Monday, September 28, 2009

Segment 3. Fairbanks, AK, to Tok, AK, (via Denali NP), Jul 17 to Aug 2, 2009, 656 miles, 1210 cum. miles

A great horned owl.

While in Fairbanks, we performed other extensive repair work and maintenance on our bikes. I ordered a complete set of Old Man Mountain front and rear racks (to be delivered to the Whitehorse post office) to replace the racks that had succumbed to the evils of the Dalton, purchased a pair of Jandd Mini Mountain front panniers, a Pletscher twin leg kick stand, and an Ortlieb Classic front handlebar waterproof carry case with map pocket. Jason repaired his broken racks and retrofitted Lucy's trailer with steel reinforcements, and Jeff corrected a front suspension problem on his bike with steel parts that we modified and machined at our campsite. We purchased a cheap electric drill and some other tools to do the repairs, but the only working electricity at our campsite was in an outlet in the ladies room, so we waited until 11:00 PM and then used the ladies room as our emergency machine shop. We only got interrupted once, at midnight, when the door suddenly opened and we were greeted by an equally surprised methed-out male, who no doubt was shocked to find three surreptitious male cyclists in the ladies room doing very strange things to very strange pieces of metal at a very strange hour of the night. After managing an abrupt about face, he staggered off into the campsite woods.

We had planned for our stay in Fairbanks to be a three day rest period for us to recover from the rigors of cycling the Dalton Highway, but we stayed an extra two days because a priority package of bicycle tools, including the factory tool necessary to properly set the torque on my bottom bracket, had not yet arrived at the post office. It still had not arrived by July 21st, and we had to get on with our schedule, so we left orders at the PO to forward it to Whitehorse. We got to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory on August 11th but still no package in sight. We finally picked it up on September 7th in Jasper, Alberta Province. Moral: don't rely on the Post Office for very important stuff.

No campsites were available on the night of the 21st because we'd failed to notify the campsite manager that we were planning to stay another night, so we figured we'd set up our tents in the open pavilion area. However, the site manager rousted us at midnight and said we had to leave. Lesson learned: you can't get away with anything requiring cover of darkness in the land of the midnight sun. So we loaded up our bikes and cycled out of town till we found a suitable remote back road at the edge of a wooded area, set up camp, and sacked out. To our surprise, the following morning we awoke to the sound of backhoes, loaders, dump trucks and other construction equipment, which had arrived en masse at dawn and began to dig up the road, thus blocking egress from our campsite. We stealthily broke camp, and bushwhacked a half mile with our loaded bikes and the trailer through the woods until we found a clear spot where we could exit onto the road. We then set course for the Parks Highway, leading to Denali National Park and Preserve.

Travelling south towards Denali, the sky began to get ominously darker. We soon discovered that it was not a storm approaching, but smoke from a large forest fire burning in the area we were to pass through.

Forest fires are a common sight in Alaska; they are considered a normal part of nature's way, and actually are a very necessary part of the forest ecosystem. They are usually left to burn out on their own, unless they pose imminent threat to human life and property. Of course, there would be no danger to human life or property if humans were to simply stop building in the forest or on the forest edges, but this is a debate that has been going on for years and one that is not not going to be easily resolved

After waiting for a rainstorm to pass, we cycled into Denali National Park the park with a rainbow at our backs. Cars, trucks, RV's and other vehicles are not allowed in Denali Park. Only bicycles and Denali Tour buses are allowed. However, the road is unpaved past mile 15, with no shoulders. Well, at least we only had bears and buses to contend with, not the 30-plus-wheelers that inhabit the Dalton.

Here's Doug, keeping a watchful eye out for the many predators in the park. We noticed a veritable explosion of the Snowshoe Hare population; they were all over the place. We were happy for that, because a hungry bear is obviously a greater threat to an unprotected cyclist.

Here's a good view looking into the park, as we cycled towards our reserved camping site at the Sanctuary campground, located 23 miles into the park.

At Sanctuary that night (July 22nd), we spotted a Lynx, which is very elusive and very rarely seen. He must have been really curious to see bikers in the park, because we saw him again the next morning.

During our stay in the park, we also spotted grizzlies, moose, caribou, bald and golden eagles, pica, dall sheep, and ptarmigan.

Here's a few Dall sheep, looking for the ever present bears.

