Posts Tagged ‘bike touring’

Whites tour..

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Interior Alaska has been having a fantastic winter – fairly warm, with just enough snow for skiing and snow biking. With permission from Nancy to disappear for a weekend, I made plans to bike the White Mountains 100 course, staying at Cache Mountain Cabin and Caribou Bluff. The Monday before the trip I did a long (ish – only 50 miles) out to the start of the climb up to the Cache Mt. divide, and determined the trail was in over the divide, but a bit soft – so, as it looked like we could bike the whole loop, the trip was on! Saturday morning, 5 of us heading out down the trail to Cache Mountain Cabin – Morris, Eric, Tom, David, and I, all on bikes. We were going to be joined by several skiers. The bike ride into Cache Mountain Cabin was fantastic – the trail was mostly in great shape, and everyone zoomed along. It was well above 0F for most of the ride in, which is very unusual for January, and we enjoyed it to the fullest!

David, the wheelie king, enjoying the extra wheelie power of his fully loaded Ice Cream Truck.

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David has been enjoying that bike to the fullest..

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Tom is hoping to write up the trip for a magazine, and there was much stopping for photo ops..

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Morris, who is signed up for this year’s ITI, was on brand new Fatback Corbis, fully loaded with carbon goodies and whatsits galore. I was afraid to touch it lest I get bike envy..

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Mid-January days are short here in Interior Alaska, so it wasn’t too long before the sun was setting… During this season it always seems like the sun is either setting or rising, with nothing in between, as the sun doesn’t really get all that high on the horizon.

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The evening at the cabin was uneventful, but fun and social. David showed everyone up by bringing out some homemade pita pizzas there were quite delicious, though Morris’s burrito from Alaska Coffee Rosters was a close second (he gave me half) – yummy! My dinners for this trip were selected off the sale rack at REI – I grabbed whatever freeze-dried meals they had on sale, and for this night, had AlpineAire’s Beef Nachos, which was more like vaguely Tex-Mex soup. Edible, but not enjoyable… the dangers of eating off the discount rack. I had miscalculated my food needs and packed about twice as much food as I needed.

In the morning Morris and Bob took off back to the parking lot, as they had to work Monday. I learned later Morris missed a turn a few miles from the cabin, and came out a different road, about 60 miles from where his car was parked.

The morning was overcast, and fairly warm, with a light snow falling. The trail from Cache Mt. cabin winds up over Cache Mt. divide, then descends though a treeless pass, over a narrow glaciated valley known as the “Ice Lakes” due to all the overflow, and follows Fossil Creek down past Windy Gap cabin to Caribou Bluff cabin, our destination for the day. The trail was in fairly good shape, though some of us resorted to pushing once the climbing started.

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David tried to ride the whole thing, and with his huge knobby tires, made a pretty good go of it..
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Though it didn’t always work out..
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He did ride almost all the way up the pass though, which was pretty darn amazing – the rest of us walked.

The trail was mostly in great shape, though the creek near the last steep climb was open, though only a inch or so deep. I walked across it, David rode..
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And Erica and Tom went around.
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The trail over the divide is one of the least used trails in the Whites. It looked like the last snowmachine on it had been a few days ago, and it was mostly in pretty good shape, though the side trail Erica and Tom took around the water looked suspiciously like it was from the same machine as we had been following, and it had tracks on the main trail as well. That didn’t bode too well and I started worrying they had just gone to the top and turned around.

Soon we reached the top of the pass..

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And headed down. My fears about the traffic all turning around at the top turned out to be unfounded – the trail was in over the top and well used.

The ride down was fun, but fairly soft. I crashed several times, including one complete endo. Alas, just before the ice lakes, my fears were confirmed – the tracks we were following looped around in a circle and headed back up the pass, leaving us several inches of unbroken snow on the trail. This slowed things down a lot, and it was very hard finding firm trail under the soft snow.

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We reached the ice lakes just before the sun was setting…
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I was really looking forward to the ice lakes, as they should be fairly good riding, and free of snow. The mostly free of snow part was right, the good riding part was optimistic – the ice lakes were soft, punchy and wet.

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I fell over once, but didn’t hurt myself – fortunately, wet punchy ice has pretty good traction. Eventually we made it past the ice lakes, where the trail got soft again. It was hard riding, and much pushing. David, who had the biggest, burliest tires and soft snow riding skills, was able to ride more than the rest of us, and quickly disappeared ahead. I think his feet where getting cold, and he was looking forward to being in the cabin. We pushed onward, expecting the trail to improve at the Windy Creek trail, just before Windy Gap cabin. The 8 miles of pushing took a while, but wasn’t the end of the world. I did briefly pick up Erica’s bike, and had instant bike jealousy – it was so, so light! Erica was alas, hurting – she had whacked her knee somewhere along the way, and was in pain. A few miles before the Windy Creek Trail intersection, I got the okay from Tom and Erica to zoom ahead and to the intersection. I took off, and was surprised to hear what I initially thought was a cow moose grunting, but eventually decided was David somewhere ahead. Eventually I reached David, where he was walking his bike. His hub had blown up, and the freehub was only “freewheeling”. After a bit of talk, we decided to go check out Windy Gap cabin, and see if it was free – if it was, we were going to attempt to warm up the hub, in hopes it was just ice inside, though that seemed unlikely, given it was so warm. The cabin turned out to be occupied, but the four people there were amazing – they took David and me in, and before I knew it I had a plate of delicious pulled pork in my hand, and got to warming up the hub.

