18 – 21 July 2014
After a great stay with Aaron, Laura and little Hasan it was time to head north – and as always when I stay somewhere I exploited the cosiness and left late around 11. My load as heavy as ever with estimated 120 lbs of luggage contrary to the normal 100 lbs but then again I was about 20 lbs lighter than when I started San Francisco in May. It was overcast when I left but it improved along the way – not that it mattered too much as the first 65k (40 miles) were a repeat stretch of when I went to Valdez a month earlier (see that section for more descriptions and pictures). I saw a couple of eagles at Matu River but otherwise not too interesting a ride on the big and busy road. At the intersection I headed north on highway 3 towards Wasilla after which the traffic finally slowed down a little as the road became two lanes with trees on both sides. The weather had changed a lot during the day but when I reached Willow late afternoon it was beautiful. Farley and Teresa - who had previously given me a ride through the Whittier Tunnel - had offered I could stay at their campground if it fit my schedule and it did. It was fairly quiet because everybody was still busy fishing in the south so I got a spot by the river and treasured their hospitality.
The next day the road continued rolling uphill still through the trees with a few views mostly of lakes and wetlands. It had been decent weather in the morning but during the day it just got worse and late afternoon I caught up with what the locals called a rainstorm. I tried to wait it out but in the end I continued in the pouring rain. When I got to the first viewpoint of Mt Mckinley (or Denali – The Great One - as the locals call it) there was a brief stop in the rain but of course no view at all, so I continued looking for a place to camp for the night. Not that easy as I was in a state park with dense trees on both sides and few side roads – all of them for official use only. I finally found an old, overgrown road but the challenges didn’t stop there – swarms of mosquitoes relentlessly attacked me while I desperately worked on getting the tent pegs in the hard gravel and getting my food up in the some trees because I couldn’t get my electric bear fence poles in the ground – all the time in pouring rain so I skipped dinner and went early to bed.
It rained hard all night which was good for sleeping as it drowned the noise from the nearby road. At 9am the rain finally stopped and I could get out of the tent. While having breakfast and trying to dry my stuff I sensed the sun behind the clouds as it slowly began to clear – and when I left around 11 I didn’t have to ride far before I got a view of snow-capped mountains. After 20k (13 miles) uphill I reached another viewpoint of Denali which I could see, though clouds hung low over the mountain range. Based on the elevation of the entrance to Denali National Park and how much I had already biked uphill from Anchorage, I was surprised to continue (rolling) uphill the whole day – as it turned out I had to go over a pass/plateau before descending towards the park. It was (head)windy but still nice weather so I got some beautiful views along the way – including a moose and some eagles. When I reached small town Cantwell early evening I was tired and it was getting cold so I camped amongst some trees behind the gas station. I tried to get my food in the trees but they were too few, narrow and dense (spruce), so I used my electric fence for the first time.
It was a cold and clear morning – only about 60k (35 miles) to Denali NP and mostly downhill along the river so I arrived at the park late morning. See the section Denali National Park for my experiences during a week there before continuing north as described below.
29 July – 7 August 2014
It was a beautiful morning (of course now that I had finished my visit) and I was very happy to get my adaptor back from Lost & Found before heading out around noon. Most of the 115k (70 miles) to Nenana was rolling hills and there was a strong headwind and lots of construction work; two times I had to get a short ride in a pilot car. Other times I passed the finished stretches being a pleasure to ride with a wide, newly paved shoulder. The weather was great and I couldn’t help thinking it was a waste of beautiful weather riding this boring road with few views… In Nenana I asked for camping advice and was sent to the nearby river – still very windy so I had dinner before I put up the tent and found trees for my food; now being attacked by countless mosquitoes as the wind took off (I had to kill 25-30 in my tent before going to sleep)…
Another beautiful day - blue sky the next morning though I was not in a hurry because my Fairbanks hosts would not be home until 6pm… all the same as I spent a long time getting my "food rope" untied from the trees and visiting the small library in Nenana getting directions for my hosts’ house… It was only 95k (60 miles) to Fairbanks but it was fairly hilly so it took a while as did fixing a flat tire - incredibly I just biked 130k (80 miles) on a gravel road in Denali without problems and then I have a flat tire from metal scrap on a paved road. From the last hill before Fairbanks I got a view of the whole snow-capped mountain range including Denali – I quickly dismissed the thought but it briefly struck me how beautiful it would have looked had I still been in the park… After 800k (500 miles) from Anchorage I arrived at Elisabeth and Dallas’ house at 6pm where I also met Polish couchsurfer Franek who was hitchhiking around Alaska after coming up from Newfoundland in Canada…
During my stay I spent a lot of time updating my website and other practicalities (including cleaning and tuning of my bike) but there was also time to attend an outdoor concert in the beautiful university park; visiting a state fair, a gallery presenting local artists and Pioneer Park with memorabilia from the history of Alaska; going to church and having a delicious brunch as well as bicycling a bit around town. Dallas and Elisabeth were kind to let me stay a couple of extra days so there was also time to help out in the garden.