Saturday, 29 December 2012

To Coyote beach and on to Loreto

We had been doing quite a decent mileage for about the first 10 days into Mexico as Tim with whom we were cycling needed to catch a flight on the 25th of December out of Cabo, down at the very southern tip of Baja.

There have been some beautiful sunsets down along Baja.
With Nick and I not under the same time pressure we eased up on the pace significantly about half way down the peninsula a few days after making it into the state of Baja Sur. Some other touring cyclists had told us about a good beach where you could camp by the water that was just south of a town called Mulege. The thoughts of a few days off by the beach certainly appealed to all of us.
We said our goodbyes to Tim after his two days off as Nick and I were in no rush to leave the beautiful beach location.

One of the days up at the supermarket I happened to bump into fellow touring cyclist Mikael from Denmark with whom I had cycled the Cassiar highway, a very isolated stretch up in northern British Colombia back in August. Mikael was a bit under the weather so didn't take any convincing to take some time off at the beach to get his energy back. There was a lovely community here of mainly American and Canadian families many of whom have been coming to Coyote beach for years. They were all very welcoming and took special interest in nursing Mikael back to health.

Coyote Beach proved to be quite a difficult place to leave and a few days turned into the best part of a week. I almost felt sad to be saying my goodbyes to the various people we had befriended during our time there.

We did not have far to go until our next stop over as we planned to spend Christmas in Loreto, little more than 100 km further down the road. Having camped out the night before we arrived into Loreto on the morning of the 24th December. Once we settled on our accommodation it was time for a 10 minute shower, which was a very refreshing Christmas present after well over a week of camping! That should do me until next Christmas.

Loreto has a beautiful old town centre as it was the historic capital of the Californias.

Old colonial church in centre of Loreto.
Keen to check out the nightlife on Christmas Eve, Nick and I soon discovered that Loreto resembles something of a ghost town on the 24th.

Central square in Loreto
Even had the red Christmas togs on

Christmas day was very relaxed, catching mass in the lovely old church, Skyping family and friends, a quick dip in warmer waters than I am used to for my Christmas swim and treating ourselves to a good Mexican meal.
It wasn't my mothers usual incredible Christmas feast but the Mexican mixed  plater still hit the spot!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Down Baja

So I am over a week into Mexico now and loving it.

The first few days involved some pretty treacherous traffic with little in the way of a shoulder for the most part. Thankfully the further south we progressed the lighter the traffic became. After a few days in, leaving the coast past El Rosario there was not much on the road as we headed into the desert for a few days. We had been warned to make sure to have enough food and water as there was not much in the way of towns or facilities.

It has been great traveling with Tim and Nick who have been putting me through my paces with a few challenging days in the saddle! 

Some of the desert landscape that I have witnessed in the last few days has been one of the real highlights of the trip so far. It is certainly not like anything I have seen before.

I had been warned to be very careful around the cacti as they have been the cause of many a touring cyclists puncture. Strolling along one evening I still managed to get one embedded in my leg. Getting it out took a while as the spikes were at all different angles!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Goodbye USA, Hola Mexico

San Diego
Today, 4th of December 2012, I cycled from Pacific Beach, a laid back beach suburb of San Diego, to just south of Rosarito in Baja California, Mexico. I have had an amazing experience for the last 4 months cycling from northern Alaska to San Diego but I was looking forward to crossing the border and starting a new chapter in the adventure.
In the last week I had coordinated with two other cyclists that we would cross into Mexico together. Nick, from England and Tim from Canada will be my new cycling buddies! Before today we had not actually done any cycling together but you strike up friendships pretty fast in the land of long distance cycle touring. I bumped into Nick briefly in Smithers, British Colombia a few months ago. Nick was heading off to cycle the continental divide when I met his which is the longest off road mountain bike trail in the world stretching from Banff in Canada to the Mexican border so I was not expecting our paths to cross again. Nick actually started out in Prudhoe Bay less than a week after me and had a very close up bear experience on that early stretch along the Dalton highway needing to get a new tent upon getting to Fairbanks as a bear had ripped holes in his first tent!
Nick, Billy ad Tim about to head for the Mexican border
 I bumped into Tim when I was camping in Humboldt State Park in the Redwood forest north of San Francisco. We had kept in touch when we heard that we were both Pan American cyclists heading for Argentina.
I had been staying with Julie (of fame) since I got to Pacific Beach in San Diego so the two guys arrived up this morning and after a few photos we headed off on in the direction of the US/Mexican border.
 I think we were all pretty excited at the prospect of crossing into a new country and a new culture not to mention a new language.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing at the border needing to head back to get out passports stamped by immigration we exited into the streets of Tijuana.
Trying to squeeze our packed up bikes through the turnstiles was great craic.
The next hour involved some hectic urban cycling including just managing to avoid a large man hole that wasn't covered. Having been given advance warning of the joys of trying to cycle out of Tijuana by some other touring cyclists we some how managed to find the hole in the fence and after a little off-roading we were onto the toll road with little traffic and a nice broad shoulder. We had made it out of Tijuana and were heading for Rosarito.

