Knickerbiker 2008 TOUR OF ALASKA
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
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
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
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.
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,
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 http://familyonbikes.org/index.htm.
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
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."
July 4th. Turning south to Nanana Valley RV Park & Campground.
Michelle: " Today was my kind of bicycling day!
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,
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!