Alaska 2008: Unicycling the Haul Road
A Tale of Endurance, Luck, Alaskan Hospitality, One Wheel and a
Humorous Pair of Balls
This trip has truly been the most epic adventure of my life thus far.
Even with rigorous training, months of research and nights full of
unsettled nerves before the trip, nothing could have prepared me for
the gravity of this adventure.
About Me: My name is Mike Welch. At the time of this trip I was 25
years old. I was born in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and moved
to Pueblo, Colorado at the age of six. Growing up in Colorado was
fantastic. My father had his mid-life-crisis in this phase of my life
and instead of buying a Harley, he bought a mountain bike. I was only
ten when this happened and quickly got caught up in his craze and I
have some scars to prove it. Colorado was the perfect place to really
get serious about outdoor life. My father took me on some great 11,000
foot plus climbs before I even turned ten.
Unfortunately when I was twelve the family packed up and moved to
Northern Indiana. Flat ground for as long as the eye could see. I faked
my way through high school, only being propelled through it by my
obsession with music. Naturally, I went to college as far away as
possible in Iowa. I stayed in Iowa only for a year. Then met a girl in
Ohio, followed her there to Ohio Northern University. In my over
romantic nature I broke up with her as soon as I got there. By nature
of private school tuition I wound up broke in less than a year, and
then ended up at Wright State University. I very quickly got sick of
that scene, and planned to move back to Iowa, but then met another girl
in Ohio. I got a quick admission to the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of
Music, went broke again, and transferred to the University of Akron.
Then I became really broke, and dropped out of school.
After my academic disaster of an undergraduate college tour I started
working for Ohio Citizen Action, a non-profit environmental group, as a
canvasser. I spent the next 9 months knocking on doors around Ohio,
upstate New York, and Northern Florida. I learned how to talk to many
different types of people, but I got sick of it pretty quick. Then
following a girl again, I moved to Cincinnati in the fall of 2004, and
worked a lot of strange jobs. First I was a telemarketer, an easy road
to ***ism and depression. From there I went even further down the
labor food chain by working at an auto parts factory. After taking my
Christmas bonus and free turkey in November, I quit. I ended up working
as a music educator and child portrait photographer through the summer
of 2005. Then I got lucky.
A Broadway show I have always been a fan of gave me a call and asked
me to send in an audition video. Instead I drove to where the show is
based in Bloomington, Indiana the next day and won the gig. Part of
this gig was learning to unicycle and play trombone at the same time.
The one wheel ***ion began there.
On the tour after unicycling for about three months, I took the
company owned unicycle out of the theater in Madison, Wisconsin and
explored the college town streets. I loved riding on the street, and
even began barhopping on the wheel. After a few nights of using the
unicycle to pickup chicks I even got a DUI warning.
After a few more months of touring and using the wheel to barhop and
pick up chicks (my friends dubbed the unicycle the *** wheel) show
management got wind of what I was doing with their unicycle. They
wouldnt let me take it home at night anymore. So I quickly bought a
Torker DX from unicycle.com and hit the streets again. In February the
tour ended up in Thousand Oaks, California, just at the base of the
Santa Monica Mountains. I went for a hike one day, and thought the
terrain looked rideable, and the next day, my obsession with rough
terrain unicycling began. I spent the next month in the Los Angeles
area spending most of my free time exploring the Santa Monica
Mountains many trails.
After that tour I taught music for the summer and got married in late
August of 2005. Marriage put a serious damper on my adventure related
activities. To escape I took employment on a cruise ship that ran up
and down the West Coast of Mexico and through the Panama Canal. There
were plenty of great off road unicycling opportunities in Mexico, Costa
Rica, Panama and throughout the Caribbean. A month after my contract on
the ship was up, I ended up on a Japanese tour with Blast! In Japan,
unicycling was the only way for me to get anywhere. I commuted to work
everyday, continued to barhop and started to gain interest in street
style freestyle riding.
In September of 2007 I became the first person to unicycle the decent
of Mt. Fuji. It felt great doing something more on the extreme side of
riding. Heading home from Japan it became pretty clear that my marriage
had fallen apart due to my constant nomadic existence. Shortly into
rehearsals for the next North American tour, we separated and divorced.
I was liberated and adventure planning began.
