Saturday, 15 September 2012

Getting to the start line.

The adventure began on Friday 13th July 2012 when I flew from Dublin to JFK with by far the most amount of gear I have ever travelled with. The few last minute calls and texts in Dublin airport were nice to get before I powered off my Irish mobile for a long time. Upon arrival into New York I needed to get across the city to leave my bike box in a locker in Newark airport as I was flying to Anchorage from Newark early on the Sunday. Getting across New York in Friday afternoon traffic was an adventure in itself... and I thought Dublin traffic was bad. My shuttle bus transferred at Grand Central station meaning that I had to travel right into the heart of Manhatten. It was kind of surreal to be standing in one of the busiest places on the planet knowing that in a week I would be cycling through northern Alaska hundreds of miles from any kind of civilisation. I managed to leave one of my overweight suitcases on the bus in so had to wait for a while before the bus came back with it. Unfortunately when I got to Newark and located the luggage storage they wouldn’t have opened early enough for me to collect my gear for my Sunday morning flight. Thankfully my good friend Peter (aka Bonder) who was picking me up from Newark had enough room in the car for my bike and bags after some careful rearranging of the golf clubs.

So it was on the road to Philadelphia to spend the night with our pals Eoin and Jill (aka the Units). We had a meal, thanks Jill, on getting to the Unit’s house. A few beers were had along with a great catch up. On Saturday afternoon, Eoin and Bonder had the privilege of following me around the shops while I attempted to sort out my US mobile and a laptop. Myself and Bonder then hit the road back up to New Jersey and only had a few hours sleep due to a 4am start to get  to the airport for my Sunday morning flight to Alaska. It was lovely to catch up with the guys before I headed off on my adventure proper.

After the early start, two long flights and a few time zone changes I arrived pretty exhausted into Anchorage. When I told the taxi driver dropping me off at the salubrious hostel about my plans he pulled off laughing saying “I hope you run faster than polar bear”.

26th Street International Hostel

Less than five minutes later my new roommate was helping to ease my fears by telling me that the mosquitos in Northern Alaska have practically eaten people alive where they have been known to travel around in swarms!

Some bedtime reading.
Anchorage is practically surrounded by mountains, big mountains. The next few days involved buying my last bits of supplies and doing my “Bear Aware” course after which I was probably more confused between aggressive black bear approaches and defensive approaches and Grizzly defensive approaches etc.

I met my first touring cyclists at the hostel in Anchorage. They had the right idea, flying from LA to Brazil in November in order to catch the South American summer. They were good lads who gave me a few tips for down near Vancouver.

Thankfully Alaska Airlines has a more relaxed attitude to hand luggage than other airlines I know.

I flew from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay with Air Alaksa on Thursday 19th of July with the intention of hitting the road the following day. Not to be.

I think I picked up some sort of a bug either on the flight up or in Anchorage because I was feeling really run down on Friday morning. I knew that the initial 800km (500 miles) was going to be a challenging start to the coming year, mainly because of the isolation, road quality and hills so I decided it would be better to be fully fit before I headed off so stayed an extra night at the Prudhoe Bay “Hotel”.

Alanda to the rescue.
The next day upon unpacking my bike I discovered that the piece holding the quick release pin onto the front wheel had been broken off in transit. As coincidence would have it a good friend of mine, Alanda was in Fairbanks and very generously had the relevant part flown up to Prudhoe. I was blessed that Alanda happened to be in Alaska and even more blessed that she was so good as to have the relevant bike piece flown up. It would have been a bit or a disaster otherwise as there is not so much as a grocery store in Prudhoe Bay let alone a bike shop. That was not to be the last time Alanda would save the day! Rather than staying any longer at the hotel Alanda knew Eric and the guys at Bald Mountain Air them from a previous field trip so
I ended up staying for 2 nights as I got my bike together and packed the numerous bags onto the bike. Trying to fit everything onto the bike for a 14 month intercontinental trip for the first time is a bit of a job in itself.

The day before leaving I was over at the Prudhoe Bay general store taking my photo at the famous sign when I bumped into the three musketeers, three French guys who had just finished cycling from Ushuaia in southern Argentina to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska on the Americas leg of their 3 year round the world cycle, (

It was great to get some tips from these extremely experienced touring cyclists for a novice who was setting off in the opposite direction of their Pan American cycle. No matter how big your plans you’ll always meet someone who does it bigger and better!

On Monday 23rd of July I finally cycled out of Prudhoe with a fully functioning, very heavily loaded bike. It was the first time that I had ridden the bike fully loaded and to be honest I was slightly in shock as to how heavy it was. Trying to keep my balance with the weight and the gravel road was going to take a bit of getting used to.

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