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06/06/2011

At 5.15 this morning, exactly 24 hours after leaving Prudhoe I had ridden 900 miles. The early section to the Atigun Pass was dirt with gravel then tarred until Coldfoot. After that it was dirt until 85 miles before Fairbanks. Ice Cut, Gobblers Knob, Oil Spill Hill, Chicken Run and Beaver Slide are all part of the historic legend of the Ice Road Truckers. It is very cold and the rain stings my face. The road is slippery and no trucks pass so I am alone. The lakes are still and the leaves of the tundra are still, but what gives me such an impression of being so far from anywhere is the silence. When I switch off the engine it is these quite moments that unnerve me. My head is full of the noise of the bike, of the noise of my thoughts, the schedules and plans, the seriousness of intent, the fear of failure. It is all of this cacophony of internal sound that pulses against the nothingness sounds of true silence.

I exit the US and entry into Canada at Beaver Creek. Buckshot Betty’s restaurant is there, brightly painted and a handful of clapperboard building line the one street. A population of 80 with a small transient influx when the weather warms.

The bike is performing so well. I need this bike not to fail and oddly feel close to its workings and mechanics. It is smooth and forgiving and takes bends and gravel gently. It is tough yet friendly, not hard and quick like the R1. I ride on past Destruction Bay and then Haines Junction, turning left for Whitehorse and on towards the Northern Lodge at Munch Lake Park.

After Muncho the road climbed and fell, winding between steeply banked conifers on the right leading to high shafts of scree and the Stone Mountain itself. Further on Stone Mountain parodies itself. This is the stuff that creates legends. Obscure but credible adventurers come here to be apart, living in a caravan on the edge of Summit Lake I heard of one guy having walked across the USA now lives in a caravan. It is hugely isolated here. Either you need a love of yourself or a dislike of the proximity of people to be in such a raw environment. Yet, the sole highway, the Alcan passes through the place. Summit Café is derelict, symptomatic of the higher fuel prices that have decimated the desires of the driving public to journey such great distances. I remember a vibrant warm restaurant and pretty waitresses, now boarded windows. The disrepair gives a sad sense of neglect.

This is my favourite part of the 1500-mile Alaskan Highway. The road narrows and twists and climbs. In the failing half light, there is a blue glow. The last 50 miles are ridden very hard and quick. The road has dried and the lightness of the surface brightened in what is left of the flimsy daylight. It is 11pm but still there is a blue in the sky that has not gone black. Already there is a noticeable difference between Prudhoe Bay where at this time of year the sun never sets.

I ride to the first garage and check out the cheapest motel – Shannon Motel behind me. Steak and chips? Down the road to Boston Pizza for a 10oz New York strip. Within 15 minutes I have a place to sleep and am eating. 30 minutes later, writing then asleep. This is the end of day 2. 900 miles on day 1 through hard gravel and bitterly cold rain, 842 miles today. I am 150 miles down on my best schedule, a day up on last years run.

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