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Knickerbiker 2008 TOUR OF ALASKA
June 2008

The Great 2008 Ice Worm, Chena Hot Springs, Moose, Denali Park, Drunken Forest, and Prince William Sound Alaska Tour

On June 20, 2008, Michelle and Bill Bailey, Shirley and Gene Flatt, and Will Cronyn rendezvoused at Dee and Yves Memoune's magnificent, 5-star, Alaska House Of Jade B&B for the first-ever Knickerbiker tour of Alaska. Next day began with Dee's gourmet breakfast and continued with bike assembly, a trip to a very good, nearby bike shop called, of all things, The Bike Shop. Bike assembly at HOJ was rudely interrupted by a cow moose strolling down the middle of the street, proudly showing off her young calf and browsing on whatever she wanted - flowers, decorative shrubs, trees, etc (ho-hum for the Memounes - another moose had delivered a calf in the back yard of the house next door just a few days before).
After another gourmet Dee breakfast on the 22nd, we started our journey in light rain. 36 of the 56 miles were along the Seward Highway and, although there was quite a bit of traffic, there was a wide shoulder for bikes with additional protection provided by a rumble strip. For more than 12 miles we were challenged by hefty head winds. How hefty? As an experiment, on a gentle downhill, Will turned his bike around, lifted his feet, and was heading uphill under nothing but wind power! However, periodic wind breaks provided some relief. The magnificent scenary, snow-covered mountains and the Turnagain Arm (a 34 mile long continuation of Cook inlet which features the 2nd highest tides in the world), also helped. We passed the Drunken Forest, a "forest" of trees killed by the monster tsunami triggered by the Good Friday earthquake of 1964. Lunch was at the honky-tonk Brown Bear Café and a spaghetti dinner was prepared by Michelle at Black Bear SP CG, State Park CampGround.
The 23rd started with a ride to the Portage Lake Visitors Center to view, among other things, an ice worm exhibit: "Little creatures who love 32 degrees F… 5/8 to 3/4 " long. Black. Like a thin pencil line," as described by Michelle. A short ride took us to the Alaska RR flag stop where we boarded the train for Whittier, and the ferry across Prince William Sound for Valdez. The captain made announcements for the humpback whales and dolphins we could see; no announcements needed for more snow-capped mountains around the edges of the Sound. In Valdez, at Bear Paw campground (private), we had our only nasty "misunderstanding" over rates - we were charged $70 for 3 tent sites. Each of us did our darndest to take $10 showers.
Off on the 24th for what we already knew would be one of the two hardest rides of the tour: the climb up Thompson Pass at the start of the Richardson Highway. On the way we passed through Keystone Canyon, notable for its large number, 20, of high, thin, waterfalls…and something much more unusual seen by the Baileys. In Michelle's words: "We also saw a white bare in the canyon!!! A woman was taking a picture of a nude guy standing halfway up the cliff under a waterfall. We gave him a whoo hoo for his bravery and pedalled on. Guess they lack for showers in Alaska..." The pass was a 6% grade (Torrey Pines, outside) for about 7.5 miles. An ominous sign of things to come: Mr. Flatt had a flat tire. Michelle: "Saw a pair of bald eagles at the top of Thompson pass. … One of the eagles flew about 20 ft over us. He was so graceful." The ride ended, after a long, fast downhill, at the Tiekel River Lodge campground, 59 miles and elevation gain of 3500 ft.
Our destination on the 25th, a sunny day, was the beautiful Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. On this 46 mile ride, the elevation gain of 1700 ft included the steepest grade of the entire Richardson - 8% (about same as Torrey Pines inside) for a mercifully short 0.7 miles on Squirrel Creek Hill. Oh, there was a grade of over 11% leading up to the lodge, but that was only about 0.1 mi long and was a small price to pay for the sweeping view from the lodge of Mt. Drum, 12011', Mt. Wrangell, 14163', and Mt. Blackburn, 16391' in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, by far the largest National Park in the US. As noted by Shirley it is larger than Switzerland, with more high peaks, and has 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the US.
The 26th, and on to Sourdough SP CG for 50 mi. Notes from Michelle: "Wall to wall blue sky most of the day. Could ride without a jacket…I think I've seen 40 different types of flowers. In the lowlands were purple lupines all over. Up here there are bluebell like things and wild roses. We also passed ponds full of yellow blossomed water lilies. Then there were the white flowers and the pink ones and the raspberry colored ones and the blue ones!!! Too many for me to count." Will ran into an Alaskan "character," Irv, who was packing a revolver he claimed was the same gun Wild Bill Hickock was wearing when he was shot in the back of his head. Hmmmm.
The 27th found us in rain, and we made a unanimous decision to stop, after 38 mi, at the Paxson Lodge for the night and grab rooms. Another reason to stop: Bill's large cog "exploded" into an uncountable number of fragments. In a brilliantly improvised, on-the-road, repair, he slipped a tie wrap into the space previously occupied by the cog, and that held the other cogs in place so he could continue to pedal. The nearest bike shop was 175 ahead!
