Alaska Expedition: PART TWO....
482km/ 300 miles cycling, 240km/ 150 miles paddling in 16 days.
The expedition was simple: Ride as much iconic single track as we could find, paddle some big ass rivers to complete one big loop covering as much of cold & wet, yet beautiful, Alaska as possible.
AK is no joke, it’s wild, remote and incredibly difficult to access in the event of an emergency, hence the reason to spend so much time preparing for the Expedition and to plan exactly what we were after. So, the theme was set; RAIN........
Resurrection Pass Trail.
Day 5 Hope - Whittier 53km/33 miles
After a relatively good sleep it was up and at ‘em. We had the standard breakfast washed down with coffee. Yet again it was pouring with rain and incredibly windy so there is only one thing to do, get riding.....
It was going to be another day of almost all road. We knew there was a short 16km trail at the end to get us to the tunnel. We had to climb Turnagain Pass, but that was no big deal.
Heads down and hoods on and started riding into the elements, hopeful the miserable weather would die down as the day wore on. There really is not much you can do in this weather, so singing songs to myself was the best option. Occasionally the rain would let up enough so we could ride side by side and actually have a conversation.
We hit the summit of Turnagain Pass and had a brief toilet break before heading down the other side. It was pretty damn cold so we just pushed on trying to snag a handful of nutmix now and again. Unfortunately, as we hit the descent and the wind changed. Our nice easy roll had turned into an all-out, pedal as hard as you can descent. If you stopped pedaling you would literally stop rolling within 10 meters!
The rain had now turned into a deluge, you could barely make out the road for rain. It was slow going. Finally we made the turn off that meant only 16km to the tunnel and the visitor center at Portage Glacier. We got on the little single-track side trail that provided some protection from the wind.
As we exited the trail at the other end into the visitor center we had to give it our all pedaling into the gusty winds. We got inside and as we stripped a few layers off the employee at the center told us that the winds were gusting at 104km/hr 65mph! Woah!
It was freeeeezing but we were informed of a lodge that was about 300 meters away where we could get a hot drink and sit by the fire so back out into it we went to find the lodge. We got in and hung a bunch of clothes out infront of their fire to dry while we sipped on coffee and ate amazing cookies.
We deliberated on whether we should keep going or head back to Anchorage. The weather forecast was looking terrible for the next 10 days. After a couple of hours warming up and consideration we decided to stick to the plan and get to Whittier. So we rolled out the remaining 2 km to get to the tunnel which we needed hitch hike through because they don`t allow bicycles through.
We knew we had to hitchhike, but what we didn`t know was the tunnel was only 1 way, so they had certain hours the cars would go from either direction. We had arrived only a couple of minutes after the last car went from our direction, meaning we had an hour wait until it was our turn again.
To make this even better, it would be the last time the tunnel would open heading our way before closing for the night. We messed that up. So we sat in the shelter of outhouse trying to keep warm hoping a car would come. After a 45 minute wait 1 truck showed up and offered us a ride.
We quickly threw our things in the back of the truck before the tunnel opened again and we drove through. It just so happened the truck driver was doing a delivery to the one other hotel in town and the hotel owner happened to be in the truck as well. The driver insisted that he would get us a cheap room, mind you the hotel owner was not so willing.
We arrived in the tiny fishing town of Whittier where the weather was even worse, not an uncommon thing in Whittier. The saying "It`s always shittier in Whittier" makes sense to me now! We went to the restaurant, also owned by the hotel owner, for some coffee and dinner. Eventually he folded and gave us a room for $50 normally $140, score!
Finally in our room and after boiling hot showers we contemplated our next move. We debated for a number of hours but eventually decided, it`s Alaska, so who knows what tomorrow will bring, lets push on.
Whittier Boat Harbor.
Ferry Map- Whittier to Valdez.
Day 6 Ferry to Valdez 7hours
Making the most of the hot shower and eating the usual oats we departed our hotel room. The ferry left at 1 so we had time to dawdle around the small fishing town. It was still pouring rain and and all round miserable day, but when the clouds would lift it gave a small glimpse into the beautiful mountains that surround the town. The only way in and out was through the tunnel which actually passes under a glacier covered mountain.
