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Biking to Alaska

Day 61: Another Good Hike

Posted by Alan on August 19th, 2007

I tried to sleep in this morning, but I’m still up fairly early. I’m thinking I should rent a car today to make it easier to get around Anchorage. That way we can see the town and maybe even do a hike outside of town. I get a hold of someone at a small local rental company and the guy says he’ll be right over to pick me up. I guess he needs the business. It turns out to be a tiny little used car dealership and car rental place combined. The car he gives me is a beat up little Ford, but at least it runs ok. I laugh to myself about the funny experiences you have while travelling. I call Lindsay and tell her I’ll pick her up shortly.

While I’m waiting for Lindsay at her hostel I bump into that guy Jim who I’d camped with in Denali. I’m not surprised to see him since I keep bumping into the same people on this trip. It’s a small world of travellers in Alaska. Not unlike the small world of bike tourists I encountered on the highways leading here. We give Jim a lift to where he’ll catch a bus to Seward (so I’ll likely see him when I get back there) and then we head downtown for breakfast. The Lonely Planet guide highly recommends a place called the Snow City Cafe, but they have a 90 minute wait (there’s a marathon happening downtown which adds to the usual crowds, I guess). We walk down the street and find another decent place to have breakfast.

IMG_1055.JPGAfter eating we walk around downtown a little before we decide to get in a hike outside of town. The hike is at a place called Flattop Mountain, which is supposed to be a very popular hike here. The parking lot does have a lot of cars and there are plenty of people on the trail. I’m pleasantly surprised by the nice views from the steep trail. My opinion of Anchorage is improving from the last time I came through town. We don’t make it all the way to the top since it’s a steep hike and we’re short on time, but we do manage to pick a few blueberries on the way down. They are yummy as usual.
It’s time to get Lindsay to the airport to catch her flight home. It’s been really great to have someone to hang out with and I’m sorry to see her leave. It makes me realize I miss my friends back home and I feel a little homesick as I drive away from the airport.

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Day 60: A Great Hike

Posted by Alan on August 18th, 2007

I wake up pretty early this morning and an idea develops in my mind. Lindsay is taking the train to Anchorage this afternoon. I’m thinking I might catch the train also so I can hang out with her before she flies home the next night. I’ve really enjoyed her company and since I don’t have any firm agenda there’s no reason I can’t spend another day sightseeing with her. I pack up my gear and go meet her and her hostel mates for breakfast. I ask her if she minds if I come to Anchorage and she says it’s ok with her. We buy some breakfast and sandwiches for lunch before driving out of town towards Exit Glacier.

This hike near the glacier will lead us to an overlook of the Harding Icefield. It’s supposed to be a tough hike and I’m hoping my mountain bike shoes don’t end up being too slippery on the rocks. The trail is definitely steep in areas, but we take our time, occasionally stopping to pick salmonberries and blueberries. Christy knows a lot about plants and helps us identify some of the plants we’re hiking past. There are a ton of wildflowers along the way and we’re all loving the hike, despite the steepness of the trail.

IMG_1049.JPGWe finally get to an overlook and stop to eat lunch and take in the beauty of the glacier below us. We can just barely see a person or two on the ice. It makes me appreciate the huge size of the crevaces in the ice compared to those people. It’s cold up there so we don’t linger too long before heading down. Other hikers report seeing a mother and cub black bear, so we make lots of noise to make sure we don’t surprise them on the trail. With the great views of Exit Glacier, the wildflowers, berries and good company, this is one of the best hikes I’ve had in my life. I only wish we had more time to hike up further and maybe even camp out overnight.

We make it back to town in plenty of time to catch the train. I’ll be leaving most of my camping gear and my bike in Seward and it’s nice to be travelling light for a change. We spend most of the train ride in one of the dome cars, since they never seem to fill up. The scenery is nice and before long we’re in Anchorage. The hostel Lindsay is staying at is full, so I had called ahead to reserve a bed at a nearby hostel. We take a cab from the train station and agree to grab a beer before calling it a night.