The 28th started with a memorable breakfast at the lodge. Will chose to ignore Michelle's warning about the size of the 3-stack pancakes, but got a picture of them - over ½ the height of his bike helmet. We started off in a light rain, but once we passed over Isabel Pass (grade less than 3%), rain stopped, and we were treated to gradual 37 mi downhill to Donnelly Creek SP CG, for a total of 51 mi. At the CG, Shirley enjoyed "…looking at the mountains, enjoying yellow and white wildflowers, as well as a few pink and purple ones, and being amazed at the scent of a small bush with silver leaves and small yellow flowers. It smelled like jasmine, amazingly fragrant."
29th, and off to the Alaska 7 Motel in Delta Junction. No rain and a tailwind for 25 mi. Michelle: "Scenery was beautiful today (since I could actually see something besides clouds!). Snow capped mountains rising above a braided river and deep green forests." A short 32 mi ride.
30th began with a compulsory stop at Rika's Roadhouse and Museum dedicated to Rika, who travelled from Sweden to Alaska in the early 1900's and served sourdough pancakes (always a winner in Alaska!) to road travelers. It's a distracting place for somebody with a rhubarb pie addiction, like Will. There was a sharp, almost heated, disagreement between the Baileys and the Flatt/Cronyn riders on the quality of the day. Baileys claimed to have been hit with heavy rain and pea-size hail which forced them off the road and into bowls of hot chile. The other 3 did not get so much as 1 drop of rain (or 1 chile bean). However, Baileys did run into Larry & Lisa Mitchell, a bicycling couple who offered to let us all stay at their place in North Pole, 13 mi from Fairbanks. Will ran into the Vogel family, Mom, Dad, 10 yr old twin boys, who started in Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse and are heading for Patagonia (S tip of S America) - see Another 51 mi to end the day at Harding Lake SP CG.
July 1st, and on to North Pole . A symptom of the overloading of Will's bike: the bolt holding the left side of his rear rack fractured, leaving a piece of itself embedded in the bike frame. He band-aided it using baling wire and tie-wraps, a fix which lasted for the rest of the ride. What incredible hosts theMitchells were! Gene's back was acting up so they drove him to Lisa'a chiropractor in Fairbanks. They also took Bill to a bike shop for his much-needed repairs. Lisa'a father and daughter put on an after-dinner guitar and fiddle concert and we took advantage of their washing machine. A 36 mi day.
July 2nd. Off East to Chena Hot Springs campground. From Michelle: "Today was an Alaska Brochure day! Sunny and warm enough to ride without a jacket. All day! Of which it's 10 pm and the sun is still up. We reluctantly left Larry and Lisa's and pedaled our way to Chena Hot Springs resort. It was a beautiful ride. We climbed up a few hills and ended up on a plateau with about 1/2 percent grade. It was the longest, flattest stretch I'd seen since Kansas. It lasted for about 35 miles! I pushed a high gear all the way. The hot springs was great. Water was about 115 degrees. I'm still pickeled and wrinkle fingered!" Will got the start of a sun burn - really! Shirley had the only aggressive animal encounter any of us experienced - a squirrel chewed 2 holes into her panniers going after food! 55 mi.
July 3rd. Back west to Fairbanks and the Minnie Street B&B. All hands reported seeing moose. Michelle: "Today was a perfect day !!! The uphill we rode yesterday was now a downhill! Stayed in high gear for over 35 miles. Saw 3.1 moose along the road. One female had a baby beside her (the 0.1). The baby was still nursing. Way cute. The other 2 were just doing what moose do - chowing down on green stuff! … got to 83 degrees today in Fairbanks." 62 mi.
July 4th. Turning south to Nanana Valley RV Park & Campground. Michelle: " Today was my kind of bicycling day! … Hot! It was about 90 degrees ...One of the very nice things about cycling up here are the bike paths and wide shoulders. Almost every road we've been on has had a 4' or wider shoulder - or a bike path! We're getting spoiled!" We encountered another grade: 5-6% for 2 ½ mi. Another Will bike problem: a small fracture developed in the rear wheel rim. By the end of the ride, this had grown into a 2½" long sliver of metal; his rear brakes could no longer be used. The campground was extremely well maintained - even had WiFi available. 54 mi.
July 5th. Another warm day heading for Healy and the McKinley RV Park & Campground, 55 mi away. On the way, we caught magnificent views of Mt. McKinley.Michelle: "A massive powerhouse of white in a forest green sea."
July 6th. An easy 11 mi ride to the Riley Creek Campground in Denali National Park. Our final biking destination. In Denali we took advantage of the park buses to get far out into the park and were treated to numerous animal sightings: grizzly bears (including a momma who led her 2 cubs in between 2 stopped buses), moose, Dall sheep, caribou, and wolves.
We returned to Anchorage on the Alaska RR, which features wide, clean, picture windows, guides, and excellent dining car food.

Summary, by the numbers:

663, total mileage

23945, cumulative elevation gain

162/69/35/2, number of streams/creeks/rivers/sloughs crossed

12:15/3:15, approximate times (both AM) of sunset and sunrise (never got really dark)

11, number of flats (bike+trailer) Gene Flatt had

0, number of riders eaten, mauled or intimidated by bears

Rerun of tour: yes, planned for next year, approximately same time of year. Changes:
1) will probably offer the option of returning to Anchorage from Denali by bike instead of train, adding another 240 mi and 4 days.
2) Skip Healy (and its very touristy campground) and go directly to Riley Creek making the ride from Nenana 67 mi..
3) Will have full moon , July 7, available during ride - interesting because difference between moonrise & moonset is only about 3 hours, same as the difference between sunrise and sunset in winter!