Ann & Kent Moriarty's Dispatch from Fairbanks

Dear friend of Ann & Kent Moriarty:

Here's their first dispatch from the road! It was sent from Kinko's Copies Fairbanks on Thursday 3 July 1997. Let me know if you have email for Ann & Kent or if you have questions or requests about these mailings.

-- Phil Davidson

Hey Family and Friends! We are now in Fairbanks -- resting up after a long haul on the Dalton. We are both a little worse for wear, but Kent's knees and Achille's are doing well. I seem to have a little infection in my eye -- bummer, that means glasses for now. And we are being a little snippy with each other due to having a lot of things to accomplish here -- one of which is seeing if my camera is broken from a fall it took. Oops! Anyway, I think Dad will be printing this out and my Mom will paper mail this to all who aren't on the list. If anything is wrong, please let Phil know! Also! Send mail to him or paper mail to my folks. We appreciate your prayers and good thoughts -- God has been VEEERRRyY good to us on this first part -- people helping us out with water, etc.

Anyway, we hope this finds you in good health -- we will start with postcards and stuff soon. The accompanying is kind of a synopsis of the first part of our trip -- it will be in the CCTimes Travel section sometime soon. Look for Carol Fowler's column.

Gosh, I think we will miss you all very much! Take care. We love you! Sorry we can't personally sign these!

Love, Ann and Kent from Fairbanks July 3, 1997

A bag of cookies and four cans of juice. They were in an improbable spot - sitting on the shoulder of the rough gravel Dalton Highway in the middle of no where Three possible reasons they were there: A) someone left a lunch for a loved one, B) they were dropped accidentally and landed in perfect formation or C) a good Samaritan left them for US - two tired tandem bicyclists!! It did not take us long to choose option C and quench our thirst with cans of grape juice, while shoving cookies into our faces as quickly as possible! This kind of thing greeted us all along the Dalton - cookies, offers of water, and general good will.

Now, the actual route itself - from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean south to Fairbanks (including parts of the Elliot Highway)- is 516 miles of incredibly rough road through intensely beautiful Alaska - tundra, grasslands, rolling foothills, mountains. We had been warned that we would surely die, either being eaten by grizzly bears, hit by fist-sized rocks sent flying our way by speeding trucks or by tire blowout on a steep downhill. But we survived, arriving in Fairbanks in eight days, the tough initial stage of our planned one and a half year tandem tour to the tip of South America over.

We arrived in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on Tuesday, June 24, following frenzied last minute preparations on Monday. We were both dazed by lack of sleep and the excitement of actually being there. This was IT! We were beginning! As the tandem came off the plane, boxed in its plywood and cardboard container, we looked at each other and sighed gratefully. It had made the airplane trip unscathed. Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse is kind of a weird place - everyone there is a worker of some sort either for the oil fields or for supporting services. There are no families, no kids, no one to soften the harshness of the North Slope. And perhaps because of this and the relatively transitory nature of the place, people are friendly and curious. Within fifteen minutes of getting off the plane and getting our bike, we had offers of advice, Cokes, and places to set up our tent. Not bad!!! We set up our tent near the airfield behind the Cape Smythe hangar and went exploring. Not much to see because the oil fields are closely guarded but we did manage to take a van to the Arctic Ocean so we could dip our toes in the freezing waters. Caribou wandered around the heavy equipment, a wild counterpoint to all of the technology. Weird.

Wednesday, we set off to bicycle the Dalton Highway. Bicycling on the North Slope is an exercise in patience: the landscape is flat, flat, flat with only small lakes varying the dead grass terrain. As yet, the tundra flowers had not begun their short blooming season and we could not even see the pipeline yet. However, the road was good and a terrific tail-wind pushed us along at a great clip. Where were those fist-sized rocks? The billowing clouds of dust? The hurtling trucks? The storms? Nowhere to be found - yet . . .

About 60 miles from Deadhorse, the terrain altered, becoming rolling, steep uphills and downhills. Add gravel to the mix and we began suffering, our poor bodies getting bounced to heck and back, sending lancing pains up my shoulders and neck. Getting up the hills over the next few days was sometimes easy and sometimes needed help from above. I would sing hymns to make them go faster, or count the number of pedal strokes it took to climb - sometimes it was over 1,000! Many of the hills we cursed with nicknames - "Butt Buster" or "Gut Wrencher" or "Ago-kneeser." But we just kept pedaling in our tiny baby gear, inching our way up the long grades. The bummer was that the downhills were difficult too - Kent had to concentrate completely to keep our bike on the road in the messy gravel. But traffic was light - trucks slowed down when passing, giving us a wide berth and responding sometimes enthusiastically to our waves of greeting. And the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm.

However, greeting us at each campsite were our friends the mosquitoes. We hardly had time to jump into our raingear and headnets to protect us from their whining assault before they were on us. If anything came close to killing us on this trip, it was the mosquitoes- their vicious humming driving us to any lengths to get away - including jumping into streams to get cold enough so that their heat sensors could not find us! They would even get us on the road as we ground our way uphill, keeping up with our agonizingly slow pace. One time we were in such a rush to escape them, I forgot to put on my fanny pack which came flying off the bike on the next downhill denting my camera and scattering everything else that was inside. Yes, the mosquitoes were a torment!

As the Dalton continued its climb into the Brooks Range, we were constantly reminded of the beauty of the wilderness. These mountains are stark and forbidding, awesome and high - climbing over 6,000 feet from sea level. We had to climb over Atigun Pass, the highest pass in Alaska at 4800 feet. Cold rain and wind washed over us as we crawled up the pass, but at the top, the weather cleared and we saw Dall sheep on the steep ridges above us. Made the climb worth it!

We did not see as many animals as we wished. I had hoped to see a grizzly from afar (definitely NOT up close and personal!), but according to the locals, it is too hot for them right now. We did see a fox and managed to scare a moose off the road as well as chasing a few caribou and willow ptarmigan, but there really was not all that much wildlife to be seen.

Also lacking along the Dalton were the friends of bicycle tourists - little general stores in which to buy Cokes and food of any sort. We had a hard time feeding our starving bodies enough on rations of dehydrated meals, beef jerky and Power Bars! And no place to stop and rest from the long road- to sit and chat with Alaskans, finding out more about them and their beautiful state. For Kent and me, used to traveling in more populated areas, this was incredibly difficult. Therefore, each little place we DID happen upon received a visit. Alaskans are funny people - extremely independent and self-sufficient, interesting to talk to and learn from. Each place had its own personality, an extension of the folks who lived there: junky or neat, simple or full of stuff, and most were hand built from whatever materials were available, making an interesting statement! And we sometimes stayed for 45 minutes to an hour to rest our bodies.

We needed those rests that we found along the way. The Dalton was a punishing yet rewarding ride, hard on people and gear. But upon coming into Fairbanks, we found that we already missed the solitude and sense of power that only wilderness brings. Bicycling through enabled us to slow down the experience and leave us with incredible memories. As we continue through Alaska and further south, we look forward to the unique experiences that each new place will leave with us.

Copyright (c) 1997 Ann Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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