06/07/15 (Anchorage to Chugach State Park, Trailhead)
I’ve a number of things working against me today. The cousins got together last night and may have imbibed a bit too eagerly on micro brews deep into the bright Alaskan night. I jumped on that train and rode it to stumble-town. Woke in a frenzy to get my cousin off to work and a bleary-eyed thumping followed probably all of us the whole live long day.
Additionally, I still needed to finish up some gear and necessities before heading out of the Alaskan concrete paradise of Anchorage. I stopped into REI for a bike tune up. There was a bit of a confusing shuffle since I had a deal with a guy that was working a couple of days ago that I could just bring my bike in and get it fixed-up the same day. The young clerk looked blankly at me: “the bike shop is 9 days out. Sir.” I showed him my hall pass from a couple days ago. With a meager shrug and exasperated sigh, my bicycle was taken.
In the meantime I shuffled about, got some food supplies for the road and poked about at expensive gear I had no business fondling. When the bike was finished up I began the heavy hungover peddle out of town. I’ve lived on and off in Anchorage throughout my life and I’ve never really gotten everything square in my head. I had to stop several times, eight to be exact, for random people to point the tourist in the right direction. I did not mention I was from Alaska.
I only banged it out about 15 miles before I hit a trailhead near the northern entrance to the Chugach State park around 9:30 PM. I pushed the bike for a mile or so before finding a nice grassy knoll on a bluff overlooking Turnagain arm and Anchorage to the north.
I have to mention right now, I am freezing. My nose runs like a 5-year-olds and I shiver in the Alaskan sun. It is pitiful. On the other hand, the air is so fresh, the rivers and streams so clean and so little trash is strewn about I feel I’ve entered into some kind of godly gift. Additionally, unlike pretty much all of our Mexican and Central American time, there are not people crammed into every corner of the universe.
I set up the tent in a gusty wind which blocked out any other sound. Made some coffee and stared out at the open expanse of earth, so unbelievably happy to be home and in calm solitude. Forget the fact I had every layer of clothing on, it’s better than sweating every weary second of the day.
06/08/15 (Chugach State Park to Hope Junction)
The light is playing havoc on my mind. I couldn’t force myself to sleep due to the nagging feeling that it was still 2 PM in the afternoon all the way up until 2 AM in the morning. Woke groggy and disorientated around 8:45 AM and didn’t hit the rode until 10:30 AM. Taking my sweet time with coffee and breakfast.
Took the old highway that has been converted into a bike/walk path all the way into Girdwood. I remember when I was a kid, we’d drive this road dozens of times throughout the summer and winter months. One particular winter, we got stuck in Girdwood for a night because of an avalanche that totally blocked the road and took a couple of cars with it.
The Alders and cottonwood trees hug cozily with grass and bushes making an immense fresh smelling green wall ensconcing the pathway. The Chugach range cuts at the sky dramatically with its ice cream tops, breast like peaks feeding the gods. I breath the cool summer air down to my cold toes.
Stopped in at Girdwood to make some phone calls and let Ance know that I’m not dead and I’ve actually set off with the two-wheeled rig to Homer. Tourist shuffle in and out. A man with a German accent walks past and asks me if that’s my bicycle. Yep, sure is. “You’ve got too much shit my friend.” Yep, sure do. Other’s ask me where I am from, when I say Alaska, they nod and stop speaking to me. I can only figure that when I say Alaska they figure I am a homeless wandering bum, which, I guess, is not too far from the truth.
When I hit the head of Turnagain Arm, kite surfers with the Chugach mountains in the background whisked about in the whipping wind and muddy waters. The whole scene was pretty epic. I took a few photos that don’t do it justice.
Finally, I hit the beginning of the climb through the pass. When I was a kid I thought that it was like driving up Everest. After actually looking at a topo map, I realized that the highest point of the road is no taller than 1350 FT. Ance and I have scaled passes 3-4 times that on our trip south.
What makes Alaska so different is that these mountains just jut straight up from 0 to 3500 FT and with the cooler temperatures they seem to hold onto their wintery tops throughout the whole year. They are dramatic, screaming to be noticed and awed at, no matter their short stature.
Right as I started uphill, the weather began to turn. A stiff headwind met my advance and as I crested into Turnagain Pass, a heavy rain mixed with hail and then a wet snow pelted my lumbering movements. Welcome, home.
I made it out to Hope junction and called it a day. Without Augustine in tow and the monumental amount of gear that Ance and I carry, along with the cooler temperatures, making 95 KM is fairly easy. Pulled out the tent and took a slow numb handed time at making coffee before attempting to sleep in the rainy light of midnight.
07/09/15 (Hope Junction to Sterling)
I had intended to stay in the pass for an extra day to scale up a mountain or two, something I’ve wanted to do in the pass since I was a little kid. At this point, however, I am simply not acclimated enough to hang out in the windy rain driven cold pass. I decided to just head on down and out.
The pass is so spectacularly beautiful. These walls of snow-capped mountains seem echo their immensity off the horizon into eternity. I can’t help but feel I’ve been born one of the luckiest people in the world to call this place home or at least part of my home.
