Eagle to Central on the Yukon Quest trail

February 19th, 2020

In 2018 a friend and I biked from the Fairbanks area (Chena Hotsprings) to Eagle.  It was a great trip, with mostly really nice trails but cold weather. I had plans in 2019 to bike most of the full route, but alas family stuff intervened – my wife Nancy snapped her achilles while at a trampoline park.  Ouch! Note to everyone – trampoline parks are not for the 40+ crowd! This year I had hopes of biking some part of the route, but I was having trouble finding anyone interested. Fortunately José Bermudez got in touch and was ok with me joining him for the first part of his Eagle to Kivalina (a small village north of Kotzebue) Trans-Alaska trip.  

Our trip got a bit of a rough start.  We were scheduled for a 9:00 am flight, and after some weather delays we arrived at 4pm in Eagle to 4”- ish of fresh snow with more still coming down.. And it was -20F.   To folks not from interior Alaska, it is hard for the air to contain enough moisture to make snow at sub zero temps, so it is somewhat rare to see that much snow at these temps.  So rare that another passagager assured us the forecast was wrong, as it couldn’t snow at -20F. Sigh.

The next day we set out.  We were staying at the Eagle store and hotel, and I had bought several pounds of additional food after an old timer who runs the Clinton Creek checkpoint on the quest told us we were too early and were not going to make it.   Making my 80lb bike a 82lb bike. So heavy! 

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 The riding was slow for the first few hours until we were passed by two National Park Service rangers heading to Slaven’s roadhouse, a historic roadhouse 100 miles from Eagle. 

Eagle to Central

Eagle to Central

Eagle to Central

The ranger’s packed trail was much faster, but alas our plans of making it 50 miles in to stay with some friends were not going to happen without a long day, so we ended up at another family’s place just off the river.  They are famous with the Yukon Quest mushers as the “Brownie Stop” as they leave homemade brownies out for the mushers. 

Eagle to Central

They put us up for the night, providing us with a fantastic dinner, and I drifted off to sleep the sound of their sled dogs howling.   In the morning we headed out, finding the trail much faster, and made it to our original destination in the early afternoon.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central


We spent the afternoon chatting with Tim and Tova, and ended up spending the night, having talked most of the afternoon and early evening away in spite of our plans to just “stop in to say hi”.  In the morning we pressed on to Kandik cabin.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central


So far the temperatures hadn’t been truly “cold” but had been between -20F and the mid -30Fs – cold but not epic cold.  José hadn’t had a lot of experience riding at these temps and was getting a crash course. Fortunately he adapted, dealing with the layering, hydration hose, and tire pressures issues fairly well.  Kandik cabin is a very cool spot and a neat cabin, but alas, not very windproof, so at these temperatures with a breeze it was hard to keep it warm. In the morning we hit the trail to the coldest weather of the trip, near -40F, enjoying fairly firm trail to Slaven’s.  

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central

Slaven’s was filled with NPS volunteers setting up for the dog race so we quickly moved to the much quieter public use cabin nearby.  We had arrived pretty early, so we planned to leave in the early am hours as the trail breakers were supposed to be in that evening late.  Fortunately they showed up in the early evening. Unfortunately we got to talking and our early am departure turned into a late morning one.  Socialization – it will be the end of us all! 

The trail breakers told us that from the Smith’s (aka the 40 mile cabin since it is 40 miles from Circle) to Slaven’s there was a ground blizzard with near zero visibility.   Leaving Slaven’s the trail was ridable but soft… but soon we were in the ground blizzard and big sastrugi (wind-driven snow ridges) meant we were walking our bikes.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central

Fortunately it wasn’t that bad, but we did end up walking most of the way to Smith’s cabin.  After warming up the cabin we watched from comfort as the leaders passed by, then hit the sack with plans to leave around 3am. For once we were not distracted, and made it on the trail at 3am. The trail was firm and fast from all those little dog feet pounding it down and we zoomed towards Circle.  It was clear the trail had been quite windblown, and in one section there was a bit of a yard sale and I picked up a gopro camera as well as several mittens. On the way to Circle we passed five teams. 

 Alas, the lead dog of the the first musher we encountered, “Ranger”, freaked out and caused a big tangle.  I had been really worried about this. Everyone with the Quest kept assuring me that it would be fine to have us out there, but I was really worried about annoying the mushers and causing an issue.  I had insisted we be off the trail when the leaders passed by so we didn’t damage anyone’s chances on the pointy end of the race. The rest of the mushers went by without issues, though later I was to learn that most of them didn’t really know what we were.  Apparently at the next checkpoint they had a laugh as they discussed who they thought we were. One thought we were another team they passed, another a moose.. Because of course moose have headlamps. 