We settled in to some pretty comfy seats at the bow of the ship & prepared for the 7 hour journey. Time slipped by relatively quick on the ferry with calm waters small islands and plenty of birds to watch.
Arriving in Valdez at 7 pm we went over to the burger shop, filled our faces with amazing burgers and headed to another newly made friends place. We had been given Sarah`s number in case we were looking for somewhere to crash.
Sarah was great. It was like meeting up with an old friend. We had a few beers and shared a few tales before heading to bed sometime around midnight.
Headed into Valdez.
Day 7- 127km/79 Miles
Liz had some more errands to do this morning so it was a later start in the end. As we set off guess what happened, it started to rain :) This was going to be our biggest climb of the entire trip. Up and over Thompson Pass.
The grade over the climb was pretty low so it was just a consistent grind up the 16km to the pass. Unfortunately, the cloud didn’t lift so we didn`t get the view of Valdez we had heard so much about, but the views we did get did not disappoint. There were glaciers everywhere and beautiful mountains surrounding the entire area. Valdez is a very beautiful place.
Thankfully the descent was longer than the climb and there were no brutal headwinds to slow us down. We cruised our way through another picturesque valley on our way to mile 69. The rain came and went as we meandered along the roadside, stopping to look at the fall colours and take in the beautiful mountains along the wayWe stopped off at a stream to fill our water and rolled the last few km into the nights camp, which was actually the deck of a friend of Liz`s. They had winterised the cabin but there was a fire pit and a sweet deck for us to camp on. I got a fire going and we dried our gear out while admiring our peaceful surroundings.
Taking in the views to mile 69.
The sweet sweet downhill.
Prime real estate.
Day 8 - 120km/75 miles
Another day of road riding but these are the things that you have to do if you want to travel Alaska. A nice morning with some beautiful blue sky, surprisingly no rain and I even got the fire going again. The riding was really enjoyable through this area, the road shoulder was wide, there was little traffic and the road snaked it’s way through big valleys on the route back toward Anchorage. If we were to stay on this road it would take us all the way back, mind you, it would be over 300 miles of riding.
We made the turnoff to Edgerton highway in good time, this was the turnoff that signaled only 94 miles until we start rafting. It was a wonderful feeling to make the turnoff with the rain still holding off, it gave us a spectacular view of a volcano off in the distance.
As we cruised along the road we came across a herd of Yak`s. There was a Yak farm in Alaska! This was fast becoming the highlight of the day. Of course, there was a stop involved here and plenty of pictures taken. Shortly after we got our first look at the Copper River, the river we would be merging into in 5 days. It was wide, silty and braided. It was a wonderful sight and such a great feeling that we were nearly at the paddle leg of the journey. A quick stop in the ranger station in Chitina to make our salami wraps before pushing on toward the nights camp.
Finally it was back onto the dirt road. The road to McCarthy is an old railway so it`s pretty flat but man is it bumpy. " BEAR.......... " I shouted as Liz almost rode her bike right into a very large black bear. Luckily, the bear went one way, faster than I had even imagined they could move and Liz spun the other way without even seeing the bear! The unexpecting bear had been foraging happily on the berries on the side of the road as we rounded the bend while Liz was looking at the colourful trees on the other side of the road.
I am sure they missed each other by maybe 2 meters, if it had of run the other direction it would have run right over the top of Liz. This was to be our one and only bear sighting. After collecting our thoughts and my nerves, we continued on at a much noisier but slower pace.
The afternoon drew on and of course, brought some rain with it. After consulting the map and an online mapping resource called iOverlander (an app I used throughout my Central/ South American bike tour) we found a small hut and decided to call it a day.
We had some van dwellers come and camp in the same place which was brilliant because they came with wine and made some extra toast for us. After the bear encounter we made sure to store our food in the bathroom of the nearby outhouse, as far away from the tent as we could get it. We went to bed with the all to familiar sound of rain on the tent. Such a relaxing sound.
Cooking in an outhouse. Living the dream????
KEEP CHASING THE DREAM............. Part 3 coming soon
I am an ultra runner, Mountain biker, Packrafter, Climber, Ironman, Endurance Athlete