From Denali we took the Parks Highway north to Fairbanks, camping overnight in Fox before starting the long drive up the Dalton Highway towards Coldfoot and the Artic Circle. The highway begins north of Fairbanks and ends at Deadhorse near the Artic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. It was built as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAP) in 1974 and follows the pipeline up and down hills, though forested valleys, across the permafrost and tundra, over the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass finally crossing the treeless North Slope. It was only opened up to the public in 1981 and has limited services, with only 3 towns along the route: Coldfoot (pop. 10); Wiseman (pop. 22); and Deadhorse (pop. 25 excluding the seasonal oil workers). That said it is a busy route with between 150-250 trucks hauling supplies along its length throughout the year. Some sections are now paved, a loose term, with some features along the way having been given their own names: Oil Spill Hill; Beavers Slide; Oh Shit Corner; the Roller Coaster....
We headed north and the first 20 miles were probably some of the worst. A highway it was not. We were later told that the BLM keep the start of the road that way to discourage tourists from driving up it - I'm sure that works for some but we had spare tyres and were determined to make it at least to the Arctic Circle!
At Mile 55 we crossed the Yukon River Bridge, the only bridge crossing of the Yukon in the US, before continuing onto the Arctic Circle at mile marker 115. About 15 miles after the Arctic Circle, we met Ian www.ridewithian.com cycling south. He had started in Prudhoe Bay four days earlier and was heading the 17,000 miles to South America on a bicycle. We topped up his water and promised to meet him in Ventana, Mexico in January! We think we may arrive around the same time.
We carried on north to Coldfoot, a few beers and then our most northern - Marion Creek Campground at mile 180. It was a great place to stop, short of the Brookes Range but with an open sky that was so clear we were up in the middle of the night to see (and capture) the Aurora Borealis.
Having successfully made it half way along the Dalton Highway, we decided not to tempt our luck and started the journey back towards Fairbanks. We passed Ian again, this time making slow progress as it was hard work cycling into a strong headwind and having to stop to avoid the dust and stones kicked up every time a truck passed.