Challenging one of America’s most dangerous roads.
The first time I had heard of it, I was a new rider on a mission to pilot my little cruiser end-to-end on the Trans Canada Highway. En route, I’d met a youngish guy on a KLR fitted with knobby tires and covered in soft bags and grey dirt.
“Where are you heading?” I asked.
“I’m on my way home, but I’ve been to Deadhorse.”
At that point in my fledgling riding career, the idea of navigating a road, most of it dirt, 700 kilometres into the isolation of the Arctic tundra simply did not compute. Now to be straddling an adventure bike and staring down the Dalton Highway seemed surreal.
My Alaskan exploration was part of a long-term test ride of Suzuki’s 2022 V-Strom DL650XA. So far it had been a superb choice for a long-distance challenge, comfortable and capable of handling everything I had encountered across the prairies, and through northern British Columbia and the Yukon.
But the Dalton? It was one of “America’s Most Dangerous Roads” and YouTube videos I had seen over the years warned variously of man-eating potholes, machine-swallowing mud, and deathwish truckers. Or they tried to impress you with the video creator’s superhuman riding skills. As I sat waffling, I took stock of my own riding ability. I believed it was up to par — but what about the weather? Really, that was the wildcard. And I didn’t want to damage the bike: handing it back to Suzuki in pieces wouldn’t be polite.
But a gentle breeze began to whisper encouragement, and a voice deep within seemed to agree: “When you’re too old to ride, you’re gonna wish you’d done it.”
Go Ahead, Everybody’s Doing It
I had been following the surprisingly smooth Richardson Highway from where the Alcan ends in Delta Junction and had paused to marvel at the size of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline which runs 1,287 km from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez and is the reason the Dalton even exists.
In North Pole (yes, it’s a real town), I stopped at Santa Claus House to have letters mailed to my grandchildren. And as is so common, I fell into conversation with two other riders, Davide and Jackie, who had flown their Honda CBX500s from Ireland to New York and were travelling through North America. Even though Jackie had only been riding for three years, they were on their way up the Dalton. My inner voice subtly cleared its throat.
When morning dawned bright and clear, it seemed like another sign. Okay, I would go as far as I could — but no bravado: If it proved too difficult, or the weather turned ugly, I would turn back. I knew that maintenance crews used calcium chloride to control the view-obliterating dust, but adding water simultaneously made the surface notoriously slippery while covering your bike in a concrete mix that clogged radiators, destroyed brake pads, and shredded fork seals…