Friday, 9 November 2012


When I got into Fairbanks Catherine Brosnan gave me directions to their home. After one or two wrong turns I was cycling along a bike path when the smiling cyclist coming in the opposite direction stopped me and said I must be Billy. It was Eddie Brosnan who had come out on his bike to track me down. They must have wondered how I had made it the 500 miles from Prudhoe Bay if I struggled to make it the few miles to their home. Once in the door they showed me where I would be staying. Not only did I have my own bedroom with a huge double bed to myself but I had my own bathroom and pretty much my own floor to myself in their basement area. This was luxurious by anyone's standards but compared to where I had been sleeping for the past week it was out of this world. Probably just as well for their sake's that I had my own floor before I had the opportunity to wash myself and my gear. I didn't waste any time in jumping into the shower for  a good scrub. Later, after my thorough wash and a huge feed I got a second wind and stayed up for a few hours having a great chat.

The next few days involved some very necessary relaxing, recovering, lots of washing and even more eating. The Brosnan's, who I had never met before, treated me like a long lost son. A long lost extremely hungry son.  My appetite had increased exponentially from my exertions of getting to Fairbanks. Despite my almost insatiable appetite, Catherine, being a proper Irish mammy, made it her mission to make sure I was well feed and Eddie made sure that I never went thirsty! Their hospitality was phenomenal. It was so nice to be in a true home from home. So nice in fact that I found it hard to leave.

During my time in Fairbanks I made sure to check out the city.

Fairbanks is the second biggest city in Alaska after Anchorage and the largest in interior Alaska. Founded in 1901 by T.E. Barnette who was planning on setting up a trading post further up river at Tanna Cross. Barnette chartered the steamboat LavelleYoung from captain CW Adams. They came up the Chena river but were not able to make it as far as Tanna Cross due to low water levels. Barnette was convinced by a few nearby gold prospectors such as Felix Pedro to set up his trading post at the location where they disembarked which is now modern day Fairbanks.

I eventually had to hit the road, but fully recovered, with everything good and clean again.
It may be thousands of miles from Ireland but I can certainly promise you that the "Cead Mile Failte" is more than alive and well in Fairbanks.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse) to Fairbanks - Down the Dalton Highway

I finally cycled out of Prudhoe Bay on Monday morning the 23rd July 2012. By this stage I was keen to get on the road and start the adventure proper! I was slightly in shock as to how heavy the bike was when fully loaded and it was an experience in itself to keep my balance on the packed up bike bouncing along the gravel tracks in and around Deadhorse.
It was a surreal sense of excitement and intrepidation to be finally started but most of all it simply felt great. After all the talk, all the research, getting the gear, mental preparation and flights, I was finally motoring, I mean pedaling! I had made this happen, now the only thing left to do was to cycle the 17,000 miles!  I had a smile on my face as I thought to myself, "Here we go..."

I knew the first 800km (500 miles) were going to be some of the most difficult that I would be doing for the next few months as I had been warned by numerous people that it was quite challenging. This was down to a number of factors, such as the mostly gravel unpaved road, heavy trucks, being in grizzly bear territory, crossing a mountain range and the lack of towns or facilities along the way.

