Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Driving The Dalton Highway
So what was driving on the Dalton Highway really like? As my post on preparing for it showed, there is alot of info out there and sorting out the useful parts takes a bit of time.
The first 100 miles actually does give a taste of the worst. In fact there are road works just outside of Fairbanks where the road is rough and very slow as you have to follow a pilot car through. It is not a very good start to a long journey.
There are some paved sections, but these actually turn out to be some of the worst driving. You get up to speed and settle into making some distance when suddenly large potholes appear in the otherwise smooth road. They show the thin veneer that the tarmac is over the gravel, and some of them are deep enough to give a wheel a good wrench if you are unlucky. The paved sections also suffer most from frost heaves, which is where the road becomes a roller coaster forcing you to slow down.
I preferred the unpaved sections which were generally smoother and more consistent than the paved sections. Any change in the surface quality was also much more visible, giving you time to slow down or just brace yourself.
Look how smooth this is ...
Pounded into this shape by all the trucks. The trucks themselves were not too much of a problem as most of them slowed down alot and pulled to the right (as you do too) as you pass. I was pleased not to have rocks hitting my windshield.
On these unpaved parts there were rocks spread around which sometimes needed avoiding. Most 4x4s would have sufficient clearance, but personally I wouldn't take a car.
This guy knocked his transmission out and the highway guys wanted $2500 to tow him to Fairbanks...
I was surprised to find he'd done a nice conversion inside his car...
But despite that he was on the verge of just abandoning it there, especially as he didn't know if it was fixable.
I don't think anyone was coming back for this one...
I did manage to get a puncture myself on the return trip. It wasn't on the highway itself. I was headed down a side 'road' looking for a 'wild' campsite when I drove over a log (because I could). The next morning one of my 3 week old tires was flat. The branch was so secure in its hole that I was able to reinflate the tire and drive the 80 miles back to Fairbanks, where I had to buy a new tire. So the 'free' campsite wasn't quite so free, the hole wasn't pluggable being too close to the sidewall.