We chatted a bit with the last musher, Dave Dalton. He was a bit sleep-deprived, and was just standing on his runners  as his dogs rested.

Our conversation went somewhat like this: 

Dave: “I think they are breaking trail.

Me, after looking down at the rock hard trail, “I am not sure, it looks great to me.” 

Dave: “They are breaking trail.  It sure doesn’t look like 12 teams are ahead of me.  I think I am going to let them keep breaking trail and give them a bit more time. ”

Me:  “ Looks good to me – you should get going.”  While thinking of course it doesn’t look like 12 teams are ahead of you, the next one is a half hour ahead of you, and half of them are almost 12 hours ahead of you! 


The remainder of the ride into Circle was a bit boring, but fast.   The trail was routed more on the river this year, so I got to see a few big cliffs and bluffs rather than swamp, which was nice.   We arrived in Circle just as they were closing up the Circle checkpoint in the firehall. Circle is a very small community, and their firehall is appropriately small –  it fits one very tiny fire truck with enough room for another pickup. José I think was hoping we would hang out here longer but I was in a hurry to get to Central, take a shower, and have a burger.   The 34 miles from Circle to Central were on a dirt road, and were uneventful but hilly. At Central my burger need was fulfilled, but my dreams of a shower were dashed. Also, our path forward looked unclear, as the highway was closed due to high winds and drifting snow.  In the morning I after asking around about trail conditions and being told it was unlikely the trail was still in I called it quits. I hitched a ride back to town with the Quest cleanup crew heading back with a load of port-a-potties. “Classy.” as one musher put it. José rode on to Fairbanks on the highway and eventually the local trails and arrived three days later.  After a bit of recovery and recouping he headed out again. Unfortunately his trip ended two days after leaving Fairbanks. Hopefully he will be back next year to complete his route.

This trip was very fun, but a bit slower than I expected.  The trail was mostly ok; it looks like we averaged about 5mph for most of the trip, which isn’t bad, all things considered.  It wasn’t as cold as last time, but it was definitely not warm. We saw lows near between -30F and -40F, with highs of -20F most days.  Watching José adjust to riding in the cold was a reminder about how steep the learning curve is, and how much I take for granted the skills I have picked up over the years that let me be comfortable at those temperatures.  Not that I am perfectly comfortable at those temps – I have yet to figure out how to not get the neck of my jacket wet and frozen after 8 hours sub -20F temperatures for example. However, I am mostly pretty comfortable. José seemed to pick up the skills and adjusted pretty quickly, and after the first two days seemed to be doing fine.  

This is a hard trip – it is remote, it is cold, the logistics are somewhat challenging, and there isn’t a good way to bail out between Eagle and Circle. 

A big thanks to José for the company!  

And Now Winter!

December 18th, 2019

I have done a few overnight trips so far this year, all to cabins in the White Mountain NRA. I love the Whites – it is nearby, has great trails, and a wonderful cabin system. So when I received a last minute invitation to Windy Gap cabin I jumped at the offer. I was even more excited after calling BLM to see if they had any information on the trail conditions to learn they had just broken it out. Hurrah!

Windy Gap cabin is 30 miles from the Colorado Creek trail head I came in on, and the ride in was scenic, but a bit slow.

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There were tons of caribou tracks and more wolf tracks than I think I had seen in my entire life so far. It is great to see such a healthy ecosystem. Near Beaver creek I saw a small herd of caribou who took off soon after seeing us.. fortunately Eddy the dog didn’t chase them.

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It was much colder than I expected , the forecast was for a high of 16f, and a low near zero. It turned out more like a low of -20f, and a high of zero, with a few sections of brisk wind. I wasn’t dressed quite warm enough, but I survived, and it was a good wake-up to winter riding conditions.

Early winter Windy Gap

The trail was mostly in very good shape. The section from wolf run cabin to windy gap had been broken out just a few days before, and it was in great shape for biking.

Near the cabin the only crossing of Fossil Creek was a bit iffy, with shelf ice hanging a foot or so above the creek, which was maybe a foot to a foot and a half deep. No big deal on skis or a bike, but it could be an issue for a snowmachine, as it could be hard to get it the front out to make it out of the creek if it goes in…

Early winter Windy Gap

The evening in the cabin was pretty mellow. The host arrived on skis a few hours after I did, but took only slightly longer than me to get in. On skis this was an achievement as the conditions were less than ideal for skiing – hardcore!

