Saturday, July 02, 2005

 

Heading into the Park


I got up early Thursday morning (06/23) and went straight to 'Moseys' for some more delicious grub. I ran into another couple of familiar faces from Anchorage when I rolled up to the trailer; Lisa and Tamara. They were enjoying the fine Mexican-inspired food before leaving for Anchorage after spending a few days playing in and outside of the park. After saying "so long, I'll see you in Anchorage," they left to catch their bus and I finished my meal then headed for Denali National Park. It was raining and cold when I set out and I slowly made my way to the backcountry permit office towards the parks entrance. At 3 p.m. I got to the office, watched the mandatory "leave no trace/bear safety" film, listened to the backcountry etiquette speech, surrendered my firearm and ammunition and received a Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC). The whole process took several hours but by 7 p.m. I was registered and legally able to travel and camp in the park then made my way inside.

It was a pretty easy ride to the first unit that I was registered in; mile marker 35 past the park's entrance. Buses are the primarary vehicles cyclists encounter while touring the park other than some maintenance equipment and administrative traffic. At the hour that I started in, however, most of the bus tours were finished for the day which left the park almost as secluded as the Dalton Highway and very easy to travel through. The sights were, of course, amazing. After the rain stopped, most of the peaks of the Alaska Range were visible and vibrantly showing themselves. In the late hours of the evening the alpenglow coupled with a light cloud cover framed the mountains quite nicely, creating a spectacular backdrop for the rolling tundra and interspersed aspens and birch trees among the dominant spruce forests.

All along the ride to Igloo Creek I saw several small animals and some larger birds of prey, but it was while I was filtering water from the Teklanika River that I saw the most sought after wildlife sight a wilderness traveler hopes to see. While I packed my away my water filter a brown bear, about 200 yards away, wandered out of the brush and crossed the multiple braids of the Teklanika to the other side of the river, then up to the road and out of site! I watched quietly while the grizzly lumbered along, walking in great strides and slowly surveying the landscape as it made its way across the vast Alaskan wilderness. It was far enough away that binoculars were necessary in order to get a proper view--hence no pix. Such an amazing site to behold! I was glad to have been in a relatively "safe" spot to witness such a majestic animal and also thankful that the bear didn't see me watching it.

I got to Igloo Creek Campground after midnight, stored my food in the assigned bear locker then took a bunk in one of the empty cabins to rest up for the next day's adventures, reeling from the day's grand experiences.



 

A Day in "Glitter Gultch"


The air was cool when I awoke early Wednesday morning (06/22). The night remained overcast and a gentle breeze kept temperatures comfortable, providing great sleeping weather. Most important of all, the combination of weather and temperature insured not only a restful nights sleep but also a bug free one--meaning there were no mosquitoes! I didn't even need to set up my tent; just rolled out my bivy sack, sleeping bag, and pad and before long, sleep.

After packing away my belongings I headed directly to the Denali Outdoor Center to meet up with Kabe and spend the morning rafting. I showed up at 9:30 a.m. and after I was outfitted with a dry suit, Kabe introduced me to the owner/operator of the D.O.C., Bill. We talked briefly about plans for the tour and about the river and then I boarded a bus and was taken to the put-in point on the river with the guides and other rafters. On the bus ride to the river I met Allison Campbell, an honors student at Michigan State University who is spending the summer working in Alaska. She was as excited as I was to get on the river.

The river was running high, making the 11 mile section we were going to run class 3 and 4 water. Almost every river and every lake in Alaska is freezing cold, because most water sources are from melted snow and/or glaciers. In the summer, when all of the glaciers are melting, the rivers are flooded with incredibly cold water causing them to swell and run extremely high and fast. Add in a couple of days of rain to this already big water and you have a pretty gnarly river to navigate down! A safety speech was given to the group and then we got in the boats and headed down river towards the bigger parts of the trip. Kabe steered the oar boat down the raging water, over huge waves and other hydraulics safely and like a pro. It was a fantastic experience!

After reaching Healy and the take out point everyone boarded the bus for the short trip back to the D.O.C. Allison and I talked about the trip and life in- and outside of the Midwest along the ride. The bus pulled in the parking lot at 1 p.m. and she asked about my plans of which, at the time, I had none. She then extended an invite to me that if I made it into Denali Park, try and make it to the end and drop by for a visit. I was very thankful and promised that if I did indeed make the almost 90 mile ride to the park's end that I would definitely stop by. I bid her farewell and thanked Kabe and Bill for the experience, then pedaled to town for a shower and food.

I found food immediately after finishing my shower at Mosey's Kitchen and had a big terrific Mexican-style meal. With a full belly and a clean body I was now ready to find out information about accessing Denali. I stepped into a local outfitter to check out some maps and inquire about camping in certain selections Denali as well as find out some information about the park's regulations. Molly, the saleswoman for the store, suggested a few different places to try, and also that I go to the park headquarters to find out more. I finished the day by looking into some of the places Molly suggested and after a meal at the 'Bake' I headed back to the same camp-spot I stayed at the night before and hit the sack.