The Haul Road adventure originally started as a three week backpacking
trip in Thailand. A month later it was very clear I didnt have the
funds to pull this off. From there the trip evolved into a motorcycle
trek from Chicago to Invuik in Canadas Northwest Territories. The flaw
with this adventure was that I didnt have a motorcycle. Change of
plans. I thought I would unicycle from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to
Invuik. I only had a month between tours. Damn. Not enough time. A
member in the cast had told me many times of his dream of driving the
Dalton Highway in Alaska. I checked it out. It was a 1000 mile round
trip from Fairbanks, Alaska to Deadhorse, the industrial camp that
supports the oil fields at the end of the highway at the Arctic Ocean.
After a few weeks of research of weather, road conditions, finding
locations to buy supplies along the way, etc I decided this was the
trip for me.
After telling my friends, family and internet unicycle message boards
of my plans, the consensus was the same on all fronts: Youre crazy,
You could die, Its too cold: All words of encouragement for me.
I spent the last three months of tour buying up supplies and spending
many late nights smoking and researching what else I could expect in
Northern Alaska in May. Good news that I found in my research was
always fine. But I honestly craved the bad news. Word of harsher
conditions really started to get me off. Everyone I talked to at
various outdoor stores where I was buying gear told me I was absolutely
insane, and I loved it.
Tour ended April 27th in Newport News, ***ia. On April 28th I
started heading north. Fly from Newport News to Chicago. Drive from
Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin. Fly from Madison to Minneapolis,
Minnesota. Fly from Minneapolis to Anchorage, Alaska. Fly from
Anchorage to Fairbanks. Myself, a unicycle, and a fifty pound backpack.
I made the mistake of strapping my tent to the outside of my pack in
Newport News at the airport. It fell off and was lost. ***. After a
few hours on the phone it was located and would be delivered to me the
night I spent in Chicago. It did not come until five in the morning and
I was up at 8am the next day. I knew I could catch up on sleep during
the flight north. The longest leg of the flight I spent sitting next to
twin one year olds. No Sleep. I showed up in Fairbanks at 2am tired as
hell and seriously irate from the yelling of the twins. I did a gear
check, packed everything how I wanted it and at 3am, went to sleep in
the airport. Security was kind enough to wait two hours before making
me leave. Four hours of sleep in two days. A rough start already.
Day One: Only five minutes out of Fairbanks International Airport on
Old Airport Road, a heavy wet snow started to fall. Five minutes later
I had to stop and put my pack cover on. Ten minutes later, rain suit
on. The rain suit I bought said it was breathable; however it was more
of a sweat suit than a rain suit. I decided to wait the weather out at
the Northern-most Dennys in the world, only three miles from the
After a fantastic last meal I headed out in the wet but slightly
lighter snowfall. I made a stop at a sporting goods store on my way out
of town to buy bear spray and fuel canisters, which I could not fly
with. Everybody at the store told me not to go. It was dangerous and
reckless. More encouragement for me.
Theres a bike path that follows the first mile of the Steese Highway
heading north from Fairbanks. After that first mile the bike path
follows another road called Farmers Loop Road. In the snow I could not
see the intersection, and followed Farmers Loop Road. Of course I did
not know this until I saw a sign for the Fairbanks International
Airport eight hours later. ***. My first emotion was disbelief, than
acceptance and then fury. I was on fire! Quick. To the gas station.
Forty ounces of beer. Gone. Pizza place. Fed. Feeling better. I decided
to spend the night in Fairbanks and found a cute little backpackers
After settling down for the evening I became restless like I do, and
headed down the way to a nice little bar with an open mic night Id
noticed on my way towards the hostel. Showing up to a bar on a unicycle
will usually guarantee a free beer. In Alaska, you can drink for free
off this fact. Ive never gone to a bar by myself and had as much of a
great time as I did that night. So after 4 hours of great conversation
and about a dozen drinks, a lovely woman offered to give me a ride back
to the hostel. Instead she took me home, and if she did have any
intentions, she was disappointed. Thirsty seconds into the door, I was
Day Two: A fresh early start, and an enormous McDonalds breakfast. A
mile out of town I figured out where I made my error the day before and
realized how stupid of a mistake it was. Snow and sleep deprivation cost
me an entire day. ...
read more »