18 - 26 June 2014
After some great days with Gavin, Savannah and Orion it was time to head out on the first leg of my Alaska Summer journey – first to Valdez in Prince William Sound. It was my last chance to sleep in, have a shower and a big breakfast so I didn’t leave until 11am. The forecast said sunny and wind from the south so despite the busy traffic it was a pleasure riding the 10 miles north to the outskirts of town. As I headed east along the highway towards the mountains clouds began coming in so the views were fairly limited. I also got a headwind so it was tough riding despite it being more or less flat – much tougher than expected but I attributed it to 3 weeks without biking. Not until a break in Palmer after 80k (50 miles) did I see it was the rear mudguard touching the tire (so no wonder!). Despite having my bike tuned the gears didn’t work properly either – the chain touched the front derailler and the first gear (of all) didn’t work smoothly – I tried to adjust it without luck and I didn’t want to mess to much around afraid it might be even worse. .. I continued 25k (12 miles) to small town Sutton and was recommended to pitch my tent at a small closed campground. Very peaceful and since there had been a music event the previous weekend I found some bottles of water. And then the – from now on daily - hassle with food/toiletries between two high trees because of bears; undoubtedly the most annoying part of biking as I often takes at least half an hour..
Next morning I got up at 8.30 and left at 10 in beautiful weather. It was going to be the most demanding day with a lot of climbing but first a 20k (13 miles) flat stretch along the river. Most of the climbing was gradual though a few times it got steep – more challenging was the fact that it was 3-400 feet down for every 500 feet up but fortunately I had a tailwind (a rare pleasure!). The scenery was stunning with snow-capped mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, etc. I passed a lot of creeks but most of them were dry and very limited wildlife - a moose crossing the road. Late afternoon I looked for a place to stay but it was difficult not least because there were no big trees for my food. Besides being tired after a long day the weather changed to overcast, fierce headwind and a beginning drizzle so suddenly finding a place got more urgent. Finally a house to ask for advice and they were kind to let me camp in their yard – good timing by the way as they left 5 minutes after I arrived.
It was a cool and overcast morning so I took my time hoping the sun would break through the clouds. When it finally happened around 10 I left, but it was a short pleasure – soon after it was overcast with a strong headwind. After 16k (10 miles) uphill past Eureka it was mostly flat and downhill with only a few steep hills to climb – most of the time I rode through forests with a mountain range on my far right. The weather improved during the day and when I reached Glenallen mid afternoon it was lovely weather. I could have continued but there was no point in pushing it as I had lots of time to reach the ferry from Valdez to Cordova 3 days later (a weekly ferry). At the library I met Jeff and he invited to come and stay in his guest cabin – what a treat with a real bed, dinner and interesting company; however here in the forest the mosquitoes were vicious.
I was really happy about the cabin because it rained heavily during the night. Jeff made us a hardy breakfast and we talked until noon when I finally took off. There was a strong headwind of 25-40 k/h (15-25 mph) with even stronger gusts – positive because it provided nice weather and kept the mosquitoes away but a little less might have done it…. Jeff had told me it was fairly flat until the last 10k (6 miles) up to Worthington Glacier where I should be able to pitch my tent for the night. Well, we obviously have a different perception of flat because it was (more or less steep) uphill the first 40k (25 miles) before it leveled out for 30k (18 miles) and then mostly uphill the last 32k (20 miles). Spectacular nature with countless snow-capped mountains (as you can see from the pictures that I have sorted carefully though it might now seem so). It was not allowed to camp at the glacier but I found a place nearby – a fantastic location with beautiful mountains all around.
The next morning provided a small dilemma – up early to get the views in good weather or sleep in as I otherwise would arrive very early in Valdez. I chose the latter and left at 9.30 – very lucky to get the wonderful views from Thomson Pass before the clouds became too dominant. From the top it was 20k (13 miles) steep downhill riding more than 70 k/h (45 mph) so fortunately no flat tires, etc. And then the remaining 25k (16 miles) flat into Valdez where I arrived early afternoon. Good timing as the clouds came in so I spent the afternoon at the library. When they closed at 5 pm it was drizzling but I was lucky to encounter a couple of friendly bicyclists (Jay and Tracy) who offered I could pitch my tent behind their apartment building; they were also kind to serve me dinner and we shared many interesting stories.
It rained all night but cleared a little in the morning so before stocking up at the supermarket and going back to the library I visited the marina located against the beautiful backdrop of the mountains. I arrived at the ferry terminal at 2.15pm an hour before departure. People had told me it was a beautiful ferry ride (when the weather is nice) so I took the 3 hour slow ferry to Cordova - the forecast said overcast and rain so I was lucky we had a bit of blue sky and sunshine as we departed Valdez. After a beautiful ferry ride i arrived in Cordova asking for a place to pitch my tent for the night before heading out the Copper Delta Highway the next morning. I ended up by Lake Eyak behind a city cabin and a neighbour was kind to call and get the police to confirm it was okay. He also told me it was used by young people for partying, though at this late hour nobody would likely to arrive. Well, nobody who would stay in the cabin but at midnight two young, very drunk girls arrived of which one wanted to teach her poor dog to swim - they kept me up for over an hour an afterwards it took two more hours to fall asleep again...