I ask the guy working at my hostel where a casual bar is we can go to. He mentions a couple places, but says that one is frequented by “druggies”. I think we’ll check out the other one. It turns out to be a funny little place with a live band playing cover songs from hair bands of the past couple decades. It seems an appropriate
way to spend a Saturday night in Anchorage.

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Day 59: Whales!

Posted by Alan on August 17th, 2007

IMG_0965.JPGLast night Lindsay told me that she was taking a boat tour today to see some wildlife and glaciers. It’s the same kind of tour I’d been planning to take so I invited myself along. I called their office from my tent and bought a ticket before heading down to the showers. I then met Lindsay at the small boat harbor in time for the boat tour. It was a drizzly morning and I wished I had brought my rain pants, but at least I had plenty of warm clothes otherwise. We decide to sit outside on the top deck of the boat to have the best views possible.

IMG_1033.JPGThe tour starts by heading towards some islands which are full of seabirds and sea lions. Some Orca whales are seen before long and the boat stops as they swim close by. The actually swim right under the boat to check us out. It’s very cool! The boat heads towards a glacier and the captain turns off the engines so we can listen to the cracks and moans of the glacier. We also see some humpback whales before the day is over, but they’re not as close as the Orcas were. It’s been a great tour, but it’s been great talking with Lindsay as well. I really like hanging out with her and it was nice to have someone to share this day with.

Back on dry land, we meet up with another girl from Lindsay’s hostel and head out for dinner. Christy is from Colorado like me and is heading back to Ft. Collins the next day. The three of us split a very good pizza at Christo’s Palace before heading over to the same bar we were at last night. Lindsay and I had received a couple free drink tokens the night before when someone had bought the bar a round. So we HAD to go back and use them, right?
We have a couple rounds while talking about various things. Another woman, Laura, from their hostel meets us as well. We all decide to meet up the next morning to do a hike just outside of town. Exit Glacier is a very popular hike in the area and we’re all looking forward to it.

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Day 58: Seward at Last

Posted by Alan on August 16th, 2007

I did manage to sleep a bit last night, but the trains in the area were pretty noisy. I packed up my tent as quick as I could and went back over to the train station to get a ticket for the train to Seward. The train ride was as scenic as I had heard, more so than the ride from Anchorage to Denali. After a few hours we were finally pulling into Seward. I’ve been looking forward to visiting this town (and the Alaska Sealife Center) for a while, so I was excited to finally be here.

IMG_0953.JPGI rode my bike over to the hostel in town, but they were full up. I left a message for Lindsay, who is staying there, and then rode a couple blocks to the town’s waterfront campground. This is a busy week in Seward with a salmon fishing derby going on, but I still managed to find a tent spot free and reserved it for a few nights. I set up my tent before having a look around town. I stopped by the Sealife Center to get details on their special programs and to look around the gift shop.

I got a call from Lindsay after a while, she had been out on a day long kayak trip. We agreed to meet up once she had changed into some dry clothes. She’s a vegetarian as well, so we found a good restaurant called Yoly’s which had several veggie options on the menu. After dinner we had a beer at Tony’s, a bar popular with the locals. It was, as the Lonely Planet travel guide had said, a good place to “just hang out”.

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Day 57: Anchorage Again

Posted by Alan on August 15th, 2007

I tried to make it to the 10 AM dog sled demonstration, but somehow I lost track of the time while making breakfast and packing up. I guess I’ll have to see it next time I’m here, along with seeing Mt. McKinley. I head to the train station to buy a ticket to Anchorage and I also look into my options for getting a bus or train from Anchorage to Seward. I know that girl I met on the train ride up here, Lindsay, will arrive in Seward tonight and I’d like a chance to hang out with her while she’s there.