Friday, July 01, 2005

 

Destination: Denali


The sun, already high in the sky at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning (06/21), beat down on my tent and made sleeping any longer impossible. Sweating like a ham baking in a Dutch Oven I unzipped the shelter and stumbled out into the bright blue morning. The storm that lingered around Fairbanks while I was there left my gear a bit moist so I took advantage of the sun's heat and set up a clothes line to dry things out. I made food and coffee and read a while as I waited. By 12:30 p.m. I started off towards Denali with a goal to make it to the park entrance by that evening.

It was a great ride to the tourist village at the entrance to Denali, 65 miles from Nenana. For the first 39 miles there wasn't a single hill to climb or descend, just fast pavement with only the slightest of headwinds. By mile-marker 265, some hills began to rise and fall but still nothing too demanding ever slowed my pace below 15 mph. The bike felt like a freight train at that speed -- with all of it's 100+ lbs in motion, it required only a small bit of pedal stoking to maintain a strong cadence. I felt good and was excited to get to the village and check out the sites. After passing the town of Garner I noticed that my rear tire was getting soft and quickly realized that it was losing air. I pulled over to investigate the problem further. After 694 miles of riding I got a flat tire, my first mechanical problem of the tour. It took a 4 inch long nail to poke through the tread and out the side wall of the tire/tube to flatten the tire. "Not bad," I said to myself, impressed at the tire/tube combination and durability of the two and after a 25 minute fix I was back en route to complete the ride.

I was seven miles outside of Denali Village when I got back in the saddle and took my time rolling into town. The Nenana River and different spectacular mountain views greeted me as I peddled slowly along the last piece of road, through the narrow canyon towards "Glitter Gultch" and the park's entrance. Immediately upon arrival, and after finding out the locale of a good place to eat and drink, I found my way to the Denali Salmon Bake for some beers and food. While settling in and after a few minutes of arranging some things on the bike I bumped into friend and Covenant House employee Erin Case who was up from Anchorage with her boyfriend Austin to see the Matt Lewis Band perform at the 'Bake.' It was a pleasant surprise to see a familiar face among the sea of tourists. We hung out for a while before they flew back to Anchorage in order to make it to work the next morning. After they left I hung around and listened to the band and fraternized with the locals and tourists at the bar. That's when I met Kabe and Roberta; a couple up from the Columbia River Gorge area of Oregon to work the summer in Alaska. We drank beer and talked about everything that made Alaska such a great state. Kabe told me about his job as a rafting guide for the Denali Outdoor Center and then invited me on a trip down the Nenana River the following morning! Of course I accepted the offer and, wasting no haste, finished my beer, paid my tab and called it a night in order to make the trip in the morning.



 

Leaving Fairbanks


The ride out of Fairbanks was a much needed one. I had a difficult time finding a computer to upload things to Molly as well as some major technical difficulties while using the University of Alaska at Fairbanks computer system. Basically their network zapped my camera's memory card, which is where I have been storing all photos, text and documents, and robbed it of everything. It took a couple of days but with the help from UAF's computer consultants Robert Hale, Russ, Spencer, and Kevin most of the data was able to be recovered. After spending both Saturday and Sunday working on retrieving the lost items and retyping the files that could not be recovered and after many failed attempts at sending and re-sending these documents and photos to Molly by 9 p.m. Sunday evening finally everything was done and sent successfully and I could get ready to leave Fairbanks and start heading down south towards Denali. I stayed in Fairbanks three days longer than expected and after spending almost a week dealing with computer issues I was ready to get back in the saddle and grind away at some miles.

I left Fairbanks on Monday (06/20) early in the afternoon and after weathering two days of rain. I said farewell to Carroll, the gracious host of the Tanana Campground, got a bite to eat and re-supplied before heading out of town bound for Nenana. The 55 mile ride between Fairbanks and the town of Nenana was pretty easy; pretty easy compared to the rough and rocky roads of the Dalton or even the steep, hilly pavement of the Elliott. A series of gentle climbs with long stretches of flat smooth asphalt and plenty of shoulder space flowed into the small town of Nenana on the south side of the Tanana River. I rolled into town at 11 p.m. and found my way to Moocher's Bar and Grill. I was surprised and delighted to find them open and still serving food at that hour, considering that in Fairbanks most every place that served food closed by 9 p.m., so I placed an order and took a seat at the bar. The staff and patrons of 'Moocher's' were friendly and curious about what I was doing in their town. I explained and outlined plans for the tour and soon we were all engaged in some great conversation. We talked well into the early morning--Moocher's Bar and Grill serves until 5 a.m., ya see--but after several hours of social time fatigue caught up with me and I was ready for bed. I found a place to camp for the night along the Tanana and fell asleep soon after my head hit the ground.