In the morning we headed out, enjoying the nice walk up the hill, then the long downhill to Wolf Run cabin..

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There was a few miles of tussocks and low snow cover outside Wolf Run cabin. Maybe not the best skiing, but it was fine for biking. Though I was a bit worried about getting a flat..

Early winter Windy Gap

The moon was amazing!

Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap

Thanks for reading, I hope everyone is enjoying winter!

Winter begins..

October 8th, 2019

It looks like it is here, hurrah!

Winter Begins

I had heard that the White Mountains NRA had a bunch of snow so with a Monday free I decided to go check it out.

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There was a surprising amount of snow, and the trail was mostly in very good shape.

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I hope it is here to stay!

Moose Creek Cabin with Molly

October 8th, 2019

Last winter our family picked up a fat bike for the twins from a family friend (thanks Amy!). Alas, one bike for two kids is a recipe for unhappiness, and it was slightly too small for Molly (the younger but taller twin).  So this bike became Lizzy’s (the older but shorter twin), and the hunt for another fat bike began. After much bargain shopping we decided to build one from scratch using the extra bike parts I had laying around and a frame we found on discount from Fatback Bikes.

Molly was interested in building it up, so over the course of several evenings she put it together (minus the headset and cranks – I don’t have the tools for those).

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I think she found the experience to be pretty rewarding, and hopefully it will set her up for better understanding of how to fix it (yay!).

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I was pleasantly surprised by the frame – it is one of Fatback bike’s rhinos, their aluminum framed “budget” fatbike. Their latest frames are very refined – I am impressed!

Shortly after Molly’s bike was finished the twins ended up with a Friday off from school, and I pitched biking out to a Whites cabin Friday night. Lizzy, alas, had a climbing competition Saturday morning and couldn’t go. Molly really really wanted to go ride her new bike, so Nancy and Lizzy stayed home to climb. Molly and I headed out to Moose Creek cabin in the Whites. Nancy unfortunately had to work on Friday, and got the short end of the stick.

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The ride out the cabin was fun, but a bit muddy. Molly had a “getting mud on her new bike” meltdown, but otherwise seemed to have a great time.

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Eddy and Shiloh (the dogs) also enjoyed the trip, and Eddy in particular was excited to see snow again.

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He is a little over a year old now, and very bouncy. This was his first overnight cabin trip – something that I hope he will do a lot of in the future – and he behaved himself admirably.

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The evening at the cabin was spent playing Go Fish (the only card game we could remember the rules for), (Not actually true, we had to look up the rules on Dad’s cell phone – Molly) reading, and goofing off.

In the morning thanks to a hard frost the ride out was much less muddy.

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I am looking forward to many family bike (and ski!) trips this winter. Hopefully more snow comes soon!!

Thanks Molly for editing this blog post! 

The Hot Springs Trifecta

August 28th, 2019

Several years ago, some friends and I, inspired by Ed Plumb’s epic trip to Dall Hotsprings , talked about using the Kanuti river for a longer trip looping back to the Haul Road.  After a bit of discussion, the plan morphed into a three hot springs trip. First, float the Kanuti River from the Haul Road, stopping at Kanuti hot springs for a soak.  Then float down the Kanuti river for another 20 miles and hike to the Upper Ray hot springs. Finally, walk or float to the Lower Ray hot springs and then back out to the road.  It seemed viable, but while I was aware people had floated the Kanuti River below the traditional take-out for Kanuti hot springs, I had not talked to them about it. While the walking looked good on the maps who knows how it would be in person.   Early this June, Ed, Matt, Chris, and I headed out to see if we could pull it off.  It was going to be awesome — a new section of river, two new hotsprings, wahoo!   Heath and Patrick joined us for the first leg, floating to the first hot springs, Kanuti, and shuttled Chris’s truck to our take-out (thanks guys!). 

We left town fairly early in Chris’s “fry truck”.  (Chris and his wife Robbin heat their house and power their truck with used oil from local restaurants.)  We drove the Kanuti River, and after a bit of futzing around, put it and began the adventure, yahoo!  

Hot Springs Trifecta

The water in the Kanuti River was high, and the float was fun and fast.   The day was beautiful, with lots of sun and a brief rain squall that mostly avoided us. 