It looks like the train from Anchorage to Seward will be my best bet. The buses are too full to fit my bike. The train leaves Anchorage at 6:45 the next morning. Since the train from Denali is delayed due to a mechanical issue, I end up with less than an eight hour layover in Anchorage. It hardly seems worth it to find a hostel or campground, so I decide to camp near the train station. I find some picnic tables behind a nearby railroad company building and cook some dinner. I use my other “emergency” backpacking meal to avoid any cleanup of dirty dishes. There is a bike rack on some grass next to the building so I lock up my bike and put my tent up on the grass. I don’t unpack anything besides my sleeping bag and lay down for a few hours of sleep.

IMG_0951_1.jpgOh, and I did finally get to see Mt. McKinley on the train today. We were more than halfway to Anchorage when the skies had cleared and it was visible in the distance behind us. It was impressive from over 100 miles away so I can’t imagine how it must look from Wonder Lake in Denali.

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Day 56: Denali Road II

Posted by Alan on August 14th, 2007

27.72 mi

I’m up before the sun today. It’s a little cloudy out, so it’s hard to judge the time. I check my bike computer, but forget it’s still on Pacific time, so I’m actually up earlier than I think. After breakfast I pack up my gear and say goodbye to Jim before hitting the road to go deeper into the park.

IMG_0899.JPGThe weather is pretty nice and I’m enjoying the quiet of the Denali park road. The road is dirt at this point and I need to watch for potholes and rough sections. The only wildlife I see this morning is a group of Dall Sheep way up on a distant mountainside. After an hour or so the clouds start to thicken overhead and I just barely get my rain gear on as the rain starts to fall in earnest. A storm front is blowing right at me and the heavy rain forces me to put on all my rain gear, from my shower cap helmet cover to my water resistant socks. The wind is pretty fierce as well and a few roadside signs for a construction zone are blown over.

Eventually the rain and wind let up a little, but it continues to drizzle and it’s still pretty cold out. I bike along, watching for potholes while trying to keep an eye out for wildlife and also trying to take in all the majestic scenery. I’m making slow progress along the road and I decide to flag down the next “camper” bus, which is a bus equipped to carry backpackers and cyclists. I reach a rest area at mile 53 of the park road and luckily there is a camper bus parked there. I ask the driver if I can ride along out to the end of the road and then back to the park entrance. She says ’sure’ and helps me load up my bike.

IMG_0950.JPGWell, let me just say I couldn’t be more thankful that I got on that bus. I hadn’t seen much at all in the way of wildlife so far, but on the bus I saw a few grizzly bears, a wolf, caribou, a moose, beavers and I even got to pick some wild blueberries at Wonder Lake. I loved the time I had on my bike in the park, but I would have missed so much if I hadn’t gotten on the bus. What an amazing park this is! I didn’t get to see Mt. McKinley, but hopefully I’ll see it the next time I’m here.

By the time the bus got back to the park entrance it was after 9 PM. I made a beeline for the nearby campground to have a shower and do some laundry. I’m planning to hop on the noon train back to Anchorage tomorrow and don’t want to waste time in the morning doing laundry. After cleaning up I paid for a campsite and finally got to bed for some well needed sleep.

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Day 55: Denali Road I

Posted by Alan on August 13th, 2007

33.05 mi

IMG_0833.JPGI’m in no hurry this morning because I know I only have to go 30 miles to get to my next campground. After I leave the campground near the park entrance I stop at the park’s science and learning center and also the dog kennels. I missed the sled dog demonstration, but I walk around the small kennel area looking at the dogs and taking a few pictures (yes, puppy pictures will be uploaded when I have a chance).

I finally start riding into the park on the park road and am happy to find the road has very little traffic. The weather has cleared a bit as well so it’s a thoroughly enjoyable few hours on the bike. I don’t see any wildlife, but the scenery is magnificent. Once I get out of the trees near the park entrance the landscape opens up into wide vistas of mountains covered in bushes and tundra. I can’t imagine what it must be like on a totally clear day when you can see all the distant mountains (including McKinley). It’s such a quiet and serene day on the bike that I wish I could keep riding and didn’t have to stop at my reserved campground.