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(sorry for the bad photo – my camera doesn’t have a flash, alas)

Eventually, after dousing it was hot water repeatedly, it was deemed a lost cause, as the freewheeling was only getting worse, and now it was making grinding noises too. By this point, Tom and Erica had arrived, and they were also welcomed in, and quickly had food thrust into their hands. Erica iced her knee, and we started discussing what to do about David’s broken bike. Remus and Shiloh, the dogs, had wormed themselves inside at this point and were crashed out on the cabin floor, snoozing. David was all for walking out, pushing the bike, but the cabin tenants, Mike, Maureen, Mike and Lynn, quickly insisted that he stay with them, and get a ride out in the morning. They also offered Erica a ride out, but she declined, saying that we were sure to see them the following morning, so if one of us needed to be hauled out we could hitch a ride then. They had four snowmachines and several large sleds, and insisted that they had enough room to haul several of us out without a problem. Eventually we left the Mikes, Maureen, and Lynn with David, and made our way to Caribou Bluff cabin. It was slightly under a 3 hour ride, with a fair number of stops, and I arrived at around 11pm. I was happy to see the cabin was still warm from the previous tenants, though less happy with the bag of smelly trash they also left. After dinner and snacks, we headed off to bed. My other discount dinner of chipotle chicken with noodles was tasty!

The morning arrived, misty with a trace of snow following.

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Erica’s knee was stiff and sore, but she gamely loaded up her bike and headed out.
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The riding was fast, but Erica was still having trouble with her knee.

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Halfway between Caribou Bluff and Borealis cabins the snowmachine rescue party arrived, and Erica decided to hitch a ride out.

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They loaded up Erica and disappeared off down the trail, Tom and I following after, though much, much slower.

The rest of the ride out was uneventful, but scenic.

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The trail was a bit soft, making for slowish riding..
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Though it was almost entirely ridable.

The sunset was awesome and seemed to last forever..
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Tom and I made it back to town, to texts from Erica saying all was well, though her knee was pretty messed up, and an email from Morris who had gotten lost and had a long trip back via a friend’s car to get back to his vehicle.

As a postscript – David’s hub was completely messed up. The drive ring is cracked and all of the pawls are toast, as well as the freehub body being heavily chewed up.
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(photo shameless stolen from David’s Facebook page – hope he doesn’t mind)

I really don’t understand why aluminum alloy freehub bodies are so popular – in my experience they tend to be fragile and quickly mangled by cassettes. In David’s case, it makes even less sense – his bike is heavy steel framed XXL. Give the size, one assumes it is mostly going to be ridden by large people. Large people are extra hard on freehubs, and are not (or at least shouldn’t) be concerned with the difference a steel vs an alloy freehub body would make. As I write this, David has a hub headed his way from QBP, which is nice of them. Hopefully this will not happen again for him, as it could have been a long, 40 mile walk out. Freehubs seem like such an important part of a bike – when they break you go from riding to walking. It is hard to imagine why bike designers think the small weight tradeoff is worth it.. The hub is a salsa branded hub 190mm hub, and it makes even less sense from that perspective – the only bike in their product line it fits on is the Blackborow, which is bike aimed at exploring, not racing. Hopefully this is just a one-off thing, though I doubt it, given all the trouble some of the larger local riders have had with other salsa hubs.

Anyway, I hope everyone is enjoying a fantastic winter, and getting lots of outside play time!

A huge thank you to Mike, Maureen, Mike and Lynn – you guys saved our butts. It was truly wonderful to be welcomed into Windy Gap cabin by such friendly faces. And that pulled pork – it was the best I have ever had! Nice folks like you guys make Alaska what it is. Thanks for being who you are!

Biking the Haul Road – Deadhorse to Fairbanks

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

I have been thinking about biking the Dalton Highway for several years now. The road has a legendary reputation for long 13% grades, epic mud, windshield- and tire-destroying rocks, and headwinds of doom – all of which of course makes it a very attractive road to bike. Things came together this spring, and in mid July I found myself driving up the Haul Road with Tom on a grand adventure. Some friends of ours were on a long float trip that ends up on a village near the north coast of Alaska where they would then fly to Deadhorse and drive back to Fairbanks. Luckly for us, they needed someone to drive their vehicle up to Deadhorse, so early on a Tuesday morning we loaded up our bikes and headed out of town. It was a long, uneventful drive up to Deadhorse and took a little under 12 hours including a shortish stop at Coldfoot. We spend the night at Deadhorse at the aptly named Deadhorse Camp hotel. The hotel was composed of a main building made of stacked ATCO trailers, with a number of stand-alone trailers on skis pulled up around the main building.