Took a warm up rest in Cooper Landing for a cup of coffee and greasy french fries that cost way too much. This is another aspect of growing up in Alaska and having passed through this beautiful area so many times by car – I’ve never actually stopped in the area. The icy blue rivers backdropped with these amazing ridgelines and slivers of snow is something out of a wilderness adventure novel.
Dropped out of Cooper Landing on its winding narrow road with a bit of a butt pucker almost the whole way into Sterling. I was making my way down a road to a State Recreation area when I hailed a truck to ask if you had to pay to camp down near the river.
“Ah, hell. It’ll cost you $15 dollars if you go down there. Its a rip off if you ask me. I’ve lived here 20 years, over the past 10 they’ve cut off 45% of the access to the river. It’s the king’s land now. And you know, its the poor people that are getting fucked. No wonder why poor people can’t go out ‘an blow off some steam in the wild. Shit, for 15 bucks you could feed yourself for a few days. I was just looking at a little place where a guy like yourself coulda camped not too long ago. They got another one of those goddamn signs there now ‘no camping.’ Might’es well put up a sign ‘all you poor fucks stay out.'”
I stood nodding my head. I actually agreed with him. With our time in California, where if you just have a bicycle and want to camp in a state park you are looking at a $30 to $40 fee. I think that ole Teddy Roosevelt, no matter what a psycho he was, probably wouldn’t approve of keeping out the very Americans that these types or parks are supposed to serve.
I opted to take to the other side of the road and push off onto a little game trail to camp for the evening at the suggestion of the truck driver. “Hey, where you from?” He asked as I began biking away, “Alaska!” I shouted back. “I’ll be damned,” he said, firing up his massive diesel.
06/10/15 (Sterling to Ninilchik)
The night was blustery, with gusts of angry sounding pockets of air bending at the stunted pines and skinny cottonwoods. I’ve been having a hell of a time trying to get to sleep at a rational hour and get outta the tent in a fashion that doesn’t suggest I am the laziest person to peddle across this earth. I am failing.
Made my way into Soldotna and took a little break to warm up my toes. I then proceeded into the rain for a three-hour straight slog to Ninilchik. The rain and mud and sand blew up at me from all directions. I pulled into the Ninilchik Russian Orthodox church road and payed my respects to my grandmother, grandfather and uncle buried on the grounds.
There are other headstones with Johansens and Kvasnikoffs and other last names of relatives that I know little about. The church itself was built with the help of my grandfather’s hands. Most of my visits here have been only to bury loved ones, its a solemn place for me where people go to die or say goodbye.
I crossed the highway towards Ninilchik River and found a little place to camp for the evening. The rain abated a bit, but drizzled cold and lonely for the rest of the evening.
06/11/15 (Ninilchik to Anchor Point, North Fork)
Once again, tossed and turned in the never-ending midnight sun blocked by a wall of gray. Headed off around 11 AM and stopped into the Inlet Cafe for some more hot coffee. After wasting time and poking around, I called my Auntie in Anchor Point to belatedly ask if I could come crash at their house.
Two miles out of Ninilchik my front tire went flat. Patched it, reloaded the bike and continued. 500 Meters later my derailer cable snapped. Okay. Took all gear off, removed broken cable, came to conclusion I could still cycle in either 1-7, 2-7 or 3-7, perhaps a bit slower up hills, but still possible. I moved on another kilometer and the lowest of my three gears, I now possessed, was slipping and bucking around driving me insane. Stopped, pulled off all gear, adjusted high stop screw on derailer to fix the maddening slip. Reloaded bike and continued. 200 Meters later, really digging into a hill, my chain snapped almost throwing my from the bike with my own body weight.
At this point, I took a look around at the clearing skies and wondered if someone around here didn’t want me to leave. I pulled off all the gear, again, flipped the bike over, picked up my chain from a few hundred feet back, removed a link, wrapped the chain around the cog and chainring, reconnected the chain and got to scooting again. Concerned that I’d snap the chain, again, when the hills got too steep (which were not really steep at all) I got off the bike and pushed.
In this way, I took nearly 4 hours to make it 23 miles on relatively flat terrain which should have taken be around 2. Uncle Bob and Aunt Sandra took me in with a hug and a smirk after I told them of my Ninilchik curse.
Stayed up for awhile catching up and retreated to the cabin for a quiet night in a warm bed. Moose nibbling and wandering the clearings probably the whole night through.
06/11/15 (Anchor Point to Anchorage, via Brother Brandon’s truck)
I intended to ride onto Homer, three gear shifting power not-withstanding, but Brandon let me know he was heading out of Port Graham on the last flight in the evening. I opted just to have him pick me up at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, in the possible event that any more haywire mishaps came about.
We got into Anchorage around 12:30 AM and both Brandon and I couldn’t fall asleep until 3 AM. My little nephew, Kiril, was the smart one and went straight to bed after getting to the hotel.
I am back in Anchorage, thinking about the next bike ride. I hope you are too.