414 of the 500 odd miles between Deadhorse and Fairbanks are along the Dalton Highway, named after James W. Dalton, a famous Alaskan engineer. The Dalton Highway is something of a legend in Alaska, one of the last frontiers, it is serves as the obstacle course used in the television programme "Ice Road Truckers". The North Slope Haul Road as it is also known was built in only 154 days in 1974 for the construction and maintenance of the Alaska Oil Pipeline. It has only been open to the public since 1995. The pipeline transports oil from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields all the way down to the ice free port of Valdez in southern Alaska.
Most of day one was relatively flat, sunny and the mosquitoes provided quite the welcoming party. Another thing that I had been warned about was the mosquitoes on the North Slope and they didn't disappoint. Thankfully I had picked up a full mosquito net suit before I left Anchorage.
That evening gave me the first opportunity to put my gas stove to use. (This was about the only item of kit that I hadn't practiced using as airlines claimed they would not take it if there was a smell of gas from it.) As I got the stove set up for the first time, making sure not to set myself on fire, the 3 Musketeers (the 3 French cyclists I met at the Prudhoe Bay general store) arrived along in a big truck they had managed to finally hitch a ride in. We said another quick Allo, Allo/goodbye and they kindly gave me a few tips for using the stove.

They were not long gone when the heavens opened with a heavy downpour. As I struggled in the lashing rain to keep the stove alight, never mind cook some dinner I was thinking to myself "This is great craic". Then through the rain appeared a vision in the distance.. it was another touring cyclist slowly making their way up the hill towards me. Lisa, who had cycled extensively in Mexico and the States was headed in the opposite direction and was nearing the end of her trip up to Prudhoe Bay. She really could not have arrived at a better time. We finally got the stove properly functioning, had a good chat and she gave me some tips for the road ahead including a suggested place to camp that she had passed along the road. We took a few photos and she headed on her way wanting to try and make a bit more distance for the day. I thought that this was very handy altogether that any time I would have stove issues in the lashing rain that a pretty girl would arrive out of the mist and give me some tips. I say she was pretty but she was covered in head to toe in heavy rain gear with her face covered with a mosquito net so who knows.

I didn't go too much further that evening before it was time to set up camp. Setting up the tent surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes that first night is another reason that I will never forget my first day on the road.
Thankfully there were less mosquitoes around the next morning as I had breakfast and packed all the gear. Day two started to involve more hills.

Some time in the afternoon I was hunched over my stove by the side of the road, cursing my waterproof matches that wouldn't light, when a jeep/RV slowly drove by and pulled up about 50 metres past me. Two burly guys in full camoflage gear eventually got out of their truck and slowly started to walk towards me. I wasn't sure what to make of this. You can imagine my relief when one of them inquires with a smile "Are you Billy?" I had totally forgotten that Eddie and Catherine Brosnan who had kindly offered to accommodate me when I got to Fairbanks had told me to look out for their next door neighbour Chris who was up on a hunting trip on the North Slope. We chatted for a while, Chris gave me his lighter and they said I was very welcome to camp with them that night. They had a site set up further down the road with a few others where they had lots of food and even cold beer. As we said our goodbyes I had already decided that I was going to try my best to reach their camp that night even though I was slightly unsure as to where it was... further along the road, down into the valley about a mile off the Dalton over to the right!

Being as far north as I was there was day light pretty much 24 hours a day. Even still, by about 11.30 pm when it felt like I had been steadily climbing all day on the gravel and the mist had become so dense that you could only see about ten metres in front of you I decided it was time to get off the road. Having read a few books on cycling touring before leaving I knew that it was a good idea to be out of sight of the main road so I headed about 100 metres down a side path to what I thought was a discreet camping spot.
My not so discreet camp spot once the mist cleared in the morning.
In the morning with the mist cleared I had a beautiful view for miles around and I could be seen from miles around!
I never found their camp. The next few days brought great sunny weather and constant rolling hills as I slowly climbed my way into the Brookes mountain range and towards Atigun Pass which was the highest point I would pass in these mountains. It was a good climb and just as everything seemed to be uphill in the days leading to Atigun pass the two days after it seemed to thankfully consist of more downhills.

On the far side of the Brookes range the tree line began and helped to make for some spectacular scenery.

By the end of day five I had made it to Coldfoot which is the only proper service facility along the Dalton Highway. It is the half way point between Deadhorse and Fairbanks and the main refuelling point for the trucks. They also have a restaurant where I had a well earned burger and my first cold beer of the trip.