This is standard affair for Deadhorse – nearly every building not intended for equipment storage is composed of an ATCO trailer of one sort or another. Our room was in one of the trailers alongside the main building.

This was my first visit to Deadhorse in the summer. I had been here several times in the winter while passing though on the way to Barrow and things looked quite different when it’s not -40F with 50 mph winds.. Deadhorse is a strange place and fairly hard to describe. Its consists mainly of a immense series of gravel pads connected by gravel roads with all sorts of heavy equipment, oil exploration machinery, and trailers of all type parked in various stages of disarray, along with a couple of active oil and gas wells.

I stopped by the hardware store and picked up a set of tinted safety glasses, and then we headed out to find dinner. Most of the folks here are not full time residents and are here temporarily for work, either for short stints or on some sort of 2 weeks on, 1 week off rotation. This makes for some unusual living conventions, including the all-you-can-eat meal – all the restaurants in Deadhorse serve all-you-can-eat meals cafeteria style. The food is not bad, but not particularly exciting. We ended up eating at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, and some of the clients definitely showed signs of the “all you can eat diet”. Eventually we pried ourselves away from the trough, though not before I made a to-go bag with a handful of pastries and headed back to our hotel to get some sleep.

In the morning we hopped on our bikes and were off!

Our route was pretty simple as there is really only one road option to get back to Fairbanks. We were going to leave Deadhorse, bike on the Dalton until it ended and then take the Eliot Highway back to Fairbanks. Fairly simple.

Here is an interactive map of our route:

View Larger Map

Day 1
For the first mile or so we had to bike some local roads to get to the Dalton. There was a surprising amount of traffic, though the drivers were pretty well mannered.

Eventually we reached the start of the Dalton, and our trip began!

The first 60 miles or so of the Dalton are mind-numbingly flat, but quite scenic. It might go without saying, but this section of our trip was quite far north – in fact I think this might be the farthest north you can go by road in North America. There are no trees this far north, just small willow looking shrubs and things that look much like grasses (I am obviously not a biologist). We really lucked out weather-wise – it warmer than I expected. We had a wonderful 65F weather, which was quite a bit nicer than the 40F I was expecting. The road surface for the start of our trip was hard packed dirt with a fair bit of calcium chloride mixed in to harden the road surface and to keep the dust down.

I had been told that there was a good chance that we might see some Musk Ox, but alas we didn’t. We did see a lots of birds and were dive bombed briefly by some shockingly large terns. We also saw a fair number of fat arctic ground squirrels, of which there was a lot.

At around mile 53 or so the surface changed to chip and seal and we enjoyed a nice break from the gravel road for another 27 miles.


Eventually the road surface switched back to dirt near a collection of dreary looking buildings called “Happy Valley”.

Just past Happy Valley there was a motorcyclist stopped in the middle of the road. It was a bit of a strange place to stop so when I caught up with him I stopped and asked if he was ok.

We talked for a bit and apparently he had stopped to take pictures, and was completely unfazed that he was in the middle of a dirt road with large semi bearing down on him from behind. I talked to him for a couple of minutes, learning he had driven his motorcycle up from Georgia. We saw an amazing number of motorcycles. It appeared that there were more motorcycles than any other type of private traffic on the road… not what I expected.

We continued biking until we reached the “Ice Cut”, a smallish hill where the road cuts through the a bluff and apparently exposed a large ice-lens, thus the name, and we called it a day. We camped on a pipeline access road that leads to the Sag River. The Dalton has lots and lots of wonderful campsites – at regular intervals there are side roads leading to the pipeline. The pipeline access roads are normally blocked by gates, but the gates are easy to get around or under with a bike, and as far as I know its fine to camp there so long as you do not block access.

Day 2

In the morning we continued, though the weather was a bit less sunny. We had brief rain showers for most the day, though it never rained very hard. For the first day the road was mostly very flat, with only an occasional small hill. As we traveled south we started hitting the foothills of the north side of the Brooks Range, and things became a bit less flat

The hills continued to grow as we headed towards the Brooks Range and the high point of the trip, Atigun Pass.

We passed a number of construction and DOT camps, including one with an interesting sign.

A little before we entered the Atigun River valley, we passed Toolik Field Station, where some neighbors of ours spend part of the summer studying the Arctic ecosystem.
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After passing the side road to Toolik, we passed Galbraith lake where some sort of massive excavation appeared to be going on, and started up the Atigun River valley.

The views were starting to be pretty nice at this point, but alas we were also on the receiving end of a stiff headwind. We spotted several groups of sheep sunning themselves on the other side of the valley.

On this section of road the trucks raised a fair bit of dust – fortunately the wind kept it from hanging around very long.

We did get to see some unusual cargo as the trucks drove by, including a rocket-shaped oversized load.

The Atigun River valley is quite beautiful and very scenic.

Eventually we reached the base of Atigun Pass, the only “big” climb of the trip, just in time for it to start raining in earnest.
Fortunately the rainstorm was short-lived, and by the time we were half way up the climb it had stopped raining.