Hot Springs Trifecta

The birds of prey were out in force, and we saw quite a few large raptors and a few owls.   The hours sped by, and soon we were at the take-out for hotsprings number one. Kanuti has had a problem bear for the last few years, but fortunately we didn’t see it.  Alas, it was a beautifully hot day, and unfortunately that meant the hot springs were a bit too hot to soak in for very long. On the upside, it was great to see the field of grass and wild chives surrounding the hot springs in the summer again.  It feels like a green oasis, and smells unique. 

We still had a long float ahead of us, so we said goodbye to Patrick and Heath, and continued floating down the river.  The Kanuti to our takeout was an interesting river – mostly pretty mellow, with a few splashy sections with large rounded rocks.  If the water was a lot higher, those splashy sections would have been a handful. At one point we came upon a cow moose with a young calf in the middle of the river, and we tried to gently sneak by, but they kept going downstream slightly ahead of us — until a black bear charged out of the brush on one of the banks and attempted to snatch the calf.   Much to our happiness and the bear’s sadness, the cow and calf escaped, leaving the bear splashing in the stream. It climbed out bedraggled and wet, and then disappeared into the brush along the bank. Matt is a biologist for the National Park Service, and explained the cow was probably aware of the bear and had been sticking to the river so that if the bear had attacked it could have used its longer legs to stomp the swimming bear and gain the upper hand.  Much to everyone’s happiness (besides the bear’s, I expect) our involvement hadn’t driven the cow or calf into the bear and caused a disaster… 


As we neared the ridge on which we were going to begin our hike, it soon became apparent that the nice campsite overlooking we Kanuti River wasn’t there.  Instead the bank sloped somewhat steeply up to the ridge.. We spent a few hot hours hiking up to the first flat spot we could find, at the high point of the ridge.  

Matt, happy to enjoy some cold snow after a long climb in his dry suit..

Matt had packed a few beers, and they were enjoyed in style, with a view. Thanks Matt! 

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The next day, we hiked over to Tokusatatquaten Lake, a beautiful lake with awesome sand beaches and really nice walking. 

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It is in a truly wonderful spot, and if we had been faster it would have been a great place to camp.

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

Alas, it was late morning, so we pushed on, enjoying great ridge hiking and neat tors while a thunderstorm passed off in the distance. 

Hot Springs Trifecta
Chris, retying his shoe after a tumble in the alder..

We had planned to camp at the Upper Ray hot springs, but a mile or so of dense alder slowed us down enough that we camped on a ridge above it. In the middle of the night, I woke to wolves howling in the valley below us.    

In the morning we zoomed down to the Upper Ray, enjoying awesome walking.  We saw our first sign of humans since leaving Kanuti, in the form of a survey cut.   We followed a hot stream of water through a dense patch of cow parsnip (the northernmost patch I have ever seen!) to where the water came out of a bluff into a neat pond. 

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

The water was hot, and very refreshing, with minimal sulphur smell. Alas, we couldn’t spend all day there, and we headed for what we hoped to be a shortish day to the Lower Ray.   Ed had been here once before, and had hiked on the south side of the creek, and said the hiking was pretty bad. Instead, we tried to take game trails on the north side of the creek.. It mostly had good walking, but it was very indirect.  After several hours of averaging under a mile an hour in a straight line we gave up, and put in and tried floating. The Upper Ray is deeply incised in silt banks, so it was sort of like paddling through a mud canyon. And it was muddy. Everyone else seemed able to keep mud out of their boat, but I wasn’t, and by the end of the day my boat weighed a ton with all the extra mud in it.   I made a serious tactical error and left most of my food in my pack, which was stuffed into my boat, and I only had 2 candy bars for most of the day.. By late afternoon I was full-on hangry. Fortunately, Ed took pity on me, and gave me some more food to tide me over. Eventually we made it to the Lower Ray hot springs – hurrah!

Hot Springs Trifecta


The Lower Ray hot springs is a neat place. The hot water comes out of a gravel bank, and flows right into the Ray River.  It had by far the least alge I have ever seen in a hot spring. Alas, it also had cow parsnip. The camping was great, too — a heated gravel bar, how can anyone beat that! And ever better, there was an old cabin across the creek. I love old rusty stuff, and this cabin was full of it — some old, some new.. It looked like it had been visited somewhat recently, but alas was a bit run down..

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The final day, we floated out to the road.  This section of the Ray had several sections of class II-ish rapids.  They were just bouncy enough to be fun, but not very threatening. By late afternoon, we made it to our takeout, and after a short but steep climb to the road, we were at the truck, and heading home. 

The upper and lower Ray hot springs are unique and well worth visiting.  I am already scheming ways to get back there. 