You can't make him out, but a wily yellow/tan wolf is patiently stalking his dinner in that heavy brush cover.

Here's the real deal, just a couple hundred feet away! Grizzlies.

They were grubbing for dinner in the brush, and not taking too much interest in us.

Grizzlies (Ursus arctos horribilis) have a well-deserved reputation for being unpredictable. Not for nothing are they formally named "horribilis".

Having cycled past many bears without incident, Doug and Jeff relax at the Eielson Visitor Center, located 66 miles into the park, with Mt. McKinley in the background.

Mt. McKinley.
Jeff, admiring the view.


And, Ptarmigan.

A few days later, after leaving Denali park and while cycling the original Denali Highway towards the Wrangell Mountains, I rode right into a flock of unsuspecting Ptarmigan while rounding a curve on the unpaved roadway. It was pure chaos. Flapping wings and flying feathers were everywhere, with me in the middle, mouth agape, hoping one of them wouldn't get caught in the spokes and cause me to crash.
By the time I stopped and retrieved my camera, they were gone.

Here's a shot of an Alaskan red-hot BBQ, in the thriving metropolis of Cantwell (one BBQ joint, one RV park, two gas stations, one luncheonette, and a few scattered buildings and residences).

 While at the luncheonette, we took up a conversation with a really nice couple who took an interest in our bikes and our trip. Turns out, they were the proud parents of Sarah Palin, gov of Alaska. Small world, huh?

Jason and Lucy, with a future distance touring bicyclist. Love the t-shirt.

Sizing up the approaching rain on the unpaved Denali Highway.

Here's our campsite on the 26th, with the Alaska Range in the background.

Sunrise on the 27th.

Waterfowl Lake.

A loon. They had an unforgettable sound.

Just before sunrise. Total solitude and deafening silence. Another Magic Moment in the wilderness.

Here comes the sun, 5:03 AM, July 28.

We stopped for lunch at Maclaren Lodge, and autographed and pinned a dollar bill to the ceiling.

Jeff and Jason, checking out the foot of the Maclaren Glacier (in the distance) which feeds the Maclaren River, passing under the bridge.

Iditarod country, indeed. At night while laying in our sleeping bags completely at one with the wilderness, we'd hear wolves howling. None of us were about to get up, rub off the goosebumps, and bushwack towards the sounds to get a look at the wolves. It was like being buried alive between the pages of Jack London's "Call of the Wild". I can't adequately describe the feeling that you get while alone in the desolate wilderness that London himself experienced years ago, especially with the wolves howling to the heavens nearby to your tent.

We couldn't resist stopping to pick some wild blueberries.

Double click on the photo. We were heading straight for the Wrangell-St Elias Mountain Ranges, and that big glaciated one in the center is Mount Blackburn, at 16,390 feet one of the highest.

Our bounty.

Before you try this at home, first, check to make sure there are no bears in the vicinity. They don't take kindly to bikers raiding their food supply.

Another spectacular night in paradise, July 29, 9:41 PM.

No dog poop allowed.

We didn't camp here.

We did stay at the state campground just down the road. Here's Lucy, basking in the warmth of the ground heated by the campfire of the previous night.

A pair of dogsleds, long past their prime.

Jeff made arrangements for friends of his, Staci and Dave, a couple from Anchorage who worked with Jeff in the Northwest Service Academy in 1997-98 at Trout Lake, Washington, to drive up and visit us near Glennallen. We enjoyed a nice picnic on the banks of a nearby glacial river that day.

On the night of the 30th, we camped in a site populated by cast-offs, like this truck.

This is the Copper River, a fast rushing wild and glaciated, braided river with strong, ice cold rapids, flowing 300 miles into Prince William Sound.

This river is home to the famed Copper River Salmon, fully packed with a healthy store of natural oils and body fat, a firm red fish with a rich and nutty flavor that is prized as the richest, tastiest fish in the world.

A porcupine: road kill. Lots of quills; wonder how many stuck in the tire that nailed him.

Civilization finally at hand, just outside of Tok, the first place to offer REAL food since Coldfoot

Well, not just yet. The joint was closed.

Next stop, Tok Campground, with its all-you-can-eat sourdough pancake breakfast buffet.

1 comment:

Kamatz said...

wow that was an entertaining read! awesome trip