IMG_0845.JPGI pull into the Teklanika campground and find an open campsite. I start to dry out my tent, which is still wet from last night. Jim arrives before too long and tells me about all the wildlife he saw from the bus today. The weather looks like it will stay clear for a while so we both dry out some damp gear. We then walk over to a nearby creek which consists of a wide riverbed of gravel with a small creek twisting and turning this way and that through the gravel. We’re looking for bears or other wildlife and Jim spots a lone caribou before long. We watch this caribou walk up the riverbed a bit before it lays down. We snap away with our cameras, but remain a good distance from the animal so we don’t disturb it. We head back to camp, listen to a park ranger give a talk on wolves and then head to bed for the night.

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Day 54: Train and Rain

Posted by Alan on August 12th, 2007

I actually set an alarm to get myself up early today. I need to ride to the train station in time to catch the 8:15 AM train leaving for Denali. As I’m about to leave the hostel on my bike I see a girl out front, apparently waiting for a taxi. I ask if she’s going to the train station too. She says she is and when her mini-van taxi pulls up a moment later, I ask if she wants to split the taxi, assuming my bike will fit in the back. She says ‘ok’ and the taxi driver helps me load up my bike. Now I don’t have to worry about biking through the non bike-friendly streets of Anchorage, excellent!

IMG_0826.JPGThe girl and I talk a little on the way to the station. I learn that Lindsay is a lawyer from Indianapolis, only a couple years out of law school. She’s heading to Fairbanks and then to Seward after that. We talk about Seward a bit and I tell her what little I know about the Alaska Sealife Center. We get to the train station where I hand my bike over to the baggage handlers. I sure hope that I get in back in one piece. They tell me they can load it up without even removing the bags.
Lindsay and I end up sitting together on the train. It turns out we’re both short on sleep and so we talk during the ride to help keep each other awake. I’m not overly impressed with the scenery along the way. It’s a cloudy day and there’s not too much to look at besides trees and the occasional mountain. I had been hoping to get a glimpse of Mt. McKinley from the train, but the cloudy weather prevents that. Lindsay seems to enjoy the scenery more than me though. I guess I’m a little jaded because I get to see mountains like these all the time in Colorado.

It’s an eight hour train ride to Denali and so we eventually go to the dining car to have lunch. This is the longest train ride I’ve been on and it’s pretty cool to be sitting down for a meal on a train. The scenery is a little more interesting and we enjoy a nice meal while the woods and lakes go past outside the window. Before I know it, we’re at Denali and I have to say goodbye to Lindsay. It’s been nice talking with her and I hope we run into each other in Seward. We say goodbye and I leave to collect my bike while she continues on to Fairbanks.

My bike survives the train ride mostly intact. The front fender is a little bent out of shape, but it’s nothing I can’t fix with a little pulling and twisting. While I’m waiting for my bike to be unloaded I talk with a guy named Jim who was at the hostel. We’re both camping at the campground next to the train station and so we walk over to get checked in. We both have reservations for the regular section of the campground, but we actually need to be in the hiker/biker section where the bear-proof food storage boxes are. This requires a trip up the road to another office to change our reservations. We decide to just share a campsite to save a few bucks. We also agree to share the campsite I have reserved for the next night. It is located 30 miles down the park road. I’ll be biking there and Jim will take a shuttle bus.

We get settled in camp as it starts to drizzle. The rain isn’t letting up and as I get to bed in my tent, the rain actually gets heavier. The weather forecast calls for more rain tomorrow as well. It doesn’t look like I’ll get a chance to see Mt. McKinley on this trip if this weather holds up.