Thanks for the company Ed, Matt, Patrick, Heath, and Chris!

Our route

Chena Hot Springs to Eagle on the Yukon Quest trail

July 17th, 2019

Preface – I have a bit of a trip write-up backlog now, and am finally getting this trip written up, over a year later. Sigh..

The Iditarod (and the “race” on the same trail, the Iditarod Trail Invitational) gets lots of press and interest, but there is another long sled dog race in Alaska, the Yukon Quest, that receives a bit less attention, but has a reputation for being remote, cold, and hard. 

In 2017 Jeff Oatley and Heather Best biked it near the tail end of the mushers, and I watched them with envy – it looked like a great snow bike tour!

Other folks have biked it, though not (to my knowledge anyway ) recently. I think Pat Irwin and Mike Curiak did in the early 2000s on semi-fat bikes, as did Andy Sterns, so this isn’t new. 

In 2018 things aligned such that I was able to do a portion of the route with a friend David, from Chena Hot Springs to Eagle, which is about 250 miles if we skipped the section of the trail on Birch Creek (slow, winding, and really cold).

The ride was awesome fun, though cold, windy, and remote. 
We started off with Rosebud and Eagle summits… 

Meredith Mapes on Rosebud
David, climbing the last bit of Rosebud summit
Looking down from Rosebud..
Heading down..
Winter single track, heading to Birch Creek
Heading up Eagle Summit just after dark

Then spent the night in Central, enjoying the last burgers and showers we were to see for 5 days. The next day we took the road over to Circle..

The road between Central and Circle

It was much hiller than I expected, and the downhills were petty cold at the -20f to -30f weather. When we arrived at Circle a photographer told us it had been -58f on Birch Creek, which caused a bit of a freakout, as our next leg had us riding up the Yukon River, a pretty cold place. After a bit of inreach texting back and forth with some weather folks, we headed out, pretty sure those seeing -58f were either confused or found a black hole sun cooled spot. 

This area in Alaska gets strong inversions, so low spots can be particularly cold. Alas, the Yukon river is pretty low..

The first night on the river we spent in “Brian’s Cabin”, a neat but run down shack, and in the morning we were welcomed by sub -40f weather. For the rest of the trip we tried to hit the trail at 6am, well before sunrise at 9:30, because I have always felt it is way easier to head out in the dark and cold looking forward to a warm(er) sunrise, than it is to set out in the sun, looking forward to a cold(er) sunset. Until the last day near Eagle, we saw mornings in the sub -40f, and mid day highs of -20f to -30f, sometime accompanied by stiff headwinds – it was cold!

Just as the sun rose we ran into the red lantern, camped out on the river. She had broken her headlamp, and camped when daylight ran out in a cold little hollow in the river. Quest mushers are amazingly tough..

Jennifer Campeau, getting ready to leave as daylight finally arrives.

The next three days we rode up the river, to Eagle, spending the night at Slaven’s a historic roadhouse staffed by a horde of National Park Service folks, and with a family in a giant octagon log cabin. I had been told the river was scenic, but I had dismissed this as unlikely, as I have spent a bit of time on the lower Yukon, which is wide, flat, and boring. I was wrong – it was fantastically beautiful! Alas, it was too cold to get very many photos (or any good ones at all ).. 

This section of the trail is very remote. On the 160 miles of river we traveled, we saw the Yukon Quest trail breakers once, the red lantern once, and no one else on the trail until just outside Eagle. There are a few families that live on the last 40 miles, and they were very welcoming. 

Wood island brownie stop..

At our last stop on the trail, at Trout Creek, we stopped and talked to Mike who runs a “hospitality stop” there in a little cabin he owns. Mike said over the years he has had three groups on bikes stop by stop by in the last 20 years. 

The final 30 miles into Eagle were a slog into a really stiff headwind, on bare glare ice in -10f weather. We arrived to a nearly deserted town, and it took an hour or so to find the place we stayed at. For most of the trip I was regretting my tire choice of a D5 on the back, and a Wrathchild on the front, as we had nice firm trail conditions and the Wrathchild rolls really, really slow on cold hard snow, but the last few hours I was amazingly thankful for the more aggressive studs and grip. 

This was a really fun, but very hard adventure! I have biked the Iditarod trail to Nome three times, and to McGrath three times, and this was a fair bit harder. Perhaps I was just lucky and had good trail conditions (I have been told this countless times), but the combination of shorter days and low sun angles means it is pretty cold and never really warms up, and the it is very remote.

Thanks for the company David!