to the hotel front door so you don't have to lug it all the way through the terminal. 12 hour flight over the north pole to Anchorage was thankfully uneventful – well fed and watered and arrived at 10am – perfect timing to sort out importing the two bikes. Also had a superb and very rare clear view of the snow covered peak of Mt McKinley which was stunning. Even at 36000ft the peak seemed level with the plane. On arrival a  bit of dodgy info led us on a bit of a wild goose chase into downtown Anchorage to get customs clearance for the bikes. Suffice to say 3 cab rides and a bus trip later we came back full circle to the customs office at the airport situated just a few feet from where we had come through arrivals 3 hours earlier ! If only we’d known we could have literally got all the paperwork done in 20 minutes and cracked on with releasing them from the Fedex warehouse the same day. As it was we got to their warehouse about 20mins before they knocked off for the day so we had to return the next morning. This was a blow as on arrival in Anchorage we were greeted with glorious clear skies – the next morning was raining. The Customs and Border Protection officers were superb – they wrote out and copied all the paperwork themselves – knew exactly what was needed and had us sorted really quickly. They actually turned out to be the same officers who did the immigration checks in the  arrivals hall. Not a feat that will be repeated at any of the other 20 odd border crossings we will face no doubt !  Next was a half mile walk to the FedEx warehouse – Anchorage is the second busiest FedEx hub, after Memphis apparently. Due to the bad roads and weather a lot of stuff is flown in to Alaska. Hence some items are quite expensive – and some as you will see later quite difficult to get hold of !

    Once released we had been told we would need to pay for the bikes to be de-crated and for waste materials to be removed from the site (which sounded fair enough). As it turned out Lisa at FedEx very helpfully forklifted the crates into their car park, provided claw hammer, screwdrivers etc and sorted out the mess we left for them for nothing. By 10am we had the bikes started (all the concerns that the tyres might have been deflated, emptied of fuel/oil etc were all unfounded – we literally had to swing a mirror back in line, put the top boxes on and then start 'em up). As we were still ahead of schedule we cancelled the second night I’d booked in the hotel and cracked on towards Walmart ! Having located the sports and outdoors dept we skirted past one of the counters (20 plus rifles and handguns, ammo etc freely on display in case you find yourself short of milk and firearms of a morning) and grabbed a couple of tents, sleeping bags and bed mats - $70 the lot.  Before we knew it we were off into the rain on Alaska Highway 1 heading through Denali national park, past Mt McKinley again – couldn’t see it this time due to rain - and on towards Fairbanks which was a convenient stopover prior to the 650 mile assault on the ‘Haul Road’.  First 350 miles done – 22150 to go !

    If you’ve watched Ice Road Truckers you know all this but basically the Haul Rd or James W Dalton Highway is a service road whose sole purpose is to run alongside the Trans Alaskan pipeline so maintenance is easier and also to move food, supplies, spares and whatever else you need to service a load of oil wells up to the oil fields at the nothern end of Alaska. The oil field is at Prudhoe Bay and the road means that the town itself (Deadhorse) is the most notherly accessible by road in the USA. That fact alone meant we had to go there ! Trouble is most of it is gravel, it’s muddy with very few opportunities to get fuel and it’s full of sleepy, speeding lorry drivers hell bent on upping their take home by delivering as many loads as they can. Due to being well above the arctic circle it’s also only rideable for 3 months a year. The town itself only exists because of the oil. When it was discovered it was quickly realised that the oil could not be shipped down to the USA’s  lower 48 states because the sea is frozen over in winter. The only viable way to move the oil south to the oil terminal at Valdez (where it is then picked up by oil tankers) on the southern coast of Alaska was to build a huge 1000 mile (that’s a guess to be honest) pipeline right across the state over some of the harshest terrain – permafrost/ mountains/ rivers/ extreme low temperatures – and build a service road to go with it. This practical solution also provides a handy little excursion for motorcycling muppets such as ourselves. It’s largely pointless – a bit like taking a weeks holiday in Shell Haven or Coryton in Essex – but it’s there so it’s got to be done !
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