The climb up the pass was a lot less of a climb than I was expecting – it is fairly steep but it is not that long and was over fairly quickly. At the top of the pass we were rewarded by wonderful blue sky and fantastic views of the south side of the pass – hurray!

From the top of the pass it was a wonderful ride downhill to our campsite for the evening near the airstrip at Chandalar Station.

We camped near the runway, but well off the section used by planes so we didn’t get in the way. The runway appeared to used only infrequently. The campsite had wonderful views of the Chandalar Shelf and the start of the Dietrich River valley.

Day 3
Our third day was pretty short, only a little over 50 miles and 4 hours of biking. We left pretty early, climbed up over Chandalar Shelf, and enjoyed a long downhill ride to Wiseman. We were starting to leave the Arctic and the vegetation was starting to change – we now had trees!

This section of the trip zoomed along, as it was mostly downhill with very few hills. About 10 miles or so before the turnoff for Wiseman the pavement started – nice new and fast pavement.
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We arrived in Wiseman a little before 3pm, with lots of time to explore, shower, do laundry, and get other random tasks done. We stayed at the Boreal Lodge a wonderful little lodge in Wiseman proper. I explored Wiseman for a short time, seeing the museum and an old general store, and walked around town a bit. Eventually I headed back to the lodge and spent a bit of time relaxing in the sun, and enjoyed several ice cream bars.

Day 4
On the forth day we headed out of Wiseman early and zoomed off to Coldfoot in an attempt to arrive in time to make the all-you-can-eat breakfast offering. We arrived with 15 minutes to spare, and quickly grabbed our food. Just as we were sitting down to gorge ourselves, the folks we shuttled the car for arrived. They had finished their trip a bit early and were heading back to Fairbanks. We had a very large breakfast with them, and eventually hit the road again, powered up (or slowed down) by the massive quantity of food we had we had eaten. The road south of Coldfoot is paved and was fast riding. A little south of Coldfoot we ran into our first biker (while on bikes anyway – we saw several bikers on the drive up, but as we were driving it does not count) of the trip – Rucker.

Rucker is from Ohio and is apparently friends with the cousin of one of my neighbors, who asked if we had seen him. Sometimes it is an amazingly small world.. We saw a handful of bikers on the drive up to Deadhorse, and two bikers on the bike ride back to Fairbanks, and Rucker was the only one who seemed to have things in order, and appeared to be carrying a reasonable amount of stuff.
The road south of Coldfoot is very scenic..

We stopped for at the Arctic Circle for a quick photo..

and made a quick pass though the campground looking for “bucket man”. On the drive up we passed a fellow biking in full bug gear with 5 gallon buckets instead of panniers. I thought about stopping to say hi and ask how the biking is, but since we ran into him around 10 miles or so outside Deadhorse I thought I would just catch up with him the next day. Alas, bucket man was hauling butt, while we kept an eye out for him we didn’t catch up with him until the Arctic Circle campground, where he was sleeping, so we didn’t get a chance to talk. I did admire his bike from a distance however.

The only major climb of the day was Beaver Slide.

Beaver Slide is a 9% grade gravel hill that is about two miles long and very straight. As we approached it I saw huge white ghost-like shapes descending it in an ominous manner. Fortunately they turned out to be wide load trucks with huge white boxes on them.

Climbing Beaver Slide turned out to be an amusing exercise in dust and bad driving. The truckers seem to take the hill pretty slowly, going up and down the hill at a reasonable rate. Alas, some of the private traffic seems to think this is a ideal place to pass, and we witnessed several very marginal passing maneuvers while climbing the hill. It was very dry when we were on this section of road, which ment it was very dusty. Fortunately it is only two miles long and it goes by fairly quickly.


The rest of the day went by fairly quickly. We biked until Dall creek, where we took a pipeline access road and camped under the pipeline.

The pipeline was amusingly adorned by lots of notes and a few strange symbols.

Disturbingly, one of the pipeline supports we camped under was labeled “Replace S Bracket”. We did survive the night.

Day 5 – the day of Mud!
The next morning we awoke to a light rain. We packed up and headed with with plans of getting an early morning burger at Hot Spot, a burger joint several miles from the Yukon River. The road quickly turned to dirt again, but it was not a big deal as it was not raining all that hard. This was going to change however…

The section of road before the Yukon River is scenic with wonderful sections of fireweed in old burns – quite beautiful.

For most of the morning there was a light rain, and it was starting to make the road a bit muddy.

Eventually we arrived at Hot Spot and had some burgers. After the burgers we headed out. While we chowed burgers it had continued raining, and as a result the road was a bit more muddy..

We stopped briefly at Yukon River camp and I grabbed two Dr Peppers and we then headed across the bridge over the Yukon River. The Yukon River bridge is pretty funky – it is the only bridge I have crossed with a definite slope to it. Biking up hill on a muddy wood decked bridge in the rain is an interesting experience.