My initial plan was to bike 80k (50 miles) to the the end of the Copper Delta Highway (a closed system), but a bridge had been washed away a year before so it was only possible to go 60k (36 miles). So the next morning i did a brief stop by the forest service to get advice for camping and hiking and then headed out in overcast weather but no rain - and since Cordova is famous for its rainfall it was considered a good day. 20k (12 miles) paved to the airport and then a gravel road - sometimes decent and other times terrible... Despite the weather I made a 15k (9 miles) detour to Sheridan Glacier assessing it could be much worse weather coming back some days later; because of the bears I couldn't leave my food for long so I did the short walk to the foot of the glacier (instead of the 4 hour hike to the top of the glacier) and as expected not so much to see... 10k (6 miles) further down the road I did the Haystack trail - again not so much to see but here I met Quinn and Angela who invited me to stop by the cabin they had rented and before long I was invited to stay for the night - very kind, generous and interesting people; we had a bonfire, dinner and stayed up late talking about everything and nothing.
Since I could leave my stuff in their cabin it became possible to do two longer trails the next morning. Mckinley Lake trail took my up through the forest while the return on Pipeline trail took me across meadows and past several lakes. It was overcast and drizzling but still nice with the mountainous backdrop - though my shoes and socks were soaking wet. After a quick lunch I biked 5k (3 miles) down the road to Saddlebag Glacier intending to do another trail late afternoon. However before I got my tent up and my food/toiletries high up between two trees (it took one and half hour!) it was raining so i skipped it and went early to bed.
After a long a rainy night it cleared a bit in the morning so I did the Saddlebag Glacier trail - it was supposed to be bikeable but there were far too many roots and rocks so I walked through the forest, along the river and ended up at a small lake with the glacier in the background and a few small ice"bergs" drifting around the lake. The sun came out shortly but quickly it was back to overcast... After breakfast and packing I biked a few more kilometers down the highway to see a big mountain range from a bridge across the river. And then all the way back towards Cordova - I was lucky to get gorgeous views of the Sheridan Glacier and snow-capped mountains when I passed on the road and because it was pouring down towards Cordova I biked down to the glacier once more - much better than last time... I was still raining over Cordova so I proceeded slowly but eventually caught up up with the rain riding a while but then deciding to take cover in a shed... In Cordova late afternoon I spent some hours in the library before camping fairly close to the ferry that would take me to Whittier early next morning. Somebody nearby was shooting (until midnight!) and every time it scared a hundred eagles on the wings - a beautiful sight but I didn't like the way I got to see them... And shooting was not the only noise keeping me awake as people were walking by talking until 1am.
Not getting much sleep I was a bit tired when the alarm rang at 5.30 - quickly packing and then the short ride to the ferry terminal where I got my ticket to Whittier. It was supposed to be overcast but it was a beautiful morning so I got gorgeous views of the mountain ranges all the way along the coast. As always I talked to many different people and got several invitations to stop by should I be in the neighbourhood. Whittier is very small so it only took 15 minutes biking around town before I headed towards the tunnel. Bicycles are not allowed but I was fortunate to get a ride with a pickup truck...
Roads, people, etc.
The first 2 days the road conditions were fine. Out of Anchorage most of the riding was on a bike lane and wide shoulders but later there were cracks for every 2-5 meters (5-15 feet) making it feel like riding a washboard; neither good for me or the bike. Cordova was nice and flat and there was almost no traffic but the gravel road was a hassle...
Local people told me to look out for tourists as they would be occupied looking for wildlife and admiring the views. Reality however was that the RVs went way around while the locals came really close (a typical misconception – it always the other’s). But otherwise people were friendly greeting me and helpful when I stopped and asked for advice.
My computer battery stopped working in Anchorage and despite an effort to revive it (in the freezer) it remained totally dead limiting my use to places with electricity. At the same time the 8-10 (until then) unstable keys stopped working completely in practice limiting my use to picture backup, etc.
On the positive side I'm really happy about my long bicycle pants - warm, comfy and waterproof as well as good at keeping the mosquitoes away. Also happy about the rain covers for my shoes that have now been tested and work really well...
Like last year when i biked across the US wildlife has been fairly limited. I encountered a moose crossing the road, a huge porcupine by the ferry, many eagles and lots of (for me) unknown birds and then of course the national bird - the mosquito; a few places it has been really bad but most of the time it's been much less troublesome that people had told me. All-in-all somewhat disappointing considering the location but there is still lots of time..