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Day 53: Anchorage Errands

Posted by Alan on August 11th, 2007

15 mi

IMG_0824.JPGEven though I’m sleeping indoors, I’m not able to sleep in at all. I get up early to eat breakfast and take a shower. I do a little more reading on Denali and other areas of Alaska before going out to run some errands. My first stop is at REI. I walk in the door and bask in the glow of all the shiny new gear. It almost feels like coming home again, as weird as that sounds. I resist the urge to buy all sorts of new toys and clothes. I settle for buying a dozen Clif bars and a new bottle of camp soap, since mine is close to empty.

I head back to the hostel to have lunch and I call to reserve a seat on tomorrow’s train. I also call and reserve campsites for the next two nights at Denali. I’m not sure how many nights I’ll stay there, but I figure it can’t hurt to have at least the first two nights reserved. After that I head back out onto the streets of Anchorage to scope out the route I’ll need to take in the morning to get to the train station. As I’m riding towards downtown I come upon some kind of fair going on in a park. I stop to take a look and see that it’s the Anchorage Renewable Energy Fair. I’m impressed that Anchorage has a viable R.E. community and I walk around taking a look at the exhibits. I continue on towards the train station and pass through what appears to be the heart of downtown Anchorage. I must say I’m not impressed with this town. It seems economically depressed and it’s just not a very attractive city. Besides, it’s not easy to get around on a bike. There don’t seem to be many bike lanes at all.

I finally find the train station which is very close to Ship Creek. This is a creek near downtown which actually has salmon swimming upstream to spawn (I later learn they are all hatchery raised salmon so they won’t actually spawn in this river). The creek is pretty crowded with anglers trying to hook these salmon. I stop to watch the people fishing and I’m quickly turned off by the scene. The anglers are quite close together, often less than ten feet apart. They continually cast their lures into the creek, hoping to hook a salmon. While I’m standing there I do see about four fish hooked and pulled from the water. The lame thing is that only one of the fish has actually taken the hook in its mouth. The other fish have been hooked by a fin or gill. This isn’t fishing, this is throwing hooks in the water to see what you snag! Thankfully the anglers don’t keep those fish they hook in this manner. I can’t help feeling sorry for these fish. All they’re trying to do is swim upstream to propogate their species and here these people are hooking them left and right.

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Day 52: Arrival In Anchorage

Posted by Alan on August 10th, 2007

55.59 mi

I enjoy a lazy morning at the hostel while I upload new photos to my website. I finally hit the road after buying a few road snacks at the local grocery store. I buy a couple Clif bars, which I haven’t had in over a month. I’m looking forward to eating those later today. There’s a bike path on the way out of Girdwood towards Anchorage and I gladly ride on it instead of the shoulder of the highway. It’s actually a really nice path with good scenery and nice smooth pavement.

It’s a sunny day and I stop a few times to admire the views. At one point I stop for an hour or two to eat lunch and to wait for the tide to come in. It’s interesting to see the tide come in because Turnagain Arm, which is a shallow inlet south of Anchorage, quickly transforms from an expanse of flat mud into a wide body of water. As I continue into Anchorage, the wind has picked up and I have to fight a headwind the rest of the way into town.

I’m riding on a busy road into town and so all I see are strip malls and businesses lining the road. My Lonely Planet travel guide lists a few hostels in Anchorage and I decide to stay in one rather than try to camp in this “big” city. I find the Spenard Hostel, but the front desk isn’t staffed until 7 PM. I drop my bags near the front door and ride to a nearby grocery store. My food bag is almost completely empty, so I really need to stock up before I head north to Denali National Park.

Once I’m checked into the hostel, I start to make dinner and I see a few familiar faces from the ferry. I talk to these folks who I hadn’t met on the ship and we compare notes about our plans for the next few days. I’m planning to stay two nights at this hostel, then I’ll catch a train to Denali. I don’t want to head to Denali tomorrow because it’s a Saturday and I seem to keep arriving in national parks on weekends. I’m hoping arriving on a Sunday will mean I’ll encounter less crowds while I’m there.

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