They also had shower facilities which I made good use of. In Coldfoot I met some touring cyclists Rudi and Eddie who were heading north. We had a very enthusiastic chat as we compared notes on the next few days of road in either direction. We camped together that night along with a bunch of motorbikers which is the far more common way of biking the Dalton. Before I left Coldfoot I bumped into another touring cyclist who initially introduced himself as "John" and then advised that his full name was Gianfranco Ferrari, who was from Italia.
Gianfranco Ferrari
The lads had passed him the previous day and warned me that Gianfranco is a man who likes his chat. Not only had Gianfranco done extensive touring in Alaska and northern Canada but numerous other places around the globe including several trips in Patagonia where he warned me about the high winds.

That next night I made it to the marker for the Artic Circle which has a camping area and in the morning I met Czech cyclist Ivo who was carrying most of his gear in a shopping basket attached to the front of his bike. Ivo decided to hitch a ride the rest of the way up to Deadhorse and had left less than five minutes when a tour bus of about 15 Czechs arrived! We had breakfast together as I informed them of their fellow country man and his shopping basket! I was no sooner on my bike that morning when I found myself climbing a hill that didn't seem to end. This one seemed to catch me on the hop because with Atigun pass the few days previous I had plenty of warning but Beaver Slide as it is known really caught me out. An hour later when I was still climbing but about 100 metres from what I hoped was the summit a car slowed down beside me and stuck their hand out the window with a cold Powerade. I nearly came off the bike trying to grab it! Once at the top I got talking to Terry, Cynthia and Daniel Julien who convieniently happened to be photographers with Northern Exposure Photography who took some great shots (you can see them here; This act of kindness with the cold drink was one of many which I received in Alaska.

The next day brought me to the Yukon river crossing. The Yukon river is the longest in Alaska and the Yukon Territority in Canada and one of the biggest in North America.

The night I arrived at Yukon River crossing I spotted my first bear further down the road.

Not far past the Yukon River crossing and not long into my days cycling, crawling up another hill with the mosquitoes feasting on me yet again I made a dramatic decision. I had had enough of the mosquitoes and I decided that I was going to get to Fairbanks as soon as possible.  Fairbanks was still over one hundred miles away and I had been averaging about 50 miles a day so far. The choices were to cycle through the night and get to Fairbanks some time on the Tuesday afternoon or spend two more nights camping and an extra day getting chewed on. Another major factor was that the Dalton was going to be closed for the following day so I would have had to spend an extra day on the road. It wasn't a difficult choice and I prepared myself for 24 hours in the saddle. I still had plenty of food and made sure to stop every four hours or so to eat and it was still bright enough being July in northern Alaska.

At about 5am in the morning with both the battery on my camera and garmin having given up I came to the end of the Dalton highway. It was an emotional farewell. Glad to have done it but also glad to be done with it and certainly the most challenging week's cycling I have ever done. I was excited to be pulling onto the Elliot highway even though there was about another 80 miles to Fairbanks because it was a regular paved highway, you don't miss something until it is taken away and I was tempted to get down and kiss the tarmac.

By about 10am the following morning as the sun began to warm things up again I was really starting to struggle. The legs were still going but the sleep deprivation was really kicking in. The closer I got, the slower I got. I even had to go slowly down the hills as I tried in vain to stop my head from nodding. I knew it was only a matter of time before I nodded off and not long later I opened my eyes to a slow motion crash into the bushes. With thankfully only a grazed knee to show for it I walked my bike for the next mile or so until I mustered up the energy to get back on the bike.
Fox is a small town ten miles outside Fairbanks and the first town you hit on the route. Fox is the home of Silver Gulch, the most northerly brewery in America. A few people had recommended that I get a beer here upon arriving into Fox. I cycled straight past the quaint little brewery and into the local petrol station for a coffee. A beer was the last thing I needed right now. Pepped up on caffeine for the last stretch of heavier traffic between Fox and Fairbanks I climbed the last few hills into Fairbanks at a snails pace.
The first thing into Fairbanks I needed WiFi to try and contact the Brosnan's, an Irish family long settled here who had offered to host me for a few days when I got in. Fifteen minutes later Catherine Brosnan had driven to meet me and greeted me with a big hug. I had made it!
The biggest challenge had not been the isolation, climbs, lack of facilities, bears or gravel roads but those darn mosquitoes!