The mud got progressively worse…

Fortunately we were saved by a brief bit of pavement after the bridge. While we were on the pavement we passed a fellow biker from Holland via Canada who was hauling a lot of stuff – a fully loaded B.O.B. and a full set of panniers, and was carrying food for full 14 days. It looked painful. Eventually the pavement ended and the mud began again. By this time the rain had stopped and things were drying out, but while the road was getting better the semi-dry mud was very sticky and our bikes required frequent de-mudding.

Eventually we had to stop at a creek and did a complete de-mudding and ate dinner while the road dried out. This worked wonderfully, as by the time we had finished and were ready to go the road was much dryer and almost mud free.

With about 10 miles left on the Dalton we ran into a fellow walking on the side of the road. We stopped and talked for a bit, and learned he was on day one of an attempt to Dalton Highway from the junction of the Elliott to Deadhorse. He was from Worcester, MA and was figuring on taking 18 days.

We biked the rest of the evening, and made it to the Elliott highway, which marked the end of the Dalton – hurrah!

We biked for another hour or so and made it to Fred Blixt cabin, which we had rented in case we wanted to spend the night there. It had been a bit of a long day and we were pretty happy to crash at the cabin.

Day 6 – the last day!
The final day was fairly short, but has a few hills. We got an early start and stopped at Joy, a small homestead and gift shop, grabbing a bite to eat. Several hours later we made it to Hill Top, a local truck stop at mile 5 of the Elliott, and dropped in for a (large) bite to eat. I had some pancakes and Tom enjoyed a burger. I was warned the pancakes were huge, but was not expecting the massive too-big-for-the-plate pancakes that I ended up with – alas I was only able to eat half of them. The rest of the trip was pretty mellow, though it was a bit hard to bike with so much food inside me. I made it back to my house at around 4 or so, just in time to meet up with my wife Nancy and the twins returning from picking up their veggies from the local CSA.

For those interested, here are our final stats for the trip:

  • Day 1, Deadhorse – Ice Cut: 92.5 miles, 8 hours
  • Day 2, Ice Cut to south side of Atigun Pass: 85.8 miles, 8 hours
  • Day 3, Atigun to Wiseman: 54.1 miles, 4 hours
  • Day 4, Wiseman to Dall Creek: 104 miles, 8:30 hours
  • Day 5, Dall Creek to Fred Blixt: 101.5 miles, 9:30 hours
  • Day 6, Fred Blixt to Tom’s house: 75.9 miles, 6 hours. +~3 miles for Jay.
  • Total, 513.8 miles, 44 hours

Notes for other folks interested in biking the Dalton Highway.

  • Food is available at several places along the road:
    • Yukon River Camp, MP 56
    • Hot Spot and 5 mile Camp, MP 60
    • Coldfoot, MP 175
    • Wiseman, MP 186
    • Deadhorse, MP 414
    • All these places (except Wiseman) have diner style food, and a selection of very basic snacks.
  • The Boreal Lodge in Wiseman, and possibly the other lodges in Wiseman, has a small but useful selection of basic food stuffs.
  • There is a post office in Coldfoot, so it is posssible to mail stuff there to be picked up, though the office hours are a bit strange – Mon,Wed,Fri 1:30-6:00pm
  • With all these options for food it’s silly to carry all the food for the entire trip with you the whole time. Unless you love hauling extra weight up and down the hills.
  • If you book a reservation with one of the places to stay along the road, its probably possible to mail them a food drop of some sort. Ask first of course.
  • There are quite a few hills – go as light as is reasonable.
  • Basic cross tires in the 32-40mm range with a little bit of tread are fine. Bigger tires will add more comfort but slower riding, smaller tires more suffering.
  • If the road is muddy and it looks like it might stop raining, take a break and let the road dry out. The road appears to dry pretty fast and the daylight hours are long. Go take a nap!
  • Fenders are a very good idea – not only for keeping you dry, but for keeping your drive train as clean (as possible anyway) of mud. If it rains there will be mud.
  • No bike repair stuff can be found on the Dalton, though there is a very well stocked hardware store in Deadhorse that might have some things (patch kits for example)
  • You can’t bike to the Arctic Ocean. You can take a tour there and listen to a talk about how clean and happy BP is, and splash in the ocean if you want, but you cannot bike there.
  • Bring at least one water treatment system! There is lots of water in streams and lakes along the road, but pretty much all of it needs treatment unless you want giardia or some other friendly gut nasties. We used an older model of the Steripen with backup chlorine dioxide pills and two part chlorine dioxide liquid. Treating water is fast and safe these days, there is no reason not to do it. The walker we ran into at mile 10 was planning on drinking untreated water for the most part, which I hope works for him, but for most people will end up with the “Giardia Weight Loss Plan” and an potentially aborted trip.

 

A simplified map of the route:

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More Photos can be found Here.

