Denali Highway 2018

People like to tell other people what to do because we all mistakenly believe we’re someone else’s expert.  But what is true is regret. You don’t want to spend the rest of your years wishing you had a second chance at life.    Steve Alaniz & Francesco Marciuliano. (Sally Forth comics)

 

Denali Highway  three days biking the Denali Highway, one of my favorite roads in Alaska. I first drove it in 1974 after a successful trip climbing MountDrum, my first big mountain climb.  Since then I have driven it maybe a dozen times usually in the fall when the colors are in fulll glory.  Mountains rise up to 13000 feet above  the road paralleling the Alaska Range.  For those who have been to Alaska this is the road which goes into Denali National Park, although that is not the section we rode.  We road from near the entrance of Denali National Park east 134 miles (215 km)Denali-Highway-Map_1

Hence Jeanne and I, hopefully nicely, invited ourselves along with the Irving family bike ride across the Denali Highway.  The real problem is the shuttle.  That is why a invite with Irving was nice. Ken and JanLee  are our friends and head of the Irving family.  Their daughter Bonnie has two kids 9 months and 3 years hence would be driving the van with the boys.  Her husband Matt would ride along with Bonnie’s sister, Brita and her husband David.    They had a friend, Gary  who came along with his camper truck.  Thus the two vehicles to carry stuff.  They live in Fairbanks which is a 4 hour drive to either end of the start of Highway.  Our problem is we are in Anchorage and it is a 4 hour drive from Cantwell at  the western end of highway the highway at the old roadhouse of Paxson. It is a 6 hour drive to Paxson from Anchorage on the eastern end.  Whatever, we have wanted to do this ride on bicycles for years.  Here was a chance for a supported ride with friends.

Hence we drove each in our individual car for 250 miles (400 km) to Paxson, left her car in a gravel pit beside the road, and we drove the 4 hours  134 miles (215 km) to Cantwell, where we met the Irvings and camped  a few miles in beside Joe Lake.  Camping is awesome along the road with pullouts and creeks and lakes and views all along.

Thus we rode for three days and it was great riding, gravel a fair amount of up and down as the road parallels the mountains and lots of stream and river crossings, (all bridged).

Cars are interesting as some would stop or at least slow down so as we did not eat their dust, but several did not bother to slow and just flew by, us coughing in the dust.  People are weird.  But for the most part not much traffic, 3-4 hour maybe.

The heart I am not used to and it was clear and sunny hence the wondrous views.  But the second day we were stopping behind any little tree for shade, and drinking massive amounts of water.  The last day, on the last 20 miles (32 km) I just had to put my head down, and grind it out.  For me, it was ridiculously hot in the upper 80’s and lo 90’s (29 to 35 C)

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Denali Highway 
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Drinking lots of fluids was a requirement 
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Camp number 2 of 3
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Mount Deborah and Susitna River (rises 10,000 feet above river (3000 meters))
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Wildlife along the numerous lakes. 

It was a kick seeing the hundreds of kettle lakes from old glaciers and riding the eskers from old glacier moraines.

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Riding the Esker
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Bald Eagle and view
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Mt. Hayes, Moffett, and Shand

Basically it was a treat to be back on the bike.  Sometimes I forget how awesome it can be just cruising along, good friends, camping, enjoying life.

We got to our car at Paxson, departed our friends to return drive the highway for the third time.  Had a most wonderful camp near McClaren Summit with a sunset making the kettle lakes brilliant orange.  Unfortunately, I could not get my lazy body out of sleeping bag at midnight for a decent photo.  IMG_3941.jpg

Of course the ride was eventful with a flat tire requiring a 20 mile return drive to repair as cannot trust the modern emergency donut tires, put in cars.  Only extended the drive home by 3.5 hours. Amazing trip.

Springtime in Alaska

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time

T.S. Elliot

Since returning from Steamboat Springs in Colorado, the streak of sunshine here in Alaska has continued.  Awesome feeling to see and feel the sun returning.  In a few days we will again have more daylight than darkness.  The winter has been one of the better ones in many years due to the return of snow and cold.  As I have said winter consists of three things, snow, cold, and darkness.  If only 1 of three it can be”what’s the point”.  This finishing season we have had an abundance of all three.

Hence after the great trip to Steamboat Springs we returned and I got a email wondering about the Knik Glacier.  It is a glacier about 45 miles away (72 kilometer) and one can ride bicycle or snow machine to the face of it, if the conditions are right.  The past years it has been too warm and the river and lake were a bit dicey to cross.  I have wanted to do it for years but only tried once having to turn around after 10 kilometer because of thin ice and open water.

I would just as soon not break through ice into a large flowing river.  (Discharge normally is about 5000 to 6000 ft3/s in the summer (140 to 170 m3/s), with floods of 60,000cfs or more not uncommon.[2]  )  Currently it is flowing at 560 CFS, still enough to cause problem if you break through.  Still gets me when I see flowing water when the temperature is 10 degrees F (-12C)

But the traveling is awesome, especially when traveling with companions who know how to deal with the cold and are great bicyclers, and are as excited as I am to be there.  I will let the pictures speak.

Enroute from road to river
Riding the lake, must be deep judging by iceberg sizes

 

Where the glacier meets the wall

 

Dennis, Mark, J. R. bikes and glacier front

 

glacier face

 

Mark
Knik Glacier
Dennis

 

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Dennis’s photo of Mark, J. R. departing back to vehicle

As for the cold one just learns to work with it.  Gloves and mittens are a necessity and sometimes a challenge if there are small things to work with (like a camera).  One learns and it is awesome.

While there we discussed how if this area were down south it would be mobbed with people as it is spectacular.  When I got home and looked at some of the pictures on the phone which gives location it said they were taken at the Lake George National Natural landmark.  Wow who knew, I had never heard of it but having flown over it, I knew it was spectacular.

Then the next day wanted to ski some valleys which are often good in the spring.  Natasha (ski jumping coach) and I went out to see what we could find.  Alas, it has not snowed in weeks and the wind has been blowing over the gully we wanted to ski and it was a bit bare.  Could have skied but the breakable crust and scattered rocks did not entice us further.  We opted to return a different way making it a delightful tour.  It is difficult to go wrong when the sun is shining, and the tracks are good. (or it is just plain crusty snow and you can go anywhere)

Natasha at top of “ballfields” with Mt. Williwaw behind

 

 

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Overlooking Anchorage with Mt Susitna (sleeping lady) and Mt Spurr in distance. distance. (Mt Spurr last erupted in 1992, wreaking havoc in Anchorage)

 

On day three Jeanne and I drove down Turnagain Arm just to see it as we never get tired of this drive.  Turnagain arm was named by Captain Cook on his third voyage supposedly while looking for the northwest passage and he had to turn his vessel again..  (it was actually his first mate Bligh (of later fame elsewhere) who explored up the valley and had to turn again).  Or a second version is the waters reverse course with the tide every 6 hours forcing one to turn again as the current reverses.  When in full flow the waters, and ice flow at 9 knots)  Either way Australia and New Zealand do not have a lock on Captain Cook history.

Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet
Turnagain arm

Video of moving ice in Turnagain arm.  It is not bike able or boatable.

I have been trying all winter to get a video of the incoming bore tide with the ice as it is incredibly dramatic.  Timing is difficult and it must be at full or new moon for maximum tide and I have not succeeded but will hopefully try again later this week.  If I succeed I will try and post.

Sometimes the best travel is in one’s own backyard.  Often that is the best of all.