A family bike trip in Denali NP

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

It seems like every time I go to pick up the twins they feel heavier – they seem to be growing like little weeds. Little weeds who are now big enough to start hauling themselves on trips… and so we found ou selves setting off on a bike tour with the twins on the Denali Park road. I have always enjoyed biking the Denali park road – it is quite scenic, fairly well maintained, and once you get past the first 15 miles the only drivers you encounter are running tour buses. The tour buses always seem to give bikers lots of room and are fairly courteous. Our plans for the weekend were relatively modest – to bike the 30 miles or so into the Teklanika campground, spend the night, then bike back out the next day. The first 15 miles or so are paved and while there are hills, there is nothing tremendously steep so it should be a good introduction to bike touring with the twins.

The twins were very excited about the trip and were very eager to get started and have the adventure begin! After doing all the initial check in and paper work that visits to Denali NP seem to require these days, we started pedaling and were off!

The twins were riding their tag-along bikes , which are sort of a half tandem bike that attaches to the parent’s bike seat post. Nancy and I were hauling the gear in standard panniors, though for such a short trip not much gear is required. We have done bike trips with the twins before, but in those bike trips the twins spent all the bike time in a child hauling trailer – with the tag-alongs the twins could help power us along, as they could now pedal. The pressure was definitely on, because, as Molly pointed out, if they were not pedaling we could tell, as the free wheel makes a clicking noise while freewheeling. Molly and Lizzy are slightly different sizes these days, so they girls each get their own tag-along, and as they are a bit of a pain to swap back and forth, the girls did not swap back and forth between parents. Molly rode with me, and Lizzy with Nancy. The girls were quite good sports, chugging away while we biked up and down the hills on the first several miles of the road. After 7 miles or so a snack break was called and everyone pulled off the road to have a little something to eat. Biking is hard work when your legs are less than a foot long!

Eventually we reached Savage River where the pavement stops and the road is closed to the public. We waited in line with the other vehicles and eventually had our turn to get our passes checked and received permission to continue.

I should point out that we were definitely an oddity – we saw one other biker while biking in, a heavily laden European fellow who looked a bit shocked to see us. I expect passing two five year olds doing a similar bike tour to you makes your experience seem a bit less “epic”. The first section of the park road is open to the public and gets a fair bit of vehicle traffic. The girls had been instructed to wave at the passing cars, and took this to heart, waving to all the buses, RVs, and other random vehicles traveling the roads.

The last 15 miles or so of the of the road from Savage River to the campground we were staying at are on a fairly nice dirt road. When we were there it was in great shape, without a lot of mud, dust, or washboarding. It has some hills but nothing particularly steep, and having the twins help power up the hills was very nice – I could definitely notice when Molly was pedaling.

The riding with kids is a bit slower than with adults, as they are not quite old enough to snack on the bike, and of course need the occasional distraction. We stopped every 7 miles or so for a snack break. The twins got very good at spotting the mile posts along the road.

We also stopped to let them explore anything interesting on the side of the road, like culverts waiting to be installed.

One of our stops was at a pull-off with outhouses that is also used by the tour bus companies. When we arrived there were several buses pulled up and a the tour guide (perhaps color commentator is more appropriate description) was well into giving a talk about life in Alaska. Sometimes I wonder how the tour companies select these folks, as the talk mainly seemed to involve oil tax regimes and was given in a AM radio talk show style a-la Sean Hannity – riveting. The vistors were milling around and since we were doing something interesting like biking with kids and not talking about such exciting subjects like oil taxes a fair number of people came up to say hi and say how impressed they were we were out biking the road. This was fantastic positive reinforcement for the twins, as here real live grownups were saying they could never do this as it would be just too hard. It was also a bit depressing from my point of view, as really this trip was not particularly epic, and almost everyone I saw would have been capable of doing what we were doing, and a fair number of them would probably even enjoy it more than riding in a cramped bus. Such is life.. Eventually we arrived at the campground.

We biked around the two loops that form the campground, found a spot, and unloaded. The twins were very excited as our campsite was surrounded by small spruce with enough understory they could play under them – it was almost like having their own tree houses. They had a great time exploring and were very busy running around and checking things out. Nothing was left unexplored, even a random pile of gravel near a tent site, were they found a rock that could be used to draw on other rocks – exciting stuff!

Eventually we set up our tent and made dinner.

After dinner we joined the other campers and attended a talk put on by an interpretive ranger that included a wide range of subjects and ended with half the audience getting blindfolded and hugging a tree. Lizzy did the honors for us.

After the talk we headed back to our tent and got everyone ready for bed. While we were getting ready one of our campground neighbors who arrived in a large RV came by and talked to us for a bit. She seemed very baffled as to how we could survive the night and asked us “What do you do when it rains?”. She seemed very baffled by our attempts to explain that we had rain gear, and a tent, so rain was no problem. Eventually everyone was ready for bed, but alas sleeping in a tent is a bit exciting, so it took a while for everyone to calm down enough to go to sleep.

It took a while though.

It rained on and off all through the night and was still raining when the morning arrived. The twins were unfazed, as they have rain gear, sandals with plastic bags covering their socks, and rain paints, making them very rain proof.

The biking was quite good on the way out, and a fair bit faster as this section of the road has more downhill overall on the way out. It was a bit more muddy though, which Molly enjoyed, but Lizzy less so due to Nancy’s lack of fenders.

The road was still in good shape though and everyone had fun even with the mud.

When we reached the pavement we started seeing motivational signs and the occasional aid station – it turns out we arrived just before a half marathon was to start.

The last miles on pavement zoomed by, as they are almost entirely down hill. By the time we reached the parking lot everyone had impressive mud stripes.

After visting the bathroom for a little “de-mudding” we headed off to glitter gulch to get some pizza and ice cream. This was a fantastic trip – everyone had a great time even with the wet weather. Our first bike trip where everyone pedaled was a success, which bodes well for future bike trips. There are so many wonderful roads in Alaska to explore and as the kids get bigger I am looking forward to doing some fun bike adventures with them.

Major kudos to Molly and Lizzy for being such troopers!

Whites 100 Trail Recon

Monday, March 21st, 2011

With the White Mountains 100 a week away, Tom and I headed out to the Whites for a quick overnighter to check on the trail conditions. Last year the race was a week earlier, and the weather quite a bit colder, so I was a bit concerned about the trail conditions.. We left town at early afternoon and were on the trail at around 3pm – just in time to encounter a fair number of folks returning from weekend jaunts on snowmachines, which combined with the warm weather made for very soft trails.

The first several miles were too soft to bike, but the further we got in the firmer the trails were. Alas, there was a constant stream of snowmachine traffic which keep things fairly soft.

After a overnighter at Moose Creek cabin we left fairly early in the morning, and the trails were much, much faster. We took a less traveled side trail which is not part of the race, Moose Creek Trail, and it was pretty soft due to some heavy paddle track action..

.. but once we hit Wickersham Creek trail things got a fair bit harder and faster. From the Train Shelter (the final checkpoint) to the big climb out of the Wickersham Creek valley the riding was very good and very fast – I averaged 9 mph without a lot of effort. This was pretty good news, as it means the trails are going to be pretty good when they are not disturbed by heavy traffic.

The overnight low at Moose Creek was -5f, which is pretty good news, as it is cold enough the trails will setup up over night, but not so cold as to create problems for folks. Last year the overnight lows were around -20f, which led to some unhappiness. So the verdict is that the first mile or so will be fairly painful – soft with lots of moguls, but the rest of the trails will be pretty firm and fast until things warm up in the mid to late afternoon, at least for the bikers. From a classic skiing perspective, everything looks pretty good – the snow is not super cold so there should be reasonable glide, though the snow is pretty coarse so it will be hard on kick wax, and from a skating perspective, the trails look wonderful – wide enough to give good skating and enough snow to make the trails fairly smooth, at least for the first 25 miles and the last 10 we explored.

In other good news, the overflow appears to be pretty mellow. The section before the Trail Shelter has in the past year had fairly epic slanting ice sheets – this year its pretty mellow and entirely ridable. While there is lots more overflow to be had on the race course, the fact that this section is in good shape is a very good sign.

I have been playing with making movies lately, so here is some video from the ride:

Whites 100 Trail Recon from J C on Vimeo.

Only a couple more days to go! Time to go carbo load – go drink some beer and eat some ice cream!

More photos can be found here:

Pre Whites 100 Trail Recon

Bike 0, Ski 1

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Having received my long awaited Fatback, I was very, very antsy to get it out on the trails and give it a spin. I had taken it out on the local trails for several hours of riding and since it was working well decided to take it along on a trip out to Wolf Run cabin in the Whites. The trail conditions report did not bode well, but I assumed (wrongly it turned out ) that with the new snow and the nice weather folks would be out on snow machines enjoying themselves. On the off chance things didn’t pan out I waxed up my skis and tossed a backpack in the back of the truck. This turned out to be a good call. Heike, Christie, Tom, and I headed out of town and off to the trailhead fairly early Saturday morning after a quick stop for coffee at Alaska Coffee Roasters. The roads are much improved now, but still a bit slick so the driving was slow at times but we arrived intact – hurray! The trail leaving the trailhead looked great, so I packed up the bike while the two skiers (Heike and Christie) got ready to go, and Tom the runner took off down the trail. Eventually I got my bike packed and headed out. The first 5 miles or so of the trail were fantastic – hard and fast with a slight dusting of snow. I took it pretty easy getting used to the bike’s handing while fully loaded. Alas, at mile five things got a bit slower – there is a side trail here that heads out towards the Tolovana River, and all the traffic appeared to be taking the side track, with a single snow machine track heading down the trail. The trail was still rideable, but marginally so. Alas, after several hundred feet the snowmachine turned around and that was the end of the packed trail. The rest of the trail had about 5″ of snow on top of a breakable crust on top of a bit more snow, then a packed trail – good for a bike stand but not riding.

The options were to push the bike another 18 miles or head back to the truck and get skis. I was not thinking the 18 mile push-fest in followed by another 18 mile push out the next day was a good first over-nighter on the bike, so I returned for the skis. Tom joined me and we headed back to the truck while the skiers continued down the trail and off to the cabin.

45 minutes or so later I left the trail head again, this time on skis. 4 hours later we caught up with Heike and Christie who had the good sense to bail on the original plan and had stopped at Colorado Creek cabin. The trail between Colorado Creek cabin and Wolf Run cabin appeared to be completely unbroken – it would have been a long hard slog with a couple of tricky route finding sections, so bailing was a good call – we also knew the cabin was unreserved mid week and were fairly sure we would not be putting anyone out. Regardless it was very nice to step inside out of the wind into a warm, bright cabin. We had a relaxing evening goofing off and talking, and after a night’s sleep and a slow morning, headed back out on the trail.

The ski out was much faster as our tracks were mostly still intact and we were back at the trail head surprisingly quickly. Near the end of the day things cleared up a bit and we got some wonderful views of the surrounding hills and the mid afternoon sun.

A big thanks to Christie and Heike for breaking trail and doing all the cabin chores – it was very nice to ski in with all the work done!

Another quick ireland update

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Another quick post from Ireland.

Most of the biking would be best described by a single word, “Wet”.

The scenery has been fairly interesting, with lots of stone fences, hedges, sheep paddocks of all sorts, and lots of small towns. The traffic has been fairly intense but all the drivers have been quite nice and very friendly.

Outside of Ennis we spent some time exploring a small castle. The twins had lots of fun climbing the stairs and wandering around.

The view from the battlements was quite stunning.

The twins have enjoyed the travelling for the most part. They do get cranky after more than a couple of hours of riding in the trailer. When its raining hard things get a bit worse, as we have to batten down the hatches and it quickly gets all fogged up, taking away their view. The other major problem with the trailer in Ireland is the roads are almost always lined with hedges and since it sits so low to the ground the occupants cannot see much beyond the side of the hedge.


We also rented a child seat that goes on the rear rack of the bike. This allows a little more variety, letting one kid enjoy the trailer alone and the other the child seat.

The child seat is a major hit – the view from it is much, much better.

After Ennis we travelled though the burren which is a strange desolate rocky area. Its quite scenic, but very hilly and was quite a workout hauling the trailer with its occupants.

We stayed at several bed and breakfasts, hostels, and one night camping. Most of the places we stayed had character – for example the Kilfenore hostel came complete with a resident kitten.

Cats of all sorts seem to be everywhere in Ireland, much to the twins delight. On the Aran Islands we ran into a huge family of cats outside the one and only grocery store.

The Aran Islands was a very interesting place to visit – lots of old structures of all sorts and a number of very old church ruins.

The Aran Islands also had fantastic black berry picking, which kept the twins busy. They are now major black berry snobs – only the most ripe berries free of any defect or blemish are acceptable.

One of the bummers about biking Ireland is that there are lots and lots of small roads, which are only occasionally signed. When they are signed, life is still not simple – in sections of Ireland the signs are only in Gaelic, or in Gaelic and English with a different spelling of the place names than was on our Ordinance Survey maps. This led to lots of looking at standing around at intersections consulting maps and occasionally accosting the random bystander for directions. Fortunately everyone seemed quite used to this and where mostly quite good at giving useful directions.

Sheep – did I mention sheep? Sheep where everywhere.

For a place whose country side is mainly devoted to sheep production there did not seem to be a lot of sheep related road side attractions. We did stop at a small wool museum where the twins got to play with wool and wool spinning appliances.

The food in Ireland was a mixed bag, probably because we spent most of our time in rural areas. It quickly became apparent that, unlike our bike travels in Australia and New Zealand, trying the random meat related pastries available at gas stations and small grocery stores was a bad idea. The burgers where generally quite good, as was the soups. One thing that was a definite stand out was the bacon sandwich – apparently it is common to get a bread and bacon sandwich in Ireland. This was quite refreshing, as when I try to get a bacon and bagel sandwich at Lu-Lu’s bagel shop at home I am given a round of “Only bacon? Are you sure?” and once “That’s the weirdest thing I have every had anyone ask for.” Alas, the twins are major bacon high-graders, and often steal most of the bacon. We did find wonderful Indian and Chinese food, hurray!

That’s all for now!

Ireland – On bikes, though briefly

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

A quick update from Ireland – We got our bikes today, and got about 1 mile before one of them developed a frighting sequel, as if it was attempting to grind coffee beans in the hub. Fortunately the owner of the bike rental outfit drove out to where we were staying and replaced the rear wheel. Hurray!

Otherwise, it was quite a fun day.
We spend the morning in Dublin, then took the train to Ennis where we ended up for the night. Dublin is quite a beautiful city, though quite busy. We were very glad we didn’t attempt to bike though it.

The twins enjoyed the train.

In particular they enjoyed the full length (for a three year old) bed seats.

We had our bikes delivered to us at the Ennis train station.

Down town Ennis has a number of very tight one way streets that are very interesting to explore – lots of random shops and places to eat. Unfortunately we spend quite a bit of time walking our bikes on the side walk as we where going the wrong way on a one way street, alas.

At this point it became apparent that my bikes rear wheel was at war with the rest of my bike. This did not prevent Lizzy for taking a very long and determined nap. Even going up and down some large curbs did not wake her.